Friday, October 31, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 48 – OLD THINGS

Things that never went away, faded out sometimes but were always there somewhere, even as I moved through Vermont’s fields of clover a near lifetime later. Things like being the class dullard, and refusing to fight a boy weaker than myself, at the Horace C. Hurlbutt Jr. school way back in childhood in this Weston, Connecticut elementary school where, as in the family, my brother was deemed the twin with charm and brains and I was the hopeless bad twin. Worse still, my state one December at the Hanover Inn Ski School where I could not figure out how to ski and was caught out thinking I could bluff it. And later treated with cruel contempt at the outset at Holderness, my New Hampshire Anglo boarding school, where with deep dull-witted irony they called me “Speedy” until I climbed over them, kicking as I went. And always that sixth grade year when we moved to the city, and I would not give in and so went after school with 11-year-old would-be aristocratic Allen Stevenson boys to big Murdock’s Park Avenue apartment, where I did not surrender as he was beating me senseless, pounding and pounding, pain and horror, I thought I would die but still did not give up, and Murdock did not stop until his society matron mother came home unexpectedly.

When I was at Princeton a new novel came out that was getting a lot of attention – partly because it was published as part of a much heralded experiment by a new house called Ballantine that would issue simultaneous hard cover and paperback editions of the same book. This one, among Ballantine’s first in this format, was intriguing to me because it was a novel that seemed like a memoir – which was confirmed in the jacket copy – by a guy who had been at Princeton, and had not been on the Daily Princetonian, which was galling to classmates later when he became a successful journalist with no help from his old college. Although he did not seem to credit Princeton much, he was clearly still obsessed with the place, and he did not bury his Princeton years. All through his life – including when his beloved wife went to prison for mowing down a group of children with a car she was driving drunkenly, he kept on reading the Princeton Alumni Weekly – turning while still young to the specific happenings reported in his year’s class notes, which were about clubs and Republican politics and golf and mini-reunions taking place in pretentious suburbs in Ohio and the dullest parts of London. More interesting to him then the events recorded there was that he tracked how his classmates aged, as seen by how their class notes column was moved further and further back in the magazine to the point where they were with older and older loyal Princetonians. Eventually he stopped turning first to the class notes and turned first instead to the obituaries.

Me, I tried to edit out childhood. I tried to edit out Holderness, where actually I came into my own, my life saved, but to be correct had to later trash the place because it could be mistaken for one of those Anglophile, Episcopal, all boys New England boarding schools that ape their British models and hence, as in Anglo literary tradition, were hard and cruel places ripe for parody. I had eventually triumphed in boarding school, my life saved, and then college was supposed to be very, very different, and I tried to think of college as better than it was, and so a few years went by before I started editing out Princeton, which was well before I redid my version and started happily trashing the gray, cold place as I wrote more deeply about my life.

One spring day close to our graduation there was a senior class barbecue held on massive gray flagstones between big, harsh, colorless fake Gothic buildings that overshadowed an inviting, out of context, small, yellow clapboard house where I worked on the Daily Princetonian. I was thinking about my work on the paper as I stepped towards one of the grills. Just then my name was shouted by someone with a deep fruity threatening Anglo-like voice. “No cheating, Poole. Back of the line, Poole. Follow the rules, Poole.” I thought I had never seen this big smirking guy though it seemed he was one of my 700 classmates.

And as if a cold wind had just blown through me I realized that right now, all this time later, in this new college time of seeming safety, just before my planned entry into the world as a novelist, adventurer and lover of fine women, right here on what should be the threshold, I was being bullied by, just like in sixth grade, the very same Murdock. Would any place ever be safe?

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