Sunday, February 28, 2010

#71 – WAR

On a Sunday morning I went back up to the servant’s room where I slept that summer I was 7, up the back staircase from the kitchen area – carrying the comics, which the cook, Mrs. Miner, had saved for me. She had also slipped me one of her sweet, light brown maple sugar cupcakes even though I was under orders not to snack between meals. A maple sugar cake and the comics, what a fine day. I could not remember a time I did not like snacks. And, best of all, I was reading now for the first time. And reveling it, though this did not count for much with the family since my brother had already been reading for three years.

These servants rooms on the top floor were not being used by servants, but they were still blocked off by a set of doors that closed off the hall to rest of the floor where all the adults stayed. Actually Peter and I had started out down below past the kitchen and pantries in a special area called The boys Wing, a section of the house with a room for a nurse, which we did not have this year, and, above a dark playroom, our big airy boys’ room which had beaverboard walls with old travel posers on them – a steamship line that no longer existed, a place to go tramping – their world for it – in Bavaria, when Germany was still a place to visit. This was where my father and uncle has slept when they were young.

One night there were shouts of alarm, and the sound of people running down below. Then cars being started up in the garage, which connected to the playroom. Both Peter and I thought it was the end of the world.

Although they told us nothing had happened, they decided the next morning to move us up to the main part of the house. I liked that that these bare side by side little rooms were was near the kitchen. A steep staircase right outside my door led straight down into a pantry and to the cook, Mrs. Miner, and her little daughter and women from the village who cleaned and served. In another time there had been live-in servants where Peter and I had these separate small rooms, but now – the war for some reason seemed the reason – people who worked at White Pines lived in the Village of Sugar Hill, not in White Pines itself.

I began with one of my favorite Sunday comics, this a new one about adventures in a community of cute bugs who were as distinct as real people. This Sunday the bugs were in uniform and had gone to war, just like real people outside the comics. They were shooting each other and blowing each other up with bombs. Panel after panel of what the family called the funny pages was crowded with very human bugs being shot and blown up. This was much more immediate than the French songbook pictures on the piano stand downstairs. I felt I really knew the bugs, whereas I did not know French soldiers and kings. That such could happen to the these bugs seemed to prove all my suspicions.

A feeling of dread, which already seemed a feeling I knew well, had come over me by the time Auntie Betsy came up to visit me. With her husband killed in the war in England, she was back in the summers at White Pines with the baby who had not been born yet when her husband was killed. On her way up to the White Mountains the first time with her baby she had stopped over in Connecticut. When I went to visit her in the guest room her breasts were bare and the baby started sucking on her nipples. Her skin was darker than the skin of other family women, and unblemished and smooth.

This moment in the guest room had seemed important to me, and her body had seemed familiar. But what I thought of first now when I was so upset about the killing and maiming of the bugs was that she was the one who could tell me about war. Gaga, her father, my grandfather, had been doing something billed as big in World War I, and he had worked to get America into World War II, but Aunt Betsy was the war expert I trusted.

I wanted to tell her about what was happening to the bugs I had like so much. But she was immediately telling me about something as bad or worse. She was saying she had heard from a friend about Americans who were captured by the Japanese. What the Japs did, she said, was try to get the American boys to tell secrets, and whether they told or not the Japs would use sharp knives to cut their tongues out.

I knew that everything I had been suspecting for as long as I could remember, was true.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


My new outdoors and indoors Saturday routine as I probed the past in 1986 made me think of routine I adopted in Paris when I was 16.

I was surprised that summer that Mother knew about these artists called Impressionists, for painting was not something that was part of this family (not counting my suave paternal Great Uncle Abram, a portrait painter who had once been married to a woman who ran off with Greta Garbo and had recently, although very old, married a rich woman who ran Vogue magazine.

The sort of thing that they said was so unlike anything in our family, saying it each time anything entailing sex happened ). But suave Uncle Abram did not paint like what I was seeing now. My regular routine now of first the Olympia to see cheerful naked girls, then to the Place de la Concorde to the Jeu de Pam to look at my favorite artists now that I had favorite artists – Monet and Manet and Renoir. But by nightfall I was back in the family at dinner at our hotel, where I had to hear about how my twin, my rival, Peter was so fine he had bought an old book by someone named Diderot at the stalls along the Seine. And they sheltered him one morning when he seemed to be having a nervous breakdown – Grandmother Clark called these episodes "Peter's spells" and seemed to find something heroic in them – this last spell brought on when he was nervous about a shy pretty American girl in the hotel dining room.

And there were other haunting matters in Paris that summer when I was 16 an finding new life but also death. I did not know until just after I first went there that the Place de la Concorde was where so many of the guillotinings had taken place, including the king, whose head was chopped off at one end of the huge open square and some months later Marie Antoinette, at the other end. In a sense I knew all about this. Nana, the grande dame grandmother, used to sing to us when we were very small, French songs, in French, from a songbook that had illustrations of people spouting red blood from necks that had been chopped in the course of their beheadings, and also of French soldiers in fancy uniforms spouting blood from where limbs had just been sliced off with swords.

Nana was supposed to have been in Paris with us, but she got hit by a car that was driving on the left while she crossing a street in London, so right now she was in a London hospital. But I did feel her presence. For although so much was new and fresh, so much was also from other times, and this was a family, led by Nana, that seemed certain past times were better than present times.

That year, 1951, Paris seemed to be fully from past time. We had just been in London which was in past time to the point of having such strict wartime rationing still that I was constantly hungry there. In Paris the signs of other times were appealing – squared off buses with open air platforms on the back, like in children’s picture books, and pissoirs on the corners, and flower ladies everywhere, and also, like in books, actual streetwalker prostitutes– and, moreover, gendarmes wearing dramatic capes – one of whom was at an intersection to direct traffic but right there with cars honking he was busy kissing a pretty girl, bending her back so that she was almost horizontal. And despite the family I wondered if this could not be present time too.

In London we had stayed in a small flat where Aunt Betsy lived all year except for the summers, when she was in White Pines in the White Mountains with her son, Robin, a then intensely unhappy little boy who knew many of her lovers but never his father, who had been killed din the war. Also her adopted problem child Paul. In White Pines, though I thought not in London, she wore her late husbands RAF wings as costume jewelry , even though he had not been killed heroically in the Battle of Briton – the family story told by family members who knew better – for he had died in a drunken accent when he and a friend broke onto an airfield at an RAF base after the pubs closed, took up a plane and promptly crashed it. And this too, the real story as well as the fake story, fit well with a family who kept pushing the idea that everything used to be better than it was now. This family that was with me even in Paris!

Friday, February 26, 2010


It felt awful the way Susan and Abigail used the word “us,” including me as “one of us”. Though when I was 16 I might have been overjoyed if anyone except a dumb jock or a dumb Republican or a good-taste wasp has included me in the “one of us line.”

Not that I sympathized with religious people. For this was area in which my views had been fixed since night in the summer of 1951

That night I was alone with my twin Peter in a second class compartment (the parents and Grandmother Clark were up in first) on a train from Venice to Paris going through Switzerland. In daylight we had come up along the Italian Riviera, which I had not known existed, over and again coming suddenly out of tunnels into bright red-roofed seaside resorts, dazzled by those bright tile roofs and gleaming white walls and yellow flowers and the brilliant azure and green and blue sea that met the mountains, passing by the gates of white-washed hotels that looked like places where people fell in love in tantalizingly dangerous ways that were in my head my head if not my experience. Then, after another tunnel, the longest yet, we were in high Swiss valleys as night was falling.

We bought chewy, honeyed Toblerone chocolate, still unknown in America, and crusty ham sandwiches, from out the train window at the little Swiss mountain stations. I started reading” The Importance of Living," a kind of popular introduction to the Orient written by a former Shanghai Methodist named LinYutang. I had picked it up early in the summer in Paris, where we had gone before Venice, and now were headed back to Paris again. I had found it on the Rue de Rivoli in an English language book store that had the banned-in-America books of D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce and Henry Miller. To me it was in some ways as exciting as all these other books though it was the only one that did not fit with the grainy black and white photos of nude ladies we'd purchased like buyers of contraband from street sellers along the seine.

I read it as amazing relief from the trapped feeling that had descended on me and not left even as I was devouring art in the Jeu de Paum and watching pretty girls dance nude at the Olympia, while fantasizing about staying on a in Paris to be a poet -- so far away from deadly conservatism and that family that I wanted to love but did not seem to much love me. Especially not when I was stuck with them all summer. My brother and I did not even have our own passports, we were on our mothers’. Which was fine for my brother who seemed the center of their worlds again, the good boy who would do them proud unlike his trouble-making twin -- I had recently gone from dumb and bad to merely bad - me. The horror when thrown close with the family again to find it was as if nothing has happened in all these years, all those triumphs on exams and with the school paper and in debating, debating and with girls and with even academics, me, who until the past two years had known I was the outsider, the dumb impossible twin whom no one would ever believe. And now I was right back there again.

The son of a Methodist minister, Lin at the time he wrote this book had decided, he was in favor of what he called paganism. In describing his reasons for rejecting Christianity he spoke of an aesthetic conception of God in which the deity – unlike the God of the Christians – could not be begged for small presents, and would certainly not male an ocean wind blow a sailing ship the way a prayerful believer wanted and against anyone sailing the other way.

His ocean wind line pushed me over the edge I had been approaching: not only would I not pray, I would never trust any god, or any person. And this seemed to me to mean life could to on It was a huge relief. So, unless required by a school, I did not enter a church for any reason other than tourism from then until this time now, when the Met felt like a church, and I wished I could banish the Roman room to the same small place as the those really comic gargoyles on Notre Dame.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

#68 – ROMANS

I was happy to be alone in the park and the museum, which had become my Saturday morning routine. There would be plenty of people in the afternoon at a gathering at a cheery and happily liberal left upstairs place way over east in the 20s. The previous Saturday I had agreed to meet Abigail in the park, and that was when it dawned on me that this very gray and bitter lady wanted me and was stalking me.

In a cold sort of way Abigail was intensely intelligent and could be moving about things she disliked. And we were both in a subset of people determined not to let this wild and hard program, where we probed the past, move back into something genteel and conventional and religious as we thought AA must be. And Abigail was particularly biting when she stared talking about people who spoke of god or wanted to close a meeting with the lord’s prayer. And Susan, a clinical therapist who was at last getting on to what her own family and an addict husband had done to her, was not so biting, but talked about anyone who opposed religious trappings as being “one of us.” Including young George, who came to these meetings drunk sometimes – “one of us," Susan said, even though these meetings were packed with people who had been badly abused by alcoholics.

I was glad to be alone and away from Abigail and also away from people I liked, and I was already in the museum in my mind by the time the subway got to 86th Street. I could picture every room in the European Painting area, in the American wing, in the 19th century section and the new 20th century wing. While walking over to Fifth I pictured myself coming into the museum, turning left, handing over a tiny donation, rather then the exorbitant suggested donation, to get a colored button as my pass, going past those almost out of context Cypriot statues and the ancient wall with ancient paintings, and then the Greeks, heroic and otherwise, and a bigger than life size woman saying farewell and also being inviting from the side of an old late classical Greek grave stele. And from there, I was thinking, I would stop for mediocre coffee in the big old world circular restaurant, and then head through Oceana fast to get to the 20th century – Hopper and Bonnard and everything in between, and then circle around though another millennium,

When I got to the museum I was following my plan. I turned left but was stopped before I got to even the Cypriots, To go by this route to anything I liked in the museum I had to pass through a room of Roman busts which till now I had gone through hardly looking around me, moving as quickly as when I went through the things from Oceana. But on this day I stopped. I was beneath a bigger than life black marble standing statue of a threatening Cesar who could well be on an old Nazi. And all around were these portrait busts – the only original Roman art – mug shot busts of the rich Romans who commissioned these works and hence had to have approved how they turned out -- even more of a departure from idealized Greek statues than my comforting farewell scene woman. These knife edge Romans so far from comforting that I was instantly filled with horror verging on terror. I knew these people. I know these faces. I had been around them all my life. Intelligent faces, most of them. Hints of humor, if snide irony counted. Sometimes no irony, just petulant fury – as in one that seemed a mug shot of my brother.

And I hoped this was the last gasp of cold antiquity. For the first time since I lost my faith at 16, which was close to 40 years before this time, it occurred to me that the arrival of Christianity was not a bad thing. Which did not feel like a call to action, nor like something to be dismissed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I thought of what Gaga’s accomplishments had meant to me even as I spoke of him in his last years when he would sit at the far end of the long shiny dining table, opposite to Nana, who was way up at the other end. He would look at his food but not eat much of anything beyond a few spoonfuls of the soup that appeared just after you put your finger bowl aide. A few spoonfuls while he talked so much about the past that I was sure he preferred it to the present, talking not just about dramatic past places but even about how he was happy now to go on is walks with memories of dogs long dead rather with than a live dog in the present.

I spoke of a time I was a pre-teen and Gaga got into a newspaper debate with a new novelist, Charles Jackson, who was famous then for writing a best seller called The Lost Weekend. Jackson was leaving the New Hampshire town in which he had just settled with his book and movie money because of the bigotry against him and all Jews. The town, Orford, was not our Franconia or Sugar Hill, and though on the way to our places it was a valley town more than a mountain town. It was one of the last landmark places we drove through each year on our way up from Connecticut. Lining a park-like village green, across form the surprisingly majestic Connecticut River were Orford’s regionally famous, imposing white clapboard houses that looked like what I thought mansions must look like, or would be mansions if it were not for built-in New England restraint. It was one of these restrained showplace houses on the green that had been purchased by this outsider Jackson.

In these groups I continued making grim fun of Gaga, who had taken me aside when I was 10 to tell me it was okay to exclude Jews from our summer towns, and in his newspaper debate now he claimed that there was no anti-Semitism here. He would work on the piece in the morning, and bring it to lunch to read aloud at the long formal dining table. And I had been making fun this year of stately Nana too, telling how at the dining table she said “It isn’t Jews we dislike, it’s the kikey ones.” This word spoken by this woman who considered the word “stomach” a word too raw for polite society.

And I made constant fun of my brother the good boy/smart boy, always favored above me, me whom I believed they found contemptible and were sure would come to come to a very bad end. And I sometimes shouted about sexual things that probably, certainly, had been done to other children in this family where so many others were now coming to bad ends. Chickens coming home to roost, it seemed.

Often in my childhood I had this feeling that death was near, death so much in the air in summer – mama beers and lightning on golf courses and car crashes on three-mile hill, and freezing to death in a sudden winter mountain storm in summer, or death, if not amputation, from blood poisoning after scratching yourself on a rusty nail. So much that would mean my death and the deaths of anyone I cared for. But that was not the whole story even then.. There was something more I cold not access. From back then when, as now in 1986, that haze would descend on memory.

Now, so many years later, in my bright new apartment on 25th off eighth. I wake up, having not the night before and not for some time done things I knew would lead to fuzziness and hangover. I wake but lie still for a time, closing my eyes, aware that there is something I do not want to face. It is exactly like other times I had shoved out thoughts of the death of someone important to me – a friend, or a Kennedy, or girl I had been with who had just committed suicide. And like then, I close my eyes and try not to zero in on death that is floating around out there somewhere.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


It had been quite a year and this was not officially summer yet. This year I had taken the family secrets across enemy lines and told anyone who would listen all the things the family kept undercover. This year in which the landscape of my life, past as well as present, had so radically changed.

And while I did not have the kind of clear images that Michelle called The Visuals, I was absolutely certain clear pictures would come into focus. And meanwhile, I did not a think that I was being unfair to talk freely about Peter being in the dread CIA while I, quite heroically, was on the other side. Or to tell all these people from other places about the family’s fake British accents, their fake war hero, their focus on fake Gothic Princeton and other correct places. And cruelty to children, and my mother’s alcoholism, and the patterns I saw emerging as my cousins died young, and worse.

Sometimes when I concentrated while alone it seemed like there was a dark haze settling in that made it very hard for me to see what I knew had to be there. And sometimes I got off the subject as other images appeared.

At the same time I was exposing the pseudo aristocrats who summered in the White Mountains I could dream of moments when I was turning 16 and had what seemed to me a sensitivity to nature worthy of Keats and Wordsworth, and found that I was popular in our summer gang and not quite so unpopular now at school, and found that girls liked me. And always remembering that, although the - view of the Franconia range of the White Mountains may have been the official family view, those mountains were also a part of my own sensitivity and evolving sensibility, my own, distinct from anything anyone in the family alive understood and felt and saw.

And while I was exposing the place, I did, almost in spite of myself now, see more that was not all negative. That maybe my adventures that took me geographical far from the place might in some way maybe even be tied to indelible admiration for the adventurer that Gaga had been before he turned conservative.

Though even when I was on the attack I did not completely rid myself other memories. Such as that time Peter and I walked up to the caretaker’s house to get some eggs and Peter did something that made me feel so betrayed it was as if my life were over. But Nana did not just accept, as the others would, that I was in the wrong, that anything said by Peter had to be believed. This was when she asked a very loaded question I did not think I would hear in the family. She asked me, me the bad, slow twin then, the question, What’s wrong?

Nana who went to plays and concerts, and could discuss with me the books I was reading in the summers, even Turgenev, which I had found in Gaga’s study and which no one outside the family seemed to have heard of.

And now in 1986 I was relating all this before people who could not possibly side with that distant past version of my brother. I was making fun of the good boy/smart boy twin, always favored above me. I was making fun of all of them. And I sometimes spoke now about sexual and other things that probably, certainly, had been done to other children in this family.

Monday, February 22, 2010


There had been no other year quite like this year so far, this year of time travel. And by the end of spring I knew I had the goods on these people of the past, and this overrode for me memories of Nana’s kindness. And also memories of how it had been so crucially helpful to me when I was an outcast to recall, even when the boarding school boys were beating me, that Gaga had been an early active socialist – going after the bad people in what was surely his concern for justice, though he never said a word against the respectable rich people of Chicago form whom he had come. Nana once said they had had to move east because they were too liberal, too unusual, for Chicago. The criticism was too unpleasant. Which seemed a little strange when I heard if, for going beyond what was commonly accepted did not seem to be in the nature of people of these summer towns in New Hampshire that seemed to at some point have become Gaga and Nana’s main base. These towns for which I did feel affection..

I was out to explode the accepted versions, but one part of the family lore that was true was that Gaga had been in the first phase of the Russian revolution. And Nana once told me that she felt too awful to go on during long months she would read news accounts that mentioned Ernest Poole was missing somewhere in Russia. I had not known that Nana could ever fall apart, and I wondered if she were telling me that because when she did I seemed so down. It was in my first year of college when I felt everything I had wanted – Kitty and the debating championship and the gang of summer friends and this idea of being a poet full time in Paris – had come to nothing.

And I did remember it had been comforting to know that, though he was not the sort of Fitzgeraldian or Hemngwayesque romantic figure I thought a writer should be, Gaga had known – in a time that seemed unrelated to the later part in his own life -- everybody on the left. He had plunged into the settlement house movement, actually living in the New York slums – though he wrote that at the after a stint in the slums he went off to recuperate while riding in a rich man’s private train car.

Still, enough the way life should be, though I could not forget the private railway car part. But I knew that what was being propagated in the settlement houses was something so kind and open and radical that if fit with my growing passion for justice that had been coming out in the open since some point when I was turning 15 and suddenly became not the good twin but the smart twin, admired by the accepted boys and girls if not by the family.

And while remembering these things that felt warm about Gaga and Nana, I did not forget that I had been in danger of obliteration, obliterated in favor of Peter. I believed that though Gaga was the novelist who counted, Peter was expected to carry on that tradition. That the world they lived in now was the world put into words by Gaga and the only possible world of the future would entail living in the a reality that Peter invented.

Even as I remembered in 1986 how I had lost hope when I was back in the family again at 16 in a summer in Paris, where, even as I was plunging into a new love, painting, this return to family now seemed to have something to with why after that summer I threw it all away. As if I had died after that.

Sunday, February 21, 2010



One morning in this time before there was clear cut evidence, there was a postcard in my mailbox. It was from my mother, who had stepped up her travels in the three years since my father died. She had been on a fancy cruise to ports in East Asia. On the card was a picture of Manila Bay – an unlikely place for a cruise ship since this was right after the dictator Marcos, with the help of his American allies, had fled. This place of violence where I was under threat of death for what I had written – the death threats coming by phone in Manila and also San Francisco and New York.

On the postcard my mother had written, guess who was on the dock when we arrived. It was, of all people, your brother Peter. And scribbled on the side of the card in my brother’s hand was a line making fun of the people who overthrew Marcos.

My twin brother – and now it seemed like one of us was always meant to kill the other – He had assured me that he himself had had nothing to do with the Philippines – something important for him to say since he worked for the CIA, which was the enemy of so many of the people I have been associated in all these years of roaming, most recently my adventures with the Philippines opposition, which included time with the Maoist New People’s Army.

And it seemed more crucial than ever that I get the story right now it looked like childhood had never ended

And it seemed more crucial than ever that I get the story right now it looked like childhood had never ended.

Saturday, February 20, 2010



The evidence was circumstantial, yet in this time it never occurred to me that what I was hunting and finding did not exist. For the first time in memory something dark was being lifted from me. It was not the first time I had had a period apparently free of depression. But I could not think of past times breaking out of depression without drink and/or sex and/or pills and/or travel to exotic and dangerous places.

.By now, 1986, it had been more than a decade since I was drinking, and I had not been to war zone parts of Africa or Asia or Central America or any wild place abroad for three years. And it was seeming clear now that there had been relevant reasons for the depression I ran from in the past. I was closing in on my story.

These meetings I had stared attending were about many things, but mostly about traveling back into the past to find out what had happened. It did not seem strange to me that at 50 I was letting myself go back all the way to childhood for first time. These meetings were wild affairs where focused anger, white hot anger, was applauded. But the one meeting that was telling me the most entailed writing, which turned up far more than did the very satisfying verbal ranting times, not that I was tempted, with all I was learning, to stop ranting.

Putting all this together in this year 1986 after years of carrying all the parts of these stories in my memory but not letting them interlock to this current picture of horror, and I did know I would have the visuals for I did not doubt what was unfolding.

Besides the meetings I was also occasionally setting foot in actual places where what I was zeroing in on at last had taken place in the distant past. As I roamed the heavy fake gothic Princeton campus I suddenly had my old childhood ailment, a sore throat. When I found my secret place in the woods in Connecticut I felt so exposed there that it would be easy to shoot tm. When I walked on Upper East Side block where my grandmother had spent her winters my thoughts were so far from being about happy times that I felt I was, on this block, at this very moment, being strangled.

And Cousin Margaret has just died a horrible death on a respirator just as she seemed cured, and she had said just before then that she wanted to die because of what they had done to her sexually. Which suddenly connected to the motorcycle death years back of our Cousin Paul, who had done a court-ordered stint in the army which got him out form under gun charges and kidnapping charges and worse for whatever he had done to the girl. And Cousin Lauryn has recently freaked out and told about being fucked by her brother Paul. And moreover it had turned out that the family war hero, who supposed;e7 died fighting in the Battle of Britain, had really died in a drunken flying accident. And my father had just died virtually alone and in pain, his entire chest an open cancer wound, deserted by the family people upon whom he had always counted.

And upright if theatrical Cousin Rob, himself the closest thing to a current family hero, except maybe my twin brother, the good twin, Peter. Rob told me he knew I was looking into the past, and he said that if I found out anything that did not fit with the perfect family version of life at White Pines he did not want know. He seriously hoped I would not tell him.

Friday, February 19, 2010



In the middle of the night I was crying. I had had another of these recent emotional dreams that had all the power of nightmares but seemed to be the opposite. In the dream I was going late at night to take my turn at a third rate hospital in Naples Florida where my father was dying. There was his death and there was also, hanging over it, that my brother had run out, headed to the airport after saying he was going back to the condo to be with our needy mother.

My almost ex wife had stayed on with me. I could tell my father knew what was happening when she was cutting his fingernails and toenails, something people did for each other in my wife’s culture but certainly not my family’s. I could tell he knew and I was grateful at least for that. My almost ex-wife and I would take turns in his room, one of us looking after the dying man, the other staying with my drinking mother. In Dad’s room I was unable to do anything about the pain of the spreading cancer that had left his chest a slimy open wound. I had been unable to get through to the third rate doctor, who, apparently fearing lawsuits, was stingy with the morphine. And part of the horror was that my mother would not come to the hospital. She did not believe us when we said it was clear to us that my father wanted her there. She said he would not recognize her for he was in a coma, and although we knew differently, the day she did dress herself and come over he did not seem to notice her, nor even his sweet, sad-eyed young private nurse, nor me. But I knew that he knew his son the good twin had fled and his wife, my mother, would not come. And I knew that he would know that his sister, my rakish Aunt Betsy, would not come either. From New Hampshire she said she knew about comas – the supposed coma also used by my brother’s wife, and the wife of my father’s late brother to say why they would not come.

These things I was talking about so freely just three years later when the time of change was underway were in my mind at the time, even if I did not quite put them together. And now I had this dream in which I was headed over, as I had done a number of times, to the sprawling hospital very late at night after all the doors were locked, when even death watch visitors were supposed to stay away. I snuck in by an obscure unlocked entrance the nurses had shown me – and up till this point the dream was exactly the way it had happened, and then in the dream it seemed so certain that I had entered a community here, almost a secret society community. The nurses and nurses' helpers and I would meet at all hours, especially in these middle of the night hours when they were not supposed to let me in. Me and these nurses united, as in a community.

The actual time of the death scene in Naples was in 1983, just three years back. Another night when I awoke in tears I had gone back 15 years.

That dream took place in a time I was on the North Shore of Long Island, where I actually had gone to stay in winter in a summer cottage built on pilings. I could look down from the small front windows right into the water of the bay. Right onto the ice. That unusually cold winter of 1970-71. That year the mostly salt water bay froze over, shore to shore, and people chopped holes in the ice to lower lines to get fish to kill, and then they were driving over the ice in their cars. There were shaky stone slabs that were steps on the path leading down to the cottage. They were coated with ice, and one night when I had returned on the train, nearly passed out until the conductor made sure I made my stop, I had come back by cab, and then slid down the steps and cut the underside of my lip so deeply it had seemed the bleeding would never stop.

All winter I was there on the frozen bay without a phone – so that I would not make boozy and expensive and embarrassing long distance calls in the middle of the night. I was without a car – though I could have afforded an old car that year with my book advance. Every few days I would walk to the railroad station and take a very slow Long Island Railroad train into the city, where I had a brief affair with my editor’s assistant – a girl who turned out to be the daughter of someone in publishing with whom, it seemed likely to us, my father had had an affair – this affair of mine under the surface for this girl was getting married to an academic. I was in bed with her on the upper East Side one morning after a very late night out with her. The door buzzer woke us and she suddenly remembered this was the morning of her wedding shower and the buzzer meant guests were already arriving. With no time, I was hustled to the back door carrying my clothes to get dressed shivering by the service elevator. I had thought when laughing with her in her office and drinking with her afterwards that she might be the girl, though there ever being a the girl was seeming less and less likely.

In the city I was also going to parties with famous and semi-famous people – David Rockefeller, Bill Moyers, Sargeant Shriver, thanks to my editor, for my novel was in production via the then fashionable Harper’s Magazine Press. And it seemed like death all the time. My life over. I saw an a final bound copy of the book by chance in the window of a small bookstore run by elderly Romanian émigrés in Northport. And although they seemed delighted to have me walk in, I could not believe someone had not put them up to it.

It was an end-of-the-road sort of time in what I had always thought, getting a novel published, would be the very best time of my life. The dark and dead time.

It was true that now in this eventful year I was also having frightening dreams of being lost or trapped in dark, dense woods that were partly 17th century Dutch landscape woods but were also New Hampshire woods of my childhood. But even more striking to me were these latest emotional dreams, like the one in the Naples hospital, in which everything was the way it had actually been. And then came a further dream in which I might be in a dark but comforting place somewhere near the Northport railroad station, a place where I would be sitting in a circle with supportive people, telling them about my life, asking them about theirs, talking and listening, so close with actual people in a way I had not then known from life. And it was as if I were now in some heightened but very real reality. A community again, a community such as I would most of my life have avoided.

This dream not ending at any actual scene from past time but it seeming, as in that group of sympathetic people near the station, that past time could in some way be this new time – the opposite of a nightmare.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I am well oriented here again with this girl in an Italian restaurant – south of Chelsea and just down Sixth Avenue from the corner where my old street, Waverly Place, comes in, which is near the Barrow Street site of Joan’s New Year’s Eve Party, which now seems to have been on a dividing line between the end of one life and the start of another. And I am a short walk from St. Mark’s Place, a touchstone block for both past and present lives, in this of town where 30 years ago I had started out. Political activism, and unpublished novels, and news work and art too, and so many old and new friends, so many girls. Winning many but not all battles in my war with despair. It was also the part of town where Vannie lived, and also my 11th Street tenement was a mere block from where, still earlier, on a cold college vacation night in an unused basement studio, with Christmas check in hand, I lost the domestic version of my virginity to a touching dance hall girl who said her name was Alma (which I had been pleased to note was also the name of the sweet, unhappy prostitute in From Here to Eternity). So near from here to the used book stores that once lined 4th Avenue and where when 16 and 17 I found the models – Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Farrell and Wolfe – for the life I hoped to put together. But I am not concerned with characters in books now. I am so calm and so aware of how well oriented I have become in this year of change. Even here with Gillian talking, my whole life is flashing before me, which is something that has been happening often recently and apparently has nothing to do with the cliché version of lives flashing by just at the point death. Well oriented here in New York as spring it beginning, this year so different from last. In my mind I see a little platform across from the Sunset Hill House looking down on an old copper semi-circular chart that showed peaks of the Franconia and Presidential ranges. It had a copper marker you could swivel around to line up the mountains named on the chart with the actual mountain. Pointing to peaks and pointing to horizons. Like a marker in my head that I could always point towards Managua and Port-au-Prince and Havana in certain orientations, to Sarajevo and Athens and Africa in others, also to the Middle East, and most especially the far reaches of the Far East from Borneo to Burma. And also down towards Washington and Atlanta, and out to Indianapolis and Chicago and then California. And yes, I could not escape it, up towards those very mountains in New Hampshire that until recently I would have told myself had been blotted out. Here in this Italian garden where I have situated myself a few blocks east of the East Village galleries, and a few more north of the Soho galleries, and well south of the Modern on 53rd Street and the galleries on 57th , and up into the 80s, and the Frick and the Met and Guggenheim, and across the river the amazingly grounded Brooklyn Museum. As well as distance from and proximity to the parks I was exploring, and also to all the places where these meetings are held, and the places where we go afterwards for coffee and connection. What do not appear are the places all over town that I have visited in another life to work on publications or in daily journalism or to see agents and book editors. Here so far in distance and time from Beirut with Linda, Singapore with Sheila, Bangkok with Bonnie, Greece with Vannie, and so many others, including girls of the night from Djakarta to Piraeus, Rome to Taipei, Bangkok to Malta. And now across from Gillian I am also thinking about my Saturday mornings in the Met when I pass through the Roman room on my way to the Greeks and the grave stile woman in her farewell scene, and the stately circular domed restaurant with its tablecloths and old waiters from another time, and then through what is art in Oceana to the new 20th century wing in which I know, because a young woman from the meetings told me, there is pastiche painting by Abraham Walkowtiz that is a swirl of places and people, mountains and a pretty girl – a painting that the young woman said reminds her of my story. And then the recent Saturday I actually paused in the Roman room, realizing that in all the times I had been through it these past months I had not stopped to look around – as if the room were one of those areas in memory that I had for so long avoided. That day I paused in the Roman room among the portrait busts and saw all around me these heartless intelligent faces of men and a few women who had been in charge. These faces of people whose greatest delight was in irony when not in cruelty. And I heard myself saying thank God Christianity came along when it did – which was as puzzling to me as hearing myself say my heart is breaking. Saying it in the Met where live people, many of them lovely artistic girls from Europe, come and go.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#60 – MY TOWN

But New York was not lonely. I was not just going to meetings. There were things like Eco and Komo at the BAM. I saw these slow moving nude dancers as lost people, struggling to hold on and stay alive. Peter Cooper was in town for a few days and we took in Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon at the Public Theater, a play about this strange and awful family that seemed to me so true. I rode up to New Haven with my photographer friend Wayne Sorce for a show of Winslow Homer watercolors at Yale. Jacqueline, the photo agent who lived near the Carlyle, had brought us together because Wayne had been traveling in the Philippines with the NPA. I did not see Jacqueline now but I became an admirer of Homer, who seemed able to do anything with rare magical connection – a dot of red bringing back bougainvillea in the Bahamas, a single brush stroke evoking a gliding canoe in the Adirondacks. Art and nature together again.

And I still was getting up at sunrise to ride my bike up along the Hudson, where there were those nearly naked girls only on the warmer days. Over through pleasantly sharp winter cold to Gracie mansion, where in the past I had admired glamorous airline stewardesses of the old time young sort bathing in the sun on adjoining greenery. Then down slowly along the East River, or over to Second Avenue, where from 42nd Street on down I could coast fast timed with the changing traffic lights, feeling that coasting would never end. It did not occur to me to use a helmet. After a close call with a bicycle messenger, and another with a newspaper delivery truck, I did stop wearing my Walkman when in city traffic. And anyway beyond the tapes there was plenty of internal art running through my head. People of the past from the stories I was putting together, and people of the present in the stories I was hearing.

One very cold night I walked east on 23rd Street all the way to a coffee house near First Avenue to meet Bonnie. I was wearing long underwear, which was part of my program. In ACOA people were getting things they had lacked in childhood and now found they deserved, whether sufficiently warm clothing or dental work or ice cream. I sat and talked with Bonnie and a pretty young friend she had brought along. We talked about all the people we knew in common who were part of this ACOA movement – as if these were friends and acquaintances of many years, not just months or weeks or days. Then I rushed back across town on 23rd, some of the time running it was so cold. Then up to 25th and over to my building near Eighth, where I shot up the stairs. Inside, I looked in the bathroom mirror, where I saw a flushed man of indeterminable age whom I did not recognize. A man of certain substance. Certainly not at loose ends. I could almost be looking in the mirror at Henry Miller.

In the mirror I was wearing a two-dollar black stocking cap I had picked out from a street vender’s bin. Something new, like the shirts that were not dull, and denim trousers that were essentially jeans, and the blue scarf, and like a wrist watch with rubber watch band that I wore now as compared to the cheap pocket watches that men in my family, including my brother, still used. Until I started flying small planes in Beirut and Cyprus 15 years back I too used pocket watches, which, like dull clothes, now seemed an outward sign of enslavement to other people’s stories from other times.

In my brief time flying I had needed to know the exact time for navigation purposes. From Beirut I could go a few minutes too far one way and maybe risk being shot down by the Syrians, another and risk being downed by the Israeli’s, and in Cyprus my flimsy Cessna from the Greek side would surely not be safe if I strayed to the Turkish side.

I did not see my old friends now on any regular basis. I was tied up in meetings on Sundays when I would otherwise have been at Walter’s listening to him talk. Occasionally when I had been there his children would come through, a girl who was becoming striking while not yet into puberty, a boy who the little girls liked. Could they be in a decent family situation?

I went once to the sort of small dinner party at Alex’s that I used to go to before I had stopped drinking. Not that he was a heavy drinker like I had been but he was a leading literary expert on wine, and wine was at the root of so much we had had in common. It was also hard to talk to John, who was obsessed with mountain climbing now, though we did meet up as in the past to go to My Dinner with André, Wallace Shawn again and the cult figure director André Gregory. Although I identified with Shawn, Gregory made sense to me now that I knew people who were in touch with New Age things.

The meetings were my main social life. I would talk for hours with Lewis Levine, a man of my age with similar young men’s aspirations. Lewis had begun spending his days mostly in ACOA now that he was on early retirement with full pay following an attack by a student in a Queens classroom. Lewis looked more like a football player than a teacher, and like someone not nearly so sensitive as he actually was. He looked too young to have grown daughters. The big memory that had come up for him in ACOA had to do with sex with his mother.

He brought this up in a classroom building beside Riverside Church at an Alanon meeting we had entered late. We had not realized it was Alanon for it had been listed incorrectly as an ACOA meeting. The word “incest” was as dangerous to this crowd as it was to the judge who had excused Bonnie from jury duty. In the silence after he talked, and still thinking this was ACOA, I thought I would have everyone with me by saying how so many people were such cowards about these important memories – especially “overly genteel and careful people who run to Alanon.”

I often drank coffee with Vittorio, a dramatic silver haired man, older than me, who had been raised in Florence, the home city of his Italian father, and been abandoned by his American mother, a grande dame sort, and was now in a marriage with a pretty young half-Japanese girl, whose work in a theatrical agency paid their rent on a Village walkup, which they shared with a very large German Shepherd, and which had its toilet down the hall. The young wife was the daughter of a CIA man, Vittorio said. She hardly talked herself, and he talked all the time. He painted verbal pictures of what he had been like before he joined AA, which had led to ACOA. He said that in the present he had given up classical music in favor of optimistic music. He told of how in old seduction scenes he would turn up the volume on Toscanini, whom he had met when young, and pretend to whatever girl who was in bed with him that it was he, not Toscanini, who was conducting, that the soaring music came from him. But that sort of thing was in the past, he said. He was different now. He just wanted the bright side now, as in literally always walking on the sunny side of the street. And now he actually had albums of Doris Day singing happy movie songs. This seemed like such nonsense to me, and yet I was able to suspend judgment.

Although there were all these new people, I also felt the need to be alone on my bike or on long walks. Sometimes when walking it was as if I were in a trance, feeling inside me the death and destruction of what had gone before, and feeling something like birth pangs at what was emerging. One day on Eighth Avenue a cheerful black man called out, “It can’t be that bad” – which seemed like the ultimate misreading, for what I would have said was “It can’t be that good.”

And now here in the colorful old garden, going inside myself while still gazing at, and more or less listening to, Gillian, I hear my brother’s voice sounding definitive and terminal. My brother, who admires pretty girls as much as I do but also makes fun of pretty girls. Lightweight girls who are so silly and so pleased with themselves.

We are 15 standing just outside the summer theater in Westport where we are about to see a play starring Grouch Marx, and a happy golden skinned apprentice comes past us practically skipping, and Peter says something disparaging about girls who are always posing, girls so arty and pretentious. He points out that she is in bare feet as if this is something to be held against her. And he says he knows she is the daughter of the Connecticut governor, a man with the name Lodge who has acted in movies and thus is pretentious himself.

All these girls of memory tied to each other but each one distinct even after many years.. For surely I have never known anyone just like this girl in front of me in the Italian garden. So pretty, and the garden so beautiful, and yet surely in its final days at last. This place so much a part of romantic despair that can be so appealing. I drift to a time I am sitting in a café in Ljubljana and the first leaf of autumn falls as I wait for a girl who I know may be with someone else. Sweet despair. I think of standing near the first tee at the Profile Club beneath the Franconia Range of the White Mountains on a Labor Day, a beer bottle in my hand, so aware that something is so near to being over, streaks of autumn color already in the trees. And also I am 20 and about to leave Paris after my second time around, ,walking past a romantic fountain in St. Germaine, a place where romantic adventures have not materialized, leaving while there is gentle summer drizzle that turns bright colors into pastels. Sweet regret, sweet despair. And now I am just past 50 and pastels have become bright colors again, and this girl, who looks like the girl who should have been in the picture in Paris, is talking away and smiling at me.

And I am certain there is a connection between Gillian and the other pretty heart-breakers I admire, but am puzzled as those words I recently found myself speaking in this happy time of new beginnings, those words that I heard myself speaking involuntarily, not speaking of the appeal of pretty heartbreakers but rather saying. “My heart is breaking.”

Leaning across the table, leaning close, looking in her eyes as she talks about what I am not sure. And I am hearing my brother Peter make fun of this too. I know I do not find what she is saying any more connected and sane that Peter would. But I want him out of here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The book was a collaboration, but I had this Penthouse piece to myself. Max had called from San Francisco to say that by now we should be able to write separately about the Philippines. I knew he had been uncomfortable with my cynicism about the press and my take-no-prisoners attitude toward just about everyone except a few figures on the far left who did not seem bound by the complex family and extended family connections that put family obligation above everything else. In the Philippines you could have family or extended family obligations even to people who were out to kill you.

In the end, as I hinted in what I wrote, the old-line anti-Marcos people were often indistinguishable from the Marcos allies. Aquino himself had been the only person from an old powerful family that I had trusted. Not long after the supposed revolution one of our main contacts, an idealistic student leader who spent time with Max, had been assassinated, apparently by supporters of one of Aquino’s younger sisters, a nice seeming girl named Tess, who was running against the idealistic young man for a seat in the newly reinstated Philippine congress.

And now Max called to say he was sorry but he could not be in California while I was there. Something to do with meeting friends and the availability of a time share at Lake Tahoe.

And then in San Francisco I was unable to get return calls from any of the old-line people with whom we had been dealing in the exile community. Some were back in the Philippines picking up where they had left off before the start of the Marcos time. But others were still around, including another Aquino sister, a woman prominent in the arts who had first introduced us to exiled feudal leaders, and who was married to an American TV correspondent Max had known for many years. Not even they called back.

But the big exile figures from the left, a charismatic leader sort named Joel Rocamora and the young economist Walden Bellow, were still in Berkley. I took the gleaming BART subway over to Berkeley every day to talk with them, and go through the reams of writing on the subject that they had put together. It was mostly material to make my case for how nothing had changed after the supposed revolution. In the provinces, which comprised 90 percent of the Philippines, the Marcos military commanders were still in place, living off the land, operating on their own with little or no reference to Manila. And they were confronted with the same provincial leaders of the NPA. Anyone doing business in the Philippines paid taxes to both the military and the rebels, but not necessarily to the central government.

So much for people power. I was back in a familiar pattern that started when I won the New England secondary school debating championship. I was putting together arguments to back up a foregone conclusion.

Joel had this soft sinewy girlfriend who came over to his office with coffee and snacks each day and wrapped herself round him. And I was feeling waves of familiar loneliness. I got in touch with some friends from another time, Ed and Connie Pearlstein. I had worked with Ed for a year 20 years ago. He had been a very alive ally at the hyper-genteel American Heritage Books, a place where people flossed after lunch. I had often gone to visit him at the Alfred Hotel on University Place, where he lived with his wife Connie, who had once been a model and had published a fine book about the writer Richard Wright. This was when I had my small ground floor apartment on Waverly just off Sheridan Square.

There were always intriguing people of the left around at Ed and Connie’s. Writers. Puerto Rican revolutionaries. Ed and Connie were against the Vietnam War before anyone else I knew was. And I think we had a special bond because in 1964 I went down to Mississippi under auspices of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and, just as I had hoped, got thrown in jail by a red-neck police captain

I had dinner now several times with Ed and Connie, but I never mentioned that on other nights I was at ACOA meetings. Out at Berkley I never mentioned Ed and Connie, stalwart leftists though they were. And I never talked about the visual world I was living in, any more than I talked about the complete seeming world I had found in ACOA.

Since I already had my conclusions for the article I was writing, and I suspected it would never appear in Penthouse, the work was not taxing. I took time to roam Berkley. Those food stalls and the pretty girls and amusing shops. And I roamed San Francisco – from the pretty hills with cable cars to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore to the Nelson Algren like slums below Market Street. I spent time in the two stately and fairly comprehensive traditional art museums, the de Young and the Legion of Honor – both in park settings where I had that mixture again of actual nature and visual art. I found more Hobbema’s. And I got on to something new, an exhibition of works on paper by Edward Munch who, like so many others I came to like and admire, was new to me. He did not run from hard material. I spent time with his sexy, vampire like “The Kiss,” and the even sexier “Madonna,” and the piercing “Scream” which rippled out, like in once placid water into which a stone has been violently thrown. I was comparing myself to someone following a mainstream religion who could find coreligionists wherever he went.

My first night I went by bus and tram to an ACOA meeting in the basement of a church on a hill. I walked around the area in twilight first. People in toyland buildings with yards and gardens, everything clean, chatting with each other outside their houses. A sort of fairy tale version of life, it seemed. And then the meeting threw me back into versions of life that were not fairy tales.

There was nothing in the meeting anything like the intense, sometimes ironically funny and often angry deep probings I had come to expect in New York, where I could feel like a member of a movement working for justice. ACOA here in this pretty city seemed more like a movement to squelch subversive talk and rehabilitate abusers. The message seemed to be that we are all sinners. A lot of that first meeting was devoted to everyone passing a book around from which each one would read a couple of sentences from a pious rewriting of the already quite pious 12 steps.

Then before an afternoon in Berkeley I went to a lunchtime meeting in downtown San Francisco at which the speaker was glorifying family. He was a happy seeming integrated Mexican-American young man who talked about the regular people he came from. Part of what made them endearing and regular, he said, was that they got drunk every Saturday night.

And the loneliness was ever more intense. I remembered my first time when I was in my twenties spending a few months in San Francisco, working at temporary jobs, constantly calling a woman back in New York with whom I was obsessed, spending long days roaming alone – “Puff the Magic Dragon” blaring out everywhere. Playing Frisbee on Sundays in Golden Gate Park with the literary celebrity Herbert Gold and others in his sphere. Then roaming alone again.

I was suddenly desperate to break out. On the weekend there was nothing to do with the Berkley people, and the San Francisco Philippine people were still not calling, and Ed and Connie were off visiting someone else. It was suddenly as if nothing in this year had happened, and I was where maybe I had always been doomed to be, and aged version of an isolated young man wandering the streets of a strange town.

Monday, February 15, 2010



What was most appealing about this Penthouse article was that it would get me to Berkley, where the exile people I really liked were based. The economist Walden Bellow, who had chaired that last meeting I went to and who was making a name for himself in wider circles, and Joel Rocamora, a charismatic and suave organizer who made sure money went from the million-person exile Philippine community in California to the New People’s Army, this Maoist rebel movement that had spread to every province in the heavily populated thousand mile long island chain that had been an American colony starting at the turn of the century, and before then a Spanish colony since the late middle ages.

The timeless old feudal barons who had opposed Marcos and gone into exile plotted their return from quite grand houses in very conservative neighborhoods on the San Francisco side of the bay. Neighborhoods that had seemed to me as retrogressive as parts of New England. Walden and Joel, on the other hand, seemed men of the present. They appeared to be the NPA ambassadors to America. They operated in Berkley, which had quirky bookstores, exotic street food, music everywhere, architecture that brought a smile, and pretty girls on roller skates.

This was my first trip anywhere since all the changes had begun. My first if you did not count my going down to Princeton to visit my cousin Rob, whom I had thought of as an ally since he was the only one in my generation in the family who had gone into the arts.
He had prepared for a career in the theater as carefully as if he were becoming a lawyer. From M.I.T he had gotten himself a fellowship to the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota before trying his hand in New York. Then after a decade as an actor in the city, he had retreated to the McCarter Theater in Princeton.

When I got to their blue house on a tidy street near the campus I sat for a time talking
with Rob, and with his wife Cynthia, who had even better credentials for being an artistic friend since in livelier days she had danced with Merce Cunningham. But what seemed to be on their minds at first was that I was wearing a shirt with bright colors and a sporty denim jacket as opposed to a tweed jacket and the sort of unobtrusive shirt that could be worn with a tie. They did say I looked young and alive, and just a couple of years ago I had seemed to them old and worn, though they had not said anything at the time.

I told them that I was finding out all sorts of things, including many dark things, about the family. I thought we might be allies. We spoke of Cousin Margaret’s recent painful death on a ventilator that came right after she had called Rob and said she wanted to die because of what they had done to her in the past and because of their nagging in the present. We brought up Rob’s late brother Paul, who had been arrested for everything from carrying a sawed off shotgun to kidnapping, and had been killed 20 years back in a suspicious road accident. And we talked about his appealing sister Deirdre, my favorite, who had recently told them for the first time that when very young she had been raped by Paul.

And then the conversation was over. Rob said, “I have such good memories of Gaga and Nana and the White Mountains. If it was not the way I remember it at White Pines, I don’t want to know.”

Then we had talked about how for Peter and me a vibrant teenage gang had assembled, whereas as when Rob, who was seven year younger, hit that age he was always alone. I pointed out that those summers in New Hampshire with the gang, me together with Elysa, had lasted only a very short time.

Rob put his face into a theatrical sobbing expression and said, only half humorously, “At least you had that very short time.”

I did not mention that in my good adolescent days in New Hampshire Rob, far from the debonair Englishman he would become, was a lonely young hanger-on, an angry little boy in a Robin Hood hat, a boy who seemed always about to sob or scream.

I left the blue house and began wandering the pretentious town – with its Williamsburg like facades and its black people's slums, and then I was wandering the old campus where black people from the town had cleaned and served at the undergraduate clubs, which usually did not take Jews, not to mention Negroes (because, I had heard it said more than once, the Negro staff would not like it).

And now I set out to wander the dark campus, past those uncomfortable fake gothic buildings with their leaded windows that let in winter winds, and their foul communal lavatories. Now there were a few new buildings that were no more inviting than the old. I did not go in the art museum. When in college I had only gone in it to look at Chinese bronzes for the only art history course I took. Recently the Time’s John Russell Had written a piece praising the Princeton art museum for putting no emphasis on anything except works of art that illustrated a point about art. Russell was the critic who said we should look Titian’s man being skinned alive rather than the far too popular Impressionists.

I went to the U Store, where you could buy sweat shirts and suspenders and ash trays and socks wall hangings proclaiming in orange and black that you were from Princeton. There were also books, the sort of selection of best sellers that I would have expected in some small Philistine town.

In my back pocket was a Bantam paperback anthology of the romantic poets, whom I had stopped reading the year before I went to Princeton back when was 17, in the time after being thrown back with family in Europe and seeing that all the changes in my life had changed nothing. It was as if nothing had happened, neither my discoveries in poetry nor in politics. Neither my sudden academic rise, nor my New England debating championship, nor my summertime popularity, nor my then very recent discovery of art – not even my romance with Elysa. Nothing had ever happened. I would have to start again. And although I would continue to seek girls, I had stopped, before Princeton, dealing with so much else that I loved. Such as Keats and Wordsworth.

But in this new present I had been reading these poets on the subway. And sometimes at night. And on the train down to Princeton. Entering these poems again was time travel for me. Thomas Gray's country churchyard elegy: "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/And waste its sweetness on the desert air..." Wordsworth above Tintern Abbey: "...when first/I came among these hills; when like a roe/I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides/Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,/Wherever nature led: more like a man/Flying from something that he dreads, than one/Who sought the thing he loved." And Keats on the Grecian urn:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hadst not thy bliss,
Forever wilt though love, and she be fair!

As I wandered this grim overbearing campus now, a place where as much as in the White Mountains of New Hampshire nothing ever changes, I realized that for the first time in a long time I was getting a sore throat, which had been my expected childhood disease.

But the moment I was on the train back to the city my throat felt fine.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It was to pick up my ticket for San Francisco that I met Annie that day in the park when the new snow had not quite covered grass that in mid-winter was still green. I was going to California for money but mainly for a series of reality checks. I was being financed by Penthouse to do an article updating our Philippine book.

Two years back Penthouse had purchased one of our chapters, the one that zeroed in on Imelda Marcos. They had given us $5000 for it (as compared to the $85 that the Nation paid for another chapter). So far Penthouse had run the Imelda piece only in its Australia edition, which I assumed was because Penthouse distinguished itself from Playboy by being right wing. In the book we attacked not just Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos but also their old partying friends Nancy and Ronnie Reagan – who were as cavalier about the suffering of others as were the Marcoses themselves. But now I had a call from an excited sounding man at Penthouse who said he was looking at our book again.

He had come upon the part about a tape recording of Marcos in bed with a Hollywood starlet. I had said in the book that Marcos sounded like W.C. Fields might sound in such a situation. Marcos was singing love songs to the young girl in his native Ilocano dialect. The Penthouse guy wanted me to come right over because he wanted to do a deal for the tape and the story behind it.

He was there in his office, in a new building near Lincoln Center, with tie askew, bloodshot eyes darting, making fast nervous gestures and sniffing like someone who had just had a hit of coke. And we were close to a deal for the tape when he realized that it was audio, not video. But that did not end negotiations. There were other things he liked in the book. The way that during martial law child prostitution had been organized into a lucrative part of the sex tours that the Philippine tourist industry was offering. The way the regime sometimes dealt with enemies not by violence but by getting them into compromising situations with girls. And there were those dark, loud discos that Imelda had inserted into government office buildings. “Great stories!” he said. So maybe I could write an update of what had happened in the Philippines since we wrote the book and since the departure of the Marcoses.

I came away with a commission. It would be good to travel in this time of retracing my life. I would write the piece the way I wanted, whether it ever got published or not. Whether if made sense or not. And although I did not tell this to the editor, I would start with “People Power Revolution” and those Malay words that mean “for this we have no words.”

And I would use the trip for these reality checks. I would look in on opposition figures in exile who had seemed impressive to me. I would look for other people in San Francisco from my deeper past. And I was certain to check out the state of Adult Children Alcoholics on the West Coast. I was thinking of how the last time I was in San Francisco, which was to finish the Philippines book, I had still placed my faith in what could be put in place by using the logic of language. And so I would also be looking at my use of logic for things for which maybe logic did not apply, any more than it applied to the way I was now getting my information visually more than verbally.

Saturday, February 13, 2010



One night I am in yet another meeting room that is below street level, this one warm and carpeted, and filled with some people who are familiar and some who are unfamiliar, and none of whom I would see in ACOA, not that some of them don’t belong there. Almost all except me are Filipinos – liberation theology nuns, students and academics, Marxists, defecting feudal lords, with a good quota of good looking girls. The first to speak is a young man I know from my work on the Philippine book, Walden Bello, a high-powered young economist, known as an effective arch enemy of the World Bank and the IMF.

Although I am here in this meeting, my times in the Philippines seem like someone else’s times – an erotically-charged desperate time when I was there for awhile in the sixties, then there again briefly in the 70s, technically sober, for my marriage to Anne Ang from Quezon City, and just recently in the 80s there under false pretenses, pretending to be sympathetic to Marcos people I was out expose.

That last time I had been in the islands I had dealt sometimes with elite opposition figures who had stayed on, like Salvador Laurel, who pretty much owned the province of Batangas, which he ruled with largesse and with his own trigger-happy militia army. On other days I was with idealistic people, from the universities or the church or the arts, not all of whom supported the New People’s Army, which by now had a presence in every province in this thousand mile, heavily populated island chain. These last were the people who in the end made the most sense when Max Vanzi, a journalist friend who collaborated with me on the book, and I were back in Manila, moving fast between the various camps.

We needed two people for the project. Max might be somewhere with a wanted man from the NPA while I was interviewing the self-satisfied chief justice of the martial law Philippines supreme court, and we would meet late at night in a seedy bar or casino to compare notes. Towards the end of our time there I was getting telephone threats in the name of a frightening Marcos general.

And soon afterwards, Max went along on a commercial flight from California taking Aquino back from exile. The plane landed and taxied to a far off place on the tarmac. Two plain clothes tough guys boarded, and pulled Aquino off the plane. Down on the tarmac they shot our friend in the back of the head. And I, working on the book in San Francisco, was again receiving death threats.

But all of that seems very long ago in this time of personal chance. The Philippine situation, the subject of this night’s meeting, seems to have little to do with my life – not my business – though it had just been the subject my last big writing project as the book author I wanted to be.

Not long after the night I was interviewed about Marcos’s last days, his defense minister and the head of his brutal national police force defected and holed up in a military post on the outskirts of Manila. To support and protect them, many different sorts of people poured into the streets surrounding the military post. The local press labeled it the People Power Revolution, though some observers noted that many of the participants had driven or been driven to the big demonstration in their BMWs and Mercedes.

Army and marine units were sent in, but when the soldiers saw the size of the crowds they refused to shoot. And then Marcos fled to exile in Hawaii. And right afterwards people were racing through the presidential mansion like the mobs that stormed the Bastille. The press reported with glee that inside the mansion the crowds found that Imelda had thousands of pairs of stylish shoes, as if that were the worst thing she had done in the time that so many people in the islands were being terrorized by the Marcoses. To me, the most interesting part was that in the mansion there were several copies of our anti-Marcos, anti-Reagan book.

But I saw it from such a distance, literally and psychically.

Soon the American press had taken up the term People Power. American foreign correspondents, who has been ignoring the Philippines, poured in and set up shop in the five-star hotels that had been built during marital law.

But Manila is only a tiny, and often cut off, part of this huge archipelago. The foreign correspondents were doing what I had seen them doing when covering, mostly by imagination, complex events in far flung parts of Asia that they heard and wrote about in the boozy Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club. And what I had seen in the Middle East where foreign correspondents learned from each other about upheavals in Egypt, Iraq and Iran while watching water-skiers from the terrace of Beirut’s luxurious St. George Hotel.

People Power to the contrary, with Mrs. Aquino as president not very much had changed. Wealthy Filipino clan leaders who had been in exile flew in and resumed their positions as feudal barons. The Marcos cronies stayed rich and grew richer. Political assassinations continued. The rich stayed rich and the suffering of the poor continued. And at this meeting in New York now I heard a well-traveled nun confirm that no one in the Philippines outside Manila called what happened a People Power Revolution. Rather, it was always referred to by Malay words that mean “for this I have no words.”

Something I would have to remember, and wish I had had sooner. Words for things for which there are no words.

Maybe that is why I am do fed up with writing, my own and everyone else’s. Because in all parts of my life, from personal to political, I have tried to do it right by putting words to things for which I in fact have no words.

So I head back to the Met.

Friday, February 12, 2010


By now the book had been out for a year and a half and had not done well. But it was not quite dead, for some new interest had come as the Marcos era was ending. In February the dictator had suddenly called a snap election he would rig, after all the martial law years in which were mostly free of elections, rigged or otherwise He was in terrible shape now because of the murder of his rival, our buoyant friend Ninoy Aquino, and the people’s hatred of his rampaging military, and because of his personal corruption, and that of the cronies he had put in high placers, and because of the desperate poverty of most of his people. And not least because of his showy and cruel former beauty queen wife Imelda, whose personal possessions now ran all the way to New York skyscrapers. So Marcos called an election, which had not been done for years. And Aquino’s widow ran against him, along with another old Marcos enemy. And anti-Marcos campaigners were being murdered, while important people, from brave nuns to old feudal leaders, kept up the fight against the Marcoses. So when the old ruler announced he had won the election, no one believed him.

One night in February I had done a telephone interview from my apartment with a radio talk show host in California. I predicted, wrongly, that Marcos would not leave peacefully, would fight to the death rather than flee. Which was where I had gone wrong in the book’s last chapter. It reminded me of myself when I was a champion debater and made points to close a subject rather than open something up. Before the interview was over I took a Halcion, a sleeping pill I was trying out, then took another, and the next morning I could not recall much of what I had said. I threw all pills away, but did not tell anyone about the circumstances. And despite my desire to be open, I did not always admit to sadness about what I was shedding.

The sadness had taken me by surprise earlier in February when for the first time I led an ACOA meeting. In that darkened conference room at St. Vincent’s I had heard myself saying words that, without conscious volition, kept coming into consciousness. The words were “My heart is breaking.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010


We lean in close to each other. To anyone who sees us here in this restaurant garden it must look like we are flirting. Gillian is talking about past potential. She says she used to have an hou glass figure, which sounds to me like a dark term from Victorian days. And I cannot see how what appeals to me could have been improved upon by what also sounds like a touch of anorexia.

She says grandly that she used to be a best selling author. It sounds to me like a routine series book, maybe a lowly text book, something that happened to have her name on it because someone liked her. She does not ask about the real books she must know I have written.

“I once saw a lama levitate,” she says. “I didn’t see it directly,” she says, but I was right outside the shed where it happened and so I knew he was levitating."

I cannot quite edge in to talk about my years of travel, my time in revolutions. Four months ago, in February of this for me turning-point year, the deadly dictatorial couple Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were fleeing the Philippines. That was where very recently I was being threatened with death by Marcos enforcers, while the people on the side I chose were being murdered. And at virtually this same time that Marcos was being overthrown, Baby Doc Duvalier was being flown out of Haiti. Haiti, where long ago a woman of the night and I were given a bottle of Barbancourt rum, and hidden in a shed behind an open air whorehouse dance hall where Baby Doc’s father's sadist thugs, perhaps with voodoo on their side, had come to kill a student leader.

Only recently have I thought there might be a connection between my getting into this sort of thing and the nature of the family I came from.

The reason I go to these meetings where I spotted Gillian is not just that I am at last out to find out what happened in my family homes. I also want to expose the people who presided at my childhood, just as Gillian is out to expose her crazed mother and her mother's husbands and lovers.

The past is fast catching up with my family. My cousins are dying. Suicides and unexplained disease and drugs and more. And survivors are becoming the walking dead. It seems people are hounded into death in that family I came from every bit as much as liberal Filipinos under the Marcoses, and liberal Haitians under the Duvaliers.

But again I can’t get a word in as Gillian keeps talking. And I keep enjoying the sight of her. Her bare shoulders and rounded arms. Rounded everything. This open face American girl speaking with an acquired English accent. Waspy women in the family I came from also had those fake British accents that they considered upper class. Though none of them looked anything like Gillian.

In the restaurant garden Gillian’s face is full of color, some of it from the colored lights, some from her days on the sidewalk in the sun. Oval face and oval body. She seems to spread out and surround me. Engulf me. She is every wonderful heart-breaker I have ever had or known.

And she talks and talks and talks. And now she is calling these meetings we go to group therapy, though they are if anything in reaction to failures of clinical therapy. It is as if inside Gillian there is a cold inner literary critic or inner art historian trying to water down and obscure what is so glaringly real.

And I cannot get a word in, so I look. And almost listen. And drift.

How did I become so practiced at tuning out foolish talk?

I want so badly for her to be who I want.

And anyway it is high time, whoever she is, for the sex scene.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#53 – COLORS

Colors in the night and the scent of garlic and this womanly girl or girlie woman talking away across from me.

I am well oriented here in the still quite Italian part of Greenwich Village. This garden restaurant I first came to so long ago. Here in Manhattan where I have lived in so many neighborhoods. So many different lives, it now seems. So many lives in my times between other lives lived abroad. And this is such a fine picture, this smooth person with rippling hair, and what we used to call pneumatic body, and interested eyes in this romantically ramshackle place that is part of my past. This young woman so ripe she may be near the edge of overripe. All this like what I sought the first time I was in Rome and got to the artistically arranged ruins of the otherwise terrible Roman Forum.

As I look at her, I am thinking of other lives I have led. And thinking why not try another? The talk no worse than silly and she seems to have instinct beyond things that in the past eluded me.

And here now his garden, here now me happy, here now she pretty.

This sticky cheese on this still firm pasta is amazingly flavorful. I am in a time-out, and maybe she too, from this movement we have each joined, a time out from these hard matters we have been dealing with. This program where matricide and patricide and fratricide are not quite unthinkable.

The slippery crusty part of the cheese is the best. And I guess I do like anchovies.

And then I am thinking about all the barren times in strange but fine cities where I did not speak the language. And the sometimes lonelier times when I did.

And now the veal cutlets come. Cotoletta alla Milanese, or something like that. (Which makes me think of how I lost my virginity in a Roman brothel in that college year I romanticized the ruins of the Forum.)

As she talks – its about the bizarre mother again – I am thinking that the people I come from were not child fuckers, though with what I have been discovering this year even that should not be left out of the search for what happened.

I think this as she talks about something else, I am not sure what, I have lost her thread. I do not hear her but I see her and I breath her in just as I breath in the spices and the garlic, the smells now of sex.

I drift and dream of what I begin to hope that without too much rewriting it could be with Gillian. Here at this unstable garden restaurant table, my whole life flashing before me. Which is something that has been happening often recently in this charged time, my life flashing before me – and I cannot believe this has to do with the old saw about lives flashing by just at the point of death.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


On a warm June evening I take Gillian to a wonderfully seedy outdoor place I used to go to in summer in the early sixties. That was before there was universal air conditioning. Amazingly the place is still here – a dilapidated, walled garden with wobbly chairs and tables and strings of colored lights behind a marginal Italian restaurant way down on Sixth.

Twenty five years before this time with Gillian, back in the early sixties when I was briefly a job holder, I would skip out on some summer days and head to this outdoor place. I would meet a fleshy, horny rich girl named Alice whom I had met when she was a bridesmaid and I an usher in the very social wedding of college friends. In the garden, we would get carafe after carafe of wine and serving of things heavy with garlic and oil such as were never known in the Waspy places we came from. Mostly we neglected the food for foreplay.

And now all these years later I am here with Gillian this evening and I am feeling that time is timeless. The colored lights are jolly, though they make me think of heavy drinking days and dark White Rose bars that keep their Christmas decorations up all year round.

I stuff paper napkins under an uneven table leg, like I used to do with match books. Before the antipasto comes, Gillian leads off with a strange invasive question. She asks me what my “truth path” is – as if anyone would know what such a term meant.

I suspect it has to do with platitudinous things that have appeared since I first brought girls here, which was before anyone ever heard the term New Age.

Her truth path, she says, is Tibetan Buddhism. Then, with no conversational lead-in, she is telling me intimate details of her life. She says her father abandoned her when she was coming into puberty, leaving her to a semi-famous, sex-mad mother, a mother who presented herself as Upper East Side old family upper class and who spent her time fucking literary celebrities. Which Gillian thinks may have to do with why she herself has done indiscriminate sex. She has my interest.

I tell her about cases of betrayal and molestation and maybe worse, proven and suspected, that I am discovering in the very proper seeming family I was born into. And then for no clear reason I am telling her how my father was deserted three years ago just before he died, deserted by the people he loved – his wife, my mother, his good son, my twin brother, his rakish sister, my once favorite aunt. No family there except me, the black sheep, and my almost ex-wife. When he lay dying in a third rate Florida hospital, his entire chest an open cancer wound, a cowardly third rate doctor holding back on the morphine for fear of a law suit.

Suddenly Gillian is in linear didactic mode. Her acquired British accent gets more so as she tells me exactly what happens at death. How you move into something clear cut that does not entail matter. And how Buddhists like her will know precisely what to say to some being who will take you to the other side. Not that there is anything real about either side.

I am wondering how long till the pasta comes. And in my head I am cataloging girlfriends of the past.

I listen but do not tell her anything more about myself. I do not speak of my 15 years in the Far East without a single spiritual experience to relate. I do not tell how I would go through the motions in Buddhist Thailand of praying with Sunisar in front of a sort of garlanded birdhouse in my sandy yard on the Chao Phrya River. Sunisar would have slipped out of her gold lamé night club gown and would be in an equally enticing low slung sarong. Then she might change to tight bright pants and a colorful blouse, and lead me off in a rented sampan to some light and senual celebration at some brightly lit and colored sort of community center temple compound.

No connection at all between these encounters with Buddhism and what Gillian is telling me she experienced when living in a cabin in an orchard in the part of India where the Tibetan exiles live.

I tune out her foolish how-to-die prattle but do not forget the dramatic part about this being an apparently sex ready and certainly appealing girl selling wooden fetish figures on the street.

As if, despite all that is opening up in my life, I am still someone trying to create scenes that could appear in correct fiction.

Monday, February 8, 2010


On a sunny morning in the early spring of this crucial year I ride my bicycle up to the Modern Art Museum on 53rd. I stop just west of the museum.

As I am chaining the bike to a “No Standing” sign post I hear, from behind me, a voice that feels sweet. Sweet even though with careful British-seeming overtones:

“What a neat bike, Fred.”

It is this girl, Gillian. She knows my name and more already, for she has been present at the meetings to hear my careful, and clever, rants. Rants as I trace my life. My popular rants. Now here she is in real life. She is seated in a canvas chair on the sidewalk in front of a shuttered brownstone down from the museum.

She is smiling, and she stretches like a cat. Her clothes, which I think are thrift store clothes, drape her body and follow the body’s lines the way her long hair did the other night. Like the drapery in drawings that follows what is underneath. And like in the meetings, she is playing with the long strands of this light hair in the touching, awkward manner of a girl as young as she looks. Though from her few words at the meetings, I know she has to be older than that.

In front of her is a sign, drawn in a girlish hand, that says:


On a bed sheet in front of the sign is a row of probably mass produced wooden West African fetish figures. She is selling these figures.

Before I go in the museum we chat. She says she thinks we have so much in common, each of us being so much more widely traveled than other people. She wonders if I am a member of MOMA. I am not, though I think I should be, I come here so often in this time of exploration.

Inside the museum I head straight to the Matisse room, which is where I often go these days. I stand before a big painting called Piano Lesson. I go so deep inside it that I become the stunned boy Matisse portrayed beneath a cruel gray task mistress. There is that witch in the picture, but also someone else. In the boy’s line of sight Matisse had painted one of those warm bronze nude-girl figurines that he himself created.

When I turn from the painting, I look at the actual bronze nudes in the Matisse room. My mind and groin are with the draped flesh and blood figure, the real life version I have just encountered on the sidewalk.

After Matisse I go quickly to familiar places – de Chirico, de Kooning, Deibenkorn, Gorky, Magritte. Then back to Matisse, and this time the naked bronze girl in the painting seems to come alive. I see her stretch.

Before I leave the museum I write a check for membership.

Outside Gillian is yawning on the canvas chair behind the fetish display. She is raising her arms. She is luxuriating in the sun.

We give each other our phone numbers. And she stands up and we do a quick, noncommittal hug before I unlock my bicycle.

Soon I start taking Gillian to old places I had haunted 25 years back with girls who were as young then as this woman or girl Gillian looks now in 1986.