“Dewitt Clinton, VW, Whores and the Greeks”


vwIn 1970 I moved to Montpelier , Vt. to share a house with my friend, Randy. Vermont is beautiful in the summer but lonely and isolating in the winter, especially if you have no family near you. I remember that the living room had 9 doors that led to various rooms and stairways.

I took with me the check that my insurance company paid me after having spent the entire winter modifying my 1969 VW Beetle which, including the body and the engine. I had installed a 190 horse power Corvair engine into it, which I found in a junk yard in northern New Jersey. No easy trick for the time. I had taken a job in an auto body shop so I could learn how to do bodywork and spray painting. I wanted to paint my super-fast bug to a fine finish!

The night before I was to spray the car, I parked it overnight on Rt. 22 in Whippany, NJ. right in front of the body shop. Late that night, a very drunk driver smashed into my car and totaled it. That pretty much ended my boyhood dream of hot rodding! This dream had come out of the 50’s. A few of the older kids in my boyhood town, Fairview, NJ, were hot rodding old  cars with barely any experience in auto mechanics just pure genius. It was the desire and the need for speed and sound which captivated them and motivated them. In a world that was developing the Tel star satellite , they wanted to be a part of that technology, in some way. In their mind, if the moon could be reached by a satellite, then a super fast, screaming Jesus car could be also created. I envied those older kids so much that I bit into their dreams, but the best I could do back then was change a tire.

So, with a heavy heart, I scraped up the radio parts, battery, and other mementos of my now accordion sized bug and headed out to Vermont to change my life. You see I also had split up from my girlfriend around the same time. So as I was recovering from a summer of many fond LSD trips, the loss of my very fast Bug and the dissolution of my relationship with the girl next door, …not to mention my reading of The The Pessimist’s Handbook by Schopenhauer,. So, I knew my life was going to CHANGE…big time.

katabasisYou know the Greeks have a word for unforeseen change. Katabasis, which literally means a journey down into the underworld. The Greeks wrote many an epic story of the hero’s trip into the underworld. In Greek mythology, for example, there is the story about Orpheus who enters the underworld in order to bring his true love Eurydice back to the world of the living or as in Nekyia, the 11th book of The Odyssey, by Homer, he describes the descent of Odysseus to the underworld. Most katabases take place in a supernatural world, such as Hades or Hell. However, a katabasis can also take place in the natural world and in the modern world as well. They have often been noted as requiring a heroic journey where one experiences great upheavals and transformation in the process of dealing with one’s inner or outer demons. Witness this….

One day in Vermont, the mailman delivers a check to me from my insurance company for $3,000. Not knowing quite what to do with this new found money, my friend Randy and I started to explore the many antique barns scattered throughout Vermont. After a few weeks of looking and learning, we fell in love with an old French Canadian whose barn was littered with 4 floors of old stuff some from French Canada and the rest was from New England. We walked for hours trying to see what I could buy with some of that insurance money. After getting to know us, this cantankerous, sometimes humorous, eccentric old guy decided that he would show us his ‘special’ room up on the 4th floor of the red barn.


At this point Randy and I were reluctant to venture up there without Randy’s German Shepard, Citane, who I was convinced was more ‘at home’ trying to figure what was behind the 9 doors off of the living room in our house than trying to protect us. We both had had chilling visions of a room filled with instruments of torture, prostitutes and bound up children all chained to 18th century French furniture and a French “Chucky” was well in hand savoring some of the appliances for his own perverse pleasure. Well you need to know that Randy was attending Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. as a psychology student. So put that together with my experiences of tripping with acid for the last 3 or so months and you could understand how natural it was for the two of us to arrive at these conclusions about that “Special room”.

Once up there we were greatly relieved. There were colorful posters and dresses surrounded by paintings and sculpture and jewelry “to die for”. The old delicate furniture reeked of 100 year old pipe and cigar smoke buried into the wood. Magical carpets, objects of invention, whimsical mechanical toys, pots and pans used so much that you could almost smell the food they once cooked. Stuffed birds and animals, board games, card games, ceramic vases and ….I could go on. The Canadian-French were very colorful and expressive with their mind and hearts. We became fascinated with all the beauty and inventions created over a hundred years ago.

At last we feasted on an old model train which he called the Dewitt Clinton mock up for the original 1831 DeWitt Clinton train. The Dewitt Clinton of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad (M&H) was the first steam locomotive to operate in the state of New York and the fourth built in the United States. It was named in honor of the governor of New York State responsible for the Erie Canal, who died in 1828dewitt.
Randy and I visited that train at least a half a dozen times before we decided to buy it for $3500, thank you insurance company. DONE. We spent the rest of the summer driving to various museums in Vermont and New Hampshire trying to cash in on my first investment. All of the museums wanted it for sure….but for free. They said they would put my name on a plaque in front of this intricate train, but no money. I drove down to New York City and did my museum hopping but like before, ‘we would love to put your train in one of our galleries…for free!” I finally found an antiques dealer in Summit, NJ named Edie who kept it on consignment for a few years. Oh by the way I married the girl that I left for Vermont in that same year.

During the time my wife and I were together, we had visited Edie many times and had gotten to know her fairly well. We learned that she had been a high end prostitute who had worked in LA and NYC in the 1950’s. She had also been married and subsequently divorced to three men. Somewhere along the way, she had become an antiques dealer. In 1975, when my wife and I separated, I decided to visit Edie for a week to nurse my wounded heart. While I was up there, Edie would lecture to me about the miracles of Christian Science during the day and then try to lure me into her bed at night.

On my return home to South Jersey a week or so later, I discovered that much of my things were gone. While I was away, my wife had freed me of my 2000 record albums that I had collected over the last five years, our car and generally, most of the things that we had bought together. My pet Irish setter, Sean, had also run away, never to be seen again. I also lost my job in the ensuing week. My father entered the hospital for a serious operation and my mother was now convinced that she had given birth to an insane child and would yell at me in Italian “I was cursed the day you were born”. On top of that, my uncle Gus was trying to find my wife for a “quickie”.

So as to avoid another major breakdown, I ran back up to Edie several weeks later. The only real thing I wanted to see was my Dewitt Clinton train, which had never been sold…and guess what? IT WAS GONE! My wife had beaten me to it again! Again!!

Well thedivorcere are times when you wake up in the morning and after much rumination you realize that it wasn’t supposed to be like this or that and, as I sometimes hear in Camden.. “Don’t fight it, It is what it is!” To summarize, I deplore antiques, I don’t rent to whores, I have become a tree hugger for God, no more pets unless they are made of cardboard, I hate Vermont…and the Greeks and I stay away from barns and trains.

However I still buy records, I am married to a loving woman for 22 years, my ears perk up when I hear the word ‘special’, and Randy and I still talk to each other every month. Thank you Jesus!
Mr. John

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