On the Clintons’ House-Hunting Trail

Written by Andrey Slivka on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


"Hi,
ma’am!"


But the
matron just bugs her eyes at me.


Stay in
the city and away from the suburbs long enough, and you forget how suburban
space transmutes itself into sound during rainstorms, so that when you hear
the white-noise shusssh of car wheels over wet blacktop at a distance, you’re
really hearing the respiring of depopulated lots, the sighing of empty parking
fields, the relief of roads scoured clean by falling water. Or else the rain
drifts with barely any sound at all into empty paved places, or washes into
wooded buffers–those patches of scraggly forest that grow out of the ochre
mud undergirding Westchester County.


Right now,
though, I’m just parked in my Grand Am renter outside of a house in the
hilly Edgemont neighborhood hard by Scarsdale, with the motor running and wipers
sweeping away raindrops that smell of grass, pulling a weird stakeout outside
of what as far as I’m concerned might as well be the House of Usher: 74
Ardsley Rd., which, before the Clintons purchased a house in Chappaqua last
week, was their apparent favorite among the dwellings they’d examined on
their well-publicized Westchester househunting jaunt. Hillary Clinton and her
mother reportedly spent an hour and 20 minutes examining this white clapboard
manse on a hill high above Scarsdale’s remarkably charmless Tudor-style
downtown. And it’s surreal here on this chilly day at the butt end of this
politically inconclusive summer. You’d be forgiven, after all, for expecting
some indication that you’re in the presence of significant real estate.
A plaque at least–a bronze sheet testifying to last week’s visitation
by St. Hillary, patroness of the hard, damaged matrons of suburbia. But instead
there’s just wet trees and an apparently empty house atop a pimple of land
renowned by Volvo-driving mothers for the difficulties of the narrow, serpentine
road–Suicide Hill–that crosses it.


Anyway,
on to the detective business. I leave the Grand Am running; skulk outside the
house’s windows, cadging views into the interior. Slippity-slide–a
sneakered two-step across the blacktopped cul-de-sac until I’m crouching
behind rhododendrons that flank each side of the front porch. Amateur anthropology,
motivated by fear and disgust: I’m looking for clues. What sort of house
appeals to the Clintons? Inside there’s a dining room, I think–high
ceilings hoard gloom. A parson’s table, I guess, anchors the room’s
far side, and bears, it seems, a decorative glass cylinder–a vase. The
arced back of a white wooden chair jams against another window. A breakfast
nook?


But here
it’s impossible to penetrate the gloom. The chair absorbs all the light
and all my attention, like a foregrounded motif in a painting. What would the
Clintons do with a breakfast nook? Do such people eat breakfast together? Bill
huffing eggs; the aging woman’s eyeballs straining from the humiliation
of her husband’s presence.


How shameful,
though: to slink around someone’s property like the 14-year-old I used
to be up in these suburban precincts, back when I’d look for cracked windows
into which to lob sheets of firecrackers or bad eggs. I return to the car to
drip, and to think it over and let wash over me the hopelessness of being tied
to your car somewhere in the rain when all you want is to be at home.


Which is
when the front door drifts open.


"Hi,
ma’am!"


Silence.
A woman–someone’s mother–in handsome middle age confronted me,
and peered from her porch at me through the rainy limelight. She wore morally
serious eyeglasses and a chaste skirt.


"Hi
ma’am. I work for a newspaper."


Her pursed,
pissed-off mouth.


I planned
my escape. It hadn’t rained all summer, but it was raining now, and it
was hard not to consider it all another stroke of Clinton’s luck. Clinton
as literal Rainmaker, the White House will be claiming next; Divining-Rod Bill,
redeemer of the region’s dry summer and of yellow and drought-stricken
Hartsdale lawns. It could be a publicity coup, as usual. I’m surprised
the Clintons didn’t take credit for it. Imagine the graying oaf gloating
as–coked up out of his skull–he taps his foot in the chauffeured car
on the swing back to Edgemont from the city, nursing his skinned knuckles after
brutalizing West Side whores, tossing them crumpled 20s for their trouble as
the Secret Service cleared the meatpacking district streets. Clinton’s
beyond almost everything you can conceive; he’s the president in the great
William S. Burroughs routine, flipping off America: Fuck you. Every crumb
for himself.
Then arrive the inevitable last three words–which could
stand as the motto of these Clinton years: I got mine. And sticking his
finger in your face.


("Mah
daughter home?" Bill asks the chauffeur from the back of the car. Rubbing
the red from his eyes; Visine and a pillbox full o’ ludes in the car cabinet.
A maudlin, pious son of a bitch, this Clinton, trying to resist his gutter-Baptist
compunctions, trying to sober up fast.)


"I
work for a newspaper," I was telling the woman.


Silence.


"And,
um… I write about the Clintons."


Rain dripping
from the trees and the shooosh of distant cars as I turn into a puddle:
"And that of course…um…brought me here…"


Her colorless
skirt.


"Ah.
Yes. Well, I’m just leaving."


Rain.


"Well.
Very sorry to have bothered you, ma’am."


Ah, yes,
good day, good day. I threw the Grand Am into drive and inched out along the
manse’s access road between the tight granite walls. They were taller than
I was; they shut out the light. A paranoid access road.


Then I roared
down Ardsley Rd. and pulled into a cul-de-sac to idle the car and drink iced
tea from a shopping-strip gas stop, and rest. Homeowners peered out at me from
behind window blinds, wondering whether I was trouble or just some loser in
a car. Park in front of a house in Westchester and you’ve got about an
11-minute margin until someone calls the cops.


Thus this
anxious sliver of central Westchester in the rain, plumped up with the rich
carbohydrates of the Clinton-era expansion, and peering out at motorists through
blinds. If these good centrists believed in guns, they’d have shot me.
No wonder the Clintons want to live here. They’d fit right in.


Get away
from my house, son. Or rather: Officer, get that son of a bitch away
from my property.
Another reminder of my childhood: the Episcopalian tosspint
of an attorney who lived next door to us, who pummeled his wife until you couldn’t
tell what his fists had busted up and what the alcohol had done, especially
around the eyes where the blood vessels are, and who trained his learning-disabled
adolescent son to guard the property line. Thus myself as a tot,
wading into battles with his territorial older brat. Which is to say: People
up here know what’s theirs.


That child
turned into a landscaper or a bartender or something. His older brother came
out queer and finally died. His other older brother inherited the old man’s
practice and eventually got himself disbarred. I’ve got a hundred stories
like that, and someday I’ll use them all. Every crumb for himself.


The first
thing you have to know if you want to understand something about why the Clintons
are dead-set on moving to my native Westchester is that there’s more than
one Westchester, just as there’s more than one New Jersey or Long Island,
for all of the insulting myths that attend those places. For simplicity’s
sake, let’s posit that there are at least two Westchesters.


Look at
a map of the region. It’s a funnel propped up over Manhattan, except that
the funnel’s logic is inverted, so that the filth that clogs it flows upward–from
the straitened end northward into the wider one. Nothing’s surprising about
that. In America, the filth flows out of cities, obliterating and destroying
landscapes.


But look
at the map again, notice that Westchester’s bordered by the Long Island
Sound on the east and by the Hudson River on the west and pay attention to those
borders. Growing up in a Hudson River town about 40 minutes north of the city
limits, it was easy for me to forget that I lived in some despised locality
known as "the suburbs." The grip of history–of the muddy old
Dutch river–in those old river towns is too secure. If you’ve ever
been downtown in places like Yonkers or Sleepy Hollow or Peekskill, or even
in less raw municipalities like Dobbs Ferry or Hastings-on-Hudson, then I defy
you to reduce them to the status of suburbs–although, technically, I guess
they are. These amber and green and red-brick places snuggle at the feet of
the homely hills that squat along the Hudson’s eastern shore. Narrow main
thoroughfares built not for car traffic, but for the horsewagons of working-class
Colonial-era folk with stolid Dutch names like Depeyster and Schuyler, tumble
downhill toward the water like ski-jump ramps, so fast and steep that if you’re
at the top of Main St. in a village like Irvington-on-Hudson–a village
that, not atypically for the type of village it is, hasn’t visibly changed
since it was still called Wolfert’s Roost back when New York City still
clustered in Manhattan’s southern end and the area currently serviced by
the Spuyten Duyvil Metro North remained to the Indians an enchanted confluence
of pure Harlem and Hudson River waters…


Well, again,
if you stand at the top of Main St. in a village like Irvington, you experience
the frightening, wonderful sensation in your gut that you do on a ski run. You’re
staring as if from a precipice down into the muddy Hudson; into a river that
they haven’t yet managed to poison, landfill, drain or otherwise adulterate
out of existence. (Though God knows they’ve done their best to, and though
logic and experience compel you to believe that someone, somewhere, in Washington
or Manhattan or wherever the futures of rivers get adjudicated, is trying to
figure out how to do so even now.) Hudson River villages, at their cores, can’t
be assimilated to contemporary conceptions of space, are irreconcilable to the
suburban logic of sprawl. Gloomy brick three-story buildings crafted during
the Grant administration huddle over narrow sidewalks on small streets–they
challenge the petty little fascisms of the developers and the city planners
who have overrun other parts of Westchester. Maybe it’s just me, but I
swear there’s a ghostliness to these anachronistic towns. (The ghostliness–which
is another term for historical rootedness–that characterizes these places
is captured beautifully in T. Corraghessan Boyle’s novel World’s
End
, which centers around Peekskill, the slum town named after a Dutchman
named Peek. And that spawned George Pataki, whose environmentalism, however
tepid and Republican, is the best thing about him, and whom I could see spending
an hour with someday, discussing the magic that inheres in steep, abandoned
Main Streets sleeping against the river on severe October days. Boyle’s
hippie main character is literally dogged by old-time phantoms.)


It’s
not as if these downtowns are going places. Maybe it’s a good thing: These
villages are immune to this economy’s gifts. In the town I grew up in,
and in others that neighbor it along the river’s eastern shore, business
has been bad for as long as I can remember, and it still is. Empty storefronts
remain empty for years; then fill up for a couple of months with the activity
of a couple Aquarians who hang up an "Antique Shop" shingle and sell
the crap out of their garages for a while before leaving the store empty again.
(Antique shops are to the river towns what lounges will be to the East Village:
they’re always there, they’re always the same and they never last.)
And Truman-era barbershops staffed by townies and smelling of disinfectants
straggle on through the decades.


At their
core–and maybe this is a function of my own experience, of what I chose
to notice, but that’s the point–they’re working-class places,
not bedroom communities full of city commuters. My childhood was defined by
townies who’d been in the village for decades: by the sons of local politicians
who eventually and inevitably transmogrified into local cops, by high school
football heroes who popped amphetamines before big games and are now lapsing
into flabby middle-age in bungalows not far from their parents’ finer houses,
which are holdovers from a more expansive era. (I narrowly avoided becoming
a townie myself: selling real estate, maybe, out of an office above a hardware
store, commuting to work every day in an ’88 Civic.) Growing up, sailing
the Hudson along the Tappan Zee and in Haverstraw Bay and swimming in the river’s
waters–before they screwed that up and we children were instructed
to stay as far away as possible from the water they’d made filthy, polluted,
evil, corrosive and pernicious–there was the sense that safety existed
along the riverbank, a nice continuity you could count on. I still feel that
way about the river towns. Whatever there was of corruption existed outside
the womb, on the far side of the hills Washington Irving wrote about, and that
he and nameless others invested with ghosts, phantoms, goblins–a mythology
and a folklore that persists today. I never felt that I grew up in a suburb,
with all of that word’s sterile connotations.


And I imagine
if you grew up in one of the Westchester cities that rims the Long Island Sound,
on the far other side of the county–grim, decaying old homey industrial
places like New Rochelle, the downtowns of which no boom economy has been able
to liberate from their sooty pasts–you’d feel the same way, though
your point of reference would be a different body of water.


Then there’s
central Westchester, where right now I’m cleaving to my rental car like
a homesteader cleaved to his prairie schooner. Central Westchester–consult
your maps again–is a Clinton place, devoid of mythologies, organized around
nothing. You could pluck it up and put it smack down in the middle of any number
of other regions in the country, and no one would notice. Of course the
Clintons came here. Of course they want to live squarely in these
parts. It’s appropriate: They pine for this region’s middleness, for
its weird, sprawling distances intersected by elevated highways and scabbed
by strip-job malls of the sort that cluster along Central Park Ave., the commercial
strip that represents Edgemont’s eastern boundary, and that’s thick
with pancake houses at which Clinton could locate his share of fat girls. This
is the perfect Clintonite geography: void of points of reference, and reminiscent
of what you’d imagine Los Angeles to be if you were dead-set on hating
Los Angeles and had never been there and didn’t know about its energy.
The Clintons’ Westchester exists without apology between the Sound and
the Hudson–between two poles of meaning. Even the rising and falling of
the land in this hilly region’s been flattened to the eye by the unmoderated
overlay of interchanges and overpasses. You could live a lifetime here and not
even notice that the place possesses a natural geography.


Scarsdale–of
which the Clintons’ favored Edgemont is actually a less exclusive neighbor–is
one of the world’s most famous suburbs and a perfect bedroom community,
a community defined by corporate transients from Germany and, more recently,
from Japan. It’s a carpetbaggers’ community into and out of which
people are shuttled by the economy’s expediencies. There’s metaphorical
import in the fact that the Clintons haven’t evinced interest in living
in Ossining or Beacon or Ardsley-on-Hudson, where you can occasionally look
at the water and feel humble about yourself.


All that
said, I’m still from Westchester, and I still feel territorial enough about
the place as a whole to resent the Clintons’ intrusion. This urge of mine
to bear witness; to testify with my own eyes to the phenomenon of Clintonism,
the phenomenon that’s been the defining political development of my time–it’s
not really hard to explain. The Clintons are my Watergate, my Chicago ’68.
If the Clintons can triumph–murdering, robbing, lying, raping, slaughtering,
executing, extorting, betraying, threatening–then all bets are off and,
in your weaker moments, you wonder if the experiment isn’t just about finished,
whether we shouldn’t just pack up, cash in our considerable chips and emigrate
back to live shoddy but comparatively honest lives stealing chickens in our
ancestral villages from our poxy and chortling relatives. What’s happening
now is the culmination of all my paranoid fantasies, ever since, as a college
student during the ’92 election, the Clintons’ degenerate mugs appeared
on my tv screen, stimulating a nausea that superseded even my considerable contempt
for George Bush–that CIA man with his compulsion to pardon everybody who
could incriminate him–and birthing within me the knowledge that eventually
they’d come to me, to where I lived.


Now they
have come. Not that the situation isn’t occasionally funny. Grotesque
chunks of comic relief impose themselves upon me, like those offered by an Aug.
17 Boston Globe article by Eun Lee Koh entitled "Clinton home search
sits well with donors" and subheaded "Legal contributors aren’t
criticizing a look for chic digs." Get a load of the contemporary American
attitude toward power, as encapsulated in the comment of a gentleman from Massachusetts
whom Koh interviews: "‘I don’t expect a former president to live
in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx,’ said Kelvin Reed, an elementary
school teacher from Brighton who gave $10 to the [Clinton Legal Defense] fund.
‘The president of the United States has a certain amount of respect due
to him.’"


Oh he does,
does he? Koh also quotes a certain nurse named Helen Ahearn: "They have
so much other things to pay, like Chelsea’s college education… I sure
hope they can afford a house that expensive."


We all do,
Helen! God forbid the girl assumes loans like everyone else, or instead attends
the University of Arkansas.


Or this,
from a homemaker named Catherine Derivan, who donated $5 to the Clinton legal
defense fund this year, and who expressed hope that the Clintons "don’t
go broke," but who consoled herself by speaking as follows, according to
Koh: "But then again, if Hillary loses the Senate race, she can probably
sell back the house at a much higher price, so it’ll work out OK for her."


But this
idea that Westchester represents the classy, gracious opposite polarity to the
nasty urban Bronx is a specious one promulgated by media people whose vocabularies
rely inordinately upon words like "posh" and "deluxe," and
who ought to know better. "Westchester, the largely wealthy New York suburb,"
The Washington Post’s Lynne Duke wrote two Sunday’s ago, that
adverb of hers obscuring an entire, more economically complex and articulated,
world.


Wealthy?
There’s certainly a lot of wealth in Westchester. But it’s not a monolithically
wealthy place. From Edgemont, for example, you shoot your renter down the Bronx
River Pkwy. and you’re lost within minutes, trying to make time against
this rain-swept day and you’re…where? Off a bad exit in a low-density
slum somewhere maybe around Mt. Vernon, where puny gangsters hang on corners
near payphones. K-turn and veer the wrong way down a one-way street. Old men
gape out at you from old sedans. And a woman’s panicked maw jaws You!
You! You!
from behind auto glass. Crack vials bob like little paper boats
in the gutters.


I pulled
over and dragged out my map. Where is New Rochelle? It was where another
Clinton house was located, at any rate. The point on this afternoon was to see
them all, see if I could learn anything from them. I stormed north on the Bronx
River now, spraying sheets of water through the jaundiced half-light of south-central
Westchester’s roadside slums. Yonkers’ western flanks are a shabby
taste of the tough Mt. Vernon that’s to come if you keep driving. And around
here, you always keep driving. Joined the traffic that sought the Cross
Westchester like a confusion of tired crows homing in on something half-understood;
took that road over endless low-density slum landscape glowing green and yellow
under horizontal beams of sunlight busting through clouds. Lumber yards and
concertina wire enclosed space; strip boulevards flanked well-policed hamlets.
I gunned the transmission until I was scared I’d plane, and end up upside
down in the drainage gully, listening to K-Rock while my wheels spun forever
after in the rain above me–and who out here would even bother stopping
to help?


So where
is this exclusively white, wealthy Westchester the media’s evoking? Oh,
it exists. But it mostly does so in Westchester’s horsey northern extremes–places
like Bedford, near the Connecticut border. But the Clintons weren’t househunting
up there, not for the most part. Moving to super-exclusive, still-Republican
Bedford would be politically damaging for swinger politicians like the Clintons,
who enjoy the music of Fleetwood Mac. Rather, they were looking in central Westchester.
Which is this: a mosaic of decaying commercial and minority ghettos interspersed
with extremely moneyed enclaves populated by "hip" boomer parents
and permed ad-industry soldiers with Volvos and boutique-liberal politics to
accompany their boutique weed–and patrolled by big, mean cops. You’re
a million miles here from John Cheever’s gin-soaked, repressed suburbia;
a billion miles from old-money Bedford. People in central Westchester are assimilated
to, affectionate for, their crowded New Capitalist junkscape, the sort of place
Clintonites worship as holy manifestations of economic "growth." They
have the money to live anywhere. They choose to live here, and to escape in
their SUVs every summer to the un-stripped Martha’s Vineyards of the world,
where part of being on vacation means that you can actually walk places,
actually experience the thrill of feeling loamy, sandy geography under your
feet.


And where–on
Martha’s Vineyard, I mean–Hillary Clinton materialized, two weeks
ago, rubbing up during her mercenary little vacation against donors for a Senate
campaign she was running in another state. A stunning exhibition–but
it won’t hurt her chances with Edgemont and New Rochelle’s matrons.
On the contrary: those SUV matrons will love that stuff. The spectacle of Hillary
with her flared nostrils and pastel Talbot’s rigs clawing her aggressive
way through Martha’s Vineyard in a frothing status-frenzy is one with which
they can empathize: It’s just a more destructive version of the SUV driver’s
hustle to secure Black Dog t-shirts for adolescent Skyler, Dylan and Brittany.
There’s an affinity there that translates not only into votes, but also
into devotion.


Meanwhile,
in the decaying SROs in wretched places like White Plains and South Yonkers,
Dominicans and white trash and blacks rob and clobber each other in the name
of that other New Capitalist apodictum: diversity. Clinton’s FALN stunt
isn’t going to hurt his wife’s Senate chances as far as the suburbanites
we’re talking about are concerned. To believe that it will is to repeat
the current media mistake that reduces Westchester to a Rockefeller Republican
bastion of white fences and Episcopalian linen, where goofy men of easily satirized
rectitude are scandalized by the apotheosis in their suburban promised land
of blacks, Asians and Hispanics; and, in Washington, of our hipster Chief Executive.
Cheap-labor aficionados, so-called "multiculturalists," so-called
"leftists" and other apologists for the corporate status quo, by the
way, will be reassured to hear that Westchester’s starting to "look
like America," to paraphrase their hero Bill Clinton: The Hispanic population
doubled between 1980 and 1990. So, for that matter, did the Japanese population.
Well-off Japanese even built their children a Japanese school in Scarsdale,
thus ensuring that they could skim the cream off the economy without their children
being cheapened so much by American influences.


The old
money is certainly part of Westchester’s identity. But places like Edgemont
and Hartsdale and New Rochelle are acceptable suburbs, to which city
sophisticates can feel comfortable about moving, bringing their cosmopolitan
politics and marijuana with them from the Upper West Side. These people won’t
be offended by the FALN gambit. Rather, they’ll eat it right up. As long,
that is, as the borders stay well-patrolled.


Then I was
on Quaker Ridge Rd., somehow. Then coasting down a wet tertiary road through
old farmland that wasn’t farmland anymore, wasn’t anything but a valley
of dirt awaiting the backhoe. ("Belle Fair at Rye Brook," roadside
signs yelled at me at one point when I was very lost among corporate parks.
"The New Traditional Hometown.") Then, balancing the map on my knees,
with Kid Rock thumping from the radio, turning hard right into something called
Overhill Rd., a raw strip that wound along a hillside. Steep to my right uphill;
steep to my left down. The rain milled in the huge yellow holes dug for new
foundations. Red puddles of diluted mud washed across the street; it felt like
the L.A. hills during some sudden tempest. So much is getting built in Westchester
these days. We’re the luckiest people in the world.


They’re
certainly lucky in Thomas Paine Heights in New Rochelle, where non-indigenous
subtropical flora all tufted and fuzzy and straight out of Dr. Seuss decorate
the lawns of oversized homes. A neighborhood full of attorneys and dermatologists
who get buggy and aggressive behind the wheels of their tractor-mowers.


It was in
this neighborhood that the Clintons received their warmest welcome, with a throng
of neighbors gathering in the street to hail with robust applause the Commander-in-Chief.


Consulting
my maps, I located the Clinton’s house: a pink mansion set behind garish
weeping willows. A fairytale bridge arced over an artificial pond. Of course.
Of course. The pink irradiated through the shortening day. I drove out
of the neighborhood, wetter than usual but only marginally more paranoid; pulled
over on a connecting road the name of which I’ve forgotten, and climbed
out into the rain to piss in what I think was the Bronx River, half hoping I’d
get arrested, so that I could call it a day already.


Pound Ridge
was the last one. I’d been told the Clintons had rooted their snouts around
a potential home in Mamaroneck, on Old White Plains Rd. near the entrance to
Winged Foot Golf Club, but I’d been unable to find it. The real estate
there tends to be set off in the woods. The house they’d inspected in Rye
Brook was just a several-minutes drive from the stunning postmodern General
Foods Headquarters building, a white UFO of a structure that rises like Valhalla
out of artificial lakes in Harrison or New Rochelle, or whatever municipality
it is there, to lord it over the ramshackle surrounding neighborhoods. Eerie
low-density suburbia gets fevered as Saturday afternoon edges toward evening.
Laundromats cough out skinny young mothers and old women close up filthy delis
housed in freestanding cinderblock boxes. You park your car in an empty lot;
wander over to some de-stocked deli to buy a sandwich from an Okie and his wife
and then eat the thing in the lee of a building, away from the rain. You half
expect to see Mexicans in straw hats loitering around these places with hungry
eyes, looking to scrounge up piecework.


By the time
I reached Pound Ridge night was falling. It was cold that night, and I suffered
from the despairing feeling that always comes when you’ve been lost all
day, when your only point of stability is your car and dark air’s coming
down and you roll up your windows to keep out the chill and the dashboard glow’s
a comfort but you’re still far from home. Pound Ridge: an aberration on
the Clinton’s list, because it’s semirural northern Westchester horse
country, a place full of orthopedic surgeons and old money–and so far free
of the movie stars who these days are infiltrating Bedford and other elegant
exurban towns. What Bill Clinton, with his gold dookie ropes, and gold gangster
teeth and flashy drug-dealer beeper as big as your house would do for kicks
in this demure place–well, it escapes me.


I spent
half an hour lost on back roads and dirt roads in the twilight, peering for
the address I’d scrawled on a scrap–people here hide their properties,
the houses huddle unto themselves amidst the darkness of the woods. Strolling
Lands’ End lesbians on evening constitutionals shot me suspicious looks
as I rolled past them, peering down long, dark, dirt-and-gravel driveways, looking
for the house. Rattling through pitted mud, bottoming out the chassis.


I found
the huge house, finally–it was outfitted with skylights and track beams,
a heap of architectural pastiche. But by then no mysteries were being revealed
anymore and it was just me in the middle of nowhere, irrationally anxious and
wanting home. Parked the car on the road overlooking the house’s front
acres, where well-dressed young people were unloading expensive cars, load after
load, as if they’d just been away at camp. The rain was gone by now, but
the air and sky were still a lurid green-gray, and it was too late to bother
going back to the city. What could I learn here?


They got
me, the crafty swine! Always one step ahead, these Clintons; perennially capable
of just a little bit more. It happened last week: $350,000 down on a $1.7 million,
five-bedroom Dutch Colonial pile in elegant, leafy Chappaqua, staid Republican
home of the Reader’s Digest corporation. I’d never imagined Bill Clinton
would allow his woman to drag him into Chappaqua. Not in a million years. Where’s
he going to wear his fur coat out to? His zoot suit? Where’ll he find a
good corner to pimp? The Clintons’ loan was secured by Terry McAuliffe,
Bill’s spectacularly corrupt chief fundraiser. Already there’s talk
of erecting a gate at the mouth of the Clintons’ new street.


But that
night the last stretch of driving was on 684, which is northern Westchester’s
Autobahn, a straight shot with no police and everyone’s motor’s burning
hard at one million degrees–at warp speed. Campaign news spilled out of
the radio. It sounded like eating dirt feels. And finally I tooled over the
hills and into the village I grew up in. I detoured down to the river bank,
to where, in the shadow of the little marina, we as teenagers slept and drank
on the beach after shooting rockets out over the water, and the barges that
would signal-flash us back–some sort of crazy, nice communication over
miles of water. There’s a fence there now, and has been for years; beach
access has become, as it inevitably had to become, a crime. I climbed out into
the mist and rattled that fence with my hands, as if to be aware of its reality,
wallowing in the cold pleasure of acclimating yourself to the worst. Glorious:
and someday soon, perhaps, someone will rattle the new gate that will close
the previously public Chappaqua thoroughfare of Old House Lane, demanding answers
to the question of exactly who the opaque, violent, secretive people who live
at its far end are, and when they’re going to first explain themselves,
and then go away and leave everybody alone in peace.


I looked
through the fence a while. Nice river, if you’ve got access to it. Finally
I drove up along the village’s shuttered Main St. and through the sleeping
hills to my parents’ house.


I’ll
tell you this, though: The Clinton years have been good to my family, which
was academic and dirt-poor during my childhood, but that’s doing well enough
now, the bunch of us having smartened up and learned to surf the culture’s
momentum a little bit. Six and a half lucky years. The old house, in which the
floors are polished to a wonderful sheen, radiates more peace than it ever has:
the peace of my parents as they settle into middle age.


Everyone
was asleep. I played in the darkened kitchen like the proverbial dormouse; mixed
rum and lime juice and sugar in a shaker, then poured the green stuff into a
tumbler and drank at the kitchen counter, letting the somnolent clicking of
a far-off mantel clock stroke my downshutting brain. Opened the back door and
sat on the wooden back porch with my booze and the breeze, catching glimpses
of red flasher buoys on the river channel far below and through the ancient
maples lofting up and drooping down over Rte. 9. You could almost see the grape
vines that wreath the trellises growing in the stillness after the rain; almost
see our garage-side garden fattening, the tomatoes red and good-natured in the
night that seemed to glow dark blue, as with some weird post-deluge luminescence,
the same electric deep blue color as the St. Elmo’s fire that plays around
masts after storms and reassures sailors.


Fat times,
and who’s complaining? The sound of midnight sprinklers and the smell of
rain and damp air playing cool around the back of your neck. So to hell with
it all. I’ve got mine.


..