Knowing My Place

How do you know when you have found your place, that particular spot on Earth where you want to spend, perhaps, maybe, the rest of your life? Is it an art, or a craft, to know this; is it a sixth sense, or a veiled precognition, or a tapping into the preordained? Or is it just a bit of luck, one in which making the right choice – strong feelings of kismet and deja vu notwithstanding – is pretty much a 50-50 proposition?

We live, currently, in a house that we knew, instantly, upon first viewing, was The One, and over the years we have made it a place we love. The neighborhood around it … not so much; but this house – it is us, a three-dimensional exploded diagram of our souls and psyches. Being in this house – what we’ve made this old building-with-improbable-histories into – is, for us, like slipping into a pool of body-temperature water: We don’t know where we end and it begins, and we lose ourselves, and we are one. And let’s not even talk about the memories and the ghosts of loved ones who dwell in the spaces within. They alone would be deal-breakers to any thoughts of leaving here.

Yet, “would be” is the key phrase here because, despite being fortunate enough to have already found The One, we have also found another One – this time a town, not yet a house in it – and it is calling us so strongly, and we are so susceptible to its call, that we feel like Odysseus hearing the Sirens, but hiding the ropes so that he can’t be lashed to the mast; we want to be drawn to this new place, to submit ourselves to its thrall. We don’t need convincing (although we do wonder if it’s a running to and not a fleeing from)  but, rather, a plan. Also, guts and some dough. Despite rightness, change is tough.

This new One, if you have read earlier postings here and have been paying attention, is Woodstock, N.Y., which draws us like a magnet and appeals so strongly to our better natures that we would think we were intoxicated or pixilated, bewitched or possibly even a bit mad … if it weren’t for the evidence. Over and over, time and again, just as we – many miles and four hours away from it – stop and start to sober up, wondering if we are just being silly (are we nuts to give up the conveniences a big city offers and exchange them for the more limited commercial and cultural offerings of a small town tucked away in a rural and mountainous area?) – it is at that very moment of cold-feet-dom when something happens to remind us why Woodstock has to be, needs to be, our next home – indeed, The One we’ve always wanted, The One that’s been waiting for us.

The current evidence? It came in an article in the August 11 issue of the unflaggingly excellent Woodstock Times – an always-terrific read that reflects the personality and ethos of its turf and readership as well as any newspaper in America. The piece, by reporter George Pattison, looks to be nothing more nor less than a fairly typical covering of a town zoning-board meeting – just the sort of thing you would expect to see in the columns of a publication determined to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.

But there is a difference. This, after all is Woodstock – the anti-“Chinatown,” where, Jake, good things happen. About midway through the article, writer Pattison informs us of a bit of off-the-agenda, out-of-left-field business:

The meeting got a dollop of liveliness at its outset, as local musician Journey Blue Heaven provided an impromptu, only-in-Woodstock musical interlude following remarks to the board by resident Jay Cohen, whose dog JoJo has mounted a write-in campaign for town supervisor in the fall election.

Cohen, noting that Woodstock was barely mentioned in a recent New York Times article extolling the hipness of the Hudson Valley, advised board members to make the town attractive to visitors and would-be settlers by making its property assessments and tax rates competitive with those of neighboring communities. Journey Blue Heaven, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, endorsed Jay Cohen’s views and JoJo Cohen’s candidacy via a brief, three-song set: “Tax Cap” (to the tune of the Beatles’ “Get Back”), “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “We Shall Overcome.”

The town assessor, Marc Plate, sustained the musical motif by blowing a chord or two on a harmonica before recommending that the town hire Goldman Appraisal Service, a Kingston firm, to evaluate the town’s assessment of approximately a dozen properties.

And then the story continued on to more standard, civic-meeting stuff. But, let us parse the three paragraphs above to help understand why Woodstock beckons to us.

1. The meeting itself. Woodstock takes its town politics seriously. One might even say that politics is the town sport, played rough and without pads. The convergence of Sixties free-thinkers, self-exiled Manhattanite expatriates and descendants of the artists who made the town a creative mecca in the early 20th century, when brought together in a governmental context, in one room, creates a situation that would make a room full of Talmudic scholars seem like a gathering of shy schoolgirls. People in Woodstock dive into politics without looking to see if there’s water in the pool (and don’t get them started about the town water); it’s a contentious, high-stakes, high-emotion scene. It’s glorious. Every place should care about itself the way Woodstock does.

2. Letters to the Woodstock Times (one of the greatest letter sections since the Daily Forward’s bintel briefs) are running 100 percent in favor of JoJo’s candidacy. Sure, it’s a protest goof … but JoJo could win. And, if elected, would serve. Possibly two terms.

3. That a singer, even one named Journey Blue Heaven, would show up and ask to perform could happen anywhere. That the zoning board would permit her to do so says something. That they paused the business of the meeting to let her do three numbers gets closer to the heart of Woodstockian gestalt. But what tips the scales is Marc Plate (of a many-generationed Woodstock family and who, by the way, sold us our cemetery plot in the Artists Cemetery) – not only did he, the town assessor, join in with Ms. Heaven, but he apparently carries around a harmonica, even to board meetings, should such spontaneous musical occurrences erupt … which, in Woodstock, they do.

I ask you: How can you not love a place like that? How can you not want to live there? How can this kooky Camelot, this locale that so effortlessly blends art and place, intensity and whimsy, strong history and equally strong possibilities, change and changelessness and anti-change, heart, humor and Muses in the mountain-air molecules … how, I ask you, can this not be The One?

Journey Blue Heaven will now sing the response.

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