Friday, September 18, 2009

for my book THE AQUA MUSTANG, which is unfolding, please go to:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Memoir that transcends genre


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 98 – OUR GANG

The night before what I thought might be my final trip north I had slipped into a parking place on 15th Street right in front of the Corlears School, for which we had a key. And after that night’s meeting everyone had gathered around the aqua Mustang, which did not have room for everyone in it. I drove to our regular diner with Myra, a red-headed nurse from Astoria who was living big now that she knew her story, and who had survived since birth many a crisis and many a relationship. Walking over right after us, rather than use the ridiculously small back seat, were Bill, a comfortable-seeming, centered-seeming black man who had found it was his family and their enforced gentility that covered up simmering things he now had to break through, and Susan, a lovely and accomplished actress whose current off-Broadway play did not have a performance that night, and Heidi, a clinical therapist who was getting at matters in these meetings that even she had not gotten at in therapy. And at the diner we were joined by expansive young Loraine, who was living for the moment in a community of liberal nuns, well away from a possibly sociopathic father who was one of those therapists who had morphed into a cruel cult leader. Also Nina, who had been the lover of famous figures in the civil rights movement, and Oscar, a quite successful studio art photographer in his fifties, like me, who was entering life as if for the first time. So many new people, and they had come together as if in a movement, as if marching arm and arm.

My grade school in Connecticut, built at the time of my birth, had had WPA murals in each classroom, men and women from all walks of life but especially muscular workers and some farmers – workers and farmers marching into the future. Which to me was similar in spirit to the murals I would live with later in the main meeting room of Livermore Hall at my boarding school. These panels showed the very hills and fields in which the school was situated in the New Hampshire lake country – showed the hills and woods and fields in the fall colors that I could see in season through the windows, with the added, but quickly becoming dated, touches of an optimistic future that was becoming real. Over the hills and fields in one panel an airplane that had portholes, like in an ocean liner, from which passengers could look out – and in another panel a train streamlined like the trains that were nearly that futuristic already, like the 20th Century Limited to Chicago.

Like a coming together many year ago in the writers I discovered – Thomas Wolfe and James T. Farrell, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Keats and Wordsworth and Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev – and in paintings – Manet and Monet again and Rembrandt and the Abstract Expressionist who painted the way my old girlfriend did – and certain music, Beethoven and Marian Anderson and Rogers & Hammerstein as well as, a little later, Pete Seeger and Ray Charles and Charles Aznavour, and now Dylan and the rest.

Such like-minded people. And such like-minded people here now in the flesh in this diner, people determined to retrieve the lives that had been stolen from them.

I had this car, which I had bought last summer – which had seemed such a healthy thing to do – a car for the city, though I had gotten it in Vermont. This shiny aging aqua Mustang maintained like new by its previous owner, a girl in Vermont who had owned it with her new husband, a telephone linesman, and could not bear to have it around after lightning struck and killed him. This car with a story that was getting longer now that it was my story.

If these new people in New York with whom I shared so much were milling outside a place where there was a meeting – a church basement or a synagogue or the Corlears School – they would cheer when they saw the aqua Mustang coming, its light hearted chrome horse on the front. And they were waving to me and the car when I departed from near the diner last night – departed with them knowing what I was doing, as if I were doing it for all of them as well as for myself. This trip that might be my last trip to the far north, to the old childhood places, where dark things were happening – chickens coming home to roost –and where maybe I could save lives.

The Aqua Mustang 97 – RECAPTURED

The Aqua Mustang 97 – RECAPTURED
After my best summer ever – up in the mountains with this gang of girls and boys who let me be in the center – abide in the center with Kitty, who taught me the 20s revival Charleston – the only time in my life when I could join a casual baseball game, step to the plate, and sometimes actually hit the ball and run bases – the summer after that one they took my brother and me off to Europe, thousands of miles away from the While Mountains and the summer gang – and suddenly it was as if nothing had ever changed, for I was back in our Connecticut family unit – back with Mother, Dad and Grandmother Clark, and my good boy twin Peter. I was getting letters almost every day that Kitty had sent to American Express in Paris and Venice and Paris again, and the family thought that was the silliest thing they had ever encountered. They laughed.

One evening at dinner at the hotel on the Rue Saint Honoré there was a big vase of black eyed Susan’s on our table and Grandmother Clark said, Look, Nigger Eyes. And Dad saw my face and berated me for having the potential to cause trouble, and they went along, keeping the awkward peace, with Grandmother Clark when she said, in a very loud voice, right here in Paris, I have called them Nigger Eyes all my life and I won’t stop calling them Nigger Eyes now.

And I was back in the place I thought I had escaped, despite all the trophies I had been winning, despite having a girl so kind and desirable she was outside their own experience – despite my surprising popularity, despite my leaving the world of the outcasts, despite this everything was still the same, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing could ever change. I knew I never should have trusted anything.

Though my life was not so empty now as they may have though. I did find a few things to trust that summer. I trusted what I felt when looking at Monet and Manet and van Gogh, all new to me, in the Jeu de Paum. The intensity of it was my secret almost, for in this family visual art was something I could have for myself if Peter was not in the way.

I started to hang out at the Jeu de Paum, which was a short walk from the hotel through all the marble in the beautifully proportioned and grandiose Place de la Concorde. I would remember for the rest of my life the exact placement of the paintings there – up and to the left in one room Manet’s artists picnic complete with nude model, directly in front of me as I entered another room Renoir’s girl on swing, who seemed to me not on a wing but on a path where she had stopped to cock her pretty head and connect with me. The Jeu de Paum, and also the Casino de Paris, which was a little farther away but within walking distance or a quick Metro ride.

There was something to trust here in this old theater too – the waves of desire that passed through me as I watched these happy seeming naked girls – plenty of coyness though no coy striptease, for they were naked before the dancing began – and one of them has a boy friend in the wings – I can see it all from my seat high up and to the side. I see her dance over to a place where the sky blue stage set ends, her arms high, and she had a girl’s cutely cropped brown hair, and rounded arms and legs, and she has these breasts, not too big and not to small, and with assertive nipples and she has a pubic hair triangle, and no tan line. And she reaches out to her right while turning her eyes in that direction and smiling, she reaches to her right again and she and the guy touch hands, this girl and her boyfriend, their touching out of sight except from my privileged spot in the audience. This sweet naked girl and her not-so-secret private life. And I had this fantasy version of my own life. I would not go to college next year, I would return to Paris and become the poet I had started out to be in boarding school, and I would have a girl like the naked dancing girl, and I would live in a garret like artists in the movies, and have intense relationships with people I would meet in tiny bistros with checked table clothes, each table with a candle dripping wax that built upon the side of the wine bottle in which it was stuck – and I would be myself always.

And this gave them a really good laugh, with a stern warning from my mother that I should pull myself together.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 96 – IN BATTLE GEAR

In the intervening years there had been only a few trips to New Hampshire, and almost none when the snows were coming. A life in cities all over the world, most of them tropical. Some trips into jungle and desert and ocean and equatorial mountains, but always back to cities. Barely sticking a toe into countryside.

I had decided now in November of ’86 that though I could not afford much of anything, I would need outdoor winter clothes for this latest expedition to the north – this place where disaster was always about to strike, this place of poisonous snakes and killer storms and undercover molestation and any number of other acts of, or against, nature. It might still seem like a cheerful autumn in New York but it was dangerous wintertime up there. I needed to dress right for self protection.

I did have a new checked green flannel shirt that had more style then the clothes to which I had been too accustomed most of my life. You had to put it on overhead like a sweater, it was that stylish. I had just bought it at Saks with a credit card left over from my recent marriage. And I also still had a surprisingly still valid Lord & Taylor credit card that my wife had ordered. At Lord & Taylor I charged a sharp looking blue wool scarf, and a pair of boots that looked a little like the work boots I had worn in adolescent days for social hiking in mountains in groups that included young pretty girls. I kidded myself that these boots would protect me from the freezing cold I remembered from the deep past.

I am going up there again in this time of change – this time when what really went on is coming into the light – this time of death and suicide and revelation about the darkness that surrounded those perfect seeming summers in those perfect if slightly stiff and formal mountain family places. It is two and a half months since my return from the summer of probing across the border from Vermont. It is only a month since the last trip, which a trysting trip. She was American girl of some undetermined age but still a girl, the sight of whom had set me reeling – though he had a mostly English accent like those people from the past and came from the same supposed strata. That last trip had become sweetly intense, though ending in multiple betrayals layered on the most un-New Hampshire sort of unfettered sex. And now I must go back again.

Although I had been back so recently, it had been so long since I was there as a part of the place that I did not even have the clothes for it. This place that was supposed to be so beautiful but where the elders were always talking about death – violent death by lighting and sudden mountain storms or stirred up mama bears or rusty nails that created fatal blood poisoning – and also death by sudden disease or stroke – death by old age at any age. I was about to leave New York again to take on death, for there had been sudden new events up there. This time I was off to do a Don Quixote thing – and even less prepared for the reality I might face than that Spanish would-be knight had been. For he did not ride off to fight the enemies, windmill or otherwise, dressed for battle by Saks and Lord & Taylor.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 95 – EVOCATIONS

As I drove here in Vermont by bright fields in various green hues of grasses and grains and vegetables, drove past orchards and up and down and around and over hills, beneath surpassingly gentle mountains, sometimes driving beside that rushing mountain water – as I drove, the scenes from nature that surrounded me this summer were raising emotions in me that made me feel again the emotions that had first seemed so right as evoked when I read Wordsworth at 14. And as I drove, I was right back there beyond Wordsworth in the distant summer of Kitty and the Playhouse and the our summer gang.

I stopped in Rutland for takeout coffee at a Burger King among strip malls and gas stations in a part of the small Vermont city that could have been anywhere. A wide-eyed young girl with an overbite, all eager smiles, served me and said how nice it was to see me. And again I was full of feelings that brought me into scenes so many years ago when I was coming into life. These many years later I again longed for connection (again also wanting life to be open ended).

Kitty, with her special smile, and the playhouse with our gang, and Gaga with his floppy sun hat and cane and rows of books he had written. Kitty and Gaga, and the mountains changing from harsh black and grey to steely blue to soft green and back again.

These scenes of the White Mountains, which actually were only three hours away from Rutland. These scenes from way back that as I drove alone were superimposed on visual scenes from after childhood to just now that were also in head:

Wild Havana, all bright colors and suspicion, in the final days of Batista, the Upper Nile on a boat that may have been one of the boats Kitchener took into the Sudan in his vain attempt rescue Gordon from the Mahdi. A wild girl in a dark room (she had cigarette burn scars on her smooth back from apparent gang retribution) near Prince Sihanouk’s strange casinos outside Phnom Phen. The Thai and Chinese temples and the stupas and palaces, and the royal barge house across the river in Bangkok from where I lived with Sunisar and then Bonnie.

And more, fading in and now, in Vermont, fading out as if overtaken by the nature I and Wordsworth had celebrated. In and out, Athens stretching out before me from the doorway of my whitewashed house where Vannie and I had lived on the side of the Acropolis. A dark minaret blasting a scratched recorded call to prayer and half blocking the view from my terrace in a bad year at the Levantine end of the Mediterranean. The deadly if comic fat man Somoza’s beaten-down Mangua in earthquake rubble around a lake with freshwater sharks, the even deadlier Duvalier's lovely but crumbling Port-au-Prince, then the girls Santo Domingo. Great Kinabalu rising straight up all alone over northern Sabah. The also great Kapuas River that I took nearly to its source, Conrad style, into the heart of Borneo. And Luanda when, despite the start of revolution, it was still a bright, white's only, Portuguese Mediterranean city misplaced in Africa far below the equator.

At nighttime on a Norwegian freighter where they let me take the wheel and follow on a chart of the North Sea the places still to avoid because of World War II mines. The untamed mountains of Slovenia circling a city with a river and a castle. In Switzerland a landscape nearly made quaint (they brought the bodies from the Matterhorn through Zermatt at night so that so no one could see). And times of hope in San Francisco and Paris and Singapore.

And then there was a fading of these scenes that were still coming in from the years between childhood and this year now when everything in the landscape of my past life was unfolding in new ways.

And I was back at the Holderness School in the New Hampshire lake country down below the White Mountains, alone in a small but crucial library on the second floor of Livermore Hall, looking out over woods and valleys with hills – foothills not mountains – out there against the sky and I was seeing things no one had ever seen before – the coldness of death after five months of a world covered in snow, and that earth coming to life, at first nothing tangible but life in the air, and then the bare branches, the bare twigs, taking on a reddish hue, something I had never heard mentioned, something I might have been the first person to ever see, and then the light green-yellow shoots of reborn flora.

And then summer in the mountains.

And fifty years later a girl in a Burger King.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 94 – BRONZE GIRL

And I was thinking maybe I was being a little ridiculous. I had heard that almost all young people who did well in debating had this thought that one day they would be President. Actually I had dismissed what I had heard as having nothing to do with me, just something for silly people, many of whom were social outcasts, as I had so recently been myself. And so I when I was15 I did dare to think that this would lead to the Presidency one day, and I was also sure that I was the only one who had thought this realistically. And something was out of control, for I was surely the only one who felt a surge of sexual longing when he thought of how well he was doing at winning arguments.

Ken Kaplan and I won the new England championship in the annual high school debating tournament at Boston University – my first bit victory and I was two years younger than Ken and my opponents. We came back in a school van late at night with a trophy so big it would tower over the pitiful second and third place minor sports trophies that were all my former tormenters at the little boarding school could get. And then I had this surge of sexual feeling while thinking at night about this big trophy, and not just because it was topped with an abstracted but also very clear young bronze woman with no clothes on who was holding a bronze laurel wreath high above her lovely head?

Well I couldn’t tell anyone, but I probably was going to be President. I would even go to law school so that I could go into politics prepared. Strangely the law school part set well with the family. They did not know the rest. I would be a lawyer and I would go to the top. No matter that the poems of Wordsworth moved me more than any good arguments.

It was in the summer after the first big win that I met Kitty at a swimming place beside a Waspily rustic golf course in the mountains. That summer was the time our summer gang was coming together. We had a sort of clubhouse, for we refurbished the old Poole Playhouse – which in what our elders described as better times had been a place for a amateur theatricals and quite formal dances with orchestras. A place covered with brown wooden shingles that had no lower class slickness to it. It was falling apart now, though the dances were so recent I could remember seeing the preparations for one when I was six and too young to stay up for it. Right here in the present there were still anachronistic (a recently learned word) round cardboard containers of cornmeal which could be spread on the smooth floor to make it even smoother for the dancers.

We replaced panes of glass on the French doors that circled the Playhouse on three sides. Nana hired a carpenter to replace some rotting boards on the circular terrace those doors opened out on. And soon we were in the world of the moment, not the world of our forbears that the older people who were forever talking about how things in the past were so much better than anything would ever be again. We did not have fancy dances with orchestras in this new version of the Playhouse. What we had was a portable phonograph playing slow songs to which you could dance in a way no one ever had before us, it seemed. Dance with the girl pressed against you, feel her, kiss her, be kissed back, move you hands way down on her backside, hardly moving your feet, pulling her up to you in the dark, and she reaching up, one hand on my shoulder, the other touching the back of my neck, which I felt in my groin, pulling herself up. I loved her like a lover in fiction, and also I wanted my life to be as opened ended as the lives of my family members were closed. And anyway, who could be trusted? Our feet hardly moved, so we had no need for the cornmeal from a fabled time that was not our time.

And it seemed to me there was a clear link between my winning in debating and the fact that now girls seemed to like me. A link not between my success at secondary school debating and my chance for being President, but rather a link between my having the better arguments on the debate circuit and now, just afterwards, me, so recently a near complete outcast in school and family, me now necking with the most appealing girl I had ever seen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 93 – JUSTICE

I was not worried any more about my parents seeing my report cards that were sent down to Connecticut from the Holderness School in the far north. My grades now were no longer the lowest in the school. They were suddenly the highest, higher even than my twin brother’s. I wondered if I had not by now supplanted him as the twin the family would admire.

But when I was home my mother gave me a look that said we can see through you. Then she read me the comment from the boarding school’s headmaster, the rector, Mr. Weld. “Fred is very concerned with social justice in the abstract, but he is a thorn in his floor leader’s side.”

The problem with the floor leader, Terry Weathers, who had been one of my friends when I thought I had no friends in the school, was that I was never on time for anything, always collecting demerits, which for some reason made our floor look bad. And in the room inspections carried out by Mrs. Chase, the basketball coach’s busybody wife, the grade given to my never neat enough room brought down the floor’s rating. And that wasn’t the only thing. I passed out heavy instant coffee that I made from the hot water tap in the communal shower/lavatory. Also, I would often leave the dorm without permission during study times, and it was suspected, though they had not caught me yet, that I was even leaving the dorm after lights out.

But shouldn’t my parents and the headmaster be happy that I was attuned to justice and injustice not just in the school but in the big world that I would enter one day?

Having political views, particularly about justice, was coming to seem like an identity for me. It may have started, this justice thing, back before all the changes when I was the school’s most unpopular boy. It also may have had to do with my connection to the Social Studies teacher, Archie Stark, who was a Quaker and hated McCarthyism and put me in touch with A.J. Muste’s Fellowship for Reconciliation.

Or maybe it was because I read Dickens and Steinbeck, and had quickly learned that people like school bullies were despised in bigger worlds. Also, books showed me that it was not unusual that people who counted in life and politics had been ridiculed and sometimes beaten by the sort of people who had ganged up on me, ridiculing and beating met at this school. Even Ghandi had had his bad early days. Nothing abstract here.

But what really got me going was my rapid rise in the debating world – the dumb kid in the school one day, and another day the number one debater in New England while not yet 16. Rising by winning arguments.

When I tried to figure it out, I fell back on my days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, my summers in those big formal family houses. I knew from his books and stories that my grandfather Gaga has been in the first stage of the Russian Revolution. Afterwards he had made a case for Kerensky as being a third way alternative to the Bolsheviks and the Czarists, and no one listened. But I could quote him in debates, compare a possible third way in Russia with a possible third way in China, which had just been overrun by the Communists. Not only would it make some sense, or at least confuse my opponents, it would also tie me to this family where I so often suspected I was an outcast.

I wondered why it should make my mother seem so satisfied that Mr. Weld was looking down on me. I wondered if I could ever right the balance in my family or in the world, or if whatever I did I would still be the bad twin to my brother’s good twin.

Thursday, July 23, 2009



I had gone out for the weekend to the small contained, low ceiling, one-story Connecticut house that my parents had moved into next door to the big and quirky house of my childhood in this township that had been chaotic enough so that I had never felt bound by the commuter and golfer aspects of it. I knew it as a place of fascinating danger and adventure – fighting and fleeing and stealing things, like Mr. Steinberg’s rowboat that took me over a waterfall in what I thought was the end of my life, and like when clinging to rock faces in near wilderness not yet subdivided, or outsmarting the wardens who tried to catch me when I fished for bass in a restricted reservoir – things that made me think while it was going on that my childhood in Connecticut, in its better light, was far more Mark Twain than John Cheever.

Connecticut where, as I have written, the food in our house was a combination between what came out of the hard-edged WASP world of my paternal grandparents – who strangely ate well at their own places – and the Southern world of my maternal grandmother. We had WASPy tasteless vegetables and mean portions of grisly meat plus sickening percolator coffee – supplemented by not bad Southern corn bread that was overshadowed by congealed grits and okra the consistency of snot.

So here I am, all these years later, cooking brown and wild rice for a lunch that features garlicky, lemony sautéed red snapper – all of this with the herbs and spices, and mushrooms too, that I never saw in my formative years in Connecticut. Here I am receiving solace alone in the kitchen, just after the death of Frank McCourt.

Celebrating by violating all the strictures of WASP food, as Frank McCourt violated everything set up by the lifeless old schoolmasters in England, those rules set up by ignorant men in England and then used by the anti-art people to torture sensitive children in Ireland and America.


That cramped little house in Connecticut. 1959. I was out from the city for the weekend with my girlfriend Vannie – about whom I was silently bragging. She knew how to fill leotards. She had bangs and a heart-shaped face that melted men thou it was hard to know if she even knew she was pretty. She had run from Tennessee to Manhattan where at 24, which was also my age, she had become a vibrant action painter. I marveled at the contrast between her and the others in that little house, my parents and my very careful twin brother, who was also out for the weekend.

I had a bad case of flu, and I had spent the night alone on a horsehair couch they had saved from the older, bigger house. It was probable that no-one had ever made love here. They were all going to go for dinner at an Italian restaurant down near the railroad station – a far distant world though only four and a half miles away. Vannie and my brother went to a small supermarket to get something I could eat for dinner since there was nothing to fall back on in the house. Peter said I would probably like a TV dinner. Vannie, who knew more than she maybe needed to know about my tastes, found something that looked a tiny bit, though not much, better – some frozen non-TV dinner that at least had pretensions. Peter talked her out of getting it for me, because it would be an insult to my mother, he said. To bring in a really good frozen dinner would be to say Fred needed something better than he could get at home.

So jumping ahead fifty years, I am finally doing something new about my childhood that I have needed to do for a long time. Something beyond deep probing. This past weekend I returned to that retreat place, the Omega Institute, where Marta and I had been, along with Malachy McCourt, a week earlier with our writing program. But this time it was to take a workshop, not give one, though that line can be thin. This workshop had to to do not with writing but with another version of art. It was given by a man named Thomas Griffiths, otherwise known as Tom or Chef Tom, who teachers at the nearby CIA, which stands for Culinary Institute of America and has no connection that I can detect with my twin bother Peter’s CIA. Chef Tom is one of the 60 persons in the world with the title master chef. He used to be at La Cirque, where he did omelet’s for people like Pavarotti and Diana Ross.

I have the least experience of the 15 people attending this cooking weekend, though I have been reading and Googling and watching cooking videos furiously for a couple of months, also bringing people who know how to cook into our kitchen to coach me, working overtime trying to catch up. It turns out I am the only one at this retreat who did not have at least one grandmother, at the very least a mother, who cooked.

The only one here with so little experience is a girl named Samantha who is as guarded as she in pretty, in a tanned and sullen way. She has come, at her fiancé’s urging, but she had never wanted to cook. It seems clear that if the fiancé wants good food after marriage he may have to go elsewhere. She adds that maybe Tom can give her some ideas about expensive culinary things to add to her registry.

On the second day Chef Tom is joined by his colleague Chef Freddy B, who, strangely, lives in the next town over from the Connecticut suburb of my bad food childhood. Freddy’s wife is Chinese, which is not so far off from my own first wife. I go to lunch with Jim and his wife Emilia – she too tanned and very good looking and he a pleasantly confident investment banker. And it turns out that too live in Connecticut! About a mile from my food-deprived childhood home.

Jim knows private Cantonese banquets from business trips to Hong Kong where I used to enjoy such feasts thanks to my first big contact there, Martin Wong, who I had known in New York when he was an investment bank trainee, and where we had many friends in common, including appealing girls like Vannie, who knew Martin well. I assumed Jim and Emilia were rich and probably Republican – and I wondered if I could have met them anywhere except in art. They stay in touch with me after the weekend because they want Jim’s father, who is so un-Connecticut he only has a third grade education – to join an Authentic Writing group.

And there is Mel, who knows the Chinese places in Queens. One of the girls we were with in 1959 was Grace Wu, who lived in a part of Queens that was fast becoming an upscale version of Chinatown. Later my first wife, also from the Far East, and her mother would shop for strange seas creatures on Canal Street.

The red snapper I just cooked, I sautéed in the way I learned at Omega, where there was risotto and roast pork, and lobster – which Chef Tom killed with a knife to the head because it is more humane than boiling the creature alive. We chopped and sliced and seasoned and sautéed and roasted and braised and boiled and grilled. We did couscous and quinoa and cauliflower and wild rice and beats. There was chicken for Freddy B's lush stir fry.

And there was a small vegan continent in our group. Lois, a director at Omega who turns out to be working with Marta. Lois has brought her daughter, who writes, and her sister and a close friend. The point she says is to make this a bonding weekend for her little group. They are not so put off as I would have thought by the rest of cooking and eating once living creatures, for they take the time between vegetable activities for bonding sessions – something else that never would have happened in the Connecticut that I knew 50 years ago

Friday, July 17, 2009


Every modern writer I have liked – from James T. Farrell when I was 17 to the one so on my mind all these years later, Frank McCourt – every one of them has been damned up and down and sideways by so many smug prissy critics. McCourt never should have told those things about his mother, and Farrell never should have written about having adolescent sexual feelings for inappropriate girls. There are some things that people just should not say.

We are in a kind of cocoon here, Marta and I, in Authentic Writing, for we don’t have to put up with English Department chairperson prudes – mine when I was in college damned Hemingway for writing about things no gentleman should discuss – mine when I taught at a community college one precarious year said that English 101 students might learn to write by learning the 17 basic rhetorical modes but most of them muffed it anyway by writing about things that interested them that nobody should be allowed to write about – football and worse.

I was once damned in the ponderous New York Review of Books for writing that a famous Reagan-backed dictator I knew all about at first hand, was, well, a dictator. How culturally insensitive this pompous reviewer said.

Marta and I are not entirely sheltered in the cocoon, and wouldn’t want to be, for we do move in worlds other than our own and want to move that way, and know what sheltering does to academics and genteel authors. So we are out beyond cocoon walls a lot – and this sometimes brings us up against the sort of people I usually think are in some suitable hell from which they cannot reach us.

A writing teacher came to Woodstock and announced that she would help people write memoir, making sure they did not say anything bad about their betters, like Frank McCourt reporting sounds of his mother’s fucking, because, she said, “I always tell my students, when you say something not nice about someone it just make you yourself look bad.”

This teacher hires herself out to other writers who are doing nice books.

And then another woman, who lives in a nearby white glove town, was also hiring herself out to fix up other people’s memoirs – work for which her main credential was that she herself once wrote a prophalactically expurgated family memoir.

Such people came to our Woodstock Memoir Festival and heard Marta field a question about how you should go about hiring an editor to fix up your manuscript – as if that’s what real writers commonly did. I had already come under attack for saying I had never found an editor at any company that was publishing me who was of in any real help, but this question now was about hiring an editor before the manuscript is even submitted. Then they heard Marta answer it with a quick eloquent series of fine one liners, such as, Did Faulkner hire an editor? Did Rembrandt hire an editor to fix up his paintings?

And then a teacher/ghost writer and her clients tried get us banned from our own memoir festival..

So we are clearly doing many things right. But I’m suddenly as furious as I ever was when I was 17.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I was in the Met a week ago for a large current show called “The Pictures Generation.” It is not much publicized though it is underwritten by Rockefeller style promoters of the arts. It is a sweeping collection of works by a group of young artists who from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties were bringing the image back into art in some direct and some very indirect ways – the image having been all but banned by grey, cold critics, who had decided everything had to fit into one of only two acceptable current trends – conceptualism and minimalism. And it was not that the critics now favored vigorous abstract work but rather that they had gotten everything down to what would exist in a critic’s paradise – no images, and no real emotion either. I was furious and sad.

Minimalism and conceptualism hogged all space for new shows at the Modern, and hogged the galleries too, in the mid-seventies when I returned from my latest stay abroad, this last one four uncomfortable years in the Middle East, which, despite some of the sort of adventure I sought, had become a kind of hell for me and not totally because my drinking was more out of hand than ever. I was fed up with so many of the people there with whom I had been involved, particularly in Lebanon which was filled with foreign journalists who had taken on all the worst characteristics – awkward pretentiousness and quite flagrant anti-Semitism.

What I really wanted in coming back was to get in touch with what I had been missing. But back in New York now I found myself as out of sync with the people I had known there as I was with minimalism and conceptualism. Friends from when first in the city were letting their careers define them. Especially the lawyers, who were now embalmed as lawyers, especially the writers as they began to find publishers. As out of sync with these liberal people who had been my friends in past years as I was recently out of sync with the right-wing expatriates in Beirut. And it made me wonder if I had not always been out of sync, whether when growing up in Connecticut and New Hampshire or when roaming most of the world’s continents.

For economy’s sake, I when I got back in the mid-seventies I went to live in a seedy shared apartment whose rooms went mainly to Maoists, Trotskyists, Trotskyites Anarchists and Stalinists, none of which I was. I had no girl friend to give me definition, only occasional cold one-night, or less, encounters. And I felt more trapped than ever by lack of money. Everything in my life seemed to be under a blanket of depression.

I did get up each day, and I did do the necessary footwork to get advance money two new book contracts, which I secretly suspected would not save me. I developed some new interests and like everyone else in the city discovered a latent passion for classic dance, alternating between Suzanne Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland, Balanchine and the American Ballet Theater, with side trips to the Taylor and other modern troupes. I was in an out of Washington doing research for one of the books, which took me to the sad old State Department, a vacant place in what should be a fascinating area. It is true I was meeting all sorts of people in New York and Washington and during brief research forays abroad, mainly because I had my book contracts, which did not stop my drinking from becoming, more than ever, blackout drinking. I was getting bills form Bellevue for having been taken there in a blackout and patched up for some happening that I did not remember.

One of the things I had missed most when away was being in touch with what was happening in art. Visual art had been a part of my happiest times in the city and in Europe too, from the late fifties when I was with this very appealing girlfriend – we were also in Greece together – who was an action painter.

But I had lost touch. And I did not find anything to connect to. I totally missed – as blind perhaps as a critic to what was around me – what was billed in the Met now, 35 years later, as the Pictures Generation. The show takes up many gallery rooms but is not listed on the banners at the front; a man taking entrance money was excited by it, but it was hard to find any signs pointing to it. Yet the moment I stepped into those rooms (located on the way to the 19th century rooms) I found myself in what seemed like a completely familiar, if never before seen, world – something that sometimes happens with a piece of music or a painting or with written evocations of lives. An array here of different approaches by a great many artists working at that mid-seventies time – from a driven young woman’s recording of herself on film to exuberant sketches. I went to see it because I know an extraordinary talented Woodstock guy who is in it, Paul McMahon, who lives now in the same town where I have lived, and even felt connected, for more than 20 years. His work in the show has joy in it – light-hearted and also moving, ranging from writing on maudlin picture postcards to pastel works done on front pages of the Times, with several stops in between, including an inviting poster, “Masters of Love,” and a series of small paintings in which he did red polka dots.

It felt walking through this show that I was in that world I had dreamt of back in the seventies, a world I could not join, did not even find, when I was back looking for something solid after years of disconnection in odd places. That world of people who knew each other, were working together, and were on a mission, rejecting hack work, taking art out of the hands of the linear hecklers and taking it right up to the often precarious edge of life. The sort of group to which it seemed in the mid-seventies that, despite what I believed, I could never really belong.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


At motherly but lithe Lita’s slippery little bar on Airport Road – which was of the sort found in every corner of Manila – laughing girls in very off the shoulder dresses and men waving guns around in what was usually bluffing, and numbered rooms upstairs that had fairly fresh sheets on the beds – at Lita’s I am on a bar stool and Mercie is wrapped around me and we are downing San Mig beers rapidly, the last round bought by Sergeant Arellano, a policeman who it Lita’s protector, and outside are the familiar haunting shouts – balut, balut, balut – which up till now I have been able to ignore, but Sergeant Arellano days it will be hospitality tonight, and he calls for the outdoor salesman of balut, balut being not quite hatched ducks in their eggs. You knock off the top, and bite into the well developed duck embryo, blood and all and its strangely colored odiferous parts. You take a bite, and look at the veins and the bitten bones of the part that remains, then you are supposed to drink deep from the open shell the liquid in which the now decapitated duck had been hatching. I’ve managed to avoid this so far, though everyone on Airport road knows what a good sport I am, but I just cannot face actual ingestion of balut.

Sergeant Arellano is scowling and talking about Philippine hospitality again, and Mercie is looking really worried, a look I have never seen on her face in this place where there can be so much cause for worry, and so I have the egg in my hand, and I’ve knocked the top off, and I move the egg away thinking maybe this is enough, and then I see that Sergeant Arellano, talking ever more sternly about hospitality, has his revolver out…..

My precarious relationship to food began way back in darkest Connecticut where we had a kind of classic unseasoned Wasp food – overcooked vegetables, stringy liver, oily mackerel, the saving grace being that portions were so small, but even that was not a refuge for there was my also Southern grandmother always present making sure that whatever else we were eating or avoiding we refilled our plates with congealed grits and piles of snot-like okra.

This was in the background a couple of months ago, when I decided that it was time I learned to cook. I had long fancied myself a gourmet, but maybe it was pure bluff, maybe I could not escape my past. Food was supposed to be awful, and men were supposed to be incompetent. Poole men, for instance, could never learn to carve, even for occasions when there really was something to carve. They certainly could not built things – but I took comfort in what I had done when I began to paint 20 years ago. I went to the hardware store over on Seventh Avenue and talked them into precise instructions for what kind of lumber I would need for the shelves I needed to hold my supplies – for I was doing huge things now, including sculpture – and how I could put up heavy shelves without the walls giving in – what I needed to make sure they were level as well as strong. Well, I beat my fate that time, and maybe now I could do it again.

I have found support. In a short time I have put together a library on cooking that is about as large at the almost instant libraries I assembled when I plunged into visual art, and again when I dove into theology. And I have found help with this version of art as I had with others. Classes. Books. But also regular people. With an old friend I did a pork tenderloin that I think would please any connoisseur and sure pleased me. With someone else who had the benefit of an Italian grandmother I did lasagna, several kinds by now, and all sorts of sauces and of course meat balls such as few Wasps has ever seen much less eaten. And I do all sorts of spontaneous mixtures of meat and chicken and vegetables and fish and spices and herbs, always with sauces. I have begun to assemble more equipment such as a heavy meat bounder that I finally found upstairs at Zabar's so that I could flatten out cutlets the way my more unfortunate friends remembered their ethnic grandmothers doing.

Recipes? Instructions from the books? Proper measuring and timing. Proper seasoning – done mostly by instinct and smell and intuition by me who never saw a clove of garlic until he left home. It was like when I started painting – and I got the books and signed up for the courses and learned anatomy and color theory and all the rest but then almost instantly went off on my own whether doing figurative or abstract work, almost immediately going beyond any given plan – which is something it took me so long to discover in writing that when I did I embark on it there, too, everything in my life changed. If feels just like this with cooking. I need rosemary even though the book says I don’t. I need double or triple of any amount of garlic called for, or, really, any amount of anything called for in the plans – cooking turns out to be so much like painting and like writing and like the life I sought for so long.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 92 – NEW TIMES

As I drove in 1986 looking to unravel the past, my mind was never far from the litany of family horrors, the bad ends to which others in my generation who had roots in the old White Mountains summer community were coming – this litany what was at the center of my talks and rants in the city – sadism and incest and molestation and miscellaneous cruelty, with anti-Semitism and other kinds of exclusion – these matters that were putting the lie to everything that, to me, the White Mountains of New Hampshire was supposed to have meant.

I drove mostly in Vermont, where I had this sort of safe base camp in the house of an old friend in Rutland whom I had known most of my life first in Connecticut and then in the city, and who had escaped to Vermont many years back and then escaped even alcoholism. I went with him to a political meeting where I met the governor, who was actually a woman, actually a Democrat, which in 1986 across the border in New Hampshire were credentials that would end any contemplated political career. There was excited talk among my friends in Rutland that, thanks partly to their senator Patrick Leahy, who many of them knew, the Democrats were about to take the U.S. Senate from the perverse Reaganites, and maybe the world would be back on track.

And meanwhile health food stores and organic and vegetarian and vegan restaurants were opening all over the state, and reformed businessmen from the cities were raising arugula and goats, and on the village greens there were kids playing music as if it were 1966, not 1986. To put the stamp on it, Brattleboro had a gay bar. If there were gays in New Hampshire, they were so careful you did not see them. If there was health food it was kept a secret. The closest thing I saw in my forays across the border to New Hampshire to what was happening in he rest of the world was that diner menu in Littleton that proclaimed the specialty of the day to be cheeseburger quiche.

And another thing, everyone in the Rutland crowd was in therapy, almost all of them at this moment in groups conducted, oddly, by a group of progressive nuns who had come to town and set up shop practicing something called transactional analysis, which I had heard of in the past only as something silly. In this very quick-fix therapy, members of the Rutland groups, billed as short-term, were apparently supposed to confront people all the time by telling them what was rally going on with them. And everything had a neater-than-real-life label. An adherent among adherents could win an argument by saying something like, “Ah, I hear the little professor speaking.” These people seemed as certain of their lightweight categorizing of others as I was of what seemed to me my deep and everlasting new understanding of the wolves in sheep’s clothing of my family past.

What made the nun’s group worse was that transactional analysis was what had sparked a widely ridiculed (in my New York circles) a popular self-help book called I’m Okay, You’re Okay. But even the silliness seemed to put Vermont once again far ahead of New Hampshire. In the White Mountains, so far as I knew, therapists were as rare as Communists.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 91 – WHAT HAPPENED

In this time when I had to know not what was happening in situations I had been close to – not what the thugs called tonton marcouts were doing to the best people in Haiti on behalf of the dictator Duvalier who ruled by voodoo and blood, and not what Batista had done in Cuba, or the colonels in Greece, or the makers of Vietnam policy, or the puffed up Somozas in Nicaragua, or the egregiously cruel Marcos’s in my recent wife’s homeland, not was happening in situations to which I had been an observer but not a party, but rather to what I knew best but had investigated least -- my family.

I had made early attempts to connect dots – for example this question of why no one in my parent’s generation could hold on to a job. But in the biggest matters I had not made connections any more than the others did, though the connections had already been coming before I picked up the Aqua Mustang and used it for time travel.

At first it was Cousin Elizabeth, in Sloane Kettering with cancer, not lung cancer but her parents and her husband were blaming it all on her smoking, Elizabeth one of the alive ones, and an artist, a real artist, not like her mother who the family thought so talented because of the family and pet portraits she had done when young before the Junior League took all her time. Before children arrived, Elizabeth was at the Art Students League, which they all said proved she was nothing because anyone could go there and take classes, unlike, for instance, Smith and Radcliff and Vassar. And a year before this time driving in northern New England I had been working night and day on a project that took me down to the Bahamas, and I had made time in the city to go over to Sloane Kettering every day or two. I had seen poems in which Elizabeth told of her pre-cancer suffering, but I had only skimmed them. She had an apparently successful bone marrow operation, and then announced that she wanted to die, and talked what both her mother, who competed with her for men, and her father had done to her, and then one day she was on a respirator, her head swelled up like a deep blue balloon, this just after she had said she wanted to die because of what had happened. And soon after that Cousin Anna hung herself out in San Diego where her husband Cousin Mark was being an academic anthropologist having finally gotten his education after being thrown out of Exeter and then Williams for stealing. And Mark, who was so obese by now he practically could not travel by air, had been with a surprise mistress while the suicide was taking pace, and then borrowed from my brother the Farm House, the last of the big family houses to stay anywhere in the family, so that he could have his honeymoon, as he had always dreamt, in the White Mountains. It was awhile before an order of protection was out to keep him away from his daughter – and a while longer before he shot himself.

Aunt Alice, who said she kind of liked Lauryn’s batterer, and anyway Lauryn brought it on herself for she was too pretty, too appealing. And just after this my mother said she had talked with Mark’s mother, who had talked with Anna’s mother, who agreed that Anna’s death was all to the good for she had been such a problem to both families, and now Mark could get on with his life.

And in this same time, Cousin Lawrence and his wife Cynthia had just told me of a strange thing that happened when they were up in the mountains for Christmas with Lawrence’s mother, my Aunt Alice – who had moved long ago not to a family house – she was too much of a black sheep for that – but to a small company house in a nearby decaying mill town. She had gone there with her daughter Lauryn, who was in the Lysée in New York and almost full time with the ballet, because Lauryn’s brother Paul had gotten so deeply in trouble they had to flee. The trouble involved sawed off shotguns and kidnapping and apparently rape – and had still been going on up in new Hampshire when a judge let him off only if he would join the army. While Aunt Alice and her children Lawrence and Lauryn were watching television that Christmas there was a TV movie about sexual abuse and to their surprise – as if this had come form nowhere – Lauryn started screaming. Lawrence told me about it, but said it was that she had actually been raped by Paul once.

And then Lauryn wound up in a battered women’s shelter in Minneapolis, just at the time I was in the midst of my exploration of New Hampshire. Aunt Alice had been phoning me in the autumn, I heard her voice when I called my answering machine, but I did not return the call. I was busy in a deeply sexual tryst with a very pretty blonde woman, which seemed a natural extension of my investigations. I knew her from Adult Children of Alcoholics, where her stories were sufficiently horrendous. She knew the sort of world I had been born into, and even had one of those fake British accents, though she had apparently learned it during a time studying in England.

At this point the pat was completely in the present – and clear visual images came to me of what had happened to me. They came to me when I was back in New York and picked up the phone and heard Aunt Alice saying a horrible thing had happened to her, Aunt Alice, which was that Lauryn had been battered– and it turned out that Paul had been beating her from the time she was very young – Aunt Alice, Lauryn told me had to have seen the deep whip marks and blood when she was in the bath. Full rape has begun as soon as she was large enough for Paul to enter, and it went on for years It and it would never have ended, she knew, if Paul had not been killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident – which in the family they said was so strange, a motorcycle, for nothing like that had ever happened to any of us.

I had been in the Philippines, which I knew far too well, doing a book about the Marcos's and the horrors of martial law – village square beheadings by the constabulary, for instance – in those thickly populated islands. The book was written with a journalist friend from my years in Asia, with the help of a major player, a liberal Marcos rival who had spend eight years in prison, and was killed, shot in the back of the head by government men, before the book was finished, and soon our allies were being assassinated at a rate of horror. And I was under death threat, called in the night in Manila and San Francisco, by figures said to be from the Marcos military.

And just now at this time with Anna and Lauryn and Elizabeth and the memory of Paul it came to light that my brother Peter was working in the Philippines for the CIA at the very time I was there more or less underground with the old-line opposition and also the Maoist New People's’ Army, and he never told me, and we both could have been killed because of it.

This and much more was on my mind as I drove about northern New England looking for what had happened in what has once been the most safe of all places – a little stuffy these people, maybe, but with great accomplishments too – all in the past – in this part of the world that to so many in the family it seemed the family owned.

I was on the track now – and for the first time in my life had gone for a year without depression.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 90 – PROTECTION

In August of 1970 I decided to finish my picaresque novel in the White Mountains, which, strangely, I thought would not distract me from this basically true story I had sold to Harper’s of my wildly unsafe adventures in the night world of Bangkok. So now I was staying partly at White Wings with Mickie and her new husband Charlie and partly at Lovett’s, the restaurant and high end cabin complex at the corner where you turn off for the Profile Club.

Here in the mountains I kept silent about my recent activities except to let them know I planned to put the finishing touches on this novel right here – letting them see I had credentials of my own apart from family heritage. This was no place to talk of how I had spent the eight months between the time I got the contract and this time now, one of my rare returns to the White Mountains.

With the contract in my self consciously battered briefcase I had gone from New York to London, where I had friends from Southeast Asia days and also could check in with Jason Bacon, who I had known since the third grade. Jason was in London running the big money office of Kidder, Peabody. For years I had considered him my only Republican friend.

With overvalued dollars from my advance I took an apartment on the Chelsea embankment with a view of the Thames. Then I left London, where I knew people, for the Canary Islands, where I knew no one – these sad though lovely islands of the Africa coast that are sparsely inhabited with depressed Iberians and overrun by bargain seeking Brits of the sort who start every other sentence with “as it were,” and mark their wine bottles so that between meals the wogish locals who did menial work in the hotels would not sneak drinks which, the “as it were” bargain tourists said, represented “value for money.” My isolation in such a place weighed so heavy that it was sort of a relief after a night when drunk to incoherence to wake up in a jail cell being glared at through the bars by a man in the costume drama uniform of the fascist Guardia Civil.

Then back to London which was full of people coming and going whom I had known in Southeast Asia – which at least was company, though these were journalist war lovers taking a break before deciding whether to go back to the killing fields in Indochina or look for new ones in the Middle East. And then I was off to Malta with an old boozed-up writer friend who knew a famous alcoholic Australian novelist there. The Australian lived in an old ocean-view house with cool tile floors and glass cases containing dead stuffed birds. I had a room that opened on the roof, where I kept forgetting how many sleeping pills I had taken. Our best reason for being there was that the next town over had the sweetest young prostitute on the island which in the circumstances did feel like connection. I twisted my ankle badly coming down the stone steps from her house, but soon could have it fixed with British national health service. This was not something to talk about in the White Mountains.

Next, back to London again and then a sojourn in Frankfort, where I had old friends from Athens days, and on to Zermatt, which was so clearly not at all like what they said it was in the White Mountains where they somehow connected their wild scraggly ranges with the perfectly ordered Swiss Alps. I hiked and wrote, happy to be far away from English food – which was something else that might seem strange if I mentioned it in the White Mountains summer crowd, whose members from Baltimore, Boston and Chicago often talked, in mysterious ersatz aristocratic style, with what sounded like English accents. For two weeks I did not have a drink – though it worried me that if this continued it would prove offensive to the remnants of my family.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 89 –ENTRANCE TO A VILLAGE

In those years when I was on the hunt for what had happened, and at a crucial point drove into the geographical, and also state-of-mind, place where what I was seeking would have come to pass, drove into the heart of darkness, it seemed, in this time I had become open to changing versions of everything I had believed about myself and the worlds I had been in – this time that seemed so crucial, so loaded, but for which my writing, by which till now I had defined myself, was useless. And so I had turned to visual art, at first hours and hours, often full days, of looking at paintings in the midtown and uptown and Soho and short-lived East Village galleries, and in the Metropolitan, the Modern, the new Drawing Center, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Frick, the Brooklyn. I could have walked with my eyes closed into to any of a couple of hundred rooms in those places and known exactly what paintings were where, which were in front of me, which behind, which to the right and which to the left – as well as knowing with my eyes shut the exact placement of each painting on each of those walls. And I was seeing my life, my past history, through what was coming to light as I looked – the hope and the plight of the young boy in Matisse’s piano lesson, the diagram into suicide in the razor edge, thorny and sexually charged supposedly abstract images in Gorky that were not the least bit abstract to me – and other paintings that had the opposite effect, my refuge in Deibenkorn’s arrangements of colors, which were not abstract to me either, and my old fears and warm longings in Bonnard – my recently rediscovered joy in Monet and Cezanne and newly discovered joy, and warmth and longing again in Corot and Courbet, and awe at creation in Rembrandt.

All this before I had done more than think about drawing and painting myself.

On a wall separating a 16th century Dutch gallery room from the grandiose Eberhardt Court there was a Hobbema painting, called Entrance to a Village – a couple of old houses and some very small figures in a woods. I would stand in front of that painting and feel I had stepped right into it, soaking in the atmosphere of fine summer days – until one day when I could see nothing comforting in Entrance to a Village. That day I stood there berating myself for seemingly having lost the ability to rise to perfect summer day. I walked away not sure when I would be back, but in the night I had a lengthy fearsome dream of being in deep, dark, very dangerous woods that seemed to be the Hobbema woods and then were also the deep, dark woods of the White Mountains that started just past the iron streaked rocks behind the biggest of the family houses, and went all the way to woods that climbed up the distant mountains, which were chopped up with ravines and had big brown markings made by trees dead from sudden storms that even in summer caught and killed hikers, all the way to up above the timber line where all was wind-battered rock except some wiry, low lying, desperately clinging miniature pines that hung on in places where there was no apparent earth.

That was the real Hobbema, I was now sure. And that was the long ignored reality of the those supposedly perfect days in the White Mountains.

And so I was learning more from that Hobbema painting and the visual pictures it triggered in my mind, waking and asleep, more than I had learned from writing – about White Pines and what had happened and why the chickens were coming home to roost in places of the past in the far north that were at one time to me as close to perfect summer day places as was that picture, for a time, of the dark clearing in Hobbema’s woods.

Twenty-three eventful, life-changing years later I am in the Met. It is not like that time when I had been there nearly every day and when in my apartment my lampshades had been lined with the colored buttons you wore to prove you had paid the Met’s entrance fee, which could be anything at all if you had not been fooled into believing a big fee was mandated rather than a donation of even a tiny amount. Since I had often been in there many days in a row back then, and without writing had had no income source, I decided a quarter was enough – until I saw students walking away because they did not have the supposed fee, after which I cut my entrance payments to a single cent.

And now after so much change and expansion in my life, I was back. There had been changes in the past year or two in the Met, though none of the changes as substantive as the curators probably thought, for it still had the same paintings. The brightly colored modern eras ones in the redone American Wing were now arranged in a silly way crowded together in numbered glass cases. But the Hobbema was where it had always been and I went straight to it, and again, like the day and night 23 years ago, it had become a different painting.

I saw light now in that village woodland clearing. Light I could have forgotten. I saw a warm glow. But there on the left was a vague, brown and black, hut-like dwelling so vague and dingy it must have to do with the intrusion of death.

Looked at more closely, that dwelling, too, was glowing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 88 – INQUISITOR

I had gone there like a roving, incognito inquisitor, out to get the goods on these people. And I was also finding how much I loved the place, and even how much I longed for the person I had been. My wanting to get back to that person was a part of why I was roaming this mountain countryside. I told myself I was there only to convince the guilty, whether alive or dead. I enjoyed my new anger, railing in these meetings I went to about the people of this past of mine that I had tried to sugarcoat, then tried to ignore, then tried to forget. But now I wanted to remember. Oh God I enjoyed the anger, I enjoyed railing at these people I had once loved almost as if they were in front of me. I called them betrayers. I said they had broken my heart. I cataloged the damage. Whatever it was that had happened back in the White Mountains, there has to be an explanation there for suicide and sexual convolution and molestation and all the rest that was now, so many years later, coming to light in the present. Not knowing exactly what those people to whom we entrusted ourselves had done, I said they all belonged in jail for whatever it was.

Though concrete evidence was sketchy. I was much taken with a young woman, Michelle, in these meetings whose father was a therapist who had turned his practice into a dictatorial cult. I cheered her rage. She said she was looking for evidence. And meanwhile her life had taken a different turn, for she was living in a community of very liberal sisters of St. Joseph nuns. It was a place of safety in the midst of all the change going on – for like me what she had pretended was the best place in the world in which to come of age had become the most dangerous of all possible places. Surely a chamber of horrors. But She need cleared views, clear memories of what had happened to her.

“I want the visuals.” She said.

I wanted the visual too, and I nearly had them and then I would be distracted by other clear memories of the White Mountains, the clouds that sat on Lafayette, the northern birds, and those lawns at White Pines with white, in-ground bird bathes, where I had waded as a soon as I could walk, as documented by my grandfather with a what he called his Kodak, which had a bellows that pushed the lens closer to what was being photographed.

The sounds of northern nature, the hum of the deep woods. The times the mountains looked green, not cold gray and blue, and gave the feeling in life that you got when looking at old postcards that had the mountains on linen stock and they looked so very soft, and safe – for on these postcards, as in some memories, you did not see the craggy granite cliffs, nor the avalanche scars.

But the cool mountain mornings in mid-summer, with fires in the evening in late August.

The awe they all expressed a the very thought of my celebrated grandfather Gaga. And my grandmother Nana a leader too, and kind. And everyone spoke of her too with awe – except their old housekeeper Mrs. Miner whom I have just found – or who just found me, after all those years and who is so clear about what happened, and why she had to leave that world, but keeps keep stopping just short of filling in the final details.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 87 – GIRL

I was here in this particular present and at the same time feeling I was here in my past as I stood outside the house called White Wings. White Wings, where I had spent summers when I was three and four years old at the end of the 1930s. I was leaning up now, speaking to this familiar, now graying woman Mickie, dressed in the clothes she wore for cleaning her barn, her face strained with the annoyance of a marijuana hangover. I saw her at this moment in her work clothes, and I could also see her as a spirited girl in a bathing suit halter, a flirtatious smile continuing the perhaps unintentionally taunting promise of her partially bare young body.

In her middle age version now she was standing on the upstairs outside walkway that connected the house’s two wings. And though this was 1986, it was just as much the summer of 1951 when Mickie was 14, just a touch younger than me, and Mickie’s parents had come in from Grosse point to put the finishing touches on their new summer house, which had been one of our summer houses, and she was such an appealing and promising girl, so smooth, as cute as she was sinuous, her legs, her breasts, a seeming avatar of a new sphere I might enter. At that time I had recently had my first experiences with puppy love, and also had begun masturbating, and had not till Mickie’s arrival in the mountains seen much connection between the two.

Behind me right now were the familiar mountains of the Franconia range. They were partially obscured by trees that had been allowed to grow freely by the raw outsider who now owned the infinite acres of White Pines, the biggest of our family’s old formal houses. And yet I could see the mountains as if they were not yet blocked by untamed trees, see this old view in this present as if I were in the deep past when the woods were more controlled.

To my left was the wing that had been my grandfather’s writing place, near which no one could talk for the great man might be in the midst of another formidable novel. It was the only part of the house they had substantially changed when Mickie’s family came in from Grosse Point – this family that the old-time summer people treated with some suspicion, as they did with anyone new. But I didn’t care what anyone thought about Mickie’s parents.

They had ripped apart this forbidding place where the great man had worked in silence, and they had had the floors sanded to light shiny wood, and the old dark wall paper had been removed and everything painted white and the place had been dedicated not to an old writer but to gorgeous Mickie and her little brother. It was not like the children’s ghetto houses that the old families had, not like the Boys’ Wing down at White Pines. It was somehow a part of a bigger world, a world beyond these summer places.

That was then. Now in this time I was still seeing the young Mickie while leaning up to talk with this rough aging woman version of Mickie on the walkway. The wing that had been light was now dark again. The walls inside were now gray and splintery. There was a country person’s old wood stove there now. The floor was encrusted with dirt, and a dozen dogs were in residence, and also a young handyman whom Mickie had brought to her bed, saving him from abuse on one of the sparse local farms, which had mongrel cows on rented rocky land and no money even to maintain silos.

To Mickie’s left, as she stood on the walkway, my right from down below, was the shuttered main wing. Her mother talked on the phone almost daily from her latest rehab in Michigan to the one-man Sugar Hill police force to get reassurance that Mickie, though living here now, would be arrested if she broke into that main wing.

And that part of the house had not changed, as I found when we broke into the wing together. They had lived in it but kept it as a museum honoring the same past my grandparents worshipped. A complete set of Gaga’s books was in there. The same wallpaper – a pattern of pagodas – had been preserved from some distant time when Nana had been on the crest of new things and decorated their houses with fashionable chinoiserie. Out front was a new replica of the old striped awning that I remembered.

And the mountain air was as refreshing as ever, and it had the sent of balsam, and the northern birds still sang the songs of their brief summertimes.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 86 – JEWS

It was like living in the underground, as if I were in occupied territory and could not let on what I thought of the occupiers. The occupiers in this case were the nicest, sometimes wittiest, always correct members of the summer crowd here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Most but not all of them were Republican. But none seemed to have any social connection to the other Republicans, the year-round people, whom they sometimes ridiculed by imitating their Yankee accents. And moreover, all of the summer people, it seemed back then, were anti-Semitic.

My non-identical twin brother Peter, known in the family then as the good boy, the smart boy, the boy whose “cute sayings” were passed on by dignified old Southern ladies to each other, starting with our material grandmother, who unlike our paternal grandmother was not a full-scale landed member of the old summer community but was, rather, one of the old Southern ladies on the porch at the sprawling Sunset Hill House Hotel, whose clientele had been basically Southern since Southern ladies started coming here in hay fever season in the previous century. This Southern grandmother would pass on
little Peter’s latest, and it would go from wicker chair lady to wicker chair lady. I tried not to let them see how shy I was, much less how hurt I was to be overlooked, and this included trying not to let my face show what I was really thinking.

On Sunday at mid-morning the ladies of the Sunset, with white cloves and lace-lined print dresses and fine summer hats, would walk down the hill to a small Episcopalian summer church, St. Matthew’s, where my parents – my father from the landed people, my mother from the hotel guests and renters – had been married, and which was the bailiwick of my other grandmother, who was so far from being Southern that she talked with an English accent, that mysterious affectation that passes among those who use it as American upper class. This other grandmother ran the church’s affairs. And Peter and I would be dressed each Sunday in ties and pressed shorts and sent along with her so that we could take up the collection. I think I knew what was going on the first time I realized that, in a part of the service, the tune from My Country T'is of Thee was used with the words to God Save the King.

Peter and I would go for walks with our grandfather, Gaga, each of us carrying canes we picked out of the cane rack at the spacious entry room to White Pines, the biggest of the family’s’ formal houses – these places set well apart from the overall rural poverty, these places where they dressed for dinner in tuxedos to and evening gowns. We would go up our long twisting driveway through White Pine woods that had been planted by our grandparents and then continue along Davis Road, a dirt road on which the other three big family house’s, plus the caretaker's barn and living quarters, were situated, and on through White Birch woods, past the driveway to the estate of Gaga’s old Princeton roommate, Otto Mallery, a place where they had apartments above their long garage for the many black servants that they brought with them each summer from Philadelphia.

Yet the road still felt to Peter and me like it was in the wild North Woods until, at the top, it reached St. Matthew’s summer church, and then a paved road that quickly came to a turn for the Sunset Hill House.

I was only 10 then but I knew what was going on a when a nice looking couple stopped there and asked my grandfather for directions to a good hotel and he told them there were no hotels in the area, even though this was right by a sign pointing towards the Sunset Hill House.

Perhaps this was the beginning of my life in the underground. Because my grandfather saw what was on my face, and he arranged for a rare one-on-one session with me the next day to explain that it had to be this way because, he said, a Jew will be unfair, he will work harder than another fellow and take that fellow’s job away.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 85 – HOW LIKE HOME

A world of privilege was how it was sometimes described by people from the outside, as if they were waifs, their noses pressed against the window of a candy store. Privilege, a word I never associated with my past, no matter how it might have appeared to outsiders. A word that in my mind was applicable to costume drama or the sort of cruel flaunting of great wealth amidst desperate poverty that I had seen on my last trip to the Philippines.

I had many non-political feelings for the Philippines, the land of a girl I had loved and from whom I was recently divorced. Such feelings, even though my last trip there, three years back, has been for purposes of exposing it. Or maybe, I was thinking now, for purposes of covering up what I might find if I probed closer to home.

The rarefied summer world version of the White Mountains, that region for which I had until recently believed I mainly felt nostalgia, had been pretty much, though not completely, wiped out. In recent months in New York I had reveled in my new found fury as I put myself in places where I could shout about things I had once thought no worse than slightly snobbish and naively pretentious.

This change of perspective in looking at the past that changed everything. These memories still developing now in Vermont – the anti-New Hampshire – and in quick forays to the other side of the Vermont-New Hampshire border as I criss-crossed scenes in that world that may have once seemed ideal – a perfect summer day sort of world – a past world that now could be in darkness.

This border, across which I had fled in my mind carrying with me the family secrets that I would turn over to what had been the enemy. The regular people.

I had shouted about it, but I couldn’t find the words as these past scenes swirled round in my head while I was driving near or right into the middle of the literal places where these old family scenes had taken place.

It did not seem strange to me that for 30 years I had gone to such lengths to stay out of New Hampshire. Recently when shouting before sympathetic “adult children” groups I had actually said “my heart is breaking,” said it while feeling the words came from outside of me or from forgotten places. But even now when I turned my car north I also felt my heart leap.

I was glad I did not have to oversimplify these feelings with written words. I was living in a mostly visual world now, thinking seriously of taking up visual art and meanwhile looking and looking at these landscapes the way in the city I had been looking at Hobbema and Gorky and Matisse and Deibenkorn. Almost freed from words.

It was only three years now since the last time I was in Manila, dividing my days between the grandiose world of facades constructed by the rulers and the often deceptive worlds of their opponents, with whom I was allied. I was allied with the opposition in part out of conviction and in part out of ambition since I had a book contract to write about the horrors of this martial law place, the Philippines. For these purposes, I pretended to be take the rulers seriously. I approached them as if I wanted in my writing to celebrate what I pretended were their great deeds – as I had pretended once when with Somoza in Nicaragua, and other times when with Kissinger’s pro-consul ambassadors in Southeast Asia. And yet I knew that they knew.

I had friends from the past in Manila, who now had government ties, and while drinking told me what they knew about me, which was far more than Philippine intelligence alone could have known. It seemed clear I had been followed from New York to California to Manila and back. And yet, I and the powerful Philippine authorities I interviewed played a game. I pretending to be a mere hat-in-hand journalist, they pretending to believe me.

And soon it got wildly dangerous, for soon they were killing the people they and I both knew I was allied with.

How like, it was coming to seem in this summer of exploration, how like what I was doing now in the White Mountains –like what I had done time and again over the years while getting myself into these literal wartime situations

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 84 – WRITER’S FEE

At Penthouse they had given me money for what I knew they hoped would be a celebration of the egregious sex lives of the recently departed Philippine dictator and his greedy wife. What I actually gave them was an angry political piece linking the Marcoses to the Reagans. But they had paid me anyway, perhaps because the editor involved was coked up when he made the assignment. By now I had lost all interest in being published, but the fee was financing my summer in northern New England – my investigation not of the ruins of the Philippines but the ruins of the family I came from.

For the never to be published Penthouse piece I had flown to California and spent time with the same New People’s Army representatives who had recently helped me get with outlaws in the islands for the book my old friend Max Vanzi and I wrote on the horrors of what America’s free world co-conspirators had wrought. It was only two years since the book came out, though the publishing phase of my life now seemed as tucked away in a safe compartment as had recently seemed the New Hampshire part of my past life.

The news that the dictator has fled came at the start of this year as I was plunging into the hunt for what had happened in the past. From my place in Chelsea I did a radio interview by phone with some talk show guy in California. Towards the end of the interview I had popped a new kind of sleeping pill, and I realized the next morning that I was not quite sure about what I had said. Something to examine in my life. Getting free of alcohol, and now getting the goods on those who were not, did not take care of all such problems.

But anyway the Philippine situation was out of the way, and I had nothing more pressing then the family story, and yet there were links. Vermont in this turning point summer of 1986 was the antithesis of that crowded, Southeast Asian nation, which had its music and sometimes grace but treated it poor in a way that could please American Republicans. And it was a place where left-wing or merely liberal opponents of the regime were often put to death, including a principal character of our book, Ninoy Aquino, and where the rampaging Philippine Constabulary had recently staged village square beheadings to terrorize the people. A hot and crowded place of often eager and often graceful people, a wild place of sybaritic drifting that played against the knife-edge politics.

Which brought me back to the hunt I was on. If Vermont was the antithesis of the Philippines, it was also now, to me, the antithesis what lay on its eastern boarder – New Hampshire, the place where I had come of age in my many early summers in the White Mountains – the magic family place where I had once thought myself secure and felt myself happy.

And the White Mountains area was only an hour north of the gentler New Hampshire lake country, were I had gone to a small anglophile boarding school, Holderness – which, by all accepted lore about such places should have been the site of great cruelty, which in some ways it was, but it was also the place where, away from family for the first time, I first began to get clear on who I was and what I might be.

Not that I ever forgot what lay to the north. As even now with so many years between me and those days, the White Mountains was always on the horizon.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 83 – A CLASS MATTER

Among the rare times I wore my private’s uniform in public was when I was traveling by train, for the uniform meant you paid half price. On one trip up from Atlanta, where I was stationed, there was a loud drunk with a week’s stubble and foul breath who was bothering the passengers, changing seats, talking and talking, sometimes making what seemed to be threats. After he got off the train, an old lady said to me, “I wasn’t worried. I knew we had a soldier with us.”

The uniform gave me some perspective. People who went to boarding schools and the right sorts of colleges dressed differently from everyone else. Most of the time when I was in public I wore a necktie, and virtually all the time I would be in a tweed sport jacket when I was not in a suit. But when I got on a train in uniform some people smiled at me as if I were one of their own, and train conductors called me “chief,” not “sir.” Usually this felt like an attack on who I really was, but sometimes, curiously, it made me curious proud.

Less than a year after Princeton, still a civilian, I was on a Greyhound bus coming up from Miami to New York. It was the last leg of what I considered my first of many big foreign adventures, this first one my failed attempt to get to Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestre. On the bus I sat beside a retired machinist from Queens. Behind me there was a pale but vigorous young couple drinking beer. A couple of prissy passengers told them to stop opening beer cans, but they paid no attention and the driver did not involved. I was thinking how great to be an ordinary person drinking beer on a bus with your girlfriend. I had just had a lonely night in raw Miami B-girl bars, wishing I were back in Cuba.

The retired machinist talked about this great thing he had done. He had gone to Sea World. I did not tell him that I myself always avoided the tourist gags.

Out of the blue he started talking about the army. Everyone was still getting drafted even now that the Korean war was well over and there did not seem to be any more wars in sight. He was talking about how the sergeants were harsh and unfair but their attitude was part of a plan, for it was important to give the troops a really rough time in order to toughen them up,

I had said nothing about myself up till now – certainly not that I had been trying to join a rebel leader but had been caught by Batista soldiers and had had to settle for Hemingwayesque adventures in small fishing boats, and for nights with cheap rum and ripe girls. But I did tell him how while still away (implying I had been in Florida, not Cuba) my father in Connecticut had sent along my draft notice.

He spoke now in an usually kindly way – this working class man – about how I could make my army time into a great opportunity, how I could let the army teach me a trade and thus be set for life when I came out.

I did not tell him that I had already started a career as a journalist, and was busy writing novels, and had recently graduated from Princeton, and planned all sorts of adventurous travel. And I did not tell him I planned to hold on to my summer base in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

I was proud that I was able to fool him.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 82 – PAST PERSON IV

That crucial summer that Gaga was in the Boy’s Wing and we were after real, not virtual, girls, Mrs. Miner had been replaced by Evelyn, a bustling and cheerfully garrulous woman of no clearly discernable age or origin. She had been hired in the city, where Nana had just set up on her own what she had planned, before Gaga’s stroke, to be their new winter quarters, an Upper East Side apartment that seemed to have as much of his presence in it as did the summer houses, though it was an apartment he never saw.

Evelyn was as nurturing as Mrs. Miner, though they were very different. Whereas Mrs. Minor had since the beginning of time been rooted in Sugar Hill, Evelyn seemed to be vaguely from some place in the West Indies. She seemed to be white, but they could not be sure. She talked freely and rapidly in tones that did indicate some place foreign, but the accent did not identify that place. As a child I did not know Mrs. Miner’s first name. As an adolescent I did not know Evelyn’s last name.

Whatever her origins, after she moved into Nana’s tiny maid’s room she settled so quickly into Nana’s life that it was if she had been around our family for many years. When she was serving she tended to enter into conversations going on at the formal city and country dining tables She gave her ideas freely as she circled the table, not hesitating to correct Nana if she thought Nana had gotten some fact or incident wrong.

On 66th Street she also became part of the scene beyond Nana’s apartment. She became a regular at a mysterious place – the big ornate Catholic church on the other side of 66th Street.

Evelyn seemed instantly to be as devoted to all of us – Nana’s children and grandchildren, especially my brother Peter and me – as Mrs. Miner had been. She did not make the same maple sugar cakes that Mrs. Miner made, which were smooth-cornered abbreviated cylinders with golden brown maple sugar icing on the sides as well as the tops. But I was quite happy with Evelyn’s version of maple sugar cakes, which were larger and more like conventional cupcakes, with icing that was white and only on the top, but with the same haunting maple sugar taste that was as much a part of my childhood mountain summers as was the feel of mountain air and the smell of balsam and the pine and wood smell in the souvenir stores at the Flume and the Tramway and by Profile Lake down below the Old Man of the Mountains. Those stores had wonderful common people’s things they said I should not enjoy, such toy tomahawks and balsam-filled pillows that had pictures of the Old Man on them with the words “For you I pine and balsam.”

When the summer parties for kids in our gang began, Evelyn saw to it that Peter and I looked sharp. The first summer when we were sniffing around Mickie Nana had noticed our sweat T shirts and given us a jar of Mum deodorabt. But this next year was different. Nearly every day Evelyn washed and dried and pressed my white and light blue cotton cord suit and Peter’s white and tan one. She was bound up in our coming of age, whereas Mrs. Miner had been on the childhood side of our lives.

And now so many years later I am at White Wings again. Evelyn has been dead for twenty years. But Mrs. Miner is very alive and I am suddenly on equal terms with her – equal terms with someone whose crucial connections are right here in the White Mountains, not Boston, not New York, not Baltimore, not some suburb like Scarsdale or Grosse Point, not some vague island.

And among the scenes swimming in my head as I stand outside White Wings with Mickie and Mrs. Miner and Gracy is one in which I am on a single car train of the old Boston & Maine Railroad from Boston’s North Station that takes Peter and me on the final lap of our return to Plymouth, New Hampshire, where the Holderness School is located. This old passenger car has a coal stove burning inside it. I am hearing the talk of two dowdy New Hampshire sounding women who are seated behind me. One is telling the other about marriage and money difficulties in her life. “Sometimes I feel so blue,” she says, and I feel a little uneasy and a little bit privileged to be so close to someone of a different species speaking in a language I have encountered only in mundane movies and radio plays. Following the family, I make myself feel repulsed by ordinary people, though always I am at the same time excited and almost wishing I were in their world rather than ours.

All those people from different worlds so close to our world, yet their local New England people’s world as distant from us as the world of summering Jews – who, though not at the center since the biggest hotels were “restricted,” came up here anyway, for they were welcomed by innkeepers and landlords in less strict mountain towns, including one not 10 miles away that was called Bethlehem, a place apparently dedicated to catering to Jewish people. We did not know how they talked, but cruel summer kids had made up a language for them – some of these kids driving into Bethlehem and fingering items in the summer stores and saying to each other “Fee-yaps,” which was how, they had decided, penny pinching Jews would talk. Sometimes speeding through Bethlehem at night shouting “Fee-yaps!” from their families’ cars.

And here now was Mrs. Miner, who, with Gracy, was more foreign even then the Jews. Mrs. Miner and Gracy stepping out of the past. Or was it me entering the past? Mrs. Miner were here as a guest, not as hired help sending village girls out from the kitchen to serve us after we had placed our finger bowls with their little round doilies correctly above and to the left of our place settings – the left also the side at which we were offered the platters of abundant food, for some reason quite Germanic, that was so unlike the more meager fare I was used to in Connecticut.

And now I was on this old car of the Boston & Maine, actually inside what might be part of a movie or radio play. And now years later I blink at I stand in front of White Wings and I am dealing directly with people heretofore as remote as actors seen in a darkened theater.

And they are speaking this language in which I had long ago heard the words about feeling blue. And both Mrs. Miner and Gracy, so very alive at they talk about the past. And now they are using a term I had never heard before. This word “buzzing” passing their lips in New England accented form.

I added it to my vocabulary in the only way new words enter my vocabulary, which is not because I look them up in a dictionary but rather because I catch the meaning instantly from the context in which they are used. The context here made it clear that buzzing was another word for fucking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 81 – OUT OF NOWHERE

It was all too easy to see something happening suddenly that would ruin everything. Gaga joked about alcoholic danger. A very light drinker himself, as opposed to his brothers-in-law and his children, and soon me though not Peter, Gaga thought it was the funniest thing in the world that the driver of a car hurtling down three-mile hill from Franconia Notch down to Franconia Village and Sugar Hill, this drunk driver turned to the drunk passenger beside him and said, “But I thought you were the one who was driving."

And it was no joke that at a curve in the road halfway down three-mile hill there was a high pile of big rocks put in place by a man whose house sat there, and before the pile there had been occasions when a car would crash right onto his porch, sometimes right into his living room. And afterwards there had been fatalities with cars crashing into the rocks rather than into his house behind the rocks.

On the trails up the higher mountains, trails that crossed great avalanche scars, there were crosses where hikers had been killed by hurtling rocks or sudden winter storms which here could come out of nowhere even in midsummer.

All of our houses had plenty of lightning rods, and there were plenty of stories about people being struck dead by lightning. There was a recurring story of something that happened at White Pines with lightning that would have been amusing if not for the lightning deaths that were always on the horizon. One evening a ball of lightning had come down the chimney at the living room end of the great main room and had shot the length of that room, which in my mind was at least 100 feet, and had then gone up the opposite chimney in the fireplace at the dining room end.

It was common, they said, for boys to cut themselves on rusty nails and get blood poisoning. Often when that happened they died. My father’s best boyhood had died that way. My father himself did not die when he cut himself on a rusty nail, but he was an invalid for a couple of years afterwards, taken away by a family friend to recuperate in Atlantic City, which in these circles was a staid winter resort, not a raucous summer resort. And he still had a slight limp, and it was enough to keep him out of the draft when the war started and millions were getting killed.

And oh yes, the bears. The mother bears. You would probably want to go up and pat a cute little baby bear if you saw one, and if you did the mama bear would claw you to death. Everyone knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, who had been clawed to death here in the White Mountains. These fatal things would come from nowhere and, no matter how carefully you had planned, destroy everything in blood and pain.

And now there was something else coming from nowhere that was just as mysterious and just as shocking. Suddenly to be taken out of myself by these summer girls and the summer boys, who never caught on to what I had been in school.

Something from nowhere, my sudden popularity.