Friday, June 4, 2010
#109 – DRIFTING
(NOTE: The jump in numbers between #101 – THE PIT and #109 – DRIFTING is due to the overall order changing with inserts meant to go, as noted, after #80 – YEAR-ROUND PEOPLE.)
It was less than two months between my settling in at the start of July and Labor Day, when my Vermont summer was nearly at an end. In the last weeks I continued to drive and to play music over and over – not so much Haydn and Mozart as Judy Collins and Willie Nelson and Roger Whittaker and Joan Armatrading – music that was in my past as much as in my present, like the landscapes I drove through. And I continued to ride horses in Castleton. And to swam in lakes in small state parks up and down Rt.7. Sometimes when I left the car and its tape deck I took the Walkman with me.
It was now a limbo time, for I knew for certain now that I would be back in New York soon. Julie reminded me that there were things I might want to get in order for the winter, such as being sure that the car heater worked. And after awhile she was reminding me I would need a place to stay. Peter had said one evening he wanted to have a conversation with me though he wished such a conversation were not necessary. What it was about was that it was becoming clear, without any details mentioned, that this living arrangement was not working to everyone’s satisfaction.
Meanwhile, I sometimes went with Peter up a long rutted driveway to swim in a very cold and very old pool in a mostly abandoned summer camp. He would leap in holding his nose. We went back one evening when there was a church sponsored encampment for underclass children. This is a significant part of the real Vermont, a minister told me. The Vermont that outsiders almost never see.
These kids from poor families seemed happy enough. They delighted in s’mores, which was something else I had missed, this combination of marshmallows, graham crackers and Hersey bar chocolate roasted on a campfire. When I was a child in New Hampshire we knew all about roasting marshmallows impaled on sticks but we were ignorant of s’mores, which were apparently known to everyone in America except people such as us. After the s’mores the kids were putting on skits that mainly entailed the practice of lip-syncing to current songs, the high point being a duet about a couple fighting that a grinning brother and sister did to great applause. As if these people did not know they were poor and downtrodden.
I went to a Grange hall with Peter for a political meting to which the liberal governor Madeleine Kunin was coming. She came in keyed up, eyes darting form person to person, then zeroing in, including zeroing in on me, wanting to know who I was, and I felt like an interloper and did not tell her I was not a Vermont voter. Before her arrival Peter was speaking with a comic New England accent talking about a night so cold he had to back away while he was pissing. It embarrassed me, him pulling and old-time New England accent on real-life, old-time New Englanders – a little too much like being with my brother when he was silently twisting reality by writing a novel in his head.
Once we and several of Peter and Julie's friends went over the line to New Hampshire, to the bright white college town of Hanover, to take in the Big Apple Circus. The Hanover Inn was where I had been in ski school during Christmas vacations when I was 12 and 13. The first time there I was treated like an outcast. I thought I would do anything to avoid ever returning. But the next year I was popular, which was as mysterious to me then as soon afterwards when it turned out that my early boarding school unpopularity in the winter did not carry over to the summers.
Hanover, where we had gone in vans from Holderness for concerts at Dartmouth. Spic and span white brick. Artur Rubenstein playing Beethoven. Marian Anderson singing Deep River. And when there was applause for her, one of the students, a boy from Florida who paraded about the campus with no shirt even in chilly weather, had stayed seated, his arms folded, making it clear he would never applaud a Negro.
And there were more Sunday trips out to the obscure farm area where Donna did the Sunday services. Once she had a hearty young bagpiper present there to play Amazing Grace in the graveyard. Another time we were invited for coffee on a hill above the little church where there was a farm family so advanced they talked liberal politics and had as a houseguest a Swiss woman they had known for years who spoke of how she raised her children to be very aware that no one in the world had life quite so easy and solid as their fellow Swiss – almost as if we were to her what the impoverished encampment people had been to us.
Lucy was soon talking of how she had finally come down on the side of lesbianism and had an affair going with a strapping woman with a pronounced lazy eye. This too a part of Vermont. When afterwards I drove up to a remote place called New Haven where Peter’s half brother Jason had his big log retirement house, Jason mentioned that they bought their goat cheese from two girls who were “that way” and seemed very nice. It reminded me of Nana saying the family’ homosexual pet Fred Bristol was always a perfect gentleman.
Although I saw Donna on those Sundays, and often at small gatherings during the week, I was wary of her. I did not see Mario again. They were still at Donna’s house, but we never crossed paths. They did not get friendly with my old friend Peter.
Donna and I had lunch one day at a tiny vegetarian place in a small shopping mall made up of boutique-like shops in nooks and crannies of what was one of Rutland’s many shuttered old factories. Everything served had sprouts and/or tahini, but it was a cheerful place and conclusively part of the present time. We talked about how I would be leaving soon and why. Donna said that when Peter and Julie told her they had asked me to leave she asked what went wrong, and the only specific matter she could pass on to me was that they did not like the way I washed dishes, one dish at a time with the water running. Donna said she told them that nobody washed dishes just like anyone else. And she told me they were very careful about almost everything to the point of being finicky. Then Donna asked if after Labor Day I would load up my car with some of her things and follow her down Union. So now Donna and I were allies again.
One day Julie had asked me not to use paper towels. She said she hated paper towels. I asked if this was “specific or philosophical,” and Peter repeated "philosophical" and laughed in a knowing way, sympathetic to me though I felt like I was a cramped little academic figure.
And I felt the same way later when I related how over in New Hampshire I had gone to Littleton’s diner and ordered from its blackboard specials a mushy item called “Cheeseburger quiche.”
We went one hot weekend day to Weston to a Benedictine Monastery that looked more like a farm than a monastery. It was a big anti-war gathering at which the famous war resister Father Daniel Berrigan was meant to appear. He had not showed up by the time we left, but I still had a good feeling about the place and the activism, which reminded me of a very civilized group of Benedictines that, surprisingly, I came upon in a big stilt house on the Kapuas River in headhunter country in Borneo. Also of the Maryknoll nuns who helped me in the Nicaragua of the deadly Somozas.