Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 12 - CARS?

Until now I had never had a car in New York. The last car I’d owned – a tank-like Humber, which I learned to my dismay was the car of choice for the police in England – had been in Singapore, 17 years ago. Before that in Bangkok I’d had another big, heavy English car, a green Rover with leather seats that was simultaneously and seedy jaunty and I loved it. We lived across the river in Thonburi, so we’d take a small ferry to a Bangkok side landing where I left the Rover. When we got in we’d sit for a time with all the doors open, it was so hot. I would put two cigarettes in my mouth, light them both, and place one of them between Bonnie’s lips. This was living.

When I was first in Bangkok a friend there from days I’d lived in Greece was talking about the Indian merchants in Bangkok, and he asked me what the people from India were like in New York, and I had no answer, for back then you rarely saw Indians except around the UN. Then the friend asked me what kind of car I drove in America, and again I had no answer. I had never owned a car in New York City. I’d dismissed people who did as adding an unnecessary burden to their lives since it was so easy to get around and if you really did leave town, which I did not do so often as I thought I did, there were always rental cars. But even as I had these thoughts I suspected they were the sort of thoughts appropriate to my old play-it-safe relatives, not to me. Though for the two years before Bangkok I did keep a 90cc Honda motorcycle.

My pattern of life from very early, from the late fifties on, was that I would be in New York for two or three-year stretches between my times abroad – except for this last stretch, in the final five years of a marriage, which I’d spent in an Upper West Side apartment whose living room view was of an air shaft. But now a year later, 1986, I was in this bright new place on 25th Street with South light and a view that stretched seemingly into infinity.

And now I was being physically pulled into countryside, as if I had never been aware of nature before. I was moving from being a wild but prudent non-car owner to someone who needed a car to get into countryside. I knew I needed it, for I was getting closer. At the start, even with some snow on the ground, I had begun to explore Central Park, where I practically never went when I lived in that airshaft place on 81st Street even though from there the park had been only a crosstown block away.

Now on 25th Street I could not just stroll over, but I was in the park every day and so much of it was new to me – the great lawn, the band shell, the Dairy, Bethesda Fountain, the Ramble, the mall where I walked between even rows of great tress planted in the French style to a place with silly romantic statues, such as one of Beethoven with his pretty muse. New places to me even though I had been dealing with the city for decades. Rolling hills and water I had missed except for the lake where I used to take girls out in rowboats. Now I also had the pond with its romantic curved foot bridge down in the shade of the Plaza, and now way up on the edge of Spanish Harlem, the Meer, where people fished with worms in the shadow of graffiti splattered concrete – the Meer like so much else neglected by the city in 1986, a year I had to step around or over homeless people to get to the subway. And I discovered the great formal Conservatory Garden with its fountains and statues, not least Secret Garden kids and the three graces, and also its perfect hedges, just below the gone-to-seed Meer. And I moved on out to Brooklyn, partly for the museum and partly because I became fascinated with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, saw the spring of ’86 there —all of it new to me, from the Japanese garden, so calm and pure that even Japanese tourists came to out to Brooklyn for it – but I also saw the nearby area that displayed local wild flora that kind of frightened me because it had been the flora of Connecticut when I was growing up.

A young woman from the new life and I – her father had been a failed Republican politician in Alaska which gave us family horror stories in common – went to the casual Prospect Part stables, which were the flip side of the Central Park stables where everyone went in costume, dressed like prissy little Upper Class English horse people. Out in decaying Prospect Park I thought I had never been happier than sitting in the sun in a Western saddle while astride a big lazy old Brooklyn horse.

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