. I guess this is a similar state of mind one lives in, on an opposite spectrum, when catastrophe occurs and one takes to prayer for salvation, but who knows? I don’t, because for some reason, I’ve been lucky – I think we all have – and so I’ll just continue to thank whatever force it is instead of waiting speculatively for failure to occur, as I may have in the past. I get a start in the morning when a truck rolls in toward the clearing to the river – perhaps they were fishing, but who knows – and I sigh in relief that’s not 2am and the police that wake me – and spend the rest of the morning watching the clouds, waiting for the others to rise. In time all do, Shmark having spent the night in his creepily transparent tent just below the deer skull we have clipped to the grill, and we head off toward Bangor. We pass through whitewashed towns that belong in the mythology of Mark Twain (I’m getting the feeling I’ll be saying this quite a bit as we move southerly on this east coast), and everything is on modest stilts, rusting trucks, antique shops, wispy and light in clothing, angular and ancient of cemetery. Our mouths are all agape, watching this world zoom by that existed dubiously in our elementary school textbooks – there are some turkeys! Here’s where Benedict Arnold met his men on the battle field to head toward Quebec! A wooden porch! – and we, I think it’s safe to say, all really, really dig Maine
. Even Shmark says he thinks he could live here.
We get to Bangor for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s the funny name, or the fact that, to The Beards assurances, it is the setting for many of Steven King’s novels, or simply that it’s a city that might have a landmark or two, but for whatever reason, we roll in, settle on parking outside of town where Tristan searches for toilet or sustenance and finds neither, and, after half-heartedly looking for a cemetery (perhaps a…PET cemetery?), we quickly roll on out. Yay for Bangor, certainly a lovely place in which to live, an attractive town, no doubt, but one strikingly devoid of strip clubs. Hi, mom: just kidding.
Someone decides we’ll pull over in Belfast, perhaps for the name (we’ve driven through London, Bath, Paris, Belfast and Moscow in the last week, to name but a few), and now that we’re on the coast, we set off to find ourselves some lobster. Yes. I pass by a used record store and not only is it closed, but it advertises a concert for two of the Wood Brothers (of Medeski, Martin and Wood fame) that had just performed in this small town two days prior! Oh, the fates, you so funny. The town, though, is all vertical wood, red or powder blue with white piping and squeaky old signs lettered in gold hanging above the melting glass windows in which one would expect a tallow candle to burn (you get what I’m saying here)
. It’s built on a hill that trickles down to the small, industrial wharf and doesn’t quite feel touristy but feels all kinds of adorable (wink!), and I find myself digging it, and digging my toes in its grass. Over a Xerox shop I see a violin bolted, and follow it to barn-like windows displaying, incidentally, the unmistakable skeletons of various stringed instruments, and though the shop is unmarked and uninviting, The Beard and I let ourselves in and up the stairs to find the door closing as we reach the top. No worry, for there’s a private deck with a barbeque that overlooks the harbor, and we stop outside to take in the salty air for a moment. Soon a lovely woman in her thirties is tiptoeing down the stairs and we ask her, "can we peek in your shop?" She shrugs, almost mouse-like, certainly shyly, and we again invite ourselves in, opening the door a crack, half expecting to find a hunchback or a troll, instead being greeted in this pleasant attic space by a bearded, smiling man in a tan Gaelic fedora (what’s a Gaelic fedora? How DARE you ask such a silly question!), who bashfully ushers us into his workspace. It’s like a cavern studded with precious jewels, the safe of Scrooge McDuck, the vaults of Arabian Nights
: all along the walls hang gracefully weathered wares of the acoustic sort, grandiose f-hole mandolins with swan-like headstocks, banjolins with tanned hides stretched over antique mahogany, hollow pear-like bodies detailed in unfinished mosaic veneer, these headless bouzoukis, all matched by a workshop filled with tools for the last century, manual instead of electric, iron and leather instead of steel and plastic, and it all unfolds like a fairy take
. A real luthier plying a real trade in earnest! I mean, either I’m misspelling the occupation, or its become so obsolete that my spell check rejects it! The fellow again greets us with such ease, such unpretentious warmth (“yeah, it’s a great place, but they won’t let me sleep here overnight; I tried last night and my neighbor got mad. I woke up with them fuming in my face, but I guess I shouldn’t have passed out cold on their doorstep.”) and it’s easy to envy his simple and Stradivaric lifestyle, or what appears to be as such. He’s repairing locally, building and shipping everywhere from Portland, ME to Boston, MA to Liguria, IT, all because he’s got a talent and a passion too strong to ignore. Inspiring, to say the least.
We trickle down to the waterfront, Cornbread having done some research around town to determine the cheapest lobster in town, and we settle on a mini-chain called Weathervane, which looks the same as the gravy train in the castle in your brain, though perhaps I’ve just gone insane. No, it it’s just a regular, non-rhyming restaurant with Van de Kamp’s-style fishing paraphernalia all over, a slightly more authentic Red Lobster, and some of them order crustacean from our very perky and disingenuous waitress, who clearly seems to be reading from a script. I’m not hungry so I opt for a bowl of clam chowder while Tristan and The Beard taste the creamy red shellyfish for the first time
. A bit of precipitation to ruin our al fresco
experience (it seems that despite the name, they’re no good at predetermining the weather patterns), and few crackles and squirts and slurps and sated mumbles later and we’re back out and on the road.
The road treats us wildly from here, or perhaps your gentle author just can’t seem to point the wheel in the right direction at the right time, but after a spell of time at a rest stop near Rockport, we search and claw and crawl through the beautiful bridged town of Bath (where you’d expect old men in yellow macs and white beards to roam), feeling around for a place to reside for the night, before eventually settling on triangular-shaped patch of land guarded by two great boulders that give way to a cloudy brown pond and all the unfiltered nature that Maine has to offer. I pull and leave it, so happy to be done driving, so ready to relax with the moon, which sits contentedly on the shoulder of the hills, plump as a pimple, soft as soufflé. We dice up a clove of garlic and fry up with the butter we’d stolen from Weathervane some weak salami we’d bought at the mum 'n pup’s for $2.50/lb for a kilo of pasta. Fireballs emanate from the campfire grill and nearly singe off Cornbread’s scarlet beard and we all lean against trees and rocks and our respectively shaky senses of self to enjoy a more disassociated evening dreamt under the light sky
. The Beard throws his sleeping bag onto the roof and I flip on the stereo to do reflection, and the skin I’ve got, though peeling, no longer seems to shudder under scrutiny of world, now part of a world of unyielding darkness and dirt, no mirrors or pretenses upon which to cast oneself. I’m not on drugs.
Standing at the foot of a pond, the trees acting like serpentine archways framing the nocturnal theater before us. “Frank’s Wild Years” spills out from the bus behind us and the moon is positively blinding, and one lone star reflects calmly on the surface, yet that moon ripples greatly in the distance as if some creature were struggling there beneath the surface, and a bullfrog croaks with a throat full of hairy buzzing flies, and my clothes reek of DEET as mosquitoes zzz in circles around me, lost and confused as I am. The Beard lies on the ground discussing Bob Dylan but I can’t see him, and Shmark’s gone missing, and Cornbread leans knowingly against a tree like a bear with a belly full of honey, and Tristan is curled over with his hood on, cupping his ears, desperate for hours to find a toilet to unseat the miles and countries within his gut but unwilling to leave it in the woods for the worms to feed on. I feel drunk on all of this but the wine’s soured and my eyes are bloody and I’m leaning against a fridge that’s been locked shut for weeks, holding tight on some eggs that slowly rot from within, no access to light or air or escape, rattling about in a vacuum, forgotten by all, and potatoes are spilled out on the ground, and every time I look in the mirror I look older, I feel no wiser, no stronger, much better, happier, fuller. Someone’s on the bus and I search for their eyes in the darkness but there’s nothing but a small and quick chuckle. The night is over.
DAY THIRTY-SEVEN: It's amazing that we’ve gotten this far. Now Pearl, and I hope I’m not jinxing anything (though I can’t align fidelity or competence with superstition; to do so would be unfair to my baby), no longer seems to heave or shudder while moving up the hills; her engine hardly seems to overheat, but we’re not taking chances on pushing our great fortune further than it’s already stretched. To be ignorant of the path cleared by some sort of positive force, be it God or grace or karma or the equalization of all the months spent in insecurity, wading in grease, dragging our brains in earnest through realms previously unknown, risking failure or catastrophe or both (still a distinct possibility), well, it would seem to only invite bad fortune in the door. And so while I believe it’s necessary to weed out the things you dislike from your life, to complain when you feel like complaining, it’s probably more important to gush and explore and expound and explain when you’re in the sweetwaters