Monday, August 30, 2010


My life was passing before me which, in an ordered life, was what was supposed to happen just before you died. And there was certainly death in what was running through my mind. And not always my mind. As these waves of sadness were passing through me.

This had been happening since I first started bringing the past to light without any deceptive guideposts in it. Death and something worse lingering in the past that I had avoided. I would be walking along, maybe 8th Avenue in the 20s, maybe familiar streets in the East Village that were now so different because of the galleries that had not existed when I lived there long ago, maybe the Upper West Side or the Upper east Side
or maybe along Irving Place beneath the French doors of that place where Anne Marie and I stayed for part of one August while I waited for a freighter. That place where late at night we would hear the sound of horses hooves on cobblestone as mounted police returned to their stables – like in a well scripted movie. But now while walking here or anywhere I could be hit by a heavy blow that was so soft it did not hurt physically but was far stronger than a physical blow and felt physical to the point where I felt like it might leave me sprawled on the pavement. This sadness, this physical sadness, that now seemed to have always been there but outside conscious feeling till now. Mixed with my life passing before me, but the sadness somehow an assurance to me that the past running though my head had to do with the chance for life, not with what was supposed to happen at death.

The light and the dark. My view almost to the Battery. My place three stories above a garden gone to seed but with a tree in it that went up past my window, a tree trunk right here. A new friend had looked at it and said this is not a tree, just a big weed, and this made me angry, for it touched off the sadness and I went for the anger to stop the sadness. But mostly I am welcoming such sadness. Not depression, not emptiness, just sadness. It proves I can feel.

As I let darkness in, I was so often in my mind back where my conscious life had begun, back in or heading towards those big formal houses, the anti-Semitic summer people’s places, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire – the White Mountains to which almost every summer person who has been there when young returns to again and again, that place that served as a scale for people in my family to weigh whatever they saw anywhere else – so like Switzerland they said, though now it seemed so strange to me that the craggy granite mountains set in rocky rural poverty could ever have seemed like any place so tidy as Switzerland. And so unlike Mexico, they said – just as if they were saying something.

And the darkness of empty subway stations. Mixed with the darkness of places I had entered when actually looking for darkness – old Kuala Lumpur in a race war when you knew that behind any dark window there might be a Malay sniper waiting.

And yet it also feels like false construction to put so much in terms of the places I had been. For the dark and the light seem forces beyond any construction of the past that I can put in place, though not beyond the scenes I hold in memory. This open sadness something new. It had to have been there in the past, I thought, and I must have held it at bay when there was too much darkness and danger to let down my guard to the point where the sadness could come in. Before I admitted that the lurking danger was a family matter.

The strength of danger was on my mind one day as I walked down Sixth Avenue seeing things I had never seen in all the time I had gone this way, such as a Greek temple high atop a near sky scraper – and something strong to counter danger: those wonderful round wooden rooftop water towers that now seemed like part of a warm life I might have.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

#153 - FASTER

I have a feeling of calm, almost as if this is really a stopping point here with these new people, these people I had not met a year ago, these people who understand, who have escaped the myth of family. Some have tried it in searching for comprehensive spiritual situations that go beyond family, some, like me, by keeping on the move, always new places and new lovers too. But now I and they are escaping the myth by bringing our stories to consciousness and speech in these meetings in which anything could be said, and also acted upon, without having to stay within family lines. Those lines that are often enforced with violence, actual and in words. The ties so strong that long after the decision has been made to expel the family, the family claws its way back over and again.

Moving fast. Not only meetings, for I have just spent the summer carrying my investigations to the actual places of the past, including sex with a stand-in, and now there is this situation wilth this key figure from the past, Deirdre. New Hampshire. I call Littleton and in a cool exchange with Aunt Betsy learn that Deirdre is out of the shelter and back in Littleton, though not in the house up behind the movie theater. This has all happened quickly. She is living with a guy she knew in high school, a French-Canadian guy. I call her there and she greets me in a way that sounds like a clever replication of the way people in mythical ideal families would sound after a long absence.

I call Mickey. I know she needs money so I say I would like to rent a room. She says it cannot be in the formal wing now, for there have been some problems there, but she will give me a room in her more personal wing, which has become more like a farm house than a summer house,with all the dogs and local art work on the bare board walls, and the pot belly stove.

So the plan is taking shape. Faster and faster. In meetings and in diners afterwards I am with these new people who are now my friends, and they have just been in my apartment for the World Series and Iran-Contra. Faster and faster, back again to the Whitney and then the Modern to follow Gorky’s route into sex turned to horror, and on to death, and Matisse’s trapped boy at the piano beneath a gray taskmistress. But there are still the bronze girls, which I look at too, and out in the garden of the Modern the bronze relief backs of life-size Matisse women, and the voluptuous larger-than-life reclining Maillol girl, “The River,” lying there soft and lazy, and also the big bursting standing woman of Gaston Lachaise’s art and life obsession. And in the Met, the spring days of Corot, the tangible sensual days of Courbet. Then back to Gorky, and after that to the dark Hobbema woods, and then into a world just holding together in Cezanne, and almost what it should be in Courbet. And I see it all quickly in a series of flashes as I dash from room to room in the museums, retracing my year and my life and looking for the future.

And new old ground to in Chelsea, with the fifties era places along Eighth Avenue, and the long low Bronx style building where Rita lives and keeps tabs on the whole neighborhood, and the stoop building next door with Freddy with super who was born on this block, and the new –grocery/florist/salad bar/hot food takeout place where the Koreans greet me. Through the union houses, and past high brick buildings of something called the Hudson Guild, which advertises programs for children and the elderly.

And the Venezuelan guy on my floor and the little round couple above me who had always just gotten back from the country.

I am wearing the Dockers’s version of Jeans, and I have Timberland shoes that are a little like Boy Scout shoes and a little like the new running shoes, and I have my green plaid pullover flannel shirt from Sak’s, and a denim shirt and also demin zipper jacket that came from Lord & Taylor, and the blue Lord & Taylor scarf. I am still restricted mostly to the two stores for which I have credit cards left over from marriage – these stores that have something of the same role in my life as the Aqua Mustang, which is not quite up to its appearance since its convertible top cannot be lowered, and its gauges are no help in sports car style driving since the gear shift is automatic. This vehicle for freedom that is not tied to anything more substantial or darker than the life I want to have as I move around in it – like these new clothes.

I am going to the mountains and I think of the work boots we used to use for our hikes up the mountains and above the timber
line. They don’t having anything at Lord & Taylor that look to be real winter boots to use in the snow and cold, except for one pair, maybe meant to be stylish for not very stylish people, but looking to me like an exact duplicate of the work boots I used to buy in Littleton. And they also have a pair of soft leather or imitation leather with ersatz fur inside, boots for lounging rather than walking, but I need these too for wherever it is I am going. I think I know exactly where I am going though not knowing exactly what I will find there.

One day I drive up to Bear Mountain, and I stop at dusk at a small lake surrounded by woods, and I draw it, not worrying about whether anyone will see what I see, and as I am finishing the water is broken by little cartoon creatures – these must be muskrats – swimming along. That evening I go to dinner with Tina and her mother, who is in recovery in AA, at their place on 14th Street. The have rented Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” which I have not seen in the 30 years since I had my first place in New York. This old man who keeps going back in his head to the perfect summer place his big family had in high country in Sweden, and the pretty girl he romped with there. And I realize that when I had first seen it I had made very little of the fact that in this perfect family place of perfect northern summers this perfect girl was cruel and flighty, and betrayed him.

I am talking in meetings now of how I have to go back to the mountains one more time. As the drama of Lauryn unfolds I am giving a blow by blow account to these people whom my family would have called the very sort of people with whom you should never share what is really on your mind.

Friday, August 27, 2010


This Reagan thing, this Iran-Contra thing. This Reagan government in power only because of anti-black racism in the South and in parts of industrial states too. Maddening. It feels personal. Like my mother voting for Nixon and saying he had to be good for America because he was so intelligent. Like my mother saying, after I was drafted, that at last I was doing something worthwhile, for the army people are the backbone of our country – which was something she said about just about anybody who did not take chances and had no aspirations – like the people at places where I sometimes worked only for ready cash – all these people were the backbone of America. Something like all of them back then saying why couldn’t I stop causing so much trouble, why couldn’t I be more like my good twin brother?

And is was these pictures from the past that were coming in that seemed to have more reality than the pictures I usually dwelled upon – the exotic times abroad – the erotic women at home and abroad – never mind long lonely times between times of high excitement. Never mind that there were dead-end places far from family – fake British versions in Hong Kong, fake French versions in Beirut.

Maybe, I am thinking, I still need the foreign adventures to give myself credentials as a person of non-family substance. But it is these people of the present, all of whom I know only from this past years who are my world now, I think. Again this dedicated band of people who understand the darkness of the past. Maybe the only people I should deal with now.

And yet I also knew is was a balancing act, holding together these moments with these people, holding together my new version of the world.

It was a cold November now. This aunt of mine in the White Mountains who had been calling, I had picked up the phone thinking it would be someone else, and I had gotten her – and it was about what she had been calling about while I was away, the awful thing that happened to her, which was that her daughter Lauryn, my favorite, had wound up in a battered women’s shelter in the Midwest, and she thought Lauryn probably deserved it, for she was just too appealing for her own good, and besides the aunt had always liked the guy who wound up beating up her daughter. This mother, my Aunt Alice, who had been my favorite aunt.

Yet again making me wonder how I could ever have thought these things would ever happen otherwise in this family, this family that had once seemed if not completely safe at least a place that should be safe. After the phone calls she had written me saying she would be in the city in the winter and was looking forward to all the things she would be doing with her favorite nephew. I am hearing this at 50 years old.

And now I write her saying I will not see her when she comes to the city. I don’t want anything to do with her – with someone who blames the victim this way. And I felt relieved, for this was my first direct hit at the family in these days I was annihilating them in my mind and in my program rants as I moved in and out of a personal past that got darker and darker. But even though relieved, I also feel that in writing that letter I have done something violent.

And now I hear from Lauryn’s brother, my Cousin Rob, who is an actor but so careful he lives in Princeton. He says that Lauryn has returned to the White Mountains. And isn’t it awful what happened, and he is sorry he is too busy to go see her. And I know I have to turn my probe on Rob too, and I also know that very soon I must go to New Hampshire again.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

#151 – THE ENEMY

If there were some paid athletes who were no longer just dumb bullies, there were still no right wing politicians and soldiers who were anything except the enemy. A week to the day after the end of the 1986 world series, where people who were never meant to win had won, we are gathered again in my apartment. These women and men I had been with me all year and who were closing in on nearly forgotten scenes from their own lives, as crucial as anything we could see anyone else going through on television. All of us here joined together with a sense of mission that is as focused as that of a Jesuit, or a Navy seal, or a bomb throwing Quebec or Basque Separatist.

Right now a smug looking golfer type is on the TV in a lineup of devious and frightened looking little people who turn out to all be Republican congressmen. The smug golfer, is named Trent, which sounds like a good ole boy name though he looks more like someone who might be found getting drunk in the Yale Club, or on a golf course wearing crimson trousers. Trent says not to worry, everything is all right. And he is echoed by the others. But not even the docile TV news people seem to be thinking it was all right to turn big national security measures over to a nasty guy named Oliver who has been supervising the illegal sale of arms to our enemy, Iran, and using the precedes to illegally finance the awful things being done by sadistic, right-wing militia thugs who use an American client state as a safe place from which to conduct bloody raids on Nicaragua. A Ronald Reagan war against uppity impoverished people who bucked his will. I know Nicaragua, which has a leftist government now, the Sandinistas, named for a leader killed in the 1930s by the Americans the first time Nicaragua had tried something different.
And since the TV commentators qualify what they say be adding that Reagan is an honorable man, it looks like the shoddy adventurers in Washington are going to get way with it.

So I am here with new friends looking at these awful people on television but I am also, in my mind, back in a long afternoon in the mid-seventies with the then Nicaraguan dictator, the last of the old American backed Somozas, Anastasio Somoza, a tall, obese old crook who had a private army of murderous, drunken, looting national guardsmen at his disposal. In the mid-seventies I had, for devious journalism reasons, spent a long afternoon with Somoza in his office, which by then was an actual bunker built into a hill next to Managua’s principal edifice, which since an earthquake had been an Intercontinental hotel. That day Somoza talked and talked in fragments of English he had learned while being raised in Miami, mixed with some of the fragments of Spanish he had picked up later. Despite having no real language, he managed to tell lie after lie, such that as his National Guardsmen, whom he called "my boys" – were so clean cut they could not possibly have taken part in all the rapes and murders and killings, the torture and the looting, that the opposition attributed to them. He kept saying that any Nicaraguan who said otherwise was “a fucker.” His most used words being fucking and fuck and fucker. He would tell me that this person or that was a fucking fucker. After each lie he would lean forward, fix beady black eyes on me, slap his enormous thigh, and say, like the heavy in a movie comedy but in all seriousness “That is true as sure as my name is Somoza.” And while he talked I was thinking of the previous night when I was in the hands of priests and other underground figures right out of a Graham Green novel, speeding from interview to interview, changing cars frequently in case we were followed. And I was thinking of the bright afternoon when I talked with a sparkling girl, a girl coming into her own, in an above ground opposition organization, and the woman who took me there, a Maryknoll nun, who got off the subject of the need for radical change and said “Maybe while you’re here you’ll meet someone to marry.”

And although this was my first time in Central America, and my guides were mostly liberation minded nuns and priests, everything about Nicaragua seemed absolutely familiar. I was making connections with where I came from before I realized that that was what I was doing. I had not grown up in a slovenly Latin American dictatorship. Nicaragua feeling familiar, as over the years, when far away from the family, did tyrannies in Haiti and the Philippines and also Cyprus and Beirut and Sarajevo and Cuba, and even Brunei.

I had been more or less underground in the last days of Somoza, the way more recently I had been more or less underground in the Marcos Philippines, whose end was on TV earlier in the year, and also the way long ago when I had been hidden from the murderous thugs in the Haiti of the Duvaliers, the last of whom had finally fled this year at almost the same moment the Marcoses were fleeing. These scenes from the past on my mind, and on TV.

And now Reagan and his boys, using illegal arms sales money, were financing the Contras the slovenly old National Guardsmen who with American money had become slovenly militiamen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


This is my world and this has nothing to do with Gillian, who was not anyway what she seemed. Though our tryst had been a step beyond just testing through verbal discourse in the meetings. And now it seems like the world outside the meetings and the world inside are coming together in ways different from the trysting.

These new old friends were gathering in my bright airy apartment in Chelsea, this place I had not been in not for long but ever since this new life had begun. And they were gathering not for the purpose of ad hoc ACOA meetings but rather because there were things in the world we needed to check out together. They were gathering because I had a good location and a working television.

In late October they came for the 1986 World Series. And a week after the baseball game ended it was to follow the unfolding of the Iran-Contra scandal – the sociopath Ronald Reagan caught out at last it seemed. We sat around my television set watching the unfolding of a sports rivalry and then an actual war out in the world.

The world outside and this world I had been in for a year coming together. The New York Mets, perennial losers beloved by people who might not otherwise care about baseball, had somehow wound up in the World Series. When it appeared they might not lose, it seemed like the Mets players were our kind of people. Seemed this way, though team sports could be written off as institutionalized bullying. But a Mets star named Darryl Strawberry, who had had addiction problems but was now in the clear, looked happy and sad at the same time. One of us. A player named Ron Darling looked like a kid coming into his own. And as the series progressed, a Met would sometimes, when in their dugout, but his arm around another Met, like two boys on the playground – usually after something good happened – like some silly home run thing or double play thing. Two Mets would hug – just like people who recognize what is inside each other in ACOA.

The lead went back and forth until the final pitch of the final game when the Mets pitcher threw a final strike just when the Red Sox were rebounding. And on my TV we saw the pitcher toss his glove in the air, and the catcher run out and embrace him. And maybe the whole sorry team sports thing – the playground bullying – so like the horrors inside the family – maybe all that could be put away in some compartment – once the I got the goods on the real villains.

The closest I had ever been to a Mets game was passing through a room where my father was watching TV. Also, it was, now in retrospect, heart breaking that he had been so enthusiastic when for a brief time public television carried Ivy League football games.

Monday, August 23, 2010


We are well into October now. And I realize that it is almost a year to the day from the time I made my way far enough out of deep darkness to go to my first ACOA meeting. It was the one on the East Side, where I felt no convincing identification. I had been so sure there was no way to connect with these people in this part of town I did not like, and at the same time it had felt like the turning point it proved to be. Precisely a year later made the anniversary date a Thursday.

The day after the East Side meeting I had gone to my second meeting, which was the Thursday meeting at the Corlears School, ten blocks down from my apartment.
I am now staying away from the Sunday Corlears meeting, which is Gillian’s. But the Thursday meeting feels like my home base. On this anniversary night I see people on I never thought I would connect with who are now like my oldest friends. The red-headed former nurse, and the former clinical therapist, and a Waspy guy who was looking for a wife but also had had sex with men, and the girl who talked of rolling around like a puppy with her lover, and the bore who bragged about drunken nights at the Players Club , and the pretty girl upon whom one night an addict had fastened his eyes, and the sentimental black man, and the art photographer, and the California girl whose sister has a 19th century art gallery, and a Southern guy named Rand who called me Philippine Fred, and the girl whose father is a therapist cult leader, and the actress who introduced me to the East village galleries. And there are more. I am one of the first to talk this night, and unlike what happens usually I do not speak from anger this time. It feels like more than a place to merely test out what I want to do. So I say what an important day this is for me, for it was this day a year ago that my life began to change. I pause. I see in the circle Janie, my companion in past months on foot and horseback in the parks, and I reminisce about how Janie was talking the first time I walked in.

Reminisce as if I am looking back years later on how my life had worked out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

#148 – ART SCHOOL?

Thomas tells me about a painting class at the 43rst Street YWCA up by Grand Central. I was last there to meet a new Hampshire girl I knew from the old debating circuit, a girl who later married a New Hampshire guy who was my roommate one year at Holderness. She came to town for some sort of church meeting just as I started in my first apartment in the city. She was cheerful and pretty in a pale northern way. I found myself speaking to her in the manner of people in my family pretending with regular people that uninteresting conversations were fascinating. After lunch that day I never saw her again, and I’d never looked up the old roommate, or anyone else from debating days, and anyway she died young. Yet somehow coming here now for an art class is some sort of continuity.

The class is given by a sweet-faced, sweet-voiced woman who shows her work in a Soho Gallery. I had been returning to the East Village and finding that galleries there were closing. Landlord speculation, the possibility of costly gentrification, was driving prices up to the point where the small galleries were closing and some were being moved to Soho which was suddenly cheaper than the East Village

We started doing a still life with a baseball cap and baseball. I drew with a soft charcoal pencil in heavy outlines. She was so encouraging to me that I was sure she was faking it – for she seemed to like anything anyone did. The others in the class, besides Thomas and me, are studious looking, plain faced women or aging girls.

I am aware that this is the first time since school and college that I have gone to a class of any kind. Some frozen instinct tells me this nice woman cannot be very good, and I should not believe her praise.

She mentioned that she was also giving a life drawing class here at the YWCA. This might be more what I hoped would be my sort of thing. Young Christians aside, it seemed to fit with what I knew, mostly from novels and movies, about art students. And I did get a vague likeness of a short, fat, and not at all sexy dark girl who modeled.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


There are some new faces in ACOA. A powerful young actor who was a cop and now plays a TV cop on Hill Street Blues, a show my wife and I never missed, one of the things that bound us, these stories of smart, reasonable police figures. The actor comes to many meetings now and talks, sometimes shouts, with theatrical annunciation, his strong voice sometimes projecting anger, sometimes intense charm – as he speaks about what it was like his real life to be in a family of unbending and violent policemen.

And I talk about this with my new friend in ACOA Robert, also from a cop family, who himself was thrown off the police force, something to do with cocaine, and is now a fireman. Sometimes he looks sad and questioning, sometimes he is confident and funny. He has been going with Julia, a sexy and popular member of ACOA who is a success in some business despite family opposition. She has wound up supporting her elders, though the only advice she ever got from her boozy father was “Don’t fuck up.” Julia goes to London on a business trip, at the same time an English artist friend of hers, Iris, comes from London to New York. Robert is suddenly smitten with the friend, who has that strong but vulnerable look that make her appear an almost cliché English beauty. Iris says she had been hearing about this fireman for a long time. She quickly gets a good job at an architecture firm making scale models. Robert and Iris set up housekeeping. They find a small house on City Island, which is something else new to me, a seashore village within the borders of the Bronx.

Robert talks of how
he goes through flames and demolishes doors with his fireman's ax. He reveals that he is writing poetry, and also that he has just begun painting. Since he knows I was a writer he asks me to go with him and Iris to a poetry reading in a church, the only such event I have ever attended. It is pretty bad. A smiling guy reads without irony that “I see the world through rose colored glasses.” Robert, however, brings words to life as he reads about getting at his experiences in the violent family he came from, and about his life in 12-step programs.

In the daytime when I wander through the East Village galleries I start hearing about how landlords, expecting to make big money from gentrification, are raising rents and pushing the small gallery owners to to out of business or switch to Soho, which till now had been the more costly place. An era ending?

I stop by an art supply store east of where I live. A pretty black woman is behind the counter. I say I want to buy a drawing pad and some good pencils. I don’t actually say this is my first time, but she congratulates me.

I forget to take the pencils when I go out to draw, but I have the pad, a
nd I always have a basic Bic black ball point pen with me. I have carried the exact same model of pen since I first started using them when I was living in Athens, 26 years before this time, writing novels on a tiny Smith-Corona portable and making manuscript corrections with these BIC pens. Novels that were unpublished but did get an agent's interest, I did not think entirely because the agent sometimes sold things to my father.

I go down to the street, cross 8th Avenue and go sit in the Aqua Mustang, which I have parked on a street that curves through the union houses. I bring out my pad and my pen.

I start by drawing other parked cars. To my surprise they actually look like cars, if a little anthropomorphic and cartoon-like. I draw a hanging traffic light, which looks really warm and amusing to me. I draw those round wooden water towers that are high over most rooftops in the city. They have always appealed to me, and I am not sure anyone else notices them the way I do. And then I draw box-like corner buildings up above the cars and behind the traffic light. I use what I know from maybe 3rd grade about perspective. I had not been one of the children selected out as a talented budding artist. I did not know till now that I had any worthwhile memories of art from past times. And now I remember sitting with my brother at a café around the corner from the Paris Opera, drawing in charcoal that wildly romantic baroque building. And then in Venice drawing the Doges Palace and a giant clock on which two iron men with sledge hammers hit a gong to mark the hours.

That was in the crucial summer that I was about to turn 17 but was back with the family. That time of discovery
the Impressionists in one direction, lively nude girls in another. But after the summer I had never tried to draw again. Like so much else that came to an end when I found myself back in the family again in that crucial time when I was 16 and went to Europe with them.

I go out to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which now feels like a home I have found after years of searching – the botanic garden and the Brooklyn Museum and all the other museums and parks that have become my city haunts in this year of change. It is still sunny in early November. Sitting cross-legged beneath a tree are three little girls in a semicircle facing a protective seeming woman who is sitting cross legged with them.

My friend the former therapist said the little drawing of that group in the botanic garden was so good it could go in the New Yorker. And this felt awful – like writing only to be published. Like writing a false version of reality imposed by someone else. Then she said she would love to have one of my ball point pen pictures of buildings with a water tower and a hanging traffic light.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#146 – CLOSURE?

I call her again to say would she like me to stop by her sidewalk place and I am met with haughty disdain. The lovey-dovey charge again. And anyway, she says, the sex wasn’t that good.

And Mr. Lewis is on the phone saying he wondered why I had canceled our next appointment. Did it mean I did not want to continue with him? If that was the case, we still needed another session for “closure.”

What an awful word closure, I thought. An awful word form this limited man.

So I go in to the Jewish Board again and we talk in circles. He wants to know what I had wanted to get out of therapy. I repeat again some of the things I had discovered over the past year. I tell him again about the encounter with Mrs. Miner. I tell about my aunt and what it raised in me. And I say again that what happened with Gillian had been flattering at first and then has seemed like a run-through duplicate of what had surely happened way in the past. I tell him that in my mind now these perfect summer places are places of horror. I tell him about Lauryn.

He nods and I could swear he is thinking that all my discoveries have come through him.

“We really should continue,” he says. “I believe I can help. I have been thinking about what you said last week. That was a very angry and aggresive thing you did when you asked me if I had read Alice Miller and the ACOA literature. Your anger is something we could work on together.”

I was writing a check at the window when he came out to pick up his next client, who had been sitting forward in a chair clutching a long aluminum walking stick. Then he was leading the blind man back for their session.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


It was comforting to be back in the waiting room at the Jewish Board. It had turned out I could have an almost immediate appointment. I went to the window and was told the name of the therapist.

George had said it took him a long time to get to the board and complete his internship so he could begin his practice. The reason, he had said, was that each time he started some training program he was horrified to find how badly messed up the budding therapists were. This new man I am assigned to looks about 40, older than George, so maybe he is a career changer. Unlike Yammer and George he looks like a therapist from central casting. He is a brooding man with black eyes. His first question is why am I here.

And it pours out of me in a torrent of words covering the torrent I have been in. The time not so long ago when I thought I was in a terminal depression. And the time, just a year ago now, when I stared going to ACOA meetings. And the death of Margaret, and the molestation of Lauryn. I ask him, as I had asked George, he if is familiar with Alice Miller. He isn’t. George was. I ask him if he has read the ACOA literature and he seems to have never heard of it. George had not read the literature, but he did after we talked.

Then I forget to wonder about Mr. Lewis. Wave after wave of words come from me. My cousins, the dead and the walking dead. The family bigotry. My childhood in which I was told I was hopelessly defective. My rivalry with my brother, the good twin – and how this year I had discovered how the rivalry was recently being played out in the Philippines where my brother had information that he kept secret though I could easily have been killed.

And I talk of the very recent high pitched sex with Gillian when we were in the north out to get the true story of what she was calling my magic kingdom. I mention the previous trip to New Hampshire when I saw Aunt Alice looking at me like a lover. I throw in an aside about their bigotry, about the English party, and rush on to tell of a childhood in which I was apparently written off as hopelessly dumb and gauche before I overtook my brother in boarding school. There was an aside about my drinking and my mother and father’s drinking. And an aside about the myths surrounding the great man, Gaga, the head of the family. An aside about the grandiosity of the Wasp world in the White Mountains. And the way they were casting Deirdre aside. And the memories about myself that had just come back. And then a quick run-through of the surprising turn into darkness again - a duplicate of past betrayal with Gillian back in the city - as if everything in my early life had just been replayed in the present.

I came to a point to pause. Mr. Lewis looked down, looked up, sat back, trained his black eyes on me and said, “Has it ever occurred to you, Mr. Poole, that what happened in your childhood could be affecting your relationships today?”

I spoke of this, not though not identifying Gillian, at the Thursday Corlears meeting.

“No shit, Sherlock,” the red-headed nurse said.

Monday, August 16, 2010


The next day my phone rings and I pick it up without monitoring. It is my Aunt Betsy, who, with her stutter returning, tells me that the most awful thing has happened to her. Lauryn wound up in a battered women’s shelter in Minnesota where she had been living after another divorce. In an aside Auntie says, as she has said at recent stages of Lauryn’s life, that it makes here furious how young and pretty Lauryn looks. More like 20 even now when she is verging on 40. I thought at first that Auntie was being humorous when she said it made her furious, but by now I am not so sure.

And then she is saying “I liked the guy. I can’t really blame him. She’s too appealing for her own good.”

And a crescendo from the crescendo. As she talks I am seeing myself in that upstairs vacant servants' room where they had put me at White Pines. And I know why even long before I had sex, long before I knew sex was about anything except an unexplained feeling, I knew a woman’s body. A smooth, shiny woman’s body. Breasts and belly and between the legs.

Smooth shiny skin, of the sort that still drew me – smooth and shiny as opposed to the mat finish skin of all the other women in the family.

Now I had the visuals.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


In the light of day she tells me again what a fine place I have, as if she is surprised. And she says there is something on her mind that she should tell me about. It sounds like something that might come to light in a meeting. She says it is my khaki trousers, which are hanging on a chair in the living room. “When I saw the khakis this morning I thought for a moment that they were my father’s."

But this passes quickly, I think. Maybe. We hug and we roll about. And then it is time for her to pack up and leave. She says she wants to settle in in her own place, and get to the Sunday meeting at the Corlears School. It is unspoken but I think it best that we not both be at the meeting, for in those meetings you are supposed to say anything that is on your mind. I go to the movies instead, but I hardly follow what is on the screen. And anyway I am exhausted, and tomorrow is another day.

I phone my old friend Max in San Francisco to tell him the good news about finding a girlfriend. I know what Max will think. He knows about how I handled the Far East, how before I got a contract to write a novel for an ultra-respectable mainstream publisher I wrote for a rich but disreputable publisher paperbacks like BANGKOK AFTER DARK and TAIPEI AFTER DARK (though after my respectable
novel was published and I was in the Middle East in what might have been the terminal depression I could not fulfill the contract I signed to write BEIRUT AFTER DARK).

The next morning, Monday, I ride the E-train up to 53rd Street and Fifth and, assuming we had planned this without words, I pick up two cups of deli take-out coffee, one for her and one for me, and a bagel to go wither her coffee. I carry them to the street, where I expect to see her shining in her new yellow boots. But she is not there.

I phone her. She acts surprised that I expected her to be at her sidewalk post today. And even more surprised that I should presume to look for her there. She says, “I didn’t think you’d get all lovey-dovey.”

And back at my place there is note slipped into my mailbox by the dread Abigail who tells me once again how much I am hurting her. This is too much to bear this time, she says. She tells me about the girl talking last night at the Corlears school telling about going up to New Hampshire to look into a fellow ACOA member's "magic kingdom."

And now Linda with whom I fell in love in the Middle East is in town. She comes over to Chelsea for the first time since she told me about Alice Miller's The Drama of the gifted Child and Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia. The second time since we went to the Frick together and she did not see how I could ever not see the horror in the 17th century Dutch landscapes, not just Hobbema but the more conventionally appealing van Ruisdale too, in whose Frick painting there is a furtive figure scurrying into the woods.

I tell her what has just happened. I describe Gillian. I show her the letter from Abigail. This is serious, she says. She puts the blame on Gillian for taking our story public.

Friday, August 13, 2010


And time is timeless in the way I would have hoped. We drive short distances, we walk around the lake, we lounge. I hardly know what time it is. We stay in bed late but are as aware of the early light, intensified by reflections off the big lake, as early risers would be. We go from moment to moment with no plan except to keep this a time without plans until the gas tank arrives.

In Vergennes I check my answering machine in the city. There is another message from my aunt saying something has happened and that I should call her.

The garage calls. The gas tank is ready. We take the car over, and leave it to receive its new tank. While we are walking in Vergennes we agree that this is almost like leaving a child for some medical procedure.

It is getting late in the day, so we will leave for the city the next day. There is intermittent rain now, making the remaining colored leaves shine. We stop in Bristol, a picture postcard town that also has real people’s stores – for hardware and groceries and drugs and lunch and basic clothing – a place that always felt inviting when I drove through it alone in the summer. The opposite of Middlebury. We come upon a shoe store that has mostly winter boots in its window. Reminding me that this is such a crucial time in northern New England, this time when there is still a little time to prepare for winter. Gillian is drawn to tall yellow boots that you step right into, slick for rainy times on the outside, insulated for cold times on the inside. Perfect for the street, she says. And she wears them now, and looks so happy with them.

When we start back the next day I say I’d like to avoid the interstates this time. She says she thinks this is a great idea, and she smiles like, I think, a child who has been given a gift. I do not say it but I am as interested in retracing my steps from the summer as I am in showing Gillian these places along the way.

Down through the center of Vermont on route 100, down to the corner where Massachusetts and Vermont come together near Williamstown, which is antiseptic near replica of the fake town of Princeton, has its own unpleasant collegiate gothic buildings. But it also has a theater, and and just outside it – though we do not go there – is the Clark Institute.

Passing through without looking in at the Clark collection feels a little like passing through Rutland and not seeing anyone I know there, or going by my brother and Terri’s places without stopping to see if they are at home. We go down now through picturesque Lee and Lenox. When I found myself in a place called Lenox while driving in the summer in this then brand new old car I had fantasized about being with someone like redheaded Tina who would be handling the tape deck while I drove. And now I am with someone who is not merely like someone but is someone, this brilliant but tortured and lovely girl with the acquired British accent.

For the most part I do not even think of the way she talks as being the same as the pretentious fake British accents heard in Middlebury and in Sugar Hill and Franconia. Except when she falls back on sex again and says, in the tones of a school mistress, “I always advise young people to practice anal sex. The best way to avoid pregnancies. All you need is a little soap.”

It close to midnight when we are finally in my apartment in Chelsea. “Fred, you did not tell me it was such a wonderful place.” Gillian is seeing for the first time this small but spacious feeling place I have been in in this new time in my life.

In the morning we hear chattering outside my window, which seems strange since I am on the third floor. It is two workers on a scaffold cleaning the outside of the building. Their hanging platform is high over the gone-to-seed garden where the tree that passes my window grows. The garden that was tended by the old Namboy man.

They are talking about how you handle women, Gillian says. She says she had to learn Hindi in India. They are talking dirty about how you have to keep fucking a woman to bring her into line.

Then Gillian, this almost innocent appearing blonde, pokes her heat out the window and shouts something in Hindi that shuts them up. She does not tell me what she said.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010


And there is rolling thunder somewhere in the background of my mind, this time like in those fake soft core scenes where the camera pans up to the sky, but this is not a fake movie scene and the camera stays right here.

Missionary position sex in the night, and deep, unworried sleep, and sex again with Gillian on top in the morning. And we stay in bed. This young woman, real but like a dream from lonely times, her blonde hair hanging down tickling me. She takes my nearly bursting penis in her mouth. And as I am about to come again, draws back, leaving my penis wet, then comes down again, and gently blows on it.

We go out to the Aqua Mustang and drive again, aimlessly it seems. She is talking again. Telling me she was this eager young girl, who by the time she was 14 was hanging out at the Bethesda Fountain where she picked up boys to fuck. Later she is a Buddhist, and a well-known Tibetan monk, a lionized popularizer in the West of magic Buddhist ways, corners her and fucks her hard – not unlike what some of her mother’s friends, at her mother’s instigation, had done when she was growing up in that apartment that smelled of her mother’s serial masturbation. But this does not mean, she saying that she is against all Buddhist holy men.

We decide to go out of the country, drive into Canada again. The houses across the border on this day look particular eccentric, with inland widow’s walks or stained glass or colored tile, and they are set at angles that have nothing to do with the landscape. We stop at a dilapidated Canadian roadside restaurant where everyone is speaking French. A waitress at our table is trying to tell us something and neither of us understands her though I have a little French, mostly from Haiti and Africa, and Gillian a little more. The waitress motions that we should follow her, and she leads us to the Mustang and points to a puddle of fuel that has leaked from the gas tank.

We fill the tank at the next station, and then as the guage goes down, we stop for more gas to keep the needle up. The next morning we begin our most leisurely day. After sex she takes a bath in the old enameled iron tub that is on legs. The little bathroom becomes steamy and she is ripe and rosy. Don’t look at me, she says. I am getting too fat. But I look at her and she is just right.

We drive to a garage in Vergennes, leave the car a couple of hours, since they cannot get to it immediately. After lunch we come back and are told there is bad news. The leak is so big that those substances meant to plug it will not work. I will need a new gas tank. And it has to be sent for and will not arrive for several days.

I think that she is concerned about her sidewalk business, left in the hands of an undocumented Irishman. But before I ask, she says “It's fine with me if we stay here till the gas tank arrives.”

We still use the car for short laps, frequently adding more gas. We take it to Vergennes, where we buy balloons.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

#140 – TRUST?

A certain calm seemed to have descended as we drove back from the White Mountains to Lake Chaplain. I kept my side’s window open so that I could smell the pine. Through the night Gillian was asleep on the seat beside me. I thought of a John Updike story I had read that almost countered the careful literary fakery in his very safe writing, his New Yorker writing that started when he was a good boy writer in college and never stopped.

But there was this one story that seemed real, a person like Updike as a teenager driving in some suburb and the girl he is with falls asleep. A turning point for him, that someone could trust him this much. And what might have happened if he had let this scene in the car unfold in a non-constructed way into other scenes and other times. Something like right now on the road back to Vermont.

She slept until we had turned off on the road to the lake. She awoke in time to sleepily greet our cows, who always seemed be waiting for us. And then we were in the area of Waspy people’s lake houses. Back at our own borrowed lake house, we were too weary for conversion, too close to each other to have to force conversation when none same. Too friendly for me to question right now our using separate little rooms.

And the next day we did not travel much. We went down to the cove to feel the water. We followed the supposed Indian trail between these lake houses. We had the Fielding guide to trees in hand. The occasional neighbors we saw were unintentionally comically stereotypical, looking much like the dowdy models in the L. L. Bean catalogue.

I felt free of like the Sugar Hill/Franconia part of the White Mountains – free of a dark and fearful world where the most awful things could happen. Really not my world, even if it seemed to hover over me some of the time.

The pretty girl and I drove a bit, but just to look out over Lake Champlain from different vantage points. We had lunch at the diner in Burlington where we had gone for French toast. We came back to the lake house. We had dinner of hot roast beef sandwiches, mashed potatoes and apple pie a la mode at the counter restaurant in Vergennes. Then back to the lake house again.

Greeting and being greeted again by the cows at the fence on the dirt road cutting over to the lake.

At the house I go to start up the big old gas heater, and the gas meets my match flame with a small explosion. And we say this looks like our first really early night. And we go upstairs, and this time I follow her into her room. And she says, “What took you so long?”

Saturday, August 7, 2010


It is late in the day now and will be dark soon, but I want to swing back once more through the old summer places. And this can be done fast now on the interstate from Littleton to Franconia, where we get the road for Sugar Hill. We turn off to go up Davis Road, up again past White Wings and the Farm House and what had been the caretaker’s cottage, which after Mrs. Gilman’s death had been purchased by one of the many Mallory’s. And past the site of the Playhouse, which was above the Farm House and below the House on the Hill. The hill that now seemed to have a hanging tree. This time I turn into a narrow dirt driveway that starts on the other side of Davis Road from the Farm House. Old guard people don’t want to go down this long twisting drive because something unsavory is now at the end, though it is the same long driveway though the now high White Pine woods that Nana and Gaga planted. It is still so narrow that it seems like a good idea to honk in case someone was coming the other direction, though I do not honk now. This driveway had seemed to go on forever when the summer was beginning, with anticipation mounting till coming out at White Pines, stately and firm, stone and white clapboard, appeared. Gaga and Nana, who would have heard the honking, and would be out in front to greet us.

When I was in college, a few years after Gaga’s death, White Pines was sold to a rough youngish man that everyone hated, a rich man people somehow knew had been bribed by his family in Boston to stay far away from them. He had been married for a time to a local girl. Everyone said he abused her. And of course he had ruined the place. He was out to make money on it, so he divided the big house into apartments. And he let it go to seed so badly that now it needed paint and had an emergency tin roof where there should have been wooden shingles. And out the back, on the lawn above the wild blueberry field and beneath the panorama of the Franconia Range, the place Gaga had been wheeled out to each day after his stroke, the place with white benches and white bird baths and some white trellises, this new owner had done the unthinkable. He had put in a swimming pool. Something the wrong sort to people did, though there was one house on the way to Littleton that was inhabited by a big summer clan with close tiles to the Franconia and Sugar Hill summer clans, and they had a swimming pool, but they had had to do it because they were so rich, and anyway the other summer people vouched for their pedigree.

I do not honk, though I know this is taking a chance. I am using the headlights, for we are in twilight when I turn down the twisting drive and it is as dark as night under the pine trees. It is nearly that dark when we come out at the open area in front of White Pines. There used to be a circular drive here with a perfectly round lawn in the middle, but the owner has turned the lawn into a parking lot. On the end of the parking lot opposite to White Pines construction had begun on a rental house Stevenson was inserting here. In the dim light I was almost seeing the place before it has begun going to seed.

Quietly we talk around the house towards the mountain view, the now swimming pool, side. We pass what had been my grandfather’s study, a separate place with stacks of wood outside it for his Franklin stove. The Franklin stove has been by a circular iron stairway that let up through a trap door to his sleeping porch, where he could retreat if he saw someone coming to White Pines he did not want to see.

The big screen porch seems still intact, on a level below the house. We walk around to the screen porch. I wonder if the furniture is still white wicker, and what happened to a high indoor swing for children, and the skiing mural done on the blue inner wall by a dashing friend of Aunt Betsy’s when she was a teenager. I hear low voices. I see a glow beyond the screen which may be from candlelight. I hear ice clicking in what are surely standard highball glasses. So people from the apartments are out there having drinks. Time collapses again. I am a ghost passing through again. But I am not completely invisible, for in a raspy female smoker’s voice come the words “Who’s there?’

We retreat silently to the car.

On the way back to Vermont I tell her something I know but wished I didn’t. When we had our driver’s licenses kids from our gang – not me, not my brother, but kids from our circle
would drive over to the Notch and go into the souvenir stores for the Tramway and the Flume and Profile Lake, and pretend they were Jewish. They told us how they would finger the goods saying something that sounded like “Phee-yops” which was supposed to be something greedy Jews would say while fingering merchandise. And after that they would drive through Bethlehem and shout “Kike.’

Gillian says, “The kid’s from Bethlehem should have driven through Sugar Hill shouting things like ‘Your grandmother overcooks the vegetables.’”

Friday, August 6, 2010

#138 - LAURYN

I am talking about Lauryn now, who through high school lived in that company house. I may not be able to match Gillian for sexual horror stories, but I tell her that Lauryn had been molested by her brother, and that later when she was pregnant at 18 and wanted an abortion her mother talked her out of it. Her mother had flown out to Minnesota where Lauryn was in a small college. “She is my mother,” Lauryn explained later. Lauryn was anyway in Minnesota against her will, for she had wanted to go to the University of New Hampshire with her high school friends.

Lauryn was the least likely person to be found in our family. An extremely popular high school girl. She had seamlessly made the shift from Lycée and ballet to life in a New England mill town, where she had been
the most sought after girl in her class. Any trace of English accent – whether the family version or the England version had disappeared forever.

Aunt Alice had adopted Lauryn in London shortly after she had adopted Paul. The family was horrified, as it was meant to be – irresponsible, pretty Alice, widowed young, now taking on responsibilities she probably could not handle. And anyway it was easy for her since in the years after the war in England there were so many children who needed adopting. Dad spoke about post-war adoption the way he would later speak of my Cousin Margaret’s art career as not amounting to much of anything since Margaret went to the Art Students League, which was a place where anyone could walk in off the street and go to classes.

In the city I would sometimes see Lauryn at formal dinner parties at Nana’s apartment. A picture perfect and polite little girl dressed in velvet. She had been a rising star in ballet school, and was said to be doing fine in Manhattan's high toned French Lycée, when her brother Paul’s troubles led to them to flee the city.

It had started with shop lifting, when Paul was in trouble partly because of what he took from Korvette’s but mostly because he called a security guard “nigger” and said he would come back with “teddy boys” and finish him off. And on top of that, he was carrying a switch blade knife of a length that a new city law made it a felony to carry. I got him a lawyer through a Princeton classmate who was in a corporate law firm where they had criminal lawyers on call for unsavory matters.

A police check revealed Paul had been arrested the previous summer for shooting guns in New Hampshire. Aunt Alice pointed out that he had only done it in the woods owned by his grandmother. The lawyer thought that this was something best not said to a city magistrate. As for the knife felony, the lawyer was proved correct that if he issued a constitutional challenge to the knife law, as he did, the magistrate would throw out the charge rather than get into something over his head.

Later, when I was out of the country, Paul was caught again with guns, including a sawed off shotgun. This time he was in Connecticut spending a week with my parents. It seemed only a matter of time before he was convicted of something big, so Aunt Betsy gave up her place in Washington Square Village and moved Paul and Lauryn and herself up to New Hampshire. She bought a narrow mill town house on a street up above Littleton’s movie house.

I think Aunt Betsy thought she could bide her time and would eventfully come into her own in New Hampshire, where she expected support. She was living on a small trust fund so tight she could not get at the principal. None of Nana’s friends made any effort to rally around her, which she found infuriating. Also she had thought she could get the Farm House when Nana died, but the family made sure it went to my responsible twin brother. I was not brought into the discussion. I was away, working on a novel while living in a deserted old colonial hotel in the middle of Java.

Paul’s troubles had mounted. Guns again, right down to a gangster style sawed off shotgun that he carried around at the Profile Golf Club . He was covered at the Profile by a long-standing family membership, but now the club banned him for life. He had kidnapped a girl in Littleton. His mother said there was more to the story, because Paul was so handsome that girls were always after him. He had taken his victim to the Profile Club, and had held her as hostage, keeping the police at bay with his guns. The final resolution was that a judge gave Paul, who had turned 18, the choice between prison and immediate enlistment in the army.

It was only recently that the family learned, for the first time, that Paul had raped his pretty sister.

I thought Gillian would appreciate the story. Then I didn’t care what she thought of it.

I did not drive up the hill above the movie house to see if my aunt was at home.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I take us back to the interstate to continue on one exit to Littleton. I am so distracted by past and present that I miss the turnoff and so when we first see Littleton we are looking down on it from the interstate. It looks naked, though everything around it is covered with fall colors. A grim and forbidding place, Gillian says. I tell her this is a town without shade trees, much less a village green. And yet I am ready to go down into it, for nostalgia is coming again, like clouds descending that contain nostalgia both for what was and for what had not been.

For this is a year-round people’s place. This is where we would be drive over from White Pines for shopping. The driver a man from the village, and beside him Nana’s maid. Gaga did not do shopping trips and Nana did not drive. It was not until she was in her 80s that she got a license. Then she decided not to drive anyway.

The family marveled at how her maid Evelyn could tell which melons were ripe by touching them and sniffing them. Nana and Evelyn and sometimes my brother and I would go to McGoon’s the quality store – a service outpost for the summer people’s towns right here in the middle of this mill town. A place to stock up on S.S. Pierce canned good from Boston, and fresh meat and fish and vegetables such at would not be found at the Aldrich store in Franconia or at Littleton’s supermarket.

We leave the interstate to drive into Littleton and suddenly past and present are intermingled again. We come into town crossing a shaky old iron bridge over the wild Amonoosic River which is right past the now unused railroad station which still, like the unused Sugar Hill station, has its RAILWAY EXPRESS sign. I point out the high clapboard building at the start of Main Street from which Gaga’s friend the old Littleton police chief surveyed the town. If you needed a driver’s license and did not want to take the test, Gaga would speak to his friend and you would get a license on the spot. Nana was proud that she had actually taken the driving test. And so too my brother and me, who got ours just after turning16 in Connecticut.

Seeing the place with Gillian it looks more like a parched Western town than like something in the heart of old New England. For there really are no shade trees at all. Cars are parked diagonally rather than parallel to the curb. One new place is book store. I tell her that Terri had shown me an application she got for working at the bookstore. It was like an application to a rarefied college, and it made me angry that a little store owner could get away with being so pretentious in a town that had so little culture in it. I see the old drug store, that used to be called Parker’s, and the White Mountain Restaurant, a counter place where you could get Cheeseburgers or pancakes as relief form the multi-course Germanic food cooked and served at White Pines.

We come to the movie theater – one of the movie theaters that sustained people over in the summer towns, the others in Lisbon and Bethlehem. I point to the steep road behind it that leads to the house where Aunt Betsy still lives most of the year.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Terri’s cow. It is like I see the cow without any context. Everything I see I see sharply, but everything is separate from everything else. And I know, though I cannot prove it, that really horrible things had to have happened when we were very young in these summer houses. I know it.

These cousins of mine who are moving into death or a death-like stasis now. Years after they were children in this place that now seems so clearly not safe for children. That must have been what Mrs. Miner had in mind.

It is a month since I was here last and Terri was videotaping Mrs. Miner and Gracie on the subject of buzzing, just after Mrs. Miner had said she always felt so bad about what had happened to me, which I think must be more than she told me, which was just that my brother lied and turned me in and I was frequently banished from the warmth of family to the greater warmth at the pantry table. I know there is more. I tell Gillian about Mrs. Miner, and tell her I know there is more, and she seems to know what I know. Everything around me is throbbing now, and I picture all these places in fearful darkness.

In Franconia village we pick up an interstate that did not exist when I was young, and we follow it to a point where we turn off for Bethlehem, the Jewish town. And I am talking about the rampant anti-Semitism, which is not news to Gillian, but I talk about it anyway. And I talk about my father’s anti-Jewish jokes – the guy says his middle finger is the pleasure finger because that is the one he uses to ring up his cash register, told while punching the air with the outstretched middle finger. Another sign that they are unsuited to modern times. And I talk of how Uncle Nick refused to wear a yarmulke, how Elka, my unusually attractive and quite new cousin by marriage who wrote me in Southeast Asia after she was married saying she was so pleased to know about me, so pleased that not all Fitz John's people were "standard issue Pooles." I wondered what they put her through because of her being Jewish. I sent Fitz and Elka as a wedding gift a Burmese lacquered tray I had recently picked up at the big shrine in Mandalay even though I rarely acquired things. Fitz John, whose sister Margaret’s death and her pre-death revelations had helped push me into where I am now – where what had been black has become white, and white is black, and none of the old stories stand.

I am not in physical pain but my head is throbbing and music is welling up and heading towards crescendo, and it is like those Wagner operas, that I never took seriously, with Wagnerian music accompanying the triumph of dark primordial forces from a past that never ended, along with fresh devastation in the present.

What I am going through does not seem overly theatrical to me.

We turn off the interstate and drive through dense woods for several miles to the summer town of Bethlehem. Its old summer movie theater, which had become a soft core porn theater in the seventies, is back to looking just like it looked in the fifties. Some buildings are vacant, some are occupied by small snack places and tourist knick knack stores, and there are still big old rooming houses for people escaping the city. On the outskirts still are the old pre-motel tourist cabins, including one complex that has what look like story book dwarf houses. Old hotels, not nearly so big as the old Sunset, still seem to be in operation, and also a big circular wooden building with large raised letters spelling out “CASINO,” which was apparently a place for catered banquets, not gambling.

It all feels soft and gentle to me. And although I know of it as a town for Jewish people, I have that feeling of nostalgia again for something that it almost seemed had been in my life.

This all so different from the family’s summer towns. “So soft and welcoming,” Gillian says, and she says Bethlehem is like the Bruce Bacon sky that is so off on its own in Jason’s lake house.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


So much in upheaval as we drive down the hill, between the Gibbs house, still standing, and the Pioneer, crumbling. I turn right on the main road, then right again at St. Matthew’s on the dirt road that we called Davis Road though I note a too-cute rustic sign that says now it is “The Birches Road.” We thunder down this dirt road, through the stretch where Peter and I plotted how we would leave the family parts of this world for an ultra-regular persons’ world with our log inn by the side the of the road. We go past a wide tarmac drive on the right leading up from the dirt road through birch woods to the Mallory’s, and I do not fail to tell Gillian that Otto Mallory was my grandfather’s roommate at awful Princeton. There is a chain across the tarmac drive, and a sign that says “Beware of the Dog.” The Mallory’s were not dog people “This is the unfriendliness thing I have ever seen,” Gillian says.

We pass a smaller drive leading, I think, to what was old Mr. Hamilton’s place. In my mind someone out of focus named Mr. Hamilton stands in for what may have been a number of old men – the man who buzzed old ladies, the man whose dead hands disturbed by father, the man with woodworking machines who invented a table-high shuffleboard game that was on the White Pines screen porch and in all the summer people’s biggest houses.

We are below the forbidding octangular brown House on the Hill that is now high above us on the left. I see on its lower field an apple tree that is probably long dead, and I see that the tree’s biggest branch goes out horizontally ten feet above the ground. It is one of those hanging trees you see in violent westerns. And I point out that just beyond is where the Playhouse had stood. And then we are at the Farm House. A yard sign from my brother’s time has the Poole name and the Farm House name on it. Across from the entrance, down below the House on the Hill and the Playhouse site, is a long flower garden, set up against a stone wall that holds back the start of the hill. In recent years tended by my brother’s wife, it is where Nana used to gather long-stemmed flowers for White Pines. Further is where the caretaker’s house and barn had stood.

The road passes below a screen porch at the back of the Farm House. My brother and his wife often sit there, I know, drinking, in moderation, correctly English Pim’s Cup concoctions. Because of the light I cannot see as I pass below if anyone is behind the screen, though I sense someone is there. Sometimes Peter and Rosemary stay in the mountains into foliage time. I do not stop – any more than I stopped in Rutland to see if Peter Cooper was home.

It is almost as if I am an invisible ghost here, even here traveling with a pretty girl. No one from this present and all these past times we pass through can see us.

Then, still close to the road, is a trim cottage that was the caretaker’s cottage, where I went to meet his young son who became my friend, and earlier where I saw the caretaker’s father dying. That family moved out when my grandparents began selling off houses and my family had no more need of a full-time caretaker. The cottage was moved here and refurbished as the summer place of a friend of Nana’s, Mrs. Gilman, the widow, we were told, of the Herald Tribune’s music critic.

I look to the left as we now pass the big field in front of White Wings. One of Terri’s rescued animals, an elderly brown cow, is in the field and I see that a pickup truck and her old Volkswagen convertible are parked at the house, so this means Terri is almost certainly at home. But I do not stop to see her, and don’t think she can see me. For I am this ghost returning to an old battlefield.

Monday, August 2, 2010


And there on the Sunset Hill House’s hill with Terri I am thinking how she looked when she was young and most boys fell in love with her. And then my mind is filled with Kitty, when I loved even the sound of her name. I would take Kitty to the Pioneer after one of the Saturday evening dances at the real Sunset Hill house where old ladies, none of them Jewish, would sit in a circle around the floor of the simple ballroom, looking at us with interest and sometimes disapproval. At these dances we were so bound up with each other that we forgot anyone was watching.

Once in the middle of a Saturday night dance there was a demonstration by a couple who did exhibition ballroom dancing, with acrobatic touches, on the summer resort circuit. She was a dark-haired woman with tight pale skin who could be quite old though she had this calendar girl body displayed in a spangled dress that left her back bare almost all the way down. He was a wily little man in a tight-fitting shiny tuxedo. Aliens in our families’ paradise. I knew the old ladies would be clicking their tongues. And maybe my contemporaries too. I thought the performance was pretty good, but could be better.
We never forgot what was going on outside between the waitresses and bell boys outside.

I am thinking now about the old Sunset and the old Pioneer, and then the small golf course with its old shingled clubhouse and caddy room. My mother learned to play golf there from a resident pro named Harry who was still around when Peter and I became caddies. We actually worked there as caddies for a few weeks one summer. Our jobs were arranged by our grandfather. Unlike the caddies from the village, we would work only half a day. Also, Gaga would match whatever we made.

Our Southern grandmother would send her friends down from the Sunset to hire Peter. It would give her friends a chance to hear his cute sayings.

The clubhouse has still not caved in. It is still in operation. I was aware during my brief caddying career that the golf course was where Mother first became aware of Dad. And now back at this very place again I speak to Gillian of how when our mother was young, she would spend her days playing round after round of golf, often by herself. In those distant summers long before I was born, when she was quartered in one of the Sunset cottages that her own Southern grandmother would rent. It was from this golf course that she first spotted our father. With Gillian I am starting out on this historic hill, where I started out on my first trip over in the summer. On this hill thinking of the lonely girl who would become my mother seeing a lonely boy in a pony cart riding up the hill and along past the fairway.

All time periods seem to take place at the same time. Here on this hill, stressing with my life and other people’s lives.

And now on this objectively calm day it as if there is thunder in the air and flashing lights and whirling winds, and steaming hot and freezing cold and I am outside it all, but also inside.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I had learned in the summer that Vermonters born in Vermont often refer to outsiders as “flatlanders.” People who are not from the mountains. But we in New Hampshire, back when I was very young and distinctions were important, we knew that the green mountains themselves were flat. As when compared to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The peaks of the White Mountains the coldest and windiest places in all of northeastern America and probably eastern Canada too. It made us proud. I once impressed Mickey’s mother by referring to the Rockies as “upstart mountains.”

Now when Gillian and I cross over for the first time from Vermont it feels not like we are going from one mountain area to another but that we are going from meadowlands into cold granite.

And now entering this place that haunts me I feel I am in a torrent, or cataclysm.

I take her first to the hill with the lookout point that is in front of what was the Sunset Hill House. That big old wooden hotel with its simple ballroom and its circular rocking chair porch, a part of everyone’s self definition in the these circles, in this place that everyone says never changes. The Sunset had burned down not long ago in one of the suspicious fires that strike old summer hotels that have gone out of fashion.

To our far left we can see the crumbing roof or the Pioneer, which had been a rakish dancing and necking place, going full swing when I was not quite old enough to buy alcohol on my own. Bottles would be passed to us by the older young people from the outside world who were our benefactors here. Pretty college girls, who worked as summer chambermaids at the Sunset. Confident young men who worked as summer bell boys.

Straight ahead of us is the rock strewn field that leads to the woods that lead to the mountains. Again I note the slight indentation remaining form the ring where we used to take English style riding lessons. Down to our right is a large clapboard building, three stories high in the front, and maybe five in the back, that clings to the side of the drop-off from the road. The older people spoke often of the time when this was called the Bachelors’ Quarters. When our parents were young, the right sort of young men could stay free in the Bachelors’ Quarters for they were so in demand as squires for the daughters, mostly from the South, of mothers who came to the Sunset Hill House, by tradition, in each summer’s long hay fever season. The fathers might make it too, but only for a week or so at the summer’s end. That was in my parents' day. In my day, which was after the Depression and after the war, the Bachelors’ Quarters had become the lodging place for those college boys, and girls too, who had summer jobs at the Sunset. These older kids, whom we sometimes saw at night necking with great skill in shadows on the Sunset’s porch.

But now the old Bachelors’ Quarters building has been spruced up and transformed. Freshly painted. Dark shutters and dark window boxes added where there had been no shutters, and certainly no flowers, before. The flowers in the new boxes seem more tidy than cheerful.

The place is across the road from the short nine-hole golf course that was part of the Sunset Hill House in the past and now goes with this miniature Sunset version. Yes, the old Bachelors' Quarters building now claims to be the Sunset Hill House. Two golfers, one in plaid, the other in bright orange trousers, are coming across the road back to what they may think is real.

This version is more formal than I remember the real Sunset as being. And now Gillian and I enter and it feels as quiet as death. Dinner tables with everything correctly folded and arranged. Heavy silverware lined up in the precise order, from outside to inside, in which it should be used.

In the lobby there are brochures promoting this new Sunset version. The brochures make us laugh. They say nothing about the beauty of the mountains or the pleasures of summer sport. They do say golf is good for you. And that the White Mountains is where you should go for your health. As if it is your duty.