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.