By DAN MOREY
January 03. 2010
When I received Erie writer Geoff Peterson's recent novel, I glanced
at the title and thought it read "The Greyhound Bard."
Having reviewed a couple volumes of his road-inspired verse, I
thought this was perfectly appropriate. Then I looked closer and
realized the title was actually "The Greyhound Bardo."
Bardo? I pictured a gay caballero in a puffy shirt and Zorro mask,
swinging into a parlor with a quill pen clenched between his teeth.
"I, el Bardo, shall subdue you bandits with poetry, for the pen is
mightier than the sword! Aha!"
Luckily, Peterson, aware of the relative obscurity of his title,
provides a definition of the term from Buddhist writer Sogyal
Rinpoche in his introduction:
"The [Tibetan] word 'bardo' is commonly used to denote the
intermediate state between death and rebirth, but in reality bardos
are occurring continuously throughout both life and death, and are
junctures when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is
In a literal sense, the title works. If you're on a Greyhound, you're
in transition between one place and another. However, I can't in good
conscience recommend interstate bus travel as a means to the
heightened possibility of enlightenment. You are much more likely to
experience a heightened possibility of sitting in urine.
The narrator of Peterson's novel -- set in 1966 -- is 19-year-old
Carlos Schnabel. As the war in Vietnam heats up, Schnabel
crisscrosses the country on Greyhounds -- AWOL from the Army for the
He's trapped in a bardo between a civilian boyhood and what could
prove to be a very short adult life. It's not so much that he's
afraid of going to 'Nam -- he just prefers to die in a manner of his
own choosing, which happens to be a downward spiral of booze and drug abuse.
He eventually winds up hiding out at the Richford Hotel in Erie, his
hometown, where he drinks himself into a nightly stupor and rages
impotently against various national and local institutions.
"Prep's the catholic jockocracy that passes for an education. Mac
once said if I quit Prep I'd be throwing away my life. Some lives
demand to be wasted, I said. That's why they threw a party called
Vietnam. For the losers."
He passes most of his time at the Avalon bar or in greasy-spoon
diners, where local characters like the Dragon Lady make regular appearances.
"She sips coffee, straightens a cigarette from her bag, lights it.
Her eyebrows crawl like caterpillars. When she wipes her mouth it
leaves a perfectly formed howl in crimson."
Schnabel tends to see life through a grotesque lens, as if Edvard
Munch were directing a film noir. Things become even more distorted
after he overdoses on LSD and finds himself in a military psych ward.
"I stand at the mouth of a cave and peer inside in the red glare:
men, women, kids, cripples, dogs, waves of flesh way out of
proportion. It's scary and beautiful at the same time. I suspect it's
my own blood."
Bizarre, disturbing and hallucinatory, "The Greyhound Bardo" is a
unique portrait of disaffected youth in the 1960s.