Sunday, September 13, 2009
#8 – DEVELOPED PERSON
But it was so good to see Peter Cooper. A little like a return from the dead, Peter thinner now, and confident now, still witty, and with a kind of energy I had not seen back when we were drinking. Back then it might have seemed unlikely to me that either of us would live this long. And Peter now was not just breathing but a part of a community, which was clear right here at the small, smoky bus station in Rutland, this old quasi-industrial town in the foothills of the Green Mountain.
Two people waiting in the terminal, one a quite old woman, the other a thin crew cut guy with a Semper Fi tattoo, waved and called out to him when they spotted him. This would happen wherever we went in Rutland. He knew everyone. Peter in a context new to me.
We drove straight to his house. He had just been opening the package from his publisher, The Countryman Press, and the book looked good. The countryman press was a small but respectable publishing house down in Woodstock, Vermont, which I knew from another time as a town filled with non-Jews, non-Catholics, non non-whites. The press was run by a man named Peter Jennison. Peter Cooper said he had taken his manuscript there via a man he knew who was living in retirement near Rutland. This was Keith Jennison, who was Peter Jenison’s brother and had been a near legend in the publishing world. Keith appeared in many literary memoirs. But when I first met him he had been brought in as he to revamp a fairly obscure, and not very literary, house, which entailed his being editor on one of the small books on countries I had been doing for money. He was a refreshing change from the school marm types who usually edited such books.
My encounter with Keith had taken place in the summer back in 1970, when my Bangkok novel was coming to an end. I stopped in at his office to see how a small book I wrote on Malaysia was coming along. This was just after I arrived back from Singapore and just before heading to New Hampshire to visit not family but the woman who had been a such a startlingly vivid girl, Mickie, in White Wings. Also, I needed to do a final tinkering with the manuscript, and had an idea I could do it in the mountains. Keith and I had gone straight to a bar on Third Avenue where every time he raised even a finger our drinks would be topped off or refilled. We talked about my father, whom Keith had known for years in publishing circles, and about my late novelist grandfather, who had been on English class reading lists when Keith was in college. He spoke about them without seeming to treat me as their extension. We talked mostly of the special character of northern New Hampshire. Keith knew the White Mountains. He had written an amusing text in the voice of an old-time Yankee for a picture book that had the Old Man of the Mountains on its cover. (When I got to New Hampshire, I saw an old copy of Keith’s book that Mickey’s parents had left on a corner table in the formal living room of White Wings.) These connections had seemed like a good omen back then, and again now when Peter took me over to Keith’s retirement house in nearby Castleton, which was visually the most perfect of Vermont towns with its big clapboard houses around an inviting green.
All of which made me intensely happy for Peter, and hence a little hopeful for myself.
There was a chill in the air. I would have to remember to get something warm. My wife had gotten the blankets when we split up, and I anyway tended to own so few clothes that if I were dressing up I might have to use one of the now disappearing press-while-you-wait services.
From Castleton we went back Peter's place to meet his wife Julie, who was just getting home from a factory job she had taken. She turned out to be an enthusiastic, curly haired, not young woman who had a smile that could have put her in the desirable heartbreaker category.
The end of a cul-de-sac they lived on, was separated by a grassy divider from gas stations and convenience stores and strip malls on a main road into Rutland. But there were tall pines beside their house, and the air was northern air, and I could almost hear remembered northern bird cries from deep, deep in my past that seemed to be coming into my present here in the anti-New Hampshire.