I was one of those kids who could go out alone, with a few supplies and a fishing pole, and do all right. I would camp until I had to come back. I would eat fresh fish fried in butter right out of my cast iron pan using a campfire of driftwood.
If I needed fresh water I could find it, and I knew enough to boil it.
I always felt at ease in the wilderness of the Great Cypress Swamp, the Everglades and the small islands in Biscayne Bay.
When Maggie and I got married, we lived in New York City for a few years. This was her choice, but I went along.
This was like 30 years ago. Near one of the places we lived was a small storefront. Maggie said, “Don’t go in there. That’s a drug store.”
I had no idea why she said that. I thought perhaps it was like some of the markets in our neighborhood that actually sold out-of-date products, some of which had been gnawed on by rodents.
Well, I wanted to clean the kitchen. So, figuring soap doesn’t go out of date, I went to the drug store.
There was a can of cleanser in the window, and that’s all there was in the window.
I thought, at least I can buy that. So in I went.
To my surprise there was a thick, bullet-proof window inside. A small man with round glasses was sitting on the other side of it.
There was the counter at the window, a speaking hole, and nothing but him, a chair and one door in that room.
I thought, this must really be a high-crime area.
He looked at me, and I looked at him
I said, “Howdy.”
He looked a bit taken aback. I figured maybe it wasn’t normal for a dorky white guy in fatigues to be visiting the store.
Then he said, “Hello.”
And I asked, “Do you have any Bar Keepers Friend?” He tilted his head. Then I said, “or Bon Ami?”
At this point, a very large man came in from the door behind the smaller man and looked down at me from behind that thick window.
I said, “How about Comet?” They didn’t budge. “Ajax?”
The tall man whistled. The short man tilted his head again and looked at the tall man.
I said, “Like that on the window?” as I pointed to the can of cleanser.
They looked at each other, and I looked at them and said, “My wife said this was a drug store?”
At that moment, I realized it was a drug store, but not the kind I was thinking of.
That’s when we all started laughing.
“No, we don’t sell that here, but you can have the one on the window,” the small man said. The large man walked back through the door.
Well, that’s pretty much how I became accepted in that neighborhood.
Except for the shootings on the street and the line of drug dealers we passed each day after New York’s finest decided to close down the neighborhood drug store, it was OK.
But at night, so many alarms would go off, especially in the government building around the corner, that I couldn’t sleep a full night.
That’s when we started looking for a place to live that was as close to wilderness and backwoods as the place I grew up.
As a first step, we ended up buying a woodlot in Hadley that was next to state land and away from houses.
My new wife and I spent many happy days camping up there on days off away from the city.
Now we live up here, near the woods, but I remember the old neighborhood with fondness. Even though it was a completely different kind of wilderness than I had known before.