Thursday, December 31, 2009


I was sitting at two tables put together in a raised corner section at the back of
a big coffee shop on 7th Avenue near 15th that I must have passed often though I had not noticed till very recently when it became one of our after-meeting hangouts. I was with Lena, whose sister had an art gallery for dealers, Annie who was breaking out of too many years being only a nurse, and Lewis Greenberg who had retired from teaching, and Arthur the art photographer, who said he was glad I had joined ACOA because "we need successful people too," and a pretty dark haired girl, so young she seemed to have baby fat, who was in the city as a nanny, and Sally the therapist who was looking less hang dog each day, and Paul, who looked pure preppy though his particularly vicious father lived and did bad things in Spain, and an enclosed, tense man named Jimmie who just seemed lost, but came anyway. The were all congratulating me on a white windbreaker jacket I had picked up that day at the army-navy store down Eighth near 13th. And I was also wearing an expensive, for me, green checked flannel shirt I had picked up at Saks, and also a thick blue checked wool scarf I got from Lord & Taylor, and in addition, from a store on 8th Street, a new Woolrich denim shirt and new Docker’s made of blue denim giving the allusion of Levi’s. The latter I liked best but I had credit cards left over from the marriage for Saks and Lord & Taylor, and what they had was anyway far better than what I was as used to.

For one day recently as I woke up I had realized that I hated the way I dressed. Prissy Wasp clothing that I had always detested but wore anyway. Like those clothes I had wound up wearing at Princeton.

At first in college I kept my hair a little long and slicked back, and I had worn ordinary shoes like my father’s military surplus shoes that you could buy cheap at Modell’s in Grand Central, and I avoided the thin, humble neckties that were in fashion then. This was was my style still one night on Christmas vacation in my first year when I had a movie date with a girl named Trish in Stamford who was a distanct cousin of Elysa’s and like Elysa went to Miss Hall’s up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

We came in late at Trish’s house, where the lights were on but very dim. Her father, who looked like an off-duty CEO, was sitting in the living room in pajamas chain smoking and taking little white pills. Trish and I went down to a warm, plush basement room, which we kept very dark, and it was my first time really getting under a girl’s bra, and Trish was what I had hoped for. The feel of skin. The girl scent. We rolled around on cushions on the thickly carpeted floor accompanied by Frank Sinatra on the console.

When we went upstairs at around 3 a.m. we were waylaid by the pajama-clad, pill-popping father who said he had something important, to tell me.

You don’t have that short hair yet, and you’re not wearing white bucks or cardigans, and you don’t have a charcoal gray suit jacket and khakis. And your shirt is not a button down and it does not look like Oxford cloth. You aren’t in uniform yet. He paused for another pill. But you will be soon, he said. Everyone at Princeton gives in. His eyes gleamed in what might have been triumph or might have been the pills.

Up till this time in early 1986 I had had prissy wasp clothing. I wore humble shirts (athough no longer Oxford cloth) that mixed fake fibers with cotton, cut-rate office clothing (though I had no office) from a chain of small stores named Bancroft that were spread around the Rockefeller Center area. When I started going to meetings it was before Saks and Lord & Taylor, much less that army-navy store down near 13th Street and a store on 8th Street that carried Woolrich. I was not wearing neckties, but I wore a sport Jacket with my old anonymous khakis of the sort for which I had no affection but which I had been wearing for 35 years. I owned very little. The two jackets I had, one a brown near Harris Tweed, the other an actual Navy blue blazer that had brass buttons with embossed nautical anchors, came from a thrift store near the 50th Street 8th Avenue subway stop. The sort of thing people wore way back in the flat Eisenhower era, but not so much now all these years later.

Why hadn’t I owned a decent scarf? The one I had before the blue Lord & Taylor one was dirty brown, so worn and thin a wind would go right through it. And caked with something that could be gum or coagulated gravy. It had probably belonged to my father 40 years back. These were death clothes, it now seemed.

I felt light the moment I started throwing my regular clothes out. Why in the world did I wear these jackets and shirts if I had not been in a real office since the last time I was a job holder, which was briefly at Time-Life in the 1965 just before I flew off to Bangkok. Just before I began my life on the road.

My ex-wife had sent down a box filled with things I had left in our apartment when I departed. They had arrived in a box which had contained a color TV set, which told me that now she was able to have the kind of television she wanted. In the box I found a wool sweater. It must have been an old Christmas present. It was a sort of muted dark turquoise. Which was as stylish as L.L. Bean ever got. I went to a meeting on the West Side wearing no jacket, just the sweater, and felt I had taken 20 years of my age.

At coffee afterwards at a place on Broadway this very lively long-haired ACOA young lady at my table said how great it was that the sweater matched the color of my eyes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


At first it has been impossible to talk at the meetings. Then a couple of weeks before Christmas an advertising guy had come up to me after the Saturday meeting at the Quaker place and asked if I would like to join a weekly men’s meeting that, unlike all the other ACOA meetings, was by invitation. I did not like the idea of segregating the sexes – the way it has been long ago at boarding school and college and the draftee army – and yet I found it easy to start talking here. I thought this was more because I has been invited than that it was a men’s group. I spoke now of my misadventures with the blonde photographer in the Bahamas – part confession and part subtle boasting that I had such a life. She had just called me from Puerto Rico complaining that I had not called her.

I also spoke of my years of roaming the world, and this was when it became clearer to me how I had been drawn to extremely dangerous places. Boasting again, yet something else happening when I brought what I was boasting about to light.

One of the members of this group was a disturbing gay guy who in meetings screamed “get out of my bed” as he described his mother getting into his bed. The advertising guy spoke of wrestling with relationships with women. There was an actor who spoke of depression. It seemed that everyone here had suffered from horrible depression.

The actor spoke at length one day saying we were not really going deep enough. It made me angry, using a session of this group, it seemed to me, the way he would use some confrontational actors' group exercise. Worse, he singled me out for the way I just sat there taking notes and talking very little. The next week he apologized to me and the whole men’s group. At the last meeting before Christmas he suggested we all stand and sing Joy to the World, which, to my surprise, felt pretty good.

So I was talking a little and getting some laughs. But now I was scheduled for what felt like a full performance.

This public debut was at St. Vincent’s. It was not the writing meeting but rather a much bigger meeting, currently chaired by Jenny who scheduled me to speak. The venue was a large conference room across Seventh Avenue in a building that before St. Vincent’s took it over as an annex had been the headquarters of the old seamen’s’ union. It was very close to where I had lived between Greece and Asia.

In this darkened conference room Jenny, seeming soft and happy, introduced me. I spoke from the head of a long table at which ACOA people were seated. And there were many more ACOA people further out in the near dark on folding chairs. Beforehand I was as nervous as I had been at 15 at Boston University before the finals of the New England championship tourney for high school and prep school debaters.

But this was no mere competitive debate. And, unlike a debater, I was not prepared to argue either side of anything. This was life and death, and here in this darkened room I spoke of how after my brother and I left home my parents got two kittens, named one good cat and the other bad cat. I talked about family pretensions, like the fake British accents. I went heavy on my brother, the good twin, and his colonial English wife and how they called the part of Virginia they lived in “fox country.”

With what I thought was quite good timing, worthy of one who had been a champion debater, I let it be known that my brother lived where he lived in Virginia because it was an easy commute to his job at the CIA – mention of which brought gasps in the audience. I talked about how when I was a child they had gotten angry at me when I was mourning the slow death of my floppy, silky brown dog named Brownie. And just as important, how they put me down for giving him such a regular person’s name. Brownie was hit by a car, came home to lie in our yard, had more and more trouble breathing, then after several days, died. I somehow related this to the motorcycle death long ago of Cousin Paul, and the cancer death in the past summer of Cousin Margaret, who said she wanted to die because of what they had done to her. And to the precarious state of all the other cousins.

And I felt I was getting closer and close to darker things than these deaths.

Jenny said afterwards it was one of the best meetings ever.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


There was a sense that what was going on in Manhattan ACOA could not last. The program was always in danger of being taken over by orthodox 12-step people or by orthodox advocates of therapies that stopped short of meaningful results. They were already laying siege, much like literary critics and academy-approved novelists and small town failures who find to their horror that there are writers loose who are saying things no one should be allowed to say.

Scared representatives of convention were coming in from all directions attempting to bury with constructed generalizations what was real in the stories of my new ACOA friends. Sometimes these attacks came from AA people who said things like, “I used to blame my family but now I appreciate them. They had nothing to do with my drinking. I drank because I am an alcoholic. End of story.” Some AA people could get really angry about our probing the past and our showing anger about what we found.

More than once an Alanon person came to an ACOA meeting wearing a frozen smile, and said how much she admired the bravery of those who spoke, and then was never seen at a meeting again. And sometimes these anti-ACOA people got support from the very people they thought they had to subvert. One quite young woman who was overweight, a little pimply and clearly in pain talked in the meetings of the problems of being so pretty, then vanished from the meetings. I saw her on the street shortly afterwards looking anguished and no prettier than I remembered. “I’m fine now that I’ve stopped going to meetings,” she said. “I’ve stopped whining. I got rid of all that negativity.”

The policing and the self policing reminded me of what went on in other spheres. Again those literary and art critics who are so scared of anything new and strong.

I thought of my brother’s reaction at the start of the seventies when he heard Harper’s Magazine Press gave me a $5000 advance for a novel based on my wild time in Bangkok. My brother’s next door summer neighbor, my old friend Mickie, told me what he had said to her: “It should not have happened. Fred did everything wrong. He didn’t even go to graduate school!”

How similar, it seemed now, to what was happening with Manhattan ACOA, where people who had been nearly silenced were letting themselves be heard. Refusing blind obedience to past strictures, so much like the very best modern artists and writers who always defy the academy and the critical establishment and the publishers and dealers.

On sale with other literature at most ACOA meetings, however, was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child – a take no prisoner’s approach which sided with the abused and not the abuser. She was uncompromising in going after real stories. And I had started reading her just as my life had seemed at a dead end.

At first other books on sale at the meetings seemed to back up Miller, but not for long. For these other books could have the effect of making real stories small by forcing them into very precise categories of stories, to bury your own story beneath some catch-all universal story.

This felt a little like what Plato did two and a half millennia back by forcing things that were real into idealized forms of things. No wonder that Plato felt the only art that should count was art that helped make people docile supporters of the state.

The other books on sale at the meetings were by therapist-writers who specialized in ACOA subjects – Janet Woititz, Claudia Black, Sharon Wegsheider-Cruise. They were proponents of the idea that families could and should be looked at from the standpoint of children falling into basic family roles – most often presented as the hero, the scapegoat, the mascot, the lost child. It was as if we were being told by these therapist-writers that if you dealt with something in its generalized form you would be safe.

I was immediately intrigued with this new, to me, idea. But I was not so interested in it as was Jenny, whom I found touching when she described the comfort she took from these delineations of family roles. She said one of the great things that happened when she entered ACOA was her discovery that there were these books in which "I could find myself." She said she was pretty sure she was the “mascot,” for although there was much violation of her spirit and apparently physical violation too, she had always been the one who distracted the family from its problems by being entertaining.

At one big meeting she got applause when she described how she had just gotten out of jury duty. She had told the judge there was something in her life that made it impossible for her to judge whether or not someone was a criminal. The judge asked what it was, and she said she did not want to say it aloud. The judge asked her to come up to the bench to tell him quietly. She went up and spoke one word and he said “Excused.” The one word was “incest.”

At another meeting one participant reported that over in New Jersey Janet Woitiz had just announced that incest was not an issue for either alcoholics or children of alcoholics.

Someone else reported that at a weekend retreat led by Sharon Wegsheider Cruise no one was allowed to leave the grounds of the retreat house because no one could be trusted to follow her absolute ban on sugar and so might try to smuggle that dangerous substance in.

I went down to Princeton to see one of Rob’s plays. I said I was looking into our family’s past. Rob said that if I found out anything disparaging he did not want to hear it.

He said he and his wife has been to Littleton for a visit with their mother and with his sister Deirdre. He said Deirdre, always a problem to them, had “suddenly gone nuts” while they were watching television. It was a TV movie with a theme of family sexual abuse.

Apparently her often violent brother Paul, long dead now, had molested her once and no one in the family knew about it. Rob did not seem to think this amounted to much.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


One day Janet from ACOA stops by my place for coffee. A sweet lanky girl from Alaska who uses no makeup. Her violent father is a failed Republican politician up in that godforsaken place. She is much younger than me though as well read and eager for beauty and experience, and it makes me feel not old but rather that we are coming into life together.

At this time we were each reading the Robertson Davies novels, and sometimes one of us would have a book to give the other before a meeting began. Lovely, and open, and I note the slight soft hairs above her upper lip, which has led me to flash on feeling uncomfortable with other imperfections intruding on scenes meant to be perfect in the past.

I talk about my new time in the parks. We decide to take the C train up to Columbus Circle. From there we walk all the way up to the park’s northeast corner, which is in Spanish Harlem, and where I have recently discovered an untamed body of water called the Meer, which is going to seed in this time when money is being g spent on parts of the park that border on where the rich people live. Like something in the deep South, on the Meer’s east bank grown men and women fish with worms, and on the north bank there is a ramshackle Greek temple structure scared from the elements and with graffiti.

Janet had a live-in boyfriend who worked, because he needed the money, in corrections, meaning prison guard, on Riker’s Island. It seemed to me that now I could be tolerant of anything. She said she loved to sing, and that she and her boyfriend were always singing, but they sang only out of season Christmas carols for these were the only songs they had in common. His work hours left her on her own much of the tine. We had met outside meetings once before when we went to eat in the West Village in a vegetarian restaurant – a place that related less to my New York past than did the Meer .

We found that as children we had both ridden horses – me one summer in Arizona and than taking lessons English style under the supervision of a leathery woman who had horses near the Sunset Hill House and a practice ring right down in front of the Sunset where the road falls off at a point just below a small viewing platform that had a copper chart with a movable pointer to show the names of the mountains. The Franconia Range that you see in front of you and the Presidential Range in the far distance.

The subject of riding comes up as we are passing the Central Park stables and making fun of the nervous faux Anglo young men and women coming and going decked out from head to toe in English riding gear starting with those derby-like hats. English envy gone wild. Janet tells me it is very different at the stables out in Brooklyn in Prospect Park.

So the next weekend we met out in Prospect Park, which seemed as carefully put together as Central Park but, unlike most of Central Park, looked like it had mostly been allowed to go to seed, like the Meer and like the small abandoned garden behind my small apartment building.

We used Western saddles on the two fat, elderly horses we rode that day. We sat on those horses taking in the warmth of winter sun as they strolled along an overgrown bridle path.


Back in the present in this ACOA time I keep going to the museums and galleries. And without planning it out, I am also going nearly every day to the parks. Sometimes I combine the two. Paintings in the Met, from Medieval times on. Behind the Met, trees and vast lawns in Central Park. On a rise the hieroglyph-covered obelisk that I had been told when was a child is called Cleopatra’s Needle.

And a 20-minute subway ride away, paintings in the Brooklyn Museum by people I had recently discovered, from Daubigny to Deibenkorn to Prendergast, and just outside the museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, new to me in this time. Orchards and stand-alone trees and bushes from around the world, and a Japanese garden so accurate that Japanese tour groups come to it. And plaques near the Japanese Garden for the “Brooklyn Walk of Fame” with such names as Barbra Streisand and Danny Kaye. And some Greek columns too, not far from a careful patch of woodland featuring local flora, such as I knew well in childhood roamings in Connecticut. These plotted out bits of the natural world fenced off from the possible chaos of Prospect Park.

On a path near Columbus Circle at the southern end of Central Park I meet a red-headed nurse, Annie, to discuss travel plans. I need to go to California for an article I am to write for Penthouse about the Philippines’ near civil war, and Annie is trying to break out of her nurse’s world by getting into the travel business. We sit on a park bench and chat not so much about plane tickets as about ourselves and people we know from these meetings. Close up, she seems to look out on life with a certain confidence, kind but knowing that much of what she sees is the raw material for jokes. A comfortable body, not exactly young but with youth still in her. I like her.

There is scattered snow but the uncovered grass I can see is still very green. She talks about Astoria, where she lives – her amazing view from across the East River of the Manhattan skyline. She says she is sure she will be in relationships again, but now she is concentrating – like me – on overcoming the past – which for her started in a big boozy Irish urban family in some outer borough that sounds to me now remarkably like my past in a controlled size Anglophile family in the summer version of the White Mountains. Though these two places barely share the same planet. I echo her words when she speaks about not being interested in new relationships right now, citing my very recently and bitterly ended marriage and not mentioning the time afterwards with Jacqueline and then Susan. When I say I am not interested, I do not believe what I am saying.

But that is not the only thing on my mind. Annie was one of the first people I heard talk in ACOA, which was barely three months ago but seems like years. I had not even considered liking her then. It was as if I heard my relatives, being nasty about the mundane place and people she came from. It was as if the only way I might be able to talk with her would be to adopt my brother’s or mother’s or Cousin Rob’s special tone for outsiders who do not seem quite real, much less up to certain standards.

And then in that the first time listening to her I saw her a wave of liberation swept through me. Maybe I would never again have to think this way I had been thinking. And this possible liberation raised questions about what aliens were resident inside me – questions I had not asked in all the years since I had at some point in early childhood decided to be the bad twin, eventually going way beyond the family, even at the expense of being seen by them as coarse if not dumb.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


We got back that summer in time to go to the White Mountains in August. Nana was still abroad and White Pines was shut down but we had an invitation from Old Mrs. Gibbs, who had a big, raised summer house that had steps leading up to its porch, with lattice work covering the empty area from beneath the main floor down to the ground. Her property adjoined that of the Sunset Hill House and had the same view of the Franconia Range, which was also the view from all our family houses.

Mrs. Gibbs came each summer, bringing children, grandchildren and loyal old Irish servants with her. One of the servants slept in a small separate house for the children, used now by her four grandchildren who were in my age group. From Baltimore, the Bowdoins: cheerful Harry and sweet faced Alice, on whom I had had a crush when I was 11 that I never quite shook off, though by now she was an out of reach good girl. From Boston, the Perkins: dapper Jimmy and his tanned patrician sister Louisa, with whom I had had a correspondence, her boarding school and mine, when I was 15 and had not met Kitty yet – nor for that matter girls in the winter from our north country sister school.

Gibbs and Pooles had know each other forever. I was amused that on the back door of the telephone room in White Pines a genealogy chart showed that Peter and I were some sort of cousins with these kids who had been our friends since we were very small. I had wondered fleeting if maybe cousins should not date. And I had flashed on the seemingly inbred farm kids in the isolated township of Landaff, where everyone looked hangdog and alike, these poor kids who came, open mouthed, to stare at us when we summer kids arrived at their tumble-down house-barn complex for our annual hayride.

I was less than a week away from Paris and here I was back beneath these mountains. It was not as if Europe had never happened, but more that it did not relate to anything else. And here I was, looking out on the same unchanging view of the Franconia range – this the reality I could cling to. For now without Mother and Dad and Grandmother Clark to back up Peter, I was popular again, though this time it did not seem so secure.

We opened the Playhouse again, our summer gang. And soon Kitty was in Sugar Hill with her parents and brother, and it was almost what it had been the previous summer. Not quite so safe as before, and also not quite so uncritically appealing, for sometimes now I had to strain to make myself feel it was the best place in the world. Still, we were using the Playhouse. And we and the whole gang hiked up to the Gibbs cabin to cook over a campfire and play capture the flag, which had been one of our childhood games up there.

The same but not the same, for now teasing was something sexual as we boys chased and were chased by these girls on a summer night on a sloping field in mountain woods. It felt fine that I was back in my element, though not so fine that I was so impossibly far away in time and space and maturity from the Rue de Capuchins.

One night at the Playhouse, a couple of days after Kitty had been taken to Canada by her parents, I met a tall, dark visiting girl with sweet lips and I necked with her out the Playhouse porch. Little Peter Mallory, Grandson of Gaga’s old college roommate, followed me about afterward, his eyes and voice full of admiration, asking an irrelevant question for which I had not answer: “When did you know you were in love with that girl?”

We all went to the regular Saturday night dance at the Sunset Hill House, where Grandmother Clark was installed for the end of the summer. The old people sat on chairs in a circle around the brightly lit dance floor in the summer white room they called the ballroom. That night, as often in the past, there was also entertainment. This time a hard looking, slick looking, aging pair of professional dancers who worked the summer hotel circuit put on a demonstration of the rumba and the samba, none of which seemed to have anything to do with us. The woman wore a backless dress and she had plenty of fine skin even though she was not young. The skin was tight and as smooth as I it were a wax version of a girl’s body. Paris seemed so out of reach.

On the big circular terrace outside the Sunset’s ballroom college boys who worked as summer bellboys and college girls who were summer waitresses necked greedily with experience that we were just building up to when we maneuvered in the dark on the Playhouse dance floor. And after the Sunset dance, which never went later than 11, Kitty and I and two other younger couples made our way down across the street and down a dirt drive to a low lying shingled building called The Pioneer. It had a juke box for dancing, and served soft drinks, mainly as setups for the slightly older kids who brought liquor. The neckers from the Sunset passed a bottle to us so we could turn our ginger ale into real drinks, just like real adults, though adulthood seemed was almost as out of reach as Paris.

On another evening we went with our host friends over to the movies in Lisbon, a town with a formal bridge over the stream that ran through it. We were driven by Connie, Alice’s sister who was old enough to have a room now in the main house. We saw 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda.

One day we hiked to a big pond halfway up Cannon Mountain. One night we went swimming in Echo Lake down below Cannon. Our meals were carried over to the children’s house, where we had a tabletop hockey game with figures you could maneuver with handles on the side batting a ball down towards the enemy’s goal or protecting your own goal. Peter got a lot of laughs whether he was behind or winning by saying, in a Negro accent, “Bring up de colored troops!” I hated such prejudice, “nigger eyes” and all the rest, as much as I hated the never ending anti-Jewish jokes and slurs. But I was not sure what the real world was.

So I thought a lot about Paris. It was as if I had to compartmentalize my thoughts. There was Manet and Monet and Renoir in the Jeu de Paum, and the sweep of grandiose marble on the Place de la Concorde outside of the Jeu de Paum. There was the walk up the Rue de Capuchins to the Casino de Paris and those girls who had not clothes on, especially the happy looking girl who danced over to touch a boyfriend waiting in the wings.

Family would appear in my thoughts of Paris. Mother and Dad and Grandmother Clark and Peter. Dad had been in London most of the time on publishing business. I peeked at a letter Mother was writing talking of Paris as a city of love, so out of context, it seemed, this unlikely flirtation between my parents. Mother spoke French. She had spent her junior year from Smith at the Sorbonne (before something happened – running out of money?) – and she had had to become a day student at Barnard in the city.

One day in Paris she had her old landlady around for drinks. A fat women dressed in black who spoke mainly of the war, and said if the Germans came again she would kill herself.

It was mother who has taken us the first time to the Jeu de Paum. She knew the impressionists from her junior year. Strange that I had never heard of them. She also led us to an exhibition of people called Fauves who came a little later and painted in unrealistic bright colors, great slashes of paint, maybe more real than if they had been realistic. But mother had no history with the Fauves.

There was an American man with a big mustache who was full of energy escorting a group of American women through the exhibit speaking enthusiastically about how the Fauves gave up all “the past crap” and were something new and exciting. He was worked up. He seemed like one of those bohemians I had read about and wanted to be. Even so, it was as if I were being pulled to the side I wanted to reject, for I heard in my head family voices saying this exuberant man was just too, too pleased with himself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

#33 – VISION

I knew certain visuals.

It was my best summer ever – up in the mountains with this gang of girls and boys who let me be in the center. At the center with Kitty, who taught me the 20s revival Charleston when she was 13 and I was 15 – the only time in my life when I could join a casual baseball game, step to the plate, and sometimes actually hit the ball and run bases. The summer after that one they took my brother and me off to Europe, thousands of miles away from the White Mountains and the summer gang.

And suddenly it was as if nothing had ever changed, for I was back in our Connecticut family unit – back with Mother, Dad and Grandmother Clark, and my good boy twin Peter. I was getting letters almost every day that Kitty had sent to American Express in Paris and Venice and Paris again, and the family thought that was the silliest thing they had ever encountered. They laughed.

One evening at dinner at the hotel on the Rue Saint Honoré there was a big vase of black-eyed Susan’s on our table and Grandmother Clark said, Look, Nigger Eyes. And Dad saw my face and berated me for having the potential to cause trouble, and they went along, keeping the awkward peace, with Grandmother Clark when she said, in a very loud voice, right here in Paris, "I have called them Nigger Eyes all my life and I won’t stop calling them Nigger Eyes now."

And I was back in the place I thought I had escaped, despite all the trophies I had been winning, despite having a girl so kind and desirable she was outside their own experience – despite my surprising popularity, despite my leaving the world of the outcasts, despite all this, everything was still the same, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing could ever change. I knew I never should have trusted anything.

Though my life was not so empty now as they may have thought. I did find a few things to trust that summer. I trusted what I felt when looking at Monet and Manet and van Gogh, all new to me, in the Jeu de Paum. The intensity of it was my secret almost, for in this family visual art was something I could have for myself if Peter was not in the way.

I started to hang out at the Jeu de Paum, which was an exciting walk from the hotel through all the marble in the beautifully proportioned and grandiose Place de la Concorde. I would remember for the rest of my life the exact placement of the paintings there – up and to the left in one room Manet’s artists have a picnic complete with nude model, directly in front of me as I entered another room Renoir’s girl on swing, who seemed to me not on a swing but on a path where she had stopped to cock her pretty head and connect with me. The Jeu de Paum, and also the Casino de Paris, which was a little farther away but within walking distance or a quick Metro ride.

There was something to trust here in this old theater too – the waves of desire that passed through me as I watched these happy seeming naked girls – plenty of coyness though no coy striptease, for they were naked before the dancing began – and one of them has a boy friend in the wings – I can see it all from my seat high up and to the side. I see her dance over to a place where the sky blue stage set ends, her arms high, and she has a girl’s cutely cropped brown hair, and rounded arms and legs, and she has these breasts, not too big and not too small, and with assertive nipples and she has a pubic hair triangle, and no tan line. And she reaches out to her right while turning her eyes in that direction and smiling, she reaches to her right again and she and the guy touch hands, this girl and her boyfriend, their touching out of sight except from my privileged spot in the cheap seats. This sweet naked girl and her not-so-secret private life. And I had this fantasy version of my own life. I would not go to college next year, I would return to Paris and become the poet I had started out to be in boarding school, and I would have a girl like the naked dancing girl, and I would live in a garret like artists in the movies, and have intense relationships with people I would meet in tiny bistros with checked table clothes, each table with a candle dripping wax that built upon the side of the wine bottle in which it was stuck – and I would be myself always.

They warned that I should pull myself together.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Not that I was getting religion. Not that I rose to otherworldly explanations. At the start I gravitated to people in ACOA who opposed the religiosity they saw in more orthodox 12-step programs.

There was Veronica, a clinical psychologist divorced from an abusive fat man,who for the first time in her life was closing in on deep past family matters that had haunted her all her years. She seemed to look out at the world from behind a pane of grey-tinted glass, but from meeting to meeting the glass became clearer and more color came into her face. In her work, she had used the past as a starting point, but before ACOA she had never really stepped into the past, she said, either in the therapy she gave others or the therapy she received.

Avoidance by therapists of anything truly risky, not getting at what was at the center of a person’s history, came up over and over in the stories I was hearing. Not that some had not benefited from therapy, but far more often their therapists had run from the harder parts of what they remembered.

It felt much like what I had seen all my life of conventional literary worlds, from members of a puffed up English department in college to the smug Times reviewers to editors I pretended to respect to literary people out in the world as well as back in time in my family. James T. Farrell should never have said what went on with his sister. Hemingway told about people in his life the way no gentleman ever should. We don’t object to sex, they said, but Henry Miller needed boundaries and so did D.H. Lawrence, and also James Joyce when read without the decoding of critics. And the Russians were really quite silly in their intensity. And as for Thomas Wolfe….

Teachers and critics who had their own unresolved issues and usually fled from anyone dealing with true stories that reached into points of danger that might remind the critics and teachers of what they were suppressing in themselves. These careful literary people and careful therapists. These kibitzer critics and sham healers.

Although ACOA was nominally a 12-step program, like AA and its many offshoots, almost no one in it showed respect for the steps. My ACOA cohorts were not following the system, which directed you, step by step, to admit powerlessness over an addiction, decide to call upon a “higher power,” take an inventory of your life with an idea of changing and making amends to all you had harmed. In the untamed Manhattan version of ACOA the only amends that interested us were those that were owed to ourselves. A member of ACOA would admit only to being an adult child of one alcoholic, rather than something shameful the member had gone through. We were out to find the villains in the stories we were bringing to light. We wanted justice. We did not want to bow to anyone. New authorities in 12-step programs did not tempt us.

Most in Manhattan ACOA, as opposed to the far milder versions of ACOA we heard existed elsewhere, ignored the AA, and also Alanon, system whereby you were supposed to get someone to act as your “sponsor” to help you discern right from wrong and keep you on a better path. This was okay for the kind of ACOA that paralleled Alanon, but most of us had contempt for Alanon, which had apparently been started as a sort of ladies’ auxiliary of AA in the early days when AA was mainly male. Something to keep the wives busy. Orthodox 12-step ways could seem to us like enforced religion. We sometimes protested when someone wanted to close a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer, which some called the Our Father, as was always done in AA and Alanon. One night a rigid AA person, a tightly wound old-seeming young man, came to an ACOA meeting at the Corlears School and acted like a right-wing political protester crashing an opposition rally. He lectured on the subject of how we were getting it all wrong. How there was no excuse for the anger he saw in ACOA – people so self centered they did not try to see the other fellow’s side. actually used the words "other fellows side," th of 1930s colleoquial language of classic AA literature. He sounded much like Bill Cosby, the comedian turned moral scold and advocate of family discipline, who was talking these days about how he was sick and tired of hearing people put down their families. Like Cosby on the air, this AA guy in our ACOA meeting seemed to be issuing unspoken threats.

I did, however, feel there was nothing set in stone in our version. Although not many in ACOA had any more use for organized religion than for organized families, there were exceptions. There was a girl far older than her years named Michelle who was living for the time being with a group of actual nuns while she journeyed inside herself and through time. I was her admirer, despite the connection to nuns. She was one of the ones about whom I wanted to cheer when she entered a room, her anger so white hot and clear, her eyes wide open as she tried to pull the past into the present. Her father was a therapist who had become a cult leader. And she was sure he had violated her physically as well as mentally. She was looking for evidence, and she hoped to find it in memory. “I want the visuals,” she said.

The visuals!

Monday, November 23, 2009


I return to the block on East 66th where my grandmother had lived. I enter the big church there on the other side of the street from her building. This Catholic church, huge and gothic, that had been patronized by the cooks and maids of people in her circle. So many of the servants Irish, whereas the 66th Street owners tended to trace, or claim, their lineage straight to England. And they would no more enter a Roman Catholic church than use a subway.

I had last known it as the church for my grandmother’s loquacious old servant Evelyn, who seemed to be a white woman, though when she was in the hospital she was visited by relatives who were quite black West Indians.

I walk into this church. It is dark inside, and as cool as stone. It is hardly full but there must be 50 people here, and they are all kneeling. Although this is 1986 there is no sign of what I have read is the modern church. There are no guitars. The priest is not in jeans. He is in full fancy dress. And he is droning on in actual Latin. And then there is silence.

I sit in a pew and try to make myself inconspicuous by kneeling like everyone else. I cannot hold it in the straight up kneeling position of born Catholics, so I relax, half kneeling and half resting on the pew seat. My eyes roam. There are religious paintings in dark places, and it does occur to me that they are hack imitations of something that might have been real long go in Italy. But I do not feel a need to hold on to that thought.

I have the sense that in the silence people are communicating with each other without words. And I don’t need words either. It seems to me that I am connected with these kneeling Catholics in the way people in the war might have felt connected to all with whom they shared a bomb shelter.

I was not in the war. I am not English. I am descended from people who wished they were. But I am walled off from people of my past here. And it as if everyone in the silent church is in on some secret.

Some stand up and leave. Others walk in and take their place. No one appears to have any need to speak. The all know the secret. And I feel that I do too, though I have no logical conception of it. And I am hit by a wave of emotion, glad I am surrounded by these people. For knowing the secret is as dangerous as being alive, in a bomb shelter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


To me now the landscape of the city has changed. These diners and coffee shops where I get together with new friends and associates. These churches and schools where I go to wild meetings. My comfortable lair in the part Chelsea that has the feel of a time warp. My beginning forays to the farther reaches of the parks, and to the Drawing Center and the Frick and the Met and the Brooklyn and the Modern and the Guggenheim and the Whitney and the National Academy, and then the galleries on 57th Street and then up into the 80s and down into Soho. This unfolding landscape of mine.

I was beginning to meet people in my narrow four-story building where I had my sunny place, two apartments on each floor, on the front tiny balconies with designs in concrete that I thought were probably intended to look Venetian, and across the way the new Korean grocery and salad bar and hot dish place that was becoming a center where I met the other tenants from the building. From the apartment across from mine, \ the jolly Venezuelan man, and his trim Brooklyn airline girl wife; on the fourth floor, a round and musty couple who spent their time coming from and going to the Catskills; the girls, young and confident, on the second floor. I met another tenant who sat on sunny days in a wheelchair in the overgrown garden down below my window. This garden that had been left to go wild. I liked that it was down there. And I liked that from it grew a tree that went right by my third floor window. Some people said it was a weed and not a tree but it had a big round trunk, and when I gazed past it to rooftops and water tanks I could see all the way, it almost seemed, to the Battery.

One sunny day I met this old man parked in the undergrowth garden in his wheel chair. I knew he lived on the ground floor. I had been told that he had for many years lovingly tended the place, and when he could no longer handle it no one else took over. We did not say much. We talked a little about our landlord, who he thought was fair, which was not something I expected to hear about a landlord. He just seemed like a kindly old man. A retired teacher he said.

Then one evening I came home a little after dark and there were bright flood lights playing on my building. Lights for television cameras. A breathless Channel 2 newsman was standing on the stoop steps talking into the camera. I joined onlookers and listened.

Somebody had been murdered. And it turned out he had been a prominent member of something called Namboy, North American Man Boy, an organization to promote sexual relationships between men and male children, and it was clear that this had been the kindly old man from the garden. He had picked up a young man who had sliced him to ribbons. Inside there were yellow police lines blocking off his end of the ground floor. And there was this smell that I somehow knew, not knowing yet how I knew it, was the smell of fresh blood.

And on the radio for the next few days, before they caught him, I heard how the murderer was calling in to the TV station as he made his way down the East Coast from town to town as far as Baltimore, saying he would kill again and again, called in saying that the old man and many others has abused him, saying the old man deserved what he got.

This in the middle of this new life I was leading.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

#29 – DATING

I go uptown for dinner at Jenny’s place. She is in the low nineties near Lexington in a studio apartment that is in the name of her twin brother. The brother, she has told me, is a rich youngish writer on Hill Street Blues. He gave the place to his sister when he was called to the West Cast. She has an actual twin brother! A successful twin!

I go up there in the sharp light of an early winter evening. I take the subway to 86th Street and come up near Loews’s Orpheum, a place I loved long before it was a cineplex, back when I was 11 years old and we moved to the city for the year, to East 84th Street. We were on the sixth floor of a solid old apartment house – Mother and Dad and Peter and me and Mother’s Southern mother, Grandmother Clark. Then, mysteriously, Gaga and Nana arrived to take a similar apartment for the winter two flights below us. Soon they were joined from London by Aunt Betsy and her five-year-old son Robin, the one whose father had been killed while in the RAF before he was born. All these people together for the winter as we often were in the summer. And Peter and I were placed in a cramped, musty and cruel faux Anglo school, Allen-Stevenson, where my father had once suffered and that was everything my open and free public school in Connecticut was not.

Though Peter was no outcast, like me, at Allen-Stevenson, he did join me in fantasizing about what we would do when we got back to Connecticut, which was to act like the farm people our family had, it seemed to us, almost become when for two years during the war, to get around rationing, Mother and Dad had added first goats, and then ducks, and then two huge black pigs to the chickens we were already raising. In our room in the city, Peter and I hand lettered a sign to advertise the roadside egg business we fantasized we would start when we had escaped back to Conneticut.

But meantime, hard as things got at that vicious school, there was the big, exciting Orpheum. I could see it up on 86th before I turned down from 84th towards Allen-Stevenon on 78th. On the way I would go by a pet store where I acquired white mice. Gaga, in his tweed hat, was the one who took us to the movies. We saw The Harvey Girls at the Orpheum. I could not work up enthusiasm for the goody goody played by Judy Garland. I was in love with the young Angela Lansbury's bawdy and lovely barroom prostitute, though at that point my ideas about the sex act were so uninformed that if I had somehow gotten the clothes off a bawdy prostitute I would not have known where and why to make the insertion with my still tiny but very interested penis.Gaga also took us to look down at the city from the elevated railroad that ran along Third Avenue, but what we saw from that distance did not seem as immediate as the Orpheum.

There is big Jewish deli now in 1986 across from the Orpheum on the south side of 86th Street, the sort of place I started patronizing the moment I was in New York on my own. Across the street there is no sign now of The Corso, a Latin dance place where I met Irma in 1960 when Vannie was out of town, the night of a memorable blow job. But some of the old German umpa band places are still around, and on Lexington I see there is still a restaurant Dad had told us was a hangout for politicians. Near the big deli there is a Marlboro bookstore now, featuring cheap remaindered books, which had not been a category of bookstore when I was in the 6th grade, at which time a neighborhood bookstore would likely be a Womrath’s which was also a private lending library. Gaga had been unhappy when the news came that Womrath’s was buying his latest book in bulk for that meant people could read it without purchasing it.

Near the deli there is small flower shop which I do not remember but looks like it has always been there. I get a Jolly bunch of what I guess are lilies, even though this is mid-winter, to take up to Jenny’s.

A bright faced older woman is coming out of Jenny’s building as I am going in and she gives me a nice conspiratorial look that makes it clear that she is especially happy to be witnessing this particular part of a traditional love story, the guy on his way with flowers to woo a lady. And again I am in many different time periods at once – picking up Kitty in Greenwich, Bonnie in Bangkok, Vannie in Athens, Sheila in Singapore, Mary Anne in Manila and all those New York girls, and even those summer girls way, way back in New Hampshire. All time is the same time.

Monday, November 2, 2009


And I remember all the dark tales of childhood -­ of people being struck by lightning almost anywhere -­ freezing to death in sudden mountain storms - dying from blood poisoning after scratching themselves on rusty nails - crashing out of control cars careening down from Franconia Notch - being clawed to death in pine woods by angry Mama bears.

New Hampshire. These White Mountains townships, Sugar Hill and Franconia, that our houses straddled. On that trip up last September for the English Party, they still looked just as they looked more than forty years back when I was a child here. And they would have looked just the same when my parents were children, except that I knew from old photos that so much of what had looked to me like part of an eternal forest had when, my parents were small children, been open fields.

The summer people’s houses, not a one of them owned by either a Jew or a local person, still contrasted with the bare bones farms in this rocky windblown landscape. These houses were so perfectly decorated and so formal and the people in them dressed up every evening – and yet they were part of the countryside in the sense that so many of the people in them, including older people, hiked – they called it “climbing” - in the Franconia Range, which we saw towering over us, and sometimes in the more distant Presidential Range too, using the “huts” of the Appalachian Mountain Club, where the men and women hikers slept separately on bunks in dormitory rooms and everyone ate great hearty meals at long, unfinished wooden tables, the food carried up the mountainsides by healthy college boys, who were what we might become one day. People who went to the same boarding schools and colleges, had relatives in the summer communities, and shared a love for New Hampshire’s mountains that started in infancy. This was the outdoors and we were part of it and so not completely separate from the world beyond the family houses.

But when my non-identical twin brother Peter and I were children walking between birches on Davis Road, past the driveways for all our family places and also for the places of our grandfather Gaga’s old Princeton roommate Otto Mallory, we would often imagine ourselves in worlds that went beyond the summer places. We fantasized about how when we were older we would make it be more like pioneer days here, like worlds beyond our big summer houses’ grounds, for we would open a roadside log inn and restaurant right among the birches on Davis Road, and in the inn we would wear and also sell heavy boots and black and red checked flannel shirts – and the place would be open not just to family and certified family friends but to everyone.

And anyway not everything about our life outside the formal summer world was fantasy. I was amazed that tucked away here in the midst of our houses, down a bit from our dark, circular, ominous House on the Hill, in sight of our rambling old Farm House, across from the long winding driveway through woods to our main house, White Pines, and just up from yet another of our houses, White Wings, quite close the Poole Playhouse, which had once been for dances and theatrical shows, right here near the middle of all this was the Caretaker’s Cottage, which was heated with a pot belly stove, and, even more amazing, out in front was the pickup truck the caretaker used. Our truck!

And in the direction of our tennis court there was a barn that was our barn, and with a cow, our cow, that supplied the fresh milk Peter and I drank and our housekeeper Mrs. Miner used in cooking, with the cream served on Nana’s breakfast tray. The caretaker’s old wife taught Peter and me to milk the cow. It was hard at first, but soon we caught the rhythm and while I worked, pulling the udders just firmly enough so as not to hurt the cow, the warm milk zinged against the side of the milking pail, and I was one with a big world.

When we were very small our nurse, Ann, took us one day to the caretaker’s place. Lying on a bed in the cottage's small, low-ceiling living room was his sweaty old father, who was unshaven, dressed in long underwear, and apparently unconscious, so out of touch with what was around him that shiny black flies were alighting on his nose and eyelids. For not the first time in this idyllic summer world, I felt the nearness of death. It was so often in the air here in the White Mountains where, where in addition to warnings about deadly dangers all around, so much of the talk was about better days. And I had felt death the only time I ever saw my great grandmother, Mrs. Winterbotham, who one day was in a bathrobe standing in the doorway to the Farm House, which she, no farmer herself, had owned forever and which had been the first of the houses belonging to our family. These houses that could seem to constitute an entire world.

When we were a little bit older there was a caretaker who had a son, Teddy Noyes, who was our age and became our friend, along with Teddy’s friend Herby Whipple, who became our friend too. Together we built a tree house platform on a path through the pine woods leading to one of our two "reservoirs," which were bigger than wells, rectangular rather than circular, and with shingled roofs. We were aware that Noyes and Whipple were big names among the year-round people. At this point I saw no real barrier between the “them” and the “us.”

Mother and Dad were in the mountains for two weeks, driving around with Peter and me in our Plymouth convertible – which Dad, to Mother’s disgust, had purchased just before the auto plants were converted to making war machines. It seemed to me that by now, with the war ended, we had had that Plymouth forever, and that it had become dowdy and old hat. But when we all stopped in front of the caretaker’s cottage to pick up eggs before turning down to White Pines, the whole Noyes family came out to see this modern car. And watch how Dad could make the top go up or down by pushing or pulling something on the dashboard.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Soon in my bright apartment a lampshade was ringed by those little metal lapel pins, a different color for each day, that proved in the Met that you were legal because you had paid at least a tiny donation, if not the asking price.

I was also in the Frick and the Guggenheim and the Drawing Center and the Brooklyn and the Whitney and Met over and again, and soon the galleries on the Upper East Side and along 57th Street and in Soho and in the East Village.

And in my new range I almost immediately had paintings that I was visiting several times a week. Some brought up fearful darkness. In the Met and the Whitney, Gorky’s sexual organs that grew razor sharp blade edges and fish hook thorns. In the Met, the bullying gray woman looking down on the boy in Matisse’s mostly harsh Piano Lesson. And then the northern Renaissance paintings in the Met that created horror in me with their aqua skies splashed with blood red.

These paintings that face horror, and others that are the reverse. At the Frick, Claude Lorraine’s mount and Bellini’s St. Francis. In the Met and the Guggenheim, Pissaro’s generous world view. At the Met, Bellini’s very alive madonnas and Courbet’s equally glorious and not unrelated undressed women of flesh. Diebenkorn’s great squares of color in the Brooklyn. Hopper’s sunlight at the Whitney. Bonnard's ghostly dining table scenes in the Me. And in the Met Matisse’s bronze girls. Everything by Monet and Manet, though maybe Renoir was merely a memory of what I had once hoped would be easy. As in the Rembrandt self portraits and depictions of his two women he loved. And then in Constable at the Frick trees and rivers, a white horse, the smell of mud in springtime. And in Daubigny, whom I had never heard of until I saw his work in the Brooklyn, my memory of green river banks on slowly flowing rivers, causing me to get at something I knew once and had nearly forgotten.

And that same feeling about the 17th century landscapes of Hobbema, which seemed far more evocative of nature, more Constable like, than the cooler ones by the critics' favorite, van Ruisdale. But this part of my adventure in art came to what felt like a violent end.

In the Met I was standing in front of Hobbema woods – a clearing, a thatch house, a pathway disappearing among thick, tall trees in the middle distance, in the near distance the trees so clear that you'd think he'd painted each leaf separately. Or you would think that way if you believed the words of a guide that I overheard speaking about this perfect summer day. Woods on a summer day.

I stood there feeling, to my surprise, quite blank. A death-like lack of feeling. I knew the Hobbema well by how. Why today could I not connect with this summer day that had been evoked here?

So like death, it kept seeming, this inability to place myself in this version of sunshiny nature.

That night I entered a feverish series of dreams in which I was caught in dark and dangerous woods – caught in Hobbema’s woods – a place now of infinite danger. And as the night wore on these Hobbema woods were also the deep woods of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the family place of huge cold formal houses and avalanche streaked mountains, which until recently I had thought of as being as warm and beautiful as, frequently more warm and beautiful than, anything else I had seen in my years of traveling.

I went back to the Met. If before this I would not admit to the darkness of the Hobbema scene, this time I could see nothing nice or even summery in it. But I went back like a soldier who knows he had sworn an oath to press one. And like a soldier who has a life away from the battlefield, I also had Constable and Daubigny and Deibenkorn. Not to mention Manet’s Dejeuner sur les Herbs, which I had visited and revisited in Paris at 16 and afterwards kept in my head. This possibility of a life – these artists on a picnic with their nude model.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


A few days later I am back again on the Upper East Side, this part of town that I hardly ever visit, not counting that brief time less than a year back when I was more or less living at Jacqueline’s one room place with its indoor Greek columns up near the Carlyle. Now I am walking uptown from a dentist’s office on 57th Street. The dentist is a friend of a guy I knew from Time-Life days who was a master at getting paid writing jobs and loved to carry them out, whatever the silly slant, whatever the trivial subject.

The dentist, Steve, does some pro bono work at an old clinic just off Sheridan Square that in another life I had passed several times a day. He has a bright and glamorous dental hygienist who, my free lancer friend told me, had been reprimanded for the downer of telling a patient he needed better personal hygiene.

At another time she had told me she met the new cardinal and found him cold. The last time I had been there she told me she was studying hypnotism, and that hypnotists would soon be replacing therapists. She is so pretty I become as shy as a child in her presence. She had sent me articles about hypnotism as the new therapy. She planned to go into it as a business, and wondered if I, as a writer, could help. Nothing here that seems very real, except my awareness of her scent as she leans in close to my open mouth.

While Steve is filling a cavity there is an interruption in a WQXR program being piped through the dental office’s music system. The space shuttle has just exploded – the space shuttle that carried not just dumb jocks but an appealing woman who was really a schoolteacher. In of all places New Hampshire.

Nonetheless I feel serene as I walk uptown in the early evening on Madison. Nearing 75th street I see the Whitney has its own building, and has probably had it since some point in the sixties, though I had last seen it in its much smaller old home, which you entered from the Museum of Modern Art. Now it has this big but layered reddish building that for some reason is new to me though it has already been here a number of years. Had I been asleep in those years?

I go in, walk up a flight, and am suddenly listening to a short, ebullient old man who says he is a retired banker and is here as a volunteer docent. I follow him, though I have spent most of my life traveling and have always managed to avoid tour guides.

He said he had loved art since he was a young man in the city and had gotten to know an artist named Sheeler, who was apparently famous but was new to me. I now saw Charles Sheeler’s surprisingly sleek and respectful treatments of industrial scenes. And then I came upon Hoppers like those I had sought in vain at the Met on my recent trip there with Jenny when I had become horribly aware of how limited my range in art had become.

And after the Sheelers, I am looking at a deKooning, heavy on yellow, which of course reminds me of early days with my artist girlfriend Vannie going from Abstract Expressionist viewing to Abstract Expressionist viewing, with many stops in between at their alcoholic home, the Cedar Street Bar on University Place.

Now I an standing in front of Arshile Gorky’s portrait of himself as a small child with his mother in Armenia shortly before the mother starved to death in the Turk-led genocide. And then I am looking at an abstract Gorky called “Betrothal II," which seems to be knife-edge horror and mainly about betrayal – and is more literal than abstract to me. More literal than the figurative portrayal of Gorky and his mother.

And by god I am connected visually again. And could it be I am back in life again? I am stepping right into these pictures.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When I was 2 and 3 and 4 support came from people who lived through a mirror in a wardrobe in a very dark room in a house in New Rochelle with an old barn in back and a trolley line in front. And they were there chattering in my head still after we moved from New Rochelle to Weston. They were real, just as I knew the owl that flew into my New Rochelle room one night was real. This stern, feathery creature landed on top of an open door and looked down on me. Real, though I had no real explanation for it. I just knew that support was there.

And these happy chattering people in this not often unhappy place stayed with me when I traveled. When we went to Atlantic city with Gaga and Nana, I found to my surprise that they were still there in my head at night in the Brighton Hotel.

On this New Year’s Day at the start of 1986 I am thinking about childhood. I am allowing thoughts of childhood for what feels like the first time, certainly the first time in several decades. I sleep late and wake feeling oddly calm though it seems I had gone from alienation to hope in the night following that candlelight meeting on St. Mark’s place. I am calm in the light of day as I stroll about my neighborhood. I then go to an early evening meeting.

New Year’s Day is a Wednesday, so it is the same meeting I went to the first time – the one at the big French order church St. Jean’s on the Upper East Side. The meeting that has come to seem normal, but had caused such terror in me so recently.
But now it is like returning to watch the next episode of a familiar serial. I am following the adventures of people I have heard speak before. The overweight three-piece-suit lawyer talking about his Adlerian analyst again and his newest failures with women. The adventurous young lady, soft but sporty, who usually talked about her trips to Russia now hinting about sexual things in the deep and also recent past, and looking less wholesome and more interesting as she talks. A young buy named Dwight who came form a military family and has written a book about his recovery from family violence. I think of my recent anguish, and I appreciate my current detachment.

When the meeting ends I walk alone to the subway, at 77th street. There is a to me pleasing chill to the air now that last night’s unseasonably warm weather is in retreat. The 77th street station is one stop up from the stop that in the deep past I used for my grandmother’s apartment house, where I occasionally cadged a meal or bed. I did not think she had ever been down in the subway herself.

Just after I take a seat in a fairly crowded subway car, time has become timeless . Suddenly I am not detached, am actually connected – connected with something that reminds me of the till now forgotten people from the wardrobe who supported me when I was 2 and 3 and 4. And though seated now in a subway car on the Lexington Avenue line I am seeing myself in a woodland. I who spend so much time in cities and leave cities only for unsafe adventures. I am clearly in the woodland and there is unaccustomed safety. It is night and there is candlelight and I am in a circle of not just supportive people, all of whom seem to be children, but also of friendly forest animals, deer and rabbits and skunks and raccoons. And right here in this candlelit clearing, right here in this number 6 subway car, I hear a warm voice turning loud and angry with the words, “Who wants to stop this children?”

And anger sweeps through me. And just as it peaks it slides down into such sadness that I am actually crying right here on New Year’s Day night in the subway.

And then the sadness sweeps me into anger again. And anger and sadness seesaw in my being as I leave the subway and go back up to my apartment again.

At some point my head clears, as if I am returning from an unearthly place. I realize I am in my apartment in the small hours of the morning. And I am drinking milk and eating Famous Amos cookies, which I have never had before and have no memory of having picked up on my way home .

Monday, October 26, 2009


I was carrying notebooks with me these days, but I hardly wrote anything in them, though in this darkened place I made sure mine was with me on my lap.

I did not write anything in it for there was nothing here to write. I thought of when years ago I had been traveling around the obscure, virtually unmapped, eastern parts of Anatolia and making all sorts of journal notes about interesting things, from bear baiting in dusty village squares to a knife fight on a speeding bus to a ghettoized red light district where a rare pretty girl among beaten down women sat nude in a window. I described strange fast sex starting the moment I walked in and she drew the blind. And also other strange people I met – like a young Ivy League type American, a sort who would become so familiar to me later in Southeast Asia, this one mysteriously living in a cheap hotel in a dusty nowhere town. He asked me to describe in detail every place I had been and everyone I had met, and so he must have been a low level CIA person. And I had tried to recreate in notebooks the sweeping landscapes,
and the Roman ruins that nobody knew about and the places where there had been whirling dervishes – all these interesting things.

And in the candelight meeting now I thought also of traveling across Africa alone in market trucks. I thought of my time in revolutions or near revolutions – Haiti, Cuba, Angola. And in Laos and Burma, and of course the heart of Borneo darkness. All these things that I thought defined me, all these times in which I had made notes fairly confident that I would write books about what I was seeing – and sometimes I did. But there was nothing to take notes about here in this room.

There were several people sitting on the stage, led by a man with a firm professor’s voice named Ram who was part of the Rajneesh cult that had been in the news, something I would never go near. There was a pleasant young lady with long light brown hair who said she was a fashion designer and said many people came to ACOA and then found they had to stop drinking or drugging and joined AA or NA or some other A. This didn’t apply to me, since I did not drink anymore and only, unlike with my drinking, had occasional cocaine, but it was rare and I never bought it myself. So here right at the start was one of many things that night that did not apply to me.

And then a man with a sloppy grey beard squinted through half glasses and read something he had taken off an inspirational Christmas LP about living in the present, which he seemed to think was original. And then a clean cut guy got up and talked about that harrowing Frost poem I had read in my near terminal depression, about the sick old hired hand from the awful family. And the guy speaking actually quoted that disturbing line about home being where when-you-have-to-go-there-they-have-to-take-you-in as if he thought it was saying something positive about homes – which thank god was something people here in these meetings were rarely positive about, and seemed to me the most stupid misreading of the deadly poem. And Lisa talked and talked about her cat throwing up. And there was a lot more, people telling stories, but this non-story part was the part I focused on.

I focused on my picture of a girl I knew slightly from meetings who was here this night in a low cut satin like dress such as often inaccessible pretty girls used to wear for holiday parties when I was much younger. Like with the girls back then, when she leaned over I could see almost to her nipples. In another meeting she had talked about how she could not understand why she kept trying to please people, including her boyfriend, whom she was so careful not to disturb after sex because he thought it was so important that he have uninterrupted dreams, from which he would wake up from time to time to write the latest one down, and then go straight back to sleep, and she obediently refrained from touching him.

And then the meeting was over. Midnight having come and gone. I drifted to a diner where some people I did not know were going and we all sat around and I felt isolated. It was after midnight now and our table was the only sober one in the diner, but I had no more connection with people at the sober table than with those at the drunk tables.

And when I got back to Chelsea I did start to write in the notebook I was still carrying. I started to write about how hopeless I felt, what a grim night it had been, though it had started out so well at my old friends’ party in the Village, and had seemed so promising as I sort of glided across Manhattan through timeless cinema-like scenes in this Indian summer night. But the candlelight meeting – what was that all about? – and haven’t I been here before? – in places, like the candlelight room, like the diner, with people with whom I have no connection? Like someone lost in a Hopper painting.

And then as I was writing it I skipped back to just before the diner. And It was the end of the candlelight meeting – and Ram asked in his firm, cultivated voice if there was anyone here who had been coming to these meetings for less than ninety days. And I put my hand up along with a few others, and then less than 60 days, and I was the only one with my hand up, and he asked from the stage if now, when everyone would join hands, I would lead the serenity prayer.

I had forgotten this part just after it happened. The moment the people and the place stopped seeming ridiculous. I did not remember it while in the diner, or in the subway home – the E train from its multi-tiered West 4th Street station at 8th street to the northern exit of the more humble 23rd Street stop, which came out right across from my building on 25th Street. I had forgotten that part. My joining. Oh god, nothing was what I thought it to be. I was right there in the middle as we all held hands and I led the prayer
my saying a prayer being as unlikely as my leading one. And it did not matter if no one in my imaginary audience for my writing had any idea of what I was writing about. Nothing like that mattered now.

Friday, October 23, 2009


On that warm humid, New Year's Eve night that felt like a midsummer night, I left Joan’s and started to walk across Manhattan west to east, so as to be on St. Mark’s before midnight. The streets I was traveling were filled with lively pedestrians who did not need overcoats in this out-of-season, out-of-time time. The light, too, was warm. Facades seemed to glow. People moving not fast but with a celebratory purpose, most of them dressed up, many carrying bags with wine bottles, passing each other, crisscrossing, walking as if gliding in the warm, charged evening. Like well-groomed potentially erotic characters in some foreign film. But also, I knew, a scene that went beyond anything I could compare it to.

For it was a walk that that even at the time seemed like the dividing line after which nothing could remain unchanged.

It is a little after 11 when I leave the party at Joan’s. From Seventh I walk through Sheridan Square which, when I had lived on Waverly between Christopher and 10th years back, had seemed like a lobby for my use. Now I hear Irish music from the Lion’s Head – and think of how I listened to radio music surreptitiously on childhood nights in Connecticut.

On Waverly I pass right under the pair of half story high windows on a narrow brown building where, for a little over two years between Greece and Bangkok, in the time I was turning 30, I had lived and sort of loved and thrown well-fueled parties, knowing that whatever the size of a place if you packed it beyond capacity the party would be a good one.

I come to Greenwich Avenue, a sort of main street in my old neighborhood, and walk down diagonally to Eighth Street, past the subway stop on Sixth that I had used in my brief time as a job holder. Again there are people everywhere moving through the warm night. And now I walk east on Eighth, passing two movie theaters where I had first seen Goddard and Truffaut as their films were coming out. And through Astor Place, past the building to which the agent who sold my Philippines book had recently moved, and then past stately Cooper Union, where all artist students are on scholarship, and the seedy upstairs Five Spot, where I often went late at night to drink and struggle to connect with Ornette Coleman and the like.

I continue on now past Third Avenue as Eighth Street becomes St. Mark’s Place, which still has its old hotel and its ominous old baths and its art and trinket and kinky clothes stores that have always been there, just like the sixties still, though already like the sixties before the sixties started. And on to the heavy old building that had been the Polish National Home, then for a time became the a dance place, the Electric Circus. I go up a steep stoop stairway that passes over a semi-basement which is crowded with old men in what must be a marginal people’s AA meeting. Then up two flights to a big dimmed-light meeting room that has candles burning on a stage.

I had been in a smaller meeting room here once this month with Jenny for a strange thing called The Course on Miracles. It was supposed to have been channeled from somewhere and had seemed to me like soft Reader’s Digest spirituality, though it attracted a number of the people who were regulars at the very tough ACOA meetings I was frequenting.

To the left of the front rows is a second floor fire escape landing, the door there open to this warm night air. Standing on an iron platform smoking is Lisa, who I knew from the meetings. She is a fairly successful but often tortured actress who has a current role on a soap opera that seems to be known to almost everyone. And though her talk in meetings sometimes disturbed me, I appreciate that she is putting her troubled life in order, and I also appreciate that she is more beautiful at forty than I had first noticed.

She talks now about how her cat has been throwing up all evening. But what registers most is that she not only looks good she is friendly. A message from somewhere tells me I should not be so friendly as I would like, for Lisa is a friend of my new friend and potential girlfriend Jenny. So I already owe something to Jenny. I am thinking this as I go to take a seat in a middle row halfway back .

And the already dim overhead lights go dimmer till they go out, and there is no light except the candlelight from the stage. Jenny has not come and Lisa has drifted away. Although everyone in the room – is it 60 people, 100 people, more than that? – seems almost familiar, these are clearly not people I know, just people whom I have passed by or who have passed by me. I am here but not here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

#22 – AT JOAN’S

At the crowded party on Barrow Street I met a good looking youngish woman professor who was writing a book about Pissaro the painter – or was it Pizarro the conquistador? I bluffed it till I knew it was the painter and she was in art history – which in my college days was what the most appealing girls at Vassar studied, that and zoology.

She was at Miami University way down in Florida. We talked about my stepson, with whom I had only tenuous ties but whom I had taken there to check out the place. She said she’d use her influence.

Then came a glad-handing friend of Joan’s from City College days, Hank Stern, who would be up for re-election to the City Council.

And now it was noticed that Bill disappeared with a dark-haired, smiling girl who had been on the periphery . They returned and Joan was screaming at him, just like 30 years back.

Then he was gone again. But one of the women pointed out that “that girl wears thrift shop everything.” Which seemed to allow everyone to be friendly again. Though Bill was not back yet when I departed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


By New Year’s Eve in ’85, this search for the past well underway, I was spending crucial time at these meetings with women and men of many ages who were probing deep into their lives, right back to infancy often, searching for what had happened. And I was actually one of these people. I was searching too.

There was a big meeting that would last through midnight on St Mark’s place in that stolid building that had been the Polish National Home, had become the Electric Circus, and now was the site of a lot of meetings, most of them Twelve Step, which were allowed there by a rich woman who had purchased the building to set up a school to prepare women for the building trades.

This was an unusually warm evening for the end of December. So warm and mysterious it could have been Spring in the heart of winter. I started out on Barrow Street in the West Village where my friend Joan Snyder was giving a party in her small apartment. She reminded me of the sort of women Barbara Stanwick had played in black and white movies, though she was wittier and often nicer. I had known Joan first that summer of ’59 when we were both working at night in the Newark Bureau of UPI and she was an unusually alive news work colleague. Some nights when we had the place to ourselves we would drop the routines and get on the phone, both of us, entertain ourselves with mocking interviews with Alan Ginsberg’s father, a conventional man who was well known in northern Jersey as the Poet Laureate of Patterson.

When we were on different shifts we would leave notes for each other
such as that one of us had faked the time on the signoff for a story so that the bureau chief would not see how it had been put on the wire late. One day when he left work the bureau chief gave Joan a letter to mail to some superior over in New York. She opened it, saw that it was asking that we all be required to actually live in New Jersey, and so she destroyed it. Her next note to me was signed "deus ex machina." I thought that was great, though I did not know exactly what "deus ex machina" meant.

Now all these years later Joan was still in news work, with CBS now as a producer for the Dan Rather Evening news. Also, she had recently survived breast cancer, with the help of marijuana, suppllied by a pleasant guy named Bob Browder who had also been in Newark that distant summer.

And in town now, she told me on the phone, was Bill Tangney, who had been a great friend at Princeton, an antidote to Princeton, where he took none of their uptight silliness seriously and, unlike the Princeton clubmen, had unlimited energy. We had worked on the student daily there together and he too had wound up right after college at UPI, covering a right-wing legislature in Ohio. He did it with such flair that there was an article about him in Editor & Publisher. Just before he was in Ohio I was covering an even more right-wing legislature in Indiana, and then while I was still with UPIOwe were we had come at the same time in New York, where I introduced him to Joan and they almost immediately set up housekeeping together.

That was when I was living over near Second Avenue. A few years later, after I was back from the Balkans and Africa, I was with Judy rather than Vannie though he was still with Joan, and we were neighbors in the West village. Bill bought a Vespa, I got a 90 cc. Honda and we went all over Manhattan deep into many heavy drinking nights, sometimes each with a girl on the back of the machine, and it was not always the girl it was supposed to be. Amazing that we did not kill ourselves right off. And then he almost did. The Vespa’s small wheels made it perilous to navigate places like below the West Side Highway where there were cobblestones and potholes, and at three one morning he crashed, with the wrong girl on the back, at a high speed. Like me, he rarely wore his helmet. He was taken to St. Vincent’s hospital, which was near both Joan and me. I would call in, as I did doing newspaper work when someone prominent was badly hurt, to get a report on his condition, and for weeks it was critical, the word “critical” being used sometimes as a code word in newspaper writing for “probably fatal,” a code word like the word "attractive" which was applied to a woman in a news story only if she seemed to the writer unattractive.

Bill survived but with a damaged brain and so could not pick up where he had left his life. By the time of the crash he had joined Joan as a writer at CBS, where he now could no longer handle the work. He somehow wound up in a small city in Virginia where he actually started his own weekly paper and was sort of adopted by the town. And now here he was all these years later up from Virginia at Joan’s place – and it was almost as if 30 years of life had not happened.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


It was only two months later but I was feeling better. I was actually happy to be on the hunt. Most days I went to one of these fierce and satisfying meetings, twice a week at the Corlears school, once at St. Jean's, at least twice at places on the Upper West Side near where I had lived several times including four and a half years in my marriage, and often in the East Village near those places where long ago I had started out. Also, each Saturday now I went to a big gathering
over on East 16th, upstairs at the Friends Meeting House where the old windows framed tree branches that told of the seasons. Each Sunday I did a writing meeting at St. Vincent's down on Seventh and 12th in the West Village, and most Sundays I also did a meeting across Seventh in a St. Vincent’s Hospital annex that, when I had lived around the corner, had been the old-time Maritime Union building.

In these early days of ACOA I did not completely leave my world as it has been before this time. I had not yet stopped smoking the pipes I had adopted in order to get off cigarettes. I had become such a connoisseur that I had a collection of fine straight grains and smoked only the finest Virginia tobaccos, and I had written a book about pipe making, and I still stopped in to share cocaine with a pipemaker friend who lived in Richmond Hill next door to mafia people, and another old friend who lived that grimy Canal Street loft that I had borrowed the previous summer. I did not take the feelings cocaine gave me seriously, but it did seem my occasional consumption was something a debonair man should do. I would have smoked marijuana too if it had not so consistently led me into depression.

I still saw my oldest friends, John and Walter and Alex and Al. I went with John to watch a Japanese man and woman dance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a performance that was was excruciatingly slow and dull, though they were frontally nude. With the holidays coming on, I accepted an invitation to spend Christmas with my Cousin Rob, a family ally, or so I thought. We were different from the others for Rob was in the theater and I had been living a life of adventures and writing. While he had been acting in plays, including occasional brief Broadway runs, I had been being published.

Rob was living, strangely, in a family place – the fake Williamsburg-like town of Princeton adjacent to the fake Gothic university. He was there in a modest blue house with his wife Cynthia, who had danced with Merce Cunningham, and his adopted Korean daughter Kira (named after a friend of his mother, my Aunt Betsy, who was my father’s sister) and he was considering adopting another child. Princeton, where my grandfather had gone, and my father, and, fuck it, me. But he did have an inter-racial family (as indeed I had too not long ago). And besides, he was in Princeton because it was where he was working.

On the edge of the campus there was a very compete old theater, the McCarter, that was independent of the college, where there were sometimes Broadway tryouts and for the past few years a shifting repertory group led by a man Rob had known in the city. Rob was the number two there. I had been down for some of those plays and found them slick but trivial. They did obscure Brecht, Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders fantasy, and, in this fake façade town so proud of early American pseudo-upper class history, a historically altered Shakespeare comedy that Rob set at the time of the American revolution. The rebels of some old Brit ducal faction became George Washington’s people at the nearby Delaware. At one point a replica of the statue of liberty was lowered to the stage floor, to gasps and occasional applause.

After these performances Rob would do a Q and A with earnest aging townswomen who at this time made up the bulk of the McCarter audiences. Rob, one of the few members of the family to actually learn an English accent in England, let the accent get thick with irony as he talked in a supercilious way making fun of each questioner but smiling in his role as a helpful, charming Englishman while he did it – and maybe, I thought, not quite getting away with it. “Oh, so that’s what you think. Ummm. How interesting. Ummm.”

Deirdre, his sister, my favorite, would not be there for Christmas. She had something going on in the Midwest. But it did seem a good move for me to spend a holiday with this particular part of the family. Choosing your own family was something that came up often in the ACOA meetings.

The day I was to go to Princeton I went to a morning meeting where a young woman talked about how she had just gone for a walk and had been looking at the bracelets on her pretty arm and thinking she was really as young again as she still looked now, and how in the middle of the city on this Christmas morning she realized she had never grown up, still had the longings and questions of her youth – almost as if she were not in New York this morning but back walking on a wintry Massachusetts beach listening to the cries of the gulls and wondering when her life would get underway.

So much nostalgia in the air. And I had been buying presents, just as if I still believed. I had gotten a copy of Kay Thompson’s Eloise at the Plaza which everyone had found so charming when it came out. I rememberd receiving it on a long ago Christmas morning. I wrapped it for my Cousin Kira, though I skimmed it first and it seemed now to have warnings about the fate in store for an abused and deserted child. I found a calendar in the stores that year that was about modern art – had everything in from a nude Bonnard woman stretched out, maybe dead, in a bathtub, to a wonderful cartoonish walking bird. I got a copy of the calendar for myself and one as a gift to the Princeton household.

On the subway after the meeting I sat across from an unhappy and lonely looking older man dressed up in sport coat, pressed tan slacks, Christmas red vest and sad, jaunty tweed hat. He was carrying a shopping bag stuffed with gift wrapped presents – clearly on his way to someone else’s Christmas. And just as clearly, it seemed, an outsider, much like a longtime gay pet of my family, a jaunty pianist named Fred Bristol, who would appear at family occasions and make jokes that sometimes held back holiday sadness.

I was relieved to hear that the McCarter Theater was undergoing renovations and so they had canceled Rob’s annual version of A Christmas Carol. Instead there was a catchall Christmas program at Alexander Hall, a strange old round baroque space where in college I had heard Billy Graham and Alan Paton. One part of the program was an outtake from the Little House on the Prairie, a sentimental Christmas story that I drifted away from so thoroughly that it was as if I had had one of those blackouts that had become so common in the last years of my drinking.

Rob played paterfamilias, taking the young people, Kira and Cynthia’s son from an early marriage and Deirdre’s son from her first of several marriages, for checkups with an eye doctor. And he made disparaging remarks about his absent sister. His mother, my aunt Betsy, said she was angry that at nearly 40 Deirdre still looked like the popular and desirable girl she had been before she started getting married. And later out of the blue Rob said “Ah my sister, someone who wants only the frosting on the cake.”

Deirdre, I knew, had always baffled them. My brother Peter once said that the reason he and his wife had never adopted was that they saw how badly families with adoptees (like Deirdre and her late brother Paul) worked out. Nana had seemed to dismiss Deirdre as common, in part, as least, because she did not have the careful hairdos of family women and instead showed off long, straight, silky hair. Deirdre had been something unheard of in this family, a popular cheerleader in an actual high school. Her mother, my Aunt Betsy, now repeated that she was furious that Deirdre was as pretty and loose as the mother had been, and moreover looked so young for her age. And flirted. When Rob spoke of Deidre as being irresponsible, it seemed exactly the way my father had talked of his sister, Aunt Betsy.

Aunt Betsy had moved from the city when Deidre was 11. She had taken her daughter out of the lycée and also ballet school. And then Betsy and her brood had returned to New Hampshire for good when it appeared that Deirdre’s younger brother Paul was about to be sent away to prison on charges of kidnapping and possession of a sawed off shotgun. Thely were denied a vamily house, my aunt deemed irresonsible. So they took the house in the mill town where I had recently been to that awful English party. In New Hampshire a judge given Paul the choice of prison or the army. In the army he had dressed up in a special forces uniform, had his picture taken, and sent it home claiming he was a top undercover killer in Vietnam, though the envelope seemed to have come from Germany. After three years he came back, and was quickly killed in a motorcycle accident. The first in my generation to die.

In Princeton on Christmas Eve we went to a candlelight service at a big stone Episcopal church, where the ersatz medieval décor was in such perfect precious taste it made me cringe. Rob had turned out to be an Episcopalian churchgoer, just like Nana had been. But the Christmas Eve service was better than I had expected, for the minister talked about how this Princeton Episcopal church was a place ready to give sanctuary to illegal aliens who had escaped Reagan era Central American death squads.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I had been working for UPI at night over in Newark that first summer that I had my first place in New York city, which followed college, the army, furnished rooms in Atlanta and Indianapolis. I was living first on 13th Street between First and Second, in a two bedroom apartment with my friend from grade school days Jason Bacon. And then I moved to a 5th floor walkup in a tenement on 11th between Second and Third, which was really the Bowery. One of those very old working persons’ railroad flats where you needed to go through each room in order to get to the next and the bathtub was in the kitchen. I could look north from a small back window and see, framed by minor skyscrapers, the Empire State Building. This so long ago the area was not called the East Village yet.

A new New Yorker cartoon set me back. It was guy with beard, down on the floor at a crowded smoky party talking earnestly with an intense liberated bohemian girl. In the caption he is saying “I have a confession to make. I am really a feature writer for the World-Telegram,” which was a square evening paper that was owned by the same people who owned UPI, where I my self was writing a lot of trivial feature stories though simultaneously living like people in that cartoon. And I wanted to scream that this is not me, that I am really the author of one and a half unpublished novels, and I am leading this little group who has decided we would start a magazine that picked up from where The New Yorker had once been.

And oh Vannie, beautiful leotard-clad Abstract Expressionist. I had met her at a party on the Upper East Side given by Peter Cooper’s pretty and correct sister Sue, who was also my roommate Jason Bacon’s half sister. I want there late, just back in Manhattan via the Hudson Tubes from Newark where I was filling in in the UPI bureau there that summer. On those musty, wicker seat, under-the-river trains I had been reading The Myth of Sisyphus and everything else I could find by Camus about heroic absurdity.

Like me, Vannie was 24 and off on her own. She had been raised and educated in the South but you would not know it from her voice. This connection with Vannie would, with varying degrees of intensity here and abroad, last for several years. I thought I loved her, and not least because she had a kind smile, and not least because she had a face of movie loveliness, framed by soft black hair and with bangs, and a body to match, which was as good as naked to me when she was in leotards. Not least because she painted in bright colors. I thought I had never seen anyone who looked quite so perfect – and so different from the people in the family I came from.

When walking alone in that first year, noticing girls, I was getting competitive about it – for no pretty girl I saw struck me as being as being so pretty as this pretty girl who was my girlfriend. Which felt safe. If I passed a cemetery or a street accident I would say a prayer by rote left over from before I had lost such faith, and I would feel a sexual surge, and pictures of Vannie would fill my imagination.

Vannie and my real life, what I really wanted, whereas wire service journalism was something I had to fake. My serious unpublished work, and my plan to unseat The New Yorker. Though overall I felt contempt The New Yorker I still read it, and each new Salinger story was like a major event in my life. We were into the Glass family now. But to my horror I saw in a new issue a full page cartoon that showed a couple, a guy who did not have to deal with neckties and a girl dressed like Vannie dressed, sitting on the floor at a smoky bohemian party not unlike some parities we went to – and he was saying “ I have a confession to make. I am a feature writer for Scripps Howard.”

I was given silly assignments, like one to stand all night outside an apartment house on the chance that Charles Van Doren, at the center of the rigged quiz show scandal, would show up. His building was not far from Vannie's. I abandoned my post, and I woke her up. And we were a couple, though we had our problems actually coupling, and I saw no need for loyalty because I had seen in my family how women bully men. Which seemed to me then not so much an excuse for my going after other women as it was an attempt at accuracy. At getting life right.

And it did often feel like I was in real life now. Vannie and I went to museums and galleries, which were so important to both of us, and also to constant parties, which seemed more my scene than hers. She was constantly in my mind. As was death. Working for a wire service I was always hearing and writing about death, as in plane crashes or murders. And each time I heard about it, just as each time I passed a graveyard, I had this sudden picture of Vannie accompanied with a sexual surge. One of many things I knew I could never completely understand.

One day we were on our way to Washington to see paintings. I had barely made it to Penn Station in time to meet her, for I had been held up at UPI. Boris Pasternak was dying and, though he was not dead yet, I was at work on his obituary.

Vannie has brought a picnic lunch for us. The train was not crowded, so we took over two facing seats. As happened sometimes, I was not thinking of anything or anyone beyond this moment. While we were laughing at something, the conductor handed us a folded note. It was unsigned. It said, "It makes me happy to see two young people who are so happy together."