Friday, July 11, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 28 - STRANGE FANTASY

That year I did the book deal, 1969, I had started out in Manila, moved on to the old private Brit states in the north of Borneo, climbed, Kinabalu, a 14,000-foot stand-alone, much worshipped mountain, moved down to Djakarta, gotten into this absurd venture with all sorts of suspicious people – CIA, Indonesian army, Javanese academics – gone upriver hundreds of miles in Indonesian Borneo, Kalimantan, the largest island in the world if you did not count New Guinea – Conrad territory, complete with Dyack headhunters, the sort of place I had wanted to sink into since I was 15 reading Conrad in a freezing dormitory in northern New England.

In Djakarta I knew foreign drifters and journalists, crooks and spooks, from the various circuits I had been on for four years now in Southeast Asia. A bright spot was the presence of Jack Jones, who had a job searching for UNICF vehicles the previous Indonesian government had expropriated. Jack had gone to Bangkok after being in jail in China and he had written the best book – a novel though it was all about what had really happened – ever written about that city. A lifeline to the world I really wanted.

But most of the time I felt myself in darkness, alone, wondering if there was, after all, any good ending.

At once point way upriver in Kalimantan I had shown Dyack children that I could juggle three pieces of fruit. I had thought it would make me an admired figure, but it seemed such ordinary magic to them. Nothing all like – I had this sudden flashback – juggling to impress this smooth girl Terri when I was 14 in the White Mountains.

At that time in Kalimantan the Dyacks had just slaughtered thousands of Chinese traders in the coastal towns, slit their throats and eaten their livers

And there hadn’t been great rays of light in Djakarta, though in a near deserted old hotel, a vestige from colonial days, in the mountains east of Djakarta I had begun the novel. Djakarta itself was a whirl of street girls and marijuana and cheap liquor, scenes late at night with girls and their pimps around bonfires behind the market stalls. Then I had gone back to Manila, where often this year it had seemed life was over. I packed up, moved to Singapore, where I had friends and suddenly a new girlfriend I might marry, a Chinese girl who worked in advertising, and where I got involved in a movie, and plunged into my slim manuscript, and believed my life was finally on track, not least because I at last had a clearly publishable novel in the works that, I thought in innocence, would get me glory forever.

Terri acted like it was a hero’s return to the White Mountains. Could this one event, the book, wipe out all that has been less than clear, arbitrary and confused? And could this place, the White Mountains, where I had come so rarely as an adult, be the place I was meant to be at the start?

One night now up in the White Mountains at Terri’s I started talking about Maddie, how she was the prettiest and most wonderful girl I ever saw that day we met, me almost 16, she younger, at the swimming hole near the rustic old
Profile Golf Club. The next day Terri said “Oh God, you are still in love with Maddie.” I denied it. Someone else said I should go after her. None of this made sense to me sober. And anyway, she was married to someone on the other side of a great divide, an Air Force officer who rode the airplanes that were bombing Vietnam.

I talked and talked and we drank and drank and Terri, her new husband and I all thought I as going to make a fortune with this novel. We went one night out the Easton road to look at a man’s Bentleys, one of which I would buy, I said, when the money came in. I feared commitment, realized I always had, but I was actually talking late one boozy night about buying back White Pines, the main house of my childhood and adolescence, which was now in the hands of a violent, drunken, rich man whose Boston family paid him to live far away in New Hampshire.

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