An alert brunette, clearly a girl just up from New York City – pale skin, tightly wound, pretty in this alien mountain light – appeared in the big dining room at Lovett’s during my weekday writing stint when I was as lonely as I had ever been anywhere, including new cities where I did not speak the language. We should meet, I thought, and a counter-thought came in from out of the past. They, I told myself,they – the people who had been in White Pines, including those who were dead now – they, but not me – were pointing out that she was Jewish, and asking what she was doing here.
Lovett’s Inn did not serve a dining room lunch, only picnic lunches to take out. My routine was to go for lunch to a small diner-style restaurant, the Dutch Treat, which was a few miles away in Franconia Village. The day after I had spotted the girl, she walked into the Dutch Treat briskly. She went to the counter stool beside me. She asked if I knew this region. The pleasant and intelligent voice of a person who would have a New York sense of humor. She told me she was exploring new places and on a whim had driven up through Franconia Notch. It was one of the great surprises in her life, she said, it was so little known yet so grand and mysterious and beautiful. I forgot to ask her anything else about herself.
She seemed no older than in her twenties, ten years younger than me, she looked that fresh. I wanted to tell her (1) I knew this area better than I knew any area anywhere, and (2) This was not really my area, though it was a family place. And as I spoke I knew ghostly anti-Semites from the past were here at the luncheon counter. I found myself strangely – or worse, maybe not so strangely – frozen here with this girl. She was almost certainly inviting me to make a move – we two being single persons in a resort where the category hardly existed. And I thought of my times in the city, and found her appealing after all.
But I did nothing to welcome her. I told her nothing about myself except that I was a writer working on deadline on a novel – I did have to impress her – but nothing about roots here and what this place really was and really meant, and I made no effort to meet up with her later, lonely as I was. I had not tried to explain to her that this novel that was supposed to bring my life to new heights was taken straight out of the exciting life I had been leading 10,000 miles away. And I said nothing about previous writing either, my small-time guide to Bangkok, my soft-core Bangkok After Dark and my overly genteel The First Book of Thailand, which was aimed at school libraries that suddenly had new Defense Department money, something about education being needed if America was to remain the bully at the top.
In spite of myself, I did not rise to what I thought should be a happy occasion, this meeting with this girl, who really was appealing. I wanted to explain that it was only on weekdays that I was a lonely single person at a resort. But it would be a chore to tell her I spent these weekends at White Wings, where I had spent the first summers of my life. Or how there was so little connection between the world of the White Mountains and much bigger worlds.
How could I explain that Rich and Terri were Republicans, and that Terri had spoken recently of how only insiders could understand our world – her big evidence being the unfortunate fact that the a current best seller called The Preppy Handbook had been written not by one of "us" but by a woman with a Jewish name?
This summer Terri was reading and rereading Erich Segle’s wildly sentimental novel Love Story, which I had tried to like as I read it at my single table. She had asked all her friends to sign her copy. And she was a fan of the poet Rod McKuen, who I found even more cornball than Segle. Rich, who could be determined and entitled, had tracked down McKuen’s home number to find out what was next. And this act was appealing to me, while these writers were not.
My tie to my old friend Terri. My tie to bright days of the past, this past which right now was more powerful than all the things I admired most in the world.
And so I did not tell this New York girl about the version of me in the White Mountains much less explain to her that that version was not really me. I did not say anything about the wild and deep life outside Waspdom that I had created for myself. I did not bring up my books about Taiwan and Singapore and Malaysia and Indonesia, of which I was not really so proud anyway – for they were nothing like this novel I was finishing, which was meant to be right up there with the many novels of my Grandfather, who when he was old was still a celebrity up here, as he had once been in the world at large.
I did not tell her about my life out in the world any more than I told her of by past in the White Mountains.
And I could see that my strange reticence did not sit well with her. She stood up, and lied that she had to be somewhere else.