Wednesday, June 30, 2010

#123 – IRIS FARM


It is well after midnight when I get back to White Wings from this near-perfect 18-hour interlude over in Maine. I wake up in one of the old carefully preserved bedrooms of the formal wing of White Wings feeling simultaneously refreshed and groggy. I see it is nearly noon. I throw water on my face from an old bathroom sink with long nozzles. I dress quickly and step out to look at the mountains and, yes, breath in this mountain air that, like the light, has no equal anywhere. But whatever scent of balsam is there is smothered in the scene of Marijuana.

Mickie has come out of her more regular persons’ wing and is right on the connecting second floor walkway. She is holding out a roach. She has a vaguely blissful look on her face. And this, for me, is enough. Enough of the mountains. Enough of old memories. Time to leave. Not just for a side trip like yesterday’s trip to Maine but rather time to just leave. And anyway I have to get back to Vermont if only because I am leaving Vermont too. Driving down in caravan with Donna in her move to Union. And I am ready. The idea of staying on in Vermont had never seemed to have much reality to it. I have too much unfinished business in New York, which is control central in this war against family versions in which the stakes are getting higher and higher.

Something is new, though still circumstantial – this feeling I have of great darkness surrounding the old family places, this feeling of big dark rooms and corridors and stairways in which the most awful things can happen, especially to children. Dark places that say knife-edge secrets, incest and worse. Like in big houses in horror movies, I think, though this is only a constructed comparison since, although I am a cinephile, I have never at any age sat through horror movies.

It is time to get on the road. I won’t try to get breakfast here. So before leaving for good I drive into Franconia for scrambled eggs and home fries and bacon at the Dutch Treat.

Between Sugar Hill and Franconia I pass by the Iris Farm, an old dairy farm still in some degree of operation, sturdy barn buildings and old style wooden silos all painted white – picture perfect in a in way the sweetness of Vermont or Maine cannot equal. And moreover, in the not so distant distance, rising up behind the farm buildings, I see the Franconia Range mountains that are as familiar as blood relatives. And the sunlight is nearly horizontal.

Like all summer children I had been taken to the Iris Farm to see the inside of the high-arched main barn, meet friendly farm hands, and greet the cows being brought in for milking. And now forty years later I am passing this place and realize I can see it clearly wherever in the world I might be – the barns, the cows, the rocky fields and then woods and mountains. The light.

Seeing it before me right now, seeing it from the Aqua Mustang, I am so full I can hardly contain what I see.

This panorama of Iris Farm should, I decide, be my final view of the White Mountains.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

#122 – MAINE


On Labor Day I found myself standing with Terri on a small, now rarely used old lookout platform across from where the Sunset Hill House had stood before, like so many old style summer hotels, it had been destroyed in a mysterious fire. Also behind us across the road were the cottages, will intact, that went with the Sunset. And down to our left the remains of that rakish old brown shingled building called the Pioneer, the late night dancing and necking and drinking place. From the lookout platform Terri and I were facing the mountains that here are in the exact configuration they are in when seen from the old family houses. Down below us was a scraggly brown-green rocky field, with barely noticeable circular indentations in the dry grass where a riding ring had once been, where my brother and I and Terri and most of the others in our gang had taken riding lessons from a weather-beaten and happy Englishwoman who kept horses nearby and
knew the ins and outs, knowing when to post, when to stand, of using English riding saddles, a confident woman who did not care about extraneous things like attitude and attire. This was as close as anything I had of sharing in a collective memory of youth.

And I was seeing something I had forgotten – how the sunlight already at Labor day came in long almost horizontal silver-sharp yellow winter rays – almost horizontal because we were that far north here. And although I was out to get the true story of what went on in the past, the light filled me with a feeling of nostalgia that nearly brought me to tears. I said to Terri, and it most have sounded like I was in awe, I said “No place on earth has light like this.” And then it seemed to me that I might as well have been saying that no place on earth compares to this place, which was something I heard so often in the past even from family people who hardly ever returned. No place on earth like the White Mountains. No other place that really counted. As if they could never see beyond or behind it. As if having had it once made up for their failures after they left. And I hoped I myself was beyond ever feeling smug about my connections here.

The next day, I was not quite ready to return to Vermont, as had been my plan. But I was not ready to stay either, so I decided to do a little exploring in a different direction. Terri had been talking about Portland, Maine and its art galleries and cultural life, which sounded strange to me, for my memories of Maine were from those winters in boarding school when I would travel, like an athlete with privileges, to take on and defeat other new England schools in the unlikely sport of debating, and Maine has seemed so barren and colorless and plain when rushing through it in those winters. Time now for another look.

I set out quite early, before Terri was up, cutting over to route 302 and following it through North Conway, which had been changed by outlet stores, and then by the Mount Washington Hotel, which, though in the old style, had been known to sometimes accept
Jews. Past the trail heads where a dozen of us, plus some limber parents, would start out on our happy teenage hikes that we called mountain climbing traversing the Presidential Range above the timber line and staying in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts, where we slept in separate boys and girls bunk bed dormitories. Our gang, my male friends and those girls I thought I would always remember, they were so pretty and flirtatious and open always remember, I thought, long after I had gone on, as I planned in adolescence, to bigger worlds,

In twenty minutes across the Maine border I came to a lake with a town on it called Naples, the town on a bay with a dock that was the harbor place for, and this felt like something from a dream, a full-scale working replica of a big old paddle wheel Mississippi River boat. When I was very young such appealing tourist things – dismissed by family as things to be avoided, dismissed as what they called tourist gags – these tourist things filled me with warmth, like the souvenir shops at the Flume and at Profile Lake beneath the Old Man of the Mountains – things other people had and that our people looked down on. Wooden hatchets, funny hats and balsam pine pillows with the words “for you I pine and balsam.”

Naples, Maine, and a Mississippi river boat. This was my world. Here in the uncharted, unsanctified territory outside the White Mountains. God I felt good.

Everything I had heard about Portland from Terri was true. It was the new world in the same way that Vermont was the world now of art and love and sex and rebellion and sex and adventure – guitars and anti-war protests and interesting low fat and spice-filled restaurants built over a civilization that had had tasteless New England boiled dinners and swept sex under the rug.

After the galleries and coffee shops, I drove out of town, stopping at a roadside food trailer to pick up a lobster roll, then sat on a cliff with my Walkman listening to Judy Collins, looking out at the endless ocean, the ocean that opened up the world as opposed to the mountains that, as much as I loved them, cut off the sky. And after the cliff I continued on up the coast, which looked on the map to now have a series of small, jagged spits of land, but the spits of land of land turned out to be the big, sturdy walls of timeless fjords.

Driving back towards New Hampshire I stop after sunset, but still in twilight, in Naples for a hamburger and fries at the outdoor part of a one of a series of restaurants on the water close to the Mississippi paddle wheeler. There is more than a hint of autumn in the air. But the lake and its shore are alive still with summer smells. Summer trees. Summer lake water. And fish are jumping at insects in this place which will soon be frozen over.

But the chill in the air is not enough yet to mean taking in outdoor tables. A crucial touch of summer lingers. The handfuls of people eating in the outdoors and laughing together are not, I realize, summer people. They are all, whether resident or itinerant, men and women who worked here in the summer. And this is the day after Labor Day, and all the summer people, the good and the bad, have gone away and now the people who belong can relax, which was what they are doing.

Except I am thinking we, not they – we can relax, as I imagine myself into a world as connected as this one.









Monday, June 28, 2010

#121 – ALMOST THE SAME


Almost everything was the same. I cut over from Rt. 10 through Bath by the rapid water that becomes a waterfall in a gorge below a very high and surely precarious looking covered bridge. I came along the edge of the old town of Lisbon with its stately street lamps and formal looking bridge and vacant stores. Past a lumberyard that was sometimes in operation. Followed a hill that dropped off to my left down to the Sugar Hill station, which had been tended so carefully by a station master they talked about him in a manner both admiring and dismissive as if he were just a silly little figure but also as if what he did was touching; he had kept flower boxes blooming, even by the old Railway Express sign. For a time after the railroad died the station had served as a hamburger place, and now it was deserted, but the frame was there and the open land around it was the same and this 1986 Labor Day could as easily, as eerily, have been another Labor Day back when the timeless-seeming trains were still running and we would all gather at night to welcome one of our gang up from some distant suburban place. The grownups tended to come by Pullman sleeper, which would arrive the next morning.

Once again, my third foray into the White Mountains this year, I realized that I had never completely gotten away, Sometimes there would be an urge to see the old places, more often there would be a counter-urge to stay away. I go now though Sugar Hill village where village people live possibly warm lives in neatly tended houses with shrubs and actual white picket fences, and there is still a general store that is also a post office, plus a cheese business run by a retired ad man from Boston who sells here New York cheddar that tourists believe is a local product.

I go past the turnoff to the Sunset Hill House, and then instead of turning down Davis Road at the little summer church I keep going around on the paved road that before turning toward Franconia loops around to the other end of Davis. I pass what has been Sugar Hill's Hildex maple sugar place, run by the Aldrich’s, who ran the IGA store in Franconia. And who for many years have operated a profitable tourist place called Polly’s Pancake Parlor on the site of Hildex, a tradition that started after my time.

Hildex maple sugar which was nearly white in color, was the official maple sugar of our childhood. I would have to sneak the more golden kind that came from across the border in Vermont. Both versions were the forms of maple leaves and little maple sugar men.

Then I hit Davis Road and it looks the same except for a couple of small summer places on it, one of them an A-frame, which must mean alien skiers. Despite these new near cabins the road is mostly deserted until I come to the big old houses of the old established summer people, meaning the Poole family, and a man named Mr. Hamilton and eventually the big place of the Mallory’s.

The first of our houses is White Wings, which was also the first to leave the family. It is set back from the dirt road by a scruffy field in which an elderly cow Terri had rescued from slaughter is grazing. Below her mailbox is a metal silhouette cutout of a Greyhound. I soon learn this is a hopeless attempt to make the current owner of our main house, White Pines, feel guilt, for he had shot one of Terri’s dogs, a rescued Greyhound, just for the hell of it, apparently. He had said it was to protect the deer, though he was the sort person who would tempt deer with apples and then shoot them. This rough man who had been given money by his family to stay away, and had put this money into what was generally seen as ruining white pines.

Terri was in the wing she had made her own when she moved back. It was filled with dogs and splintery wood walls now, and was a very dark place, in its regular person's way as dark as when this the wing had been the silent place where my grandfather wrote his books when in residence at White Wings. Dark in the past, and dark in the present, with that era in between when it was bright and open, polished light wood floors, white walls, the wing set up so that Terri and her brother would have a happy place to live and entertain their friends – that period in the past when it was not dark.

Terri has stopped drinking, not through AA but rather with the aid of marijuana. She told me more than once that she never forgot the kindness of my grandmother Nana, who had stopped her on the road one day when she was a young woman just out of a dull marriage to a man her Grosse Point family favored who worked for General Motors. After the divorce, prettier than ever, she was back in White Wings for a summer and had a pet lamb who would follow her along Davis Road. White Wings was in sight of the old Farm House, which was a summer house name as much as it was a description of what the core of the place had once been. From both houses you had a clear look at the dirt road. Nana spent her summers in the Farm House after White Pines was sold. It was from the Farm House, set above the road, that she saw Terri walking with her lamb, and Nana went down to speak to her. Terri said she never forgot the kindness of my grandmother, the kindness that consisted, so far as I could tell, of Nana's once spotting Terri on the road, and coming town to tell her she should be careful not to get to close to any of the local people.

Which Terri still seemed to consider a turning point in her life – “The best advice I ever had” – even though she played bingo at lodges, surely had sex with local people in the long winters, and when broke worked as a house cleaner – which of course were all things unheard of in this class-bound place.



Thursday, June 24, 2010

#120 – NOT QUITE THE SAME


It was the same but it wasn’t. I did not go to the Sunday evening meeting at the Corlears School, a fast l0-block walk down from my place on 25th Street. It was Gillian’s only meeting, the one she called “my therapy,” and I heard she had talked about me in it. Telling everyone about driving with that she called “a program friend” around his family’s “magic kingdom” in New Hampshire. Everyone in Manhattan ACOA knew about my search for what had happened in New Hampshire, and knew that I had recently gone back. They did not know until now that this sexually riveted, deceptively sweet appearing blonde girl/woman had been trysting up there with there me. I learned about what she had been saying in one of those syrupy threatening letters that my stalker Abigail sent me.

I did nothing. I hardly missed Gillian, though despite what she had said I did think the sex had rarely been better – rarely better neither with serious past girlfriends, nor with semi-pros and professionals in exotic countries. I did not miss Gillian after the initial disappointment. It was more as if I had escaped with my life. And now there were Janet and Melanie and Susan and so many more on this circuit I was on – no lack of women with whom I could flirt, with it maybe or maybe not being the surface of something captivating.

Then one evening Gillian came unannounced and rang my buzzer. I was not sure why. The ending had seemed so conclusive. She immediately saw that on a table in my living room were photographs of myself, some in infancy, all in phases of childhood, that I had assembled in the past year. One was a portrait from a time when I was 15 and our Southern grandmother had paid to have formal portraits of the twins done in a photographer’s studio In his, my brother Peter was looking ahead as if he saw an ordered future that would need his tending. His jaw was firm in the portrait just as it had been in life when he would stride into a room like a determined grown-up. The grandmother said she could see in his portrait that Peter was going to be such a man. All she said about mine was that it made me “look pretty,” and so it had made me cringe when I saw it displayed at our house in Connecticut.

Now Gillian said, “Look at that boy. The girls must have gone crazy. They all most have wanted to lap him up. I would.” And I knew she was good at lapping all over in the course of wetting a man’s cock in her mouth and then, just before he came, pulling back to blow on it gently.

So there was a quick sexual surge, but it quickly passed and I was feeling familiar creepiness in the situation – this woman in my apartment with this boy in the picture.

Then she told me that she was fucking an Irish street person who was helping out with her sidewalk sales. She said that was all she could handle because of her self esteem situation. And then she brought up Abigail, the grim, gray possibly homicidal woman who had been stalking me. She and Abigail were suddenly friends, she said. And then, sounding especially pompous, she said she had hired Abigail to help her with her what she called her business, meaning illegal street sales of mass produced wooden fetish figures. She referred to the business as if it were a major undertaking, and she said, her British accent thick, that Abigail was proving to be a talented “art restorer.”

And this news really frightened me, for I knew that Abigail would have hated Gillian if for no better reason than that Gillian looked so young and sexy. And surely my grim stalker would have wanted to kill Gillian after hearing her describe in such a public place as the Sunday night Corlears meeting what we had been up to.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#119 – WITH NEW STORIES


When I was back at my place in New York in the autumn, with so many stories to tell the people I was associated with in these meetings, so much that had fallen into place, so much information, including the sort that Michelle called “visuals” – I didn’t have the entire story but I had perhaps enough, things put in place because those elements of the past now logically came together that way, but even more the images I had now, visual and otherwise, as if I had actually been back there in the past just now, actually felt blows to my groin and head, and also the softness of a young girl clinging, as in early necking that passed as dancing back then. But then something else from even earlier – actual skin on skin – the bare body from another generation but very smooth. And this explained why I knew so much about a woman's bare body, all of it, before, as far as I knew, I had actually touched one or even seen one. Now I knew why I knew. Or at least some crucial parts of it. Because of what had gone on these last weeks in the mountains. The case was no longer merely circumstantial.

And now moving into November it was back to where I had been before I drove up to Vermont in late June. I was still going to these meetings, which were as satisfying, and sometimes crazed, as they had been before the summer – which seemed to mean a new kind of continuity in life, a life that did not have be restarted every ten minutes.

I still wasn’t seeing much of people I had known before this year, but there was a little connection. Joan, the CBS producer who had been a friend since our UPI days, and whom I had last seen at her New Year’s Eve party. We had dinner me one night at the still very affordable Ye Waverly Inn near her chaotic place on Bank Street. I started to tell her about these groups of people leaping into the past and she started talking about her father, often drunk and always changing, one year a private detective spending his time in stakeouts across from seedy motels, the next year turning up in Arizona as a unformed member – “Whoever heard of a Jew doing this?”– of the U.S. Border Patrol. And an aunt had been turned out to do tricks, and, well, everyone was drinking all the time and you never knew what would be revealed. And although Joan was usually tough, like the women played by Barbara Stanwick, of whom she was a softer appearing look-alike, there were tears as she said what a wonderful thing it must be to sit in a room filled with people who are ready to at last get beyond the awful, addictive, hard-edged and in the current jargon dysfunctional lives they were meant never to escape. Like you are doing, Fred. She asked me for times and places of these meetings, but she never turned up at any of them.

And I told a friend from more recent days about my discoveries. He knew from meeting her 40 years later the skin-on-skin woman. First he said he couldn’t believe it. Then he said it was it was all okay. Saying he himself, when much younger, had molested his sister.




Saturday, June 19, 2010

#118 – MORE GIRLS


Terri was not the only young summer lady coming into her own in the mountains. All our lives we had known the children of old Mrs. Gibbs who were close to our age, and they too were now in puberty. At a swimming hole I gently teased Molly from Boston, who was stately and tanned, and I also flirted with a pretty, open faced blonde girl, Mary from Baltimore, who had been my favorite in our early days. Mary and I had been card carrying members of the Captain Marvel Club. Now Molly and I decided to write each other when we returned to our boarding schools. I was actually in the world – at last!

In the telephone room was that genealogy chart that, with a lot of “begats,” showed we were related to Mary and Molly. Above the phone there was that small framed reproduction of a painting of a naked woman rising from a huge clam shell. Something that, with all these new feelings, seemed urgent. A naked woman even in this house where sex was not mentioned any more than it had been in Gaga’s celebrated novels.

The phone, like so much else in the White Pines world, had seemed to be from another century. It included a polished wooden box attached to the wall above a desk-like shelf that held a note pad and the area’s tiny phone book. It had a crank handle on the side and what looked like a bicycle bell on top. You talked into a open cone on the front of the box, and listened with an ear piece that your took from a hook. You picked up the ear piece, turned the crank, which rang the bell and alerted the phone company, and the Sugar Hill operator would come on. She could get you anyone anywhere in Sugar Hill if you just gave the name, no number needed. Nana talked of how on any given night the operator knew who was having dinner at whose house.



There were other girls in addition to those on the genealogy chart. There were the Morris sisters, kind of pretty already but, unlike Terri, so undeveloped that they still had spindly legs. Nana invited the sisters to White Pines for an awkward lunch one day with Peter and me, the four of us being served by Nana’s garrulous maid Evelyn at the long table. We and the girls could not figure out what this was supposed to be about. But Terri! I knew what that was about. I had never in life seen a girl I thought so appealing, not even the gorgeous, precocious blonde girl in our 8th grade class who the previous winter had been exchanging letters with my more confident twin brother.

Up till now Peter had always been the focus of attention. One evening Terri’s father was giving us a ride back to White Pines from White Wings in their station wagon after we had spent a couple of hours with Terri and her little brother. I was in the back seat, and Peter for some reason in the area behind it. In the dark he began, in whispers, pleading with me, which was something new, and I could see he was crying. He was so justifiably upset that I had hogged Terri’s attention – though it seemed a fair balancing of our accounts in this hard world in which he had seemed so often to have all the attention, leaving nothing for me.

THE NEXT SUMMER.







Terri was not the only young summer lady coming into her own in the mountains. All our lives we had known the children of old Mrs. Gibbs who were close to our age, and they too were now in puberty. At a swimming hole I gently teased Molly from Boston, who was stately and tanned, and I also flirted with a pretty, open faced blonde girl, Mary from Baltimore, who had been my favorite in our early days. Mary and I had been card carrying members of the Captain Marvel Club. Now Molly and I decided to write each other when we returned to our boarding schools. I was actually in the world – at last!

In the telephone room I must was that genealogy chart that, with a lot of “begats,” showed we were related to Mary and Molly. Above the phone there was that small framed reproduction of a painting of a naked woman rising from a huge clam shell. Something that, with all these new feelings, seemed urgent. A naked woman even in this house where sex was not mentioned any more than it had been in Gaga’s celebrated novels.

The phone, like so much else in the White Pines world, had seemed to be from another century. It included a polished wooden box attached to the wall above a desk-like shelf that held a note pad and the area’s tiny phone book. It had a crank handle on the side and what looked like a bicycle bell on top. You talked into a open cone on the front of the box, and listened with an ear piece that your took from a hook. You picked up the ear piece, turned the crank, which rang the bell and alerted the phone company, and the Sugar Hill operator would come on. She could get you anyone anywhere in Sugar Hill if you just gave the name, no number needed. Nana talked of how on any given night the operator knew who was having dinner at whose house.



There were other girls in addition to those on the genealogy chart. There were the Morris sisters, kind of pretty already but, unlike Terri, so undeveloped that they still had spindly legs. Nana invited the sisters to White Pines for an awkward lunch one day with Peter and me, the four of us being served by Nana’s garrulous maid Evelyn at the long table. We and the girls could not figure out what this was supposed to be about. But Terri! I knew what that was about. I had never in life seen a girl I thought so appealing, not even the gorgeous, precocious blonde girl in our 8th grade class who the previous winter had been exchanging letters with my more confident twin brother.

Up till now Peter had always been the focus of attention. One evening Terri’s father was giving us a ride back to White Pines from White Wings in their station wagon after we had spent a couple of hours with Terri and her little brother. I was in the back seat, and Peter for some reason in the area behind it. In the dark he began, in whispers, pleading with me, which was something new, and I could see he was crying. He was so justifiably upset that I had hogged Terri’s attention – though it seemed a fair balancing of our accounts in this hard world in which he had seemed so often to have all the attention, leaving nothing for me.






Friday, June 18, 2010

#117 – COURTING


Pretty Terri. The first summer they were there my brother and I took every excuse to walk up to White Wings, which meant going up our long twisting driveway through our pine woods, and then over on the dirt road, Davis Road, where the other big family houses stood – three of them in the family still, though not White Wings. In the bright white room her parents had designed, I showed Terri sleight of hand card tricks, something I had started developing even before boarding school, learning from books I ordered from the Johnson Smith novelties catalog.

I could do full waterfalls, cards in the air from one hand to the other like in a waterfall, just like slick gamblers in the Westerns. With a two-handed pass, I could restore a cut deck, faster than the eye could see, to its previous stacked form. And I could accomplish it with a rare one-hand pass too if no one was looking closely. And I could also flip a card around to the back of my hand while making a throwing gesture, giving the illusion that I had made it disappear. And then I would skim cards across s room to land in a basket or bucket. Suddenly it seemed like I was an expert entertainer in the summer, which seemed as mysterious as why I was a shy introvert in the winter.

That first summer Terri’s family had White Wings was also Gaga's last summer of life, at least sort of life. Mother said Nana was in denial, Gaga was in what she called a vegetable state. He had had a stroke the previous November, and this summer was in the part of White Pines called the Boys’ Wing, where my brother and I would normally have been. He was there with a male nurse, the last sort of person you would expect to see here, a leering former sailor, who would wheel him out each day and set him in the sun on the lawn that led to iron streaked boulders and below them a big blueberry field and eventually the woods that after many mile went up to the top of Cannon Mountain, which had ski trails and cable car, and to the timber line on Mount Lafayette.

Back on the lawn in his wheelchair, Gaga was motionless. His eyes were open but they were blank. He was wrapped up in a way that reminded me of how Peter and I were tucked in on either side of Gaga in a rolling chair in Atlantic City. He had been animated then, telling stories about New York, singing songs, including, to horror when I remembered it now, one that went “That’s why a nigger’s hand is white inside.” (The man of color who was pushing our rolling chair had not reacted.)

Out on the lawn Nana read to him from a collection of O. Henry stories that she said he liked, though I thought he might not know she was there. I wondered if the male nurse had come upon the dog-eared copy of God’s Little Acre that I had hidden in the Boy’s Wing the previous summer when I had learned to masturbate.

This summer Peter and I were busy trying to impress Terri. Often we would call her from the telephone room, where we competed to show which of us was the more clever. Which strangely seemed to be me, though in normal times I had not been the popular twin. At the start of each phone session Terri asked a question for which there was no answer: “How is Mr. Poole?”

Nana observed our eager comings and goings and one morning came up to the guest room where we were staying to give us a jar of something called Mum, to apply to our underarms. She told us that girls did not like the way boys could smell if they didn’t wash enough in summer.






Thursday, June 17, 2010

#116 – TERROR


While I was growing up and when real life seemed to be unfolding, I would not admit to myself that I knew that in some unspoken, unexposed place, that the White Mountains was not any ultimate place of safety for me. Once when I was in the worst time at boarding school, the time when the used to beat me, it seemed like going from being dumb to being the brightest in the class was not enough to change my fate. That having an actual girlfriend to neck with when we very occasionally got together for some dance or glee club concert with our sister school, that even these things were as not enough.


For there was something hard and impossible about the world, something that seemed tied to childhood dreams when I would see red snow come down and realize that it was deadly poison that was falling, or current dreams in which I was paralyzed and about to be stabbed to death by some looming figure, who might be my twin brother, and no comfort when it seemed that the dream was at an end, for at that point I was lying here on my dormitory bed paralyzed, the torturer coming at me. It was not the dream that was so bad but the apparent awake and paralyzed time afterwards – maybe another dream, maybe not.

I thought it had to do with torture in school, such as someone as unpopular as I was at the start would suffer in an old line place like this. In the school library I read a piece in the Reader’s Digest, between an article that seemed to me to be written in baby talk that was warning America about the evils of socialism and a series of too-cute pieces about happy people being amusing while wearing military uniforms. But the piece between these was deadly seriously. It was bout a special school somewhere in the country for boys who did not fit in. And I had this fantasy of myself making speech at a banquet celebrating this special school, thanking them for giving me what seemed like a new life. I wondered that the fantasy did not take me to the perfect world of the family places and to boys and girls who since early childhood had been friends of the sort I tdhought for a time now I might never have again. But I could not talk myself into believing that what I had via family was enough for a fantasy version of a happy ending.

I thought to this now, heading on the old family road to Terri’s place which had been my place in infancy, and where I had hung out when terry was into puberty and smooth and tanned and seductive, actually breasts that she wore in halters, unlike anyone else in that town, and what I though of as a loveable puppy dog face, though very aware that no puppy dog gave my hard-ons.

Through the years this place to which I was headed not had always been close to consciousness. At one point when I was verging middle age and see ed down on my luck I took a job as editor of locally produced English-language magazine called Chinese Foodworld, published in Hong Kong where I was living then in the early stages of a marriage in trouble. The magazine, like so much in the hands of Westerners in Asia in those days, when nothing ever seemed to be what it appeared to be, was some kind of financially tricky operation. I had to keep the job though, life felt that tenuous just then – though I had another dubious source of income writing pieces praising the Shahanshah (not mere Shah) and his wife Diba the Shabanu and his twin sister Princess Ashraf in a newsletter put out by National Iranian Radio and TV, for whom I also traveled and hired camera crews to do documentary films, something else for which I had no credentials. A strange nether life I was leading in a city that by now I did not care about. But what really puzzled me was what I put into my bio sketch in the first and only issue of Chinese Foodworld. It was that I was the son of a publisher and the grandson of a writer who won the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I looked at what I had written about myself and I was puzzled and astounded, and depression swept over me.

Just five years before this Vermont summer my wife’s 12-year-old son came to live with us from the Philippines. I wanted – how ridiculous it seemed now! – to make sure he got a really good start in his new life in America. I was broke again, but I called up someone I knew at a slick but very routine magazine called Travel & Leisure, and I sold them on a piece about the White Mountains, which I argued was this amazing scenic area that was not so well known as it should be. I drove up alone at first on a scouting trip, having picked up a quarter bag of pot on the corner of Amsterdam and 81st as a present for my old friend the summer girl Terri. She had not quite made the move all the way back to White Wings. She was still in a marriage, but she was going to live for a time now not with her husband in Bedford but up in the mountains, where she had just ranted a place for the winter for herself and about a dozen rescued dogs.

While on that scouting trip I went to a guy who handled publicity for tourism in the White Mountains, and got a pass that would get me and my wife and her son in free to all White Mountains attractions – caves and cable cars and such – something I had, not for the for the first time, sworn never to do again, this corrupt practice of taking free things with the promise of favorable mention. It was a complex few days, for we were staying with my Aunt Betsy, whose inedible food was snuck into outside garbage pails, and meanwhile half dozen people who had been kids when I was a kid up here were all assembled, mostly by coincidence right at that time. Separately they made me feel awful by telling me how wonderful my life was, as they saw by my having appeared not with some graying matron but with this lovely young looking Chinese looking girl I had married. One of the attractions our free pass covered was the car road, not to be confused with the old steam train that went to the rocky summit of Mount Washington. This long curving road had no guard rails. And as we drove one of those sudden off season winter storms came up, those storms I that I was warned in childhood could kill you.

This place that somewhere in my mind, and maybe somewhere in my nightmares too, seemed to me should be the place above all places I knew in the world where I could find safety and comfort.

Travel & Leisure liked what I wrote but an earnest editor said there was one gap. The piece really needed a paragraph or two evoking the beauty of the place I was writing about.

The beauty of the place. I was picturing myself at three years old, not in New Hampshire but with many of the same people, especially my twin, in New Rochelle, where my balls were swelled big and with a blue color from some painful blow. And another memory from that time: a doctor covering my head wound with some of clear substance that hardened like glass.

But I still wished that my evidence could be more than circumstantial.

I thought of a night in an old pension in Alexandria where lights from outside came through the big open window all night, while I was in a bed with mosquito netting. I came here on the recommendation of the man who stamped my passport and was ready to be on guard for some scam. A woman at the pension said they had to take my passport to be stamped by the police and that for this there would be a small stamp fee, which I angrily refused to pay. I was as angry as my father would have been. And then I found the room so comfortable, the gig soft bed almost womb like their beneath the mosquito netting. But I woke up in the middle of the night in terror. There was a man standing with folded arms right by the window, a man wearing a turban. And as I looked at him in the shadows I saw that under this Egyptian garb it was my brother. Again a dream that seemed to be outside dreaming.



Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#115 – WHITE WINGS PRESENT


Images of White Wings remained, as they always did, clear in my mind as I drove. The two wings that gave the house its name are connected by an outside passageway upstairs, reached by stairs from a long connecting porch that follows a neat woodpile. The house is all white clapboard, as opposed to White Pines, which had white wood but also stately stone.

The smaller wing, to the left when coming up to the house, had been Gaga’s study when he was in residence here, and even as a very small child I knew it was absolutely forbidden to speak anywhere near it, nor to walk near it except very carefully on tiptoes. Even as a very small child I knew of his status in the world, which became the family’s status, the family of a famous writer.

Peter and I had gone as often as we could to the old, unused outbuildings behind White Wings where, we imaged, all sorts of livestock had lived. And also regular people in the past rather than people like our family people. And we found there old non-electric flat irons of the sort you heated on live coals, as in pioneer days.

The bigger wing to the right has a stately living room, though it was not nearly so long as the even more formal one in White Pines. Like in White Pines there is a very wide paned glass window, with a green and white striped awning above it, that frames the official view of the Franconia range of the White Mountains.

Terri’s family had bought White Wings when I was turning 15 and she was a blossoming tanned girl turning 14 who wore two piece bathing suites. It was the first of the houses to go. Terri’s people were from a reportedly rich place called Grosse Point outside Detroit in the raw Midwest. Their money, it was said, came from a big laundry Terri's father owned in Detroit. This must mean, it was said, that they were connected to gangsters – but things like this were always being said about everyone. The way it was said that Terri’s carefully dressed, good-looking but graying mother was so proper it must mean she was someone “on the make,” which was apparently meant to be a damning term.

Terri’s parents had had the very inadequate furnace replaced so that this was no longer purely a summer house. And in the bedrooms they had, of all things, these modern electric blankets. But they kept the downstairs of the bigger wing exactly the way it had been when Nana sang to us French songs about the terror. The same wallpaper. The same books, getting older and older, in the same old built-in bookcases. Including uniform old black first editions put out by Macmillan of my grandfather’s works. Also, they kept the same very old wallpaper, now slightly yellow, which was patterned with repeated dark green Chinese pagodas.

So her parents did clearly want to fit in, it was said. But look what they did to the other wing! It was now light and bright and airy and – white walls and new light wood floors – something of modern times and, moreover, they had done this so that it would be a good place for their children, Terri and her younger brother, and her children’s friends, which meant me and my twin. Summer families here often had special places for children, but nothing so at the center of their houses as was this renovated wing.


And now Terri, no longer a child, is back to stay after some failed marriages, grown boys living elsewhere, and no real career, back to live in the White Wings of her childhood. The larger wing is still almost a museum piece honoring my grandparents. The other wing, which had first been Gaga’s dark study, then a bright happy place, had by now, I knew, undergone another change. It was now dark and cluttered and homey, with work by local artists on the wall. It was the way Terri wanted it now, which included bare boards, and some works by local artists, and a pot belly wood stove. The sitting room was also the kitchen. And there a special door, hinged at the top, for the many rescued dogs she honored. Also, there was a rescued local farm boy apparently in residence. A regular person’s place.

And, moreover, for some years now the old outbuildings
that had fascinated my brother and me were now in use again,. filled now with rescued farm animals. It all looked like how my brother and I had imaged it would have looked in olden days. And it also had the atmosphere of the roadside inn and store that in happy fantasy we decided we wanted to build by the side of the road.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#114 – WHITE WINGS PAST


So I was on my way to White Wings where, in an airy upstairs bedroom when I was four Gaga had invented a bedtime game called “Throw the Baby.” You were supposed to hurl a stuffed animal as hard as you could against the wall and shout “Gosh” when it hit. And he also softly sang old songs, including one “The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, and “That’s why a nigger’s hand is white inside.”

But ours was not a musical family. Gaga had come close be becoming a concert violinist. but when still young, in this story, he had put away the violin forever, something for which I never heard an explanation.

On a perhaps related subject Nana told a story after Gaga died of how Gaga had once been in one of his clubs with an old man who had been a famous violinist, but after personal misfortunes had stayed too drunk to play. At the club one night the man decided to play one more time, though he had not played for many years. Someone found a violin for him. And this one last time he hit every note and phrase with such perfection that old clubmen were in tears.

There had been a little music from Nana downstairs at White Wings, which was where she had first played the piano and sung to us in French from a songbook that had drawings of soldiers slashing each other’s limbs off and people having their heads severed by a huge blade while they knelt. These pictures I could not forget of blood spurting of headless necks and the places where arms and legs had been.

“Throw the Baby” and the French mutilation scenes were part of the case I had been building up since the winter as I was looking for situations that would help me expose my supposed love ones, whom I had taken to calling “these people,” referring to them the way some bigot would refer to dirty poor people. Though even as I built the case against them, I could not deny that the these family houses had been in the most beautiful possible place in the world, and moreover it was the place where I could go beyond what was the failure expected of me in our family unit in Connecticut. I had taken inspiration from Gaga and Nana’s accomplishments and kindnesses, and most of all from how fact they seemed to take me seriously. The White Mountains had been for me a place where I could become the things I had been told in Connecticut were for my brother but would never be possible for me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

#113 – THE ROAD AGAIN


August is coming to an end. At night from the kitchen in Rutland I phone in to check my answering machine down in the city. There is a message on it for Hal, who has been paying for use of the day bed. His message is a long stern lecture and plea from an apparent bank executive berating Hal for not completing a computer project. It looks like I can’t count on Hal’s rent money now.

I then call to the White Mountains, to my old friend Terri, who had once been the pretty girl of any summer and has now come back to live forever in a house called White Wings, which had been my family’s when I was very young and sometimes was where I spent those early summers. “Oh my god,” she says, “You’re in Vermont? Come right over. Come stay with me.”

I call my number in the city again and Hal picks up this time, and he immediately tells me he has decided he to move in with a girlfriend. And it sounds like he is angry with me. One more in this string of recently of severed relationships that included Donna, for awhile, and Mario and his wife, apparently forever, and even my old friend and host Peter Cooper, plus all those friends of a lifetime in the city whom I have stopped seeing this year. It is beginning to seem like now that I have interfered with the past and how it was supposed to be – not just the family past but the parts with friends and lovers of my own choosing – now the entire past will continue to get weaker, when not darker, the farther I go with my explorations.

But that’s not the whole picture of the past, I am sure, even the whole story in the darker areas. And anyway I came here to take a break in a beautiful and liberal rural place from what had been going as I pressed by explorations down in the city. And I came here also because Vermont, which I think of as the anti-new Hampshire, is so close to actual New Hampshire, where whatever went wrong led to so many awful things in the present. And ever so, I have not completely upturned memories in which the versions of the past were comforting. But I am making a literal search now, using my cheerful old aqua Mustang as a time machine vehicle to take me into the heart of what is there in that land where whatever it is I am searching for took place.


I start early in the morning and drive across Vermont again on Route 4, past the Killington Road and an hour later through Woodstock, the Rockefeller town with its sanitized model farm and crushingly genteel hotel, and strangely clean streets full of costly little non-New Hampshire boutique shops and aggressively understated white people in golf and tennis clothes that are not stained by sweat. And after this, I go through an old and somewhat decaying mill town, White River Junction, where regular people live but where there are also happy looking scruffy young people with guitars that I see on a green that also has an old-fashioned bandstand. And then across the line into the most un-New Hampshire part of New Hampshire, the pristine white brick town of Hanover, where I had so recently been to the Big Apple Circus, a town that held such memories from way back, including my first experience of fine music when driven over to Dartmouth from my boarding school to hear Artur Rubenstein and Marian Anderson. On childhood drives up to the White Mountains we would see an old ski jump ahead, which meant Dartmouth and the last leg of the trip.

And here I am driving out of Hanover and along a very familiar, and very rutted, old highway that cuts over from the Connecticut River to the mountains. I pass through through Orford, with its big square mansion-like white wood houses on a long green, one of these houses having been bought by the writer Charles Jackson, rich and famous then from The Lost Weekend, who quickly realized he was in a town where he could have no friends because he was Jewish. And with me still this picture of my Grandfather Gaga reading aloud at lunch in White pines what he had just written for a newspaper debate with Jackson, my grandfather actually saying there was no such thing as anti-Semitism in this part of the world, Gaga writing and then reading the piece in our summer town Sugar Hill, that had not a single Jew living in it, not and not a one permitted in its rambling old hotel.

But as I pass through tiny sugar Hill village, and go by the turn-off to the hotel, and at the small summer church turn down our old dirt road, I am thinking not so much of my grandfather but of this woman from the past I am about to see. This friend of nearly a lifetime who once set the standard for, in capital letters, Summer Girl.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

#112 – LAKE HOUSE


That house I was looking at on Lake Champlain had similarities to our old family houses. Ours had been more substantial, though they too were basically summer houses, and they too were in a rarefied setting – ours the tight little summer communities of the White Mountains, not so unlike this rarefied little segment of lake front with understated shingled houses connected to each other by a woodland path high above the lake. The path was said to follow an old Indian trail. It ended at a rustic tennis club which I could tell by its smell was a place for white protestants and no one else.

The bigotry of these places was always on my mind when I was in or near them, and this time there were even more reminders, for all week I had been hearing on the car radio about Senate hearings underway just now for that guy Rehnquist, who had worked early in his career against school desegregation and then when in the Nixon justice department, had nearly gone to jail for all the things he was doing to deny rights and punish anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, jailing them and denying them free speech and all the rest, also fighting to save brutal racist cops and Klansmen, and working behind the scenes to help Nixon survive his Watergate crimes. Rehnquist had been nominated by Nixon to the supreme court, and now there was news every day about how he was about to gratify the perverse Reagan by being promoted to chief justice.

Again there was talk about the “restrictive covenants” on Rehnquist’s houses, his promising never to sell a house of his to a Jew or a person of color. There was such a restriction on the deed to a house he owned in Vermont, which I heard about on my car radio in the midst of Vermont, this restricted thing just like in the New Hampshire version of home. And he did the same with a house in New Mexico, which I had innocently thought might be free of East Coast style cruelty

And now I am standing above Lake Champlain , my back to the water, looking at this shingled cottage that my old friend Jason, now rich in retirement from investment banking, owns in addition to his big log early retirement house in the center of the state. He had had the big house built to his specifications, but this one had been owned before him – surely with a restrictive covenant on it – by one of those thin-blooded Foreign Service officers to whom it was likely no one in the government ever paid much attention. The old man, keeping to Wasp cheapness, had decorated it with cheap do-dads – each of the little bedrooms set up to remind him of places he had been in his minor assignments, one of them filled with things like the laughing Buddha’s sold to tourists in Chinatown though I think he really meant it to be something more like actual Asia, and in the European room, cuckoo clocks and Bavarian figurines, women in peasant dress, men in lederhosen playing tiny accordions (like what I had seen once when I was in the army in Atlanta and renting a room in a house owned by the sad, boozy widow of a major).

Inside, an old propane stove for late summer nights, wobbly stairs leading up to the niggardly bedrooms high over the lake. No d├ęcor downstairs except a set of prints of comic, brittle men in white wigs from old copies of Punch such as American businessmen and corporate lawyers love – though also a haunting painting of summer clouds by Jason’s brother Bruce.

Jason whom I had known since we were 8, and who still drank nearly as heavily as I used to drink, and still was for some reason a loyal Republican, which was something I had never been, and also loyal to Yale, though he made fun of it, and still married to Nina, who spent his money and told everyone he was a Philistine. Jason had sworn he would never get divorced, sworn it way back when his parents broke up and switched partners with another boozy couple in Connecticut.

In the afternoon on the lake I had felt him out, wanting to tell this person from of my past what was going on in my life now. But when I said something about coming from an alcoholic home he got stern and said there had never been any such thing in his background, though he and I had been with his father and step mother when we had all drunk past the point of comprehension. And he must have known some the things his otherwise often kind father had done. But he would never get divorced and he would stay loyal, even, I thought, if he had to stay drunk to carry it off. And so I did not try to go into matters from the past that were worse than alcoholism.

Still, he was my oldest friend. We had traveled together. We had crossed paths in the draftee army. We had planned out a magazine that I was sure would take over from the declining New Yorker. We had shared an apartment on 13th Street off Second after the army, and stayed friends even after he, with help from the Yale placement office, veered sharply away from things like magazines and concentrated on things like houses and money.

So there was no connection here between my present and this past I had been probing and attacking – this past that I saw bringing darkness into the present and killing the people of my generation.

And I plunged into sadness again, sadness that again quickly gave way to this new cleansing version of anger. And then I smiled inwardly and outwardly as I breathed in the sweet, charged, chilled air of a late New England summer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

#111 – PAST FRIEND


I drove my cheerful Mustang 25 miles north to the turnoff for Jason’s place, a private dirt road that ran near a tidy farm and beside a lush clover field before entering second growth woods that led to Jason’s quite new, three-level log house. I was noticing again that up above me in the mountains, which I used to think would be barren like New Hampshire’s, there were geometrical fields in different shades of green resulting from the different crops being grown. A man-made landscape.

Then I came over a rise and was face to face with an actual red London phone booth – a souvenir of Jason’s successful life running an investment banking operation in London. It stood as a sentinel in front of this house I had not seen before though I had seen the land, drunk wine on the land, years back when Jason and I drove from New York to visit with Peter at the Wobbly Barn.

Over the years I had often seen Jason in London, and sometimes stayed with him and his family in their Chelsea London town house. My oldest friend. My rich friend. He never avoided taking me in. A link with aspects of my past very different from what I had been attacking this year in my wild and furious and quite clever diatribes of discovery.

The first night here at his big retirement place in the middle of Vermont Jason held a high-toned dinner party. At the table was a big, bluff farmer from down below, who had brought along a few of the many arrow heads and stone tools he had come across over the years when plowing or mowing. There was a crew-cut college president in tweeds from nearby Middlebury College, where Jason was a donor and where he sent sons. There was a tight little older man I had watched driving a harness race sulky at a demonstration of Morgan horses, which I had gone to see after Julie spotted a notice about it in the Rutland Herald. He had been on the Federal Power Commission, which was clearly a subject of great pride in the neighborhood. His wife sat beside me, a stringy, muscular little woman who lectured me about my riding – repeating over and over that the last thing I should do was ride Western, and that Eastern was just as bad, but there was another way, and on and on she lectured as I tuned out.

And there was another guest spending the night at Jason's, a tall blonde man who had done business with Jason in New York and London. After the others had left, they talked about wonderful wise old New Englanders, like the farmer who had just been there. They created scenarios answering the question of what a wise Vermont farmer would say about this and that. The Regan government, for instance. Jimmy Carter. John Wayne. In each case the hypothetical wise old farmer came down on the side of waging wars and abolishing anything that hinted of Socialism, validating anything that maintained the economic status quo.

It all made me uncomfortable, not so much because of what I myself thought about it but rather because these were people whom the people I came from would have found it all too easy to ridicule.


The next day Jason and I went together to another house, this a much smaller summer place he had purchased on an inlet in lake Champlain. He called it “a camp.” A rickety old two-story place on a bluff above a small cove with a small rocky beach where he kept a new boat, a fast, open motorboat called a Boston Whaler. It felt good to be with Jason, my oldest friend in the world. It meant that not all my bridges had been burned in this year’s take-no-prisoners revision of my past.

We had known each other for so long that I was pretty sure I could talk with him about our mutual experience of growing up in alcoholic families in the same town in Connecticut. Go over it outside the ACOA movement. I thought the never-ending cocktail parties in Connecticut and of the later drinking nights hosted with great hospitality by Jason's father, by then married to Peter’s mother, when I was doing news work in Indiana. There had been something courageous in how after losing all his money and retreating from Connecticut under a cloud the father, as taut as the military man he had never been, had started over in the Midwest as a machine tool salesman. No longer a rich guy from Oyster Bay. He had joined the Masons. And I also remembered him making those stinging slaps to Peter’s mother’s face.

“No,” said Jason, alcoholism has nothing to do with it. The end of the discussion. Maybe it was that for a moment I had forgotten that Jason was one of the few from our old New York boozing and binging crowd who still could drink that way. So we dropped the subject and careened around the northern end of the lake in this open speed boat, throwing up a rainbow spray.

That night there was another house guest. Jason’s late brother Bruce’s best friend Arthur, the man in the wheel chair whom I knew from parties in the past and had just seen at Bruce’s Oyster Bay funeral. Jason read from diaries Bruce had been keeping in his last years. Bruce had some money left him by his stepfather (Peter’s father) and he had given it to Jason to invest. And then Bruce, the family’s practicing artist, had kept daily track in his diary of all stock he owned, right up until the day he jumped from a high bridge. And he also wrote in the diary how grateful he was to his generous older brother.

In the morning Jason showed me three new style mountain bikes he had gotten for himself and his sons. Not unkindly, he noted that each of these bikes would have cost more than my old car.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

#110 – STILL DRIVING


And still I was driving. And I thought of times of adventure, but not so much. I thought of the family horrors that were unfolding. I thought of all those people I knew in the city from this past year, and the people from all the other years that I knew but hardly ever saw not, and I thought and how little I knew of the people here in Rutland.

In those talks I had had with Mario when we were still talking, and also when I had spoken in meetings down in the city, I had had heard myself saying that if everything should change and everything go wrong in the future, I would still have had this year. Even if it should all end tomorrow I would have something of great value that I had not had before.

When I was a teenage debating champion my friend and coach Joe Abbey said one thing he worried about was that debating could turn people into contentious figures who thought they knew all they needed to know about anything. What would he say to people in ACOA who decided they knew everything they needed to know about what was wrong with the people and places from which they had come.


And what would he say about this longing for connection that was far more than the horniness that was also there. Connection that could trump any triumph. The longing for connection that years back had made me furious that a girl in a Hong Kong whorehouse bar was not more than she was, and likewise a girl in a bathhouse outside Taipei, and another in a vast Culi-Culi dance hall-brothel complex in Manila, and one in a waterfront bar with bedrooms in Piraeus. This wanting, even demanding, more even in those places. This wanting connection

While driving I had fantasies about red-headed Tina with the shoulder tattoo driving with me, selecting the tapes we played. And I would picture the blonde girl Gillian in the sun at her sidewalk sales place, now seeming unreal at this distance and yet I knew her to be corporeal.

These girls, and back into the distant past. Which meant a different kind of time travel, not to find out what was wrong in the family but to recapture what has seemed so right from when I had first begun coming into life. Not in ACOA. Further back. The Haitian girls Irma and Anne Marie in New York. The beautiful painter Vannie. The stylish sylph-like clothing designer Rae. And Laurie, part sexual outlaw part love object. And all the short term relationships too. Drifting into memory that had the air of fantasy.

And here I was thinking about past sex scenes while drifting around no more than two hour’s drive over from the White Mountains, and no more than seven up from where my grandmother Nana had on lived no East 66th Street.




In the early sixties in a summer when Nana was in the mountains and I had just come back again from aboard and again had no home, I had used her solid, still pre-air conditioning apartment for the steamy month of August when she was up in the mountains. Across from the study there was a guest room, which was used in winter by Nana’s best friend, Frances Perkins, who had been Roosevelt’s labor secretary.

While I was there that summer I had brought in the object of a sexual obsession, this syrupy, married Southern girl named Laurie, sexual outlaw and brilliant, who was married to a friend who was no longer a friend. We had been hiding out at the Henry Hudson Hotel way over west where the ocean liners docked, where we had rolled about in bed with a bottle scotch in the last pace anyone would look for us since the hotel was used almost exclusively by out of toners on their way to Europe.

And now here we were in my grandmother’s bed, then Mrs. Perkins’ bed, then my grandmother’s, the wonderful smell of our bodies in summer, trying out everything we could think of from the past and new things too, going from room to room with the omnipresent Scotch bottles. Sweat giving a special shine to Laurie’s body. She telling me, who had not been always been sure of his physical self, that she just loved his body’s line. Now together in a bathtub. Now, still too hot for clothes, we could as easily as not have gone on top of the Steinway, which had been brought down here when White Pines was sold. The Steinway that here as at White Pines held a facsimile of the Nefertiti head, which was as perfectly shaped as the head of my grandmother, who wore her white hair in a tight net. Laurie wore hers with a flower in it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#109 – DRIFTING



(NOTE: The jump in numbers between #101 – THE PIT and #109 – DRIFTING is due to the overall order changing with inserts meant to go,
as noted, after #80 – YEAR-ROUND PEOPLE.)


It was less than two months between my settling in at the start of July and Labor Day, when my Vermont summer was nearly at an end. In the last weeks I continued to drive and to play music over and over – not so much Haydn and Mozart as Judy Collins and Willie Nelson and Roger Whittaker and Joan Armatrading
music that was in my past as much as in my present, like the landscapes I drove through. And I continued to ride horses in Castleton. And to swam in lakes in small state parks up and down Rt.7. Sometimes when I left the car and its tape deck I took the Walkman with me.

It was now a limbo time, for I knew for certain now that I would be back in New York soon. Julie reminded me that there were things I might want to get in order for the winter, such as being sure that the car heater worked. And after awhile she was reminding me I would need a place to stay. Peter had said one evening he wanted to have a conversation with me though he wished such a conversation were not necessary. What it was about was that it was becoming clear, without any details mentioned, that this living arrangement was not working to everyone’s satisfaction.




Meanwhile, I sometimes went with Peter up a long rutted driveway to swim in a very cold and very old pool in a mostly abandoned summer camp. He would leap in holding his nose. We went back one evening when there was a church sponsored encampment for underclass children. This is a significant part of the real Vermont, a minister told me. The Vermont that outsiders almost never see.

These kids from poor families seemed happy enough. They delighted in s’mores, which was something else I had missed, this combination of marshmallows, graham crackers and Hersey bar chocolate roasted on a campfire. When I was a child in New Hampshire we knew all about roasting marshmallows impaled on sticks but we were ignorant of s’mores, which were apparently known to everyone in America except people such as us. After the s’mores the kids were putting on skits that mainly entailed the practice of lip-syncing to current songs, the high point being a duet about a couple fighting that a grinning brother and sister did to great applause. As if these people did not know they were poor and downtrodden.




I went to a Grange hall with Peter for a political meting to which the liberal governor Madeleine Kunin was coming. She came in keyed up, eyes darting form person to person, then zeroing in, including zeroing in on me, wanting to know who I was, and I felt like an interloper and did not tell her I was not a Vermont voter. Before her arrival Peter was speaking with a comic New England accent talking about a night so cold he had to back away while he was pissing. It embarrassed me, him pulling and old-time New England accent on real-life, old-time New Englanders
a little too much like being with my brother when he was silently twisting reality by writing a novel in his head.




Once we and several of Peter and Julie's friends went over the line to New Hampshire, to the bright white college town of Hanover, to take in the Big Apple Circus. The Hanover Inn was where I had been in ski school during Christmas vacations when I was 12 and 13. The first time there I was treated like an outcast. I thought I would do anything to avoid ever returning. But the next year I was popular, which was as mysterious to me then as soon afterwards when it turned out that my early boarding school unpopularity in the winter did not carry over to the summers.


Hanover, where we had gone in vans from Holderness for concerts at Dartmouth. Spic and span white brick. Artur Rubenstein playing Beethoven. Marian Anderson singing Deep River. And when there was applause for her, one of the students, a boy from Florida who paraded about the campus with no shirt even in chilly weather, had stayed seated, his arms folded, making it clear he would never applaud a Negro.




And there were more Sunday trips out to the obscure farm area where Donna did the Sunday services. Once she had a hearty young bagpiper present there to play Amazing Grace in the graveyard. Another time we were invited for coffee on a hill above the little church where there was a farm family so advanced they talked liberal politics and had as a houseguest a Swiss woman they had known for years who spoke of how she raised her children to be very aware that no one in the world had life quite so easy and solid as their fellow Swiss – almost as if we were to her what the impoverished encampment people had been to us.



Lucy was soon talking of how she had finally come down on the side of lesbianism and had an affair going with a strapping woman with a pronounced lazy eye. This too a part of Vermont. When afterwards I drove up to a remote place called New Haven where Peter’s half brother Jason had his big log retirement house, Jason mentioned that they bought their goat cheese from two girls who were “that way” and seemed very nice. It reminded me of Nana saying the family’ homosexual pet Fred Bristol was always a perfect gentleman.



Although I saw Donna on those Sundays, and often at small gatherings during the week, I was wary of her. I did not see Mario again. They were still at Donna’s house, but we never crossed paths. They did not get friendly with my old friend Peter.

Donna and I had lunch one day at a tiny vegetarian place in a small shopping mall made up of boutique-like shops in nooks and crannies of what was one of Rutland’s many shuttered old factories. Everything served had sprouts and/or tahini, but it was a cheerful place and conclusively part of the present time. We talked about how I would be leaving soon and why. Donna said that when Peter and Julie told her they had asked me to leave she asked what went wrong, and the only specific matter she could pass on to me was that they did not like the way I washed dishes, one dish at a time with the water running. Donna said she told them that nobody washed dishes just like anyone else. And she told me they were very careful about almost everything to the point of being finicky. Then Donna asked if after Labor Day I would load up my car with some of her things and follow her down Union. So now Donna and I were allies again.



One day Julie had asked me not to use paper towels. She said she hated paper towels. I asked if this was “specific or philosophical,” and Peter repeated "philosophical" and laughed in a knowing way, sympathetic to me though I felt like I was a cramped little academic figure.

And I felt the same way later when I related how over in New Hampshire I had gone to Littleton’s diner and ordered from its blackboard specials a mushy item called “Cheeseburger quiche.”


We went one hot weekend day to Weston to a Benedictine Monastery that looked more like a farm than a monastery. It was a big anti-war gathering at which the famous war resister Father Daniel Berrigan was meant to appear. He had not showed up by the time we left, but I still had a good feeling about the place and the activism, which reminded me of a very civilized group of Benedictines that, surprisingly, I came upon in a big stilt house on the Kapuas River in headhunter country in Borneo. Also of the Maryknoll nuns who helped me in the Nicaragua of the deadly Somozas.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

102-108

#102 – APPEALING PLACE
There were houses down near the rushing water that seemed to cling to the high river banks in dangerously unstable ways. And it also seemed that the houses like Aunt Betsy’s up above Littleton’s main street could easily teeter and fall down steep hills. And there was mystery everywhere. People living in trailers. Huge, dark, shuttered factories. Bars with pool tables. Even signs in French for non-English speakers across the nearby Canadian border – this place was in spirit so far from the Anglo white summer towns and so close to unknown worlds. Something as appealing as it was somehow illicit.
A forbidden fruit aspect to Littleton – something far out from the confines of our world. It had been exciting as a child to know that Gaga was so plugged into greater worlds that he had a personal relationship with Littleton’s old police chief. This as exciting as his tales of early mountaineers conquering Franconia Notch. If someone in the family wanted a driver’s license, it was known, Gaga could call the police chief and the license would be issued without a test, no questions asked. When the new cinema porn spread to the mountains at the start of the seventies it was the summer movie house in Bethlehem that showed the films of Russ Meyers and other nearly hard core artists, not Littleton itself. But the turn off for Bethlehem was on the way to Littleton. And Bethlehem, with its status as the White Mountains’ resort for Jews, was in itself another aspect of the foreign and the forbidden.
And it was to Littleton that Lenny, wanted on gun and shop-lifting charges, was removed from the city by Aunt Betsy who took the boy, and his sister to this house up behind the movie theater. The good son Rob was at MIT at this point, so he was too refined to sink into Littleton the way Lenny and Lauryn did – Lenny still an outlaw, perhaps the only person ever to be banned forever from the Profile Golf Club for non-racial reasons. He had barricaded himself there with a girl he had captured and forced to come with him. It was at this that led a judge to send him to the army. 


Lauryn was the perfect little girl in the city. The perfect picture of a sweet Victorian girl whom everyone said was so lovely. Then she was taken with her brother up to Littleton , which ended her time in a fancy French school and as a budding ballet dancer. And at that point she had begun to shine brightly in ways outside family experence. She had done something no one else in the family had ever done. She had become an extremely popular, cheerleader and more, high school girl.
One of the things for which I had nostalgia though I had never seen it was American high school life. I had gotten a slight sense of it at debating tournaments. And in the movie Peyton Place I had been deeply moved by the pictures of New Hampshire high school life. Direct experience had been limited to ogling town girls in Plymouth when we were there for a basketball game with the local high school. Especially the flirty and smooth, perfect except for thick ankles, unlikely daughter of our physics and chemistry teacher, a man so steely and grim we called him Grim behind his back.
In Connecticut when home from boarding school in the summer I had lusted after high school girls in tight swim suits at Compo Beach. Especially a dark girl named Yvonne, who was the daughter of our maid’s husband and was involved with swarthy Italian boys. And in the summer I had lusted after sultry young Barbara Serafini who sashayed into Sugar Hill village in sun dresses that made her seem to me like a remote movie star. Her family owned property, including a big old house called the Homestead Inn that was at the turnoff up to the Sunset Hill House. It looked like something out of Currier & Ives, though the Homestead Inn was never mentioned as an acceptable place to stay. Was it the Italian family name? I never actually met Barbara. I could figure no way to bridge the divide.
The boarding school girls in summer were as pretty as the high school girls at Compo Beach. Kitty and Terri were really prettier. Ruthie and Louisa and Alice and Ann too in certain lights. But they were not quite forbidden fruit. The girls at Compo Beach were more like girls to be masturbated over while reading Erskine Caldwell novels – Darling Jill on a sweltering day holding on to Will by tightening her vagina after he had come, or a very young girl nude from the waste up except for a wispy wrap dancing at a deep South whorehouse. Or, for that matter, the pretty rounded French girl in de Maupesant who saves fellow coach travelers by having sexual intercourse with a Prussian officer, though afterwards the people she saves treat her with contempt. Books held a different kind of reality, maybe more real than any other. Maybe like high school girls in skimpy bathing suits.
One summer night when Lauryn was in her last year of high school I was making a rare visit, staying with Aunt Alice because the Farm House was full and by then there were no other Poole houses, I had helped her deal with her drunken boyfriend. He was a very local boy whose father had a heating business. We walked him to his house, less than a quarter mile away. We pushed him to his door. He bounced back. We pushed him to the door two more times, and finally he went in. And then Lauryn and I were outside on a warm night and suddenly she was up against me and we were kissing. And it was almost real, here with the prettiest girl in the Littleton high school, though I had turned 30 and was about to have one last affair in the city and then head off to what I suspected was the ultimate place of sex and beauty, Bangkok. The next day Lauryn said isn’t it funny that you drink a little and you can’t remember anything about the night? I said yes, true. This seemed to me a good way for both of us to get out of this one. So close to incest, this episode, though I told myself it was not technically incest since Lauryn was adopted.
Lenny had been away in the army. I had not given him a thought, though later I was sure he was never out of Lauryn’s mind.



#103 – BURGER KING GIRL

I stop at a Burger King on the strip in Rutland not far from where I found my car. This strip a regular people’s untidy place, not unlike Littleton, not far from tidy picture postcard versions of Vermont, which are not unlike White Mountains summer places. This bouncing, sandy haired, surely underage Burger King girl who serves me a bacon cheeseburger, a girl whose cute face is still a blank slate, flashes a coming-of-age smile that shoots me so far back in time that I can imagine myself going out with her, hay rides maybe, falling in love with her, planning a future with her, just as if I am 15, not 50, 15 and desperately in need of something in my life to transport me out of the trap I feel I am at in my second year, the 4th form year, in at an old-line boarding school. A school where I fight my destiny, which is to be at the bottom of the heap, and in a family in which my twin brother is their pride and I am expected to forever hold my place at the bottom wherever I am. And I am also trapped, as in school and family, in a country fallen under the sway of the swaggering senator Tailgate Gunner Joe McCarthy – whom I know all about now that I am rising in the school by becoming a champion on the debating circuit. McCarthy and the pretentious bully Douglas Macarthur, that ambitious, trigger-happy old general whom reactionaries up here in New Hampshire think should be president instead of Truman.
I can be so angry. Though cutting through family, school and country are Keats and Wordsworth and Thomas Wolfe and the sight and smell of fields and woods, the nostalgic northern birds cries, the fresh water ponds, mud and ice and all, and the northern rivers clear and sometimes foamy beneath old bridges – and Pattie down with girls form her all-girls boarding school, our sister school, for a joint glee club concert at the stolid but humble Plymouth State Teachers’ College – in the summers the Gibbs and Grout girls in the White Mountains, Kitty still someone out of dreams of a glorious future. Am I frozen in that time?
Or in all time? Here in Rutland one of the friends of Peter and Julie I am using as my friends is a cheerful woman who works in Washington for Senator Leahy and swears that 1986 is the year they are going to win the Senate back from the Reagan-dominated Republican party – the Republicans who, long before they became the Reagan party of racists, gave us McCarthy and Macarthur. And next week the hero Daniel Berrigan is going to be at an all-day rally at a small Benedictine place on a hill in central Vermont. Reagan and Berrigan, like in these battles I was fighting when I was 15.
Remembering now, as I drive, Pattie, Kitty, and my debating trophies and the gang that liked me in the summers. And girlfriends down through the years, and a recent wife. And also all the times alone. Like this time driving this entertaining car up and down and around the Vermont hills in lush summertime.
I see a girl in a Burger King who is so like what I find in time travel, and this girl looks me in the eye and smiles. And I wonder if any other times were as full of hope as this time. As I drive and listen to music I have missed in this car that is coming to feel like a machine for time travel. Hope based on what? Though I am convinced I am in a second life, much of what I look for is still in haze. The hope maybe flowing from my recent discovery that I am not alone in needing to know what happened in the distant past. What happened and why. Go right into it and find out what is there.
What a year this has been. And also, I am alone so much this summer in the car.
That girl in the Burger King – the same age as Patti and Kitty when I met them, one a girl for the summer and maybe forever, the other a girl briefly for the long winters – all of it a construction so fragile, so on the edge of there being nothing or no one at all.



#104 – MOUNTAIN TOP

Dad and Uncle Nick and Peter and I rose before dawn the morning after hiking – with snacks for us and a flask of whisky for our elders – all the way up to the Greenleaf Hut at the timberline on Mount Lafayette – the highest mountain in the Franconia range – the official view of which was seen so clearly from White Pines out past the long, horizontal pained class window that followed the line of the long dining table, and out past graceful French doors that followed the formal sitting room end of the great room – through the French doors and outside among white bird baths and trellises on a perfect narrow lawn that ended at boulders laced with iron ore, and then after the boulders a thick, prickly wild blueberry field that ended at, still with no humans in sight, the deep woods my grandparents actually owned. That they owned the woods I had checked on some years back when helping a criminal lawyer coach a young cousin. Those woods that led to the grand mountains.
In the early morning we walked from the Greenleaf hut on a steep pathway up through rocks and scrub pine, carrying with us a small mirror. At the summit, under the direction of Dad and Uncle Nick, who had been doing it since they themselves were children, Peter and I tried turning the mirror in ways that maybe it would send flashes of light that could be seen as far away as at White Pines itself. Whether our small mirror worked, the wall mirror Gaga brought through the French doors at a prearranged time certainly did – great flashes of white light from the valley, like some sort of annunciation.



#105 – THE KILLINGTON ROAD

We go to dinner at a restaurant on the road up Mount Killington to its ski lifts. This ugly tourist road. I have been seeing it as I drive by in the daytime – a violent slash up the lower part of this still, despite bars and restaurants, somewhat green mountain, that becomes less green further up with all its violent ski trail slashes. When Peter had first been in Rutland, which was after his divorce in the city, he had been living in a very old commercial travelers hotel, filled with sixties kids and vagabonds, in the middle of town. He had worked as a busboy on the Killington road at a place called The Wobbly Barn, which was a very sixties bar-restaurant-night club where everyone was on drugs or drunk or both, right here in rural new England. I had driven up one weekend in 1970 with his stepbrother Jason, and so knew the drug and booze part as an insider. And now after Peter’s years in AA, his achievements in writing, his time as director of a state alcoholism clinic, his years doing PR for the Vermont state Fair, now a certified citizen, married again, married as well as published. Back now on the Killington road. Peter, his current wife Julie and I are here not at the Wobbly Barn, though it still exists. Instead we are in a dark restaurant with a Swiss or German motif eating rubber shrimp and salad made of wilted leaves, the kind of place that has sad stuffed animal heads on its wall, also a fireplace with flames coming from a gas jet behind in a fake log.
I keep excusing myself to go outside and breath the mountain air, breath deep, remembering who I am and why I am here, wanting to get in every moment of mountain time. Remembering mountain nights in the deep past with this cool air that already in August has the long winter in it.
Remembering actual time in mountains in the past – summers in northern New Hampshire with air so like this air outside the restaurant – mountains in other places – Slovenia and Turkey and northern Borneo, that had this air too. And remembering how I have this year been going over past times, stepping into the deepest parts of the past – the parts I had thought at every stage were not worth even thinking about.
It is like death to me inside that grim restaurant, while here outside in moonlight is the possibility of anything I want. I wonder if I am not just riding on Peter and Julie’s life up here, and I am getting increasingly impatient. And I think of the ridiculous transactional therapy with which he and Julie and all their friends are involved. And that they joined a study group devoted the Road Less Traveled, as if it were revealed scripture (not that I believed in any scripture). And they make fun of their cat for being so fat – like the way a schoolyard bully might make fun of a fat kid. And the morning of Julie’s 50th birthday a few days ago Peter was making fun of her for being eligible to join AARP. I am building up a case against my old friend, almost as if he is one of the villainous people of my past whom I now verbally attack.
I want to stay out here in the August mountain cool, look at the upper reaches of Killington in the moonlight, look at the moon. It is hard to breathe inside.



#106 – SOMETHING THAT IS LIKE SOMETHING

Standing there as if suspended in time, there in cool night air on the Killington Road with its touristy businesses, like that faux alpine place with bad food and stuffed heads of murdered animals – though I will have to get back for my friends think I have only gone to the men’s room. But I am standing under a clear sky, stars such as I never see in the cities I live in, a crescent moon in a cradle configuration, the scent of pine and other growing things in crisp clear air, which has winter in it already though we are in August, air that is filled with memory – including, if I search, memories of other mountain places, lonely Kinabalu in northern Borneo, the scruffy Julian Alps in Slovenia, the strangely refreshing Taurus mountains rising out of the dust of Anatolia – places where I have had moments breathing in something like such air.
This unique air that members of the old guard over in the summer communities of the White Mountains said was just like Switzerland – which to a point it was but they went beyond that point and said that in the White Mountains you could just as well be in Switzerland, these stark granite mountains with their avalanche scars and ski trail scars rising out of almost impossible to farm rocky farm land, most of it taken over by woods now, New Hampshire the opposite of Vermont, barely able to support agriculture, which was why it seemed so clear to me that, as outsiders had said, New Hampshire was right wing and cruel where Vermont was liberal and comforting, for New Hampshire was a place where you had to live by your wits, which meant a good deal of trickery in the name of Yankee shrewdness, trickery and lying and cruel anti-everything-except-us discrimination. This bare bones life by devious means being so admired by the old guard in the summer towns, who were mostly people who might hold jobs but were so far from the bare bones life they admired that they were also living on inherited wealth. And nothing in the White Mountains was tidy and cared for like the protected, also wild but basically man-made, landscapes in Switzerland.
Those friends of my grandparents. Those peers of my parents. And what about my own peers, the ones who were young over in the White Mountains when I was young there too, they had seemed so different, but from a distance I heard about people my age who went back, the only change from past generations being that those in mine tended to live in their winterized summer places all year round now that they had found they were not suited to the outside world.
This air. My youth. I see lonely headlights, a car coming down Killington, which strangely seems to mean hope. It has only recently occurred to me that though I have by this point lived in so many distant parts of the world it has always been in cities, never in countryside – maybe a stilt house on a tropical river but a river in Bangkok, maybe a little island-style white-washed house reached by old hillside paths, but that house only being like an island house for it was right in the middle of the old part of Athens. These and all the other places – from awful Beirut to even worse Luanda – much better Havana to much better Cairo. All of them cities. Why just cities?
The thought oozes in that maybe it is fear.
What was I afraid of?
My only experience with living in countryside was in childhood.
Ah.
Here I am, I think, out here on the Killington Road just to breath the air, here I am moving back and back in time. Like something was lost back then, and for the first time since very young I am in countryside again – like I have moved back in time. Like a second chance.



#107 – ALONE AGAIN

And still in these days driving alone in Vermont I always keep in mind what was over in New Hampshire, where I know I have to go to follow the mystery of what went on back in that apparently sun-shiny place that might be tied to the darkness that became apparent years later – the bad ends these cousins of mine were coming to – and my late father and late uncle and still living mother and aunts as well, though it was easier to keep the failures of another generation at a distance than it was the failures in my own generation – like Margaret’s brother Fitz John, one of the favored ones, the family’s only Eagle Scout, who had kept being thrown out of places, Exeter, then Williams, for rather large scale thievery, and he seemed on the surface much like how everything in his mother’s house in Scarsdale seemed , as if put in place by Martha Stewart.
And I kept driving, and I kept stopping at those small state parks with lakes for swimming that were never more than a couple of hours apart, and I kept on going over to the that riding ring above Castleton for lessons in Western style riding from a raw-edge young woman in a family of people devoted to the little known world of competitive rodeos in Northeastern states. I kept going to the two big art galleries, the one in Rutland and the other to the south, still hoping, should I stay on here, that there would be more than sentimental barn paintings to sustain me.
And I thought of how in those wild meetings in Manhattan people had picked up on what on what a full, adventurous life I had had till now – and I wondered that I had hardly said a word about all the times I had been by myself, wandering the streets of lonely cities, often places where I did not speak the language. And I thought of the times I had thought I was in love, as well as the times between shallow relationships.
And I kept bringing myself back to my mission that was bring me so much life now, and so in my thoughts drifting to the past again and again between these trips I was making over to the White Mountains. And sometimes in my thoughts the White Mountains part would sometimes almost drift away, and I would be other places at other ages, not just the exotic lands I had chosen but often back in Weston, Connecticut, which I had recently looked in on in its current form as a tidy and costly rich man’s suburb. I would be there in my mind when it was still a basically New England town. When most of the men were not commuters, in fact most worked locally on small farms or places that were partial farms, on town road crews, and as journeymen small businessmen who built things and installed things and were paid to take care of what they had put in place.
And I was back in the World War II time when my parents became virtual farmers, the world’s least likely farmers, in order, they said, to get around food rationing, but now I wondered if they didn’t also have dreams not unlike the dreams my brother and I had once had of becoming such regular people that we might even be able to be farmers – farmers if our fantasy of running a log inn on a woodland road did not play out. For surely rationing had not been that tight an affair. We used to drive all the way up to New Hampshire in the green Plymouth convertible each summer, so gas rationing, anyway, could not be as strict as it sounded in the adults' complaints.



#108 – THE PIT

In that year Peter and I turned 11 and were plotting our return to Connecticut in our room on the 6th floor at 124 East 84th Street. This strange year when we had been uprooted from Connecticut again. The last time it had been to go down to a decaying resort in Florida for six moths , with Mother and Grandmother Clark but without Dad. No explanation then, and no explanation now beyond that living in the country was too hard for Mother and she needed a year off in the city. Peter and I prided ourselves on being country people. In Florida they had forgotten about us, and not even tried to get us into a school, and though peter read schoolbooks anyway, I wandered like a vagabond, my uncut hair bleached nearly white, though jungles and citrus groves.
And now this year they did just the opposite, forcing us into an Anglophile private school called Allen-Stevenson down on 78th street where Dad himself has been forced to go many years back. Our public school in Connecticut, in a sparkling building surrounded by woods, had been just the opposite of this new place. Because, they said, of ideas circulating by someone named Dewey – which strangely was also the name of our Negro handyman and chauffeur – there was no homework. We stayed in the same room all day, a place with students’ art work everywhere. As likely as a session on spelling would be a session on moving to music or finger painting. Each room had a big mural of hearty workers and farmers walking into what someone said was meant to be a socialist future. Something to do with Roosevelt and the dread depression, about which they kept complaining even when it was over. But now in the city we were marched, each time harsh electric bells rang, into different old dusty schoolrooms with old rutted desks bolted to the floor and harsh, foul breath disciplinarians who were constantly punishing me or ridiculing me because I could not understand Latin, or much of anything else. And we had to wear neckties and blazers and scratchy gray flannels. And after school, when in Connecticut we might do to some unsupervised, vaguely boy Scout event, or more like just roam, the boys in this all boys New York horror place put on comic opera uniforms of an organization called the Knickerbocker Grays and leave us behind to go off to an armor, sporting medals and always swords, to do some high society military marching thing or something.
So we were far away from what we had known – and in some ways not nearly far enough. Mysteriously, our grandparents Gaga and Nana, and their pretty daughter Betsy and her infant son Robin moved into an identical apartment on the 4th floor . Up in ours on the 6rh, where Peter and I had a room and Mother and Dad a bigger, room, and there was a fairly big room too for mother’s Southern mother, grandmother Clark, who made fun of the colored women who came to cook and clean, and made sure they gave us grits and okra with our meals.
And then more confusion. We had had nothing resembling sex education from school or home, though somehow we knew there was something very deep going on when we were up against girls, which of course we were in Connecticut. But there were no girls in this school we were in, no women teachers even. Which increased the longing for I did not know exactly what.
But a feature of our room was that it was on a direct line with the 6h floor in a building across the street where a very pretty, happy looking long haired woman, almost an adult, would lean on a window sill, lean out so she was partway through the open window, and she would smile, looking so happy there with practically with no clothes on. I had a reverie that went way beyond the dreams about getting back to the country. It did not even seem like a dream. A sweetly smooth and tanned naked girl, sweat running down her body, was on a ladder climbing up into the sunlight from a deep pit where fires raged.