I saw a man who looked familiar. How I knew him, I cannot say. I wracked my brain, searching through all the people and places I could think of, but still came up empty. Finally, I did what I never do. I walked up to the man and said, “You look very familiar.”
He looked me over with a smile on his face, but from his expression I could tell that I wasn’t familiar to him.
He said, “I’ve been in a lot of TV shows and movies,” and then he named a few. I hadn’t seen any of them, so we just started talking. I told him about me, and he told me more about himself, and then his wife came by and introduced herself as Paula.
I said, “My wife’s name is Paula, too.” So, I called over to my Paula, and Paula and Paula hit it off like they had been long lost friends. After some time, the Paula who was not my wife said, “We recently moved here full-time and we’re looking to make new Berkshire friends.”
Yippee, we thought. So are we. We liked these people. And by the way, if you watched the Oscars, the familiar man is Ken Cheeseman, who got a shoutout from Daniel Scheinert, who co-directed “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and shared in winning the award for best director. Daniel was a student of Ken’s.
A few months earlier, my Paula and I were at the Williams College Museum of Art. We hadn’t been there for more than 10 minutes when a stranger approached Paula and said, “Excuse me, but do you live in Canaan?”
A bit surprised, Paula returned the question with a question. “Why do you ask?” she said.
The stranger said, “When the student at the entrance asked for our zip code, he told us that someone else with the same zip code just came through the door, and you’re the only other people here. We live in Canaan. Do you?”
“That’s funny,” said Paula. “We hardly know anyone who lives in Canaan. And, yes, we do.”
We spend the next 90 minutes with our fellow Canaanites meandering through a fascinating exhibit of the works of Sol LeWitt. When it was time for lunch, the stranger’s wife said, “Why don’t you join us for lunch?” We did.
It turns out that the stranger’s wife grew up in the same town as my wife. Her brother and Paula’s brother went to high school together. And the stranger, like Paula, is a clinical psychologist.
I was a fundraiser. I’ve traveled all over the world and never, accidentally or coincidentally, met another fundraiser. A year ago, I wrote a piece in this paper about philanthropy. One of my reader’s contacted me about the essay. She said, “Guess what? We’re neighbors, and I’m a fundraiser, too. We should get together and share war stories.” We did and now we’re friends.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were at the Apple Tree Inn in Lenox to see the fabulous musical duo The Freemonts (See them if you can — they are local and they are great) and Charming Disaster, an excellent goth band from Brooklyn. We attended the performance with our friends Rick and Claudia. I met Rick, more than a year ago, while riding my bike. Now, we’re all friends.
Coincidentally, Ken and his wife, the other Paula, were also at the performance. The entire evening was wonderful: great music, food and conversation, and even better to be among friends, which in and of itself is a relatively new phenomenon for me. Just ask my kids who are still trying to figure out how I made more friends in the last two years than I did in the last 30.
As we were driving home that evening, I said to my Paula, “We could never do this when we lived in New Jersey.” A fantastic show, wonderful friends, free parking and only 15 minutes to get back to our house in the woods. Without realizing it, the Berkshires have become our bliss. Maybe it’s the Berkshire County air, or a certain heartiness that one must possess to get through the long cold winters. Whatever it is, there is a special kind of person that moves to this part of the world when others of a certain age are flocking to year-round sunshine, warmth and golf. And it’s not just because people are friendly. There are friendly people all over, but they are rarely this interesting.
I cycle with 70- and 80-year-old men and women. One of the women has hiked the Appalachian Trail — the whole thing — three times. I’m in two writers’ groups where the energy and enthusiasm to create new work is palpable. Paula is writing theater reviews, teaching herself Spanish, attending a French conversation group and going to dance classes twice a week. We are also getting involved with the Becket Arts Center — thank you Ken and Paula. Our new friends are doing this and more. And I haven’t even mentioned our only neighbors on our winding dirt road: another psychologist like Paula and a world-class interior designer who studied musical composition with Stephen Sondheim. Together, they personify friendly and interesting.
None of these people (our friends) are thinking about the sunset. They are creating, traveling, learning and exploring what it means to live in a time of personal renaissance in this vibrant, engaged and creative community that we joyfully call the Berkshires.