Wednesday, February 24, 2010
#67 – ON GAGA'S SHOULDERS
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.