Trying to hang on to our family home after my parents died, I decided to turn the house into a Bed and Breakfast. There were a lot of delays and obstacles on the way to eventual failure of the enterprise, and my imaginary brother William was one of them.
While we were redoing the bathrooms, the old claw-foot tub stood in the middle of the living room for several weeks. One morning I came downstairs and discovered my sometime brother William in the tub..... just waking up, squinting his face and rubbing his head with his knuckles.
When we were kids, William and I shared a bedroom at Edgewood Place, but he had spent more nights in that tub than in his own bed. Full of water too. A normal child would have drowned.
I didn't know how long it had been since I last saw him, where he had been, or what he was doing back at Edgewood Place again, but I was not all that happy to see my mystery brother just then, and I did know he wouldn't be capable of speech for five or ten minutes yet; so I went to the kitchen and made coffee.
William isn't my real brother. We never even knew where he came from: he just appeared in the garden with our dog Binker one day.
I was five years old. It was Spring of 1949 and we were getting ready to move from Lewis County to Ithaca so dad could teach at Cornell.
I went to the the bay window just as my father came in the driveway and my mother went out to meet him. I think we must have all seen the strange boy in the garden at once.
His big dirty face was only high as Binker's head, and he held on to her collar, as if he were using her to climb out of the ground.
My mother and father walked slowly toward the boy, as if he might sink back into the ground if they were too abrupt.
They stopped few yards from him for what seemed like a long time, talking at him I suppose, and finally Dad took Binker by the collar and led her toward the back door, the boy twaddling along side .
I tried to hold the door shut when they came up the steps, but Dad growled "BOY" through the door, and I stepped aside.
The boy was barefooted; His hair and skin and clothing seemed to be all about the same uncolor, except for around his mouth which me must have put in the creek to drink. Mom and Dad led Binker, boy attached, right up to the bath room. I followed, well behind, and watched from the upstairs hall.
He had freakishly short, slightly curved legs like the jaws of pliers. His his toenails brown and curled. I didn't like anything about the situation. I called Binker to me, and we
William came fairly clean, but he never stayed that way long, and he didn't talk for many months. His first words, or at least the first we heard, were song lyrics he picked up from the radio. Goodnight Irene, which he sang, not to well, with some attempted yodeling, which he must have picked up from the Hank Williams, but never mastered.
Whether his underdeveloped legs were result of a Thalidomide poisioning, inbreeding , or just a chance mutation, we will never know. I suppose he wasn't too well liked at home anyway, and imagine he must have lived in somebody's attic or cellar, or in a brush pile behind the outhouse for most of his life before he came to us.
Well, we were the Warrens, and we were going to treat him justly, so the move down to Ithaca was delayed while Dad tried to discover who the boy was, and where he belonged.
In the meantime Mom , us kids, and the boy went up to Lake Bonaparte.
He and I didn't always play well together.
It started with us earnestly stalking one another around the island, and developed into scrambles, chases, climbs, swimming, and wrestling, all of which and William was better at that me.
Very quickly I grew to admire and resent him equally.
William would sometimes stay out in the water into the evening. Mom would call him in and ring the camp bell, but there was no controlling William. Thinking of him out there on the water as I lay safe in bed, I felt deep aloneness.
I a few weeks of poking around, Dad could not establish William's identity, so he took on guardianship for the mean time, and it was a long mean time. Mom and Dad named him William, for no reason I know of except that there were no other Williams around, and the name Bonaparte, they pulled from the lake because it was handy, but it was appropriate enough
William was totally at home on Loon Island but never so in Ithaca . During the first years there, mostly speachless he didn't go to school and mostly went out only at night, like a cat.
Sometimes I locked the doors when he was out, but he would just go up a tree and in at the third floor.
At Lake Bonaparte William would sometimes be gone for days at a time. He was obviously able to take care of himself and Mom and Dad couldn't keep William in, so they grew to tolerate his wanderings. And they couldn't adopt a child who didn't officialy exist, but they did everything they could for William. One of those things was to pay for a hormone therapy which our doctor suggested might help restart the development of William's attenuated legs.
What the primitive hormone therapy of that time actually did, was it grew only his Privates. This has complicated his life in ways you can imagine for your self.
I took the coffee to William ; still in the tub, in which he immediately spilled half the coffee, then he slurped down the remaining half as fast as he could, so he could finish it before he spilled it again.
I poured him some more.
William told me that he had been up North since last I saw him, and he only planned to stay in Ithaca for a season. He wanted to dip into the money economy briefly, to save up for a bus ticket to Wyoming where he knows some horses. Horses and William are a Minataur, if you have ever seen them. Not many horses around Ithaca, where he mostly wears his sheet rock stillts to be normal, and used to borrow my bike to ride out of town. The spring loaded sheet rock stilts work very very well for him on the bike. I wished he had his own bike, but everytime he gets one, usually free one way another, it gets stolen from him.
William has no locks, has nothing to lock anything too, and manages to get past locks when he encounters them.. He had slept the night before in my my new garden shed, and washed up in the watergarden. It was a nice little shed, he let me know.
Yes thank you, That little shed was built by me and roofed with carefully selected river slates, lapped and bedded in mortar. The prettiest roof I ever did.
That shed's like something a garden Gnome would live in, William said.
Did I know about the big Estates in old England that would sometimes actually hire actors to live in the garden and impersonate hermits or Gnomes?
I thinkWilliam's old girlfriend Gee had told him about this. Gee seemed sometimes to have believed that he really WAS a gnome. Without his shin stilts, he could just about pass for a Gnome or maybe a Troll, and he would have no shame about exploiting that.
So he said I should hire him to be his garden Gnome.
As a Gnome, he could help direct guests trying to park here, or he could just act like he or the guests were invisible or imaginary. The latter would be more realistic, but either way, he would be good for business, he said.
Well, no way did I want Billy Bonaparte Crotchsniffer as a greeter for Edgewood Place Bed and Breakfast.
I suggested that, instead, he move over to Bridge House, where he often enough holed up anyway. He could start his own funky Bed and Breakfast, dress like a Goblin , serve worms for breakfast and do whatever he wanted to do.
I said he could have the family bathtub he was now spilling coffee in, if he would help me move it over there to Bridge House
He said O.K.
Bridge House, as you might know, is an old, and mostly disused, stone building incorporated in a bridge over a little gorge near the Cornell Campus. It has six or eight dank rooms in its two abutments, and a dark history of private occupancy, a raunchy one of fraternity use, and a decadence under university ownership. Link Here to Blog on Bridge House
It was already pretty much unused when we were kids and used to sneak around the fences to play in there.
For a long time it was used only by Cornell Plantations to keep dormant plants.
William has always used it as one of his hoveling places, and has often shared it with racoons, which all seem to know him like a big man on campus, even when he has been away for months.
Steve Gilbert and William and I got that tub around the fence and in there without dropping it into the gorge, which partly did happen, but we had a safety rope run through the drain hole and Steve grabbed it just in time.
I hadn't been serious telling William to make a B and B ofr it, but he showed up at the house again the next week and had me help him set up a web page like one I had for Edgewood place. He took to the computer pretty fast, like it was the magic slate he used to love, and every few days he would come back late at night to tweak his Bridge House Ivy Gothic Inn web site. Link Here
I am pretty sure that the only guests at Bridge House Ivy Gothic Inn were the raccoons, a LOT of raccoons, and the occasional young women William brought there to bed.
It is unusual for raccoons to tolerate even one other, unrelated raccoon in the neighborhood, but William somehow difused that instinct, or maybe it was the influence of the T.V. Or the fridge.
He got hold of an old T.V and a dorm room size fridge and a single clip up light, which he powered though two hundred feed of extension cords snaking through the woods under the leaves to an outdoor outlet on a frat house back side which they let him plug into .... probably because of some special mushrooms he provided the boys from the woods.
The T.V. signal came through a rabbit ears ariel he had mounted on the bridge tower. Much of the time this brought in only one station and whatever happend on screen, it was always snowing there. Sometimes it was only voices in the snow, sometimes just a blind white rush, but he left it on all the time, and usually there were at least a few coons watching it.
And watching him. The racoons learned to open and to sometimes close the refrigerator. They would take things out of it and put things in it. Frogs, sandwich ends, crusts, and pizza-stained cardboard, even shiny objects not particularly in need of refrigeration.
The end to that domestic arrangement came when a young woman, a graduate student whom William brought home for bed and breakfast, was so awed by the uncharacteristic sociability and learned human skills of the raccoons, and maybe so strangely taken with William ( as women of a certain sort often are) that she was determined to do a study of interspecies socialization involving him and the raccoons, and proposed to make it her masters thesis topic.
That spooked the shit out of William.
He was out of there. William told me about it when he stopped by on his way up north for a month or so maybe.
Edgewood Bed and Breakfast failed to support itself, as I warned you would happen. It was doomed. Local bankers had looked at me with real horror when I requested a couple hundred thousand dollars for renovations. So I had taken out a sub prime loan with CountryWide and it turned out that the guests couldn't cover the nine point six percent interest.
It was heart breaking, but at least I wasn't being driven out because I was being bombarded by the Syrian Airforce. I moved a lot of my family stuff and books to attics and barns of friends. My dog Deerdra and I stayed with my friend Alan Pike for a while, and gradually moved up the lake to my daughter's four acres on Pumpkin hill where I began grafting an orchard , dug half a dozen garden plots, and started a flock of chickens.
It was because of the chickens that I had to go looking for William again.
I had ordered twenty straight-run day-old chicks, which means half were likely to be hen chicks, half males.
But in April, at due time, the box arrived and the hatchery had included ten extra males, which according to the invoice, was to increase the thermal mass of the package so as to keep the chicks from chilling.
So, as it became evident about six weeks later, I had twelve hens and eighteen roosters.
The natural solution to the imbalance and to the superfluity of roosters on an egg farm, is to eat the roosters, preferabally at about six weeks of age, when they are only beginning to get cocky and are mostly as big as they will ever be.
Although I will eat my neighbors chicken, I did not intend to eat my own, and besides that, I was convinced from my reading and contemplations that there was a natural function for roosters in a flock: scouting for food, protecting the hens and so on; and I was determined that my roosters would have every chance to fulfill themselves.
I was right about roosters having a function.... and my roosters sure did fulfill themselves, but not without a lot of strife and brawling, sometimes involving me.
It is not natural or practical for a flock of twelve hens to be tended by eighteen roosters, and I might have realized that, but I was determined to make it work. So I went looking for William.
He had spent two or three years as a kid living on our Sammy's Roostosterone farm in Florida and getting gangbanged by her Roosters, who probably saw him as a punk competitor. He learned pretty well how to deal with roosters.
At the time of my need I didn't even know for sure if William in the county or up North, or out West for that matter, so I asked around and put my friends on the lookout, and then Deerdra dog and I cruised the greenways gorge verges and some of the mushroom hotspots we share, because just then the Chantrells were fruiting pretty good and he would likely be, have been, or be about to appear at one of those places. I lurked around like that, until Igot a call from Tim Dietrich, saying he had gone out to his barn with Cooper to play Ping Pong and found William was there reading books I had stored there. William sometimes camped in Tim's barn so he could read the old family National Geographics I had there. Tim said that right then, William was playing ping pong with Cooper. When without his stillts, he plays standing on the table....it is allowed him there...but it isnt fair because he about always wins that way, and he uses two paddles. Show me where it says you can't play with two paddles, he says. He will play for hours. I told Tim to keep him there, keep loosing to him, and I drove in..
It was surprisingly easy to convince William that he wanted to come and live with chickens again, He rode back with me that day.
It is not too clear to what degree, in the time he was at Dog's Plot , he tamed and trained the roosters, and to what degree they just naturally matured through their group adolecense, and got relieved of a few whom I killed because they insisted on attacking me, guests or grandchildren.
O.K. I couldn't have managed without him.
Early on during his stay here, even before he built his escape ark, William was coming in at night to play on my I Book and mess around in the kitchen while I slept, or the same while I was away on a roof. I myself got very little writing done during that period, but , after fooling around with his Bridge House site and adding a food section there,, William started the blog you have here. He is the one who named it and this place Dog's Plot, though he and the dogs have been gone for a while now.
He may be up North, probably not Great Slave Lake, he may be in Wyoming, he could even
be out west wrangling chickens on movie sets, but it seems likely as anything that he is back at Bridge House again.