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.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 80 – PAST PERSON III

I had been confident that I did not need evidence beyond what I was receiving from deep inside myself, but evidence would not hurt, and no one could provide it better than Mrs. Miner, this woman who had appeared out a time in the past when she had been cook and housekeeper, first at White Wings and then at White Pines.

There had never been a clear explanation for why Mrs. Miner left. A version I would hear from my mother was that Auntie Alice had, back then, enticed Mrs. Miner’s then grown son, Raymond Jr., into her bed. That was Mother’s version, but it was not an explanation from the top, for Nana never said a word to us about why Mrs. Miner was gone. And I had nearly given up looking for answers to things that would not be answered – such as why there were cries and scurrying in the night, and why death felt so close so much of the time, and why Mother and Dad were so often angry, and what had been going on in that Pullman drawing room where I knew, when not quite two years old, that my own world would end in horror.

We had not known Mrs. Miner had gone until one year Mother and Dad dropped Peter and me off for another White Pines summer. This was the summer when I was about to turn 15 and Gaga was glassy eyed and speechless from his stroke, wheeled out twice a day from the back of the house, the Boys’ Wing. Wheeled out wearing his old brown tweed peaked hat and wrapped in a steamer blanket by a male nurse whose mouth was twisted in a leer and whose arms were covered with sailors’ tattoos. Gaga living now in the Boys’ Wing with the least likely of all figures to appear at a family summer house in the White Mountains.

Yet the summer rarely did feel like a dark time. For it was also the summer of discovering actual girls. The previous summer I had begun masturbating to virtual girls – especially Darling Jill on page 47 in a dog-eared copy of Erskin Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, which when I left in late August I forgot was in its hiding place, a folded up cot in a corner in the Boys’ Wing. It bothered me that they must have found it when the wing was converted for the stroke-addled version of Gaga. But I was confident that if they found it they would pretend they hadn’t, for sex came into the open no more at White Pines than it was in the staid novels Gaga wrote.

Actually this next summer, with Gaga paralyzed, seemed in memory a light and happy time. Not least because at the end of a 20-minute walk up the long winding driveway and over on Davis Road to White Wings was this amazing, smooth tanned young girl with a puppy face and a budding body – Mickie McKnight. A year ago her parents had come in from Grosse Point and bought White Wings. And now they had brought Mickie and her little brother Donnie with them from Grosse Point to take up summer residence here. They kept the main wing looking exactly as it had when Gaga was alive, right down to the old wallpaper with Chinese pagodas.

It was like a museum, which was the opposite of how they handled the other wing of White Wings, which had been Gaga’s work area before they built White Pines and sometimes afterwards when they summered here for, as usual, unexplained reasons. I had been happily astounded by that Mickie’s parents had done. Here in Gaga’s former work area they had had the old dark wood floor turned into a polished light wood floor, and they had had old wallpaper in that wing ripped out, and the newly bare walls painted a cheerful white. This wing where you had had to tiptoe around so as not to disturb the old man while he was writing, this dark wing that had been kept in silence, had now become an airy place for young people.

Their refurbishing it for Mickie and her little brother Donny did not seem the same thing as the old families’ having areas like the Boys’ Wing, sometimes small separate cottages, for their children. This, it seemed clear, was something new to the mountains. And it seemed to me transformative. At some point most days now Peter and I would walk up to visit Mickie here.

One evening when we came back, sweaty from another long summer day, Nana had come to our room, which this year was a regular guest room in the mains part of the house. She gave us a jar of Mum deodorant and told us what to do with it. Deodorant was needed, she said, now that we were seeing young ladies.

And Mickie was not the only young summer lady coming into her own in the mountains. All our lives we had known the children of old Mrs. Gibbs who were close to our age, and they too were now in puberty. At a swimming hole we went to I gently teased Louisa from Boston, who was stately and tanned, and I also flirted with a pretty, open faced blonde girl, Alice from Baltimore, who had been my favorite in our early days. Louisa and I decided to write each other when we returned to our boarding schools. I was actually in the world – at last!.

On days we did not go up to White Wings we phoned Mickie from the telephone room, which contained a genealogy chart showing our origins, which included our being related to old Mrs. Gibbs and her grandchildren. Above the phone there was a small framed reproduction of a stylized naked woman rising from a clam shell. A naked woman even in this house where sex was not mentioned any more than it has been in Gaga’s careful, celebrated novels.

The phone, like so much else in the White Pines world, seemed to be from another century. It included a polished wooden box attached to the wall above a half desk. It had a crank handle on the side and what looked like a prone bicycle bell on top. You talked into an open cone on the front of the box, and listened with an ear piece that could be hooked to the side. There was no dial. You picked up the ear piece, turned the crank, which rang the bell here and alerted the phone company office, and the Sugar Hill operator would come on. She could get you anyone in Sugar Hill if you just gave the name, no number needed. Nana talked of how the operator kept track of who was having dinner at whose house.

At the start of the conversation Mickie would always say, “How is Mr. Poole?” We had no answers for that since Gaga was hardly part of the world now. We saw him only when the nurse wheeled him out to sit in the sun on the view side of the great house. But after an awkward moment we talked about ourselves and the others our age.

There were these other girls, including the two, Louisa and Alice, on the genealogy chart. And there were two other young girls, kind of pretty already but so young they still had spindly legs, that Nana invited to White Pines for an awkward lunch one day with Peter and me. We and the girls could not figure out what this was supposed to be about. But Mickie! I knew what they was about. A year younger than me but so lush, rounded already and with actual breasts behind an actual bra beneath her tee shirt. I had never in life seen a girl I thought so appealing, not even the gorgeous, precocious blonde girl in our 8th grade class who the previous winter had been exchanging letters with my more confident twin brother.

Up till now Peter had always been the focus of attention. But in this new version of White Wings I managed to place myself at the center. I did card tricks for Mickie, and especially for her younger brother so that she would look on and admire me, whether I fooled her or not. In lonely days in boarding school I had been teaching myself card manipulation from books I ordered from the Johnson-Smith novelty catalog. I could do full waterfalls, just like slick gamblers in the Westerns. With a two-handed pass, I could restore a cut deck, faster than the eye could see, to its previous stacked form. I was also getting good at the much more rare one-handed pass. And I could flip a card around to the back of my hand while making a throwing gesture, giving the illusion that I had made it disappear. I was an expert entertainer in the summer, which seemed as mysterious as why I had been such a shy introvert in the winter.

One evening Mickie’s father was giving us a ride back to White Pines in their station wagon. I was in the back seat, and Peter in the area behind it. In the dark he began, in whispers, pleading with me, which was something new, and I could see he was crying. He was so justifiably upset that I had hogged Mickie’s attention – though it seemed a fair balancing of our accounts in this hard world in which he had seemed so often to have all the attention.