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.