Tuesday, July 27, 2010


We start the day in the kitchen area and it feels so natural it is as if we have not just come out of separate little theme bedrooms. We cook scrambled eggs and bacon and begin our day’s coffee consumption.

Outside we walk on the supposed old Indian trail that connects the Wasp places, then we go down to the rocky beach below the house, where Jason keeps his Boston Whaler. And I douse my face in the cold water. We are so alive. For some reason, I am not sure what reason, maybe it is anthropological interest in all things WASP, we drive down to Middlebury. Me and this summer girl in this time just past summer.

In the car Gillian is once again doing almost all the talking, and I find I am betraying myself, listening to an acquired – which by now to me means fake – British accent. Prim pronunciations, though the things she is saying are far from genteel.

She is naming famous New Yorker writers and cartoonists her mother would fuck when her mother was not masturbating. Then she switches to talking about herself and her just passed Buddhist time, telling me how in India she moved from the orchard cabin in Darmasala to an apartment in New Delhi where she was now with a hustling young America named Mark who oversaw sweat shops on behalf of his family in New York and who had a fixation on his mother who would phone long distance to tell him how awful he was. Maybe, Gillian says, this explains why Mark so cruel. She had been ready to do anything for him.

She describes how she would pinch the pimples on his back. And how he brought in other women. And how what she did was prepare things perfectly for him and other women, right down to putting jasmine petals in his bed before she went off to hide in a back room.

I was not talking, but of coarse I was thinking. I was thinking what a perversion this was on my own memories of how in my house on the Chao Phrya across form Bangkok Sunisar would spread jasmine petals on my bed. And then, as if she were a massage parlor girl rather than a night club singer, a find distinction, she would shake baby powder on me. Though it was never quite the dream time it was supposed to be.

We walk in Middlebury, which, though billing itself as a college town, seems to consist mainly of prissy upscale tourist stores – places that have extra consonants and e’s on the ends of words, as in tea shop spelled s-h-o-p-p-e. And I again have that feeling I first had early in the year when looking for memories on East 66th Street, the feeling that I am being smothered by powdered old ladies wearing fox furs.

We see a sign on a house that calls the place historic and gives times of tours. A pursed lipped ageless lady takes just the two of us through the house. Hooked rugs. Ceilings so low that I have to stoop. Spindly furniture that would break if I sat on it. A museum piece spinning wheel. Wallpaper that seems to bring the walls of the rooms close to each other. Bunches of dried flowers that may or may not have been dried in the 19th century as our tour guide says. She keeps repeating that everything in those days was in such good taste.

And then we have a cause to smile in this dead place, for a cat is lying beside a fireplace that has old iron cooking implements inside it. But the cat turns out to have undergone taxidermy. That’s what these good taste people did. Disemboweled their pets, and filled them with stuffing.

Out on the street we are laughing. We are in unseasonable summer sun again.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


And then I was back into a rhythm from the summer, and again the driving felt like gentle skating, up and down hills and along these enticing and now familiar shallow rivers that rush over smooth rocks, beneath soft mountains that still have green from pines and high altitude farm fields but are now mostly in yellows and warm russets and deep lavenders and bright scarlets. Skating again, but now as in pairs skating.

On the first morning it was cool enough for me to wear the patterned, muted blue and red Woolrich sweater I had purchased on 8th Street.

“What a neat sweater, Fred.”

We see in a local paper that people who come to Vermont in foliage time are called “leaf peepers.” They (we) are chided gently in the article. We drive half an hour to Burlington to get a book that identifies trees. I know Burlington has a Socialist mayor and I have seen its spacious pedestrian mall that has plaques celebrating great leftist figures from Marx to Mao. And of course I think of New Hampshire, whose one statewide newspaper is an infamous one called The Manchester Union-Leader, which attacks
anything liberal and decent that somehow pokes it head into New Hampshire, promotes bigoted religiosity, celebrates capital punishment, sees Reds under every bed, warns that all decent government programs are communistic, supports fringe or triumphant right wingers in presidential contests. Like the 1950s never ended. But here in Vermont there is a sign that says “the People’s Republic of Burlington.” I tell Gillian get angry every four years after midnight on presidential election nights when a little town in the far north of the White Mountains becomes the first in the nation to report its votes and invariably goes for the most pretentious and reactionary of the candidates.

Back at the lake house we start identifying trees, and we hug when we find what we are looking for – an ash, a gray birch. We transform the downstairs of the Wasp camp with balloons we buy in Vergennes. We dance, just us, to the only music in the house, a cassette tape some out-of-context person has left here, the only music in the lake house. It is an overproduced tape that sounds like a loopy version of Musak. The cassette is named Wyndom Hill, billed as New Age, New Age being something else that had happened in the year I was abroad. I had very recently heard of it as the name of a magazine in which there was an article about Alice Miller, whom everyone I was dealing with these days was reading because Alice Miller really had the goods on destructive, narcissistic, borderline killer families. And her work did not seem to tie in with anything else I heard about the vague spiritual activities – Buddhist chanting and the lighting of magic white candles – that were under the New Age umbrella.

Coming and going from the lake house we always stop in Charlotte to be greeted by our cows. In the house she keeps looking at the Bruce Bacon sky and clouds painting, and repeats that this is the one truly human touch in this house whose downstairs is decorated with the sort of prints corporate lawyers would put in their offices – and the upstairs with the cheap doodads the old Foreign Service officer had placed in his little theme rooms. I tell her that I have known Foreign Service people who for their foreign postings have never had to figure out and buy their own plane tickets or rent their own gated houses, or hire their servants, much less do their own housework, they are so out of touch with where they live.

In Vergennes we get garbage bags and cleaning things. Gillian hangs a new washcloth on a jutting kitchen faucet, telling me earnestly that this is what one does in a kitchen – just as if her background were filled with normal places. We travel up to a beach place on another lake near the Canadian border. At several points along the border go in and out of Canada, sometimes at border stations so small and remote and lackadaisical that checking in with them is voluntary.

We drive up through an area called the northeast Kingdom, a self-contained far north part of Vermont. From the road we see strange dark rock formations that turn out to be bordering a body of eerie black water called Lake Willoughby, that looks like something from a parallel universe, We stop the car to look at the lake, then stop again after the car has been climbing. On a high hill we make ourselves dizzy turning and turning, 360 degrees, to take in the hills and fields and forests we view on all sides below – as if we are at the highest point in the world.

And that night I add a line to the guest book: “IT’S THE TOP OF THE WORLD.”

Friday, July 23, 2010


And it began to seem natural, this roaming in a beautiful place with a desirable girl in a time I was coming into my own. Natural to move ahead with the knowledge that everything was changing and that I need not be bound by someone else’s maps. Move ahead in autumn air that carried memories mixed with summer air that had the past in it too. As natural as it had felt when I was first living in New York and was finding out how to be my own person in a life that was not bounded by family or school or college or army. When I was in my first place in the city, the East Village before it was so named – which I shared with the same old friend, Jason Bacon, who became the wealthy owner of this funny old lake house we are in right now.

I am thinking of the powerful sense I had had when first living New York City that, though I had often been there before, everything was for the first time. As I started to learn how to navigate adult life. Small or big things, like how with a young married couple you could eat franks and beans on a floor in Brooklyn Heights. Or you could meet a college friend for lunch from the snack window of a Staten Island ferry boat. Or get drunk at Chumley’s or Diamond Jim O’Rourke’s. Or take a Columbia stacks girl to bed. Or fall deeply in love with a girl who was an action painter. As if the fifties had never happened in New York, as if no one here had ever had to go slow, much less pull back.

That time back then that had felt like stepping away forever from family, and especially from the childhood that had rarely seemed like a childhood even when with child trappings.The first time, though not the first time on my own. I had already, at 24, had a quick wire service career probing sadistic right-wing recklessness in the Midwest, and Klan-backed horror in the South. I had had what seemed to be my one big love affair, which was with a olive-skin married girl whose husband had been stalking me. Love and danger.

I had been to the Cuba of the of Batista regime looking for this Robin Hood figure Castro who had recently been found to be still alive in the mountains – and after I was captured by fat, sweaty Batista men with tommy guns, I was returned to the bars and brothels and brothel-bars of Havana.

 That first time in New York, where I continued to work in journalism but moved ahead anyway. Down to Haiti at one point, and then back in the city setting up shows of Haitian art. And then the Haitian women, Irma and Anne Marie. Between all the others. And the new off-Broadway plays down on Second Avenue and then East 4th Street, the theater block down where my serious girlfriend Vannie lived. And blintzes at Ratner's and Rappaport's, and stuffed derma where Hungarian gypsy violinists came to your table, and borscht at the Ukrainian places. And a constant party flowing from my tenement to uptown and then downtown again and over to Brooklyn and back to my next place, on East 11th, coincidentally around the corner from a basement place where in the college time I had lost my virginity to a powdered and pampered dance hall girl of call girl loveliness, and paid her by endorsing over a small Christmas check I had just gotten from my parents. 

And in those first days living in the city I was not conscious that in the years ahead I would stay in the city for only a year or two at a time, and after a recurring down time leave whoever and whatever was with in favor of some foreign adventure in some unseen place that might bring me back to life.

 That first time was 1959. This current year 1986 is a time for first times again. After these in-between years of traveling and living in sensual and dangerous war zone areas, and finally a marriage and many more affairs, and after dark and lonely and alcoholic times when life seemed to hold nothing, and happy times when it seemed that just possibly I was nearly where I wanted to be, as when my novel came out, or when I first stepped into Haiti or Thailand, or each time I felt so drawn as to be in love with a newly met accessible or inaccessible woman or girl. The first time now after the Middle East and Far East and Central America. And after jail for drunken things in Hong Kong and Los Palmas and a smuggler’s town in southern Thailand. But also jail for just the right reasons in 1964 Mississippi.

And now this new first time, stepping into the landscape of my life that I hope to chart, moving ahead on mysterious knowledge but without reliable maps. Ready now, as never before, to look into every corner of past and present and projected future with a fresh eye.

As I tour old New England with this apparently ready new girl, on this psychic journey that seems more daring than the literal journeys that had been so crucial to my self-definition – and as I wonder when and if ever the sex scene will come.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#129 - WHAT A TIME

And now we leave the interstates and the Aqua Mustang is zigzagging east and north. The continued excitement of being in a car heading to the north country. With this pretty girl beside me. Just like I am young and she is younger than she must in fact be. As in a dream I used to have when I was a child and saw myself in sunlight on a green hill being married to a blonde girl as pretty as the girls in story book illustrations - and as unlike correct family women as she could be.

But this is a real girl or woman, a sort of an adult sitting beside the adult version of myself, and she is talking about her own past. Saying that they, her parents, used to go to Maine, though, she says, they did not own anything. They did not have anything like what she calls my family’s a “magic kingdom” in the White Mountains. That place she has not seen but has heard me describe in meetings.

It seems that somehow I have gotten something like love of the mountains into the dark stories I have been telling.

And now Gillian is talking about the celebrities her mother fucked in their cramped Fifth Avenue apartment, too far uptown to be true Fifth avenue, with the wilder upper reaches of the park on one side and Spanish Harlem on the other. And then she is back to Maine again and summer memories.

Memories well up in me when we stop after dark to look at a pond we saw from the car. We walk to the pond, stand on its rocky shore. And send flat stones skimming along its dark surface that is alive with insects and an occasional small fish that breaks water to catch them. This skimming of flat stones is just like what she and her brother used to do, she says.

Just like a perfect childhood, I think, and wonder how I could so quickly skim over something squirmy and dark that she has just told me in the car: that when she was a child her mother and father took her and her brother to a cold, deserted beach in Maine, told them to take off their bathing suits, and had the little girl suck the little boy's penis.

And then I am back on what has recently become familiar territory. We cross into Vermont and pass through Rutland, but do not stop there. We continue up through the state. It is dark but I know that on either side there are soft green mountains.

Just before Burlington we turn west to Lake Champlain. When I had driver up here in August I had taken a high old bridge across a narrow part of big lake to New York state. The car in front of me had one of the just issued new patriotic New York license plates, which were in red, white and blue with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, replacing the orange and black or navy blue that New Yorkers had always had. There was a small New York state park just off the bridge ramp, and standing guard was a state trooper, in one of those forbidding state trooper hats. I had turned around and gone back over the bridge. This was the other side of Vermont from the side that touches New Hampshire. It seemed nothing outside Vermont could be safe.

We pass now through an old-time village, with many vacant stores, called Vergenes. A welcoming sign says it is “the smallest city in the world.”

We are on very small and very old roads now. Pavement gives way in places to the old rural dirt surface. The air remains heavy with late summer and memories, including of things that were not directly in my experience. I have this feeling I have had often this year when hearing someone's story, or exploring countryside, that I have been here before. The way I had felt two weeks back, just after Labor Day, in Naples, Maine.

We head on a dirt road through a place with no stores called Charlotte. Jason had told me in the summer that when you say that name you should put the accent on the second syllable. We drive slowly by a long field where in moonlight we see many cows are lined up at a fence and looking at the road, as if they had been waiting there for us.

Then we are at the lake house on that bluff above the cove. There is a light on. It turns out one of Jason’s wife’s brothers is already staying there with his chubby wife. He is wearing those ultra-WASP L.L. Bean boots in which the foot is made of rubber, which may have been intended for duck hunters but seem to be used by the sort of fake cheerful men who have little ducks on their neckties.

The guy greets us as if it is perfectly natural for all of us WASPs to be sleeping together. He tells us three of the four little rooms are free. We take our bags up steep, narrow stairs and I feel like I am held up by strings being manipulated by a master puppeteer. The puppeteer pulls me to the left as Gillian goes to the right. Separate bedrooms.

The brother-in-law couple head immediately to the bedroom they had claimed. We go downstairs to unwind in the very plain living room/kitchen area. No need for the gas fed heater, for this is still an unseasonably warm night.

We see a guest book and sign it. Before my name I write “What a time we had!” – Which I realize is the sort of thing someone from another time would say in one of my grandfather’s period piece novels that I now make fun of.

In the morning Jason’s in-laws have departed and we have the place to ourselves.

Monday, July 12, 2010

#128 – AWAY

But I talk fast, and she says come on over she will be ready.

And she looked so ready, waiting in that cramped little hallway for me, beside her and old fashioned looking overnight bag that somehow seemed more European than American. We headed off just as if we were deeply connected people at the start of a vacation, not people conducting some sort of ACOA exercise. A happy surprise. But more surprising was that the moment I pointed the Aqua Mustang north I felt a wave of good feeling that went beyond this present time with this girl. Time was timeless and this was just an inevitable trip to the White Mountains. We were going to Vermont and I had said I didn’t think we would get to the White Mountains. But it felt like I was going to the White Mountains. It might have been many years ago.

And if felt at moments like two children off on an adventure. This surprised me a little but not much. I thought it might have to do with there being so much emphasis in ACOA on going back psychically in time. We were going back physically now. Back into the darkness, but maybe looking for light. And I wondered if, as in psychic travel, the aim would be not just to get the story but also to revise or rewrite it.

Gillian did not drive. I decided to go by a faster route than I had followed in the summer. I took the old Palisades Parkway to the New York Thruway, rather than go by what had become my regular route, up the old Taconic and along small roads.

At the first thruway rest stop she came back to the car with an assortment of little things she had gotten from a vending machine in the ladies room – a comb, nail clippers, some sort of gimmicky little key chain. Nothing she needed or would have thought she wanted until she saw the machine. She explained that she had been back from India only since the start of the year, and thus was so fascinated by what was here in America.

We drove on and time passed and I started seeing thruway signs for places whose names I did not know. Amsterdam. Rome. And it dawned on me that I had wound up going west rather than continuing north. How like, Fred. How stupid. Even in this new present.

“The Gran Turismo, Gillian said. That’s what my father said when travel accidentally became wandering. The Gran Turismo.”

So different from my own distant family history in which it was so hard for anyone to live down making a wrong turn. I had almost expected that the wrong turn would make Gillian feel contempt for me. This present that made me as vulnerable as I had been in early life. As if the years in Asia and Africa and Latin America had been mere detours.

So I didn’t have to get to the lake houses fast. I could wander. Then she told me that when he was dying of cancer her father had married a woman from the Philippines. She said she thought maybe a lot of men did that when they needed someone to take care of them. And I knew that she knew that my ex-wife was a Filipina. But I did not react, except inside. And I could tell my rage was still around. I seemed to me that her typing of Filipinas smacked of familiar bigotry. Not to mention her typing of men who needed care. Not to mention opening up the possibility of sadness if I should think long about my marriage and the hope my wife and I had had.

Then quickly back to this present time again, the time of The Gran Turismo. We stop for sandwiches in the every old spa town Saratoga, which is looking particularly 19th century. She points out mansard roofs. Some of these four-sided slanting roofs are on what seems to be very old brick buildings. Others on big, nostalgia-filled clapboard houses, like in paintings by Hopper.

I had been passing through Saratoga for more than a year now, starting with that first trip to the awful party in Littleton. And again now while passing through I thought of costume dramas set in this place, of bare-shouldered ladies who looked liked Vivian Leigh or Gene Tierney, and gambling men with natty spats like Tyrone Power or Clark Gable.

Walking past a thrift store I took her hand.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I didn’t tell anyone my plan. It seemed unreal. That night I had an early birthday dinner at a Kielbasa place in the East Village with the former therapist I knew from ACOA and I did not tell her what I was planning. I wondered if she liked me as more than a friend.

The next day I went to a clothing store on 8th Street that specialized in Woolrich and Dockers, clothing well beyond Brooks Brothers but modern only to me. I purchased a cool pastel bluish and reddish earth-tone wool sweater, the sort of thing until so recently I would not wear. There was something familiar about the design, though there were no reindeer on it. I knew the nights and probably days too would be cool or cold in the north.

I called Jason and arranged to use his place on Lake Champlain. He said hIs wife’s brother might be there but that with four bedrooms so there was plenty of room.

Before going to dinner with Gillian I stopped at her apartment, which I had not visited before. She shared it with someone she did not know but who needed a roommate and was rarely at home. A cramped but quite new and tidy little place over in the East 20s, not far from the Quaker meeting house where I would go on Saturday mornings, not for pacifist Quakers but for the often fierce ACOA people. Gillian had never been to the Quaker place. The only ACOA meeting she attended was the one on Sunday nights at the Corlears School. Only this one meeting a week of the many meetings that were available every day around Manhattan.

Her limiting herself to only one meeting felt tight and claustrophobic to me. But then so too did the fact of her English accent. Maybe this was my problem and not hers. And anyway the overall optimism and hope I felt included that I, and maybe she, could do anything I and maybe she seriously wanted to do. Optimism that felt like foreplay.

Her apartment was a couple of very small rooms and a kitchenette built around an area that was like an abbreviated hallway. No windows. A television set. I found she had been playing a video of the hyper-sentimental Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Which felt like Mario giving up Toscanini in favor of the positive-thinking Doris Day. I did not tell her that ever since I had first discovered poetry and serious entertainment I had had a horror of sentimentality. Again I kept silent and concentrated on her intelligence and looks.

And I did not tell her that I had once encountered Jimmy Stewart. He had been in my father’s class at Princeton and was the featured speaker at my own class’s pretentious senior dinner shortly before graduation. His hair was died almost yellow for his then current role, which was as Charles Lindbergh, a movie it seemed to me nicely timed to fit with the lingering days of McCarthy and the more subtly awful Eisenhower. His entire talk was about the evils of communism and the heroic figures in Hollywood who opposed it, including the heroic figures who betrayed their colleagues and friends.He practically had ready for sainthood the hack director of lavish, ignorant biblical epics Cecil B. Demille.

And I didn’t tell her how I felt about her her cramped little place that had no light in it, any more than I told her I hated Princeton, and fascists like the Nazi sympathizer Lindbergh and like Jimmy Stewart of cliché spouting roles and the budding inquisitor Jimmy Stewart of actual life. This betrayal by Jimmy Stewart whose cliché movie world had seemed, when I was a child, to offer me an alternative to the coldness around me. And I was glad I could contain myself here with this lovely women, and I wondered why it was usually so difficult, and I wondered why I was so angry.

On the morning of the trip. I call to make sure she is ready. She says she had been thinking, and it is seeming like this trip is not such a good idea. Why don’t we forget it?

This plan to enter the most beautiful place on earth and also the belly of the beast with this picture perfect blonde girl.

Like that time on the phone with Jacqueline when my anger at her went, click click click, back through my anger against so many people, mostly women, all the way back to my mother. This time it is going back click click click again, but only from Gillian to the blonde photographer and back to Jacqueline.

Friday, July 9, 2010

#126 - SUNNY DAY

Right after that session with Mrs. Miner I had begun the drive by my usual side road routes back to the city. She had said I must come to dinner with her and Gracie the next time I was up here. I told her I would, though I was not certain I would ever need to see the White Mountains again. And though aware that a boundary between the people I came from and the people rooted in the place, had been breached. But this leaving was hauntingly familiar, my saying I would return and almost believing it but at the same time knowing I probably wouldn’t. All my life. Telling Sheila Ng I would come back to Singapore, telling Anne Marie in our borrowed room on Irving Place that though I was leaving on a freighter I would be back. Leaving Susi because I could not stop there. Or more like being thrown out, as with Bonnie. Judy too. But going away and saying I would come back.

Left and never saw again the Sekovanic’s in Ljubljana, the Megallis in Cairo, the Izards in Atlanta, the artists of Haiti, the singers of the Philippines. And maybe I did not need to ever return to the White Mountains again. Maybe what I knew now from Mrs. Miner, with great gaps still in my life story, maybe it would be all I would ever learn there. Maybe I would never see, never need to see, the White Mountains again.

And in New York a week after Labor Day it was almost as if I had never been back to the literal places of the past. Back in the city, the probing meetings, the amazing experiences finding my life in what I saw in galleries and museums, all these new people from the past year.

On a September morning that felt like August now down in the city I rode my bicycle up from Chelsea to the Modern Art Museum, aware that this sunny day was almost exactly a year from when the past came over me in a way that made me feel my life was petering out, just before my travels into that past, first in my head and more recently in the Aqua Mustang, had begun. And life had opened up.

I stopped just west of the museum, and as expected I found Gillian still there, cheerfully blonde in the light and warmth still of summer, doing her sidewalk sales of African fetish figures.
I was telling her of my adventures in Vermont and New Hampshire, and then we were talking about fall foliage, which both of us knew but had rarely seen for many years, and would soon be at its peak up there.

And then I mention that in a few days it will be my birthday, and she says – as if we are very close – that we must do something really special for my birthday, and I say let’s go to Vermont, where I have this amazing place to stay and where the foliage is nearing its peak. I don’t say let's go to New Hampshire, but she knows my unfolding New Hampshire stories. I say let’s go to Vermont and she turns her eyes right on me and says, like the girl I take her to be, without the darkness I know because of what I have hard in those meetings, “Fred, what a super idea!”

Adult children plunging together into the past. The two of us both survivors of dangerous WASP places. On this girl’s face I saw, or thought I might be able to see, or maybe one day would be able to see, here or somewhere else, something I had just seen on those old faces from the past at White Wings
when I had realized Mrs. Miner and Gracie were looking at me the way in books and movies family people look at loved ones.

In the museum I go to the sculpture garden and look down on a sensual reclining, slightly larger than life nude by Maillol called The River. And then I am looking at a more wildly sexual woman, a huge woman of such energy that her burgeoning body alters the garden, a statue of this woman from his actual life that Gaston Lachaise cast in bronze with slight variations over and over again. And then the big stylized backs of naked women that Matisse did over many years. And finally I am upstairs looking at small bronze Matisse nude girls, and then the painting called The Piano Lesson, the boy at a piano who could be me, and is under the control of a grim, gray, taskmistress above him, but down below in his line of sight is one of those small, hopeful bronze nudes, right there in his space in the painting.

As I look the bronze girl in the painting again seems to stretch and wiggle. I hope that when I get outside I will not find that Gillian has changed her mind.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

#125 – MRS. MINER

Gracie, they say, has had cancer and survived it. She looks a little unfinished, a little disheveled, as opposed to Mrs. Miner’s finished, comfortable look, but she is alert and animated and as present as her mother. The two of them still live in the Miners' house in the village which they seem to assume I will know. One of those tidy New England village houses with the picket fences and neat plantings, in this village that looks just the way it did when I was a child except that the wooden sidewalk is gone.

They are full of memories. “You were forever being sent back to eat with us,” says Mrs. Miner. And I remember the round table with an oilcloth cover back in an open pantry area, with a door leading to steps to the outside, between the kitchen and the room for a nurse or governess at the start of the Boys’ Wing. And she says I ate many of my meals back there because I was forever being punished for something and banished to the back. And they did not much like my brother, who was forever turning me in. He lied, she said. 

They also didn’t like our cousin Fitz John, who was billed as a perfect boy, a budding scientist, it was said, for he captured small snakes and put them in a jar.

Mrs. Miner and Gracie are now looking at me the way in books and movies family people look at one of their own.

And I flash on a sunny day when Peter and I, practically pre-verbal, had been left in the mountains all summer. We were sitting at that table with the oil cloth when Mother suddenly appeared. For long moments I did not know who she was.

Mrs. Miner and Gracie say they liked Gaga. He talked with local people. This year I had been building up my picture of the aloof writer around whose study you had to tiptoe, and I had been stressing the anti-Semitism. But also there were his songs and stories. And also present at Pines sometimes was old Gaga’s friend since early in the century, Harry Lorbor, a warm-hearted immigrant Jewish doctor who had been with Gaga in the settlement house movement. Harry Lobar, Gaga and also a social worker from the time when social workers were rare. The social worker, long dead, was an invalid named Fred King, for whom I had been named and who had taken my father to spend a winter in an Atlantic City hotel, in the year Dad was recovering from near fatal blood poisoning

Gaga always talked with people in the village, Mrs. Miner said. He was popular there. I knew he was popular from our almost daily walks that wound up at the Sugar Hill village general store/post office where Gaga seemed to know everyone. It was a window into an outside world. It was where I was allowed to browse through, and sometimes buy, comic books. Dick Tracy and his two-way wrist radio and comic villains like Gravel Gerty. L’l Lulu with Slugger the regular person boy who wore a sort of workman’s hat much like the brown tweed caps Gaga wore for walking and motoring when it was cold.

And now Mrs. Miner is speaking of a time Gaga and Nana stayed in the mountains all winter and one day she and her late husband Ray came upon them on the long winding driveway to White Pines. Nana was on a small sled and Gaga, exhausted, was pulling the sled. They felt such sympathy for him, she is telling me.

She is saying she did not like Nana. She did like Aunt Betsy. I had been told once by Mother that the reason Mrs. Miner had left White Pines was that pretty Betsy had lured Mrs. Miner's son, Ray Jr., who was to die young, into a torrid affair. But the reason she left, Mrs. Miner says now, was that Nana was too cold and domineering. “And I never liked White Pines. It was much better here at White Wings. White Pines was a cold place. Your grandmother would reject guests. She would stay upstairs in her bedroom, have her meals sent up there. She would send out the lie that she was not well enough to receive visitors.”

And Betsy had fun at her expense sometimes, Mrs. Miner said. Once flowers from some man came for Betsy but she redirected them to Nana, who thought they must come from an admirer not of Betsy but of herself. And this story led Mrs. Miner and Gracie to the “buzzing” word which they pronounced with sly looks, buzzing being, it was clear without further explanation, old time New Englandese for fucking. Something for which there was no word in the main part of White Pines. Buzzing right here at White Pines.

And now Terri has produced a video camera, just the sort of thing people from outside might have, and she is videotaping Mrs. Miner and Gracie, who are telling about Nana buzzing other men, particularly old Mr. Hamilton, who buzzed a lot of the old-time summer people.

It seemed to me I knew Mr. Hamilton. Once when Mother and Dad were up in the mountains they took Peter and me to one of the few family houses on Davis road to see an old man everyone here knew. The old man sat very still by his fireplace, his hands hanging down limp. Afterwards Mother said that was very hard on our father. Those dead hands. It reminded him of Fred King.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I see the Iris Farm again on my way back from breakfast. I try to keep this farm scene in my mind but still not forget those dark and dangerous corridors from the past. I turn off again onto Davis Road, pass the two small new houses just beyond the turnoff – the words “upstart houses” come in from somewhere nasty – then into the open field area before the big houses begin. And then the black silhouette cutout of the murdered greyhound that Terri had nailed to the post beneath her mailbox, and now I am on her quite long driveway that ends in a circle in front of the two wings of White Wings.

From outside I can hear Terri talking loudly on the phone. No more marijuana haziness. The happy, sometimes sweet, sometimes deep, strong voice of the Terri of many years back. The confident pretty girl of the past. As if nothing has changed in her rich childhood summer home.

Inside her wing there were paintings she had collected – including semi-abstracts by Milton Avery’s sister and deeply evocative scenes in watercolor of light and shadows on snow. The day I arrived she had told me something I had not heard before, that in the brief time between starting college and dropping out she had taken studio art courses and that all along her desire had been to be an artist, though she had not touched art materials in many years, and had none with her in White Wings.

And now she is sounding happy on the phone. She is laughing. And then she is saying, “You’ll never guess who’s here.” Then she is saying “Fred Poole.” And then she is saying, “Come right over.”

By this point she is out on the second floor connecting walkway holding her cordless phone. She gets off the phone and says “That was Mrs. Miner.”

Mrs. Miner.

I knew Terri had been staying in touch with Mrs. Miner some years back, and had actually, when broke, worked with Mrs. Miner closing down summer people's houses. But that was another time, and I had assumed that by now Mrs. Miner was long dead. She had been my grandparents’ cook and housekeeper, in charge of lesser servants and all practical household matters at White Pines, a woman I had assumed in childhood was my grandparents’ age.

And now a big old unfancy car, a car of a sort I cannot identify but I am not good at identifying most cars. This old unfancy car turns in at the greyhound cutout, and, in slow motion, it seems to me, comes up the driveway to the circle where Terri and I are now standing. And slowly it comes to a stop. And the door on the driver’s side is opened, and out steps, still in slow motion, this extremely comfortable looking woman who incredibly is Mrs. Miner, who is still fleshy and soft and moves like someone strong who would have to be much younger, she must be so old now. I have not seen her since I was maybe 12 years old, 40 years back, but here she is, mysteriously unchanged in this place where they always claimed that nothing ever changes. And from the passenger’s side the other door opens and a younger but still old woman steps out, and Mickie says you must remember Gracie, who had been Mrs. Miner’s tiny daughter, whom Nana insisted they seat at formal dinner parties at the long shiny dining table at White Pines if without this extra person present the number at the table would come to the number 13. This little village girl in a little girl dress seated there with mostly old people in tuxedos and evening gowns, Nana at the head of the table, dressed in one of her unique Chinese style pants suits, which were somehow formal and from a time way back before pants suits had not been invented and there had been a vogue in such circles for all things hinting of the Chinese. The silk suits making Nana, even with her perfect stiff posture, look more comfortable than anyone else.

Mrs. Minter looks at me with a wide open smile, holds out her hand, says, “It is so good to see you. I always wanted to find you. I always felt so bad about what happened when you were a child here.