A Very Rough Draft of Jim Harstad’s Memoir, ON HE RODE — Chapter Forty-Eight

ON HE RODE — Chapter Forty-Eight

In the meantime I’ll take advantage of what must be the most comfortable seating accommodation anywhere, the first five miles of riding any Greyhound or Trailways cross-country hauler. It never fails, ever. The first thing I sit down I can’t believe how anatomically perfect this wonderful combination of lounge chair and bucket seat could be. It’s like they took my dimensions when I bought my ticket and had it waiting for me. Like magic.

And then, like magic, five miles into the most comfortable ride of my life, I need a wiggle — just a small shift in my left femur, say. That’s when I find that I have no wiggle room and my being locked into what was initially the most comfortable position possible means there’ll be more than my left femur that needs to wiggle and can’t. Is it just me? I’m average.  Normal. How about really fat or skinny types? Old folks? Kids? More grist for future ponders.

I’m headed for New York City, buildings going up to the sky. Thanks, Mr. Dylan, but I’ll not spend time gawking. Is it the Pennsylvania Station or Grand Central I’m heading for? Or neither? Do buses go to those stations, or only trains? Civilization and its discontents. Anyway, I’ll doubtless end up at a station with buses heading for Boston and I’ll get on one and go there. My right shoulder wants to move up or down just a tad. Can’t. Uhh. And that pesky left femur.

I met Mary Wisnoski at the beer bar of a college hostel in Amsterdam last summer. We bought sturdy old Dutch bicycles cheap at a flea market and rode them to Hamburg, where we spent a couple of days before I headed for Denmark and she went somewhere farther south, France or Italy. Fortunately we parted on good terms, making feasible my trip to Boston where she is a Ph. D candidate in psychology at BU.

A strongly built blonde with a genuine break-your-face smile, she looks like a Meryl Streep prototype. She thought I looked like Robert Redford, she said, only with a maturing hairline. So that all worked out well enough from the I-think-you’re-cute-too angle.What doesn’t work out quite so well is that she as a lifetime Roman Catholic determined to preserve her virginity until honorable marriage. Some Catholic girls with such aspirations learn certain compromises that allow the fragile hymen to remain happily in place until the appointed time of sanctified demise. Anyway, we made do in a not unpleasurable accommodation that had us both coming back for more. And — more ponder grist —her combination of psychology  and spiritual awareness could help me define God. Maybe.

As for the balding Robert Redford, what would she think of my distinctly unredfordian new look? Less of a threat to the problematic hymen? Or more?

“You cut your hair,” she says when she meets me at the station.

“Life goes on.”

“One hopes,” she smiles.

“It takes two.”

“One remains hopeful,” she repeats, broadening the Streep smile.

Mary shares an apartment with Susie and Margie, aggressive WASP grad students who appear not only not enthralled to have me there but seem almost to be conspiring to evict Mary using me as the ploy. It takes a detailed summary of our proposed itinerary to convince them that while I was there Mary would be a usually absent housemate and that I really would be no housemate at all. We’ll be out and about — New York, the Cape, Walden Pond,  House of the Seven Gables — places a weird  lit major such as myself might be interested in visiting.

“Fire Island?” earnestly suggestsSusie.

“A Broadway musical?” coyly offers Margie.

Clever girls. I thank them for their suggestions and they let me stay, though fragments of conversations overheard in passing tend to confirm what I thought I already knew. “Maybe he can’t help that he’s losing his hair, but he could at least shave.”

“Well yeah, if he’d just, like, try to be normal,”

“Normal” is absolutely the word for the issue at hand, normal life itself, which nobody can define to anybody’s satisfaction. The rang dang doo, now what is that? It’s warm and dark like a bowler hat. I grew up thinking I was normal and happy to be so until I gradually started seeing normal as safe, dull, and boring — not a fit aspiration for one embodying my unique gifts and talents. Now where the hell did THAT come from? One wonders, Lord, Lord.

And that’s another issue, separate but related, deeply, personally related? Or unlikely, implausible, irrational, impossible? We think we know what “normal” is, though we can’t define it. Is God normal? Is God, God? Am I twenty-eight years old and still asking these questions? Wouldn’t a beer about now be normal?

I drop Mary off at work and spend the day braving Boston traffic in her tin-can Falcon, getting a feel for the place.What’s normal here? The bridge over the Charles River? Harvard Square? At Harvard Square I park and walk around, trying to feel historic. Shouldn’t Harvard Square mean something?

It’s time I call home, let Whitey and Carrie know I’m doing fine here on the opposite coast of the North American continent, here at famous Harvard Square. Famous to whom? It seems Carrie has never heard of Harvard Square.

“Did you get my stuff in the mail?”

“I’m surprised they let you send the stove. It still has gas in it.”

“I wrapped it in that big pillow.”

“Still . . . Well, I guess your old car finally gave out on you.”

“Yep, well, she wasn’t gonna last forever.”

And so forth until I sign off from Harvard Square, promise to let them know when I head back. “Maybe a couple weeks here in Boston and New york.” Like Harvard Square, no reaction. New York? Boston? What for? Whitey doesn’t waste time by getting on the phone. For him, that’s typical, normal.

Mahalo for reading!

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