October 2004

Happy Halloween from spooky little Keene, where even the skeletons are neat freaks.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s divorce hearing, I’ve been trying to make a clean sweep of my own. After nearly 13 years of being one half of “us,” I’m trying to resurrect “me.” I’ve been spending a lot of time with friends, and I’ve been trying to make new friends. I’ve been trying to do things that bring me joy: walking in the woods, reading, writing. I’m looking forward to traveling, whether that be a drive down to Boston to meet Fred next weekend or a bus-trip to New York to meet Annette in December. After so many years of marriage, I’d settled into resignation, trying to make do with what I had. Now at the just-right age of 35, though, I’m realizing that life’s too short merely to make do.

One concrete sign of this New Me is my New (or perhaps that’s Old?) Name, DiSabato. As a writer, I believe in the efficacy of words: a rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet. In reverting to my maiden name, I want to reconnect with the Me who was young and optimistic, the Me who had more dreams than resignation. DiSabato was a girl who did what she wanted to, damnit; Schaub was a woman who did what others expected. In this new phase of life, I want to expand into Big Possibilities rather than settling for What I’ve Got. Being content with what you have is a noble act: I don’t intend to give it up entirely. But sometimes reaching for the stars rather than settling for what’s at hand is a good thing, and I’m in the mood for a good stretch.

Believing, again, in the efficacy of language, the other concrete symbol of this New Me involves words: 50,000 words, to be exact. After years of claiming that I was the only writer in the known universe who didn’t have dreams of writing a Great Novel, I’ve decided to write a bad one in exactly a month. Indeed, I (like so many other good folks in cyberspace) have decided to embark on November’s National Novel Writing Month. That means that tomorrow morning (or tomorrow afternoon, after I’ve submitted grades for this term’s set of online classes) I’ll sit at my laptop and write some 2,000 words, and then I’ll repeat that act on Tuesday, and Wednesday, etc, until November 30th. By month’s end, I plan to have a weakly written, poorly plotted narrative of at least 50,000 words. It’s a crazy goal, but someone’s gotta do it.

Let me assure you that I have no pretensions about this silly little game. I’m approaching November as a literary experiment: what really happens when one little monkey sits in front of a typewriter (okay, laptop computer) and randomly pounds out words with nothing but a word-count as her goal? Unlike many other NaNoWriMo participants, I have no working title, no narrative outline, no characters, and no plot in mind, just the belief that my typing fingers will lead me to the next word. I’m not expecting to produce anything remotely like a Publishable Product: what I’ll write will be disjointed, confused, contractory, and often barely intelligible. I’m picturing a Literary Experiment akin to Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, but worst, or the literary Bastard Child of Virginia Woolf and Jack Kerouac. If things go badly, I’ll call it stream-of-consciousness; if things go really badly, I’ll call it Postmodern. In a word, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo because I really want to write a novel; I’m participating because I want to learn a lot about myself (and maybe a bit about writing) from the process itself.

There are, of course, all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t be embarking on a silly quest like trying to write a novel in a month. What I should be doing is concentrating on the academic job market: I should be revising my dissertation for publication, excerpting a kick-ass writing sample, lining up references, poring over the job listings in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and picking out my Interview Outfit for the MLA convention in December. Back when I decided to end my marriage, though, I simultaneously decided to take a year off from the academic job market: I’m taking this year to get my personal life in order so that next year I’ll have (I hope) a better sense of what I really want to do when I grow up. Yes, I should spend this year-off revising my dissertation and other research for publication; yes, I should spend this year doing All the Right Things to position myself for next autumn’s quest for a tenure-track job. But you know what? I don’t wanna.

Yes, you heard that right: I don’t wanna do All the Right Things to position myself for next autumn’s job search…at least, not yet. Part of the reason why (a huge part of the reason why) it took me so long to complete my dissertation was that halfway through I ran smack dab into a wall of Ambivalence. I was working on a project I was truly interested in, writing about books I loved. And unlike all the PhD Horror Stories you hear, I had a great committee who supported what I wanted to write about and who didn’t fight and bicker amongst themselves. When I first started on the path toward Dissertation, a trusted undergraduate advisor warned me of the pitfalls he’d seen other students–particularly female students–fall into when advisors steered them onto topics that matched the advisor’s, not the student’s, research interests. No, I’m happy to say that none of my PhD advisors ever tried that. My dissertation difficulties were rooted in the tensions of a marriage that placed Lori Completing the Diss as a grand, relationship-saving goal; the fact that I was geographically isolated from my Department, friends, and colleagues and was consequently depressed for much of the diss-writing process; and the fact that soon into my project, I found myself Hugely Ambivalent about scholarly writing and the convoluted kind of “Academese” I was forcing myself to write.

What I discovered the summer before I completed the diss–what I discovered on a California cliff after deciding I didn’t care whether I became “doctor” after all–was that it was the spectre of Awful Prose I was bridling against. The reason I was researching the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Norman Maclean wasn’t because I loved the dry and stuffy prose of Academic Scholarship. The reason I was researching Thoreau, Dillard, and Maclean was because I loved their fluid, breath-taking prose. With every dry and stuffy academic word I penned about these Great Writers, a still small voice in my heart-of-hearts whispered a heretical thought: “You could do this, too!” When I started writing my Pedestrian Thoughts essays the summer of 2003 and when I started this blog later in December, I was taking a huge step toward the goal of Being My Own Writer. I had no idea what I’d say in my Pedestrian essays; I had even less of an idea what I’d say in a daily blog. What I’ve learned, though, is that when you force yourself to say something, all sorts of surprising things appear.

And so I’m taking the month of November to make a Clean Sweep. Having proven to myself and the Academy that I can write a book-length research project, I’m turning my eyes to a different kind of book. Yes, I still intend to revise that dissertation: in his next incarnation, “Bill” will be a more personal, more readable narrative, the tone more akin with my concluding chapter than with the chapters that preceded it. And yes, I still intend to blog during the month of November: although I’m putting my “Pedestrian” essays on another official hiatus (an extension, really, of the unofficial break I’ve taken to navigate the divorce), I believe I’ll need the emotional, cathartic outlet of Hoarded Ordinaries to keep myself sane in the face of an entirely nebulous novel. Those of you who remember the blogging I did at the end of the diss-writing process know that I sometimes get inexplicably verbose when faced with a daunting deadline: there’s something about being pushed against a temporal wall that awakens my “get it done” spirit and the words, words, words that accompany that. So Ladies and Gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for takeoff. Lorianne has found herself a new Literary Trip and is ready to roll.

Yankees RIP

Today’s Photo Friday challenge is Still Life. What better excuse to share the current shopwindow display from Cheshire Music on Main Street, Keene: a Halloween-themed jab at the hated New York Yankees, put out of their misery by our beloved Boston Red Sox. Yesterday, I noticed someone had added a broom to this tableau, a nod to Boston’s World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals…but beating the Yanks for the American League Championship was for many local fans the real thrill. After losing three straight games to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Sox were thought by many to be down for the count. But to the glee and jubilation of fans around the globe, Boston’s band of long-haired idiots proved there was Still Life in their scruffy, scrappy souls.

I spent all of this morning in the Student Center at Keene State College meeting individually with writing students to discuss their essay drafts. This afternoon, though, I did have a brief opportunity to sneak around campus taking surreptitious pictures.

I’ve already mentioned my habit of color-collecting: the practice of picking a specific color, taking a walk, and consciously noticing every place you see that color. On some days I go color-collecting; on others, I seek out a particular shape or texture. Today as I took a quick jaunt around campus, camera in hand, I was looking for ivy.

Normally I’d call climbing plants vines, not ivy…but the mystique of the Ivy League is contagious. Keene State College isn’t Ivy League, but her campus is crawling with ivy-like vines. Surely that counts for something, doesn’t it?

Ecologists term “invasive” those exotic plants which crowd out native species and thus endanger the biodiversity of a habitat. In my mind, though, I picture “invasive plants” as being herbs gone bad–literal bad seeds–that rebelliously leap from their trellises and bust out of their flowerpots, their chlorophyll hearts set on troublemaking. The imp in me delights in the fanciful notion that these vines might have a similarly devilish sentience, that they are peeking into the windows they crowd as they scheme ways of wriggling their cellulose selves into corners where they’d not normally belong.

Be careful what you say or do: the walls might not have ears, but they’re leafy with life, and listening.

Today promises to be a busy day; this week, a busy week. My current crop of online classes is ending this week with a new set starting up next week: that means lots of grading and online course prep between now and Monday. At Keene State, I’m teaching a total of three writing classes this semester–two freshman composition classes and one intermediate expository writing class–and last week all of them had major essay drafts due. That means I’m meeting with all of my writing students individually this week to discuss their paper drafts face-to-face: all three classes’s worth. Usually I stagger my conferences so I meet with freshmen one week and intermediate students another, but this week I’m conferencing with all of them, 15-minutes per student. It’s less time-consuming, actually, than reading and commenting on drafts “by hand,” and it allows me to give more individualized attention. But it also means I’ll be spending much of this week in one of the Student Center lounges rather than in an office I share with a handful of other instructors.

The room where I’ve been conferencing with students is officially called the Lantern Room, but students call it the Fishbowl, and I call it the Flag Room. It’s a glass-walled room on the first floor of the Student Center, and it has flags from around the world hanging from its rafters. I recently learned that the flags in the Lantern Room aren’t randomly selected; instead, they represent the various countries from which Keene State students come from. From semester to semester, then, the flags change as students come and go: this semester, it seems, we have at least one student from Ireland and other from Israel, but we have none from Italy or Korea. It’s somehow heartwarming knowing that the flags in the Lantern Room are there for a reason, that they represent the homes and dearly missed loved ones of actual individual students. Looking at the flags in the Lantern Room, I see colorfully tangible reminders of the hopes and dreams of Keene State students, some of whom have traveled from afar to pursue their education. I wonder if or how often homesick international students wander into the Lantern Room to seek out the flag from their homeland: there, hanging from sun-drenched rafters, is a reminder of where I come from, a reminder of why I’m here.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s divorce hearing, I’ve been thinking a lot about solitude and presence, and about the ways we remind or assure ourselves that we are not alone. Yesterday’s hearing went as well as I could have wished: it happened. Words were said, papers were signed, and both Chris and I will get some sort of official documentation–something we can each touch–sometime soon in the mail. After the hearing and throughout the day as I kept busy with teaching tasks, I felt mostly relief that the hearing was done and that everything was official. Climbing the stairs to my office at school after the hearing, I realized the hand opening the door to Parker Hall wasn’t the hand that had opened it the day before: that was Doctor Schaub, and this is Doctor DiSabato. Somehow for the first time since I defended my dissertation in April and graduated with my doctorate in May, the title felt like it fit. “Doctor D: that’s me!”

Late in the afternoon after I’d finished conferencing with Tuesday’s batch of writing students, I took the dog to the Ashuelot River Park, one of “our” favorite walking places. As Reg ran and sniffed and splashed in the river off-leash, I walked underneath a forest canopy no less lovely than any of those Lantern Room flags. I felt good. The sun was slanting toward the horizon of a crystal blue sky; the crunch of fallen leaves felt reassuring underfoot. And as I walked, I felt a sensation that has arisen unbidden at various points over the past several months, ever since Chris and I crossed the emotional Rubicon toward divorce: gratitude. Although a huge part of me feels guilty to say my overwhelming emotion in light of the divorce is relief, it’s true. These days, my life feels like it’s finally on a path headed in the right direction. It pains me to no end to know that my choosing that path has resulted in heartache for other people: my own heartache I can deal with, but the thought of hurting others is far more difficult. But at random points over the past days and weeks, I’ve felt an upwelling of something akin to joy: a realization that life is indeed good, very, very good. I have my health, I have my friends, I have a job, apartment, and dog that I love…and I have the whole expansive Earth for companionship.

As I was walking along the Ashuelot River with the dog yesterday, you see, I had one of those Moments. It’s an indescribable sort of experience, actually: as soon as you try to articulate it, you fall into the realm of cliche and over-dramatic emotionalism. I refuse to use the term Religious Experience, and the word Mystical is even worse: both words have accrued such negative baggage, and most folks (rightly) assume that the people who use such terminology must fancy themselves as Holy, High-and-Mighty souls. Believe me, I ain’t no saint, and I ain’t at all holy…but sometimes I experience these Moments that carry echoes of Moments experienced by the saints and holy folk of history. In her autobiography, writer Mary Austin explained that when she was five, “God happened to Mary under the apple tree.” I don’t know what that means exactly, and I’d never claim Mary Austin as a particular Saintly or Holy person. But sometimes, when I think I’m alone, I sense that I’m not, that Someone Else is under the apple tree.

I don’t know who or what this Someone Else is: they typically leave no calling card. But as I walked the dog by the Ashuelot River yesterday, I realized that the Earth herself has never left me: the Earth herself has remained faithful and true all these years, and she never judges. The Earth herself doesn’t care if I’m married or divorced; the Earth herself doesn’t care if my life is together or in shambles. I’ve always believed (I continue to believe) that there is a God in heaven who loves all creation unconditionally…but that God in heaven is difficult to taste or touch. The Earth herself, though, is immediately underfoot, and yesterday I could feel the sensation of great fertile power welling up from the ground beneath me. God’s indeed in his heaven, and all’s right with the world…and sometimes we need reminders, like colorful, sun-drenched flags hung from the rafters of trees, to turn our homesick eyes toward the Presence that never passes.

Cheshire County Courthouse

In less than an hour, I will leave my apartment to walk down foggy streets to the courthouse here in Keene for my date with Judge John P. Arnold. I will arrive early; I will meet somewhere in the hallway with my lawyer. And at 8:30 am, in the matter of Lorianne Schaub and Christopher Schaub, Judge Arnold will oversee a 10 minute Uncontested Divorce Hearing.

All this will occur today, October 26, exactly one week before what would have been Chris and my 13th anniversary, a timing (and numerology) whose irony I fully realize. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or sit down and sigh with relief.

I suspect that over the course of the day, I’ll do some semblance of all three, potentially (if possible) at the same time.

Cheshire County Courthouse

I’ve been nervously awaiting this court-date for months now, ever since Chris moved out at the beginning of August. On the one hand I’ve been looking forward to the closure I hope the official paperwork will bring; on the other, I’ve been on pins and needles fearing that some last minute snafu will derail the deal. Emotionally, I’m moving on past the divorce; on a practical level, our belongings and assets have been fairly divided and we each are moving on with our lives. But something as simple as a court-date and a slip of paper is the one last tie keeping everything “in process.”

Until 8:30 am today, when there will be nothing (legally) keeping either of us tied to any of that.

Cheshire County Courthouse

I’ve vowed not to cry at the hearing…but yesterday when I strolled past the courthouse, dog in tow, just to acclimate myself to the place where this all is going to happen, I admit I got misty-eyed. This is where it happens: this is where Lorianne Schaub will somehow legally–somehow magically–revert to being Lorianne DiSabato. Yes, over the next weeks and months I’ll be going through the paperwork hassle of changing my name, again: a symbolic new me, one who is (I hope) both older and wiser than the old me. I’m not the same person I was when I last was Lorianne DiSabato…but I’m certainly no longer who I was when I first became Lorianne Schaub, either.

In the end, I just want to be Lorianne: Lorianne who will be strong enough not to cry during a 10 minute hearing, and Lorianne who will have the courage to sit on the steps outside this very public courthouse and bawl her eyes out if that’s what she feels like. Either way, at the end of the day, I’ll be Lorianne, whoever that is. And at the end of the day, I trust that being Lorianne, simply Lorianne, will be enough for today and tomorrow and the future that unrolls from here.

If you’ve ever thrown a big raucous party, you know that cleaning up the aftermath is more challenging (and less fun) than party prep. Here in Keene, the build-up to Saturday’s Pumpkin Festival was pretty impressive…but the all-but-instantaneous cleanup afterward is even more incredible.

It’s a point of pride here in Keene that the remnants of each year’s Pumpkin Festival will be cleaned up completely by noon the day after: noon. Imagine a festival in which Downtown traffic is re-routed so some 70,000 people can stroll down streets fringed with pumpkin-laden scaffolds; imagine a festival that erects four separate stories-tall towers supporting even more pumpkins. Imagine a festival where people are still arriving and bringing more pumpkins right up until the big gourd-count (and fireworks) at 8:30 pm. Each year’s Pumpkin Festival goes until 10:00 on Saturday night, and each year’s Pumpkin Festival cleanup is completed by noon the morning after. When’s the last time you or anyone you know threw a massive, World-Record making party and then had everything cleaned up by noon the next day?

Today’s pictures come from yesterday’s dog-walk around Downtown Keene. Before you tsk and shake your head at the trash, pumpkin detritus, and piled-up scaffold remnants, step back and consider this interesting fact: I took these photos at 8:00 am on Sunday morning. When, again, is the last time you or anyone you know threw a massive, World-Record making party and then was awake and sober enough to clean at 8:00 the next morning?

The Pumpkin Festival, like Keene’s annual Christmas tree lighting and New Year’s Eve celebrations, is organized by the non-profit Center Stage organization, and they’ve perfected the art of pumpkin cleanup. In the Festival’s early days, Saturday night’s jack-o’-lanterns became Sunday morning’s pig-slop as smashed-up pumpkins were carted off to local farms. In recent years, though, the Festival has outgrown the bellies of local pigs. In 1997 when the Festival gathered a then-Record-breaking 13,432 pumpkins, some 59.08 tons of gourds were added the Keene landfill’s compost pile the day after. When’s the last time you or someone you know threw a party that produced 59.08 tons of party detritus?

Of course, that was 1997; this is now. This year, Boston’s feeble attempt to break Keene’s standing World Record of 28,952 lit gourds garnered an impressive but eminently non-Record-breaking 16,402 lit pumpkins…and I can only imagine how long it’s taking a World Series-distracted city to clean up the tons of trash from that. This year, Keene tallied a “mere” 27,584 pumpkins: about 1,600 fewer gourds than last year’s picture-perfect festival. If 13,000 pumpkins translate into 59.08 tons of trash, imagine how many tons were carted from Downtown Keene yesterday morning!

One key to Keene’s seemingly miraculous cleanup is widespread community involvement. Whereas Boston’s Pumpkin Festival was just another party in an event-addled City, life in Keene stands still for the Pumpkin Festival. Yesterday as I walked the dog through the early-morning cleanup, we passed one Festival organizer who was uttering military-style commands into a walkie-talkie: “Which company owns the big fork-lift? You need to find out and get it here now.” Many of the fork-lift operators, construction crews, and dumptruck drivers toiling from the crack of dawn yesterday were working on donated time. As an act of community outreach (and free advertising), many local companies and contractors offer their services in return for the good will (and free advertising) that comes from their listing as a “Festival contributor.”

The pros aren’t the only ones who chip in to help with morning-after cleanup. Last year I woke and walked the dog early enough (or was that late enough?) to see local students helping out. I don’t know the genius who came up with the idea to encourage middle- and high-school guys to smash day-after pumpkins while giggling throngs of middle- and high-school girls push brooms, but apparently it works. If you give teenagers enough hot cocoa and donuts–and if you wave the flag of “Community Service” or even “Extra Credit”–you’d be surprised how much fun they can have doing “work.”

Yesterday morning, the throngs of students I saw where standing around looking useless: at 8:00 am, most of the pumpkins had already been smashed and tossed into waiting dumpsters. Already at 8:00 am, Downtown traffic was back to normal. Cars were parked at the usual meters, and both locals and folks from outlying towns were zipping down Main Street on their way to one or both sources of Sunday morning edification: church or Starbucks. On Saturday, Keene was all things pumpkin; on Sunday, it’s back to normal (and back to work) in the aftermath.

As I write these words, I’m listening to a Boston TV-newscast. Among perky predictions for a World Series sweep are more somber mentions of the tragic aftermath of the Red Sox’ incredible journey: details of the funeral arrangements for 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove, killed by a poorly aimed police pepper-pellet at a post-game riot, and nasty photos of Paul Gately’s pellet-pummeled torso. Although I’ve never been in a Boston sports riot, I was nearly squashed in the angry aftermath of Green Day’s free 1994 Hatch Shell concert: I’ve seen how quickly a fun-loving crowd can turn nasty. We live in a seemingly civilized nation, yet images of Gately’s bruised chest remind me of the gruesome photos my undergraduate anthropology professor brought back from Belfast as proof of what rubber bullets really do to human flesh.

Compared with such realities, life in quiet little Keene seems quaintly idyllic: imagine 70,000 people wandering the streets in a festival that (according to Sunday’s Sentinel) involved nearly no crime. Keene isn’t Paradise, but it seems far removed from Boston much less Belfast. Whether our small-town setting brings out the best in people or whether the Angry Element stays in their cars and shuns our purely pedestrian party, the Pumpkin Festival is a rare breed: a truly family event where you can stroll the streets, eat Festival food, listen to music, and enjoy the constant visual stimulus of cute kids in costumes, laughing grown-ups, and all those pumpkins.

Although this year’s Festival didn’t break any World Records, last year’s record is unbroken, and (as Red Sox fans have been long practiced at saying) there’s always next year. Record-breaking or not, this year’s party was pretty amazing, and the seamless cleanup after a smoothly-organized event is even more impressive. A good time was had by all, and less than 12 hours afterward, everything was on its way back to “squeaky clean.” In other words, the Pumpkin Fest is that rarest of breeds: Good Clean Fun.

    Be sure to read Leslee’s account of our day at the Pumpkin Festival. Even at our first face-to-face meeting, Leslee perceived my true nature as a Loud Bitch. That Leslee survived our day of Hunk Hunting proves that she’s pretty Smashing herself.

Wanting to lure several of my far-flung Single and Fabulous friends to New Hamsphire for some quality female bonding, I suggested that yesterday’s annual Pumpkin Festival would be a great chance to ogle Hunky Guys. After all, the Pumpkin Festival is southern New Hampshire’s premiere event, attracting some 70,000 people to stroll the streets of humble little Keene. If approximately half of those 70,000 bodies are male, odds would suggest that at least some of them are Hunky. But on a day when Keene failed to break her own World Record for the largest number of lit pumpkins, our attempts at finding Hunky Guys similarly fell short. After looking high and low for eye-pleasing males to ogle, Kathleen, Leslee, and later “A” and I were left cold.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not actually in the market for a Guy, Hunky or otherwise. Nope, after thirteen years of Solidly Coupled life, I’m loving my stint of Single Fabulousness. I love having my huge-for-one apartment to myself. I love coming and going when I please without need for explanation or permission. I love the plain old simplicity of shopping, paying bills, and making plans for one. When I get the Sympathy Stare from folks recently learning that I’m going through a divorce after a long and seemingly wonderful marriage, I want to shake my head. No, really, it’s okay. I’m happy now. Yes, a divorce like any breakup is painful…but I love my life now. Really.

In a word, I’m not (for now) looking for a man…but that doesn’t mean I don’t like looking at them. So with this being my last weekend as a married woman (my last chance at adultery, I’ve joked, since after Tuesday I’ll be fixing “only” to fornicate), I thought it would be good to immerse myself in social activity of the Supportive Female kind. Although I’m neither ready nor willing (for now) to re-enter the Man Hunt for real, I’m always a fan of people watching. And what better way to people watch than at a huge annual festival and in the company of friends who have a similarly practiced eye when it comes to crowd-ogling?

So yesterday with red-haired Kathleen, blonde Leslee, and later brunette “A” in tow as my real-life versions of Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte, I hit the streets as Keene’s own Carrie Bradshaw, doing some on-the-scene investigative reporting on the nature of southern New Hamsphire mating habits. As I now sit here just like Carrie typing on my laptop in bed, there’s one Sex-in-the-City-style question simmering in my head: in a state the size of New Hampshire, where are they hiding all the Hunky Guys?

We started by looking in all the usual places. Every woman loves a man in uniform, so the visiting Mounted Policemen from Dover, NH seemed a promising possibility. But with thick jackets and other protective gear covering potential Hunkiness, it’s tough to tell what lies beneath the kevlar. With yesterday’s brisk autumnal weather, there wasn’t much opportunity to see what anyone’s layers were covering: is that a Hunky Guy or merely a Hunky Outfit? At a recent talk, KSC author-in-residence Janisse Ray quoted a button she’d seen on the jacket of a matronly peace marcher: “I prefer to love men out of uniform.” Yes, I’d have to see more flesh before deciding whether the men of Dover’s Mounted Police unit are indeed New Hampshire’s Finest. Unfortunately, however, mounted men tend to be men on the move: the calvary rode off into the sunset before I could get the qualitative evidence I was looking for.

Luckily, when you stroll a street fair with two fellow bloggers, there are plenty of photo opportunities of the non-hunky kind. When or where else would I have the chance to photograph Leslee photographing Kathleen photographing yet more potties? Talk about meta-photoblogging! I can only imagine what the fellow walking in front of not one but three shutter-snapping women thought we were doing taking pictures of him headed toward the Port-o-Potties: maybe he’s strutting his stuff a bit more confidently now, convinced we’d found our sought-after Hunkiness in his bathroom-bound form.

After lunch, two margaritas, and some illicit Heavy Petting in the nonetheless disappointing Museum of Pumpkin Oddities, I was beginning to question whether New Hampshire much less Keene had any Hunky Guys. Had they caught wind that three fabulous females were on the prowl and subsequently gone into hiding? Was our plan to stroll the afternoon streets of Keene a poorly timed tactic since it seemed all the males we saw were either accompanied by children or themselves children? Surely there’d be more men milling about after dark when the glow of lit pumpkins marked bedtime for all those cute kiddies and the Married Guys who herded them down Main Street. But with both Kathleen and Leslee having other engagements to lure them away before dark, our hours were numbered. So many pumpkins–so many people–and so few Hunky Guys. Even Cinderella was lucky enough to make an impression on Prince Charming before her coach turned into a pumpkin. Surrounded by so many would-be-coaches, where were our own Princes, or at least our own Fairy Godmothers?

As four o’clock approached and we turned back toward my apartment where Kathleen and Leslee had parked their cars and where I later would meet “A” for another stroll through downtown, dinner, and yet more beverages at Keene’s local blues club, volunteers started to light carved pumpkins one-by-one: the famed Gourd Glow that tourists for miles around come to see. Surely New Hampshire’s Hunks would be lured by pumpkin light to crawl out of hiding, Keene’s own autumnal version of Groundhog’s Day? Yes, ‘twould be romantic to catch sight of a promising Hunk across a crowded festival, our eyes meeting over pumpkin-candlelight…but I still held out hope of catching sight of a Hunky Guy by light of day. Surely the sight of eye-pleasing Manliness wasn’t so rare a sight in New Hampshire that three keen-eyed women couldn’t spot themselves any? The streets were growing increasingly crowded as men with kids headed back to their cars and the men of Red Sox nation emerged to peer at pumpkins before settling themselves down in front of the largest TV screens they could find to watch Game 1 of the World Series over as many pitchers of beer as their bellies could hold.

As we turned back down Main Street for one last pass through Downtown before turning off toward my Hunk-free apartment, I became increasingly more persistent, peering through pumpkins for one last glance at those Mounted Policemen from Dover: surely some of them were single, or they had brothers, or they had Hunky friends who had other Hunky friends, a secret Band of Hunky Brothers that had been hitherto hidden to the likes of me and my Fabulous Friends?

And then, at long last, I saw him. My very own Mr. Big. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and as honest as the day is long. Respectable. Solid. Dependable. The kind of guy who can hold the Union together in a time of war while saying more in 235 words than any other orator has had the skill to say so succinctly since. Make no mistake, ladies: even from beyond the grave, Honest Abe is an Honest-to-Goodness Hunk.

And so last night after dinner with “A” and a subsequent call to Kathleen to beg out of a too-late (at least for this thirty-something-year-old) nightcap, I sat in my huge-for-one apartment and watched the Pumpkin Fest’s firework finale from my huge-for-one bed. Between you and me, girlfriends, I had to wonder what kind of fireworks Mary Todd Lincoln saw from her bed. And I, just like Carrie Bradshaw, had to wonder what kind of wooing, magic, or downright trickery it would take to get Honest Abe to make an Honest Woman out of me.

    Before I get flooded with emails from Cyber-Studs claiming that they are the One and Only Hunk for me, let me remind everyone, again, that I’m not looking for a man, I’m just looking at them. Besides, guys, my expectations are unbelievably high. If you’re looking to impress Yours Truly, keep in mind you’re competing against Dead Presidents. Yep, to turn my head you’d have to be large enough–and, indeed, rock-hard enough–to be Mount Rushmore-worthy. As those Dover Mounties would say, “Keep moving, people. There’s nothing to see here.”

This great pile of pumpkins is actually a jumble of jack-o’-lanterns, the fruit of Keene State College students’ effort at yesterday’s Pumpkin Lobotomy. Corralled at the corner of Saint Bernard’s Convent yard, these gourds and thousands of others like them are awaiting their moment in the spotlight at today’s annual Pumpkin Festival.

Although the Pumpkin Fest didn’t officially start until this morning, the day before is a special occasion all its own. Volunteers started registering Keene-area pumpkins yesterday afternoon: never one to shirk my civic duty, yesterday I toted two soccerball-sized jack-o’-lanterns into Downtown’s Depot Square to add to the list. The pumpkins on display on Friday afternoon are largely the work of area school children and businesses, so lots of locals come out for a sneak peak at this year’s ample harvest.

If you’ve ever uttered the statement “If you’ve seen one pumpkin, you’ve seen them all,” obviously you’ve never been to Keene in October. Having grown up carving pumpkins, the children (and grown-ups) of Keene are ingenuous when it comes to creating colorful, wacky, and simply delightful gourd creations: alien pumpkins, clownish pumpkins, abstract pumpkins, you name it.

Among the highlights of each year’s Pumpkin Festival are the huge pumpkin towers, typically stocked with pumpkins carved by workers from local businesses. In an annual act of community outreach, Markem Corporation donates a giant carved pumpkin (the teeth of which spell its name) to top the Depot Square tower; on the rows below, companies such as Baybutt Construction advertise their services with neatly lettered jack-o’-lanterns. In Keene at least, there’s nothing like a pumpkin calling card to make your presence known!

The heart of Keene’s quaint Downtown is Central Square, a tree-lined roundabout which circles a grassy park, stone fountain, and bandstand-style gazebo. And every October like clockwork, the pumpkins invade Central Square…

With the pumpkins come locals to look at them…

And for one day a year at least, Keene, NH makes jack-o’-lanterns, not war.

It is, needless to say, a major endeavor to erect a huge tower of lit pumpkins at the head of Central Square. Hours before this scaffold was raised, cars were zipping ’round this rotary; by afternoon, traffic had been re-routed to allow workmen to set-up truckloads of jack-o’-lanterns.

And at 6 o’clock, a foretaste of today’s festival: Community Night and the lighting of Downtown’s partly-constructed towers.

With Friday’s Community Night as a kind of dress rehearsal, Keene readied herself for today’s outpouring of tourists, folks coming to town and to the Pumpkin Festival for the first time or returning for an annual visit. This year like any other, Keene is saying “Welcome” by putting her best face forward.

Today’s Photo Friday topic is Statement. And who better to make a statement than New Hampshire’s own Granny D?

At 94, Doris “Granny D” Haddock is running for U.S. Senate. You might have heard of Granny D several years ago when, at the tender age of 89, she walked across America (10 miles a day for 14 months, thank you) to deliver a petition (and countless stump speeches along the way) for campaign finance reform.

These days Granny D’s traded her walking shoes for a rainbow-painted campaign camper. After the presumed Democratic nominee for New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate seat dropped out of the race right before the candidate filing deadline, Granny D tossed her flowery hat into the ring. It’s not like she’d been sitting on the porch knitting sweaters in a rocking chair: in the time since her cross-country campaign finance reform trek, she’d traveled some 22,000 miles in an attempt to get working women to register to vote, damnit.

Whatever color your politics, it seems to me Granny D’s message rings true. If a feisty octogenarian can move her arthritic legs across America to make a Statement, the very least we can do is drive, stroll, or roll to our polling place on November 2nd. If this is indeed the Year of the Underdog, maybe Granny D can emulate the Red Sox by going to the Big City (in this case, Washington, DC) to Beat the Bums (in this case, the Senate yahoos who would probably be more productive–or at least less dangerous–if they themselves took up knitting and chair-rocking).

Even if you live to 94 and beyond, life is too damn short not to make a Statement.

It might not look like much now, but come Friday night when it’s bedecked with lit jack-o’-lanterns in preparation for Saturday’s Pumpkin Festival, this scaffold spanning the bike path at Depot Square will be spectacular. Tomorrow is when students at Keene State College participate in the annual Pumpkin Lobotomy, an all-day gourd-carving extravaganza in which truckloads of pumpkins get transformed into jack-o’-lanterns. And tomorrow night is when all the locals cart their carved ‘kins into town so when the tourists arrive on Saturday, the town is already brimming with beaming pumpkins. By Saturday night’s fireworks finale, Keene hopes to best its own World Record of 28,952 lit jack-o’-lanterns, a record set last year on a beautifully autumnal, quintessential New England day. In Keene, NH, pumpkins are our once-a-year claim to fame, second only (perhaps) to the Presidential Primary circus that rolls through town every four years. Here in Keene, NH, we’re known for doing pumpkins, and we’re known for doing them well.

Last year the town of Portland, Maine tried to topple Keene’s previous world record of 23,727 lit jack-o’-lanterns; at the end of the day, though, they logged a mere 15,001. This Saturday, the company that markets Life is Good T-shirts is also sponsoring a competing event on Boston Common that aims to break Keene’s World Record. But with Beantown distracted by Red Sox mania, I doubt that anyone in Boston is thinking much about pumpkins; in fact, a recent Boston Globe article mentioned the Keene festival without even a mention of the Life is Good festival. (Thanks to Leslee for the link to the Globe article.) No, pumpkins are what Keene does best, and Boston is too distracted with other fun and festivities to beat us at our own game. If Beantown can’t keep an established festival like First Night afloat, how do the Life is Good folks think they can muster enough community interest and involvement to bring a new show to town?

There’s nothing hokier than a small town festival…and that hokiness is precisely what makes small town festivals charming. Yesterday when I went grocery shopping and today when I went to Wal-Mart to buy a frying pan, nearly every shopping cart I saw had at least one pumpkin in it. Whereas the only thing keeping Boston together these days is baseball mania, here in Keene we’re managing to root for the Sox and buy and carve pumpkins. Somehow, it feels like one’s civic duty to make sure that Keene makes a good showing: even if we don’t break our own record, we better make a damned good attempt. Hokey or no, it warms my heart to see city maintenance crews putting up cornstalks on every Downtown lamp-post and taping “No parking all day Saturday” signs on every Downtown parking meter. Pumpkin Festival is the one day a year when Keene gets to shine, and shine she will rain or clear, damnit. Boston can have her Red Sox parties and Democratic National Conventions and all other stripes of media Whoopedy-Doo’s. For one day a year, humble little Keene gets to be the Big Kid on the New England block, and we aren’t likely to let go of that claim without a fight.

And as for Yours Truly, I’ve always gotten strangely, preternaturally excited about pumpkins: you could say I’ve been waiting my entire life to help Keene make pumpkin history. It takes so little to bring a gleeful gleam to a child’s eye, and on Saturday, I’m gonna carve ’til I find my own Inner Child and set her eyes alight with a double-dose of World Series wonder and jack-o’-lantern joy.

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