Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 2 - FOOTHILLS

It is April 1st, 1986, April Fools Days, which would have been my 9th annivesary if that marriage had lasted, which is why I remember it is April 1. I am walking along West 25th Street between the dark old VA building at the 7th Avenue end and this small newer place, near 8th, which, strangely, has a concrete latticed façade that looks Venetian, and from which I have a view down over a neglected garden and up and out almost to the Battery, this place where I live alone if not lonely now that I am looking into new sides of life. An exciting time of new beginnings. As I walk on my block now I notice that one of the trees – there are a lot of small trees on the block, easily not noticed, protected by small iron fixtures around them in the small squares of earth in the sidewalk. As I look up, I notice for the first time that the first light green embryonic leaves have already started coming out. And I wonder if on any year I had noticed the actual moment the leaves first peeped out, me so attuned to nature, I thought, though so suddenly aware this year that I have been living in cities all my adult life – using countryside only for clear-cut adventure, in cities sometimes where there is death in the streets and sometimes cities where there are outdoor cafés everywhere, but always cities. So attuned to nature, I thought, but maybe I was wrong. For I had missed this crucial moment of the leaves’ birth – April 1 this year. Have I ever caught such a crucial moment? But I swear I will never miss it again.

And I am thinking of this four months later as I drive in Vermont in the amusing old aqua Mustang I got on the spur of the moment – a chrome relief of a wild horse on the front, a hard top since it is a hardtop convertible, a convertible built so that it can never be converted. And on the instrument panel is a gauge that shows me exactly how fast the engine is turning over, the sort of information I would need if I were a race car driver whose life depended on very, very precise timing of the shifting of gears – except that this convertible, that has no top that can go down, has an automatic transmission and hence no gears that can be manuallly shifted – just the dashboard gauge that I would need if it did. And I love this car and its lessons in the non-linear. I am remembering a girl named Sue – we both worked at Time-Life and of course slept together – Sue telling me as we ate Belgian waffles at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair about this silly new car, called a Mustang, for safe suburban people who want to seem like they are daring sports car people but get it wrong. The subject came up as we were talking about the silly mechanical Abraham Lincoln we had just seen in the Disney pavilion.

I am driving along now in Vermont, where I do not have good reason to be – though there is an old friend up here, and Vermont is definitely not New Hampshire, scene of my sometimes hopeful and often perilous youth, but these matters, a friend nearby and a place that is not New Hampshire, were not sufficient-seeming reasons. I knew many people everywhere and I knew a million places that were not New Hampshire. I was cruising around without a reason after all those years of traveling in which there was never a trip for which I did not have a reason whether it was to catch a war in West Africa, or research a book I might or might not write in Burma, or interview a central American dictator, or get laid on an island, but now no reason, moving through Vermont where I have no history, and the tapes are always playing on the Mustang's tape deck, playing songs I missed when I was away, some of the best of them now heard for the first time, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, though not actually Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell for I never heard of them in the places were I was, but their songs, filtered now in the aqua Mustang through the more cornball Roger Whittaker and Judy Collins, but giving me the taste of it, of what I had missed and who I was, and as I drove along, up and down foothills of the Green Mountians and round and round corners, sometimes following water that rushes over smooth stones, stepping hard on the gas pedal when I hit a rare straight stretch with no one coming the other way, drove without a plan with the music playing – ersatz versions maybe, but nonetheless important to me – feeling excited yet more peaceful than I ever had before, though knowing my life depended on what I could encounter in this new world for which I had no plans.

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