Tuesday, September 22, 2009
If You Go Down To The Woods Today...
I'd often wondered where New York's mad folk went in the summer, when the subway stations get too warm to rave and spit in. This weekend I got my answer: West Virginia.
It started as soon as we got the train out of DC. The man behind us, his face covered with a sheen of sweat, his voice pitched unnervingly loudly, began asking the usual questions. You're not from round here are you? Where youse heading? We told him Harper's Ferry, and he just repeated over and over again "Yeah, I like that place. I go there all the time. Great place, that. I like it. I go there all the time. Lovely place. I go there a lot."
Turns out he wasn't the only one. We were greeted on the towpath by a bear of a man with a walking stick and a belligerence barely reined in. After failing to get a rise out of us by insulting our ancestors and casting aspersions on our orienteering skills he let us pass, shouting the ominous warning that he'd see us at the hostel we were all staying at.
Later that night we tried to play Scrabble while he bludgeoned a nervous middle-aged women into silence with an attack on vegans, veganism and the likes of her. When no-one will contradict him anymore he tells stories of his time as a prison guard in Alaska. We concentrate on our triple word scores, and wait 'til he's gone to his dorm to joke about the story that has dominated the day's headlines: mental health patient escaped in national park. Call em up kid, the search is over.
For some reason the new story seems less funny when I'm in the tent in the dead of night listening to twigs snapping outside. Thoughtfully, I wake Chris so he can listen too.
"What the fuck is that?" I hiss.
"It wouldn't be a bear. We put the toothpaste in the tree."
"And we're near the river. Bears don't like water."
Even to my own ears this doesn't sound very convincing. I try again.
"Rats?" My voice has leaped an octave.
"Well mice then. Or, umm, drops falling from the trees."
Now it's my turn to roll my eyes.
"You don't think it's..."
"What, crazy guy? Prowling round the tent?"
We laugh uneasily.
"I mean, I'm not serious."
But still I assess the tent for defensive weapons. DEET spray. Spare pegs. Guy ropes.
I fall asleep and dream of rigging elaborate man-traps in the West Virginia Hills and wake to find myself, and the treebound toothpaste, unmolested.