Chapter 39: Little Giant

All-American Ruins
7 min readMay 7, 2024

Location: Unknown Pub

Coxsackie, NY

Tom Wopat sang to me through my Nissan speakers.

On the last night of the year
While crowds of strangers storm the Square
For the countdown and the cheer —

I sang along.

They’ll freeze their asses
Off out there
Me, I’ll stay right here

It was New Year’s Eve afternoon. That morning, I woke up and thought, “I gotta get out of here.” I packed a bag and drove to the Berkshires. I didn’t tell anybody, nor did I have an agenda in mind, except to be still. I planned to write and watch the mountains unfold before me, to get my year in order, to collect myself, to get centered and grounded in the work ahead.

on the last night of the year…

As Tom Wopat’s pianist closed out the song, the building came into view, like a cloud of passing smoke on the NYS Thruway. I’d driven by it many times before, to and from Albany, when I was dating a guy who lived the shadow of the Governor’s Mansion, just before the pandemic started. In fact, the last time I’d been in the Berkshires alone was the week after we broke up. I wasn’t sad, necessarily, but I was solemn. He didn’t seem to understand that living with stage IV cancer likely meant that he was more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus causing major damage than most people. I tried to control his “business as usual” attitude, an error on my part, and he became flippant, deliberately going into crowded rooms just to prove a point about what an unstoppable survivor he was, before the shutdown forced him to isolate. It made me ill to watch, and our story ended, not a word spoken. All communication was just naturally snuffed.

Every time I’d driven up here while my ex and I were together, I felt the urge to inspect the three-story gray — house? — closer, but ultimately, I always told myself “no.” I didn’t used to know how to do things for myself.

Not this time, I say out loud as I hit the Coxsackie exit and loop back around to find the building sitting there. As it turns out, I’ve been entirely wrong about my assessment that it was, at one point, a private home. The “For Sale” sign sitting out front says it’s a commercial space. Climbing out of my car and starting my tentative approach to the front entrance, it becomes clear that it was a local pub in a previous life. The overgrown parking lot is littered in shattered dishes, rusty utensils, remnants of ceramic coffee cups with cheap handles strewn all over alongside salt and pepper shakers, laminated menus, and a free-standing Dirt Devil that seems out of place.

“I feel out of place,” it whispers to me as I inch closer and closer to the steps that lead up into the front of the building. “Let me know if you need to talk about it,” I say, but it doesn’t say anything after that.

I observe nasty vinyl siding all over the pub, synonymous to so many structures in and around the Rust Belt. Before I moved east from Colorado in 2006, I’d only seen this type of siding while visiting family in Buffalo or Bloomington, Indiana. It’s ugly, objectively, but it’s affordable, especially during this brutal period of inflation. Just the other day, I had to decide between milk and eggs to fit my meager grocery budget and still have enough to fill up on gas. Leave it to Republicans and Democrats to do nothing but blame each other rather than do something to fix the problem.

I decide to poke around behind it first. I saw stairs out back, but when I get there, I learn that climbing them will be impossible. They’ve been charred out by major fire damage. It seems to be a rising trend, setting the ruins of America ablaze. It adds to the ether of mounting rage that I’ve noticed erupting from the masses since the summer of 2020. Is this what it feels like the moment an empire starts to crumble? I wonder. Is this collective expression of rage just one of the beginning phases to the extinction of a superpower?

I enter through a back door down into the basement where I find Christmas decorations, old paint cans, and no light to guide me up into the space, so I head back outside, walk around to the front, and pull open the broken glass door into an airlock where I find a toy piano. I plunk a few notes and think about my grandmother who bought me my first piano.

“Hi, Lurana,” I think toward heaven, but I don’t hear anything back.

As soon as I enter the pub and pass the hostess stand, I find gaggles of ghosts, the apparitions of patron’s past crawling out of my imagination and sitting down at the bar, at the tables, sitting in booths lining both sides of the front dining room. They don’t notice me. Maybe I’m the ghost.

I glide into the center of the front dining room and stare at a downed chandelier on the windowsill, allowing muted sunbeams pushing through foggy December skies and past the panes of glass to stroke my winter-laden skin. I close my eyes and say thank you to — somebody. I’m not sure who. Something. Not sure what. I’m just know that I’m happy to be here alone. I feel free, light, and at ease in this solitude. I’ve learned how to take time by myself and have discovered how crucial it is for my mental wellness.

Why I ever felt scared to be present with myself is beyond me, but it doesn’t matter. We’re here now, I think.

As I watch the phantoms enjoy their meals and express joy for being in community with one another, I think about the practice of people watching. For as much as I love to sit and observe human beings exist from a far, there can be an indescribable feeling of dread attached to the act of witnessing humanity, especially when you can’t see what you’re watching.

A couple of months into the start of the pandemic, I drove from my home in the Hudson Valley down to Edgewater, NJ where I sat on a ledge and stared out across the Hudson River at the Manhattan skyline.

I allowed my legs dangle over the gentle spring waves, lapping up on the concrete wall, and I listened to the distant, ongoing swell of sirens.

Though I couldn’t see any people, I could hear what was happening to them, in real life, and the photographs that developed in my mind’s eye were uncomfortable, unnerving, and a bit scary to look at.

It’s a moment that I’ll never forget.

I poke my head into the empty kitchen and stare at the long prep stations, covered in dust, old cans of cooking oil tipped over on the ground, the smell of mold and sound of the interstate pummeling past this pub upon a hill. This is precisely how I wanted to close out the year. Just like this.

I don’t stay long. I have stillness to attend to. As I exit the space, I turn around and realize that the horizon is laid out perfectly to snap a trick photo. I set up my camera on the top of my car, position myself in the foreground of the frame, pub in the background, and steady my hand to look like I’m casting a spell over the top of it (or going to pick it up).

3, 2, 1, silent click, goes the camera. I look at the photo. I look like a giant. A little giant. It pleases me, warms me, and offers me a tiny kernel of joy at an otherwise uncertain moment in history. At least I can still make art.

And since I can’t figure out the pub’s name, I decide to call it Little Giant.

“Thank you for the lovely visit, Little Giant,” I say.

“Happy New Year,” it says back.