Here are the first three chapters of my novella, “Rip,” a 20th-century parody of Washington Irving’s classic story, “Rip van Winkle:”
Theories about the origins of the names of the village called Tarry Town and the section of the Hudson River known by the Dutch as Tappan Zee. A description of the toll bridge at Tappan Zee and the toll collector named “Rip’’ Van Wrinkle.
Tucked into the ample bosom of the spacious and welcoming cove which indents the eastern shoreline of “America’s Danube’’ is a village once called Tarry Town, so named, it is said, by the long-suffering wives of the surrounding countryside whose lazy husbands spent so much time tarrying in this tranquil town.
At this place also is the great bridge called Tappan Zee, which spans old Henry Hudson’s stream at the place where it is most wide. A very agile imagination might even compare the river’s girth here to the sea itself, hence the Dutch name which roughly translates as “small sea’’ or “wide sea,’’ we forget which.
In these modern times, drivers crossing the Tappan Zee at Tarrytown in the bridge’s northbound lanes pay no toll, crossing free from Westchester County into Rockland County. But travelers bound southward, crossing from Nyack into modern-day Tarrytown on the river’s eastern shore, must stop to pay a tariff, now increased to three dollars (and more for trucks), but which at the time of our tale was fifty cents. If you drove your vehicle into the farthest-right lane, you would have paid a toll collector named “Rip’’ Van Wrinkle.
Theories about the origins of the nickname “Rip.’’ Rip’s distinctive contribution to the ambience of an inn called the Sunnyside Tavern.
You would not have known his given Christian name was Hendrick or that he was known to most as Rip. The nametag on his uniform identified him only by his last name, Van Wrinkle.
Further, if you asked any of the regular patrons of the Sunnyside Tavern how “Rip’’ Van Wrinkle acquired his nickname, any one of them probably would have offered a different answer.
Some traced the nickname’s origin to a Saturday night in the summer of 1963, when Rip was still a strong and confident young man. That night, he managed with one swift and forceful movement to rip the Tarrytown phone book in half with his bare hands, winning three prizes: a $5 wager, the unflagging admiration of his barmates, and the nickname he would keep until his dying day.
Others insisted Rip was nicknamed Rip because of what he shouted whenever he walked into the Sunnyside Tavern in those early years: “OK, boys, let her rip ’’ From that day on, whenever he stepped through the heavy wooden front door of the Sunnyside, he would be greeted with the gleeful cries and drunken shouts of the Sleepy Hollow Boys: “It’s the Ripster” and “The Ripper has arrived!” and “It’s the Rip Man!”’’
But the true cognoscenti at the Sunnyside Tavern, those who had been patrons since the days when the only beer available on tap was Rheingold, knew the true origin of Rip’s nickname was the fact that he possessed a unique physical ability: he could fart on demand.
He would walk into the Sunnyside, someone would shout out “Let her rip!” and ninety-nine out of a hundred times Rip would promptly rip one so theatrically loud and punishingly malodorous that it would drive away all but the most loyal patrons of the Sunnyside Tavern.
This unique talent for driving away all but the most persistent barflies would for many years forestall the awful possibility that the Sunnyside would become a place where Rolex-wearing Westchester County suburban yuppies came to drink white wine coolers and nibble at European cheeses and bask in the glow of imitation Tiffany lamps. Thanks to Rip and his unique skill, the Sunnyside always remained a place where the pinball machine cost a dime to play; where the only light came from dust-covered 60-watt bulbs, the flickering TV screen and the neon beer signs; and where the menu consisted of bags of pretzel nuggets, bowls of unshelled peanuts and, at dinner time, Slim Jims.
What Rip liked and didn’t like about his job. A description of the changing seasons on the Hudson River as seen from the Tappan Zee.
There were many things Rip didn’t like about his job as a toll collector, starting with the fact that he had to get out of bed five days a week and go to work. He would have much preferred just going up to the Sunnyside, or sitting for hours at the Hudson River docks with his loyal dog Wolf, or staying in bed and sleeping late (although the finely honed harping and haranguing of Mrs. Van Wrinkle and the whimpering and whining of young Master Van Wrinkle made this point moot before too long).
After he finally did drag himself into his car, drive up Route 9, park in the bridge employees lot, and step into his booth, Rip had to deal with many things unpleasant and annoying: rude drivers, ugly drivers, dangerous drivers, lost drivers and stupid drivers, drivers who had no money to pay the toll; exhaust fumes that would turn the lungs of toll collectors as black as any coal miner’s; constant clamor from honking horns and blaring radios and loud passengers and broken exhaust pipes; the dampness from the river, a dankness which soaked your clothing and percolated deep down into your bones; the tedium of the unchanging exchanging of currency and change, of having to say “Thank you” thousands of times each day, of having to give the same directions over and over and dozens and dozens of times each day; and even the way his posterior region got numb and sore and flat from sitting on a hard wooden chair for eight hours straight.
But, mostly, Rip simply liked collecting tolls on the Tappan Zee. The work paid well enough to cover all of the essentials, including his monthly tab at the Sunnyside. And the job had other fringe benefits.
From his booth in the far—right lane, Rip had a direct view of the water in a southerly direction. During the winter, he watched pale blue chunks of ice drift down the river. In the spring, he could sometimes spot the slick and shiny backs of spawning shad and immense sturgeon. Summer, perhaps the best time of all, brought the pleasure boats — including the yachts owned by the millionaires who lived in the green hills beyond Tarrytown, who would often cruise the Tappan Zee with their bikini—bedecked mistresses, who often sunbathed topless on the decks of the yachts, watched by Rip and the other toll collectors through binoculars they kept in their toll—booth cash drawers.
Come autumn, a vague melancholy drifted over Rip like a soft mist rising from the river up over the bridge’s steel towers, and he ached for spring and then summer, pined for the gleaming pleasure boats and their pleasing passengers. But the cleaner and crisper air of autumn also brought a clear, shimmering view of the river’s lower reaches and the startling and stirring sight of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, which floated far away in the dewy haze.
Sometimes, when he worked the night shift, as streams of headlights approached Rip’s toll booth, as millions of lights twinkled in distant Manhattan, as the occasional fishing boat lit with old—time flickering lanterns passed beneath the bridge, it was as though a galaxy of stars had somehow taken root on the earth. Rip liked these times the best: his portable radio tuned to an oldies station out of New York, which mostly played doo-wop from the fifties, just sitting there in his heated booth, gazing at the shimmering skyline of Manhattan or watching the lights of a boat churning through the dark winter river, some old song by the Penquins, the Moonglows, the Orioles or The Five Satins playing softly, a full moon floating over the Palisades cliffs, and Rip almost wishing the night would never end.