Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 34 - DRIVING AWAY I

A piece I have written for Penthouse, about a foreign war zone where not long ago my own death seemed likely, covers me financially for the summer, even though I have pretty much stopped writing in this time my life is changing. I was able to buy the happy car I drive off in, I was told, because the young woman who had owned it shared it with a telephone lineman she loved, and she could not bear to keep it after he was killed by lightning.

I am staying in Rutland with my old friend Peter Cooper, who came here long ago via the city from the same Connecticut commuter town where my parents settled. In northern New England now, on the hunt now, I am close to other old places of my growing up – my boarding school in the New Hampshire lake country, my maybe privileged, maybe starched, but surely happy summers in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Peter Cooper and I became hard-drinking friends in early days in New York City, where I would land for a year or two at a time between foreign escapades. Now Peter writes books and runs a Vermont state alcoholism clinic, and lives with his second wife – who works for General Electric and plays a church piano. They are on a road that comes quickly to a dead end where, if you walk a few feet over grass, you are on a crowded strip complete with a Cumberland Farms, a Burger King, a Timberland outlet and also, right at the point where you step over the grass patch, an Esso station. Rutland is not the precious part of Vermont.

At the Esso station, parked by the pay phone, was this gleaming old aqua Mustang that I drive now. The FOR SALE sign, just above the chrome horse figure, said $1,200. Only 40,000 miles and with a working tape deck. Such a right vehicle for the time travel I contemplate. Like a man with a real income, I pulled a checkbook out of my back pocket and wrote a check that I was pretty certain was good for the twelve-hundred.

The garage owner who sold me the car is a rough-hewn, confident New Englander, who might be Chuck Vintner at another Esso station, that one in Franconia, New Hampshire, where I did my first driving 37 years before this in a green family Plymouth. Vintner surreptitiously put a governor on the engine when I ignored his warnings about speeding. Driving with Elysse always sitting so close we were touching. Her tanned legs making it hard to keep my eye on the road.

It is all these years later now in this Mustang in Vermont, and I am younger than I have been at any time since Elysse days. It may have to do with exhilaration and relief, and the apparent end to depression, now that I am on the hunt for why so many of my cousins from those summer houses in New Hampshire come to such horrible ends. As I drive beside fast moving water that rushes over smooth rocks, I look to the Vermont Green Mountains, which have tidy farm fields high up where in New Hampshire, the place of perfect summers, there would be granite. And I think yet again of how so many of the people who were young in that time are dead or dying now. And I have just made an exit from a seven-year marriage in which my wife clearly meant it the last time she said she’s cut off my cock while I slept, something not unthinkable, she said, in the culture she came from – which I am starting to think is not so different from this family culture I am on the track of now.

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