Wednesday, August 4, 2010
#136 - BETHLEHEM
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.