Monday, June 7, 2010
#111 – PAST FRIEND
I drove my cheerful Mustang 25 miles north to the turnoff for Jason’s place, a private dirt road that ran near a tidy farm and beside a lush clover field before entering second growth woods that led to Jason’s quite new, three-level log house. I was noticing again that up above me in the mountains, which I used to think would be barren like New Hampshire’s, there were geometrical fields in different shades of green resulting from the different crops being grown. A man-made landscape.
Then I came over a rise and was face to face with an actual red London phone booth – a souvenir of Jason’s successful life running an investment banking operation in London. It stood as a sentinel in front of this house I had not seen before though I had seen the land, drunk wine on the land, years back when Jason and I drove from New York to visit with Peter at the Wobbly Barn.
Over the years I had often seen Jason in London, and sometimes stayed with him and his family in their Chelsea London town house. My oldest friend. My rich friend. He never avoided taking me in. A link with aspects of my past very different from what I had been attacking this year in my wild and furious and quite clever diatribes of discovery.
The first night here at his big retirement place in the middle of Vermont Jason held a high-toned dinner party. At the table was a big, bluff farmer from down below, who had brought along a few of the many arrow heads and stone tools he had come across over the years when plowing or mowing. There was a crew-cut college president in tweeds from nearby Middlebury College, where Jason was a donor and where he sent sons. There was a tight little older man I had watched driving a harness race sulky at a demonstration of Morgan horses, which I had gone to see after Julie spotted a notice about it in the Rutland Herald. He had been on the Federal Power Commission, which was clearly a subject of great pride in the neighborhood. His wife sat beside me, a stringy, muscular little woman who lectured me about my riding – repeating over and over that the last thing I should do was ride Western, and that Eastern was just as bad, but there was another way, and on and on she lectured as I tuned out.
And there was another guest spending the night at Jason's, a tall blonde man who had done business with Jason in New York and London. After the others had left, they talked about wonderful wise old New Englanders, like the farmer who had just been there. They created scenarios answering the question of what a wise Vermont farmer would say about this and that. The Regan government, for instance. Jimmy Carter. John Wayne. In each case the hypothetical wise old farmer came down on the side of waging wars and abolishing anything that hinted of Socialism, validating anything that maintained the economic status quo.
It all made me uncomfortable, not so much because of what I myself thought about it but rather because these were people whom the people I came from would have found it all too easy to ridicule.
The next day Jason and I went together to another house, this a much smaller summer place he had purchased on an inlet in lake Champlain. He called it “a camp.” A rickety old two-story place on a bluff above a small cove with a small rocky beach where he kept a new boat, a fast, open motorboat called a Boston Whaler. It felt good to be with Jason, my oldest friend in the world. It meant that not all my bridges had been burned in this year’s take-no-prisoners revision of my past.
We had known each other for so long that I was pretty sure I could talk with him about our mutual experience of growing up in alcoholic families in the same town in Connecticut. Go over it outside the ACOA movement. I thought the never-ending cocktail parties in Connecticut and of the later drinking nights hosted with great hospitality by Jason's father, by then married to Peter’s mother, when I was doing news work in Indiana. There had been something courageous in how after losing all his money and retreating from Connecticut under a cloud the father, as taut as the military man he had never been, had started over in the Midwest as a machine tool salesman. No longer a rich guy from Oyster Bay. He had joined the Masons. And I also remembered him making those stinging slaps to Peter’s mother’s face.
“No,” said Jason, alcoholism has nothing to do with it. The end of the discussion. Maybe it was that for a moment I had forgotten that Jason was one of the few from our old New York boozing and binging crowd who still could drink that way. So we dropped the subject and careened around the northern end of the lake in this open speed boat, throwing up a rainbow spray.
That night there was another house guest. Jason’s late brother Bruce’s best friend Arthur, the man in the wheel chair whom I knew from parties in the past and had just seen at Bruce’s Oyster Bay funeral. Jason read from diaries Bruce had been keeping in his last years. Bruce had some money left him by his stepfather (Peter’s father) and he had given it to Jason to invest. And then Bruce, the family’s practicing artist, had kept daily track in his diary of all stock he owned, right up until the day he jumped from a high bridge. And he also wrote in the diary how grateful he was to his generous older brother.
In the morning Jason showed me three new style mountain bikes he had gotten for himself and his sons. Not unkindly, he noted that each of these bikes would have cost more than my old car.