Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 59 – BEYOND DANGER

So I had this ill-gotten check from Penthouse for a piece bringing up to date the exposé of what was happening in the Philippines – which, to my discredit, I had been almost hoping would be another Vietnam now that Marcos and his bloodthirsty relatives had gone wild, right down to the Constabulary staging village square beheadings. A quagmire would serve these awful people right – Ronnie and Nancy Reagan and their cruel jet set friends Ferdy and Imelda Marcos. Not to mention what it would have done for my career to have gotten this one right.

Every night on television in Manila there would be a rerunning of a video of Reagan’s errand boy, the silly and angry little Yale guy who changed his principles from minute to minute, this Vice President Bush, whom nobody except journalists and the more insecure new money rich took to be a classy aristocrat. In the nightly rerunning of the video he would stand up at a banquet table, wearing Philippine formal national dress, which was a long sleeve transparent shirt that looked as much like something synthetic as it was possible to achieve with pineapple and banana fibers – this costumed twerp holding high a glass of something and toasting Marcos, testifying to the seedy dictator’s love of democracy, this nightly show convincing so many in the Philippines that if they rebelled against Marcos the Americans would come in and kill them.

This awful four-name Bush was the sort of person I felt I had known from earliest times and may not yet have shaken off. This pompous little twerp so familiar to me, as was so much else everywhere, including my just ended marriage to a girl from Quezon City whose mother, who had immigrated illegally and moved in with us in New York, was a professional gambler, a non-cliché part of a situation that went on too long. This I thought about as I drove around green Vermont, and began forays across the frontier into the granite state of New Hampshire, where a some people crucial to my coming of age years could still be found – including summer people who went back to stay.

In Vermont I had two old friends, Jason Bacon and Peter Cooper, who had both been in our commuter town during the big part of my growing into adolescence that took place in Connecticut, and they had both of them been rebels of sorts who remained my friends later, Jason and I sharing a place for a year in what was not yet called the East Village when I first was free to live in New York, and Peter, a major drinking companion from that time. Peter was now in Rutland, which he had reached in hippie times and where he had apparently come to dead end – then pulled himself up. He was now running a state alcoholism unit, and had just published a not bad if sentimental novel. Further up the state, Jason was also living, he in well-heeled early retirement, splitting his year between London and a big log place near Middlebury. We had taken separate paths from the East Village, and he had retired in his forties rich from investment banking. It was a try at respectability that was meant, I expected, to blot out the past. A big scandal in Connecticut way back, after Jason’s father went broke, was his and Peter’s parents going off with each other’s spouses. And I imagined the guys in the next generation had to have been attracted to their sisters-in-law.

Me, I was rerunning my entire life this summer in Vermont in this light time of something that felt like happy drifting – this lighthearted, life-filled time when everything l saw – a stream, a barn, a pretty girl on a village green – seemed something wonderful that I had never really seen before. Drifting up and down and around Vermont in this lighthearted aqua Mustang with lighthearted music always playing. Especially Judy Collins, who was about as dangerous as I really wanted anything to be in this time of heading into deep dangerous places from a past I had not realized until recently was dangerous. I had thought the dangerous parts had only been my times later on hiding from the Tontons Marcout in Haiti, or from the Portuguese in the revolution in Angola, or when caught by sweaty men with tommy guns while looking for Castro in the last days of Batista’s Cuba, or roaming in Laos, or Beirut when the serious killing began, or Panama.

Southeast Asia and Latin America and the Middle East. Was it too much like a hack written story to suppose that there was some connection between my growing up in the White Mountains and what I was drawn to later?

I thought all this as I drifted around Vermont, which was what I was drawn to now, Judy Collins singing about love and sweetly deferred happiness.

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