I WALKED OUT the front gate of Castle Air Force Base in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California a free, young man. It was the mid-1960s.
Taking a taxi the few miles into Merced, I got on a Greyhound down to the City of Angels where I boarded another bus headed to New York City, 2,451 miles away as the buzzard flies. It was a four-and-a-half-day ride.
I thought I was in love, and maybe I was. The object of my desires, my high school sweetheart, lived just outside New York City in White Plains. She was staying with her psychologist — or perhaps psychiatrist; I don’t recall — and his family, sent there from Jacksonville, Florida, by wealthy, worried parents.
Her name was Jane, a beautiful, teenaged Jewish Princess and only child.
Aside from one breakdown near Pittsburgh, Pa., in the middle of the night, and the fact that I had stupidly put all my clothes and toothbrush in my suitcase locked in the belly of the bus, the trip was uneventful.
I walked out of the Greyhound station in Manhattan and spotted a hotel across the street. I checked in, showered, brushed my teeth and combed my hair. Ah, that’s more like it. And I phoned Jane.
It was either that afternoon or the following day — it was over half a century ago — that she came into town to see me. We got naked in the hotel, just the second time in my life, and then we went out. The first had been with her too, a couple of years before.
I recall neither where we went nor what we did, but I do remember she was distant, which saddened me.
Over the next three days I found a studio apartment in Greenwich Village and got a job as a painter’s helper via an employment agency. The memories are quite vague now. I saw Jane one more time, and I walked her one evening to a subway station that would return her to Grand Central and on to White Plains.
I spent just one night in the apartment and never reported to my first day of work as a painter’s helper. Instead I returned to the Greyhound station and boarded a bus to Nashville, Tennessee, where my parents lived.
I did not say goodbye to Jane, and I never saw her again.
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(Tomorrow: The City of Angels Adventure, back to California.)