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.