Thursday, July 10, 2008

Aqua Mustang 27 – HOME MAYBE

I was in London working on this book that was meant to change my life. I had gotten the contract and what seemed a sufficient advance almost instantly after my last time back in New York from Asia. I had come back with 60 pages of which I was proud.

I got together the first night home with old friends on the Upper West Side, people who had been in a Hampton's summer house next door to a high powered agent. I called the agent, showed him the 60 pages, and he said he thought he could do something with it and by no means should I add a proposal because he thought an editor would be so on the edge of his chair after these 60 pages that he would want to get his hands on whatever came next. And a couple of days later I had a deal with Harper’s Magazine Press – the sort of thing that never happens, according to the How-to-Write Industry – and in fact practically never does.

I went to London, which was filled with old friends from Asian days. I took an apartment with my overvalued Harper’s dollars on Cheyne Walk. I flew down to Los Palmas in the Canary Islands, a place full of English tourists of the sort who mark the levels on their wine bottles so that woggish hotel staff will not sneak drinks of their cheap Spanish red. The sort of pallid English people who click their tongues over their budgets during meals and keep starting sentences with “As it were...”

I thought I would go over to Africa, not far away. I was thinking of past days of danger in the Sudan, the Chad and Angola. In a travel agency on the walk above the long beach I ordered a plane ticket, but forgot to pick it up in the course of getting drunk in the many bars where unhappy Spanish men drank to oblivion and sang long, hopelessly sad songs. Here I was again, alone in a place with which I had no connection.

I woke up in jail, deeply aware that this was not the first time – and even though my jailers wore the Fascist Guardia Civil uniform, this was mild compared to what had happened a year and a half ago in a smuggler’s town on the Thai-Malaysia border.

Out of jail, I switched, in a reform move, to the other side of Gran Canaria, and went darkly crazy, despite good food and fair wine, in an isolated, empty resort. I stared at blank paper in my small Smith-Corona portable. Finally, I went back to London, and drank and caroused among the war zone journalists who had turned up there, and I had a sort of girlfriend, and I found it as impossible to write overlooking The Thames as overlooking the South Atlantic. So I went to Malta, mainly because people I knew were there and there was one particular prostitute they praised. I twisted my ankle leaving her house, got medication in London, moved on to Zermatt which was filled with hearty hikers. I got there from Geneva on a train that passed romantic lakes that seemed out of some life I should have lived.

I drank, then stopped drinking, worried that it would be hard on my family to find out I was not drinking. I spent my mornings outdoors, taking cog railways and cable cars up high into the Alps and then walking down, just like the healthy hikers around me except that I did not have to climb. And I was really writing. Then I went back to London with the book nearly done – 300 pages of what was mostly reality, though veiled in fiction. I stopped on the way in Frankfurt to visit old friends from ten years back in Greece who were hosting a hot young American writer, Anne, Moody, who had done a brilliant and celebrated memoir about growing up in Mississippi. One of my new peers!

Back in London, I thought it would be a fine idea to finally finish the book in the most perfect place I had ever known, which was far from the war zones in which I had been living. It seemed fitting in this time when my life should turn around due to my status as an about to be lionized young (though 36 did feel old) new novelist. I called my twin brother in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. My grandmother had died while I was away and he had gotten possession of the remaining family house, the first one, The Farm House, set up by my great grandmother. He said I couldn’t come. I wasn’t welcome. He and his colonial English wife were redoing the bathrooms, so they did not want me underfoot. I was surprised at how quickly I went from calm to rage. I called my old friend gorgeous Terri who was in a new marriage and spending much of the summer at the house her parents had bought from my grandparents years back, White Wings, the place where I had spent the first summers of my life. “Wonderful! You have to come stay with us!” She was in a new marriage and sounded happy with her life and happy that I would return.

I flew back first class so as to be able to spread out and work on the novel. I knew this was tax-deductible, a trip to see my agent and my editor – though my father said I could just as easily have reached them on the phone and so maybe this meant I was in trouble with the government. Previously, he had advised me to refuse the publisher’s advance until I had done the work.

But I was alive still. And flying to America with an actual manuscript of a commissioned novel just about done. Some more crazy travel that would probably go into another book, but here I was. Despite warnings from home that none of this was possible. My life – maybe – coming to the point where it was meant to be.

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