Thursday, February 28, 2008
The Aqua Mustang 1 - QUICK SALE
I was in Vermont for the summer. Vermont in part because it was not New Hampshire. And luckily, not knowing Vermont well, I had not wound up in one of those precious stage-set villages where you are given tours of hooked rug old houses, which in one room may have a cuddly sleeping cat that turns out to be a 19th century dead cat stuffed by a taxidermist – that kind of Vermont town were summer ladies come out of the antique stores talking through their noses in high-pitched fake British tones such as they would have earned long ago in Anglophile boarding schools. Those fake British accents that were so common in my family – whose base was over in New Hampshire.
Vermont at this time had a liberal-left woman governor, and in one of its cities a Socialist mayor. New Hampshire had recently has a governor who had been transplanted from Virginia and ran on a platform opposing the aging hippies, the ones still around from the sixties, and the new young hippies who were coming into life. He wanted to keep them on the Vermont side of the border. And they were not the only people he wanted to keep out. He talked of states rights, that old Southern code word for apartheid – even though few people in New Hampshire had ever seen a black person, unless you counted the servants some summer people brought with them. New Hampshire where the rocky farm land had become fallow, where, the land had been so bad to start with that people had always by their wits – Live Free or Die was the slogan now on the license plates made in the state’s prisons – whereas this year the Vermont plates said simply, “Green Mountains.”
New Hampshire’s roads were rutted, and although there had to be free public education because of old federal mandates, there was not a single public kindergarten in the state. And though there was an occasional village green it was likely to be bare of greenery – unlike in Vermont where there were trees and flowering shrubs and old-time bandstands on the very green greens, and on some evenings bands in the bandstands, and on many days both aging and young artistic-looking people playing guitars. And moreover the old bitter New England boiled dinners has given way in present-day Vermont to nouvelle cuisine restaurants and snack bars.
I went across the border to New Hampshire one day to see what I could get there for lunch now. I stopped in at the Littleton Diner – Littleton the place were my grandmother would go with a servant to shop for the food that was stored up by the summer people - who dressed for dinner in big formal houses with striped awnings and grounds dotted with marble birdbaths and benches. Rich houses beneath the White Mountains and in the midst of rural poverty. The White Mountains, the highest in the East, sometimes soft and green below the timber line, often gray and black – these mountains where people were forever being killed in avalanches or sudden winter storms that might come in August. Or lightning. Or Mama bears. But that was my childhood, and now I was somewhere near midlife and safely in the gentle green mountains of Vermont, both literally and in my head and heart. The special that day at the Littleton Diner was, I swear, cheeseburger quiche.
I had written a piece for Penthouse that covered me financially for the summer, even though I had pretty much stopped writing altogether in this time my life was changing. I was staying in Rutland with my old friend Peter Cooper, who came from the same Connecticut town I came from and who had been an extreme drinking partner in my first days in New York City but now wrote books and ran a state alcoholism clinic, and lived with his second wife on a road where you could smell the foliage but that was far being too quaint. It came to dead end where, if you walked few feet over grass, you would be on an artery complete with a Cumberland Farms, a Burger King, a Timberland outlet and also, right at the point where you stepped over the grass patch, an Esso station, where there was a gleaming old aqua Mustang with a FOR SALE sign – $1,200.
I was pretty broke but Penthouse, which was very right wing, had paid me far more than what I wrote was worth (I gave them a first-person left wing article about some wonderful Communist insurgents in one of my old Asian haunts, knowing they would never print it, despite all the sex in it, but would pay me anyway). Now, actually, just like a man with a real income, I pulled a check book out of my back pocket and, wrote a check on the spot for $1200. I liked that car and I had become aware recently that I had not owned a car for 17 years, during which I had been in cities or in territory too wild for passable roads. The last car had been a Humber in Singapore, the one before that a Rover in Bangkok, tank-like British vehicles that were nothing at all like this lighthearted Mustang. And though I felt lighthearted, I did check it out before I signed the check and drove it away. I made sure it had a functioning tape deck.
So I drive off listening to Judy Collins singing about how this girl named Suzanne who serves me tea and oranges that come all the way from China, and who takes my hand and leads me to the river and she's wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters. And the sun comes up like honey... I drive off in Vermont, the anti-New Hampshire, suddenly elated with the thought, as Judy Collins begins to sing, that I have broken a barrier by recognizing at last how important music is to me, who never sang. How fine that the whole landscape of my life is changing. And I want to travel with her, and I want to travel blind, and I know that she will trust me for I’ve touched her perfect body with my mind.