Friday, November 11, 2016

The Frontier

In hindsight, the dismissive mental chuckle I felt in response to having my words received as “world-weary” might have been out of place. Perhaps that is as fitting of a title and label as someone could produce, either as a close companion or a stranger, coming across my thoughts. I have felt that I had moved beyond those fabled and cherished nights of the late teen / twenty-something with near-reckless abandon and equally as flippant of a schedule, yet find myself at four am on a Friday morning going back through the photographs of the day we found the abandoned Frontier Restaurant in the Catskills.
When an acquaintance made the “world-weary” remark, I suppose it stuck out to me because I had never felt so immediately drawn to a description, whether accurate or not. My immediate response was a joking, “Yeah, weary of the world and tired beyond my years at 24, I’m fucked going forward,” -- a year later, and half as much sober, I feel those words ring even truer. I guess what I’m grasping at it is the ability (not so much a gift…) of feeling great spans of time, the emotional potential and drain, in a microcosm, in a condensed state. Without pushing a long story even longer, we are capable of sharing a great deal of the experience of life with our loved ones. This weariness and capacity for great and terribleness is ever-present in those who have seen our poles, those who have seen us at our greatest and at our very lowest. 

I often romanticize my experiences and paint the stories with the hallmarks of a great novel, or soundtracks of a cinematic masterpiece, but I embellish only because my propensity for nostalgia and the ghosts of feelings past are typically too great. I say this because when I describe the weekend in the Catskills Mountains of New York State as overcast, dreary, and beautiful with the contrasted black lines along every blue, green, and gray surface, they truly were, not to mention the emotional gravity of the relationship, backloaded with the aforementioned condensed lifetimes, rises and failures. 

Once again, for better or worse, the trip highlighted the extremes of some of my personality and habits, both good and bad. The setting was irrevocably me; as was the lack of further planning and foresight. Personal illness and shit going sideways in terms of a concert that was our destination for the weekend retreat had already set a somber note over the period in time. Personal shortcomings and criticisms towards me (some justified, others just adding insult to injury) had led to a silent tempest exploding behind my eyes trying to make every moment a smile, every conversation engaging, and I probably came across as the most dense, irritating mother fucker this side of Cascadia. This demerit is not without ground. I attempted at finding something charming to change the trajectory of the coming days. In fashion typical of compounding bad luck, we found a lovely sunset walk. On a fucking drainage reservoir. By the time we exhausted the pleasant length of available trail, it was barely late enough to call it a night for rest and I found myself in that awful position of an undelivering host, a place no one comfortable in a years long relationship should be, let alone feel, but is a distinct indication that things are not sitting well for either party. So, we turn to go back to the small cabin apartment rental. 

The mountain highways are interesting. They can be winding and somewhat treacherous around the hilly bends, but for the most part, where we are and the areas surrounding the bodies of water, the open spaces remind me of the Minnesotan badlands. This is a thought that only comes to me after the fact, months later. My eyes search for anything interesting to see before the sun and small towns go to sleep. A last-ditch exit from the highroad and a bright blue building are my refuge. The Frontier is not far from the relatively busy roads, and is really only protected from site of the thoroughfare by the small spanse of brush in the shoulder. There are some residential properties and I believe even a State Police building not too far away. These did not seem to be immediately pieces of concern, in terms of getting attention at an abandoned property, ironically enough. The whole, “closer we are to danger, the further we are from harm,” bit manifested. 

Thinking back on the first time we saw the Frontier, it was more apt of a setting for this thought-novel or film than I could ever really have hoped for. Maybe “hoped for” isn’t the right color of phrase. The place was taken out of time. It was a nondescript restaurant & bar, one looked originally pulled out of the design of a ranch-style home and could have been the setting of an 80’s sitcom or was ready to be reopened any day now. For the most part, the interior was immaculate and, once again, looked as if someone had merely failed to dust for bit. The further we got towards the end void of any outside entry, the more obvious it became where and when we were, but the point stands: taking it all in from the dining area of the Frontier was like standing in a modern day restaurant after hours. We found decor that screamed mid-nineties at the latest, and memorabilia (such as Bill and Hillary Clinton dollar bills, dart and bowling league champion trophies) and receipts that peg the Frontier’s death as mid-2000s. There seemed to be an uptrend in the prominent storage of Christmas decor, but this may have just been a quirk of whoever had last left the closure duties and what was the least important stuff to get out. If I had to guess, the place was a family-run affair, and something must have happened to an older relative / owner, leaving the operation in mild disarray, until proving itself financially unviable. The whole state of the place just left us with the phrase, “what a shame…” 

The building had a tremendous amount of heart. The walls were lined with pieces of local history and photographs of, what I assume to be, the regular patrons and their families. It truly made me feel melancholy and nostalgic for dozens of people I never met and will never know. Besides the obvious state of being where we probably shouldn’t, unlike some of the other locations I’ve seen, I never once felt in danger or out of place at the Frontier. Also unlike other forgotten histories, this may have been due to the fact that it appeared not to have been frequented and visited by merry-going schmucks such as myself in its post-life existence. Maybe that’s a feature of the Catskills of which I was an ignorant visitor, but in terms of urban exploration or just general decay, I do not recall much if any vandalization, graffiti, and the like. 

We left and got back into Ironside II, poorly nestled in the shrub and weeds. We were ecstatic about the art and colors of the police patches from units across the country that were spread across the bartop, the different photos that stuck out to us, and the find in general. Eventually, the melancholy drain precursing the experience lapsed back into the forefront of our minds and the night brought (although my favorite) storms that flooded the adventurous circuits and drowned the high short-firing from in the synapses of my brain. 

I do not know if I’ll ever see the Frontier again. I do not know if I would want to. It was near-perfect as is and could only be renovated and restored or fall into a state of decay no longer recognizable. I think of kicking a small rock into the reservoir and how, for once, I considered the sun to be a beautiful capstone to the dying day. I think of the dead Christmas lights on the outside porch of the Frontier, of the brief glimpses of a genuine smile on my travelling companion, and our histories, the Frontier, my own, hers, ours. I think of the sun making its grave in the hills around the lake, of the gentle rain that night, of the overcast morning that followed and our brief second visit before leaving the mountains, and keep coming back to one conclusion, if only a conclusion in the form of a tired phrase. What a shame.