Tuesday, March 30, 2010
At the end of Davis Road was a the small wooden Episcopal summer church, St. Matthew's, where they sang "God Save the King" even though this was America, and where we’d gone with our grandmother Nana every Sunday, Peter and I in neckties and boarding school blazers, taking up the collection. Then onto a paved road and past the turn up to the sprawling Sunset Hill House. Also past the Homestead Inn (which the family ignored on grounds it was too self consciously New England quaint and owned by a family with an Italian name). Then on down into Sugar Hill Village, using a very old wooden sidewalk, past warm seeming picket fence houses that were in their way as picturesque as the big summer people’s places. Down a wooden sidewalk into the village, which was a post office/general store with a gas pump. It was here that I would get comic books – Dick Tracy with his wrist radio and Gravel Gerty and B.O. Plenty – and Donald Duck with his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – and little Nancy with her rakish little low class boyfriend Sluggo. I learned from comics before I learned from books that I need not be bound by the cast of characters or the places in the world into which I had been born.
It was at the turnoff to the Sunset that Gaga told two people who stopped their sedan to ask directions that there were no hotels here. And because I objected he took me aside on another day to tell me it was just that Jews work harder than anyone else and often take a fellow’s job away from him. And he really did have a very close Jewish friend still from his old radical settlement house days.
That church – where we took up the collection, and where everyone sang “God save the King” to the tune of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee – was overseen by Nana and it was where Mother and Dad had been married.
This was where I found myself going first on my return to New Hampshire from Vermont in this time when the entire landscape of my life was changing. I stopped and looked at the church. Then I turned up to where on my right the Sunset had been, passing on my left the ruins of a rakish, brown-shingled place called The Pioneer, a place to dance and neck in the dark with whisky provided by liberated college kids who worked at the hotel. By now the Sunset had been torn down, but its outsize rental cottages – one of which had been used by my Mother’s Southern family - were still intact. And across the street was a concrete sidewalk with a small viewing platform for the most pure version of the official family view of the Franconia Mountains.
This was one of the days the mountains looked green and soft, not blue-gray-black and granite. A wooden building a little past the viewing platform had been known as “the bachelors’ quarters” in my parents’ time, when respectable young men could stay cheaply because they were in demand as escorts for the daughters of the regular, mostly Southern, Sunset guests. In my own time (which began in the Depression) it had become the place where the college kids who were bellboys and chambermaids lived – these dashing people who could be seen necking in the shadows of the Sunset’s unending wicker chair lined porch during the Saturday night dances where old people sat in a great circle examining young dancers. Now it was being turned into a Waspish inn-size in that would use the Sunset Hill House name.
Across the road was a small golf course, still there, where Mother, an only child, played round after round alone, and from where she saw, coming up and the hill, my father, a lonely little boy in a pony cart.
I wondered if this were correct procedure for the new life I was in, focusing in this way on these people of the past rather than on myself – remembering past times with the pleasure I often knew then rather than the horror I knew now.
Monday, March 29, 2010
My driving is like gentle skating through the hills and valleys beneath Vermont’s friendly mountains. Past these well-kept cows and goats and horses, alongside clear streams and rivers, and through Christmas card white clapboard villages with village greens containing bandstands, sometimes with young guitar players doing sixties protest or peace and love songs still in this summer of 1986, this time that makes me feel I am, in nearly forgotten days, coming alive, though doing it in what to others, not me, might be middle age. Here so far from the exotic and erotic and chancy places on other continents that I had thought gave me definition and therefore an identity far removed from where so much of my life had begun – which was across the border in the stark, sometimes green and warm, more often blue-black and cold White Mountains of New Hampshire.
I am traveling in this lighthearted Aqua Mustang that I bought on a whim – the first car I have owned rather than rented since my old Humber in 1969 in Singapore, which closely followed my old tank-like green Rover in Bangkok. And now, of all things, a Mustang. We used to joke about this as a car for prosaic, play-it-safe people who wanted to pretend they were sports car drivers.
I enjoyed the fact that on the dashboard there was a gauge that showed the r.p.m.’s of the motor, which would be crucial information to a racing car driver who had to precise information for precise gear shifting at high speeds. But you did not shift gears in a car, like this one that has automatic . And moreover this model was a “hardtop” convertible, which mean it was a convertible that could not be converted.
And here I am in a Mustang, skating about these hills and valleys in this time of plunging subjectively and, and perhaps soon literally, into deep past places to find out, first, why I have been so attracted all my life to life-threatening matters, and, second, why my peers in the seemingly Victorian-safe family I came from had sunk or were sinking into unexamined life stories of death and molestation.
As I drive I see certain changes in unchanging northern New England, such as that the more prosperous Vermont farms no longer have the old picturesque elongated wooden barrel-type silos but now have shiny dark blue silos made of what appears to be Plexiglas. And I am started to hear in my head the voice of my twin brother, who took over the last of the big old family houses across the border and is probably there right now with his intensely Anglo wife, this brother who had roamed on orders from the CIA and tricky Defense Department agencies in some of the very places where I, in opposition, had sometimes been underground and/or under death threat. He is telling me what I can see for myself is not real unless it is certified by family, and he is in charge of certification. And then I smile, as I am doing often when alone this summer, smile maybe to keep from weeping.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Until now I had never had a car in New York. The last car I’d owned – a tank-like Humber, which I learned to my dismay was the car of choice for the police in England – had been in Singapore, 17 years ago. Just before that in Bangkok I’d had another big, heavy English car, a green Rover with leather seats that was simultaneously seedy and jaunty and I loved it. We lived across the river, right on the river, in Thonburi, so we’d take a small ferry from the front of my house to a Bangkok side landing where I'd left the Rover. When we got in we’d sit for a time with all four doors open, it was so hot. The thick air smelled of warm leather and cigarettes from inside, and of flowers, musty water and cigarettes from outside. In Humphrey Bogart fashion I would put two cigarettes in my mouth, light them both, and place one of them between Bonnie’s lips. This was living.
As I drove in Vermont back in ’86 I thought a good deal about death. Some of it death in that family I had been probing and exposing even though I hardly saw any of them by this time – and I also thought about death way beyond the family, far more dramatic than in the family.
When I was living in Singapore at the end of the sixties, Max Vanzi, whom I had already known in Delhi and Hong Kong, was the UPI bureau chief there and one day he called and said he had a really easy story to do up in Kuala Lumpur and I should come along. It was an election in Malaysia, which was generally a very routine affair. The story was such an easy one that he had it written in advance. So we did K.L. night life.
But then later in the night there were shouts and the honking of horns. Open cars packed with cheering Chinese celebrating the election in which they had won almost as many seats as their numbers would have given them if the fix had not been put in by the British who left Malaysia with a constitution that gave a disproportionate share of seats in Parliament to the Malays who were so loved by the British who had apparently thought these least likely of English subjects could be turned into little brown Englishmen if somehow the more vigorous and numerous Chinese and Indians could be gotten out of the way.
Well, the Malays still had their edge. We went back down to Singapore the next morning in something of a post boozing fog, but when we got there we received word that a large group of Chinese had just started a parade through the center of K.L. singing "The East is Red," and the slaughter had begun. A real slaughter since, thanks to how the British set things up before they left, the Malays had all the guns.
Fourteen years later Max and I were in close touch doing a book about the Philippines under the awful dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a favorite of the Reagan government. It was a time of gruesome killings throughout those islands. We moved about Manila, sometimes in public and sometimes with underground opposition figures. And shortly after we got back, Max went on the plane from San Francisco with Marcos’s most formidable exile opponent, Benigno Aquino, when Aquino attempted to return. Max saw him dragged off by Marcos men at the Manila airport, where he was shot in the back of the head. Three months earlier I had spent an around-the-clock, three-day session talking with Aquino, who was one of those people who make everyone feel good when they enter a room. Our meeting was at a place he used when privacy was important, big old rustic lake house he had acquired in central Massachusetts just after his 8 years as a political prisoner of the Marcos martial law regime. And a pretty young girl just happened to appear at the lake.
That was a real death. I thought of it in this time in Vermont. Bodies around K.L. The stench from the overcrowded morgue. Thousand of unarmed Chinese shot in the streets. And in Manila the national police, the Constabulary, staging the deaths of government opponents. But it did not seem to me now that these family investigations were anything less important. That death is death, and the family deaths were closer than the political deaths, though I had avoided till now family matters in favor of what I considered crucial geopolitical affairs.
Friday, March 26, 2010
I was driving around this gentle countryside just after getting the car – and then it was down to the city where I had been simultaneously unraveling and exposing both past and present – then back again for the summer I had planned in Vermont. I drove up with a dramatic couple I had encountered this year – a flamboyant, aging, silver-haired Florentine American, Mario, whom I knew form these meetings and whose only visible means of support was the work of his young Eurasian wife, with whom he and their very large dog lived in one of those buildings that though in the West Village was all old tenement railroad apartments with the toilet a communal one on each floor. The wife was the daughter, he said of a big-time CIA man.
Back to the city to reconnoiter, and for the funeral of Bruce Bacon, who decided to kill himself just at the time he was to join me and his brother and half-brother this summer in Vermont. Then back now to Vermont to toy with crossing over into New Hampshire but mostly just to have a kind of time-out period from what I had been doing this year.
So I took up horseback riding. Nearby in a place called Castleton there was a family of horse people who had a ring where you got instruction from a tough, wiry girl in riding the Western way, and where once a month there would be a rodeo – this strange and out of context and little known rodeo circuit in New England. And I drove, and stopped at lakes, which were everywhere in small state parks, stopped to swim and to lie in grass and listen on my Walkman. The catching up I was doing getting songs I had missed while abroad into my head now not directly but filtered through others – as in Judy Collins doing Joni Mitchell, and someone slightly cornball named Roger Whittaker doing Leonard Cohen – Mitchell and Cohen among those I had missed but might retrieve now, like getting back to horseback riding, including horseback riding I might have done but did not as an adult. And, for that matter, back to swimming in summer lakes.
I had had this idea that since art has been so important to me this year – since I had been getting so much of my information visually in museums and galleries and parks that I was thinking this was more me than the writer version – that I would take up drawing and painting. I would seek instruction. Thinking of it at first just as something to study so as to better appreciate the works of art by real artists that I was seeing. And I went to art galleries around the state, sometimes alone, sometimes with some of these people in Peter and Julie’s circle, like Lucy, who were becoming my friends. There was a big one in Rutland run a family named Chaffee known not for art but because they had produced an Olympic skier. Almost all the paintings in this one were of barns. And I went with Lucy halfway down to Massachusetts to a still bigger gallery people talked about – and it too specialized in barns. I did hear about people who gave private lessons. But I did not do anything about actually finding them. And beyond going every few days to that Western riding place – and of course my time listening to music in the car and beside lakes – I realized I was still doing very little outside my car.
And it still puzzled me. I had thought that like returning to lakes and horses I would also get back to woodland or mountain trials, the way it has been way way back – but I didn’t’ do it. Sometimes I would stop to look around at something near the road, a log house that a sign said was used in another season for boiling maple sap, or a spot by an impressive gorge, and at such places I would see the start of some trail leading into the woods, but I would not go on those trails.
And the gorge did make me think of a bigger gorge, the fabled Flume in Franconia notch, and the maple sugar place led to maple sugar cupcakes in White Pines and maple sugar sold at a place called Hildex between Sugar Hill and Franconia. I was in Vermont, the anti-New Hampshire, and I was in New Hampshire too.
And yet I kept driving, staying in the car – even though the most frightening thing I was aware of encountering was hearing two prissy ladies, who were walking behind me in the very correct town of Middlebury, talking away in high pitched voices in the versions of fake English accents that a certain kind of person adopts thinking it makes them convincingly upper class.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
It seemed temporary. I did not want to admit this to myself, admit that I knew it would not last.
It was not just that there were dropouts. Angry Sarah was not the only one. People you saw over and again in these meetings and then suddenly saw no more, as if they had crossed back over to join the awful people that they has been with in the first place. And beyond seeing these dropouts I had an idea what we were doing could not lasts forever. In my rambling life so far complete seeming worlds had never proved solid after the early stages.
As in when I was living in Greece at the start of the sixties, writing these long novels, sharing this small whitewashed house on the hillside with this very pretty painter Vannie. It was one of such small white swashed house reached by foot paths in Anafiotika, which was the name for the side of the Acropolis – about a quarter of the houses on the side of the Acropolis at this point inhabited by people like us, varying sorts of artistic foreigners and would-be artistic foreigners living on the cheap in the Greek sun. I knew it would change. There was already one tourist gift store in Anafiotika, so in tune with changing times that it was operated by two gay guys. . A makeshift taverna on the steps had just brought a loud squawky amplifier for use by its bouzouki player. There were plans for a discothèque, something new to Greece. Not much had changed when I left, but these plans for change were in the air, and when I looked in again on my way back from Asia five years later discothèques and bars and touristy gift shops dominated.
I made many side trips from Anafiotica to places in Anatolia and Syria and the Levant and once four thousand miles down into Africa. But I came back each time and I announced to number of people, people on the spot and also people receiving my entertaining letters, that I would live here, keep this place my base, for the rest of my life. But it was less than two years later than I left for good.
And other places where I has attempted root myself – Bangkok, Singapore, Haiti, even that fake facade place Beirut – there has been moments when I was ready to stay forever, and other times when there seemed to be nothing left to stay for. Which led to a sort of sweet despair that had once seemed romantic and now seemed the worst sort of dispensation.
But I had never felt the pull to stop and stay quite so strongly as in these meetings that were being held in different parts of Manhattan. Even though the signers were there that such an uncompromising program would not last. There were already moves to organize the program into something else – to return it to the good ladies of Al-non, or set up a tight, or set up yet another rule-enforcing world headquarters.
Maybe nothing could ever be any more permanent for me, than that world that I had once thought was the whole world up in the mountains of New Hampshire. That world that I was figuratively destroying this year as I kept returning to it in my imagination and perhaps now in actuality – and a finally, maybe, finally get to the root of what had happened
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Shortly before the scouting trip to Vermont I ran into raw-boned Sarah near Washington Square. I hadn’t seen her for awhile. She had been at all the meetings, and then she was not there at all. She had been loud in the meetings and had lashed out on many subjects – all the people she hated, starting with her hateful family. Then on top of everything, she would say, was that men wanted all the women. What about people like herself who liked women?
The worst thing was her abusing family. And she got especially loud when it came time to visit them in North Carolina. She did go down there and it was as bad as she had suspected. Her fury had not seemed unusual in the context of these meetings. But now she was now ready to recant, she said. Her focus had shifted away from blame, she told me. She wanted to stop getting so worked up.
The last time I had seen her she came into a meeting at the Corlears school fuming, a familiar state in this program made up of people who had been badly abused as children, some of them just remembering it now decades later, people who were familiar with betrayal, gathering in these meeting places where matricide and patricide and fratricide were not exactly favored but were not unthinkable. But that last time I saw her in a meeting it was not her awful family that raised her anger but rather it was the French – now that she had decided to renounce her disloyalty to family.
“What do you think about the French?” she asked as the room was filling up. “Isn’t it awful?” she asked, as if she were certain of agreement. And she seemed surprised that no one thought what the French had done was awful. Reagan’s people had just launched an attack on Libya, from out of the blue it seemed, the reasons for it were so slim. And a batch of civilians had been killed, including the infant son of the president, Gadalfi. To Sarah that was not what was awful, and she wasn’t mad at the Libyans either. Her anger was at the French because they would not let Reagan’s bombers fly over France on their way from Britain to North Africa.
So there were dropouts like Sarah from the program. And what was happening in the world often seemed strangely connected to what was going on in these meetings. Reagan’s daughter Patti had just written a book describing how her pretentious mother Nancy would beat her and her father would look on as if he approved. And then there were a series of articles about Reagan’s son Michael, who had made the news awhile back claiming he had been sexually molested by his father, and then recently had announced he had remembered it wrong, it was really a boarding school phys. ed. teacher who had done it – and there was a great deal of speculation in print that he changed his story when they offered, to make him a rich right-wing radio talk show host if he would recant.
Two old Princetonians were in charge of foreign affairs for Reagan in this year 1986 and seemed to be on television constantly. Casper Weinberger, the defense secretary, who would be shown on TV whenever Reagan bombed something and jump up and down describing the slaughter as it were a good sexual thing. And then respectable little George Schultz, the defense secretary, would come on and he was so dull that the press thought he must be deep. Schultz whose one eccentricity was that he had an ankle tattoo of a Princeton tiger.
Just before the scouting trip to Vermont I rode my bicycle down to the Battery to meet Abigail and Susan who were there for a peace rally. The occasion was that off in the not so far distance, off near Staten Island, what looked like an armada of battle gray warships had arrived. The reason was the upcoming Fourth of July return of the Statue of Liberty, which had been out of sight while being cleaned up. The ships were there ready for a lavish public display of patriotic fervor and military might, complete with fireworks and the worst sort of square entertainment, including a surrealistic performance by three dozen Elvis impersonators – all of this being billed in the press as, strangely, a tribute to Ronald Reagan, who was going to attend the ceremony and smile and salute. We were at the Battery for a much smaller meeting led by Jesse Jackson, who along with his anti-war, anti-Reagan talk, had us all nearly in tears as he led us in chanting his signature “I am somebody” line – nearly in tears as we took up his suggestion to hold hands in a big circle at the gathering’s end – which was much like the endings at these pro matricide, patricide, fratricide meetings I went to.
I was glad to see that near Jackson were two steely-eyed bodyguards with ear pieces scanning the crowd.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Donna, Mediterranean dark skin and hefty but younger than her years. Donna had a ranch house on a street that looked more like a suburb than the way Vermont was supposed to look. She wondered if when I went back from this brief scouting trip I could find someone in New York who would like to rent her house for the summer. She would stay in the basement, which, in suburban style, had been made livable when her late mother had the house built. She needed money to complete her studies, for she was to leave at summer’s end for Union on her way to being a Congregational minister.
And anyway she was alone. She used to live with Kate, who was now, they said, dying of cancer, though I had seen Kate, who was still ambulatory and to me seemed a normal, graying, wise-cracking middle-aged lady. Donna said Kate’s situation made her furious. It was almost as if she and Kate had been married. A world here in Vermont, on my brief scouting trip, in which everyone was connected.
I was staying with Peter and Julie and had arranged to use their guest room for a nominal rent later into the summer when I came back. I hinted that it might not just be for the summer.
On Sunday evening, the night before I was to drive down to the city, I went with Peter and Julie and Donna and their pretty, bouncy friend Lucy to a band concert on the green. Even a factory town in Vermont had a green with a bandstand in the center. We sat on blankets. The music, bandsmen of all ages, was enthusiastic. Children chased each other around the bandstand, which was just the way it had always been, said Julie, who had lived here when she a child. “Round and round,” she said. “Round and round. “Look at them. There they go. Just like always.” She was savoring her words and the scene.
And her focus on the scene made her attractive. It made me stop comparing her to Peter’s first wife Gay whom I had known because she was the sister of the my girlfriend Vannie’s old college roommate at Agnes Scott in Georgia, his first wife Gay, to whom I had introduced him and who was appealingly naïve and almost helpless, and had gone to college at the University of Florida because it had a circus school. But she and Peter fought all the time, and Peter seemed to fight only in the mildest ways with Julie. Way back there had been violent episodes when he was drunk, something not unheard of in the world we’d lived in.
The air was clear, maybe because most industry in New England had by now failed. We were in the middle of this old mill city, very close to the strip with its national franchises, but the air still smelled of countryside.
We were joined on the green by a school principal who looked like a younger version of the grim man in the Grant Wood painting American Gothic painting, his wife like the stern woman. I could picture him standing ramrod straight and holding onto a pitchfork. When we saw them coming Julie had quietly filled me in on how the school principal after his first wife died had been going with his prettiest teacher, the art teacher, who was Lucy, but Lucy had dropped him because he was a Republican. So he had wound up with this stern woman who was with him here. The two of them looking more like out of American Gothic than ever when seen beside Lucy.
I thought of New Hampshire. Children did not run around village bandstands there. In fact village greens were rare there. And the summer people there had no such connections with the people who lived in the place year round. And the summer people’s children were usually put with their nurses or governesses in special little houses, or in our case in a distant wing of a big house.
“Round and round,” Julie was saying again. Just like it's always been. “Look at them.”
The room I was using in their house, the room I was to have for the summer, had the clean wood smell I remembered of big summer houses though this was a compact year-round house. This was where he and Julie really lived – just like the other people in Rutland.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The trees were billowing up and out and leaning over the road. Billowing. Had I ever noticed this before? It was like when I was 14 and looking out the window from our school library out down a hill and over an old river and over woods leading to a village and the hills that eventually would become the White Mountains. Looking out in early spring and seeing there was a red tint to the branches. Had anyone ever seen that before in spring? And had anyone ever noticed that trees billow in summer?
And had anyone ever been young and happy here? I had. Or lost here? I had. Or looking for god here, or saying there was no god here? I had. Here in northern New England, but not Vermont.
And the fears. Unspoken, mostly, the fears. that I would never grow a normal size penis. The no one would ever see that I was smart. That something, someone, would come at me in the dark, and I could not speak of it. Does anyone know? No one saw. Did anyone know?
Looking and looking and looking, as if all I had to do now was to find out who did what to whom. And maybe that was all I needed. I needed to get the story right. Not the form. The story. Revenge.
And acts or words of kindness. That clichéd line my mother-in-law wrote: "Thank you for being you." I called her Inay, the Tagolog word for Mom.
Acts of kindness and caring. And way back I had felt myself such a miserable little worm. And I had other aspirations of something else.
Then the deep, deep sadness And the anger. People who would get me if I did not get them first. And also, women I thought I loved.
And it wells up again in this mourning time.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I drove, and I was there and I as not there. I drove as if I had the answers to these pressing questions – why Bruce Bacon had leaped off a high bridge just now when he was to join us in Vermont – why Cousin Margaret has just died on a respirator, her skin red and black, her head the size of a basketball, after announcing she wanted to die because of what they had done to her sexually and otherwise, why Cousin Deirdre chose this time to announce having been raped by her sadistic, gun-toting brother, my cousin Paul, and wasn’t Paul’s death probably suicide? These connections to the betrayal that was coming to light. Betrayal.
All this almost easy to put out of mind at moments while driving, looking staight ahead and to left and right at the soft nature around me.
I drove with the sure knowledge of what had happened even if I could not access the specifics. Why would I have cried, not able to stop, in front of Jocelyn when we were in bed watching the Truffaut, movie Small Change in which it comes to light the despised schoolboy in Lyon lives in a a nightmare home where he is battered. Then removed from the home. The part bringing tears being where the smart and caring schoolmaster explains it to the other children.
Light being shown on what had happened, and it was not so bad as the not-knowing could be. The not knowing and the not wanting to know. There was no light there. That was how it was with all these blood relations of mine whom I had never quite trusted anyway, even way back when it had seemed safest to be part of a family. Even back then when I did not tell even myself about my lack of trust.
As I drove now I found myself back in a zone I had been in these past months – as if I had stepped through an unseen curtain and everything was different on the other side. Dark. Black and dark colors. A world that existed in tunnels and other underground passageways. Mazes of dark places.
It was as if up here in the soft green mountains and their foothills I was an emissary from the steel trap world I had entered when the point came where I had know or I would die too – an emissary from that world which I had entered like entering a new dimension when I was at those meetings, or creating verbal pictures of the visual images in my head, or looking at certain works of art, or at familiar places. Or attempting love, or fantasizing an attempt, with some vaguely familiar woman.
That was how it had felt. These soft dark passages, very dark reds and greens and dirty yellows and heartless blues.
The dark underground world was all around me even as I listened to music. Even when tucked away under that train of light there were these dark tunnels.
And over them this train of light when I was listening to Haydn or Handel, or looking at Deibenkorn or Constable, or being one of this group I had been in for nine months, with people who could fit my life at any time, some of them rejects I was tempted to reject too.
In the group, sometimes it was like I was I visitor to another planet. And then I was a Martian too. A Martian driving now in Vermont.
And something else new in these past months – a calm coming over me.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Till now it felt like I had to go into the belly so the beast. What had seemed safe and good from the place I came from was buried now in the certainty that that place, though I did not have absolute proof yet, was a place that was not safe for children. And probably no one else either. I did not have what my new friend Michelle – daughter of a psychopathic therapist who has became cult leader – called “the visuals.” What had happened. Just what it was. She needed the visuals. What had been done to her. And I did too, because for the first time I was penetrating the darkness in my life’s landscape. But maybe for the moment I could pull back, look around, enjoy this place in which I was a new licensed driver.
And I had this car, this shiny aqua Mustang with the chrome horse on front that I had just bought on the spur of the moment. A car that had a story. A sweet young lady had owned it with her young husband, the very Yankee seeming garage owner said. And she was just too sad to keep it. You know what happened. I didn’t, I told him. He said that must be because I had not been around here earlier in the year. Her husband was a telephone lineman who had been killed by lightening and though she loved their Mustang it was just too sad to be in it alone.
Which made me feel that I had found the right vehicle, a place to contemplate the hard stories I had been bringing to light and was now thinking about setting aside. And it was also the right vehicle because it had a working tape deck, so I could continue retracing the music I would have heard if I had not been so busy in literal places dangerous on their own, like the head-hunter part of Borneo, or Darfur in what had been French Central Africa and where the wars never ended.
I put Judy Collins on the tape deck and heard her doing the songs of others that I had missed and realized I was as filled with longing as ever – and thought of women of my past, from Vannie to Ramona and Gillian to Anne – and felt that being alone might not be so bad, a little like taking a needed pause in the search. That maybe what would be best right now would be to spend time here in the gentle green mountains of Vermont, a state that had a liberal left government and was so hospitable to musicians and anti-war organizers, stay here in this very safe place – so different from what was across the border in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that had once seemed the most beautiful and even safe place in the world despite all the bigotry and the right wing politics and Yankee trickiness, for all year I had been retrieving the darkness, entering this very unsafe, cold and cruel and retrograde place, the summer people’s restricted New Hampshire, which now seemed to specialize in molestation, psychic and real.
I thought as I drove, up and down the foothills beneath the green mountains, along clear water rivers ruining fast over smooth rocks, past carefully tended fields of clover and other such soothing things, with good looking cows everywhere. The antithesis of the New Hampshire I came from and that I was only now entering with eyes open, entering in my mind. I drove and looked at the peaceful scenes around me – goats now, and now white horses – and began to wonder why I drove and drove and did not get out the car.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
It is a warm summer-like June day and I am going to, of all places, Greenwich, Connecticut, which was where early in the fifties, just after getting my license, I would drive to see my girlfriend Kitty.
I go to Grand Central Station, which is almost exactly what it was years ago. I board a train which is just like the old New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad trains, right down to the blue seats, that were the commuter vehicles for people like my father who lived in Connecticut and got up at dawn to go to their offices in New York.
I am going to Greenwich to meet up with Julie Cooper, second wife of my old friend Peter Cooper, whose heavy drinking parents knew my heavy drinking parents in Connecticut. And also knew the heavy drinking parents of my friend from third grade, Jason Bacon. The Coopers and Bacons knew each other so well that they switched places – a suburban scandal – and Peter and Jason became half brothers.
I am going to Greenwich on the first leg of this new trip north I am making with the ill gotten money from Penthouse for a piece about the Philippines that I knew, though they paid me for it, they would never run since they were, despite their liberal attitude towards porn, a Republican-leaning publication. The Philippines, where my ex-wife began life, and where I have recently discovered my twin brother was sent by the CIA at the time of my Philippine book, the time of a deadly game of revolt and suppression just three years ago when I was virtually a member of the opposition to one of Reagan’s favorite dictators.
Peter’s wife has been in Greenwich visiting his sister Sue, now a suburban matron but once a girl on the loose who long ago had a party in the East 70s that I went to close to midnight following a shift over in Jersey for UPI and where I met Vannie Traylor, my girlfriend for a few years, the first woman I actually lived with.
These past times and past people all mixed up with present times and past people in the present. I had been talking on the phone with Jason’s younger brother Bruce, an artist and lover of beautiful women and a wild and beloved teacher School for Virual Arts who has come on hard times, Jason told me. His long standing girlfriend, Helga, who is a fashion designer and maintains a showroom Bruce managed, had thrown him out and was about to get sole possession of a house they owned together in the Berkshires. Jason, who has recouped family finances through investment banking, was going to help with Bruce’s support by paying him to make improvements to Jason’s heavy log retirement house in central Vermont.
On the phone Bruce, usually quick off the mark, had rambled. He had spoken of my girlfriend Vannie, so incredibly beautiful back then, he said. Whatever happened to her? And he said he was spending most of his days just driving around now, thinking about the state of the world, and the more he thought the worse it seemed, and everyone had been right twenty years ago to so fear nuclear annihilation. Most of the time he was alone now, with these disturbing thoughts about the state of the world. He was looking forward to meeting up with me. But there was no answer when I called him before I left.
Julie was on the platform looking happy in spring air at the Greenwich station, calm and confident if not so pretty as Peter’s first wife, who had been the flirtatious little sister of Vannie’s old college roommate. When I had been at Peter and Julie's place in the fall this present wife seemed so right for Peter now that he was firmly on his feet and a householder in Rutland.
And “Oh” she said, as we fastened our seat belts, I probably had not hear the news today. That Bruce Bacon had parked his car on a high bridge over the St. Lawrence River and jumped to his death.
Which seemed do me so in keeping with the mixture of past and present that my world had become in this time I was looking at it as if through a powerful telescope.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
There had been a mysterious voice, and nature was all mixed up with art, as in the combination of the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanic Garden. Paintings taking me into memories, some of them deadly dark, as in the horror in Gorky and the danger in Hobbema, and some of them filled with hope, as in the beauty in Hobemma and Manet and Matisse and Claude de Loraine and Bellini.
Other people I now knew who were, like me, on the hunt for their true histories talked of how music brought them every closer to what they needed to know and to who and what they really were. To me it was sights more than sounds, at the start anyway, but there was music too. Since that morning in February when Bonnie and I had spent the night at my place and then headed up to the Met and she passed me her Walkman on the E train that we were taking to connect with the 6 and it was as if I had always had music, though music had been no more part of the world I first came from then was art.
Now I bought a Walkman of my own – happy that the people I had come from would no more go in public with ear phones on than they would do the sorts of things I had done in parts of the world, Borneo and Chad, that they, though well traveled, would never want to see.
And now I went from having music only in certain stretches to having music all the time.
I had so rarely even had simple equipment for playing music. I would forget music, then plunge in and rush to catch up, as in the mid-sixties when suddenly I was mixing Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavor, Pete Seeger, Dionne Warwick. Long periods when in transit and abroad with no music, then these other periods working hard to catch up, as in the days I was on a Washington project and walked over from grim foggy bottom to the Kennedy center, an oasis in a wasteland, and always found a single ticket available. Or when I was living, strangely, on the far side if Hong Kong island, staring out past mostly deserted smaller islands and into oriental infinity, and decided I was in love with a girl I had met on a recent sojourn over in the Philippines. That time it was Paul Williams, her favorite, and Carole King, whom I had almost missed, and Carly Simon – and later my catching up sank even to a Captain and a Tennille. Even as it went to Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash, and Crosby Stills and Nash and into Robert Flack, each of these just a few years after everyone else knew them. I thought now of the girl who had been in Manila. It was just four years since we headed into the abortion, two years since we had the divorce.
And now I was wandering around with a regular person’s Walkman. Sometimes I would take it up to the roof of my building, sometimes war it while wandering the streets, and often I had it on – earphones and no helmet – my shooting around Manhattan in the early morning, or speeding downhill on Second fast enough to catch the changing lights – riding all over Manhattan and parts Brooklyn on my new Raleigh bike with earphones but no helmet.
This time at the start, with my first Walkman, I began with Mozart and Haydn, aware that I had no more clear idea about either of them than I had had about Piero della Francesca before I entered art this year. I made a stab at Beethoven, whom I thought would be a link the past I was exploring, Beethoven whom I had played over and over on my small blue portable LP player from the time I was 15 until I mysteriously lost interest at 17.
Right now I needed not the grandeur of Beethoven but the delicacy of Mozart.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
At a time, and not the first or last time, that I though I could stop time and would not have to go back.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I went to meet Tina in her sister’s dealers’ gallery of second string 19th century work, located on a second floor on an Upper East Side side street. Tina who, like virtually everyone else I saw these days, I had not known until this year. Tina, like everyone I dealt with this year, out to find out what had really happened in the distant or recent past – and this search seeming with so many of us be leading into life in the present in new ways. This graced time. And what a place to be right now with Tina, here in the art world which seemed so much what was real about me and what I wanted, something I had known before this year of change, but had managed to hold at a certain distance. Here on this spring day in a part of the city, the Upper East Side, that in my story was pretentious and stuffy. Or had been. For it was not like that today, which was a spring day that suddenly seemed to be all spring days I had ever known – like the evening I took flowers to Bonnie was like every hopeful courtship time.
And strange that so recently I had felt so disconnected from everyone. Strange now that I was dating Gillian, the blonde girl who sold African fetish figures on the sidewalk near the Modern Art Museum. And I was going horseback riding in Prospect Park with Janet, who seemed thoroughly free of her very recent childhood in an Alaska family bullied by a failed and violent Republican politician. And red-headed Tina was increasingly on my mind and in my life now that we were going to art exhibitions together, including the museum level pre-auction viewings at Sotheby’s. and to other places too, like the Paris Theater near the Plaza where, for a Truffaut movie, she met me carefully dressed with bare legs, displayed in thin sheer stockings on a cold day – and now in the warm weather her loose blouse bared her shoulders as she turned, bared the shoulder blade butterfly, the left shoulde rblade, this tattoo on smooth, soft skin.
I was with Tina at her sister’s place on my way to my last therapy session with George Rathbone who had become a friend and hardly seemed like a therapist he was so connected to the world and so amusing, like a friend accompanying me on an adventure we both found amusing and fascinating.
At the sight of Tina’s butterfly that sadness to which I had become vulnerable in this year swept over me once again, nearly knocked me down.
I told George about it. He said, and I thought maybe he was partially right, that the sadness had to so with our sessions coming to an end. It was cut rate, limited time therapy carried out at the Jewish Board. But I was deep in the sadness of knowing Tina, as with sadness, it seemed now, with almost every girl I with whom I had ever begun to feel connected. Tina now in this city with which I had been dealing since childhood, and where I had gone to live when free of school and army and apparently family too.