Well, now my life is complete. A Pulitzer Prize winner has sneered at me. What could be better than that? How did this occur, you say? Let me start at the beginning.
Several years ago, I received a catalogue in the mail for a place I’d never heard of before, a place I will call Ommmm U in upstate New York on acres of bucolic land. Ommmm U offered extensive seminars on a wide range of topics from Aromatherapy to Yoga, and more.
I found the “and more” as I thumbed through the catalog in March and saw a five day writing workshop in the summer with a well known humorist and thought, well, she’s pretty funny and wouldn’t that be cool. There was also an awesome line-up of luminary literati for a weekend in May. It was at the end of final exams and I dithered over it, thinking, “Do I go for five days of non-stop fun, or do I go highbrow?”
I showed the catalog to my husband who said the following wise words: “Maybe you should go for just a weekend to see if you like it, before you spend a whole week there?”
In case you didn’t hear me, honey, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
I began my pre-travel checklist: House and pet sitter? Check! Train tickets? Check! Shuttle reservations? Check!
I re-read the catalog fine print. I needed to reserve a cabin room with a private bath. Call me crazy, but I really don’t like sharing bathrooms with total strangers. Just my little quirky thing, I guessed. I was not alone. When I called (two months in advance), I was told I got the very last one.
Three meals a day were included in the cost of the seminar, I read. Then, something caught my eye. Did that really say all vegetarian? Occasionally fish will be served? As in no meat? Not even chicken? Okay, shoot me, I eat meat. And I’m on a low carb diet, and much of what vegetarians eat is not good for my metabolism–like bread, potatoes, rice, etc. And, to top it all off, I have a list of food allergies that include mushrooms, eggplant and peppers, all the deadly nightshade family members that seem to be in vegetarian dishes. So I emailed Ommmm U to see what was up with that, should I bring protein bars? The answer: “probably not a bad idea.”
Protein bars? Check!
Then I mentioned this place in my writing group. One person had been there. She said, and I quote: “The food’s AWFUL there! It’s health food you know! After I left there, I went to a friend’s house. They asked what I wanted for dinner. I said put on a side of beef and give me a drink!”
So, the time came and I excitedly packed my bag with bug spray, flashlight, shorts, tee shirt, sneakers, sweatshirt, coffee and coffee maker, protein bars, and scotch. I dressed as I would for air travel in a black suit and flat sensible walking shoes. The train ride to New York was fun and the scenery along the Hudson River was breathtaking. I arrived and waited for the shuttle, which bounced a small, but hardy group of us to Ommmm U, out in the middle of the woods.
Friendly, body-pierced, staff with dreadlocks (they were Caucasian) and multi-colored tattoos informed me that I couldn’t get into my cabin for about three hours. Relax, they said, look around. I wandered around a bit in my now very hot black suit and sensible walking shoes with my heavy briefcase containing a manuscript, journals and books, just in case I got bored. I collapsed in a chair in the pay-as-you-go café and found chicken salad on the menu. Well, I thought, should I be dying for meat, I at least knew where to find it; I’d just have to pay extra for it.
Upon sitting down to relax and read, I discovered, to my horror, that it was an alcohol free campus, but it “wasn’t a place for recovery or rehab.” Okay, then why did many of the young staff look like they had intimate knowledge of the drug culture? And why did a number of the older staff look like they were burned out hippies? And what about the young woman with the vacant eyes, walking in around in an apron, chewing on her sleeve? The unopened bottle of single malt scotch in my bag would not be shared with anyone during my stay that was certain.
At last it was time to get into my room, hide my scotch, unpack my stuff, change into my woods woman clothes, and go for a nice four-mile walk around a lake. But before I could do that, I had to make my bed. Rough cotton sheets were in a clear plastic bag on the stripped down bed, waiting for me. As I puttered around, I stepped out on the porch to the cabin.
An attractive, well-dressed blonde, in a blue twin sweater set, khaki Capri pants and pearls popped out of the door from her side of the cabin. She spotted me, put one foot out the door, placed a French-manicured hand on her svelte right hip and tossed her perfectly coifed, shoulder length hair.
“Did they make up your bed?” she asked.
“No, I think we’re supposed to do it.”
She turned and went back into her side. I heard water running while I was making my bed, then nothing. I changed and set out for my walk and noticed that the blonde’s door and windows were wide open, the overhead fan was running, the lights were all on and the key was in the door. She must be relaxing with the door open to get some air, I thought. It is pretty warm.
I went for my walk, and returned to my cabin to get my journal to take notes from the first speaker. The blonde’s door and windows were wide open, the overhead fan was running, the lights were all on and the key was in the door. Odd, I thought, but minded my own business and headed off for the first speaker’s event.
I returned that evening after an inspirational talk from a wonderful, warm, funny delightful Pulitzer Prize winning author and a “hearty” meal of spinach salad. The blonde’s door and windows were still wide open, the overhead fan was running, the lights were all on and the key was in the door. This time, I stuck my head in the door and called, “Hello?” No answer. I stepped inside and found the bed was made up, but nothing and no one was there. She was gone, leaving only a scrap of paper on the desk.
The rest of the weekend was pretty much like a vegetarian Girl Scout Camp/Hippie Rehab. Even one of the authors said “Isn’t this like Rehab?” and he was an expert at it, so I felt validated in my observation.
The next Pulitzer Prize winning author read her thirty-minute talk to us, putting many of us to sleep, myself included. But this was the author I came to hear. She was my hero, my counterpart in academia; she was my role model for my next life as a novelist. When it came time for book signings, I lined up with all the other literary groupies and waited for my special moment. At last, it was my turn.
“I’m an academic and trying to decide what to do after I become a full professor,” I said.
“Oh, why don’t you raise horses?” she said.
“Well, actually, I was thinking of writing a novel,” I responded.
“Unh, yeah, right,” she said and raised her upper lip.
Yeah, that was definitely a Pulitzer Prize winning sneer.
Perhaps it was time for me to leave my cabin door and windows wide open, the overhead fan running, all the lights on and the key in the door?
No, I decided, there was one more luminary I wanted to hear, plus I wanted to spend more time with a bunch of really wonderful people who, like me, were all aspiring writers. So, I stayed through Sunday and called my husband from New York City where I could finally get a signal on my cell phone.
“What do want for dinner?” he said.
“Filet mignon and a bottle of red wine. Oh, and hold the sneer.”