Tuesday, October 21, 2008

pieces of mussel shell

We talked about politics, about family, and a lot about the kids from back home, from high school, from Dave’s life since, from mine, as we charged along the highway through New Hampshire. Every few minutes an exclamation of the beauty of the passing hills and trees and rivers broke the conversation. I wanted to get to Maine and with a partial day off from med school, Dave agreed to take a drive through the country to the shore.

It is strange to find yourself hanging out with a friend from home, from long ago, in a far off place, in a context you’ve never been before. The fact that the conversation sticks to events that occurred, and people that live, thousands of miles away makes it even stranger. These moments don’t seem a part of your life, feel more like a movie, like you’re looking on yourself from the outside. These moments get filed somewhere else.

We ended at a white sand beach near Kennybunk, where the cold wind blew ridges in the sand and people with their jacket hoods pulled above their heads walked their dogs. There was a long row of houses along the sandbank and waves casually rolling in.

I talked a lot. I always feel like I talk more than whoever I am with, and mostly about myself. I figure that old friends just know how to deal with it. The ocean water was cool, and the clouds, moving ever east, seemed odd above me heading out to sea. I asked Dave about scalpels and cadavers, and I rattled on about the music business.

In Portsmouth we wandered around the tourist town’s sidewalks, and I recited the dates on the sides of the passing houses from the late 1700s, early 1800s. We found a graveyard and ended up at restaurant/bar overlooking the water between New Hampshire and Maine, boats passing calmly beneath the bridges, and the old brick and concrete buildings rising up along the banks.

I drank a Guinness and the waitress asked about Dave’s UC Berkeley sweatshirt, and each time she returned to take our order or bring something, she inquired further about the bay area, saying she wants to go to grad school there, anywhere. Where we’re from is where she wants to be. I encouraged him to get her number, and before the meal was over she had sat down at our table and told us about herself. She was well traveled and bright. Those are two things you tend to figure out about someone at the top of a conversation in a strange town.

Yesterday, I casually explored the Dartmouth campus. I found no Dr. Seuss originals – which I’m sure are there somewhere – but stumbled upon a giant fresco mural in the basement of the library with all of the violence and greed and power of those prized Ivy League alumni wrapped right up in it. I found a coffee shop with decent coffee, I found a sculpture with a wooden swing hanging from chains and sat on it and made a list. I made a long list. Things have been so practical as of late, a necessary thing for a while, but I’m getting ready to have some new dreams. You need to make long lists to accommodate all those ambitions – fantasy and reality.

Today I took the train back to New York, to take on CMJ – more old friends out of context. The weather changed drastically over the weekend, and inflated my head, as I slouched down in my seat and once more saw a million turning leaves. I thought about how small the world is, and how many details make it up. I’ve seen forty-eight of the states in this country now, and it still always feels like I’m just beginning.

Once in the city, back in the endless rush, I walked quickly down the sidewalk, trees thrashing with the wind above me, breaking off pieces of a mussel shell in my pocket, from a white sand beach way off in Maine.