Silver and shimmering, there’s Manhattan Island: you can hear the train whistles from the New Jersey shore, this century always intruding on the past. To be honest, this event makes me as nuts as it makes me happy (the 32 pound gun did, finally, go off after four tries). There’s something slap-dash about it, this last event of the season (or the first of next, as the BAR commander would have it). The range and quality of impressions is astonishing but it’s a small, manageable event that’s good for trying things out, and for first-time-users.
Which could bring me to the highlight of the day for someone close to me, but suffice it to say that what happens in the blockhouse stays in the blockhouse and I haven’t seen a particular teenage boy that excited, like, ever. He stayed excited, too, until he finally fell asleep somewhere on I-95 northbound.
I like the predictable ritual of Fort Lee: it’s always cold, the sun fades around noon and the light is always pale by the afternoon, the guns are always fired, and the blockhouse is always lost. There’s a ceremony up in the town and the square always smells delicious, the kettles are always full of mysterious stew with some charcoal bits mixed in and the kid always has three bowls full.
There are always a lot of photographers stalking the ‘wily and elusive reenactor’ at this event; there’s a Fort Lee photo club and they come every year. Unlike Tower Park, there’s no touching, just long-lens stalking. It’s a little weird and I try not to laugh but the lengths they go to do are funny, somehow, though it’s just someone else’s hobby and obsession.
The comments in the public are always revealing. This year’s prize goes the gentleman who told his son muskets are slow to fire and hard to use because they’re breech loading. I think few people have much experience with the physical world, and we would be well-rewarded for spending some time thinking about larger themes in our interpretations, as I’m not convinced people come with much context for what they’re told or what they see.
Mr S could not remember the name of the regiment they were portraying when I asked him to remind me: the best he could do was “Colonel Sanders’ Regiment,” which was thankfully taken in good spirits when confessed, but you have to know that a man who has managed to get potato on his hat is, well, let’s call it befuddled with hunger. We were probably all a little punchy with cold when the conversation turned to the overheard remark that there would be parakeet [parapet] firing. I asked how many parakeets it took for a four pound gun: four. And then we were off on a flight of fancy noting that loading the guns with the birds would clean the barrels on the way down, and that a parrot, beak forward and in flight, had a fine and aerodynamic profile, but it is damned hard to load the birds tail-first. [Insert squawking noises and some broadcloth-sleeved arm flapping.] After this, we had a demonstration of a simple rapid-fire musket exchange principle which I believe may have been employed to some good effect in the blockhouse.
On the way down, we had spotted a woman driving with a small parrot on her shoulder, loose in her small car, with a cage in the back, so the day really began on a parrot and parakeet theme, though the Free Men of the Sea were parading in Plymouth. All in all, a very typical, slightly surreal Fort Lee.