Thursday, September 10, 2009
#7 – NORTH AGAIN
My brilliant and funny old drinking companion Peter Cooper was up in Vermont, reportedly a new man. It had been 16 years since I had seen Peter, who had closed so many bars with me in the old New York days. He had recently written wondering what had become of me and would I like to visit him. And I had recently been thinking anyway that I would like to check out the good things I had been hearing about Vermont that I never heard about New Hampshire – environmentalists, guitar players, free thinking liberals, painters, peace activists, governance by Democrats.
I had known Peter since I was a child and he was to me a distant somewhat older young man in suburban Connecticut, racing around in wobbly old cars that needed mufflers, overweight and on the move. When his name came up, parents shook their heads, which made him all the more intriguing.
Then when I was first living in New York he was too, and, the lapse in time making us contemporaries now, we became friends. And there was a floating party in the city. He knew my girlfriend. I met her at a party given by his sister. And a little later I introduced him to his first wife.
But we had gone our different ways. When I had last seen Peter he was living in a musty old hotel that had become a hippy haven in the then nearly over-the-hill mill town of Rutland, which was not one of the Christmas card Vermont places. He had been working at a sexy ski lodge called the Wobbly Barn that was mainly a drug place, located halfway up Killington, a mountain made incredibly ugly with ski trails and denuded open slopes that put me in mind of strip mining. But now Peter was married again and, as I had heard from his half brother, with whom I had made that trip in Wobbly Barn times, Peter was so functional that he was doing PR for the Vermont State Fair at the same time he was the director of a state alcoholism agency. And he was back to his first love, writing, and he had just been published. When I phoned to say I would take him up on his invitation to Vermont he said this was an especially good omen, for I was a published writer and the bound volumes of his first ever book were expected any day.
So I went to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and hurried past its beggars and con artists for the second time in three weeks. And I was on a the bus again, which should have been something more to be depressed about since even the times when plane and train fares had matched bus fares you never saw the kind of underclass, beaten down people you saw in bus stations in either antiseptic airports or stately old railroad depots. I did like the sort of buses I had used in third world places – buses on which there were always live chickens in the rack above you as you traversed the length of Cuba, or went all the way down the Malay Peninsula, or across Indonesia, or into the lawless part of eastern Anatolia, or Nicaragua or Panama.
Now it was a time for mundane buses in America, but on this latest trip north it did seem possible that a trip into a future was underway. And so in my mind it followed that demons could be held at arm’s length and there might even be a little hope. Not like it was three weeks back when I was on my way to a past, traveling to my brother’s place in New Hampshire and my mother's awful fake English party – moving back in time on my way then to the middle of a land where I had long ago been happy and could never be happy again.
Ah despair! The literary sweetness of despair.
And yet it was different this time, three weeks later, heading north again. What was around me seemed to have entered the present. It was virtually the same route as I had taken on the way to Littleton, first the New York Thruway, and eventually the bus leaving the thruway just before New England to move slowly around Saratoga, which I had hardly noticed the last time, but now seemed like an exciting slice of 19th century grandeur with its signs pointing to mineral baths, and its old town buildings with mansard roofs, and the bright white fences and rows of bright flowers, plus bright white grandstands and winner’s circle, at the historic old race track, that somehow had in its architecture a hint of the sexy allure of the place as it had appeared in old movies and bad novels about Clark Gable type gamblers and Linda Darnell type easy women. And when the bus left New York state for Vermont some of what I saw seemed greener than anything I had noticed three weeks ago – well along in September now but at least some of what I was seeing – some of the fields if not the trees – as green now as in my memory of other days.
So I was on a bus again, a mundane American bus, but this time feeling some sort of version of the surges I had felt at other times when I set out on trains into such hard places as the Sudan’s dread Darfur tribal region with the old steam locomotive breaking down every few hours – or soft places, such as Chiengmai, city of beautiful women, which you reached from Bangkok on trysting trips in the comically erotic red plush Victorian style first class compartments of the Royal Thai Railways. A surge, like the remembered surges of hope and desire when I took ships to Naples or Alexandria, or Saigon or Haiti – or when I left New York by air to Bangkok or Manila or Beirut or Paris and so many other places that I was amazed I could still remember them all.