It was a four day rental just down the road from Skaneateles (pronounced: skin-ny-at-las) on Lake Otisco in the Finger Lake region of New York State. The mid-June weather was pleasant and the rolling green hills that descended down to the lake provided a wealth of charming views. On one of those hills sat the two story rental which was constructed of decorative hard split cinder block with double hung windows and a metal roof. A large deck extended out from the side door and curved around to the front of the structure. From the deck you could hear the shallow Otisco waves gently kiss the shore and you could get a glimpse of the lake through a multitude of leafy trees, but not in a way where you would say things like, “Wow, what a view!” or “OMG, that’s some body of water!” Though the construction of the rental was newish, the inside was filled with old wood, creaky fixtures and antiques. Shelves with hundreds of hard-covered books lined the living area and made the place smell like a 1960’s library, but without all that talk of injustice and revolution. The downstairs half-bath was called the “National Geographic Reading Room—RJ Munson Librarian,” and that too had shelves filled with hundreds and hundreds of National Geographic magazines dating back to the 1960's. It was quite a lovely place, but like the two aging couples that had rented the musty house for the four days the water pressure was spotty. The copper pipes rumbled and wheezed and the water trickled out slowly and sadly like from an old crumbling Roman aqueduct. Worse yet, despite the slow, sad trickling that was like a Roman aqueduct you had to jiggle all the handles to get the water to stop. But even when you jiggled the handles the water still came out in drips and drabs. The two aging couples were like that too—they had to jiggle all their handles but the water still came out in drips and drabs.
Despite all the jiggling, dripping and drabbing it was hard to be upset in such a lovely place. Plus there was all that pleasant weather and those rolling green hills. And since there was such pleasant weather and rolling hills the aging couples decided to go for a hike.
The hike was to take place at the Hinchcliff Family Preserve, which was a few miles from the four day rental. It should be noted that neither of the couples knew the Hinchcliff family. You know how that goes sometimes: “I know this guy Hinchcliff. His family has this nature preserve just down the road from Skaneateles. Says I can hike it anytime I want.”
It wasn’t like that. Anybody could use the Hinchcliff Family Preserve. In fact, when the two aging couples pulled into the little lot adjacent to the trails there was a Toyota Prius with a “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker parked there too. Beneath a little enclosure also adjacent to the little lot was a young man with a ponytail perusing the map of the Hinchcliff Family Preserve.
The aging couples said “Hello” to the young man with the ponytail and he returned their greeting with a: “Hey,” and then continued his perusal of the preserve’s map.
The aging couples didn’t need to peruse the map for very long, at least not as long as the young man with the ponytail. They quickly plotted a 3.5 mile course and were off. But once they got past a little open meadow adjacent to the lot they found the route went directly downhill and then uphill. When they came to the point 1.1 miles into the hike, where they could either continue on for 2.4 more miles or go back to the car and then back to the four day rental for drinks, they chose to skip the last 2.4 miles and go back to the car.
Huffing and puffing, sipping water they congratulated themselves for the two-hundred-thirty-seven calories they burned on the 1.1 mile hike—a fancy Apple watch calculated the calories they incinerated on the hike. By the way, the young man with the ponytail perusing the Hinchcliff Family Preserve map beneath the little enclosure adjacent to the lot was gone when they returned and so was the Prius with the “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker.
Calories was a big topic of discussion among the aging couples and over drinks back at the four day rental the conversation turned to egg whites. One of the men blustered on about an egg white sandwich on a skinny bagel with a slice of Velveeta being only one-hundred-seventy calories, but nobody was really impressed. One of women, who had a background in food science, said there wasn’t much nutritional value in egg whites to which the man who was advocating for the egg white sandwich asked, “Why would you eat an egg, which is seventy-five calories when you could eat an egg white, which is only twenty-five calories?”
But none of them seemed to buy this argument and they looked at each other with a “Can you believe this guy?” type of look and smiled at each other on the sly. The man advocating for the egg white sandwich didn’t understand why they didn’t follow his logic but didn’t press the issue. After all, who needed to press an issue about egg whites when the four day rental was so lovely and the weather was so pleasant and there were all those rolling green hills.
Later after dinner the two aging couples played the card game euchre. The game was new to one of the aging couples so they broke into teams. The two aging men were on one team—one experienced and one inexperienced. The same with the two aging women—one experienced and one inexperienced. The aging man who advocated for the egg white breakfast sandwich was slow to pick up the game. The other three aging people made subtle jokes at his expense and again shared sly smiles. Yet somehow, the team with the aging man who was slow to pick up the game destroyed the other team.
Though he remained impassive, like a Raymond Chandler character waiting for the other shoe to drop, the aging man who was slow to pick up the game was secretly very happy to win, especially against the aging woman with the food science background who dismissed his egg white sandwich. He knew it was petty and trite and maybe even hiding a bit of deep rooted misogyny, but he couldn’t help himself—he really enjoyed destroying her. He tried thinking about how lovely the four day rental was and the pleasant weather and the rolling green hills, but even that didn’t help—he still really enjoyed destroying her.
The next morning over a breakfast that didn’t include egg whites, skinny bagels or Velveeta the aging woman with the food science background complained about the lack of sleep she had gotten due to her husband’s malfunctioning CPAP machine. It was a portable CPAP machine that had malfunctioned. The aging man had another CPAP machine, but that was at home and was malfunctioning too. There had been a recall of that machine over a year ago, but it had not been repaired or replaced yet.
A long discussion ensued about the recall of the aging man’s regular CPAP machine and how these big companies screw you over and harass you with endless solicitations and sell your personal information so other big companies can screw you over, harass you with solicitations and then sell your personal information and there’s nothing you can do about it unless you wanted to hire some big-time Philadelphia lawyer. The whole time they complained about the big companies screwing you over the aging couples engaged in a lot of eye rolling, guffawing and head shaking. But, of course, it was hard to stay mad because the four day rental was so lovely and there was all that pleasant weather and those rolling green hills.
From there the aging women worked on a jigsaw puzzle together in the kitchen of the four day rental and the aging men engaged in intellectual pursuits. Well, some would say only one of the men engaged in an intellectual pursuit and the other man was a pig. The aging man who was a pig was the man who was slow to pick up euchre and had a thing for egg whites. He was a pig because he was a writer and the whole time the aging women worked on the puzzle in the kitchen and the other aging man with the malfunctioning CPAP machines read a book about the migration of the Tuscarora Indians—taking copious notes on one of those fancy iPads—he sat on the large deck that curved around the front of the four day rental and wrote a graphic sex scene for a new book he was working on.
The aging man had written graphic sex scenes in other books and people had objected to them and called him a pig. He kind of didn’t get the criticism since some of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century and his own personal favorites, John Updike and Philip Roth had written many graphic sex scenes and trillions of women were crazy for that “Fifty Shades of Gray,” book where a billionaire seduces and dominates recently graduated college co-ed. But somehow, the aging guy who was slow to pick up euchre and advocated for egg whites was considered a pig because he had two-teenagers do it doggie style in a closet.
Soon the two aging women came on the porch that curved around the front of the structure complaining that their eyes were blurry and their necks hurt from looking down on the puzzle. The aging man writing the sex scene was loathe to tell the woman what he was doing and instead made a joke about the irony being injured putting together a puzzle. The other aging man reading and taking copious notes about the migration of Tuscarora Indians came onto the porch too and they made jokes about getting injured putting on socks, washing dishes, lifting a twenty pound turkey from the oven and other sad maladies that befall aging people like them. But it was alright because they were at the lovely four day rental with all that pleasant weather and the rolling green hills.
They ate some lunch and the aging women returned to the puzzle. The aging men continued with their tasks too: the reading and taking copious notes about the migration of Tuscarora Indians and the writing of a graphic sex scene.
About 3pm the aging woman had enough of the puzzle and wanted to go kayaking. The aging man who was slow to pick up euchre and might be considered a pig had finished writing his graphic sex scene and offered to take them to the launch area in his pickup truck. The other aging man with the malfunctioning CPAP machine stayed behind and continued with his reading and note taking.
After successfully helping the aging women launch the kayaks at Big Tony’s Boat Launch the aging man re-read the graphic sex scene he had written earlier while he waited in his pickup truck. He was pleased with it. It got him excited and he didn’t even need one of those little blue pills which was necessary when excitement sometimes betrayed him.
When he finished reading the graphic sex scene the aging man pulled out a lawn chair and sat at the waters' edge near Big Tony’s Boat Launch enjoying the pleasant weather and taking in the rolling green hills. Sitting there the aging man thought about the graphic sex scene he had written and laughed to himself and felt like a pig.
Later that night they again played euchre and the results were the same. The team with the aging man who was into egg whites and was slow to pick up the game and a bit of a pig destroyed the team of the aging women.
Again, the aging man took secret pleasure in dominating the woman who had dismissed his egg white breakfast sandwich argument, but this time he didn’t sit there quietly like a Raymond Chandler character waiting for the other shoe to drop. This time the aging man talked about luck and thoughtfully downplayed their success, but in a monotone voice as if he was Lou Reed working out the lyrics to “Street Hassle,” but secretly he really enjoyed crushing them. He also felt just as petty, trite and resentful as the prior night. This time he didn’t even try to fight it, he just enjoyed that too.
In the morning the woman with the background in food science didn’t complain about her husband’s malfunctioning CPAP machine. Seems the two part electrical cord had become slightly undone and lost its connection, but they had discovered the problem before going to bed and got a good night’s sleep.
Not long after breakfast it started to rain. The four day rental remained lovely and the rolling hills remained green, but the weather was no longer pleasant. This forced them inside and wrecked the aging couple’s plans for a bike ride. Instead, the aging women continued to work on the puzzle, the aging man with the now fixed CPAP machine continued to read and take notes on the migration of the Tuscarora Indians and the aging man who was writing what turned out to be a pretty hot sex scene, continued to write, but not about sex. It was about the fallout from sex, replete with tears and recriminations.
Taking a break from the puzzle as the rain momentarily subsided the aging woman who was married to the man who was slow to pick up euchre and wrote graphic sex scenes was on the deck that curved around the front of the four day rental. The aging woman was looking over the top railing of the deck and heard and then noticed two tiny baby birds with their heads turned up, beaks open begging for food in a snug but tiny nest on a seriously thin branch.
The aging woman alerted her husband who was slow to pick up euchre and was a bit of a pig along with the other aging couple. Looking over the top railing the aging woman who discovered the snug but tiny nest on the seriously thin branch conjectured that they were perhaps hummingbirds, which was possible since the little long beaked chicken winged sized birds had been buzzing around sipping from the perennials in a flower box outside the kitchen window. Glumly, as they looked at the tiny begging birds in the snug nest the aging woman who discovered them noted that small birds due to predators, shrinking habitat and accidents typically live less than two-years, which, given their chicken wing size, seemed right.
The rain persisted throughout the day and though the two aging women worked assiduously it was obvious they were not going to finish the jigsaw puzzle, given this was the third day at the lovely four day rental. Also, the aging man who had been diligently reading and taking notes about the migration of the Tuscarora Indians, still had a lot more to read and a lot more notes to take. Same was true for the other aging man who was slow to pick up euchre and wrote graphic sex scenes. Many more depictions of teenagers doing it doggie style in a closet needed to be constructed as well as the tears and recriminations that resulted from the teenagers doing it doggie style in a closet.
But they were not defeated. You didn’t get to be a pair of aging couples by giving into defeat, even if the pleasant weather at the four day rental with the rolling green hills had abandoned you. You also kept going even if you weren’t able to complete all your tasks. You moved forward even if the baby birds in the snug tiny nest on a seriously thin branch turned out not to be hummingbirds, but some other tiny bird whose now returned stoic mother looked up at you with a single eye from the snug nest with an expression that seemed to say, “Move along you wrinkled old bastards. We’re just tiny chicken wing sized birds waiting for a hawk to swoop in and eat us or big gust of wind to blow our snug tiny nest away or the owner of of this lovely four day rental to come along and chop this and other trees down so you can sit on that deck with your Tanqueray and tonics and say dumb shit like: “Wow, what a view,” or “OMG, that’s some body of water.” None of that stopped them.
Later, as the rain persisted at the lovely four day rental they were predictably shaken watching clips of “House Select Committee on the January 6 Attacks” on YouTube. Quietly they may have thought to themselves with alarm—”Our country is headed toward a civil war.” But they didn't voice that alarming concern. They just kept moving forward.
The next morning, as the aging couples packed up to leave the lovely four day rental they suffered another indignity as the sad tickling water that came out in dribs and drabs was now non-existent. It was as if the Visigoths had broken through overnight and totally destroyed the leaky crumbling Roman aqueducts. But they got past that too.
The aging man who was slow to pick up euchre and was a bit of a pig was also annoyed that stopping in Skaneateles on the way home that his wife who discovered the baby birds in the snug tiny nest on the seriously thin branch spent $226 on bowls, cups and other things they didn’t need—he thought it would be better to just give the $226 to someone who needed it rather than buy all this stuff. And the wife of the aging man was annoyed too because she was of the opinion that she could damn well spend $226 any way she pleased. This was a recurring argument spanning the life of their long marriage that they always found a way past.
And finally the last indignity the morning presented happened to the aging couple where the woman had a food science background and the man had a thing about the migration of the Tuscarora Indians. Roughly two-thirds of the way home the transmission on their Lexus SUV ceased up, rendering the vehicle immovable. Towing and repairs would cost thousands and thousands of dollars, but they just smiled and continued forward.
Though events had gone awry for the two aging couples near the end of the four days at the four day rental they could endure these hard left turns because they understood life is mostly pain and suffering with moments of grace and transcendence. And while aging couples knew pain and suffering was a given, they also knew right around the corner was another lovely four day rental with pleasant transcendent weather and graceful rolling green hills.