Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 57 – LIGHT FROM BELOW

But it is 1986 now and I am on the hunt, and I have just encountered Mrs. Miner, the energetic and kind old woman who I thought was old when she was still the cook and housekeeper and boss of other helpers at White Pines decades back – back when I was enjoying popularly in our summer gang such as I never knew before in groups of contemporaries, where most often I had been dismissed as slow or dumb or unattractive, nothing at all like my twin brother. And even when I was popular and had fallen in reciprocated love with Kitty, to me the most desirable of all the sweet tanned girls in our summer gang, it did not register at home. My maternal grandmother, not the grand dame paternal grandmother but the one we called Grandmother Clark and who lived with us in Connecticut, would wonder aloud why my successes in school, in a academics and in debate, weren’t my brother’s successes – he was always so studious, so if only he had put his mind to it like Fred did. And my mother would wonder aloud why it was Fred who was with Kitty or Sandie or even some other girl no one knew, and why couldn’t girls see how very much – much more was how I heard it – that Peter had to offer.

This was on my mind in 1986 – this time when my cousins, the first cousins, not the distant older cousins, had come of age and were in the course of dying off already, dying in great pain and usually under circumstances of violence. This time when my brother Peter was at large not just in family places but in the CIA, and I was for the first time letting myself really know what I knew and taking it a perhaps logical step further to the point where White Pines, formerly the most perfect place on earth, had become a chamber of horrors that was at the very least unsafe for children – populated, I was saying, by people who not only should not have had children but who were too narrow and bigoted to be entrusted with much of anything, much less my love.

A situation that seemed so clear in 1986 but before this had seemed so muddy – their anti-Semitism and other snobbery now far outweighing their distant past accomplishments as Socialists and other sorts of liberators. This even before dealing with them as actual or suspected molesters.

Yet even now when I was on the hunt, in a time when what had been white had become black, even now this landscape would be full of color and I could not forget what it had once been for me.

It was partly a place of enchantment. 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. Whatever you do, the lawyer said to him, don't tell the judge that your grandmother owns those woods, for neither a judge nor anyone else in a city courtroom would get the conception. 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.

And Peter was right, and Gaga was kind, and so too was Nana, my stately grandmother, the one who knew the famous people and knew right from wrong in style as well as substance, Nana the one who struck people as cold but who often took my side – probably, I thought by 1986 when I was on the hunt, because, bigoted or not, straight laced or not, socially superior or not, she was so much more intelligent than the rest of them.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 56 – HOUSES AGAIN

We were in a barn behind a Waspily tasteful house, looking at two black Bentleys, way out on the Easton Road in deep, maturing second growth North Country woods. It was August and there was a chill to the air.

The barn seemed strangely dead. I could not imagine live cows or farm workers in it. We were standing around these two old but perfectly maintained black Bentleys. And I heard myself asking the tweed-capped old gentleman who owned them if they were for sale – and he said they were in the sort of careful British-like, American upper-class accent so common to the summer people. It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask him, since I was quite drunk – drunker probably, than my old friend from childhood and her new husband, who had brought me here.

It was the summer of 1970 – and there was talk about the chance I would soon have money. I did not realize there was always such talk when you had a certain kind of novel coming out. My editor was saying that mine – which was set in Vietnam-era Bangkok, and had plenty of war and sex in it – would somehow be the successor to Taipan, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing and The World of Suzie Wong. He said this though the advance had been $5000 (which seemed high to me).

I was on the final reworking, actually meeting my deadline. In the six months since signing the contract I had been sometimes working furiously, and sometimes furiously not working – moving first to London, then to Las Palmas in the Canaries, then back to London, and then to an obscure part of the obscure island/country Malta, and back to London again, then Zermatt, then Frankfort, and once more London. An old childhood friend who had become an investment banker lived there, and many war-loving journalists I had known in Southeast Asia were passing through.

I had not much liked London this time around and was wondering if I had ever liked London or had just been told by the family that it was my favorite place. For it was their place, not mine, the place where my sexy Aunty Betsy had a child and lingered after her husband was killed, and also adopted two more children. More important, it was the home of my grandparents’ close friends Sir Arthur and Lady Ethel Salter – names that were actually shouted out by a footman at the sort of parties these friends went to.

All of this being the sort of thing I hated most except when it was parodied for comedy's sake.

But then I was reluctantly coming also to hate the family’s home base, the White Mountains, notwithstanding that I had come into life there, including love and sex and literature. Despite sex and love I could never totally deny what the White Mountains stood for – which included silly, bigoted Wasps (who had recently voted for Nixon),

That there was a long-odds chance that my book would make big money did not explain why, as the book came to an end, I had been drawn here. Drawn not so much like the moth to the flame as like the fly to the flypaper.

Why did I come? Why, when drunk, did I, clearly a radical left-winger when out in the world, say I wanted to own a Bentley? I knew I would never spend another summer here – I know it on some level – but a few days before the Bentley evening, when drunk again, I had talked seriously with my friends here about using book money to buy back White Pines, the biggest of the old family places. Bringing White Pines back to glory, the way it was before it had been sold to avoid taxes and fallen into the hands of uncouth people. Gatsby-like I would buy it.

The people of the past could make of this what they would. I would put them in their place, though it might seem I as out to honor them. For just a moment this house purchase idea, like the Bentley idea, had the feel of clear thinking – for just a brief gin-soaked moment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 55 – PARKWAYS AGAIN

For the first time in my life I was freed from the tyranny of my mother tongue – this English language, the only one in which I was fluent, the language that had been so useful for making lists and arguments and putting forth closure and conclusion, but was of so little use to me in this time when everything was changing.

A language that worked now was that of trees billowing out on either side of the old style parkways I drove now for the first time or the first time in years. Special old four-lane, divided and landscaped highways from the early days of automotive motoring. Highways that brought instant nostalgia whether it was the name of the Merritt Parkway, which I had traveled to go to Kitty’s place when 16, or the Palisades Parkway along the Hudson atop high cliffs that spoke of sensuous danger, or the old Taconic, the take-off route for northern destinations – the Taconic, which felt familiar though I could not remember being on it before.

The Merritt Partkway like the rest of Connecticut as I remembered it, intensely green and hopeful and unadventurous, and strangely comforting in its lack of surface excitement. The Palisades, high above the river, with a circular restaurant with fireplaces and fans rather than conditioned air, and they cooked the cheap hamburgers to order, a time warp situation. And now the Taconic, so like the roads that were driven in 30s movies and civilized old detective novels.

On the Taconic this summer they had still not gotten around to anything resembling the exits and entrances of modern turnpikes. So far from having cloverleafs, you could simply turn off the Taconic onto narrow roads that went off at right angles, appeared without warning, and seemed that summer to as often as not go through bowers of lush vegetation – like tunnel entrances to enchanted lands. Several times I turned off to see what was there and, by God, I would come out the other side of the tunnel in my aqua Mustang and I would be in exactly the kind of enchantment I had imagined – rolling hills and flowers and cows and horses and once even fluffy sheep.

It all came in these new word-free languages I was learning – everything now so far from books I’d planned or actually constructed.

Constructed. That’s all I seemed to have left in 1986 of what writing had been about. Constructed with a certain end result always expected. As perhaps in my grandfather's novels, that not so long before this time could turn up on compulsory college reading lists, as they still did on the compulsory reading lists for White Mountains summer families.

But now sounds. Music was constantly playing in the car. Willie Nelson and Carly Simon and James Taylor and Judy Collins. Also Mozart, who knew the lightness of being that I was only just beginning. Mozart (though not Beethoven, for right now I wanted gentleness). Sounds, not thoughts put into an alphabet. Sights, like what I was seeing in the city in the museums and galleries and cityscapes as well as parkway landscapes that I had not seen before
sights, not labeled things that could be looked up and checked. Feelings rather than maps showing the way.

Breaking out of times without music, without painting, without billowing trees, without parkways, without a car.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 54 - OLD VOYAGE

After all these adventures – later there were those who said I must have been suicidal but that had not occurred to me, or I had protested against it. Even during times of deep depression alone in Darfur without water or among silly expats – or being served raw liver in a desolate grass hut village – and certainly not suicidal in the clearly exciting times, hiding in safe places deep in colonial Angola during the revolution against the Portuguese. Or dealing with scoundrels, such as a travel writer who turned out to be the cruel son of a titled English friend of my grandparents. He was was traveling through Angola and Katanga financed by the mining interests that had had Lumumba killed. Hardly depressed when facing spear carriers in Chad’s near desert who suddenly emerged in a previously empty landscape to negotiate the division of a just shot antelope – or, after being ordered out of Abeché by French army men who were still present, but staying anyway and sleeping in the house of their enemy, a mysterious Foreign Legion widow named Madam Lucieni, whose pet lions roamed through every room.

And now I was on a ship – with help from an old friend from draftee army days who was now in the Foreign Service and in the U.S. Legation in Luanda. I had gotten this job way, way below the equator on a Norwegian freighter going non-stop all the way up to Emden on the North Sea – this in exchange for my friend helping with paperwork so the old captain would not have to go ashore and do it himself.

Another reason I was hired, it soon became clear, was that the old captain needed someone new to hear his stories. Norwegian ship’s officers, though not crew members, stayed at sea for six years at a stretch. The captain needed someone new to hear about being shipwrecked in the 1920s off the China Coast, and about his adventures, before he was a ship’s officer, going up to Greenland to club baby seals to death.

Nominally I was working for my passage. I was given the job of painting around the portholes in the officer’s quarters. And I was put up in their part of the ship in what amounted so a suite – something called the owner’s carbin, which they said had never been used by any of the line’s owners but every norwegian ship had one because it was tradition.

Once I actually was doing a little painting and the ship’s stewardess, a tall and tight, though technically Venus-like, Nordic woman – I had never imagined that a non-passenger ship would carry a stewardess – started talking to me like an angry schoolteacher, about what a messy job I was doing, and why was I spending so much time talking with the men rather than working? The others told me the story on her. She had just moved into the first mate’s cabin, which was a scandal in this life at close quarters. The first mate told me that what he had done meant he would never ship out as a first officer again but he didn’t care. He did not look like he was having fun. He did not even look like he was getting laid, though he must have been.

The ship's engineer was a wiry right-winger. He invited me into his sitting room – they did live well on this ship – so he could rail at Socialists everywhere, especially those in power in Norway. But he would get off track and start telling me about the war, about his days in the underground, the chances he took, his friends whom the Nazis and their collaborators caught and executed.

There was abundant mealtime food of the meat and potatoes sort, and at all hours an assortment of cheeses in the officers' dining room, which benefited from a behind-the-scenes cook I never met, just as I met few on board who were not officers. And there was sometimes plenty of good Norwegian beer, which was important to me at that time in my life. How they got Norwegian beer in the obscure places they visited was a mystery. No place was quite so disconnected then as Luanda – which strangely was an all-white Mediterranean looking city – white buildings and white people – even the shoeshine boys and lottery ticket salesmen were white Portuguese. My friend and his wife, though both anti-apartheid liberals, left margarine in the kitchen for the servants, and had real butter at their own table, the only sign that they followed local custom. My friend had complained to me that there were people in the Foreign Service who had told him he was being sent to Africa because his experience growing up in Georgia would help him in tough dealings with Negroes.

I was actually kind of depressed most of the time on the freighter. It was feeling like I belonged nowhere. I had been living high with my lovely artist girlfriend in Greece but I did not speak the language there. Before Greece I was all over Yugoslavia, a young man alone in strange towns without Serbo-Croat. In Africa there were many new languages I did not speak.

When I ran out of reading matter I went to the closet they called the ship’s library, where almost everything was in English, which is the official language of the sea. And there was a paperback of an historical novel that a few months ago my mother, strangely, had written me about. Strange that she should give me literary advice. But maybe not so strange that she did not know me well enough to know how much I disliked historical fiction. She said I really should read this one.

This novel was about Dumas or Hugo or one of those old-time best-selling French writers – musketeers and pretty girls in lacy long dresses and evil cardinals and galley slaves and that sort of thing. This novel about this writer starts when he is an inexperienced young man. It is his first night in Paris. He is just in from some dull provincial place.

On that night, knowing no-one, he by chance meets Major Dreyfus, and then by chance meets Toulouse-Lautrec. I put it down before finding out if by chance he slept with Colette, I was that depressed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 53 - MONGOLIA

Although Walter did most of the talking, he did seem fascinated by my experience of the world, which was so different from his –the foreign adventure part, and even more the part of my life when I was very young, a child, up in the restricted part of New Hampshire and also in Fairfield County Connecticut. And as my past came into focus, I was proud that from the very start I had rejected the family’s nasty bigotry, even though I had usually kept silent and seethed rather than go openly on the attack.

Such silence was becoming untenable in this time when everything was changing – this time when I was about to head up to northern New England to go on the hunt, feeling ready to kill as I gathered evidence against the villains and information about what had really happened, on the hunt for what had happened to all these cousins who were coming to such bad, often violent, ends now in the present, and not least what had really happened to myself.

Maybe on some level I had wanted to play the game. Why else Princeton? Even though I hated that shoddy Republican place, I did stay for all four years. And as for continuing to play the game: Why else give that “Twins in the American Century” shit a chance. Now I had to fight my way out of some maze I was in. Whether I had created it or been placed in it were irrelevant matters. But the fact that I might have a hand in it – me so opposed to so much of their awful nonsense from the time I was first aware of what they were doing, which started when I was about seven years old – that I might have had a hand in it somehow made logical sense – and made me even more want to kill.

Because I could not sit in silence anywhere now, I was spending almost all my time with people I knew only in this new time – people who were getting really organized now – people who were also on the hunt for family horrors in the present and especially in the past.

One reason I could not keep going to these hospitable Sunday gatherings, which had actually been a big part of life for me, was that nothing about me was explained there. I realized, as I began what I felt could be a fight to the death, that I could no longer listen to anyone’s nonsense.

One thing I had learned in those years of Sunday afternoons at Walter’s was that to people I consciously cared about, which more and more meant non-family people, the world I came from was as strange and forbidding and exotic too as would be the world of someone from Mongolia. And I realized that they would understand Mongolia better than they understood Waspdom.

For I knew William Buckley, who everyone thought so smooth, was a fraud. I just knew it. I was delighted when someone wrote that Buckley proved that old saying that if you give an Irishman a horse he will vote Tory. Buckley with his fake English accent – so like the fake English accents of my supposedly nearest and dearest, who also would know Buckley was a fraud even as they tried themselves to make accurate British sounds. No one in my family was nearly so cool as the Anglophile Irishman Buckley. My family’s model was non-existent.

I did not at this point, want to spend another Sunday afternoon with people who thought that what I came from was classy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 52 - AT WALTER'S PLACE

Often during the last four years of my failing first marriage when I was living with my wife, her son and eventually her mother too in a cramped place looking out on an air well on West 81st Street, often during that time and for two years after I moved out of the place and the marriage and into a bright place on 25th Street that had a view, I would still spend most Sunday afternoons in an old and solid West 79th Street apartment where my very old friend Walter Karp and his sparkling second wife Regina, lived. Walter still did most of the talking, as he had in the 20 years I had known him. He was still trying out verbally before he wrote them the latest chapters for the latest of his political theory books for which he was becoming known. Sometimes it was just Walter, Regina, me and Walter’s younger brother Richard. Sometimes on these Sunday afternoons we would be joined by old friends of Walter’s from his days at Columbia, where he was Valedictorian of his class, and shocked them all by refusing to go to graduate school but instead took a position writing picture captions for show-biz stories in Pageant Magazine. And sometimes there would be some well-known editors too, who had come into the picture after his writing became respectable.

Often on these afternoons I would feel more like an observer than a participant, but this had been going on since childhood.

My childhood was something I rarely talked about, so I was surprised when, one Sunday, Walter brought it up. I noted that he had my last book, the one on the Philippines, displayed on what looked like a dictionary stand. He had this great idea, he said for my next book, which he said should be a light autobiographical work about me and my foreign adventures, my grandfather who Walter knew of as a novelist and internationalist, and my twin Peter, whom I occasionally referred to as someone who worked for the C.I.A. The book, Walter said, should be called Twins in the American Century.

That was one of the rare times that my family came into actual conversation on those Sunday afternoons. On one other occasion the family appeared, but I did not let on. It was when Walter was speaking with humor about a time he had been a Scarsdale girl’s date for a country club dance. Before the dance started he was asked to leave town because the grown-ups had discovered he was Jewish. I shook my head and remained silent even though I knew Walter would have been amused by my experience with the same event.

It was one night when I had fled college, as I often did, for the pleasures of the city. Being broke, but maybe more obedient than I realized, I took my grandmother up on dinner at her New York apartment, which was a tiny replica of their big houses up in New Hampshire that were so much a part of my early years. That night at the dinner table – as formal as in the mountains, right down to careful servers and the finger bowls, she talked about what she said was an awful thing that had happened in Scarsdale to her son Nick and his wife Peggy (who sometimes came up in conversation to be put down for being too careful about appearances). What had happened was that some girl in Scarsdale had invited a boy to their country club dance and it turned out he was Jewish and so of course had to leave. But the worst came afterwards, she said, for at the Episcopal church (which I knew from Scarsdale funerals) the minister had railed against the country club – and so the congregation had asked the minister, too, to leave Scarsdale. The point seemed to be how awful for Peggy that not just the girl but the minister too had behaved so badly.

That time at that dinner table was yet another time when I kept quiet but seethed. At certain times I knew of nothing between violent ranting and silence. And, worse than silence, I actually did make a stab at that book Walter suggested. I took the idea to the point where Macmillan just needed a sample chapter for the record before making an offer. Of course it was impossible to write even a fake chapter of Twins in the American Century.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


When I went back to Bangkok in ’76, after those seven in-between years, it was hard to sort out what was there at this point and what had been there before. The place had had another ten boom-town years, so different from the devastation in nearby Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia. Thailand seemed more than ever to be all glitter.

I headed off to a dark bar I used to haunt – a seedy place still, despite the overall glitter, filled with grim Western spies and very un-grim Eastern girls. It was the place where ten years back I had met up with Sunisar, who wore gold lamé gowns and was more or less a singer. It had the unlikely name The Dew Drop Inn, like the name of some mundane beery place in American where lithe girls would never be found.

On my way to the bar I looked in on what had been a shiny new hotel seven years back but by now looked old and shabby. In the lobby there was a florist shop, which I remembered because I had brought girls flowers there. This time I saw a tall floral arrangement with a card on it that said “Amranand” in Western letters, and below it something else in Sanskrit. Amranand was a name known in Bangkok where not everyone used last names. When I was in Bangkok the first time around Prock Amranand, a Thai economist who worked for UNESCO, had asked me to be the English language PR man at the World Fellowship of Buddhists annual conclave, which was being held that year in the relatively cool, flower-scented northern city of Chiengmai. I had then quickly asked a Burmese guy I knew at Reuters to get Bonnie Beaman credentials for the conference as a special Reuter’s correspondent – really shrewd, for Bonnie and I were on the verge of being an item now that Sunisar was no longer living in the airy house I had rented across the river in Thonburi.

Not that the end of the Sunisar period and the beginning with Bonnie meant any decrease in sexual tension. Or any other kind of tension in this place where, along with the frenetic night life, assassinations by spies chasing spies seemed to be a daily occurrence, and every foreigner seemed to have some sort of undercover role with some national or factional intelligence service. Bonnie had come to Bangkok originally with one of the contract CIA people who were everywhere that year in this boom town city of temples and elaborate massage places (which were blessed by legions of Buddhist monks when they opened), and very big temples with gold leaf in their sweeping roofs, and cavernous nightclubs, also cozy bars, all full of girls, and also palaces whose denizens were a mystery. She had started from Tokyo, where she had gone on a teaching job via Antioch College’s innocent work-study program. She had abandoned the program for a job standing in a low cut evening gown that showed off her tanned bikini-ready figure at the door to an expensive Tokyo nightclub, she the bait waved in front of rich Japanese men. It would have worked for me if I were a rich Japanese man.

We went to Chiengmai in a special plane for the conference in which, as on many regular flights too, two monks were placed at the front so as to ward off air crashes. In Chiengmai we moved fast from being fake journalist colleagues to being lovers on a tryst. We spent the bulk of our time in bed at the compact new Railway Hotel. The first time we ordered from room service from the their new Western menu – Western food being a big fad in Thailand that year – half a dozen people burst into our room and formed a semi-circle around our bed, including two guys in chef’s hats who poured brandy over a sort of brochette dish and lit it to the applause of several boys and girls in white uniforms, the girls looking like teenagers disguised as French maids for Halloween. The room was full of dead bugs because we had left a door to a small balcony open while we were at a Buddhist conference session. And we were naked under a thin sheet, though after that first time we would get dressed before the food arrived.

Before I was finished with Southeast Asia that first time around I wrote enough of a novel about that time to get the book sold right afterwards in New York. What I did not put into the novel were family factors whose importance alluded me. I edited out that the reason I knew Brock Amranand was that he was the husband of a royal Thai lady named Pim Sai, who had been to boarding school in England with my ultra-white sister-in-law Rosemary, who was send to England for boarding school by her father who was with the India Army in Malaya. My sister-in-law was there in Bangkok my first time around along with my twin brother Peter, subject of a childhood rivalry that never ended.

I was writing hack books full of sex that belied the fleeting but intense intimations of innocence I had with Bonnie at first – the feeling that now, at 31, I had a chance to redo my early years.

Peter was there with an ominous Defense Department agency, part of the Johnson war escalation, the agency’s main goal apparently to teach the Thai army up-to-date ways to kill peasants. In my novel a character named Mickey was exactly like Bonnie, and two charactyers, Andrew and Simon, were meant to be exactly like me, Andrew them full of alcohol-fueled romantic swagger, Simon had low self-esteem. In the book there was no Peter.

Some time after I saw the floral arrangement near still seedy bar, I discovered it was indeed for the Pim Sai house. Pim Sai had just been killed, slashed to ribbons by a gardener who for some reason ran amok.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 51 - GOING BACK

As I drove up and down Vermont, I was sometimes 30 years or more back in New Hampshire, and sometimes I was back in the places with which I had replaced New Hampshire - places of war and beauty and love and hatred, sex and life and death, ships and planes and trains, chasing adventure, includinig adventurous girls of all nations, but often alone, moving about Asia and Africa and Europe and seas that contained islands - almost, but maybe not much, like the man I had dreamed I could be.

One day while driving I was thinking about a time I went back to a familiar place not in my head but literally. I had returned to Southeast Asia – these wild and/or languid tropical places, so full of sex and comfort and danger or adventure – back after seven sometimes dark years away. I was back and I was all over the map, just as I had been in those earlier years out here. I had been everywhere back then, usually with a drink, which could be beer or could be rough rice whisky
– and even with the sort of throbbing hangovers that feel terminal I had had so much energy in those past years – and yet it was nothing like the sudden bursts I experienced when I returned.

Just before leaving New York I had stopped drinking after 22 years of drinking which I had told myself unconvincingly was not so bad as that of my alcoholic literary heroes – from Fitzgerald to Kerouac by way of Hemingway if not Mailer. And here I was heading into the old scenes – just like in a novel, scenes of happiness and excitement in exotic places. A few days before leaving I had gone to a single AA meeting in a dark church basement on the Upper West Side, and I had had coffee afterwards with a wet blanket sort of overweight guy who said he had just canceled a bus trip to Louisiana to see his family for it would put his sobriety in peril. No new relationships for at least a year was the rule, he said, and no travel either. Everyone in what he called “the rooms” knew that.

But I knew he was wrong. I knew it. So I would travel, which was something I was good at, and maybe, with luck and by design there would be a new woman to love – and the sooner the better. I had come back to Southeast Asia with what was meant to be a hot new book contract, and some almost adequate advance money, to do two books. I was kidding myself that I really wanted to do these books – journalist type things – one on American ambassadors and the other, more congenial to me, on American expatriates. To supplement the advance money, which more and more clearly was inadequate, my editor had gotten a ticket to Bangkok for me from someone at SAS who owed him a favor. And then I had talked a nice lady who flacked for Intercontinental Hotels into giving me free rooms everywhere on the verbal understanding that the hotels I used could be mentioned in these books (something I suspected I would not honor).

As I moved about, old characters and new ones came into the story as, for a start, I moved through Singapore and Thailand and Indonesia – and I was thinking that this was where I was meant to be. I was thinking this in part because I had spent some of those seven years away based in Beirut, which was noisy where Southeast Asia was silent
crowded and pushy where Southeast Asia was free flowing and polite and graceful – violent where Southeast Asia, despite its wars, seemed pacific – Beirut with its pretensions and false Frenchness and its assassins and militias – the Middle East in so many aspects as ugly and fake as Southeast Asia was beautiful and, with some effort my part, as erotic and exotic as a free-flowing fantasy. And the years away had not just been in the Middle East, though the only part I reallyi liked has been brief trips to Latin Countries.

It was in this time that my novel came out and its publication was surprisingly depressing for me. Since Beirut I had been living partly in a musty hotel near the sorry old State Department in Washington, the world’s most mundane place, and partly in a cheap room I rented in a condemned Upper West Side floor-through inhabited by sixties hold-over Maoists and Soviet Communists and Anarchists.

But now I was back in worlds of excitement – first Bangkok which surely I had immortalized in that one published novel (which I had thought would give me safety) and other published books – published, my God, which was what separated me from the crowd, though I was not convinced of it - no more safety than from the hack books I did, including horribly genteel school library-type books and also soft core porn. Yet I was back now in that part of the world I had so longed for in dreary, hazy times in the Middle East and l Washington, and also New York, which was an unrealized place for me this time. I was back, and I had never felt so alone. For one thing, the guys I had known had mostly married, mostly to lovely Asian girls, while I had been away, and I had turned forty and serious romance was deep in the past. I felt as if the seven years was a lost time, lost to booze and places and people I had never loved.

I did not make any family connections with anything – neither the mysterious blackness that could overtake me, neither that, nor anything else. I had not, for example, quite pinpointed such a grim matter as how the anti-Semitism in Beirut’s Western press corps was of a piece with background bigotry when I was growing up in family times and family places about which I had never written and had almost succeeded in putting out of mind.

I was exhilarated and also lonely and bereft now as I was traversing old ground looking for what had been there. By the time of this return, I had not been in love in seven years, not even to the point of faking it. And, that time away – it just felt like lost years now. Not that this was the first time I was lonely, but for the first time now I was ready, almost, to admit it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


On good days when I was 22 it seemed as if I had come a very long way from early times when I was at the bottom of the heap, and a few more recent times in circles run by bullies and potential bullies – as in a boisterous rich guy in our summer exchange group in Holland when I was 17 – and later some encounters with Republican jocks at Princeton – but for the most part I thought I was as far as you could be from the horror of my early days – the sadistic camp counselors, the militaristic society kids in that year we spent in the city – those times, like at the start in boarding school, where it was as if I were so far beneath contempt that anyone could do anything they wanted to me – as it seemed sometimes too in the bosom of the family in Connecticut. But it also seemed I had come so very far from those times as to be forever safe.

I had had my summers in Europe. I had had this amazing girlfriend I met in the White Mountains. I had spent a large part of my college days away in various part of New York not inhabited by dumb, Republican Princeton people, and certainly not by people from the family. And in the months since then I had been so very far out in the world – I was in Indianapolis covering right wing politics for United Press, dealing with the one-time Klan people who ran the state including a dapper senator named Jenner, who had been passed the mantle of the recently disgraced Joe McCarthy. And I was having the time of my life, getting into every corner, things licit and illicit, of that city that was so far out of my experience – me on my own now, all preordained family and school things behind me.

Four separate railroad companies ran tracks from Indianapolis to Chicago – it was that easy to get out if leaving Hoosiers behind was your goal. On weekends up there I was in the beat world I had read about, and I had Second City, the College of Complexes, jazz and strippers and South Side blues, and Hopper at the Art Institute – and girls sometimes, and also a society of people from the old left United Electrical Workers. On my own, paying my own way and exhilarated by it. Some mornings I would wake up in my brick rooming house, where I wrote an unpublishable novel, and find myself wildly angry at the far away family that no longer paid for me. Then I would step out onto North Pennsylvania Avenue and head down past the old Claypool Hotel, which smelled of cigar smokes even from the outside, and then gypsy storefronts to the Indianapolis Times building in the midst of one of the city's skid rows, and the world would seem light and bright.

But the darkness was not always at bay, and finally came in almost to consume me. I would wander the streets all night – past the Neuremburg-like back marble eagles and pillars of the two-block-long American Legion headquarters, and the old raidroad station, and the stockyards, and the little hotels that filled up with wonderful young whores when the legislature was in session – wandering through the night feeling harsh and hopeless. And there was a night when – my draft notice having arrived in Connecticut (as I was informed in oddly prissy tones on the phone with my father) – I got on a plane to Miami at 2 in the morning, and from there switched to an empty Air Cubana flight to Havana, where tanks were in the street and everyone knew now that Castro was alive down in the Sierra Maestre. But I got caught on the edge of the mountains by sweaty fat government men with tommy guns, and so did not get to Castro, but made my way back to Havana for three weeks drinking and much more, in dance places and brothels, with especially fine girls in rooms above the waterfront bars – and dangerous nights with fisherman from Cojimar in small boats out of sight of land, once landing a shark who seemed to have the advantage, but not failing to stop at a little harbor island girl place on the way out into the Gulf of Mexico. This was living.

The moment I got back to Connecticut I was in a depression so deep I did not have a word for it – a black time of hopelessness way beyond anything I could imagine. Indianapolis had never existed, Cuba was a dream, so were the girls, and so was my wire service e career, and so too my projected life as a novelist. So since nothing mattered I did go into the army, lined up in Bridgeport for to Ft. Dix, and from there a train to Ft. Benning.

Before then, as the induction day drew closer, some fear did penetrate the blackness. All the descriptions I had read of basic training and the rest of that military idiocy – as in James Jones – seemed just like descriptions of my worst times in summer camp and school.

But to my surprise, almost to my horror that the army might be responsible, the moment I was on the army bus the blackness lifted.
I was top of the world here in basic training, as if, though I would not admit this, nothing could be better.

I almost wished it would be the expected James Jones world, but it was actually a good time, a lively group of draftees, officers who feared us more than we feared them since it was between wars and many were being asked to leave the army and might well have to go to people like us while looking for civilian work. Everything was still there to make it just like school or summer camp, but the army never had the power of those deep past places. Much of the time we sat around smoking so as to be kept out of sight, we uncaring and slovenly reluctant draftees, from touring delegations of foreign offiers in fancy uniforms broughg to Amrica because of the grim Eisenhower/Dulles allilances – SEATO, CENTO, a pumped up NATO – for American hegemony.

Ocasionally we put out our cigarettes and would be brought back form hiding. Every once in a while we would actully line up to do calisthenics. I would not rise off the ground in the pushups part. The harried officer leading us yelled “What are ya doing Poole, social exorcises?” And the laughing crowed was on my side, not his.

Others were, however, on the bottom of the heap here as I had once been elsewhere. And we had in our company a bully who reminded my of the raw sadistic hockey players at boarding school who would spit insults at me as one of them twisted my arm till I thought it would break. And this army bully was like the camp counselors when I was 8. And yet this wasn’t terrifying for me, though it was for some. They were picking on a fat momma's boy sort of guy who really could not keep up, and I stepped in and told them to stop, and the did! It seemed the most natural thing it he world – not scary the way facing the enemy down had been when I was younger and not on my own. The army in the deep South, my version, was very tame compared to an Episcopalian boarding school in New England.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 50 – ROYALTY

As I drove through those places of my childhood, I thought of when in adolescence I became so interested in so many things – politics and poetry and dangerous adventures and European trains, and wilderness camping and really appealing young women – I wanted to be on top of events like my grandfather had been as an early Socialist working on exposés in Chicago with Upton Sinclair, and living in the heart of New York’s lower East Side when he was with the settlement house movement, and actively organizing for the Socialists, and then being reported lost and feared dead in the Kerensky phase of the Russian Revolution, which was more moderate than the Lenin phase but also chaotic and idealistic and dangerous.

I though of how I had tried hard to put that together with the man I knew to be often kindly but also so often tired, ill or angry, and who would emerge from his fabled writer’s study not with new chapters but with something he had learned from a stock tip sheet called the Kiplinger Letter which he thought would help him revive the tidy fortune he had lost in the stock market crash before I was born, and had kept him busy ever since trying to be his own stockbroker. And then that final year up in the mountains after his final stroke.

For it took me a long time to see that nothing was exactly how it seemed in the world I came from – especially the New Hampshire part, which consumed only the summers until I was in a New Hampshire boarding school in the winters. The summers remained the officially important time, even as I came into my own in the winters. The summers in those grand and formal family houses in the mountains, clearly the base for the people from whom I came and hence the people who, I could not help thinking, might in the end provide a margin of safety for me – the way my grandfather's Pulitzer was taken as providing safety for all of them.

In books, people who went to these stiff colleges, and lived in these big formal places with such ease that they called them cottages, in books such people were confident in their privileged state. And sometimes it almost seemed that way in life. Here in the White Mountains they spoke with what seemed to be English accents even though they were not from England. The only one who had lived in England for any time was my seductive Aunt Betsy, who had married a young architect there who went into the RAF, and was killed early in the war, before America was in it, supposedly fighting in the Battle of Britain but actually killed in a drunk flying accident when he and a buddy had broken into an air field and tried to take up a flimsy trainer plane. But she had his new RAF wings made into costume jewelry which she wore with showy pride. She had been pregnant at that time of the air crash, and she told her son when he was old enough to understand that he was the son of a war hero. And no one up there in New Hampshire said otherwise. In fact, they backed her up.

In retrospect, they were not confident people, Ivy League club members who traveled life with ease. In retrospect they were not so confident as they seemed to me. In retrospect, I should have looked closer at the people they made fun of.

When I was in college, I once took along to dinner at my grandmother’s place on East 66th Street my roommate, a young man from upstate New York on his way to a successful life at the top. Her sister, my Great Aunt Katherine, was there. She was a bubbly, still pretty, woman who had been married to an alcoholic playwright who had had some Broadway successes, then chased a bevy of girls to Hollywood and was never heard from again. At dinner she talked about World War I when she entertained the boys, as she put it, gave them merry times, performed French songs. I was surprised when my roommate turned out to be so enthusiastic about her – this intelligent and charming woman, he said – for in the family she was dismissed as lightweight. As was her current husband, who in retrospect gave me more than I had realized – Uncle Jehan, Jehan Sesodia, son of a maharaja, they said (in circles where black men were fine if they were from far away cultures and bore titles, such as his, which was "Prince," Prince Sesodia, as Aunt Katherine was Princess Sesodia – often referred to by non-family people simply as the Prince and the Princess). The beginning of stories I must write now. The Prince and the Princess being in retrospect the most charming people in the dramatic personae of this family.

I tried to think for a time that Uncle Jehan and Aunt Katherine were something very minor and silly, for that was the sort of thinking upon which this family staked its place in the world – not least because my grandparents lived not among writers and artists but among the pedigreed summer people (real people, they said) of the White Mountains, whose little, restricted communities were as far away from Kerensky or the Lower East Side, or real war heroes or saucy French songs as you could get.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Living here in this Catskills town, Woodstock, that in so many ways really is what its enthusiasts claim it to be, a colony of the arts, from way, way back when a major art colony was founded here, right up through almost every good thing connected with the sixties being found here – the music, the politics, some of the spiritual movements, the painting, matters hallucinogenic and matters in that new world of sex.

Living here I found that not everyone was enthusiastic about all this. When I got into local politics, I saw the other side come out – the people whose families have always been here, and who work in excavation or building or services such as the maintenance of septic systems, men who do exactly what their fathers do – and could be considered the enemy. I didn’t want this divide, but it was there, as I found when involved in caucus fights and was part of a committee aimed at saving land that the old guard badly wanted paved over. This other side, local people who had never left for bigger worlds, acting as if there were some point to making this place as bad and profitable as Florida. But still, that part, that old guard part, could be seen as little more than a subculture in the more than a century since the artists settled here in force, almost half a century since the name Woodstock became synonymous with art and freedom. Maybe.

Recently I went to pay a bill at Paul’s Auto of Beaverkill, the best automobile service place for many miles around, just outside Woodstock in the Catskills, run by a frequently jolly fat guy named Paul, who does the important work himself but supervises other mechanics too, and his homey wife Sally, who runs the office and handles the accounts, sometimes with the help of a very pleasant grown daughter who sometimes stays with them in their apartment above the garage.

I had rarely seen Paul and Sally outside the garage. I did see them appear once in our town’s library, where so many of the local writers get assistance, for a vote on the library budget. They were clearly among the local righted-wingers who never enter the library except to vote against budgets. They walked in steely eyed and uncommunicative, but that was not how they usually seemed. Generally their eyes showed good humor and usually they were garrulous.

I hadn’t seen Paul and Sally for some time because money was a problem and we were overextended with them. But I expected a fine reunion now since I was carrying cash to pay with interest what we owed them. Yet they were not at all friendly. Worse than that day in the library. They looked at me with hatred. Not looking me in the eye, but rather with their eyes fixed on my Obama button. And I realized that there were Obama and Obama-Biden bumper stickers on the back of our little Toyota, and another that said "POLAR BEARS VOTE DEMOCRATIC", and the front bumper had a bright “YES WE CAN” sticker.

It began to seem like the harsh divide in the New Hampshire of my youth between the people from bigger worlds and the people who had always lived up there in the beautiful if stark White Mountains. I had thought that here it was different from New Hampshire, for in Woodstock the newcomers tended to be free-wheeling artist sorts, often living in houses they had made themselves by hand, while in northern New Hampshire the people from the city lived in huge formal houses, and tended to out-Republican the locals. Both sides agreed on such crucial matters as the dangers of Roosevelt and the need to keep Jews away – but otherwise the sides never came together except when the local people were providing services to the well-do-do summer home owners.

But maybe that was not the whole picture up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. On a recent trip there Marta and I went to the old maple sugar store that I used to delight in when a child. It had for some time now been a bustling, mostly outdoor, pancake restaurant catering to tourists who passed through. But it was still run by the same families, the Aldrishes and the Dexters, who were the area’s main retail merchants. Sitting by the cash register was a very old man I recognized as Mr. Aldrich, who, when I was a child and he was running a small grocery store, had seemed to me already very old.

There was something new here, however. In front of the counter was a display of small self-published books Mr. Aldrich had written. I, feeling, I fear, condescending, purchased one of them. It was about life and lore here in the White Mountains.

When I finally opened it some week later what I came upon was a history that pinpointed another place the two groups I had found so separate, the summer people and the local people, came together. Kindly rich men from the city often bedded their maids, old Mr. Aldrich says in the book. He says that if you look around, you will notice how so many of the local people and the summer city people look so much like each other.

I now, in the rare times I am up there, search for my own face.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 49 – BRAVERY?

Sex was looming despite the restrictions of the time – late forties and early fifties – and despite the place, this old-line, all boys boarding school that, nonetheless, was a bare hour away from a sister school, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains. There were rare times for fraternizing, an occasional get-together for a dance, or for a joint glee club concert (to which I went as a spectator), or something entailing cold weather sports, which I could not do at all, though for the sake of female company I could sometimes bluff it. And young Janie Doolittle from St. Mary's, as young as I was, showed me things that were at that point beyond what I knew but not so far beyond that I could not catch up. That was what happened in one compartment of my life. In another, my roommate moved out on me. I became the only boy in the school without a roommate. It was as if my unpopularity were a contagious disease.

But I had found Keats and Wordsworth, and I was writing romantic poems of my own, mostly about situations with girls I had met only in imagination, but some about my actual life – which would soon include my great love Kitty from the summers in the mountains. But each night when I appeared in my dormitory, they would set upon me, and the most vicious, Hector, a raw hockey player from Massachusetts, would come in when they threw me down and he would twist my arm back demanding I surrender – just like Murdock, except this school was my whole world, there was no Park Avenue mother to walk in. Eventually, each, night, as the pain became worse than unbearable, I would shame myself by surrendering.

But there was also more on the plus side than poetry. I had started taking part in debating, and the coach who was also the English teacher and my first real world non-family mentor, told me I would have to deal with the fact that, contrary to what I had been told in the past, and really believed, I was at least as smart as, maybe smarter than, my so far uniquely talented twin brother, who in the family was the chosen one, and the families position had been ratified by all three schools we had by by now now attended together. And I began to win debates – would be on the varsity and bring home debate trophies while still 15 – but the reality of those victories did not overwhelm other realities. They were still going to kill me.

Each boy in the school has a job to do in the kitchen or on the grounds or in chapel or the gym or the building we called the Schoolhouse. Mine at that time was to sweep up at night in the Schoolhouse, the musty old building where we had our classes. It had once been an actual New England one-room schoolhouse. Classrooms now circled the original big room, which was now the assembly room and recently for me the place I had to go at night for compulsory study hall, which was only for boys who could not keep up. Now I had suddenly passed everyone with good grades – something that had never happened before in any other school I had been in. Before this time I had rarely had any idea what any teacher was taking about.

Alone at night in the Schoolhouse, sweeping up, I sang songs I got from movies – especially Ole Man River, which was about a suffering man on the Mississippi. I sang even though I had been denied entry to the glee club, told I would never have music. I sang loudly, in a time my voice was getting lower day by day, and when I sang I could almost forget what awaited me back at the dorm.

Then one crucial night I suddenly decided that I would not surrender no matter what they did. My arm would break, and blood would spurt from me, but I would not give them the satisfaction of seeing me give in.

There must have been something about the way I walked into the dorm that night, for they did not jump me, and Hector not twist my arm that night, and in fact never did it again.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I tried to keep it arms’ length – this possible being in love thing – this being in love again thing – I tried to keep it at arms’ length. This was what I said to myself with some confidence – or was I just saying this to increase the tension and thus the enjoyment, as in delayed ejaculation/gratification. As I drove in my seventh decade – carrying little volumes of Keats and Wordsworth with me – driving the 70 miles back from her place one of those first times.

We lived an hour and half away from each other – I in a Catskills town that was in large part, though not totally, in the spirit of being a colony of the arts, my house beneath a mountain that was the opposite of the harsh granite mountains of my dangerous childhood further north – this house where the workshops had now begun – and her town was all boarded stores and shuttered cottage colonies and other depressing rural poverty more extreme even than the ordinary people’s poverty in the New Hampshire towns of my youth.

She had been coming to Woodstock for two years and we had been writing together and I had been sneaking looks at her – so lithe and smooth, and with high cheekbones too – trying not to be caught at it, keeping to the business at hand, which was writing and not mating – trying so diligently to be professional about it.

And I would drive back from where she live elated – saying to myself, trying it out aloud – I do not want to fall in love – I will not fall in love.

When I was in my early teens and moving fast though imprisoned in an old line Anglophile New Hampshire boarding school, not in the White Mountains but in New Hampshire’s far more gentle lake country – still the far north – reading Keats and Wordsworth and watching the seasons change – and ferociously overcoming the cruel boy’s boarding school culture by triumphing in near bullying competitive debating – filling up the school’s trophy case with woods and brass and plastic idols, each topped by a not very representational brass, apparently nude, young woman holding a brass laurel wreath high above her head and even higher above the pitiful little sports trophies down below her.

All of this mixed up with learning to kiss with tongues with a nicely plump girl named Dilly from our distant sister boarding school, and then my true love Kitty of the summers, who seemed a real and also symbolic confirmation of the life I had wanted to enter.

All tied up with Keats and Wordsworth.

And now after so much passing time. Because we lived an hour and half apart, much of the courtship was by this new e-mail – and so it was just like Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning who wrote each other in London at a time there were half a dozen mail deliveries in a day – so you could send a letter to your beloved in the morning knowing she would read it and probably write back before the day was over.

Just like the Brownings – this e-mail., this time, this woman – so different from all the women – including two to whom I had been married – and I drove, happier than I had ever been before, finally maybe where I wanted to be – saying out loud I will not fall in love, I will not fall in love – saying it still well after I had fallen in love – as clear as the Catskill skies, it seemed. In love – a line I had always wanted to use – in love for the last time.

The Aqua Mustang 48 – OLD THINGS

Things that never went away, faded out sometimes but were always there somewhere, even as I moved through Vermont’s fields of clover a near lifetime later. Things like being the class dullard, and refusing to fight a boy weaker than myself, at the Horace C. Hurlbutt Jr. school way back in childhood in this Weston, Connecticut elementary school where, as in the family, my brother was deemed the twin with charm and brains and I was the hopeless bad twin. Worse still, my state one December at the Hanover Inn Ski School where I could not figure out how to ski and was caught out thinking I could bluff it. And later treated with cruel contempt at the outset at Holderness, my New Hampshire Anglo boarding school, where with deep dull-witted irony they called me “Speedy” until I climbed over them, kicking as I went. And always that sixth grade year when we moved to the city, and I would not give in and so went after school with 11-year-old would-be aristocratic Allen Stevenson boys to big Murdock’s Park Avenue apartment, where I did not surrender as he was beating me senseless, pounding and pounding, pain and horror, I thought I would die but still did not give up, and Murdock did not stop until his society matron mother came home unexpectedly.

When I was at Princeton a new novel came out that was getting a lot of attention – partly because it was published as part of a much heralded experiment by a new house called Ballantine that would issue simultaneous hard cover and paperback editions of the same book. This one, among Ballantine’s first in this format, was intriguing to me because it was a novel that seemed like a memoir – which was confirmed in the jacket copy – by a guy who had been at Princeton, and had not been on the Daily Princetonian, which was galling to classmates later when he became a successful journalist with no help from his old college. Although he did not seem to credit Princeton much, he was clearly still obsessed with the place, and he did not bury his Princeton years. All through his life – including when his beloved wife went to prison for mowing down a group of children with a car she was driving drunkenly, he kept on reading the Princeton Alumni Weekly – turning while still young to the specific happenings reported in his year’s class notes, which were about clubs and Republican politics and golf and mini-reunions taking place in pretentious suburbs in Ohio and the dullest parts of London. More interesting to him then the events recorded there was that he tracked how his classmates aged, as seen by how their class notes column was moved further and further back in the magazine to the point where they were with older and older loyal Princetonians. Eventually he stopped turning first to the class notes and turned first instead to the obituaries.

Me, I tried to edit out childhood. I tried to edit out Holderness, where actually I came into my own, my life saved, but to be correct had to later trash the place because it could be mistaken for one of those Anglophile, Episcopal, all boys New England boarding schools that ape their British models and hence, as in Anglo literary tradition, were hard and cruel places ripe for parody. I had eventually triumphed in boarding school, my life saved, and then college was supposed to be very, very different, and I tried to think of college as better than it was, and so a few years went by before I started editing out Princeton, which was well before I redid my version and started happily trashing the gray, cold place as I wrote more deeply about my life.

One spring day close to our graduation there was a senior class barbecue held on massive gray flagstones between big, harsh, colorless fake Gothic buildings that overshadowed an inviting, out of context, small, yellow clapboard house where I worked on the Daily Princetonian. I was thinking about my work on the paper as I stepped towards one of the grills. Just then my name was shouted by someone with a deep fruity threatening Anglo-like voice. “No cheating, Poole. Back of the line, Poole. Follow the rules, Poole.” I thought I had never seen this big smirking guy though it seemed he was one of my 700 classmates.

And as if a cold wind had just blown through me I realized that right now, all this time later, in this new college time of seeming safety, just before my planned entry into the world as a novelist, adventurer and lover of fine women, right here on what should be the threshold, I was being bullied by, just like in sixth grade, the very same Murdock. Would any place ever be safe?


There is no way to stop the Princeton Alumni Weekly from coming. No matter how often I moved, never filling out change of address forms, it followed me – its letters columns full of old grads fulminating about the horrors of diversity, most of its pages devoted to sports news, eventually involving young women too. In the class notes I see names that are sometimes familiar, but sometimes unfamiliar names of college boys whose spheres at college did not connect with mine – just as when at that senior class barbecue I realized that in four years I had not noticed that the dreadful Murdock of my deep past was in my class, in effect in my life as he had been when we were children.

I find it hard to throw that silly alumni magazine away before making a quick check. I am one of those old grads, if an extremely disloyal one, who goes first to the obituaries.

And there a couple of years ago in the columns about dead Princetonians was Murdock, my tormentor from the 6th grade who turned up in my college class. He had died a little young but he had died fulfilled, the obit said – mentioning his socially rarefied anti-Semitic undergraduate eating club, Ivy (which was as far as anything could be from the sphere I was in). Murdock’s obit talked about his loyalty to Princeton, his regular attendance when in the country at the football games, his satisfying and completely fulfilled life as a corporate man, golfer and international big game hunter.

Monday, October 13, 2008


There were no colored people living on their own in Weston, Connecticut, no more than there were colored people over in Ridgefield in the Silver Spring Country Club, which did not have Jews either. Colored people lived in the nearby bigger and more plebian town of Norwalk. They did come to Weston, however, as maids.

Grandmother Clark, whose room was across the hall from mine, warned me not to leave out where it could be seen the silver dollar she had given me. Mother, who was down at the far end of the hall, said the reason was that Negroes could not resist shiny objects. And sure enough, I left the silver dollar on my bedside table and in the evening I saw that it has disappeared. But for some reason I drew no conclusions from this.

I objected to Dad insisting when once he and Peter and drove into Westport with the colored maid that she sit in the back seat. They like it better that way, he said. Dad was furious at me. Just as when at our hotel in Paris when we came down to dinner we saw that the cut flowers at our table that night were black-eyed Susan’s. “Nigger eyes,” Grandmother Clark., who traveled with us, said loudly in her Southern accent. Then, apparently noting the expression on my face she sat up straight and said, just as loudly, I have always called them nigger eyes and I always will. Dad took me aside and said I should stop causing trouble.

I had noticed in myself that I had not drawn any conclusions from the disappearance of the silver dollar. This was perhaps because what they said about outsiders made no sense even when there was seeming evidence.

When mother was in one of her mournful rants – as in the war will go on forever and nothing will ever be any good – her rant could turn a corner and land on the Irish. The Irish are dirty, she would say. I did not see any sign of any Irish around, except for Jim O’Malley, who we called Uncle Jim. But he and had been at Princeton with Dad and also sometimes summered in the White Mountains, so he was did not count. The biggest threat was from the Italians. Many lived in Saugatuck, about four miles away but distant in spirit. Saugatuck’s main purpose was that it was the place where commuters, like Dad, caught the New York, Hartford & New Haven Railroad trains into the city every day. The only time we were there not to catch or meet a train was at the St. Anthony’s festival – succulent food and fireworks that were better than anything the non-Italians could set off on the Fourth of July in the nearby but very different town of Westport. And further away in the big, rough city of Bridgeport (which was where we the bad kids would go when we played hooky) there were Italians everywhere. The problem, for the people in our town was that the Italians were not really white people. They were swarthy and uneducated. Once a carload of Italians boys had stopped on our road near the place were we sent swimming and they themselves actually went swimming. From the way my parents talked they lived in terror of further invasions by what the called those boys from Bridgeport.

Once we had a vibrant white maid, Emmy Defoe, who had been to Vassar long ago and had once been married briefly to a famous alcoholic Broadway playwright and was now married to Joe the garbage man. This had to do with radical things going on at Vassar in the thirties, Mother said. Joe certainly did not live with us, but he visited Emmy in her damp room behind the kitchen, from which came loud laugher. My brother Peter and I concluded Old Joe and Emmy were fucking – which made our house a much interesting place. Joe had a daughter with the sexy name Yvonne who was as smooth, and already curvy, as those terrific villainess Mexican bar girls who sometimes turned up in Westerns. Smooth and olive skinned with black hair that fell around her shiny smooth shoulders. She was put in our eighth grade class but she was absent a lot and had no friends in our school. The other girls had names like Emily and Mary Ellen. We boys when we were at Compo Beach would take up positions from which we could stare at Yvonne, who wore a black bathing suit so tight on her body that she looked like a Varga girl out of Esquire – and was always surrounded by dark older boys who must have been from Bridgeport.

I though that when I grew up I would spend a lot of time Italy. So it did not seem out of the way that in my teens I lost my virginity at a Roman brothel to a not-so-young girl who appeared in the reception room in a skin-tight swim suit.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 47 – THE SMELL AND THE FEEL

The smell of blood. The smell and the feel of a woman’s soft skin. Somewhere far in the past. Neither ever seemed far away, wherever I found myself – as in this room for servants in the main part of the big house, White Pines.

I and my twin brother had been moved from the Boys’ Wing, where there were beaverboard walls and early century travel posters, to two separate bare floor upstairs bedrooms where the servants, who now slept in the village, has once been quartered. This area was sealed off from the upstairs of the formal part of the house, where there were fancy rugs and mountain view guest rooms, and the separate bedrooms, really suites, for our grandparents Gaga and Nana.

The Boys’ Wing was off beyond the kitchen and pantries. It included a room for a nurse or governess, and a big room for boys that had many beds and beaverboard walls on which were tacked very old travel posters for shipping lines and European places that had been family favorites before World War I but seemed contemporary in this place. Down below there was a dark bare room called a playroom that did not interest us much, and also a spacious garage, and behind the garage a large, high, thick-walled ice house from when refrigeration was not yet reliable.

On my last dark night in the Boys’ Wing that summer I had heard raised voices, maybe screams, certainly shouts, and the sound of people running and then car motors starting, and I knew it was as bad as or worse than anything I could image because the next day they would not tell me anything about it. They acted as if the seeming emergency was just something in my and my brothers’ heads. But they did decide to move us, so we knew better.

Now at least I was on the same floor where the others slept, though they came up on a curving carpeted stairway while I came up a steep and bare back staircase that led up from a pantry room where there was a wood-enclosed box in which, behind glass, a number would drop down if someone from one of the main houses’ non-servant bedrooms should ring.

Many parts of my life did not seem scary up here in New Hampshire around the houses and the woods owned by my grandparents. In fact I thought this place brought me comfort, or at least I thought I should think it did. We would walk with Gaga – he always had a cane, and a floppy sun hat with green isinglass in the brim. We would check the level of what they called our reservoirs, two reservoir off in different parts of the woods, big rectangular well tanks that had walls and roofs. Gaga would say everyone had to take only very shallow baths because soon there might be no water at all if we were wasteful.

Almost every day we also walked all the way to Sugar Hill Village where, after going along a wooden sidewalk on one side of the street, we would cross to the post office, which was also a shop, on the other side. There Gaga usually gave me a dime to get a comic book, and I would put myself right into the adventures or Little Lulu and the Little King, or Mickey and Minnie or Donald and Daisy and Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey and Louie, and also some adult adventures, especially with Dick Tracy, whose world did not scare me because I did not believe in the reality of any of the funny criminals he tracked with his marvelous wrist radio.

And there was glamour not so far from the house and the servants' quarters. About a half mile away, but still on the property, my grandparents owned an attractively rustic brown shingled building that they called the Playhouse. It had a stage and small dressing rooms, and a smooth floor once used for dances. Peter and I would go there sometimes. It was deserted. But on the edge of the stage there was still an old box of corn meal, to be spread on the floor so dancers could slide easily.

We were to understand that all this was mostly something of the past, not for the present. But while I was in the servants’ quarters America entered the war and so a benefit dance was held at the Playhouse for the Red Cross. Japanese lanterns led to the reactivated entrance, the biggest of the glass doors from the porch that surrounded the building, a little like a miniature version of the town’s sprawling old Sunset Hill House Hotel. Peter and I were in bed, but Aunt Alice, who was shiny smooth and somewhat dark and was always laughing, came up to say goodnight to us. She was in a long summer dress that displayed her appealing skin, as was light-skinned Cousin Nancy, who was married to Cousin Tommy, who was now in the Navy and went around in a fancy white uniform with gold on the epaulets.

Betsy, followed by Nancy. And all the feeling that this aroused – which in memory had to do with a naked woman. I was seven years old. For years afterwards I could not remember why I remembered what I remembered.

Friday, October 3, 2008


This morning many hyper-conventional, empty-suit commentators are saying that the bloodthirsty and scandalously uneducated governor of Alaska did herself good in her debate last night with Joe Biden. No matter that she lied and lied and lied. And did not link her lies to anything beyond what she was told by her handlers, not even to the subjects raised in the debate.

These journalists remind me of petty little social studies teachers judging a high school debate and naming as winner, “on points,” not who convinced them of anything but rather who was on the side that, in their cynical world view, always wins.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 46 - REAL GIRL

I was working for UPI at night over in Newark that first summer that I had my first place in the city. I was living on 13th Street between First and Second, then 11th between Second and Third, which was really the Bowery. This so long ago it was not called the East Village yet. I was living among people who seemed very much like me, and also actual Puerto Ricans, on what could pass for the Lower East Side.

So I wasn’t merely a wire service reporter. I was really the author of one and a half still unpublished novels, and I was leading this little group who had decided we would start a magazine that picked up from where The New Yorker had once been, which had been on top of its era to the same extent that it was mostly irrelevant now with its stories that usually avoided big themes and that went nowhere.

Then Vannie. I met Vannie at a party near Gramercy Park after my shift, just back to Manhattan via the Hudson tubes, where I had been reading The Myth of Sisyphus. Vannie. It would last, sometimes close, here and also abroad, for a number of years. She fit what I hoped would be the picture. She was an action painter who knew how to be in leotards. She had what seemed to me a face of movie loveliness, framed by soft black hair and with bangs. I thought I had never seen anyone who looked quite so perfect – and so different from the people in the family I came from.

When walking alone in that first year, noticing girls, I was getting competitive about it – for no pretty girl I saw strucke me as being as pretty as this pretty girl who was my girlfriend.

Vannie and my real life, what I really wanted, whereas wire service journalism was something I had to fake. My serious unpublished work, and my plan to unseat The New Yorker. Though overall I felt contempt for it, I still read The New Yorker, and each new Salinger story was like a major event in my life. We were into the Glass family now. But to my horror I saw in a new issue a full page cartoon that showed a couple, a guy who did not have to deal with neckties and a girl dressed like Vannie dressed, sitting on the floor at a smoky bohemian party not unlike some parities we went to – and he was saying “ I have a confession to make. I am a feature writer for Scripps Howard.”

I was given silly assignments, like one to stand all night outside an apartment house on the chance that Charles Van Doren, at the center of the rigged quiz show scandal, would show up. His building was not far from Vannie's. I abandoned my post, and I woke her up. And we were a couple, though we had our problems actually coupling, and I saw no need for loyalty because I had seen in my family how women bully men. Which seemed to me then not so much an excuse for my going after other women as it was an attempt at accuracy. At getting life right.

And it did often feel like I was in real life now. Vannie and I went to museums and galleries and constant parties, which were more my scene than hers. She was constantly in my mind. As was death. Working for a wire service I was always hearing and writing about death, as in plane crashes or murders. And each time I heard about it, just as each time I passed a graveyard, I had this sudden picture of Vannie accompanied with a sexual surge. One of many things I knew I could never completely understand.

One day we were on our way to Washington to see paintings. I had barely made it to Penn station in time to meet her, for I had been held up at UPI. Boris Pasternak was dying and, though he was not dead yet, I was at work on his obituary.

Vannie has brought a picnic lunch for us. The train was not crowded, so we took over two facing seats. As happened sometimes, I was not thinking of anything or anyone beyond this moment. While we were laughing at something, the conductor handed us a folded note. It was unsigned. It said, "It makes me happy to see two young people who are so happy together."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 45 – GIRL WITH PALE EYES

One day in October in this new time – no more school, no more army – one day thinking I was of New York now and not just in it, I walked along Central Park South and saw the Plaza, and then the horse carriages on the park side of the avenue, something that had not been part of my childhood but still brought on these powerful feelings of nostalgia. And saw, as if it were a part of my actual history, a hotel's doormen and baggage men in what looked like French army costumes. Saw through Rumplemeyer’s plate glass windows people eating big ice cream concoctions beneath large shiny toy bears and dogs and deer and pandas – something else I had never seen when in the city in actual childhood.

At sunset I passed this lovely tall girl who was gliding the other way. Delicate but also statuesque and with a confidence in her bearing that made her foreign to me – from some wondrous sphere – whatever her nationality – very light blond hair that may or may not have been natural and was an erotic touch either way – and very white and perfect skin – high cheek bones – full lips that betrayed no feeling – and eyes so light they had snow from some far northern place in them. All this tinged with the oranges and lavenders of the sunset colors from the sky on the street and in the park.

And suddenly I felt what might, I hoped, be not so much despair as absurdity, something, I hoped, that would be okay with Camus, my current literary hero who had moved absurdity up to the highest level.

But suddenly I knew it was not that easy, knew I would have to fight. The way some people had to fight against suicide. I would have to fight against what seemed all to real now, the proposition that no matter what I did, that nothing in the world I had now could hold together.

Looking at the girl beneath that sky with Rumplemeyer’s behind me I was in the midst of sadness that, if I should ever let myself cry – which I wouldn’t – sadness that would have no end.

Sadness that was worse than feeling nothing.

I moved on to the Oak Room Bar. As I walked, I lit a fresh cigarette from the one I was about to put out, hoping I did it well.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 44 – DANCING GIRL

In that time after Africa, after San Francisco, during and after the Kennedy assassination while I was still with Kim but sometimes with Lottie who danced under the name Princess Aisha at the Egyptian gardens – with Lottie in the Madison Square Hotel where the lobby TV played and replayed assassination details, and deep in the night my sheets were clammy and bright red with her monthly blood – and we made so much noise that the elderly permanent residents left notes under my door about what a nice place this had been until I came to live here – and then Kim was pregnant and I called in sick to Time-Life two days after I’d started there, and we went to Puerto Rico for the abortion but had to stay out of the sun, fearing tans, because she still saw her husband and if he knew about this he would have the upper hand – and at Time-Life I should be pale after telling them my absence was due to flu.

And sometimes ultra-cute Sue, who had been in Athens just after me and dealt with the same expats, so it felt like we had crossed paths already.

In this time after Kim and I got back and everything was going wrong we still met in trysting style. I found a small but pleasing ground-floor apartment on Waverly Place. Lottie danced and disrobed there while I was on the phone to my parents, who were such a threat and an embarrassment to me. As Princess Aisha’s panties landed on the coffee table while my father was telling me that Sandra Donaldson, whom I had known in childhood as a cruel little black-freckled girl on the school bus, had become, in adulthood, a sought-after fashion model.

One morning Kim climbed through my ground-floor window when she suspected, correctly, that I was in bed with Sue.

I would go to the cavernous, Egyptian Gardens, which had a touch of evil, its darkness and its underworld patrons. I would walk in near midnight thinking I could be Humphrey Bogart. From the bar I sent a note up to the stage where when not dancing Lottie sat, almost demure, spangled and as smooth as if her skin were oiled, sitting, when not dancing, in a row of musicians and dancers much older than she was. I had met her when I was doing a try-out for the then liberal New York Post and had been assigned a common tabloid feature – nice Jewish grad student works at night as a belly dancer. In this time when the sixties were about to crest but belly dancing was for tabloid readers akin to stripping. Very late, after her last erotic dance of the night, we would go to an upstairs Greek after-hours place where they looked you over through an opening in the door and you drank ouzo from coffee cups.

But many nights I roamed the Village by myself – Chumley's, the no-name bar, and Julius’s which was still straight, this was so long ago – and the Duplex and the Ninth Circle and some I would not remember the next day, looking for women, sometimes finding one – in this time in which there was still Kim and Sue and Lottie, and the occasional no-name woman from an adjoining bar stool, and those researchers at Time-Life – after the Post fired me, at the instigation of Lottie’s agent, because I’d gotten her name wrong in print. And there was also the girl I had thought I would be with forever, our being together that crucial to my identity, but whom I’d left in Greece, and now she was back – and I was moving around, including to Broadway tryouts in Wilmington and in the Wilton – always in motion but feeling stagnant as if with a hangover that would last forever, exciting as my life was supposed to be.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 43 – ENGLISH GIRL

A graceful cantilever bridge curving upwards from a familiar shore where there are billowing trees – spanning years of longing and places of pleasure and places of battle – then curving downwards to a far shore full of billowing trees, similar but different from what the shore I departed had been.

I was on this far shore now and I did not think anything reminded me of what had been down bellow the graceful bridge. I was on this far shore and the intense green of the early Vermont summer did not – as would happen in novels – take me out of the present and into something remembered, as in electric green rice fields and a water buffalo (a child or a bird likely to be riding on the stolid animal’s back). And neither the slabs of rock on mountain sides nor the sight and smell of clear river water running over smooth stones, neither took me back into Taiwan’s marble Toroko gorge.

A surprisingly friendly very young and eager girl working at a Burger King on Rutland’s strip smiled at me and seemed to have questions and it was almost like I were on the original shore, a child, and falling in love, or maybe something worse and I had to hold myself back from thinking this was what it might seem. And no more than I was led back to water buffalo and the Toroko Gorge did the present lead me to smooth smiling Bangkok bar girls in their strapless gold lamé gowns. Not that I had forgotten. But the life below this graceful bridge had no more connection to the present that did the very different life of the stuffy family I came from.

And yet what was down below would not completely go away. For instance, the English girl.

In Greece two English girls had moved to the a small white-washed house that was cattycorner to our small whitewashed house on one of the paths in Anafiotika that wound up on the city side of the Acropolis – two English girls, one of them, Patti, so smooth and flowing and lazy. They had had no curtains and I was able come up with what I thought were a few good consciously world weary lines, talking the way I though then Evelyn Waugh would talk about English girls fucking practically on my doorstep.

I came upon Patti again, two and a half years later that felt like ten years later. She was at an adjoining table at the Cedar Bar, which was still in full swing in 1964. She was dressed in what looked like filmy drapery. Very much in the swim of things in this place, whereas she had stood out in Athens. She was soft and tall as I remembered her – and all extensions – long, dark arms, long legs seen in shorts slit up the thigh in Anafiotika, and now in the Cedar she stretched and the drapery nearly fell away. She pulled back long straight black hair, bunched it up, her arms raised, soft armpits and shiny, tanned flesh all around, flesh flowing with her lazy movements, breasts partially on view through her garment’s large arm openings.

The next night we met by arrangement. We had hamburgers at the Cedar Bar. A date. I wasn’t the only one who had noticed her. Her last date had been with Mike Nichols, she said, and she did not seem to think that was anything unusual.

We went to look at a huge old loft she shared with what seemed to be a dozen beautiful people. While we were drinking and chatting she suddenly asked, “Why did you want to see me?” And what I had hoped would happen never did.

A possible answer to her question, the chance now to fuck, seemed too easy and obvious and certainly not up to Evelyn Waugh standards. But in fact I had no actual answer – for it was as if she has asked, “Who are you?”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 42 – FEET

This new time, driving in Vermont, free of the past, it seemed, but mostly staying in the car, this time requiring solitude, perhaps so certain of my course that I could not feel lonely, or perhaps not quite admitting I was lonely again. This time so new it really was as if I had just been born. This time when I had passed 50 and had never been so young. And yet there were these moments in the happy old Mustang when I heard my twin brother Matthew’s voice describing what I saw, such as the new fiberglass farm silos that had come in while I was away from New England, as if I could not see the change from the old more picturesque silos of my childhood until the change had been categorized by that family I so carefully avoided.

And thinking of Matthew’s voice I was remembering when 30 years back Matthew had come to Atlanta to visit me while I was in the midst of an affair with a girl who looked to me like someone in an Italian movie and who had a husband who wanted me dead. I was in Atlanta because I had been drafted, but it was the maneuverable, corruptible peacetime army so, with considerable luck, instead of staying in a barracks I was living in a high-ceiling room I rented in a once majestic Peachtree Street house that had gone to seed. And I was working nearly full time for United Press. I was only 22, but already, and despite four years in the country’s most retrograde college, I had begun the life I planned, partly during summers in Europe but most notably in Cuba where I’d divided my time between life-risking adventure and sweetly slippery episodes with girls of the night. And now Atlanta.

A terrible time for Matthew to visit, for I was floating in what seemed to me the most crucial affair of my life. Matthew had been sent down by our mother for comfort, since his engagement was suddenly off. This was annoying, for I had problems of my own, and I was sure it would be hard on him, so often my rival, to see me with someone so appealing – this smart young woman Susan, this olive-skilled women Susan whose movements were so graceful. And she had a husband, who had been my friend for awhile and now wanted me dead.

With no chance this evening for a real rendezvous, and Matthew anyway in the way, she’d told the husband she was going out for cigarettes. She sped up from the Southside and over to Peachtree Street, where the air smelled like flowers. Over to the big old house on a rise above Peachtree where I rented this musty, very non-Army sort of room. She arrived in front of the old house in time for us to meet for moments at her car. I went out followed by Matthew.
She raised her arms from the wheel and stretched up and out, and I leaned down and in, and we kissed through the open car window. I introduced my twin brother, who was standing behind me. She handed me a love note. We kissed. She sped off.

"What a sweet smile," was what my brother had to say, and he was right and I realized I would have to fight hard to see more than he had seen.

And I wondered if I been romanticizing Susan into a plastic figure the way people in the family always did when confronted with people outside the family – as if all the real world people that they saw were only characters with fixed characteristics that our family members had created. Maybe I was not seeing her but seeing Audrey Heyburn in "Roman Holiday." Or someone with skin like hers on the Via Veneto, or a tawny girl from the summers in Sugar Hill – or Goddard's Anna Karina playing a lovely streetwalkers with angst – or Susan Strasburg
doing Jean Anouhi – or even Ellyssa. Not seeing someone but rather seeing someone that was like someone.

But this was the first time I could fully understand fucking as making love – fucking not upstairs in bars in Havana or in seedy hotel room in the Midwest or South, or with girls from the Tango Palace at the northern end of Times Square, or with that girl who became an obsession who wore a swim suit in the waiting area of a Roman brothel – not those times, those other 1950s times. But this time, the first time, in my room in this big old house on Peachtree Street. Something so new I did not have the word for it yet but it came to me years later. The word was intimacy.

Not only skin on skin when entering her but realizing her feet were naked too. Naked feet in play. Intimacy. This memory now as I drove in Vermont.

After orgasm, we tickled each other’s feet with our toes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


This is trite, I think, to think of death here where I lie on a raised bed in a curtained off corner of an emergency room. And it is cold. My life’s love is here too, not as a patient but as my life’s love and she is freezing. She is three feet from me, on a metal chair, resting her head on a metal table. For some reason, a nurse explains without explanation, they intentionally keep the place at 60 degrees. Outside it was more like 90. We keep ordering up blankets, which in hospital fashion are more like sheets posing as blankets. At home we never go to bed except on the warmest of mid-summer nights without a sort of ceremony in which I place extra blankets, real blankets, on her side of our bed – our real bed, which bears no relation to these raised hospital beds. The doctor, a youngish woman, appears and pokes around and she hurts me, or anyway stirs up the pain, and I cannot stifle my moans, though I don’t want it known that there is pain. And I am in a timeless place, harsh lights, far away from the world.

But maybe not so far, for there are little dramas. A youngish olive-skinned woman, nicely rounded in places where the doctor is all angles, also makes sounds of pain, and then cheerful chatter, in the next curtained off area. I can see her in a gap in the curtains. There is a young man with a half beard sitting at the end of her bed, another emergency room patient who has just met her. She is telling him that, though she looks young, she has three children. “And I am going to get married,” she says. She is trying to sound convinced. “I am going to get married. I know I am.”

The young man hails each nurse that goes by and the doctor too. He has all these debts, he says, credit cards and delinquent mortgage payments, and now he has hurt himself and they are telling him he must take a break from his work, which is construction. He tries to get the nurses and the doctor to say it is not so bad as it seems.

Now a short, and by God again pretty, and also bouncy Latin-looking girl appears with a wheel chair. She has a bright smile and is wearing some sort of crisp hospital uniform. She tells me it is time to go to radiology.

The moment I am in the wheel chair we set off at great speed
through miles of corridors for my X-ray. This is a race and a game. When we come back, the same way, at top speed, my life’s love says I look like I am having fun, and also that I look just like my late dog Claude, a Bassett hound terrier, who made everything exciting. She says I should be wearing goggles.

Much later it is time for another dash, this time to the CAT-scan place, again pushed by the pretty girl at high speed. And there is something comforting about being surrounded by attractive women – and something sad about it too – an overtone of last times. Or am I being silly?

The pretty girl does everything in radiology, arranging the patient, taking the pictures. It is comforting. I am feeling weak now, for I have not eaten for a day, and my head aches, and there is the pain still, if not so bad as it was, and most of all I feel intensely weary and sad – not sure where the sadness is coming from but clearly sad. And hazy too.

As I lie on this CAT-scan thing that will slide me into the CAT-scan tunnel I feel her hands beneath my head. Then I realize that these are my hands.

I read this piece in a group where I read every week. We read for reaction, not for passive aggressive MFA style criticism. One member who likes the piece says it it is so true that people stay consistent, that even heading into death this particular narrator still notices good looking women!