A family recently walked through the former sanatorium and monastery where Ann and I live to see if they might want to buy it. They didn’t; they were in the wrong house. But it was exciting while it lasted. The house has been on the market for about two years, and they were just the fourth ones to consider it.

The ads prominently feature its eight bathrooms, two and a half kitchens, fourteen bedrooms. (For some reason I don’t recall, we left out the small private cemetery.) It’s “the inn you’ve dreamed of owning.” Those buyers the other day thought it was too big. Like I said, they must have thought they were going to some other house.

Fearing that we might set the wrong tone by being giddy and acting silly at the possibility of a sale (we’re keen to leave behind the stewardship calling, rewarding as it has been), our broker insisted that we go somewhere during the showing. We did.

Keeping seller and buyer apart is standard real estate practice, but in our case that’s a mistake. It would apply only if the broker was unusually skilled and enthusiastic about selling the sizzle instead of the steak. As yet, our man seems unaware of the sizzle; he thinks the monastery, aka Franklin Manor, is just an oversized old house. Ann and I know better, so we should be the ones to talk to prospective buyers. The broker could just observe and learn.

I’ve tried to persuade our man that the way to sell the place is for him to absorb its story and rehearse the presentation of it intensely, the way Hillary Clinton prepares for debates. Then avoid talk about square footage, utility bills, taxes, and such, the way Trump does with policy.

Ann and I bought the house because it enchanted us. We were compelled. The next buyer will probably be similarly enthralled. But try convincing a real estate agent of that.

A standard appraisal does not lead to this state of happy insanity. It will, for example, make much of the run-down houses that infest the neighborhood. So did the not-enchanted buyers who came through last week. But if you plan to live in Saranac Lake, it’s pointless to consider stuff like the condition of nearby properties; the village has substandard and repossessed houses on just about every block. It’s not exactly Detroit, but neither is it an upscale subdivision shining like a new Tonka Toy, which is where our misguided buyers seemed to be from. They thought one of the better properties on our block might be a crack house.

And they were surprised at how cold it was. (It was a glorious autumn day in the high 40’s.)

I think they may not find this village to their liking.

Some features of the house that matter most are abstract, and so they’re overlooked by most buyers and all appraisers.

To live in the former sanatorium/monastery is to live in the mysterious ongoing presence of healing and holiness.

And there is no blank on an appraisal form for a room (one of several) that is more than a room, the east-facing cure porch off my study. I start each day there in a rocking chair with my cat on my lap. We greet the coming of light over the cemetery with a time-suspended period free of fear or doubt or questions. From time to time, that’s on offer in every room in the house, but it’s ever-present on my cure porch. Resident angels see to it.

I’ll keep trying to show our broker what it is he’s selling, but I doubt he’ll get it.

* * *

Lately I’ve been asked to call up memories of quiet, relaxed times so that my blood pressure will drop. Usually it’s a doctor who makes the request, but the other day when I was using the monitor at Costco, the machine asked me to do it. Then it mistakenly thought I had. Before the reading was complete, it said “good job,” annoying me even more than its preliminary instruction had and running my blood pressure up, not down.

I don’t like being told what to think or imagine, even if it’s for medical purposes. Being instructed to recall a tranquil scene is pretty much like being told to calm down. It’s too irritating to achieve its purpose. Anyway, I’ve never understood what good it is to take a blood pressure reading during an unnaturally quiet state of mind. Wouldn’t it be more useful to measure it while I’m being the real me?

Still, ever since I learned the medical term of art “noncompliant patient” a few years ago, I’ve tried to follow directions if I’m anywhere near an examining table. Best I can tell, “noncompliant patient” means “pain in the butt.” Nothing good comes from being categorized as one of those. Realizing this, I’ve written down a list that I could keep handy in case the request pops up again.

Going to church as a child is a happy memory. We dressed up. I’ve always liked doing that. Everyone smelled good from Sunday-morning-size applications of perfume and aftershave and, when backyard flowers were in bloom, little corsages and boutonnières. Everybody was glad to see everybody else. And the hymns, the hymns – I’m sorry for anyone who doesn’t carry around a head full of them.

Also, playing catch with my dad. He gave me some pointers on how to throw. He gave me his whole attention. We talked.

I didn’t get far with the list before I remembered a request to recall happy that didn’t work out too well for the requester. I myself rather enjoyed it. I was in a lot of pain following surgery. Only my surgeon could prescribe anything to relieve it, and he was in a procedure of record-breaking length. Over and over I asked the floor nurse for drugs, like someone wailing “medic” on a battlefield.

She was a born-again, in-your-face Christian, and she took my pitiful cries to be an invitation to witness to me. In her view, I needed little more than to get right with God and to visualize something I had once enjoyed a lot and that had made me feel real good. That would take care of everything.

After a few hours of her sanctimonious baloney, I snapped. “You mean like pussy?” I never saw her again. I liked it that way. Her mere presence had become a violation of the Hippocratic oath.

When Baby Kitty and I greet the sun from my cure porch – well now, that is a peaceful scene. I put it at the top of my pocket list.

BK is – not to mince words – crazy. Every sound, including those inaudible to humans, alarms her. She spends a great deal of her limited time on earth cowering and shivering under the covers of whatever bed is handy. Once something frightened her during the night, and she wormed her way under the fitted sheet of the bed Ann and I were sleeping in.

But on my porch at daybreak, both of us are able to follow the Psalmist’s injunction to “be still and know that I am God.”

At full daylight, we return to regular life; BK to select a bed, and I to start on my to-do list.

On Sundays, I go to the grocery store for a New York Times. I may stop doing that. I’ve been noticing stuff in it that raises my blood pressure, in particular the way it reports on rich people. Few who work for that august publication ­– no one on the “Styles” section ­­– have the slightest awareness that the über wealthy are freaks. Maybe I should just stay on my porch and look out the window on Sundays.

The October 25 issue was especially objectionable. And It wasn’t just the ads for garish doo-dads that only six people on the planet can afford, or the features about the Versailles-level opulence of the shindigs those six attended over the weekend.

It also presented as normal and preferable a sort of child rearing that to this point in history was almost unknown and little sought.

Take the “Arts and Leisure” feature about Keira Knightly, for example. Not just Keira Knightly, the very fine actress, but Keira Knightly, new mother, who ever-so-admirably “literally wipes the snot off” baby’s nose during notes sessions.

Now why, you may ask, was that babyness tranche prominently included? No mention was made of other non-acting aspects of her life. Not a word on what kind of shoes she wore or how her hemorrhoids were progressing. Here’s the answer. The presence of baby on the set was an example of how0 one should be a mother. Well, whoop-ti-do. You’d think doing that put Ms. Knightly on the short list to be a Kennedy Center Honoree. To her we owe glory, laud, and honor because she didn’t have the good sense to separate what she was hired to do from what having sex had resulted in.

I don’t get it. Ms. Knightly can afford child care; it’s not like she’s picking tomatoes for a living and has no choice but to put the niño down at the end of the row. She could take some time off and care for the baby at home or make a deal with her husband for him to do it. Or she could have skipped having kids, as an increasing number of women do. All of which would’ve had the advantage of not interfering with rehearsing the play she was being well paid to act in. Is she planning to bring the kid out for curtain calls?

Things didn’t used to be like this. Maureen O’Hara’s obituary, carried in that same issue of the Times, included just five words on how she had fulfilled her biological possibility. She “had a daughter, Bronwyn FitzSimons.” Everything else in the lengthy obit was about Ms. O’Hara’s acting career. Maybe little Bronwyn was snug in a baby Bjorn during Ms. O’Hara’s close-ups, but I doubt it.

What really set me off was stories on family values as manifested by Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

Biden is grieving the loss of his son Bo and doesn’t have such an intense focus on his career as he had before Bo’s death. Of course he doesn’t. And running for President, being President, and lots of other jobs cannot be done well, if at all, except as consuming vocations. Biden recognized that and decided not to run.

The Paul Ryan story reached a level of stupidity rarely encountered outside a Ben Carson political position. He would consent to be Speaker of the United States House of Representatives only if he could spend weekends with his kids. Astonishingly, the Republican members of the House elected him anyway, and the condition was greeted with huzzahs all around. He was no longer just a political leader, he was a moral exemplar of proper dadsmanship.

To compound its wrongheadedness, the Times implied that the choices made by Biden and Ryan were equivalent. They were not. They were as different as Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders.

Biden realized he could not give his work unqualified commitment, so he declined to do it. Makes sense to me.

Not Ryan. He would condescend to be Speaker (third in line to the Presidency) only if it didn’t require overtime. It reminds me of the scene in the film Desert Hearts in which lesbian Cay finally succeeds in getting straight Vivian to agree to have sex with her. “O.K.,” Vivian says, “but I’m not taking my clothes off.”

My pipefitter father didn’t have to take me to work to get to spend time with me. He got more of that than he wanted when he was between jobs or on strike or rained out. He was not a lot of fun in those circumstances. Pretty worried and unhappy actually.

I don’t know how I would have felt if he’d had a job that required him to work a lot of evenings and weekends. Probably proud. Proud is what I was when he went to work one day during the war and didn’t put his tools down and come home until eighteen months later. I missed him, and I’m sure he missed me and my brother, but it was worth it. We needed the extra money that defense job in Iran paid. It did a lot more for us than his being at home evenings and weekends would have. And it was a contribution to the war effort.

Like I said, I may quit the Times. Or maybe take a sabbatical of a week or so.

Other than adventures in blood-pressure measurement, there’s not a lot going on here. I saw a pretty rare Spruce Grouse over on Dewey Mountain the other day. It was of the Taiga variety, which is not alarmed by humans. It was walking along munching spruce canapes when we came face to face. I could have touched him with my walking stick. We looked at each other for a moment or two, then he resumed eating, and we both walked on. He didn’t grouse once. Can’t account for that. A week or so after that, friend Mark speculated that the grouse I encountered may have been the same one that wanders into his yard now and then to say a quiet hello to his chickens. Mark lives near Dewey.

Winter is reluctant to arrive this year. Had a couple of dustings of snow, but no accumulation yet. And it’s been unusually warm. Bears are reportedly late going into hibernation. Didn’t take the boat out of the water until November 6. It’s making people uneasy. When it’s dark at around four in the afternoon, but balmy outside in November, it doesn’t feel right.

But there is one sign that winter is coming. Mice have started their seasonal migration into the monastery. They’d be better off taking their chances outside in the Adirondack winter than facing BK. As noted, she’s a little mental; when it comes to tiny little mice, she’s an insatiable Jeffrey Daumer of a cat.

Neighbor Kathy, a masseuse, came over and worked on my sore back and hip. Set up the massage table in front of a fire. Put James Galway on the Victrola. It felt good. Peaceful. Had a calming effect. Just the sort of scene to call to mind and bring my blood pressure down when asked. Or, for that matter, just for the fun of it.



  1. DRA

    Always enjoy your writings.
    When will the sequel to Franklin Manor be published or did I miss it?
    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  2. AB

    A dreary fall morning and the world in shambles. But humor and sanity from Saranac Lake. I loved every last word of this.

  3. KL

    This was particularly comforting today and helped lower my blood pressure, I’m sure. A pocket of calm following the Paris attacks.

  4. MJW

    Re the Times, I stopped reading newspapers decades ago, and was later thrilled to read a comment by C.S. Lewis: “reading newspapers is not a good use of the mind.” I don’t like to allow the media to tell me what is worthy of MY attention. I’ll decide that. The media rarely covers issues that I think are of vital importance.

  5. RF

    I enjoy reading all your columns, but being a political animal myself, I especially enjoy the political references, eg , “I’ve tried to persuade our man that the way to sell the place is for him to absorb its story and rehearse the presentation of it intensely, the way Hillary Clinton prepares for debates. Then avoid talk about square footage, utility bills, taxes, and such, the way Trump does with policy.”


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