Monday, April 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 4 (Nikolay Gogol)


Nikolay Gogol
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gogol, Nikolay
Dead Souls


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. Someone somewhere told me this was the greatest novel ever written. Or maybe I read that somewhere. Anyhow, I bought it a couple of years ago. I think I started it and then got distracted. I'll get to it one of these days.

Apologies to the literary outlaw Richard Deming (who proved his outlaw bona fides by NOT going to the AWP in Denver this past weekend) for having left the blog untended for nearly a week. Apologies to everyone else who missed me -- I missed you, too! I am feeling refreshed and ready to blog.

On Friday, I took a rental car and drove into the Rockies to visit some old haunts. I hadn't been to Colorado since 1987, the year after I graduated from high school. As I have mentioned many, many times, I was a terrible high school student and when I was done I really didn't want to go to college at all. I liked to paint and I had taken art classes throughout high school. I thought that if I went to art school I might at least pass the next four years in less pain than if I were taking a more intellectually rigorous course of study. I was accepted to the school of visual arts in NY based on my portfolio, but then my father very subtly talked me out of it by telling me there were no dormitories and that most of the students lived at the YMCA with the homeless guys.

My image of New York growing up was a combination of The Warriors, Death Wish, the Son of Sam, Fort Apache and The Bronx mixed with my father's racially tinged stories of how Brooklyn had gone to hell (he blamed the Puerto Ricans), so the idea of diving into the city via the YMCA was a little scary for me. I didn't really care enough to find out for myself. So I announced I would take a year off and go to Colorado to work at a ski resort.

I flew out to Breckenridge and moved into a B & B, where I made friends with six other seasonal ski bums looking for a pad. We moved into an A-Frame in Dillon, Co. My first job was as a dishwasher at the Breckenridge Hilton. We lived happily this way for several months until suddenly things weren't so happy. We partied very, very hard. We would sometimes spend days inside our little house ingesting all manner of controlled substances, causing tons of damage to the property (not to mention our bodies, minds, souls).

The partying also seriously hampered my ability to go to work in the morning. Right around Christmas, I got fired for missing too much work. I think it is fairly difficult to get fired as a dishwasher, but somehow I managed. We were also evicted from our house when the landlord discovered how many of us were living there and how much damage we had caused.

After two months in Colorado, I found myself jobless and on the verge of homelessness, so I was forced to call my father and ask for money. This is how I ended up going to college. He sent me an application, already filled out, for Wheeling College in Wheeling, West Virginia, and said sign this and return it to me and I will send you a check. The one condition is that you return home in April and start working to save for college. You'll enter in the fall. Needless to say, I signed.

I moved into a very nice apartment with two of my former roommates, S. and B., and I got a job working at Pizza Hut in Silverthorne, CO. I went home in April, got a job waiting tables at the mall and went to college in September, my tail between my legs.

Which returns us to the Friday, when I drove from Denver up to the mountains for the first time in twenty three years in hopes of recapturing some memories of that time. I think I was also hoping to feel some kind of pleasing nostalgia -- I did not. I mostly felt a vague recognition of having been in this place once, but not much more. It hadn't changed all that much. I think there had been some new development and so forth, but it was largely as I remembered it.

I could see the apartment complex I moved into from the highway as I drove into Dillon, but I could not find it once I got there. It's called the "Orofino" apartments. "Orofino" is written in large brown letters along the side of a neutral-beige boxy seventies apartment complex. I saw the Pizza Hut in Silverthorne where I wortked. It had been torn down and rebuilt, but was essentially the same. I found the neighborhood of the A-frame house I first lived in, but I couldn't find the house, not remembering the address. I drove along Swan Mountain Road, a perilous mountain shortcut between Dillon and Breckenridge. I used to hitchhike to work along this road every morning. I didn't see the Hilton, but I didn't look very hard, either.

Driving there and back I drove through the tunnel under the Loveland Pass. This actually stirred a couple of memories. My friend, T., went to school at Regis in Denver. I decided to hitchhike into to town to visit one weekend. I was between jobs and apartments. I remember waking early and it was cold and snowy and my roommate and I stuck our thumbs out and got a ride up to the top of Loveland Pass, a snowy peak where we were let out and had to wait another hour or so for a ride. I don't remember much else other than that we made it to Denver and partied all weekend and then hitched our way back to Dillon on Sunday. Wait, I now remember something -- I think one of my roommates had a car. He may have driven us to the pass and let us off to hitchhike. Either that or he picked us up in Denver to take us back. I have a memory of driving in his car through the pass. We were listening to Steely Dan.

I guess I didn't really live in that place long enough for it to leave lasting impressions, or maybe all the drugs we were taking at the time made it all seem a little fuzzy. I am a bit disappointed it didn't provoke more memories, but I guess I have no control over that.

from Dead Souls

To the door of an inn in the provincial town of N. there drew up a smart britchka--a light spring-carriage of the sort affected by bachelors, retired lieutenant-colonels, staff-captains, land-owners possessed of about a hundred souls, and, in short, all persons who rank as gentlemen of the intermediate category. In the britchka was seated such a gentleman--a man who, though not handsome, was not ill-favoured, not over-fat, and not over-thin. Also, though not over-elderly, he was not over-young. His arrival produced no stir in the town, and was accompanied by no particular incident, beyond that a couple of peasants who happened to be standing at the door of a dramshop exchanged a few comments with reference to the equipage rather than to the individual who was seated in it. "Look at that carriage," one of them said to the other. "Think you it will be going as far as Moscow?" "I think it will," replied his companion. "But not as far as Kazan, eh?" "No, not as far as Kazan." With that the conversation ended.

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