Yesterday I was talking to Old Man Wentworth, better known for some reason as Shrew Nose, at the Keene Valley Ausable Inn.
Around here, some men are known by names that their parents never gave them, as often as not the names of North Country animals. The men upon whom these titles are conferred don't seem to mind them one bit. I have tried to find out how Shrew Nose and Coy Dog and others got their nicknames, but I can never get a straight answer.
"Maybe," my friend Charla said, "It's a Carlos Casteneda thing, and those are their totem animals."
"I don't think so, " I said.
At any rate, Old Man Wentworth, or Shrew Nose, lives up in the woods, and he was not in the best of humors when I spoke with him. He entertained visitors two weeks ago and was still getting over it.
"Why?" I asked. "What happened?"
First, he told me, his guests - his old friend Biff, who now lives in New Jersey, and Biff's wife and their dog and two children - wouldn't even say hello, they were so upset about their cell phones, which didn't work. Well, he asked them, are your cellphones Verizon? No, they said, they're AT&T. Of course they don't work up here, he said, we have Verizon. His house guests couldn't believe it. Without their cell phones they were helpless, like deep sea divers without an oxygen tank.
Now, it's a funny thing, but Old Wentworth and I are probably the only two people in Keene, or maybe the whole world, who do not own cellphones. Until a couple of years ago, Keene Valley didn't have cell service; and a couple of years before that, we didn't have street numbers on our houses. Now we have both, or most of us do.
Wentworth naturally offered his guests the use of his telephone.
"Where is it?" asked his old pal Biff.
This seemed like a funny question to Wentworth.
"Why, in the house, of course," he said, ushering them in.
"This looks like the phone Mr. Ed talks on, on Nickelodeon," one of the children said. Then the family all stood around marveling at the telephone.
"Why, it's a land line!" Mrs. Biff - I think her name is Maylene - said finally.
"Go ahead and make your call, if you're in such a hurry to talk to someone back home in New Jersey," Wentworth told them, but they just stared at the contraption uncomprehendingly.
"We didn't want to make a phone call," Maylene said finally. "I wanted to see where the closest sushi restaurant is. And Jackie wanted to play Candy Crush on Facebook. And Tom wanted to check his email."
"I wanted to take a selfie of me next to a pine tree with a mountain in the background," Biff said, for all the world as if he hadn't just moved out of Keene a couple of years or so ago. Like a pine tree is such an oddity.
Now, I don't have a cellphone myself, being misanthropic, but at least I know people who do, so I am aware that sometimes placing a call is the last use a person would put it to. Old Wentworth doesn't get out much, though, so he just stood there, flabbergasted, holding the telephone receiver until it started blatting "If you want to make a call, please hang up and try again! If you want to make a call, please hang up and try again! Eep eep eep eep eep eep eep!"
Then they wanted to hike some trail or other, he said, but what's the point in just walking up and down a mountain? And besides, they had a car.
Later, their dog chased Wentworth's cat Cinnamon out into the woods, and she didn't come home until yesterday. Wentworth blamed the dog for strewing garbage all over the yard, but that turned out to be the work of raccoons. Wentworth wouldn't take it back, even though he said he wanted to be a good host.
"I use the word host in the scientific sense," he said, "as in, 'Lake trout may be host to lamprey eels, who leave big sucker marks on their flesh.'"
He handed me a postcard.
"It's from Maylene," he muttered darkly.
"I fear we overstayed our welcome," I read.
"Her fears are well founded," Shrew Nose said, snatching back the card.
I couldn't get any more out of him.
Have a good week.