Friday, January 2, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 58 - ILLUSION OF SAFETY

Only on occasion did it seem that we were very close to a world I knew from comics and radio dramas in which everyone was an ordinary person, everyone open to everyone else, worlds where there might be no fortified barriers between standardized people and us, which was so unlikely since we were descendants of the great writer, us in our big houses, us with servants to bring in the platters of food as we sat around the long shiny dining table being served by women from the village who seemed not to hear the talk about the good old days before World War II began, the even better days before World war I, talk of other big houses from Lake Forest to Europe, talk of cousin this and cousin that in Chicago, talk of cousins alive and dead, and famous people who had come here to White Pines, us dressed up, never casual at the dinner table, us so unlike the them in the villages who farmed and made things and repaired things, the them that I knew inhabited almost all of the world except for our tiny corner that was said to be so safe, the them I knew when in New Hampshire mainly from comics and radio serials, the them out there in the rest of the world where fairness, the comics and the radio told me, might win out in the end. The them, the fictional version of them – though sometimes I could feel safe in this family by the very fact that I was surrounded by people who knew that the them of the outside world were probably not people we should trust.

Peter, who never had a bad word for anyone in the family except Dad, spoke once when we were ten of contempt he felt for our grandfather Gaga because we had been in a public school and Gaga did not know worlds beyond this world that was fed by very private schools and equally private imitation English colleges. We knew more than Gaga did, he said, though he quickly rewrote what he had just said, and spoke of how kind Gaga was. Peter so controlled and determined, wearing glasses that seemed to underscore how wise he was, or how wise they all took him to be.

And Gaga with his floppy summer sun hat that had green isinglass in the brim, Gaga with one of the many canes that were in the rack at the high ceiling entry room in White Pines, that led out to the big main room that seemed to go on forever, or at the right of the entry room to Gaga’s study, meaning you had to tiptoe when near that door, or to the left to a wide stairway, halfway up which was a landing that contained only the telephone room, needing no explanation, for in this world it was as if every house had a telephone room. Ours contained a framed genealogical chart and also, strangely, for the very idea of sexy naked women seemed alien here, a small framed print of an old painting of an unclothed woman rising form an oyster shell.

I had never been happier getting to the mountains than late in that summer when we were nine and the parents for unexplained reasons had send us away for six weeks to Camp Saugatuck, a bare bones camp that was not far from where we lived most of the year in Connecticut but was as distant from us in our Connecticut town as was the world of the presumably uneducated year-round people up here in the mountains. Peter had hated that camp, he said, but he had not, it seemed to me, been hurt by it. He had not been one of the spindly, slow, less than human boys whom the other boys tortured with wet towels and fists, urged on by the camp counselors whose main duty seemed to be to line everyone up outside a toilet shack each morning, the line going on for hours it seemed, and to sent a kid back if after he came out the counselors saw that there was no B.M. in the toilet. The whole camp seemed to smell like that toilet. And we wore uniforms that were like died green underwear except that they were made of scratchy wool, here where everything smelled of B.M.'s, where the water was so muddy you could not see the bottom even where it was shallow, where you were likely to come out of an enforced recreation period with blood suckers attached to your back and legs.

The last part of that summer was spent up in the mountains, for which I thanked a God who had not seemed very interested in me. Certainly had not seemed to notice when I hid that I had a burning throat and high fever and, shivering in the summer heat, I kept on going into the disgusting lake water, for I was so afraid of what could happen to a sick person transferred to the camp owner's house. And there seemed no God interested in explaining why in that time at camp I would suck in my cheeks and clamp down on the inside with my teeth until the pain was excruciating, which somehow gave me comfort, especially when the inside of my mouth had the consistency of raw meat.

And there was nobody in the White Mountains to advise about the horrors of Camp Saugatuck. Gaga, who usually seemed so indulgent, was telling everyone how the twins had never looked so healthy, this has been such a wonderful experience for them.

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