sometimes you have to wonder what growing up in a place named after an abstract concept embodying the optimistic bent in the human condition will do to a person's mindset. and when i drive forever just to get home from wherever i've been, sometimes the desolation of an empty night fills the exit ramp for hope. it's a profoundly surreal feeling. you just know that you are leaving your comfortable place in life for a quiet moment in oblivion. it generally vanishes if the read and green neon sign for the liquor store is on. otherwise, the feeling clings and dwells in the shadows of the firehouse and the christmas shop. finding the house dark because eddie left the lights off when he went to bed can be either good or bad. finding the lights, the TV, and eddie still on is almost inevitably horrific. the grunted secrecy between parent and child simply reinforces the unreality of the current mindset. at worst, the feeling lingers after tripping over the huge black cat bonding itself to my ankles. it is not quite as strong, but it dulls the emotions. eventually, you enter the little death called sleep and wake up feeling exhausted.

sometimes it strikes you as amusing to live in hope. nothing bad can truely happen there. the largest scandals involve.wandering goats and visiting bears. a dollop of optimism lurks in each return address. how can one not smirk just a little when writing hope, nj 07844? the best part about living in hope is driving up to the intersection by the school. directly in front of you is a sign that reads:

Hope 0

this sign augers ill for the two bed and breakfasts, and people leaving after venturing through The Land of Make Believe (a pre-teen paradise). another amusement lies at the center of town. next to Dick's Direct Sales (which is in itself amusing) lies a small luncheonette and general store. a flag out front proclaims 'Hartung's since 1937'. this is odd because the luncheonette has been referred to as 'skip's' since i've been alive. i guess the flag is designed to keep flies away.

there is only one pay phone in hope. i haven't dared to go to that corner in years (we were not allowed on that particular corner when i was growing up, perhaps because, at that time, it was the only one with a sidewalk), but i don't think the phone is functional. it's a 'ma bell' phone booth with no lines running to it. i guess the people in town realize that only tourists would use it. someone from hope would know to just walk to where ever it is they are calling. things are rather relaxed for a town that is the opening scene for a horror movie.

at times i wonder if one of the three small lakes within the township was converted into the planned golf course. several years ago i signed a pointless petition against such a conversion. now, i might have a different opinion. a sign with a golfer crossing the road next to one for slow moving farm vehicles would be priceless. of course, the golf course would be near one of the two cemeteries in town, so there might be a traumatic hearse-golf cart pile up. i don't have much feeling towards the lake, but i'm anti-golf course on principals of good fashion. who knows what creations might surface?

a lot of people have vegetable gardens around here. eddie is no exception. generally, different gardens have varying success with different vegetables. a fairly symbiotic trade pattern exists between the proud gardeners. mrs. hoffman brings us squash, and we give her eggplant. basil is exchanged for carrots with mrs. k. the vegetables get shuffled around town. except zucchini. unfortunately, everyone has a garden that does well with zucchini. there is always a surplus of that prolific veggie. you can only do so much with it before it starts to rot your brain. you cannot give it away. exporting it to one's workplace is only a temporary solution until it becomes banned from the office. at that point, the zucchini situation is desperate and the tactics cutthroat. one time we returned home from work to find our cat stoned out of his mind on a fresh bribe of catnip and a grocery bag full of zucchini on our kitchen table. later that evening we went about town stashing zucchinis in cars and on porches. we cleaned our carpets and posted a note to that affect which referred visitors to the back door (the only door we can lock). luckily, by the end of the week, the zucchini season was winding down, and the sense of tension and paranoia returned to normal.

in very rural areas, such as hope, there is a fairly large subculture of forest dwelling herbivores, such as dear, rabbits, and woodchucks. these creatures are the sneakiest and most viscous creatures ever to walk the face of the earth near eddie's garden. different people have varying methods of dealing with such threats. eddie's response was to transform his garden into a cross between a maximum security prison and a secret camp deep in enemy territory. he put up a fence of fine mesh deer netting which blends in with the grass and, so, is nearly invisible as it rises ten feet into the air. the base of this fence is reinforced with wooden planks which are partially buried to foil the burrowing interlopers. surrounding all of this is a wire fence, four feet high, made up of old tomato plant cages. there is some form of door to allow entrance, but only eddie knows how to find and use it. all of this preparation, however, is like spittle in the wind when faced with the wiles of The Dreaded Rabbit (aka THAT DAMNED BUNNY, aka fluffy). this amazing creature hops blithely through all of these fortifications. of course, this fiend is a tiny little baby bunny no larger than my hand. eddie has been forbidden from harming fluffy in any way. s/he is just too cute. i'm sure The Dreaded Rabbit will be very happy with all the safeguards eddie has installed on its personal grocery.

hope isn't a sleepy town, it's just in a daze. an occasional bout with annoying tourists and visiting indian powwows makes people blink. every so often the town gears itself up for a massive influx of annoying shoppers and holds a craft fair. i, like several other resident natives, leave the town at this time. i am unable to give an account of what transpires, but i can imagine the hell. people park all over the place, especially where they do not belong. i went several years ago and was terrified. i know that it would be worse now. i don't think i would attend if given the chance again.

© 2002 Michael Tarrant. All rights reserved.