His army buddy wrote from New York that here’s where everyone is and everything’s happening. The rocking train soothed him and the nighttime view of America was wide, closed-off black. Within a year he returned to Podunqueville. If he could thank his father for nothing else, it was for dying and giving him an exit pass.
Saving face. He’d learned something in Japan besides destruction.
From his house where the highway became Main Street for 26,000, he could look out and far away over vast fields. He could look back for decades.
He came home from war wracked with unnamed fears and discontents, unsure of everything his childhood lessons said about America, questioning his grandparents’ gratitude and wonderment of America after rolling his tank across Europe and decimating their birthplace.
Podunqueville was too familiar and not the same place. But there were new places. New ideas and experiences. A new kind of excitement.
He met people who worked as hard as bricklayers on books and music and art that mirrored the wartime hurts and peacetime strangeness. He respected them. They mystified him, funneled from vast America into boot camp, and from the theaters of war into Columbia.
Long afterward, he read their lyrical poems and novels about the sick or self-absorbed people, the squalid dark tenements and the dim creepy bars and all-night cafeterias. They elevated young men whose world was cigs and liquor, tea and needles. They revered the beat thrill seekers hitting the gas in high-horsepower American iron, out in the Great Plains or the delta or the foothills of farther-flung America, flying flying fleeing at 80 mph, their women in tow, to go-go-go, to get there, to get their kicks, to get the old battlefield life-or-death supercharge, insistently rootless, nowhere to go but out there somewhere and nothing to do upon arrival but hit the gas for the return trip.
Home again, he powered himself with American iron, his foxhole dream. He too hit the road, inaugurating American highways through mountains and farm rows and along rivers and for a short time realizing his dream of control and inwardly dancing to his speed.
Then the kids would cry and his wife would huff and they’d be hungry and need the john and he’d be back in the mundane present with more potty stops to come because they were only halfway to the grandparents’ and a week of starched boredom.
It was all so long ago.
Maybe there were no symphony orchestras or Modiglianis or Balanchines in Podunqueville, but there was all the room and air and quiet an old soldier needed.