A bag of organic kale wasted away in my refrigerator, waiting to be steamed. The Kinky Friedman novel with ten pages left to read leered at me from the corner of my desk, where I’d left it seven months earlier. My suitcase laid sprawled open on my bedroom floor, yearning to be emptied, my dog curled up in the comfort of its well-worn contents. My film was rejected by two more festivals, and I was firmly placed, back in New York with no concrete plans to travel or date. I worried that my study of dating state by state was dead in it’s tracks.
But, everything changes.
This copper web of artificial synapses is a broad as it is deep. I clicked on the dating website and discovered that Vermont had knocked on my firewall, loud and clear. “Are ya busy today? I’m in the big city just for for today and sure could use a tour.”
Opportunity knocked. I went to Chinatown to meet it.
“I’m here. I’m in the store,” I texted, and wandered the aisles, picking out seaweed with one hand, carrying a bag of White Rabbits in the other. I craned my head towards the window. He wasn’t there. No one was. Not that I had much to go on, just a panoramic picture of a lake and trees, and a dusty old, blurry old photo of a guy standing in front of a painted Volkswagon bus. I felt Vermont slipping away and that notch I craved to carve into my dating belt, eluding my desperate grasp.
Outside the store. a sea of tourist floated down the sun-bleached sidewalk. I stepped outside. Leaning against the rail was a clean-shaven, hungry Rip Van Winkle. I walked past. Faltered in my step, and doubled back.
Clear as a Loggins and Messina song, sleepy Vermont stood in front of me and sort of smiled.
“Hi,” I said, and held out my hand for him to shake. “It’s nice to meet you.”
He was an old hippie. That was clear. He was not used to the city, though he had been there before. A long time ago.
Fate and age had busted the heater hose in his car; instead of exploring Chinatown, I joined him on his search for the last known auto supply in Manhattan. It was a fabled place at 99 Allen Street. I knew the way.
Elbows out, we hustled through Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side. He told me about his eleven acres, his gardens, and his wooden swing. He worked the types of jobs you never knew anyone did. He mediated between repo-men and the repossessed. He mowed the lawns of foreclosed homes. Once, long ago, he had been an electrical engineer, but the work dried up. He had an MBA, but his career got sidetracked by a small mistake that landed him in jail. He followed the Grateful Dead. He married his wife. He raised his kid. He divorced his wife. He lived his life.
He had been on a few dates in the past years. One woman told him that she knew how to visit the fourth dimension, but she couldn’t figure out how to stay. Another, it turns out, tried to kill her husband.
And then one morning, he woke up in Manhattan and now, here he was, searching for the last known auto supply store. With me.
The story goes that “Rip Van Winkle… was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown… and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he would have whistled life away, in perfect contentment…”
The auto shop was defunct. In it’s place, a hole-in-the-wall dumpling house. As we sat across from each other and shared a three dollar plate of dumplings, I wondered what would be like to wake up one day and realize that you’d slept through your life. I left Vermont on by the F line on Delancey and Essex. I went down into the subway, he headed back West with a roll of heat resistant tape to bandage his car.
Anyhow, Rip Van Winkle went walking one day to get away from his nagging wife, fell asleep in a grassy knoll, and woke up twenty years later. He slept through the Revolutionary War, the death of his wife and peers, and the rearing of his children. Many towns people argued that he was better off, having slept through it all. Maybe he was.
What I wonder is, did he dream while he was sleeping?