Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 20 – FLASHBACK

I was trysting at the Henry Hudson Hotel, located way west in the fifties and used mainly, as I had used it once, as a place to spend the night before an early transatlantic sailing – something like the airport hotels that would come but no more like an airport hotel than the Queen Mary was like a Boeing 747.

I had flown in from San Francisco crisscrossing the country. It had been a cheap propeller flight that was cancelled and so I was bumped onto the now, 1963, more common jet flights in a combination that meant changes – up to the Northwest, down to the border states, up to Minnesota, down to New York, zigzagging all night across the continent, and then she was waiting there for me by the line of bedraggled passengers, summer ripe in flimsy cotton and with a smile that I had already seen make men foolish - reaching out to me over the barrier as I came in from the tarmac, reaching out with one wonderful bare arm, while waving a bottle with the other. Her last letter had said, “All we need is time in bed with a bottle of scotch.”

It was my idea to go to the Henry Hudson, the last place anyone would think to look for anyone. People who lived here never used it. Never needed to.

She had her and her husgand’s Volkswagen Beetle – everyone had them. The year before I had traveled from Athens around to Beirut when Steve and Vannie’s old roommate Berta met us in Athens after picking up a tax-free VW in Germany, and we had started on the first stage of what for me, but not Vannie, Steve and Berta, would be adventure in tropical Africa. Feats of travel in forbidden places. An actual revolution in Angola. Finally a job on freighter to get back.

And now here I was a year later with a woman in someone else’s Volkswagen. This bright hot summer day, a contrast to the unadvertised damp and chill of San Francisco, where I had gone for awhile after all the foreign adventure. From the dock she drove fast, weaving in and out of the pillars holding up the West Side Highway. So fast there was always wind whirling through in the car. Which still seemed like her husband’s car but I could forget that part. Under the elevated highway we were speeding along cobblestone, bouncing, and then in a dip away from the cobblestone we shot through a deep puddle, throwing up water so fast and far that for a moment, in my memory now, we had a rainbow. This was the way life should be, I told myself.

And although it this was one of the times in my life when I gave no thought to the music that I hardly knew was always with me, there was a little actual music on the a.m. car radio. A constantly replayed commercial that I knew would be something like the old romantic “our song” cliché in my mind though I would never tell her that for it was only a soft drink company commercial using an old music hall song called "Sipping Cider Through a Straw". It was played over and over as we shot around Manhattan and sometimes all the way to the far of ends of Long Island, Shelter Island too, in this steamy sex-filled summer time. “The prettiest girl I ever saw was sipping Hoffman’s through a straw.” One night waiting for her in the Henry Hudson I got so drunk I could remember nothing, and she was amused, she said, when I found her there in the morning. “You were so drunk,” she said, “I had to lap you like a cat .”

And now in Vermont it is more than two dozen years later, after 50 countries and so many wars and women but also long, lonely and/or desperate times, and to my amazement I am still alive and still in the game, up and over Vermont hills, along rivers of clear water moving rapidly over perfectly smooth stones, up and down and round the hills and valleys, and over, yet again to New Hampshire, never sleeping on the New Hampshire side, but some hit-and-run attacks over and back with Gillian so warm beside me.

No music in the Mustang just now, though in the months since I had bought it the car had been awash in music. But no music in the car in this time with Gillian except for what was hiding in my head. The prettiest girl I every saw was sipping Hoffman’s through a straw. Oh God, I have passed the age of fifty and I am somehow still alive.

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