Saturday, September 30, 2023

Mountain Getaways; Asheville, Fairview, and Big Canoe

 

 


I’ve always had a penchant for the mountains, the crisp air, the pristine beauty, the remoteness, all helping to temporarily disrupt the anxiety of our times.  As a consequence we began to occasionally rent a place in Asheville, NC, starting with condos and graduating to homes, all these rentals through a broker (this was pre AirBnB).  We also treated ourselves to a few stays at the iconic Grove Park Inn, its edifice shaped from the granite boulders that were hauled from a nearby mountain, mostly by mule wagon.  The original structure has been added to as time went on.  It is a history vault as well, it’s walls lined with plaques of the people who have stayed there, just about every luminary of the 20th and 21st century, including most of the US Presidents.

 

We used to visit the area driving back from CT after spending several months living aboard our boat.  Covid disrupted everything, as well as merely aging.  Also, the boat is now our son’s, so we are not driving to CT anymore.  But the mountains still beckoned. Having visited most of the sites in and around Asheville, this time we wanted to do something a little different.  That is mostly stay in one place where we have views and privacy and quiet.

 

 

So we joined the AirBnB site and began our search.  We wanted not only those spectacular views, but a remote mountain top as well.  We found one, a Chalet with three bedrooms, fully equipped kitchen, a hot tub, and fireplace with plenty of cordwood.  Naturally, the main attraction being glorious views of the mountains and quiet that only remoteness can offer.  The only immediate neighbors we were told might be a sighting of a bear or deer in Fairview, NC, a rural community bordering on Asheville, only 20 minutes from downtown.  The house boasted great reviews, so we said OK; bring on the quiet and the bears and the funky nearby places to eat with the locals.  Of course we didn’t really mean bears, but we read it was possible to occasionally spot one along the side of the road.

Dawn

 

We timed our arrival so could first shop at the local Food Fair and although the plan was to just get the essentials, we were early for our check-in and so we stocked up without really considering how loaded the car was already. 

 

At the appointed time, we began our climb up to our “home away from home” for the next two weeks and I mean, climb and more climbing along the curving mountain roads.  Lost except for the miraculous GPS (what did we do before??) which finally led us to (and we were warned about this from reviews), the final half mile of twisting road which is only one car width wide, with tumbling down the steep mountainside as one option if you got too close to one side, or getting stuck in a deep rocky culvert on the other, which I suppose a 4 wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance could navigate.  Unfortunately for us our two wheel, rear drive SUV gave us only a little more road clearance than a sedan but no added traction.

 

The rule of the road is the vehicle going up has the right of way which means if you meet one as you are going down, you have to back up to the point you can pull into one of the few driveways (all at 45 degree angles) or back all the way to your house (ours, a 45 degree one as well).

 

Well, in our two weeks there we never saw another vehicle on this stretch.  Lucky us.  Crisis averted!

 

So, we arrived and unpacked like crazy, including groceries, and hauled everything into our halcyon hideaway.

Gound fog in the morning

 

The problem with any rental, no matter how ideal, is acclimating yourself to someone else’s idea of what constitutes comfort.  Our landlady, Brea, to her credit, must be OCD as copious instructions were everywhere.  Except in the entertainment department where she assumes that everyone was ROKU and DISH literate.  Hey, Brea, you are dealing with a couple of old fossils here!  Give us cable and a remote and we can survive.  The sad upshot was we couldn’t figure out how to watch the US Tennis open as we unpacked, missing Coco’s semi final match.  Exhausted out of our minds, we finally crawled to our bed. 

 

The next morning, though, we called and Brea patiently explained how to navigate the TV from the various on screen menus.  It was a day to relax.  Enjoy the mountain views, fit in some reading and watch a little tennis at night. Our mountain Chalet had a wrap around deck with table, chairs, grill, etc. for outdoor eating, relaxing, and viewing.

Our Bear Visitor

 

We were having a glass of wine with crackers and hummus early that evening.  Ann had just brought the food inside leaving me briefly while I sat quietly mesmerized by our view.  Suddenly I heard a sound behind me and when I turned I saw a black bear approaching me from behind, actually on the deck about 10-15 feet away.  I jumped up, we locked eyes but the bear jumped too, just as frightened, not realizing that the still figure sitting there was a dreaded human being!  He turned around on his hind legs and walked slowly back to the driveway, surveyed the car, and even stopped for a few photos.  Seeing him in relation to our car gives an idea of his size, maybe 250 lbs.

 

Brea reminded us the next morning about how totally unusual it was that a bear came so close, especially coming up on the deck.  People do have sightings but rarely like that one.

Troyer's Country Amish Blatz

 

We shopped that day at a very local store, half way down the mountain, Troyer's Country Amish Blatz (talk about farm to table and local).  We read that they made the most amazing sandwiches and decided to try this for ourselves.  There we overheard that they would be closing the following day to attend a Willie Nelson concert with friends, some 200 miles away.  Too bad I thought as our son and daughter in law would be visiting for the weekend and it would have been an ideal place to take them for a little local color.

 

In anticipation of their arrival, Ann bought and made “from scratch” a vegetable/bean soup, a nice snack for when their plane arrived at the local Asheville airport and so down the mountain we went the next day to pick up Jon and Tracie.

 

Asheville Regional Airport has its issues -- mostly commuter lines flying under the names of the larger carriers.  This necessitated their arriving on two different flights from LGA but they did get in pretty much on schedule, a half hour apart.  Leaving was a different story.  They were scheduled to leave together, but the flight was cancelled for no reason and was rescheduled for 8.00 am the following day.  We left the mountain top at 6.00 am to get them there in plenty of time.  They boarded the flight on time, ready to roll and then they were told to leave the plane because of mechanical problems.  Rerouting through Charlotte later in the afternoon resulted in flying or waiting around airports the entire day.  This made Ann say that she didn’t think they would ever come back to Asheville again!

At the Grove Park Inn

 

Nonetheless, that gave us an extra day to spend with them.  We toured the area and sampled some of the fun restaurants nearby for dinner, particularly Cooks Corner and Rendezvous.  And that allowed us time for lunch on the Grove Park Inn stone terrace with majestic views of the Blue Ridge mountain range as well as a tour of the Hotel itself which our daughter in law had never seen.

 

 

The botanical gardens offered up not only the local fauna, but during our walk in the forest we went past a momma and baby bear watching us.  VERY nearby.  As the mother bear is very protective we were told not to stop or make any motion that she might interpret as threatening, so we kept moving although Jonathan said to them, “That’s OK, nothing to see here” as we walked on.  They seemed to understand thankfully.  Bears can run up to 30 mph for short distances and were a short distance, so we really didn’t want to engage them in conversation!

At the Botanical Gardens

 

After the “kids” left we were on our own to enjoy the next week and a half.  One of Ann’s dearest friends, Joyce (soon to be 98 years old but acts and looks our age or younger!) now lives there with her daughter Terri and her husband Brian who built a beautiful year round house to their specifications and, wisely, only half way up a mountain.  When Joyce moved from Florida, they converted an en suite bedroom to an in-law quarter and Joyce now has the best of both worlds, the setting and family, as well as being near her other daughter, Pattie.  So we spent some time and had dinner with them later in the week.  I could easily trade our home in FL for theirs in Asheville, but not one other person involved would agree, especially Ann.

 

Joyce and Ann

 

 

No trip to the area would be complete without a visit to downtown Asheville proper.  It’s a funky city so much reminding me of my days in the East Village in NYC.  Most of the locals have tattoos and somewhere in this blog you’ll find a story of Paul Ortloff who was a friend of mine in high school and became a well known tattoo artist, living in Woodstock (think he still does).  Every time I’m in Asheville I think of him.

 

 

Asheville, like any city, has a homeless population and it is sad to see someone sleeping on the ground there or dumpster diving.  I managed to get a photograph of two young women in plain sight and the body expression of the one waiting tells a story of despair.

 

The main draw downtown for us is a great independent bookstore, Malaprop’s Bookstore / CafĂ©.  We could spend all day there.  And we sort of did, ending up buying several books.  I looked at their signed editions section and they had one I wanted, a hardcover of Richard Russo’s latest book, the final one in his “Sully” trilogy, Somebody’s Fool.  I already had the book on my iPad and that was to be my next read.  But it’s a signed Richard Russo! (I have a couple of others).  As I don’t like to mark up clothbound books anyhow, I rationalized that I would get this for my collection and read it on my iPad.  Ann loaded up on paperbacks on the advice of one of the knowledgeable managers there.

 

The next logical step after spending so much time there was to ask to use their bathroom.  No, those are for the staff only, and they suggested we go down the street to the public library which we did.  But, little did we know, within that public library is a used bookstore, another one of our favorite places to browse!  Most books were a buck and in perfect condition!  Had we known that first, we might have saved a lot of $$ so we loaded up there too, my finding a pristine hardcover copy of Joyce Carol Oats’ novel, Black Water as well as a hardcover book by Willie Nelson (more on that later). 

Asheville al Fresco

 

A word or two about Joyce Carol Oats, who, when I was younger, I would read, but as her fiction morphed into gothic, even horror, I rarely read her work anymore.  Shame on me.  She is such a fine writer and given the fact that she’s written more than 50 works, probably one of our best living novelists.  Well, Black Water didn’t disappoint, including its white knuckle terror moments.  Although she has denied it, it seems to be based on Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick tragedy when he left a party on Martha's Vineyard late on a Friday night with a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne to drive to a ferry landing and his car went off the road into a pond drowning the young woman.   

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oats

 

Oates renames these characters for her 1991 novel, set in a different decade and in Maine.  It is the story of the main character’s death, Oats telling it over and over again from different perspectives and just when you think this is it, it is told yet again and with more retrospective narrative.  The rhythm of the novel alone, and its expectant buildup of terror, makes it worth reading and in part of a day, sitting on the porch, overlooking the mountains, waiting for the appearance of our bear again, I read the entire book.

 

Getting back to the Willie Nelson story.   Much earlier in this entry I mentioned that we had visited Troyer's Country Amish Blatz, and overheard the owners excitedly talking about taking the next day off to see their favorite singer, Willie Nelson.  Our thought was to drop off the book we bought at the library on our way back (and pick up more of their delicious offerings).  Serendipitous unexpected gifts are the best.  When Ann gave them the book, you would think she was offering a gold bar, the gal who runs the store running around the counter to give her a big hug. 

 

Visiting Smokey and the Pig

 

Although we were strangers, all the local places treated us as old friends. That also included visits to the BBQ ‘Smokey and the Pig’ and ‘The Local Joint” which is a diner attached to a gas station.

The Local Joint

 

Also, no trip in the area would be complete without a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Little did we know, the day we choose was “Heritage Day” and the Arts and Crafts center which we have visited many times in previous years was celebrating with local artisans displaying (and naturally selling) their crafts and in a small tent adjacent to a grassy area a Western North Carolina group would perform the music of the area, mostly ballads handed down from one generation to the next and bluegrass originals.  We enjoyed sitting in the little audience, being among the locals, and watching the families gather on the lawn, a little girl doing continuous cartwheels.  It was like being part of Our Town.

 

Heritage Day Blue Ridge Parkway

 

Alas, the time had come to leave our mountain retreat, pack and close up our Chalet putting it back together again the way we found it.  But that was not the end of the journey as we had promised to visit friends, Kyle and Joe, in their new home in Big Canoe, GA.  So down the mountain we went and on mostly local NC or GA highways we made our way to them, our GPS miraculously taking us to their door in the winding treacherous labyrinth which passes as a road to their home, deep within their mountain community.

Big Canoe Lake

 

It can be challenging staying with another couple, living in their space, under their rules, but their commodious home and easygoing attitude made for a pleasurable two night stay.  This community has it all, a pleasant clubhouse with good dining, golf (not for me), a health club, a lake with boats (very much for me), and that fine mountain air.  Joe and Kyle have fixed up their home since they bought it a year ago, into a real escape from the flatness of FL.  I loved being in the woods again, as we lived for 30 years in CT, and listening to the occasional song of cicadas.

 

 

We went out to dinner one night and once outside the community realized we were in MAGA country, someone actually paying to put up this billboard on a state road.

 

Leaving to go home finally was bittersweet, hating to leave on the one hand, but ready for our own bed.  Ironically, even though their home is closer to ours in FL than from Asheville, it takes even longer as you have to go through Atlanta and then cut across FL.

 

So leaving their house early Saturday morning, I set our GPS on home.  It got us to their front door and through their enormous community.  It’s only logical it would get us out.  Oops, not quite, much to our surprise!

 

Apparently, the GPS routes one to a gate exit which will not open for visitors and then keeps rerouting you to the top of a mountain.  We were hopelessly lost and we had wanted to get an early start.  We stopped several people for directions, and they were as vague as the GPS until FINALLY we found the main road out, but we can unequivocally say we saw more of Big Canoe, GA than most of its residents!

 

Finally underway, through Atlanta, most of the traffic consisting of those going to college football games, no real difficulties, and after Atlanta (unrecognizable, the place of Ann’s birth), as usual I set my speed control for 9 miles over the speed limit.  I’ve been driving for 62 years and have never had a ticket for anything and having driven up and down the coast to CT for twenty years to our boat, was not about to forfeit my record.

 

About ten miles from the FL state line, my doing 79 miles an hour in the 70 zone, I noted that everyone was passing me as I was in the left lane, so I settled behind a GA driver in the middle lane who was going 80.  Still traffic (all GA plates) was passing us in the left lane.  Suddenly a sheriff’s car, lights flashing, came up behind me and pulled me over.

 

We were caught in a local GA speed trap.  GA drivers were ok to go that speed or faster even, but the local police hand out these mementoes to anyone out of state (not really speeding tickets, but an income producing “breaking a local ordnance” scheme). 

 

Sort of ruins a great trip.  This officer was a good ole’boy if we ever saw one.  Pleasant but would not want to be Cool Hand Luke under his tutelage. 

 

Home safe and sound once again.  At our age, we wonder how many such trips we might have left in us.  Probably no more long distance drives.  We put 1, 892 miles and 40 hours in the car those two plus weeks.  That’s enough!

 

Troyer's Backyard





Tuesday, August 29, 2023

BE MINE -- A Valentine from the Heart of Richard Ford

 


Here is an unforgettable Valentine’s card of a novel, particularly affecting for those of us from the boomer years or earlier.  I suppose there are spoilers in what follows, but they wouldn’t deter me from reading this novel if I came across this personal analysis.  At least that is my hope in writing this.

 

Richard Ford does not tilt the windmill into fantasy, but into the realities of aging and dying, the father/son relationship, and the carnival of American culture in, yet, another novel whose main character is his alter ego, Frank Bascombe.  I originally thought his novel, Canada,  marked the passing of Frank Bascombe.  But Frank was not yet down and out.  He came back with Let Me Be Frank With You   so I thought the latter, four novellas, loosely held together by Hurricane Sandy and the theme of aging, might be the last we hear from Frank.  That was followed by his intimate memoir about his parents, Between Them;Remembering My Parents.  Surely that meant Ford was moving on to new pastures.

 

But, no, Frank had more to say through Ford, although Frank is now older, burdened by his own health issues.  More significantly, there is now the major health issue of his sole surviving son, Paul, who at 47 is suffering from ALS, and Frank has chosen to be his caretaker.  This is the same Frank as I described in Let Me Be Frank With You: “it is Frank’s voice, the way he thinks, that connects with me -- plaintive, sardonic, ironic, perplexed, now somewhat resigned, and with a wry wit.”

 

I say “tilting the windmill” into life purposely, as the novel has elements of Don Quixote.  The literary critic Harold Bloom says “Don Quixote is the first modern novel, and that the protagonist is at war with Freud's reality principle, which accepts the necessity of dying…. [A] recurring theme is the human need to withstand suffering.”

 

And there is abundant suffering in Be Mine.  Dostoevsky said once "There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings."  Frank and his son prove to be worthy.  Ford even indulges in a piece of metafiction to make his point; Dying makes the non-dying feel excluded and shabby, since dying’s struggle is like no other. Long ago, when I was a doomed-to-fail scribbler of mid-century American short stories of the sort that showed up in The New Yorker, written by John Cheever and John Updike (mine never did even once), I practiced the “rule” taught me in my writing course at Michigan, which stipulated that inserting a death into a fragile short story was never permitted, since death must have importance proportional to the life that’s ended, and short stories, my teacher believed, weren’t good at relating the vastness of human life.  (Ford, in my mind, belongs in the company of Cheever and Updike as being astute observers of American life.)

 

Imagine caring for a 47 year old son who has ALS.  Frank’s solution, with the help of Dr. Catherine Flaherty, who we meet at the beginning of the book and whose presence later provides a satisfying denouement, is to get his son into an experimental program at Mayo in Rochester MN.  She had recently stepped down as head of endocrinology at Scripps La Jolla.  Catherine. Light of my life, fire of my loins.  Here was a long story, as there is for everything if you survive.  Since 1983, Catherine (who’s 60) and I have never totally been out of touch.  And since Sally’s departure, she and I have spoken a time or two with a circling, half-suppressed fragrance of possibility scent-able down the cyberlines.  But Catherine had other suitors she never took seriously, a “big doctor” career, and a divorce.  And yet she has never left Frank’s psyche.

 

And so begins the journey, but most of the distance is covered between the 600 mile trek between Mayo and Mount Rushmore, culminating on Valentine’s Day.  Here is a canvas for Ford to paint his themes.

 

I must digress to what I wrote about his deeply affecting memoir Between Them; Remembering My Parents.  I quoted something which I think profoundly influences this novel:  But hardly an hour goes by on any day that I do not think something about my father. Much of these things I've written here. Some men have their fathers all their lives, grow up and become men within their fathers' orbit and sight. My father did not experience this. And I can imagine such a life, but only imagine it. The novelist Michael Ondaatje wrote about his father that ‘... my loss was that I never spoke to him as an adult.’ Mine is the same - and also different - inasmuch as had my father lived beyond his appointed time, I would likely never have written anything, so extensive would his influence over me have soon become. And while not to have written anything would be a bearable loss - we must all make the most of the lives we find - there would, however, not now be this slender record of my father, of his otherwise invisible joys and travails and of his virtue - qualities that merit notice in us all. For his son, not to have left this record would be a sad loss indeed.

 

Be Mine fills in those emotional blanks.  The voice of Frank is clear; you could say being on a quixotic journey.  Paul could be a stand in for the author himself; “making the life” he is found.  I just had an aching feeling that in Be Mine Ford is working out the emotional pain of the absent father. And, as so much of the novel is about aging and dying, what does one value in the decreasing moments left in a long life? 

 

Yet how we chose to deal with our suffering is book-ended by two chapters with the same title: “Happiness.”  Thus, purely on average, I would say I’ve been happy. Happy enough, at least, to be Frank Bascombe and not someone else.  Ford’s acerbic sense of humor comes through: It’s widely acknowledged that people live longer and stay happier the more stuff they can forget or ignore.  That was at the start of the emotional and literal journey with his son.   

 

And “happiness” at end is another piece of metafiction:  I’d once read in a book about writing that in good novels, anything can follow anything, and nothing ever necessarily follows anything else. To me this was an invaluable revelation and relief, as it is precisely like life—ants scrabbling on a cupcake. I didn’t see I had to speculate about what caused what. And truthfully, I believe it to this day. Witness my son’s relentless assault by ALS, which as far as the best medical science understands, poses a near complete mystery. Yes, we see it happening. But nothing specifically causes it or specifically doesn’t cause it. It just happens.  Happiness = Acceptance.  We are dealt the cards; how we play them is more important that what we are dealt.

 

The journey itself and his observations about the America we are left with is reminiscent of another novel I read which is even more transparently modeled after Don Quixote, Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte 

 

A key issue in my reading of that book was the following: “There are pastiches of popular culture the sum of which point the way to the vapid disintegration of values and truth, making it a hallmark work of dystopian literature…. As a picaresque novel it savagely satires the entire America of now, a society gone wild with the self indulgent consumption of popular culture, conspiracy theories, xenophobia, opioid addition, and political polarization. 

 

Ford’s observations go further into the funhouse of today’s eerie reality; a cartoonish view of what this nation has become, but in black humor lays the truth.

 

While Paul is at the Mayo clinic, Frank has sought out the services of Betty Tran, a Vietnamese masseuse in one of those shopping centers.  He thinks he’s in love with her. Diminutive, smiling, cheerful, with bobbed hair and darkly alert eyes. 4 feet, 10 inches, not a centimeter taller, with pert, friendly gestures that were welcoming yet confident, happy to look me in the eye and give me a slightly unsettling wink. …But sitting, talking two hours with pretty, exciting, vivid, immensely likeable Betty was like a fantasy (I’m told) men my age frequently indulge: the high school girl you should’ve loved but for a thousand reasons didn’t, yet dream you could still love.

 

Apparently she gave “happy endings.” As Frank arrives to give her a “Be Mine on Valentine’s Day” card she is being hauled off by the police, smiling, waving a dainty hand, her slender arm bare, bobbling her head of bright yellow hair in a gesture she’s performed for me other times. “Good-bye, good-bye. Come back, come back,” words I “hear” as if they were booming through a PA. “Good-bye, good-bye. Come back, come back.”

 

Paul wants to rent an RV and travel all over the southwest which given his condition would be challenging for them both.  Frank comes up with the idea of a shorter road trip to Mount Rushmore but rent the RV at the place he wants—A Fool’s Paradise—a roadside emporium we’ve visited once and where one finds for-sale-or-rent golf carts, septic tanks, porta-potties, snowmobiles, cherry pickers, enormous American flags, blank grave monuments, waterslide parts and an array of 25 used RVs set out in rows in the frozen snow. Paul can choose whichever RV rig he wants. And the minute his Medical Pioneer event’s over, we can load up and set off for Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, making stops at whatever loony sights we find.  The only one available is an old Dodge Windbreaker Camper, not really suitable to be lived in during the cold nights, obligating them to stay in hotels along the way.

 

I had to laugh as their first stop is at a Hilton Garden Inn, where we usually stay when traveling along the spider web of the Interstates and, as Frank, specifying a double not by the elevator, the ice machine or the pool, two free bottles of…Dasani water.

 

Then on to the “World’s Only Corn Palace” in Mitchell, SD, where my parents stopped off in our sole transcontinental junket in 1954… which is billed as “Everything in your wildest dreams made out of corn.”  This has elements up Paul’s alley—self-conscious inanity, latent juvenile sexual content and a “life in these United States” down-home garishness. Again, he is hard to predict—which can be good.

 

Frank has hit pay dirt with his son.  Like me, there’s nothing my son thrills to more than the anomalies of commerce….The “Place Corn Boutique” spreads over the entire arena/performance venue/polling place; a Macy’s of corn-themed crapola….All of it precisely what Paul Bascombe is put on the earth to seek, be deeply interested in and mesmerized by. I could not have been more prescient.

 

The banter between Frank and his son is a balance between contentious and affection.  The dialogue is poignant.

 

From there they go to the Fawning Buffalo Casino, Golf and Deluxe Convention Hotel.  Something for everyone!  Ford’s description constitutes hilarious realism:  There’s a “Rolling Stones All-Native” cover band in the Circle-the-Wagons supper club. Exotic Entertainment in the Counting Coup Lounge. Ugly sweater, wet T-shirt and best-butt contests every weekend. A “gigantic” indoor waterslide. A “world famous” Tahitian Buffet. Plus, “Lifestyle Enrichment” classes, a writers workshop, a mortuary science job fair, Tai Chi instruction, and a “How to Live in the Present” seminar taught by Native psychologists with degrees from South Dakota State. Plus, “Loose Slots” and Valentine’s room rates for lovers—which my son and I are not but might pass for. There’s also a free shuttle to the “The Monuments” every two hours, which appeals to me, since I’m not sure the Windbreaker makes the climb if the weather turns against us, which it could.

 

But the Fawning Buffalo is not an inspired choice.  Paul is irate, wheelchair bound, feeling remote from the possibilities the carnival-like atmosphere offers, Frank pressing to get a room, thinking of the buffet and secretly maybe a lapdance when his son goes to bed.  They argue in front of the room clerk   “But we can still get the Valentine’s suite. I’ll order you up exotic room service. I’m sure it’s available.” I mean this. “You’re an asshole.” “Why am I an asshole? Life’s a journey, son. You’re on it.” I’m willing to piss him off if I can’t make him happy. Though I wish I could. He is quite a conventional, unadventurous man when you come down to it. Like me. “It’s not a journey to here,” he says savagely…. Fatherhood is a battle in any language.

 

They leave, but as Valentine’s Day is such a big holiday there, they try every hotel/motel after leaving.  They’re all full. If I’d prevailed at the Fawning Buffalo, I’d right now be in the Tahitian Buffet, a couple of free Stolis to the good. Never let your son decide things.

 

At another Hilton, the clerk knows an out of the way motel where they could stay.  They have to double back to get there.  It is a broken down mostly abandoned place, with aging down to earth proprietors, relics of the past.  In a dank room Frank sleeps in his clothes next to his son.  And Frank thinks.

 

I have said little on the subject; but I am moved by whatever it is my son is at this drastic intersection of life. There should be a word for that—I wish I knew it—for what he is, a word that can be inserted in all obituaries to help them speak truth about human existence. Though whatever that word is, “courage” isn’t it.

 

Finally, the big day, Mount Rushmore, another circus to end their journey, but this time, despite the artificiality of it all, those faces on the mountain, the oohing and aahing, the selfies, etc., Frank and Paul, reconcile a lifetime.

 

“This is great. I love this,” Paul Bascombe—the Paul Bascombe—says. He is craned forward in his chair, fingering his silver ear stud, eyes riveted with all the others of us, upon the four chiseled visages. I cannot completely believe I’ve brought this unlikeliest of moments about, and can be here standing where I’m standing—with my son. How often do anyone’s best-laid plans work out?....I am happy to have done one seemingly right thing for one seemingly not wrong reason. Any trip can be perilous once you commit to the destination, as we have….“Do you know why it’s so great…Why I’ll never be able to thank you enough?” “Tell me.” “It’s completely pointless and ridiculous, and it’s great.” I’m merely happy to believe we see the same thing the same way for once—more or less. It is pointless and it is stupid.  “We’re bonded,” Paul says slyly, “It’s not really like any place else, is it? It’s monumental without being majestic.” There is no trace of disappointment, double or triple meaning.

 

The last chapter, again, “Happiness,” is perhaps the best piece of writing I’ve read in a long time, languid and elegant (Cheeveresque), philosophical but, even what Frank has endured and at his age, hopeful.  Paul would approve.  Now that I’ve read the work, taking notes, I can now go back and reread it simply for pleasure and Ford’s exquisite writing.  Maybe before Valentine’s Day?