Tuesday, September 15, 2009
#9 – CHILDHOOD?
So I am staying here with my old friend Peter Cooper with whom I went through so much in the deep past. Now in his mid-fifties, anyone could see, as I had seen in the past, that he is not just an amusing roundish man with a quick brain, he is what seems to be an actual developed person – as I had thought he would be when we met in the time I was first free of everything over me – boarding school, college, the army, and family (I thought) – and living in New York City where, to my surprise, everything was indeed different – as summed up by how you did usually sleep with the girls you knew, though it was still the fifties and not many people outside Manhattan seemed to have any cause to speak of a sexual revolution. And anyway, it seemed now, 25 years later, that the New York I had stepped into, hardly innocent when I got there, was in a different world from the rest of America – certainly the places I had been living in since I was on my own, Indianaplis and Atlanta, and, European summers to the contrary, far away from my Connecticut home and the New Hampshire family summer base.
And now in this time of seeming hopelessness, something had called me to Vermont for a reunion with Peter Cooper and I found that his eager new wife worked on an assembly line for villainous General Electric and played the organ every Sunday in Rutland's Christian Science Church. And moreover, Peter was a member of a Congregational Church that he took seriously on both a mystical and social action level. I was not accustomed to dealing with church goers.
I try to accept what he seems to be accepting. And it reminds me of the year I was out of collage and had gone to Indianapolis to do political reporting for the old United Press – covering a legislature that met for only 90 days every two years but it was enough to pass a long series of anti—labor laws that made union activity a criminal act. And with a 4 to 1 Republican majority they had gone through the standard right-wing things, from resolutions opposing creeping socialism and Daylight Savings Time to calls for even more intensive persecution of suspected Communists. And then they went after the juvenile codes so that while I as there nighttime burglary (wink wink) in this old Klan place became punishable by death, even if the burglar was a small child.
But I did try to keep an open mind and convince myself that there was something firm and positive in Hoosiers cheering who they cheered – well maybe not their governor, a man named Craig who was a former commander of both the American Legion and the Indiana State Police with an implied Klan background, and whom I saw circling the state fair stadium standing up in the back of a long black convertible with his arms folded on his barrel chest, surrounded by armed thugs in state police uniforms. That was too much for my attempted tolerance, but maybe, I decided, I could be open-minded about maybe Arthur Godfrey, the big radio personality who was becoming more and more right wing and openly bigoted, who did a performance at the fair with maudlin music and a tortured trick horse that was the centerpiece of the fair entertainment that year, though nearly topped by an orchestra that did an imitation of the sounds of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.
I had not made much of an effort to be tolerant in this way since then. And Peter Cooper was no a member of the Kiwanis, much less the Klan, and his wife was anything but vicious, and he did have this book just out, giving us a bond, both of us now having published novels, as we had said we would when back in those early New York days. And yet, this was not my world.
I went to an amateur running of a Neil Simon play that Peter was in, and so were so many from his Vermont circle, and moreover, they all seemed to be tied to the same therapy group, which was a really lightweight seeming thing coming out of something called Transactional Analysis – which was apparently the I’m Okay, You're Okay syndrome.
And yet, it meant so much to me that everyone in Rutland seemed to know Peter. And I came here because I was desperate. And I listened closely when Peter gave me advice from his position as a man who had pulled his own life together and headed a state alcoholism clinic. He advised me not, as I thought he might, to join AA even though I was now ten years without a drink but had not done the program. No, he said, I should join – me a non-joiner – something called Adult Children of Alcoholics – me, who had so successfully avoided even thinking about my childhood, had never given anyone a childhood in anything I had written. No one, much less the characters based on myself.