Tom and I drove down to Portland yesterday to look at two apartments. Harmony was quiet when we left. A couple of trucks were parked at the C & R store. The gas station was closed. The town had fallen into its usual Sunday torpor. There was nothing alarming, nothing different.
About 50 miles south of Harmony, just beyond Augusta, we stopped at a rest area to buy coffee. As we languished in the interminable Starbucks line, I eyed the various comers-and-goers milling toward the bathroom doors, the Burger King, and the convenience mart. I wondered to myself, How many of you voted for Trump? I saw groups of guys in deer-season garb. I saw groups of heavily made-up middle-aged women in yoga pants and leather jackets. I saw families in Christian-splinter-sect kerchiefs and long homemade skirts. I saw twenty-year-old girls with acne and fake eyelashes. I saw fathers in camouflage-print Crocs. I saw doting mothers with adorable babies. The answer was obvious as soon as I asked myself the question: Most of these people voted for Trump.
There was also one black man with dreadlocks sitting alone at a plastic table.
I felt an internal fear rising. What would I do, what could I do, at this precise moment, if a stranger in this cavernous room needed me?
In Portland, though, the atmosphere was entirely different. The first neighborhood we visited, the West End, was a sort of miniature bustling version of Park Slope, Brooklyn: women walking Airedales, small boys bouncing basketballs with their hipster dads, headphoned college girls swathed in bright neck scarves. Almost everyone was white, but all exuded an aroma of "we are nice liberal well-educated white people doing self-absorbed things on a sunny Sunday afternoon."
The second neighborhood we visited, the Eastern Promenade, was hushed, in the way large houses beside a beautiful city park often seem to be. The atmosphere was ponderous and patient. Henry James might have been writing a novel inside one of those houses. There were people in the park, walking beside the sea, lying on benches beside their greyhounds, but they were more separated from one another, more private. The watching houses, the expanse of grass, the lapping bay seemed to muffle human sound, to reconfigure space.
I felt an internal fear rising. What would I do, what could I do, if I allowed myself to live in a place like this? Would I become a better friend to humanity or a lazier, more self-satisfied one?
Already it is clear that the Trump presidency will be the worst in American history. The decisions of my private life feel fraught with portents.