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.

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