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.

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