Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 98 – OUR GANG

The night before what I thought might be my final trip north I had slipped into a parking place on 15th Street right in front of the Corlears School, for which we had a key. And after that night’s meeting everyone had gathered around the aqua Mustang, which did not have room for everyone in it. I drove to our regular diner with Myra, a red-headed nurse from Astoria who was living big now that she knew her story, and who had survived since birth many a crisis and many a relationship. Walking over right after us, rather than use the ridiculously small back seat, were Bill, a comfortable-seeming, centered-seeming black man who had found it was his family and their enforced gentility that covered up simmering things he now had to break through, and Susan, a lovely and accomplished actress whose current off-Broadway play did not have a performance that night, and Heidi, a clinical therapist who was getting at matters in these meetings that even she had not gotten at in therapy. And at the diner we were joined by expansive young Loraine, who was living for the moment in a community of liberal nuns, well away from a possibly sociopathic father who was one of those therapists who had morphed into a cruel cult leader. Also Nina, who had been the lover of famous figures in the civil rights movement, and Oscar, a quite successful studio art photographer in his fifties, like me, who was entering life as if for the first time. So many new people, and they had come together as if in a movement, as if marching arm and arm.

My grade school in Connecticut, built at the time of my birth, had had WPA murals in each classroom, men and women from all walks of life but especially muscular workers and some farmers – workers and farmers marching into the future. Which to me was similar in spirit to the murals I would live with later in the main meeting room of Livermore Hall at my boarding school. These panels showed the very hills and fields in which the school was situated in the New Hampshire lake country – showed the hills and woods and fields in the fall colors that I could see in season through the windows, with the added, but quickly becoming dated, touches of an optimistic future that was becoming real. Over the hills and fields in one panel an airplane that had portholes, like in an ocean liner, from which passengers could look out – and in another panel a train streamlined like the trains that were nearly that futuristic already, like the 20th Century Limited to Chicago.

Like a coming together many year ago in the writers I discovered – Thomas Wolfe and James T. Farrell, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Keats and Wordsworth and Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev – and in paintings – Manet and Monet again and Rembrandt and the Abstract Expressionist who painted the way my old girlfriend did – and certain music, Beethoven and Marian Anderson and Rogers & Hammerstein as well as, a little later, Pete Seeger and Ray Charles and Charles Aznavour, and now Dylan and the rest.

Such like-minded people. And such like-minded people here now in the flesh in this diner, people determined to retrieve the lives that had been stolen from them.

I had this car, which I had bought last summer – which had seemed such a healthy thing to do – a car for the city, though I had gotten it in Vermont. This shiny aging aqua Mustang maintained like new by its previous owner, a girl in Vermont who had owned it with her new husband, a telephone linesman, and could not bear to have it around after lightning struck and killed him. This car with a story that was getting longer now that it was my story.

If these new people in New York with whom I shared so much were milling outside a place where there was a meeting – a church basement or a synagogue or the Corlears School – they would cheer when they saw the aqua Mustang coming, its light hearted chrome horse on the front. And they were waving to me and the car when I departed from near the diner last night – departed with them knowing what I was doing, as if I were doing it for all of them as well as for myself. This trip that might be my last trip to the far north, to the old childhood places, where dark things were happening – chickens coming home to roost –and where maybe I could save lives.

The Aqua Mustang 97 – RECAPTURED

The Aqua Mustang 97 – RECAPTURED
After my best summer ever – up in the mountains with this gang of girls and boys who let me be in the center – abide in the center with Kitty, who taught me the 20s revival Charleston – the only time in my life when I could join a casual baseball game, step to the plate, and sometimes actually hit the ball and run bases – the summer after that one they took my brother and me off to Europe, thousands of miles away from the While Mountains and the summer gang – and suddenly it was as if nothing had ever changed, for I was back in our Connecticut family unit – back with Mother, Dad and Grandmother Clark, and my good boy twin Peter. I was getting letters almost every day that Kitty had sent to American Express in Paris and Venice and Paris again, and the family thought that was the silliest thing they had ever encountered. They laughed.

One evening at dinner at the hotel on the Rue Saint Honoré there was a big vase of black eyed Susan’s on our table and Grandmother Clark said, Look, Nigger Eyes. And Dad saw my face and berated me for having the potential to cause trouble, and they went along, keeping the awkward peace, with Grandmother Clark when she said, in a very loud voice, right here in Paris, I have called them Nigger Eyes all my life and I won’t stop calling them Nigger Eyes now.

And I was back in the place I thought I had escaped, despite all the trophies I had been winning, despite having a girl so kind and desirable she was outside their own experience – despite my surprising popularity, despite my leaving the world of the outcasts, despite this everything was still the same, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing could ever change. I knew I never should have trusted anything.

Though my life was not so empty now as they may have though. I did find a few things to trust that summer. I trusted what I felt when looking at Monet and Manet and van Gogh, all new to me, in the Jeu de Paum. The intensity of it was my secret almost, for in this family visual art was something I could have for myself if Peter was not in the way.

I started to hang out at the Jeu de Paum, which was a short walk from the hotel through all the marble in the beautifully proportioned and grandiose Place de la Concorde. I would remember for the rest of my life the exact placement of the paintings there – up and to the left in one room Manet’s artists picnic complete with nude model, directly in front of me as I entered another room Renoir’s girl on swing, who seemed to me not on a wing but on a path where she had stopped to cock her pretty head and connect with me. The Jeu de Paum, and also the Casino de Paris, which was a little farther away but within walking distance or a quick Metro ride.

There was something to trust here in this old theater too – the waves of desire that passed through me as I watched these happy seeming naked girls – plenty of coyness though no coy striptease, for they were naked before the dancing began – and one of them has a boy friend in the wings – I can see it all from my seat high up and to the side. I see her dance over to a place where the sky blue stage set ends, her arms high, and she had a girl’s cutely cropped brown hair, and rounded arms and legs, and she has these breasts, not too big and not to small, and with assertive nipples and she has a pubic hair triangle, and no tan line. And she reaches out to her right while turning her eyes in that direction and smiling, she reaches to her right again and she and the guy touch hands, this girl and her boyfriend, their touching out of sight except from my privileged spot in the audience. This sweet naked girl and her not-so-secret private life. And I had this fantasy version of my own life. I would not go to college next year, I would return to Paris and become the poet I had started out to be in boarding school, and I would have a girl like the naked dancing girl, and I would live in a garret like artists in the movies, and have intense relationships with people I would meet in tiny bistros with checked table clothes, each table with a candle dripping wax that built upon the side of the wine bottle in which it was stuck – and I would be myself always.

And this gave them a really good laugh, with a stern warning from my mother that I should pull myself together.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 96 – IN BATTLE GEAR

In the intervening years there had been only a few trips to New Hampshire, and almost none when the snows were coming. A life in cities all over the world, most of them tropical. Some trips into jungle and desert and ocean and equatorial mountains, but always back to cities. Barely sticking a toe into countryside.

I had decided now in November of ’86 that though I could not afford much of anything, I would need outdoor winter clothes for this latest expedition to the north – this place where disaster was always about to strike, this place of poisonous snakes and killer storms and undercover molestation and any number of other acts of, or against, nature. It might still seem like a cheerful autumn in New York but it was dangerous wintertime up there. I needed to dress right for self protection.

I did have a new checked green flannel shirt that had more style then the clothes to which I had been too accustomed most of my life. You had to put it on overhead like a sweater, it was that stylish. I had just bought it at Saks with a credit card left over from my recent marriage. And I also still had a surprisingly still valid Lord & Taylor credit card that my wife had ordered. At Lord & Taylor I charged a sharp looking blue wool scarf, and a pair of boots that looked a little like the work boots I had worn in adolescent days for social hiking in mountains in groups that included young pretty girls. I kidded myself that these boots would protect me from the freezing cold I remembered from the deep past.

I am going up there again in this time of change – this time when what really went on is coming into the light – this time of death and suicide and revelation about the darkness that surrounded those perfect seeming summers in those perfect if slightly stiff and formal mountain family places. It is two and a half months since my return from the summer of probing across the border from Vermont. It is only a month since the last trip, which a trysting trip. She was American girl of some undetermined age but still a girl, the sight of whom had set me reeling – though he had a mostly English accent like those people from the past and came from the same supposed strata. That last trip had become sweetly intense, though ending in multiple betrayals layered on the most un-New Hampshire sort of unfettered sex. And now I must go back again.

Although I had been back so recently, it had been so long since I was there as a part of the place that I did not even have the clothes for it. This place that was supposed to be so beautiful but where the elders were always talking about death – violent death by lighting and sudden mountain storms or stirred up mama bears or rusty nails that created fatal blood poisoning – and also death by sudden disease or stroke – death by old age at any age. I was about to leave New York again to take on death, for there had been sudden new events up there. This time I was off to do a Don Quixote thing – and even less prepared for the reality I might face than that Spanish would-be knight had been. For he did not ride off to fight the enemies, windmill or otherwise, dressed for battle by Saks and Lord & Taylor.