There is a laughing girl named Nancy, who has a heartbreaking smile and is so young she seems to still has baby fat. Nancy talks in the meetings about her controlling father. She tells of how on hot days he sets up a ridiculously complicated system for cooling the house – doors that have to be kept open, doors that have to be kept shut, windows open, windows shut, one fan here just so, another there just so, a third in some tryout position that does not seem to work and makes the father angry. And even as the father is attempting to control the environment he is remote from the family. For otherwise his life revolves around his AA meetings.
Nancy is in the city to take care of a baby. She says she loves babies. She is biding her time right now working as a nanny before deciding what to do next, which may mean college, but which college it might be is still unclear. And meanwhile she has these meetings. And her warm smile.
I think of our house in Connecticut on hot summer nights. My room was brought into my father’s cooling system, which was much the way young Nancy described hers. It did not seem important to me that her father would be my age or younger. It was all so familiar. It entailed keeping open the door to my room for the hall as well as the facing door from my room that opened onto a rickety outside staircase. And a fan was placed at the staircase door – those two doors an essential part of the complex and silly cooling system my father, like Nancy’s father, had set up.
Beneath the staircase there was storage space which had been turned over to my dog Moxie, who had a bed of old cedar chips in there, but whom at night I would bring up to my room.
This black Lab trotted along everywhere I went on my bicycle. He stayed with me on the banks of the Saugatuck river, where I had my favorite fishing places. He was with me dodging the warden when I went for bass in the Aspetuck Reservoir. A great place for swimming was a part of the river that ram deep, backed up by old waterfall.
The part just below the waterfall was deep too, but forbidding. I would stand at the top, my feet in moving water, and let my line down, and catch an eel from the dark place down there. Or a ferocious catfish place for eels and catfish down there in the dark, but in the sun sunfish and perch and sometimes a bass.
Once on a wide path coming back from the reservoir we had come upon a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes, unlike copperheads, were very rare here. This one was coiled and ready to strike, like the “Don’t Tread on Me” rattlesnake of patriotic lore. Moxie wanted to confront the snake. I yelled for him to come with me, as we both ran away.
We spent much of our time on the river. The perch, with their dots of red, and the sunfish, with rainbow markings, each had little areas they had staked out, sandy bottom areas that they were patrolling, and I had to stay in denial about how they looked while free in the water when I was pulling one of them out of the water and later eating him.
Moxie had been the successor to my short lived first dog Brownie. He did not annoy them the way Brownie had, for he was quickly housebroken. He had been billed as the runt of his litter of the Cowen family’s Labs, the last puppy remaining after the others had found homes.
I could still see Moxie swimming in the deep part of the river behind the waterfall dam that once powered sharpening wheels in the ax factory that had abandoned long before my time, long before commuters arrived. Moxie looking happy and pleased as he swam
with a stick in his mouth. Like me he wanted to be in water all the time. He was a great swimmer. He had a lab’s equivalent in flesh of a duck’s webbed feet.
That summer before college while I was in Holland Peter had driven up to New Hampshire with Moxie, who had disappeared in the woods down below White Pines. They never found Moxie. I was given the news while being driven home from the student ship. But I did not let this get to me. I did not let it stop me moving towards Princeton.
Moxie was on my mind as I heard the pretty girl talking about her father, who was probably about my age, and also the age my own father had been when he set up his bizarre cooling system. The worse part of that system was that I had to keep my door at the end of the hall open, for it was on a direct line to the outside staircase door. And I also kept the door to my brother’s room open to make absolutely sure the air was flowing as my father thought it should.
Listening to this pretty girl talk about her father and her country house and what they did in hot summers… All time has become the same time – almost --- for there is something dangerous in the air ---
At the end of one meeting I am talking with Nancy. She says she has to get back to the brownstone just off lower Fifth where she looks after a baby. She says she loves babies. To continue talking we walk together from the Corlears School to the brownstone. At the door she says she is excited too about this trip I am about to make. Do I know Lenox? I have not been in the center of the village but I have been aware of the township for it is one of those places marked on the roads I have been wandering while heading up to or down form Vermont and New Hampshire. Nancy says she thinks Lenox is about halfway to where I am going. She will be home with her family. She is leaving in two days. Would I like to spend a night there in Lenox on my way Everyone in ACOA is privy to this rescue mission of mine. I say spending a night in Lenox is a good idea. In front of the brownstone we do a program hug.
But the day before I go, Nancy phones and says she has spoken to her parents and this is not a good time for a visit. And I think I know what that means.
In the evening I drive to the East Village. As I am coming down Second Avenue in the Aqua Mustang, I see familiar people gathered on the sidewalk of the church to which I am headed. They see the Aqua Mustang, which is now a part of ACOA lore. They see the happy chrome horse coming towards them. And they cheer.
The last time the Playhouse was in operation, the summer after my first year of college, boys and girls from our old gang were sprucing it up again, making last minute repairs in the French doors, giving the place a thorough cleaning. I had gone with a new young summer girl over to Littleton to get paint brushes and paint, and as I came back up past the Farm House, down below the House on the Hill, and onto the flat stones at the rustic entrance area to the Playhouse, I see could them there ready for me. For when they saw the car they all came to the front and actually cheered. The new girl, a northern version of a neurotic southen bell, was clearly so aware of her appeal. When the cheered sh said “Oh you must be so conceited.” It felt good and bad at the same time, good because this was like a line spoken by a pretty girl in an F. Scott Fitzgerald story.