Monday, April 28, 2008

MY BOOK, May 31

The publication date of AUTHENTIC WRITING a memoir on creating memoir is Saturday, May 31, when there will be a signing and more, sponsored by the amazing Woodstock bookstore The Golden Notebook.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 11 - AMAZED

I’m still amazed that I can wake up in this sinewy girl’s big not quite fully furnished shared apartment, New York City summer air wafting over us from wide open windows that have coal soot on the sills, and we have no clothes on, so I wake up celebrating, for I know it is another of these new moments to remember. I am still amazed to have this sort of history that I had dreamt of, not the ultimate love story yet but so much else. That I can wake up and we have a history, me with Rae, who studies design at Parsons and has that look. Lovely Rae, short for Ramona. All this so amazing for this is still the fifties, the awful Eisenhower time in history where my small generation – small because people took precautions and did abortions in the Depression – is supposed to be the silent generation, and you rarely fuck outside marriage except in whorehouses, as I was doing well two years back in Cuba, and hardly use the word fuck for anything except swearing. But I have lived experience now that proves this new time in America does not have to be this way, for now I am actually living in New York and it seems clear that in New York the fifties never took hold, the same way I would find places the sixties never hit, such as my family’s places in New Hampshire, which would be as innocent of the sixties as places like Indianapolis – as innocent of the sixties as, thank God, this Manhattan I know was innocent of the fifties. I do not know that a time would soon come soon when I would would look and look to find Rae again and could not find her.

Barely awake with Rae and there is someone calling out. Rae's angry landlady has appeared and there are not supposed to be people whose names are not on the lease sleeping in this quite large apartment way over east in the 80s. The landlady goes from room to room inspecting, looking for anyone Rae or her roommates might have let in. The rooms open onto each other in a circle, and I stay just one room ahead of the landlady, my shoes and socks and jockey shorts in one hand, my shirt and khakis in the other. I quietly exit the circle at the front door, dress in the hallway, dash down the stairs.

I stop in for a beer on Third Avenue, sitting on a stool beneath a string of dusty red and green cutout letters spelling Merry Christmas, though this is August. I have a beer now, I think, not so much because I crave it, though I do, but more because the man I mean to be would have a morning beer now – like Humphrey Bogart or a tragic figure out of Fitzgerald.

And then I realize I am very near Carol’s red brick building where Carol has an apartment paid for by her family.I ring her buzzer, even though she is really Harvey’s girlfriend and I had recently slept with her roommate B.J. – B.J. who is so amazingly Southern clever and pretty that when I slept with her I gave no thought to the fact that she had been born missing a hand. And Carol is home alone, and so she and I go the park together and rent a rowboat and the air smells of flowers.

I can go anywhere I like. Another girl who is neither Carol nor Rae nor B.J. is out of town. This wonderful city life. This city that I love. And I am pulled into the park with Carol, this city life now combined with the nature I knew even before I read Keats and Wordsworth. This nature is drawing me almost out of the city.

I think of that late fifties morning I outran the landlady and took Carol to the park now in this time, 30 years later, when everything in my life has changed. It seems like such a big thing now to have headed for the park – something I knew then and am just remembering in this time just before Vermont and the aqua Mustang, this time that I am already on the hunt for what happened in New Hampshire in the dark distant past that led to the violence that is killing my cousins today. I think of the city and those girls from the past where the fifties had lost its power. And I think of how I am drawn physically now to countryside, though as interested still, after all the affairs and a just ended marriage that did not start until I was in my forties, in finding the right woman, the right girl. I put myself back in the time the fifties were dying and I was with Irma whom I met in the Corso, and Anne Marie who arrived when I was staging a show of art I brought up from Haiti. I think of them all now in the eighties these many years after the fifties, now still interested in finding just the right woman to love and to love me. This part about finding the woman, the girl, is something I never forget.

And it seems, 30 years later, like I had somehow lost most of the other part, the part about countryside – countryside drawing me in again now in 1986 to such a degree that, much as I like the world’s cities, I know I will stop breathing without the woods and fields and streams and lakes and mountains that for so long I have avoided.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 10 - HOME AGAIN

The first time I went over the border from Vermont that summer I immediately drove the aqua Mustang through Sugar Hill Village, the destination of the daily walks my twin and I took with my grandfather Gaga – who wore a floppy sun hat with green isinglass in the front brim, and always used a walking cane (as did I, in imitation, starting when I was six). We’d walk from White Pines up the long twisting drive through the tall pine trees that bore the name of the house and that my grandparents had had planted long ago. We’d turn left when we reached Davis Road, a dirt road with three more of our big family houses and little else on it except a big house, also deep in woods, belonging to my grandfather’s old Princeton roommate Otto Mallory.

At the end of Davis Road was a the small wooden Episcopal summer church, St. Matthew's, where they sang "God Save the King" even though this was America, and where we’d gone with our grandmother Nana every Sunday, Peter and I in neckties taking up the collection. Then onto a paved road and past the turn up to the sprawling Sunset Hill House. Also past the Homestead Inn (which the family ignored on grounds it was too self consciously New England quaint and owned by a family with an Italian name). Then on down into Sugar Hill Village, using a very old wooden sidewalk, past warm seeming picket fence houses that were in their way as picturesque as the big summer people’s places. Down the wooden sidewalk into the village, which was a post office/ general store. It was here that I would get comic books – Dick Tracy with his wrist radio and Gravel Gerty and B.O. Plenty – and Donald Duck with his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – and little Nancy with her rakish little low class boyfriend Sluggo. I learned from comics before I learned from books that I need not be bound by the cast of characters or the places in the world into which I had been born.

It was at the turnoff to the Sunset that Gaga had told two people who stopped their sedan to ask directions that there were no hotels here. And because I objected he took me aside on another day to tell me it was just that Jews work harder than anyone else and often take a fellow’s job away from him. And he really did have a very close Jewish friend still from his old radical settlement house days.

That church – where we took up the collection, and where everyone sang “God save the King” to the tune of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee – was overseen by Nana and it was where Mother and Dad had been married.

This was where I found my self going first on my return to New Hampshire from Vermont in this time when the entire landscape of my life was changing. I stopped and looked at the church. Then I turned up to where on my right the Sunset had been, passing on my left the ruins of a rakish, brown-shingled place called The Pioneer, a place to dance and neck in the dark with whisky provided by liberated college kids who worked at the hotel. By now the Sunset had been torn down, but its outsize rental cottages – one of which had been used by my Mother’s Southern family - were still intact. And across the street was a concrete sidewalk with a small viewing platform for the most pure version of the official family view of the Franconia Mountains.

This was one of the days the mountains looked green and soft, not blue-gray-black and granite. A wooden building a little past the viewing platform had been known as “the bachelors’ quarters” in my parents’ time, when respectable young men could stay cheaply because they were in demand as escorts for the daughters of the regular, mostly Southern, Sunset guests. In my own time (which began in the Depression) it had become the place where the college kids who were bellboys and chambermaids lived – these dashing people who could be seen necking in the shadows of the Sunset’s unending wicker chair lined porch during the Saturday night dances where old people sat in a great circle examining young dancers. Now it was being turned into a Waspish inn-size in that would use the Sunset Hill House name.

Across the road was the small golf course, still there, where Mother, an only child, played round after round alone, and from where she saw, coming up and the hill, my father, a lonely little boy in a pony cart.

I wondered if this were correct procedure for the new life I was in, focusing in this way on these people of the past rather than on myself – remembering past times with the pleasure I often knew then rather than the horror I knew now.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 9 - CHURCHES?

For a decade up here Alice has been a close friend of my Vermont-transplant friend Peter Cooper, who I went to see as the darkness was closing in September of 1985. Now it is July of 1986, which seems like about three decades later. Now I am here for the summer, and I have just brought this aqua Mustang we are riding in.

Alice is the first woman I have ever met who is studying to be a minister. Actually the first person of any sex to make such a move. She is quite pretty, and full bodied and tan and well read and funny. She is about to head down to New York and Union Theological Seminary, but in the meanwhile she has a weekly gig at a tiny church way, way off in obscure dirt-road countryside where there is no regular minister. I go to see her there. One morning she livens up the service with a bag pipe player she brings in to do Amazing Grace. Another time she shows a very rough drawing she has made of a lighthouse and does a sermon about what everything in the rough drawing means. It seems silly, but now that things are changing I will try not reject anything out of hand – not even what this voluptuous woman tells me about how Jesus came to her in a dream. Around the tiny church are gravestones, including many that have the year of birth but not the year of death yet.

One day I take up Alice’s invitation to drive with her through the countryside to a town called Rochester where many ministers are meeting. As we roll through I am marveling at the soft mountains, so different from what I grew up with. And I am marveling at fast shallow rivers where clear water runs and ripples over smooth stones, just like in tender aspects of New Hampshire. We talk and talk about things that are most on my mind these days – getting at the true stories, the family stories, finding out who did what to who, getting at what really happened, getting at what is real, saving ourselves, no matter who gets hurt. She talks of how in happy days her older brother discovered Vermont when he would come up here to load his truck with milk which he sold back in Massachusetts, and she tells about an uncle who molested her and I can see she has hardly every brought this subject up before. She says this explains her sexuality, and I know that the word here is a code word and so the woman she rooms with is more than a close friend, and this is news I do not want to hear, for despite everything I am lonely.

When we arrive at the Rochester church where the ministers are gathering it turns out to be a prayer meeting. This is 1986 and I had lost my faith in 1951, at 16, in what seemed like a moment of revelation – and I had never thought to look for it again. Since boarding school days I have been in churches only a handful of times, and always as a tourist in places like Greece and Haiti and Manila.

In the prayer circle each minister has a few words to say about where they are in their lives.I just say “I am here,” hoping it will sound like something profound. For I am in a familiar old situation now, pretending one thing on the surface that has no connection with what is underneath.

On the next few Sundays I visit a number of different churches, all except Catholic. It is partly Alice and partly because my old friend Peter up here is involved with subversive social action through a Congregational church and his wife plays the piano at a church for Christian Scientists. But I am still one thing on the surface, another in my worlds inside and down below.

I even put the Episcopalians on my list with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists and Methodists. I dread the Episcopalians, for their denomination was so wrapped up with the Anglo upper class pretensions of my nearest and dearest. Here at the Rutland church, on a fragrant summer day in thin mountain air, they hold a coffee gathering outdoors after their service, which is so much how I remembered it was done long ago. There is no way I can get to the aqua mustang without going through them.

Everyone I meet bids me, this stranger, welcome, this stranger they do not know is faking it. Several of them want me to tell them the location of my home church.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 8 - RUTLAND

I couldn’t write what I thought I wanted to write, this light book about my family that Macmillan wanted and so it must be what I wanted – though I could not do a word on the subject – or on these commercial plans for which I did write brilliantly skillful proposals – rivers of the world, or the remnants, sorry as they are, of colonial days in the West Indies, or everything that I knew I would find wrong with California if I went there again. Life had seemed to blossom, this new bright apartment, and these new projects that kept me at my typewriter night and day – such a joy to be caught up this way – and Cousin Margaret dying horribly after saying she wanted to die, and my wondering about what they had done to her, and then off to the islands with blonde Sally, and that worked out as badly as the brief affair that was ending at the start of the year – a connection with this French-Algerian-Jewish woman Jocelyn (which was pronounced “joss-leen”) – also looking so right she might be who I would want if I could create a woman – Jocelyn, a pied noir from Algeria now ruining an agency for famous photographers in the same big room in which we slept almost next door to the Carlyle, and now Sally, flying in from Rome for our trip to the West Indies, where she insisted we spend every morning hunting up places where she could drink at lunch – a decade now since I had had a drink but I was trying to fit in. So no working love affairs in my life , and people dying, other cousins were in line, and then I had gone up to New Hampshire for a sort of family reunion (though no one in our tight ass family would call it by such a name) – fake British accents and worse. Hard to remember how good life had seemed so recently, how it had seemed that with startling new insight everything had already changed. So puzzling that I wanted to see old friend no more than I wanted to see relatives. I had been delving in the past but on a lighter level than I realized. One recent dark episode was getting Eileen from 30 years back to fly in from California – and both of us unrecognizable to each other and to ourselves. Sex with hardly noticeable orgasm. This time that was becoming dark again. Darker and darker.

Unworkable connections. Shows of activity but desperately alone. I decided on another trip to the past. My brilliant and funny old drinking friend Peter Cooper was up in Vermont, reportedly a new man . The last time I had seen Peter, who had closed so many bars with me in the old New York days, he was already in Vermont, this 16 years ago, living in a musty old hotel that had become a hippy haven in the then nearly dying mill city of Rutland, which was not one of the Christmas card Vermont places, and working at a ski lodge called the Wobbly Barn that was mainly a drug place, located halfway up Killington, a mountain made incredibly ugly with ski trails that put me in mind of strip mining. But now Peter was married again and very sober, directing a state alcoholism clinic, and back to his first love writing, and he had just been published. A small but respected press located also in Vermont, run by Keith Jennison’s almost famous brother, and when I got to Rutland the bound books had just arrived – young adult novel category but much better than it sounded, and it turned out his big contact in Vermont was a this near legendary now retired publishing guy Keith Jennison whom I had worked with on some minor but enjoyable projects in the city (one of them my first published book). And people in Peter’s new crowd, including a lovely woman named Martha, were all in a production of Our Town. And I told Peter about my dead end depression which came, to my surprise, just as I thought everything had changed, and he suggested I go to something called Adult Children of Alcoholics. And this seemed so outrageous and irrelevant and life-giving that I had to do it, like taking up a dare to go upriver in Kalimantan headhunter territory.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


AUTHENTIC WRITING, a memoir on creating memoir, is in production.

The Aqua Mustang 7 - COMMUNITY?

I knew this period on West 25th, in the time before the subway vision and the aqua Mustang journeys, to be an in-between time. But between what and what I was not clear – past and future both now entering realms of mystery.

An unshaven tiny old Hispanic man started a bicycle repair business in front of my building. He squatted on the sidewalk, bits and pieces and parts of bicycles and screws and nuts and wrenches spread out in front of him, frames and wheels chained to the sturdy post of a sign that tried to explain New York’s alternate side of the street parking rules. The tiny old man always had open bottles in paper bags, but was seen as so reliable that some women on the block trusted him to watch their children.

Across the way, on the corner of 8th & 25th, a new Korean run grocery opened, and people in the neighborhood who had not met before bought flowers and fruit there and talked to each other around the salad bar/ hot dish section. I began to know my neighbors, which seemed hopeful if strange. In the time I was seeing none of the hundreds of people I knew in Manhattan from my times living there, which by now spanned nearly 30 years.

A confident woman in the apartment next to me worked an airlines counter out at the airport. Her husband, a dark, jolly Venezuelan, was studying for an accounting degree, for which I helped him with his papers. Sometimes he came over in the uniform of a Central Park soccer team. Sometimes he was in ski gear, ready, with the paper done, to head to Cortina Valley in the Catskills. A couple on the 4th floor, small, round regurlar people I might not have noticed in another time talked in the elevator of how they too go upstate. They had just collided with and killed a deer, totaling their car. It sounded like something happening a thousand miles away.

When the Korean grocery man waved as I went by and said “Have a nice day,” I felt my eyes water, as if this were something meaningful, some actual new life, or model of a life, in which I might be surrounded by people I loved and trusted. Feeling the possibility of it, for I also knew that I might be one of many customers who looked alike to him. Sometimes his pretty young daughter was there between her art classes around the corner at F.I.T. Seeing her took me deep into my past.

For a year I had been a cliché figure, a divorced man living nowhere – borrowed places – friends couches, a maid’s room on 87th St., a stifling condo off season in Florida on the edge of the Everglades, a fancy renovated coop loft in the popular new Flat Iron district with fancy people from my not always fancy international past, a dirt encrusted illegal loft on Canal Street, where I rendezvoused with a woman from 30 years back who flew in from California, and neither of us could accept who and what we had become. She noticed, as she had 30 years ago, that I had no permanent abode.

I had arrived on this block as a boarder – another cliché figure – via an old friend who knew someone who knew a warm hearted Puerto Rican woman who rented rooms illegally in a sprawling rent control apartment in a long low-rise Bronx-style building. She knew everyone on the block, and was kind to everyone, though she was also, like the ladies she sat with in folding chairs on the sidewalk, a great fan of a drug-crazed young man named Bernie Goetz who had just made headlines for shooting young black men in the subway. She was also a great fan of Ronald Reagan though she was the very sort of person this genial old molester was attempting to do in. She had mastered many government aid programs, and distributed food from them – mostly gigantic blocks of cheese, to whoever wanted it, needy or not, on the block. She alerted me to the rent stabilized apartment across the street that just became free, so I had a place of my own again.

One night a naked woman, haggard face and young bouncing body, ran into the street. Rather than gawk or hoot the neighbors wrapped her in a blanket, stayed with her till hospital help arrived.

Chelsea was getting the reputation now, 1986, of being a chi-chi new neighborhood with an appeal to fashionable people, especially gays – yet the second most successful new business near me after the Korean store was a dingy Greek coffee shop. Across Eighth there were still stores that seemed out of my distant childhood – ice cream that was decades away from Hagan Daaz, a shoe store selling Thom McCann shoes, facing a very old store for non-designer fabric by the yard. And there was a faded, linoleum-lined place run by very old people who overcooked flat hamburgers separately.

Behind the stores across 8th were the massive, identical buildings of the International Ladies Garment Workers union, greenery and benches and big spacious apartments inhabited by a mixture of very old union members or their surviving spouses, and younger people who years ago had gotten on waiting lists as the old ILGWU people began dying off.

One intriguing aspect of my building was its facade, decorative concrete that made it look like a replica of something you would see in Venice.
Rita was always on our block as was Freddy the super, a huge round man who, like so many here, had lived on the block since birth. He was usually seen in silhouette walking down the center of 25th Street, tilting from side to side, one thick arm stretched out daintily to hold a leash attached the world’s smallest dog. It was all so different from the more obviously colorful but unanchored places of my past. And so clearly this was the place where, in ways I could not delineate, I knew my life would change like night turning to day or vice versa.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Aqua Musang 6 - RELIEF

As I drove towards the night, Vermont’s welcoming woods seemed a world I knew, thought I did not know how I knew it, must have forgotten it. These woods that seemed to engulf me now but where I had barely ever been. And above the woods the Green Mountains seemed to turn greener in twilight, which was just the opposite of how it went in New Hampshire, where the taller White Mountains might sometimes be blue or blue-green but could turn black, even when the sky was still gray-blue or sunset purple.

I was in my car but I was in these Vermont woods. I would stop to stand by trees or rolling fields and just stand there breathing deeply. I would stop to look at ponds and streams and breathe some more And all this time, in the aqua Mustang and out of it, I was thinking of a night in the city that could not have been more than nine months earlier but felt like it was from some far distant time that came right after a time I had thought I could never leave.

It was New Year’s Day night in the city, after another gathering of the new people with whom I was associating in this time that suddenly was seeming to me so much younger than anything that could be called midlife. On New Year’s Day night in a car on the East Side IRT I saw myself not in the city but in a clearing, a wooded place, a nighttime scene lit by candlelight – a semicircle of small boys and girls, and forest animals who were as friendly as the girls and boys. And there in the subway car I heard, above the roar and rattling of the old train in its old city tunnel, from somewhere an angry but warm and affirming voice was saying, “Who wants to stop these children?”

And then the rest of the night – in the subway, in the shuttle and on the West Side IRT, and on the winter streets, and then back in my apartment – all night I went back and forth from tears to rage back to sadness that could knock me over and to rage again and again sadness and then more rage and sadness and rage and sadness – emotions hitherto reserved for fiction or drunk scenes.

It was in this night that the sort of depression that had hounded me for 50 years, came to an end. And so too did the fear, always with me in previous light moments, that it would return. The sort of depression that is physically debilitating and threatens to last forever, which is not the same as down times or angry times or sad times.

From the subway I went to my bright apartment in Chelsea, and spent the night moving between deadly rage and sobbing sadness. And time was timeless. And when I came out of it I found myself drinking milk and eating Famous Amos cookies, neither of which were part of my regular diet and neither of which I could remember purchasing on my way home. I came out of it and stepped into something fresh.

For I knew nothing would ever be the same, which was something I thought about this next summer, nine months later, as I moved around Vermont in my new/old aqua Mustang in what I knew was a break from the hunt I was on – a break before taking the car across the border to the granite mountains and rocky fields, and big ultra-formal summer houses and co-existing towns full of local people who had always lived there. New Hampshire where lay the secrets of the demons that I was going steal, and carry back across the frontier, and hand to the demons’ enemies. I knew I would do it even as I delayed my border crossing.