New York and I need a break.
My Welsh alien ship has been stranded for too long in Manhattan. The wheels are rusty. Just like any relationship, I know my love will be renewed after some time apart.
This is what finds me on the Bolt Bus bound for a postcard pretty suburb of Philadelphia. My plan is enforced solitude so I can work. I need to escape the city's whoreish pull on me, it's murky and delicious temptations that lurk on every corner. To achieve calm in the countryside. To see butterflies. To not have my groceries thrown at me. To remember what manners sound like.
I am going to house and pet sit in Bala Cynwydd, a former Welsh colony. I wasn't aware my forefathers were at it either. No longer can us Welsh claim a moral superiority over our English cousins and their voracious appetites for stealing lands that didn't belong to them. We likely did it with less panache though-brandishing daffodils and shouting "Alright' butt' I'll take this land now. Ta."
When I arrive I can see what the appeal was-the place even looks like Wales with lots of greenery and trees. I meet my charge-an 80 pound 14 month old golden retriever- who's described as '"Frisky". He's apparently partial to toilet roll and kitchens, having already eaten his way through an entire one. 80 pounds is a lot of a dog, almost as big as some humans. It's roughly the same size as Nicole Richie in her partying with Paris days.
From the start, Montana-who shall be known as Slobadan on account of his highly productive dribble producing jaws- follows me everywhere, only leaving my side occasionally to try and destroy something. When I shower he sits outside the cubicle, when I am on the loo he opens the bathroom door with his paws and sits next to me. When I eat, he thinks it's dinner for two. When I try and work he soaks the keyboard with drool. When I turn my back on him he tries to mount me.
By the end of the first day the items I have retrieved from his mouth include (but are not limited to); my pen, two notepads, several books, something unidentifiable from the bathroom, my vintage scarf, most of my lunch and two toilet rolls.
Everytime he does something bad he looks up at me panting, his pink tongue lolling like a giant slice of deli ham, his soft golden face framed by long sandy eyelashes. Yes, he has doggy eyelashes. I am putty in his paws.
That night I sit drinking wine on the porch, looking out at the trees and flowers and listening to the sweet sound of nothing but crickets and and birds saying 'coup coup' in the trees. Fireflies are darting in and out of the hedges. Slobadan wants to play ball. It is nearly 10 p.m.
On day two I discover that-as warned- nothing here is in walking distance aside from lots more trees. I will need to use the car. I have slight qualms about this due to the fact that I haven't driven in a year/have limited experience on the wrong right side of the road/have always thus far refused to operate an automatic. So, that's actually quite a few qualms, but I have never been one to let logic lead me off my destined path.
I set off to buy my groceries for the week, arriving in one piece at the retail park, happy there is little to distract me in sleepy Bala Cynwydd.
That's when I discover the local Lord and Taylor sitting right next to the supermarket. I have never even set foot in The New York branch, imagining it to be one of the less exciting, more old lady department stores. In this setting though, it gleams like Tutankhamun's tomb. It is consumer Atlantis.
Inside, my retail radar leads me to the clearance section. The rails aren't anywhere near as plundered like they would be in New York, even though a sign informs me there is another 40% off all the lowest marked prices. When I get to the till the assistant tells me there is further 20% discount. Game changing, some dribble escapes from the side of my mouth. I go skittering back off into the rails and find a classic navy Ralph Lauren cardigan for $20 and a floral BCBG Max Azria dress for $50. I feel a little faint with excitement, but I put them both down and force myself to leave, exercising my If-you-are-still-thinking-about-them-tomorrow-you-should-buy-them-policy.
The next day I pull back the curtains to hear birds tweeting and see a butterfly float past the window... I can think about nothing but the Lord and Taylor clearance racks. I take the dog for a long walk to distract myself, through the 19th century graveyard nearby, where I see the grandoise resting places of the area's former brewery owners.
My crypt's-bigger-than-your-crypt was apparently a popular game in Philadelphia at the turn of the century-some of them are more spacious than my Manhattan apartment.
I breathe in the air, it's clean and there is absolute quiet and austerity...Then a little voice says "I wonder if that BCBG dress is still there?"
It's no good, I have to go back. Montana asks if he can come, but I tell him bargain hunting is a dog-eat-dog game and he may not be safe in the crush. Of course, he knows there will be no crush and cocks his head to the side and demands an extra cheese string as guilt payment.
I return and regretably discover a whole other floor with lingerie and sports wear on and some more clearance racks, including the shoes. I leave with a bag almost as heavy as the feeling of disappointment in myself for being so easily distracted.
The next few days drift by- I write while sitting on the porch in the sunshine, read a book called The Sex Lives of Cannibals, watch movies, work, sunbathe, work some more. I take lengthy morning dog walks in the abundance of local cemeteries and take pictures of the Welshies' headstones.
I wrestle my bra, more toilet rolls, People magazine and a punnet of Blueberries from the Jaws of Slobby. I get covered in giant mosquito bites, I try to figure out how to get a train into town, but they only seem to run every 5 hours. I clean dog slobber off everything I own. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the Lord and Taylor clearance rack.
On the last day, after a week of perfect weather, I am trying to even up my tan in the garden when the skies darken and I hear a rumble in the near distance. Within minutes it's like a monsoon hit. I run inside with Montana, who growls every time the thunder does. We sit inside and I tell him not to be scared, that it'll pass. He just pants at me, which seems to be his standard response to everything.
I go out on to the porch for a few minutes to drink in the drama. Rain batters the trees and the brook outside races furiously. The prettiness is destroyed, everything is imperfect, mud sloshes on the lawn. Nature is a bit pissed off. It's a truly entertaining, real kind of beauty.
And just like that, I am ready to go back to New York.
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