Friday, September 28, 2007


And now again, back in the States, basking in the cusp of autumn, brought on by a late afternoon Vermont thunderstorm.

On the plane over, I was for some reason upgraded to sit in the jumpseats usually reserved for the flight crew. I shared them only on takeoff and landing, with a Taiwanese beauty who kept up enough of a steady banter to keep my eyes and my mind off the usual pendulum swing between awe at the view and sheer terror at the unconceivable physics of flight. Connect in Chicago to board a plane next to a Korean student with long eyelashes and the fresh smell of PlayDoh. Land in Indianapolis's surprisingly progressive airport, with massage chairs and a kiosk selling Rosetta Stone language courses right in the terminal. As usual, I spent my first few hours thinking how fucked up everybody was. But I admit that my research was skewed since most of that time was spent in airports. And air travel brings out the absolute worst in absolutely everyone, in both the cattle and the cattle drivers. My uncharitable first impressions tend to go away quickly and are always the result of the fog which could be jetlag, but could also be a survival mechanism to deal with the sudden sensory overload, overhearing the syllables of my native tongue and my eyes drawn to shapes and letters which I can actually read.

In late 2003, I'd returned to the States for the first time after nearly 3 years away, trying to reassemble my world after the death of my son. While trying to reconnect with my own heart and soul, I'd returned to the source, an attempt at acquiring wisdom from the land of my birth. I sought it out on long train and bus rides, while wandering its cities, while flipping thru the pages of its recent novels. I never even came close to finding it since the country at that time, 9 months into the Iraq debacle, was a nation adverse to communication of any kind. Forget about emoting.
Ironically I find that heart now, in the book I was just reading, in Richard Ford's "Lay of the Land." Had it been published back then, I needn't have looked further. It is almost a thesis on fin de siecle America in 2000, yet in many ways I still feel the G forces from the continuous spiral. Here in Ford's insight seems to be the pulse of the America I have since rediscovered, a pulse beating with the blood of everyone whom I make contact.

I make my way to the religious center of the nation, to the mall. I get nearly all my hair chopped off as a sort of flight of passage into a new decade. In the chair, I sit and listen to all the hairdresser banter, reminding me of the dialogue from the film "Waitress, " itself seemingly the "Steel Magnolias" of the current generation. I think that there are few chances of long term love in a hair salon, where if a handsome man comes in at all, he won't return for at least a month or two. My hair was cut by an young woman who's absence of smile reflected possible love problems of her own. After a while we started to chat, and it turned out she had learned Japanese in high school. This town may be small but the world is far smaller.

I later meet a true speaker of Japanese, Eriko, who I married to Marty in my role as a minister. A group of us have pizza and beer on the patio of their beautiful new house, while my brother Eric sneaks out to the car to check the football scores. Flat-bottom boats cruise the perimeter of the lake on this, the autumnal equinox. In honor of the balance, of the equality, I spend one day indoors watching two films brilliant in the use of violence as art--"28 Days Later" and "Sin City." Another day is spent in the sun, at the park where Columbus Indiana is having it's first folk fest. Dave and I at first laugh at the fact that the town's three hippies are in the crowd (including himself in fact) and later begin a rambling conversation about psychology that expands to well over three hours, long after the beer and smoothies have run out.

On the flight to Vermont I change planes in Cleveland, which I honor with a "Spinal Tap" reference. Here in the heart of Rock 'n 'Roll, we are force fed country music and bad pop through the airport's sound system.
On the final approach to Burlington, the mountains below dazzle. A lone lake rests high in the peaks. They're smaller and much more welcoming than the snow-capped monsters of Montana and Idaho I'd seen a few days before. Off the wing, I see the fort where Ben and I basked in the warm sun on summer solstice. Time's flight needs no wings...

On the turntable: Matthew Sweet, "Altered Beast"
On the nighttable: Nicholas Shakespeare, "Bruce Chatwin: A Biography"

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