Rand McNallly

Forty years in finance had been done. Dutifully, exactly – like a scarlet-lettered penance – and the rest of his life suddenly lay ahead of him. He spent the first chunk of his retirement on a retrofitted volkswagen bus which he’d meticulously detailed out. A mobile home, a gourmet stove, a safe, a soft mattress, and a special shelf for a particularly tattered Rand McNally road atlas.

He remembered coming home with that road atlas as a senior in college – his sails filled with dreams which parental and professional expectations quickly deflated. A few months before his retirement date, it seemed to just appear out of the stacks of useless crap, boxes of travel guides. Ever year he’d said — “this year I’ll save starting on January first and I’ll go to…..” The list was endless – Alaska, Belize, Machu Picchu, Haiti, Rome, Bergen, Istanbul, Mumbai. A bitter divorce, and 42 years later, here the Rand McNally sat in front of him like a patient old friend.

He opened the front cover and inside was a yellowed, torn out page from a book with the tell-tale signs of 1970s lime colored highlighter.

“Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes . . . Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice.” – Page 343 – Walden – Henry David Thoreau

The man was a vault of stories and adventures. Towering over everyone in Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam, falling in love – like everyone does – with an Australian sailor from Melbourne; and having his heart broken – like everyone does. Riding out a typhoon in Pattaya Beach. Walking the Camino de Santiago on his 70th birthday. The young kid that talked him into shaving the sides of his head away. Crying in art galleries. Finding dark corners to share, lighted stages to dance upon.

So many romances and lives later – I met him at a writer’s workshop in New York. I’d read his first book in college and fallen in love with the tenderness, the compassion of his words. That we’d meet over a chance encounter in a hotel bar? I had not expected his overwhelming personal softness. He kissed me and – I had not expected to wake up the next morning under pressed sheets.

Hearing him softly whisper ‘shhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ as he moved in, incredibly strong and hard against me in the shyest light of morning. We spent days making the crazy searing kind of love he’d so sadly daydreamed of behind a desk at Piers Brontley – the kind that which now, fifty years later, was setting our world on fire.