APPROACHING EXIT 27: Weary and Fretful


Spaces we need to add: master bedroom, master bathroom (x2), walk-in closets, bigger kitchen, family mosh pit, studios (x2), etc. I was standard male-issue wreckage, in recovery, midlife or early-mid crisis, whatever, publishing oddly personal pieces about suburban cul-de-sacs and highway culture–“blow-and-go” was memorable rest stop–while driving on L.I.E., back and forth, one end representing guilt and remorse, the other love and synergy and I must have gone slightly mad with so much driving because the highway itself became a hard-surfaced Pilgrim’s Progress (at 75 MPH,) every off-ramp another station of unraveling that defied interpretation. I kept a daily journal of my manic journeys and wrote a 250-page allegory that never saw print (one editor agreed to publish it if I rewrote book with a “body in the trunk,”) but it was operative landscape for that year of flux.  I’d come to a big intersection in my life, an interchange, with sluices, clover leaf ramps and swales.

Exit 27: weary, fretful driving. Graffiti on overpass reads “FUK.”  Place of indecision, distraction, too many options:  Dante’s  “Dark Wood,” Bunyan’s “Slough of Despond,”  Fitzgerald’s “Valley of Ashes” where ashes grow into  grotesque gardens. Could’ve stayed in city  another night with her. [“Her” was you.] Skeleton of burned-out Toyota says never too late but way too late.

When schedules were tight we’d meet half way at a mirrored, pyramidal hotel off Exit 50-something, near where Joey Buttafuoco fuked Amy Fisher and the notorious Parkway shooter aimed his rifle at motorists driving eastwards. (Only eastwards for some idiosyncratic reason.) We took a room behind the big red “R” on the seventh floor and I remember those highway trysts illuminated by a lurid hue, bloodfire red you called it. We made love and ate Chicken Parmesan, micro-waved from the deli across parking lot, gazed through window at traffic blur and young women with big hair in pastel chiffons crowding out of laser-flecked disco after midnight. It rained all night and I dreamt that your long legs were highways and I was driving, hopelessly lost, up one leg and then down the other. Early morning we went separate ways–romantic even in such marginal  infrascape of culverts and plastic bags trapped in chain-link fencing–you to Paris, Milan or Hong Kong, me to chilly, off-season beach house, sending long fax scrolls–now faded sepia and almost unreadable–with little sketches of yourself squeezed into a Tokyo taxi (“prepare for accident!”) or reclining on emperor bed at George V, eating room-service, wishing you were here

So the house became an essential place to meet between separations, escape, unfold, in dreams and for real. E.M. Forster wrote “landscape is personality” which I never understood until then. We both wanted new space, green space, cultivating areas that had been formerly unseen or deeply tangled. As with highways, the house became another allegory but this time for recalibration, healing, future life, love. 

You did drawings that were like dress patterns with one idea attached or hinged to the next like origami unfolded but the sections were rooms or views, not sleeves and bodices. (I was still learning about how you thought, designed, made collections that weren’t just clothes but narratives with mythical names and scenarios, whole new worlds.) And that’s how we found our way inside, jumping back and forth in time, collaging parts together from mutual memories, childhood travels, parents, remembered rooms, windows, shady gardens. We borrowed a cross-fertilization of ideas, intoxicated by possibilities: a separate studio building straddling the stream or hovering in the woods at tree-top height; bookcases for five thousand volumes engineered like  suspension bridge between slit windows, supported by crisscrossing struts; built-in counters and benches made from thick slabs of white oak–everything minimal and modern but made with a kind of dumb, Fred-Flintstone carelessness–sloping pylons like buttresses bolted in place by outrigger joists; translucent shoji screens opening to forest. We both kept scrapbooks and made lists. You were much more diligent and tore pages out of World of Interiors, Architectural Record, Dwell: a stone wall with a blue door somewhere in Tuscany; a house in the Engadine clad with horizontal slats like a corn crib; stone steps crawling with ivy; wisteria-tangled arbors.

I kept dreaming of an endless lawn of clover and buttercup, beautiful and open-faced, beneath a tangerine sky, like the poppy fields in Oz with slo-mo narcotic haze and I’m standing at the gate wondering if I should charge admittance or let everyone in for free. Had urge to expand perimeter, push back forest to reveal selected Larch,  Slippery Elm, Shagbark Hickory, open “view lines” to reveal beds of ferns and old stone walls, and kept thinking of those “blue lawns” in Gatsby, especially Tom Buchanan’s, the one that “started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walls and burning gardens–finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its  run…”

How could we make something like that?




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