I will not let this wild wind harry me Like bleating sheep are by a darting dog. I’ll stand my ground midst the roaring, and see What others flinch from. The mild winter fog Turns sharply colder with a blast of snow, And from car to office lemmings scurry And wonder why I don’t. Some even slow And look up where I look. Without worry I feel the cutting cold muss up my hair, Feel the shivers, allow awe’s bells to strike. Branches whip, entire trees sway, yet the care Of a pruner spent winter trimming. The pike Was littered with twigs, but now branches fail To strike each other, despite the mad gale.
If you heed you will hear the roaring change In the month of March. Hear the changing tone And don’t be tone deaf. There is nothing strange Or unscientific involved. Don’t groan I’m being absurd, a moon-struck romantic. Instead hold my hand. Don’t say you’ve no time. Let the wind be, if someone must be quick, For life passes too fast, and it’s a crime To be deaf to the music that’s everyday. Every day is a gift filled with beauty. As the buds swell with sap you cannot say The sound is the same. God’s zephyr’s pure duty Is to play us theme-music meant to uplift. Open your ears to Compassion’s sweet gift.
For me driving at night was like walking at night; my mind went unusual places. I liked the conversations I’d have, and had learned to be a good conversationalist by hitchhiking all around the country, starting at age fifteen. But once I bought my first car at age twenty, (which had no radio because I had no credit, paid cash, and could only afford the most stripped-down and cheapest Toyota on the market, a tiny Corolla with a 1200cc engine), I discovered giving up on public transport can be lonely; unless I myself picked up a hitchhiker, I only had my own mind to talk to and sing to.
Often brake lights would flash ahead, and I’d awake to the fact I was paying attention to my driving for the first time in a long time. Other times I arrived at my destination and when I shut off the engine I had the odd sensation that I had paid no attention whatsoever for the entire drive, and an autopilot had driven the car.
As I screamed south on the Maine Tutrnpike in my tinny Toyota, my mind began by sorting through the cast of characters involved in the perpetual and ongoing crisis that Audley Bine called a “commune”. Soon my focus shifted to Audley himself, because, though he pointed at everyone else, he was the core of every crisis.
Because I’d watched him rise from rags to riches over seven years, since I was fourteen, and because I had more recently worked for him as a sort of secretary, I knew too much. I knew he now had payments to make on a flashy BMW, rent to pay on a house in the expensive suburb of Weston, plus mortgages to pay on a large house in Newton, (where his commune was located), and a summer house up in “The Notch” in New Hampshire. Meeting all these payments was a monthly episode of gut wrenching. He managed it by charging people thirty dollars an hour for his time, and waving about his Harvard degree in a manner which kept people from ever reading what his degree was actually a degree in. It was not a degree in medicine or psychiatry, nor a business degree, but rather a degree in music. He was twenty-nine years old.
Fortunately, (for Audley), back in 1975 all you needed to set up shop as a psychologist was to not be a psychiatrist. Because psychiatry was collapsing to a rubble of disrepute after some massive failures, every Tom, Dick and Sally was setting themselves up as a psychologist. Some were pathetic con-artists, but Audley was often quite good, in his often-unprofessional way. He helped people get back on their feet, including some people who had never learned to walk in the first place, by showing them how to do basic things no one had ever bothered to teach them. Basically he was a trainer who trained (some would say “preyed upon”) the untrained.
It seemed to me that, if Audley was looking for trainees whom he would be paid for training, he had found a bountiful harvest in the wealthy suburbs. I’d grown up in such a suburb, and found suburbs hollow and sterile. Suburbs seemed bound to produce effete young men, for there was literally no example to follow of anyone working.
In rural areas one could see examples set by farmers and woodsmen and hunters and fishermen, and in urban areas one could see shopkeepers and restaurants and factories and taxi drivers, but in the emerald suburbs work was something people were escaping from.
Much was freshly built, so there were no builders; the building was largely completed, and in wealthier towns zoning laws were passed to prevent any further building from even beginning. New houses also didn’t require painting or roofing for ten or twenty years, and when I was young there weren’t even landscapers, for everyone bought their own mower and mowed their own lawn. Gardeners like Grubby Douglas were rare and tended to be elderly and to work for the elderly.
Yet perhaps I was given a single example of work, through watching fathers hurry outside to mow lawns, creating a vast suburban droning noise for a couple hours on Saturday mornings, and perhaps their example went into the creation of my first little business as a local handyman. But perhaps my friends stayed inside to watch Saturday morning cartoons, and missed seeing that single example of work. (One thing my father did was to ban television in our house; we didn’t get one until he was gone and I was fourteen.) Perhaps this explains why my classmates created no businesses. They did nothing at all but watch TV, listen to music, and throw around balls (beyond some vandalism). But they eventually faced a dreadful day, called “graduation from high school”, where they were confronted by the fact they knew next to nothing. They were then faced with a bleak choice of either going to college or Vietnam. Both choices involved learning discipline they sorely lacked (though some found colleges where they could continue to do nothing until they faced a second dreadful day, and a second graduation.)
Audley filled a role; he was father-figure. Many young men lacked fathering, first because in the 1960’s dads were too occupied providing money to provide fathering, and second because husbands were too busy making money to provide husbanding, and the divorce rate soared. (It’s hard to get fathering when your dad’s been booted out). Audley was quite good at fathering, and got something fathers don’t get for fathering. He got paid. Unfortunately, when you charge for being loving, it can come with a bad aftertaste, for in some sense being-paid-for-loving makes you a whore. Audley didn’t like hearing me state such a reality. Few psychologists do. Nor would I have ever been so rude as to say such a thing, but Audley pestered me for my withheld views, as he felt repressing your deeply hidden opinions was wrong.
I had learned otherwise. I learned early on that, “When you laugh the world laughs with you; but when you cry you cry alone,” and therefore I kept my opinions to myself. But I was very opinionated, all the same, and needed some outlet, which was what made my discovery of poetry so wonderful. I could gripe and grouse and moan and groan and sing-the-blues all I wanted. Not that many wanted to listen, but self-expression was good for my soul. I did it for gratification and not for attention, but then an English teacher caught me illicitly writing a poem (rather than the essay I was suppose to be writing), and rather than scolding me, after she snatched the paper away, she looked astonished, and asked me if I had any more poems she could look at. She became my first fan.
I wonder. Without her encouragement my habit might have withered away like an un-watered seedling, (in which case she’d get no blame for what followed: More than a half-century of a poet’s poverty and troubles and joy). On the other hand, my habit might not have withered. The gift did not seem to me like a thing that could be killed. The “self” in self-expression seemed like something far bigger than I was. If God is in everyone, perhaps it was as big as God, but I could not claim to be God.
.Hand in hand with the joy I felt when someone liked a poem was a profound reluctance to share poems. A poem was like a sunset, and all I really wanted was someone to stand beside me and share the view. People sharing my view often pointed out beauty I hadn’t seen, but it wasn’t as if I myself was beautiful. The view was ego-less and separate from me. The problems arose when the focus shifted from the view to me. People seemed compelled to “help” me, and that always seemed to involve saying I had some sort of a problem. Even the people who said I was gifted seemed compelled to add that I wasn’t yet famous. But I didn’t write poems to be told I was an “underachiever.” People were totally missing the point.
What was the point? The point was that there is a beauty in life that uplifts. Yes, life holds plenty of problems, but even in the alley’s of a slum there are sunbeams that make the orange of worn brick radiant, and the even among the impoverished Untouchables in India an aura of joy radiates as they laugh together over their one-meal-a-day. Poetry was the process of pointing this beauty out, and was a beneficial solace because in an inexplicable way it supplied answers to the problems of life.
What was the solace? It was hard to say, which was why you needed poems, but it was like going into dark hall to hear a symphony and emerging changed. Of course, problem-solvers tended to become irked when you could not state the specific details of what the change was, but that didn’t make the change less real. It was like going to bed weary and awaking refreshed; what is the change? What is sleep, but to turn off the conscious intellect and bask in a peace greater than we are. What we gain is like a tan, all we need to do is lie down.
This put me completely at odds with the psychiatrists of the 1960’s, who tended to see ugly things inside people, rather than poetry.
A study in Chicago at that time tested the benefits of psychiatry, comparing the improvement seen in troubled people who talked with old and experienced psychiatrists, young and inexperienced psychiatrists, and a control-group who talked to ordinary folk like bar-tenders, taxi-drivers and hair-dressers. Somewhat to the horror of the researchers the only improvement was seen in those who discussed their problems with ordinary people, while the experienced psychiatrists actually made depressions worse. This failure was what rumbled behind a dissatisfaction among the ranks of Freudian Psychiatrists. Revolutionary new concepts such as Gestalt Psychiatry were proposed by the disciples of Freud; and psychiatry’s failure was also a boon to the illegitimate psychologists.
Not that I knew any of this at age fourteen, when I first met Audley. I only knew my father, a highly trained surgeon, said I should steer clear of psychiatrists, because they prescribed poisonous drugs, fried brains with electricity, were not scientific, wrecked marriages, and destroyed families.
I also was aware that many of my friends were scared to death of psychiatrists; we whispered gossip about peers who had been incarcerated for rebellion, vandalism or masturbation, and either emerged shock-treated and weird, or never were seen again. Also there were whispers about the pills mothers took, and we were forced to read depressing books (which English teachers for some reason felt wouldn’t depress adolescents), like “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1962) and “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” (1964), and lastly we all heeded the Rolling Stones hit, “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966).
Let it suffice to say looking inward in the manner psychiatrists proposed held absolutely no attraction to me, even while day-dreaming held great joy. I avoided saying what inkblots looked like, even at a time when laying on my back in lush, green grass next to a buddy and discussing what the clouds looked like was spontaneous and attractive. Inkblots spelled trouble, while watching clouds was a soothing relaxation, (and, though seemingly inconsequential at the time, cloud-watching was an activity fondly remembered at class reunions, thirty years later).
I first met Audley because he was one of the creepy Harvard students my oldest brother hung around with. My boyish friends unsympathetically dismissed them as “fags”, but I was a little more friendly. My father had gone to Harvard and taught there even when working as a surgeon; my stepfather had gone there and still taught there; and my oldest brother was accepted to Harvard three times (because he dropped out twice.) So maybe I was more accustomed to their weirdness than most. I understood a little (second hand) about the stress they faced (because they did three times as much homework as seemed humanly possible), and I pitied such students, for my own solution to the stress of homework was to never do any. I understood (second hand) such stress was worst as finals approached in late May, when the weather was most beautiful (and when the only way to get a lick of work from me was to threaten me with summer school). At that time Harvard Square was inhabited by students so over-stressed by cramming that they looked like walking corpses, which was what Audley looked like when I first saw him.
It was the first hot day day in June, and I was whipping a football around the front lawn and dashing about, barefoot and shining with sweat and wearing nothing but a bathing suit. Audley was overdressed, wearing some sort of white linen sportscoat, trudging from the car to the house with my brother and some other intellectual who was talking a mile a minute. (Audley may have even been carrying a briefcase, though my imagination may have just added that detail to accent how opposite his state was from mine.) When I glanced at him to size him up he looked guiltily away, almost as if he expected a blow. I glanced over at a pal and quirked an eyebrow, and my buddy laughed back, “A fag for sure. Those creeps always make me feel like I should put on a shirt.” I shrugged and went out for a pass.
For the most part I felt sorry for Harvard students. Their get-up-and go got them in trouble. They got themselves into a state where they could never go where I went, in my mind, which at age fourteen didn’t even include poetry. When I got up and went, I either went places in my imagination, dreaming at clouds, or I got my butt out of the boring suburbs. I “went walkabout”, which is what I understood (through reading) made Australian natives unreliable employees. Aborigines understood get-up-and-go means get up and go, whereas Harvard students stayed in the same place and pressed their nose harder and harder and harder to a grindstone.
I think Audley looked away guiltily not because I was handsome in a way fifty years has now reduced to wrinkles, but because he sensed I had something he had lost. I’m not sure why he felt guilty about wanting it, for it lay at the very core of the music he was supposedly studying, but perhaps it threatened the very foundations of his will to get ahead. He was like a music professor watching Mozart improvise at age seven, seeing a child produce modulations it is suppose to take twenty years to master.
In any case, Audley got over it, and by slow increments I came to see him as one the older people who felt I had some sort of “gift”. Of course, it took time, because at age fourteen the only poetry I wrote was doggerel I wrote to entertain my back-row buddies, poking fun at others, and such poetry tended to get me in trouble (when I became so absorbed I failed to notice the stealthy approach of a teacher, and they were able to snatch the work away, which was especially troublesome when the doggerel (or illustration) was about that particular teacher). However I like to flatter myself by thinking my scribbling was actually “political commentary” in a highly unrefined form, in which case it was too embryonic for Audley. At first he seemed a bit frosty and disapproving when I pestered my elder brother and his Harvard crowd with naive questions, or regaled them with unasked-for, bragging descriptions of my escapades; it was at age fourteen I first began to have escapades (beyond going fishing).
It wasn’t that my buddies were boring; it was that we ran out of things to talk about. Discussing the anatomy of females, and how to go about investigating such anatomy, could only use up so many hours of our days, and then the topic became how boring the town was. I felt we should do more than say there was nothing to do; we should do things. I became what mothers called, “A Bad Influence”.
Initially we crept about after dark and peered in people’s windows, daring ourselves to be outrageous, sometimes alone and sometimes as groups or as couples, snowballing cars after dark, ringing the church-bell at midnight, sneaking into the houses of people on vacation and, without taking anything, poking through all their private belongings, until eventually we got caught going too far in some way, perhaps joyriding in a car we were too young to be borrowing, or perhaps attempting to tie a police officer’s shoe-laces together. Then we faced punishment, but at least we had something to laugh about when we gathered to talk.
One item always interesting to discuss was explosions, and this sparked one of my first ventures into the world of business. I dared go into Boston’s tiny Chinatown, and to at great risk purchase fireworks, and to endanger countless commuters on the trolley back out to the suburbs with my illicit cargo, purchased at an absurdly high price but sold for absurdly higher prices to eager suburbanites. (In my list of jobs, “importer” is one of the first, though I have never noted it down, in the “employment history” section of job applications.)
Although fireworks were illegal in Massachusetts, I noticed adults as well as teenagers were very interested when I mentioned I had some “black-cats” which I’d be willing to part with, for “only” a dollar a pack (back when a pack of cigarettes cost fifty cents and a gallon of gas was thirty-eight.) Although Audley Bine didn’t seem to approve of the noise and stink, I noticed the other Harvard intellectuals my brother hung about with stopped treating me like a boring squirt when I casually mentioned I had a “brick” (144 packs) of black-cats. Some took on the fiendish look of mad scientists as they reached for their wallets, and, while a single black-cat firecracker is quite loud, they used their Harvard genius to devise ways of making the entire pack explode all at once, which gave the quiet suburbs something to talk about.
In any case, the older men found me tolerable at times, and this allowed me to eavesdrop on conversations suburban adolescents don’t often overhear, some of which my mother might have approved of.
One thing that surprised me was that they found learning intensely exciting. They might not like doing three times as much homework as seemerd humanly possible, but what the homework was about enthralled them, and they talked about intellectual stuff the in the same excited tones that we boys used, when we talked about being chased by a snowballed driver. It reopened my eyes, (which had been closed by the utter monotony and drudgery I made school become), and I sucked up what they had learned like a sponge, (which was especially nice as I didn’t need to do any homework).
For example, although the MOHO expedition occurred in 1959, it took time to carefully process all the cores from the sea-floor, and the results were such a bombshell to the world of geology that the results needed to be painstakingly peer-reviewed to make certain there wasn’t some mistake. Then there even seemed to be a period of stunned silence, but then there was an explosion of realizations all through the world of geology, for the MOHO expedition had discovered the sea-floor was spreading, which meant the continents were drifting apart, which explained countless mysteries. For a while every issue of Scientific American had a new article explaining some new aspect of Continental Drift. Hearing the excitement over this news, and absorbing the news like a sponge, put me in the shoes of being a teenager who knows more than his Geology teacher.
I have written about this episode so many times that I no longer am certain what actually happened, or even whether it happened during class or after class. (I am fairly certain a version I wrote wherein I am oppressed like Galileo is an exaggeration.) However what I clearly recall is the bewildered look on the face of my elderly Geology teacher, only months before her retirement, as she looked at the Scientific American I presented as evidence. It must be odd to see that what you have been teaching for forty years is wrong.
In like manner it must be odd for psychiatrists to see treatment they have been charging their patients for is harmful. It is even odder for the patient, and Audley Bine was such a patient.
Because I had known Audley for years I got to know more about him than he knew about me, which is neither normal nor recommended for psychologists. Before I describe how this came to be I’ll summerize what I gathered.
His family was gentility which had faded badly into a state near paralysis, financially crippled by calamities during the Great Depression and headed by a father emotionally mangled by the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific in World War Two. On their worst days they could barely get out of bed: His father couldn’t push himself out the door and his mother sometimes only got her lipstick halfway on. The house smelled, and also held a widowed grandmother crippled by painful arthritis who did manage to get her lipstick on neatly, and did manage dress nicely, and did manage to wash herself, who could remember running a house with servants and knew paralysis was not the way to get ahead. She doted on Audley, who was the only sign of what she called “spunk” in the home.
Audley was a tubby little child prone to tantrums, who was bound and determined to escape the quicksand his family was mired in, and to uplift them as well, in the process. He would rage at them to get off their butts, raging in ways that likely should have earned him a spanking, but all he got was sighs, sad looks, and “We will try.” His grandmother urged the little tyrant to be gentler, but also imparted the suggestion that, if he was going to get anywhere in life, it was going to be because he did it on his own. Thus he came to dislike the inactivity of the emotionally paralyzed fiercely, and launched out into the world recoiling from lethargy. He was a go-getter, and certainly had little time for laying about dreaming up at clouds. However the moment he stepped out the front door his face changed, like the mad Mr. Hyde becoming gentle Dr. Jekyll, as he firmly adopted his very-good-student expression.
When the field of psychology had gotten completely out of hand the politicians of Massachusetts belatedly decided to create some regulations, and Audley had to take a class which I took as well, but rather than paying the slightest bit of attention to the teacher I studied Audley’s face, slightly amazed to see how Audley looked as a very-good-student.
Audley didn’t notice my scrutiny because he gave the teacher his complete and undivided attention, pencil poised over notepad. His face wore a slightly deranged smile, with his eyebrows so high I was surprised skin didn’t tear. Every time the teacher made a point he’d nod and scribble. If the teacher spoke of a sadness Audley would pout sadly; if the teacher spoke of injustice Audley would stiffen with a look of fierce indignation, and when the teacher cracked a joke Audley would shake with laugher like it was the funniest thing he ever heard, tilting his head first one way and then another. As I watched I thought to myself, “What a complete and utter ass-kisser.” (Of course I would never be so rude as to say such a thing, but, as I mentioned earlier, Audley felt repressed-thought was wrong, and eventually he pestered me into telling him.)
Audley got straight “A’s”, for besides being an ass-kisser he had a retentive and brilliant mind. However, having given credit to his brain, I will also credit his ass-kissing, for it is quite a different thing from watching a person make such faces at another, to experiencing the full, blasting glory of such nodding and smiling raining upon yourself. Perhaps it is in the nature of flattery and vanity that ass-kissing doesn’t seem so bad when it is your own ass getting kissed. Teachers loved Audley, and gave him extra attention. But such success eventually landed Audley in trouble, when he won acceptance to Harvard.
It is one thing to be the most musically gifted person in a dumpy, working-class community where most don’t care a hoot about musical theory or classical music, but at Harvard Audley abruptly found himself among giants. He was among people who could play piano better than Audley now could, back when they were six-years-old, who had learned to read music before they learned to read writing. Audley went from being at the top of his class to being at the bottom, and in some cases had no idea about subjects others seemed to feel was a mere review. He had to work like crazy, as others breezed, and also had to toil at mundane minimum-wage jobs because he was under financial duress. Worst, perhaps, was the dawning awareness that others were more musically gifted, and that he might have less genius than they, and that he might be merely humdrum in certain respects, rather than the next Beethoven.
Under such relentless pressure Audley began to crack up, which was fairly normal for students at Harvard in the 1960’s, as far as I could tell. Just as men training for the military’s Special Forces are pushed to their absolute physical limits, students at Harvard were pushed to their mental limits, and just as the military didn’t include you in the Special Forces if you couldn’t stand it, at Harvard you didn’t get your degree if you failed.
One consequence was that Harvard students knew a great deal about going nuts. One of the topics I eavesdropped upon, as a young twerp, was chatter about various ways of going nuts, and, (if going nuts bothered you), of various schools of psychology you might study, and of yoga and diets and herbs and mushrooms you might investigate. (No one, that I recall, suggested laying down and looking at clouds.)
Audley’s manner of going nuts involved a symbol. The symbol was of a mummy, all bound up with strips of dirty cloth, and unable to move, with a ghastly face.
Even as I first began seriously writing poetry at age fifteen the interpretation of the mummy-symbol seemed a fairly obvious to me, (for it was how I felt doing any homework at all), and it seemed a particularly good symbol for Harvard Students.
But in Audley’s case the mummy didn’t just appear in a poem or a fantasy or trouble his dreams; it appeared as a hallucination in his waking life: A frightening figure standing in the shadows of a doorway or down a dark alley or in the unlit corner of a room or within the frame of an unlit picture. He saw the apparition as he went about his ordinary life, but didn’t let it stop him; he knew it was a hallucination; and also that if he stopped he’d flunk out of Harvard. But he didn’t like the mummy constantly distracting him as drove himself and was wrapped up in his work. He wanted it gone, and decided to consult a psychiatrist he could ill afford.
Apparently the psychiatrist did no good. In fact the mummy went from lurking in the corner of Audley’s eye to sometimes standing straight ahead, upsetting, vivid. It refused to go away.
I could belabor with my theories of why the treatment made things worse, but let it suffice to say things got worse.
Audley learned to interpret the mummy in Freudian terms, (none of which saw the mummy as a symbol of being too wrapped up in work). When the mummy refused to go away Audley was accused of “denial” and “resistance” and “avoidance”, and, when Audley protested his innocence, many weeks were wasted arguing about whether he was resisting or not. (If I was that mummy I would have started drumming my fingers.) In a sense the cure to too-much-discipline was more discipline, but being scolded for being irrational didn’t diminish the mummy, and in fact made the mummy’s face more anguished. In the end the psychiatrist came to look forward to Audley’s weekly visit, for he was amazed anyone could continue to function with such a gruesome sidekick. However the psychiatrist expected progress to be slow, for it takes eight years of psychoanalysis to arrive at whatever it is Freudians arrive-at.
This was what made the Audley I first met so creepy. I may not have been able to see the mummy, but I could see Audley wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. Where I looked up at clouds and smiled, he looked over his shoulder and swallowed hard.
I tend to see this period of Audley’s life as heroic, though the only thing anyone saw externally was a tubby youth plodding along with a face that looked strangely bruised, as if he shaved with a hammer. He may have eventually completely broken down, but in the nick of time everyone seemed to throw up their hands in revulsion over Harvard’s relentless pressure, and a revolution occurred.
It was fortunate Audley steered clear of LSD, (perhaps because he needed no help hallucinating and was trying to stop,) for while Audley attended Harvard a Harvard psychiatrist decided psychiatry was a complete waste of time and that instead one should “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. Where intense discipline might result in benefits in the military’s Special Forces, or in the study of Law, Geology or Music, in the field of psychiatry intense discipline resulted in patients getting sicker, so Timothy Leary basically trashed much he’d been taught in favor of “experiments” with mushrooms and LSD. He was then booted out of Harvard for failing to teach scheduled classes and leaving the grounds without permission, (but in fact his habit of conducting “experiments” that sometimes involved pressuring young, female students to experience LSD with their clothing removed may have had something to do with his expulsion). He set himself up as a sort of guru, quoting the “Tibetan Book Of The Dead“, (1962), and the rock group Moody Blue wrote a hit song with a wonderful flute solo glorifying him called “Legend Of A Mind”, (1966), and he became so influential that President Nixon called him “The most dangerous man in America”(1970). Literally thousands wound up in mental institutions due to his influence, as he insisted losing control was gaining control. I never met the man, but knew many who had, and I disliked him because I took a dim view of men over forty competing for the beautiful girls my age. Audley avoided him, as Audley felt the way to gain control was to become more controlling.
Rather than abandoning discipline Audley tended to seek further discipline, reading books such as “The Power Of Positive Thinking“, and it was while seeking further discipline he heard about a discipline which the Beatles, and especially George Harrison, popularized, (1966), involving a book by Parahansa Yogananda called, “Autobiography of a Yogi“.
Personally I found this an enchanting book, because it contains a miracle every two or three pages. True, for a miracle to be scientific you must be able to replicate the miracle, and I could never manage that, but I found it wonderful to believe the impossible was possible. Also I didn’t have to actually read the book at first, because it seemed everyone else had read it and talked about the miracles, (some as being established facts, and some as being impossible). The book encouraged many to quit drugs and sex and eating meat, but I wasn’t attracted by such things at age fourteen. (It is hard to be attracted to renouncing sex when you’ve never had any).
Audley heard about the discipline of Yoga due to another thing that likely saved him from being institutionalized, which was the compassion of his fellow students. They would drag him away from his study and his relentless discipline and his yoga for a beer they would pay for, because they greatly enjoyed the very-good-student face he put on when facing superiors. Truly great, young composers liked to hang out with him.
By this time Audley had discovered there was a far kinder word for his very-good-student face than “ass-kissing”, and it was “appreciation”. When he appreciated others, or appreciated music, people liked having him around. This was especially true when he tilted his head first one way, and then the other, and simply laughed. The only one who didn’t seem to like his laughter was his sidekick the mummy, who made himself scarce when Audley was badgered by his buddies to join them for a beer.
Another rescuer in Audley’s life at this time was a merciful old man who somehow knew how hard and how long Audley had worked, and simply said, “It would do you good to take some time off and think”, (though the old man may have used the words “reconciliate your learning” rather than “think”), and then handed Audley enough money to take a sort of sabbatical for six months.
The most significant rescuer was a psychiatrist who had completely rejected Freudian psychiatry in favor of Gestaltian approaches. This boisterous and flamboyant man apparently heard about Audley’s mummy-sidekick, and rather than attempting to help Audley escape the mummy, he advised Audley to “be the mummy”, and to “act it out”, and to approach the very thing Audley wished to flee. Audley somewhat reluctantly pretended to be the mummy, ventured something along the lines of, “I’m all wrapped up. I can’t get free,” and then Audley abruptly burst into tears. It was a “breakthrough”.
Audley then went through a remarkable change, which I could not fail to notice as a casual onlooker. He went from looking scared to looking confident, and from looking frightened to roaring with appreciative laughter. It was his appreciation that was most obvious, as he appreciated the blueness of the sky, the music of the songbirds, and being free from his sidekick the mummy.
Of course, that was 1969, “The Summer of Love”, and it was now 1975. As I drove my Toyota over the wonderful, new, superhighway-bridge from Maine into New Hampshire I was jolted awake from my memories, dazzled by the view of the lights Portsmouth to the left and Pease Air-force Base to the right. The bridge hadn’t existed in 1969, nor had interstate 95; when I had to hitchhike north I took Route One over the Piscataqua River, and when the Navy raised the drawbridge there were incredible traffic jams. Building the new bridge was a great improvement, but, as I drove down into New Hampshire, it occurred to me a lot of bridges had crumbled, since 1969. What happened?
Mid-yawn, I look up, shocked by dawn’s first beam Touching my cheek like an old friend’s care On seeing me frown. Through the sunlit steam Of first coffee I glance at the clock, aware With a shock I’m early. Days are longer And dawn’s earlier although I am stuck In midwinter mode, weaker not stronger And a stranger to hope. The souring luck Of a ‘flu was like a rejection slip To life, and left me stuck steeped in weakness, Expecting bad weather. I’d lost my grip On a Father’s warm hand in a mob, I guess, But now I’m touched by the first sunbeam of spring And hear my hoarse croaking attempting to sing.
It has been a good winter for storms way out in the North Atlantic, where old fellows like me prefer they stay. The most recent bomb occurred just south of Iceland, and achieved the third lowest pressure of any Northern Hemisphere non-hurricane in recorded history. True, our ability to record pressures away from the shore only goes back to around 1979 (Boats with barometers have better things to do than to aim for the center of such monsters.)
The low pressure of this storm bottomed out at around 27.14 inches of mercury, (919mb), which is lower than most typhoons and hurricanes. In fact it is a pressure lower than any recorded North Pacific non-tropical storm.
I find it amazing that North Atlantic super-storms outdo North Pacific super-storms, considering Pacific typhoons tend to outdo Atlantic Hurricanes, but in either case such storms are gigantic.
I’m surprised the storm drew so little media attention, considering….well, I won’t go there. But for people like me the lengthy fetch from the northwest into the Atlantic seemed bound to interfere with the Gulf Stream’s delivery of warm water northeast towards Europe. Besides cooling the surface water it will bodily shift large amounts of surface water southwest.
Nor is this storm an isolated event. It was preceded a few days earlier by another giant, which was matched by a similar giant in the North Pacific, making a spectacular satellite picture.
The Pacific storm bottomed out at 28.12 inches (953 mb) while the Atlantic storm reached 27.56 inches (940 mb). The above picture is from February 13. The next day the Atlantic storm moved up to Iceland and they were blasted by St. Valentine’s Day winds over 100 mph. I imagine much snuggling was involved in Iceland, as the winds shrieked outside.
Such storms tend to gobble available energy in a single gulp, and some fade with remarkable speed, handing their energy off to offspring along their energetic cold fronts, or (more rarely) kicking energy ahead along their warm fronts. Others fade more gradually, slowly filling in as they wobble off east, or more rarely west, and occasionally due north to the Pole to become a “Ralph”. (Anomalous Area of Low Pressure.) In the above examples both Icelandic gales involved, one way or another, powerful low pressure in Barents Sea, which has seen a stormy winter. Some vestiges of the first bomb’s Barents Sea prelude made it up towards the Pole, in very weak form barely serving the title “Ralph”, but the deep low pressure on the Atlantic Side has pumped high pressure on the Pacific side, which tends to keep the Aleutian Gales down over the Aleutians, where they belong, even as the Icelandic Gales are in Barents Sea, where they don’t belong.
To watch animation of the above events, in terms of winds and in terms of huge wave heights, scan down through a good article (which has further links), found here:
In terms of sea-ice, the Atlantic storms have brought strong south winds to Barents Sea towards the boundary with the Kara Sea formed by Novaya Zemlya, pushing the edge of the sea-ice far to the north. (January 30 to right; February 16 to right)
Were it not for increases in Baffin Bay and Bering Sea, this retreat would cause quite a down-tick in the extent graph; as it is the graph has flattened.
The fact the “extent” has retreated north in Barents sea should not be misconstrued as meaning sea-ice has melted. Some indeed may have, through being churned by thirty to fifty foot waves slightly above the melting point of sea ice, (roughly 29ºF, or -1.7ºC), but some may have formed in the sub-freezing gales as well. For the most part the edge has moved north because the ice itself has moved, and has piled up against thicker ice to the north. This perhaps explains why the “volume” graph shows no similar flattening:
The “volume” graph is modeled, and contains some interesting devises which I think might be called “educated-guess-work”. It will be interesting to watch as the sun returns and throws some light on the subject. Even though we are near the peak of sea-ice “extent”, which tends to start downward in March, “volume” goes on merrily increasing well into April and sometimes into May. Where “extent” is greatly influenced by the edge of the sea-ice, far to the south, “volume” pertains more to the bulk in the Central Arctic, and has more to do with hinting at what the minimum will be like, next September.
Up to this point the superstorms in the North Atlantic, combined with high pressure towards Bering Strait, have (to varying degrees) kept winds blowing from Siberia to Canada. For the most part this has drained the massive area of homegrown cold from Central Siberia, though northern Scandinavia and westernmost Siberia have seen moderated north Atlantic air sucked east along the bottoms of the superstorms. On a whole, this has resulted in temperatures a few degrees colder than recent years over the Central Arctic. On a whole this should make ice thicker, though the offshore winds along the coast of Eurasia has constantly pushed sea-ice offshore, creating polynyas on the coasts of the Kara and Laptev seas. Indeed the Northeast Passage may see ice melt early this year, while across the Pole the Northwest Passage has seen sea-ice piled up by north winds, and thickened by extremely low temperatures, and the Northwest Passage may require icebreakers to be passable this coming summer.
Another consequence of the Atlantic superstorms, and also of the positioning of the high pressure towards Bering Strait, has a been a considerable cooling of both the northern Pacific and the northern Atlantic. On his site Joseph D’Aleo produced a map which shows where seawater anomalies (not actual temperatures, but whether those temperatures are above or below normal) have warmed (red) or cooled (blue). Remember, these are anomalies; a change from very-much-above-normal to slightly-above-normal will appear blue even though temperatures are still above-normal. (Also, over sea-ice, water temperatures cannot be read so you are actually seeing the change in temperature of the top of air-influenced sea-ice.) What is striking is the cooling which has occurred between Canada and Europe, and also the major cooling of the so-called “warm blob” south of Alaska. Because the “warm blob” is crucial to the location of the jet stream, the fact it has been so abruptly weakened has caused many long-term forecasters to suffer bad hair days, if not go bald. The map below covers the period between December 14 and February 14.
In terms of the actual anomalies, we seem to be seeing the backwards “C” of cold water indicative of a “cold” PDO, forming in the Pacific, and even a “cold” AMO being hinted-at in the Atlantic (though you have to stretch imagination a bit, in the Atlantic.)
One thing forecasters use is records-from-the-past, but the last switch from “warm” to “cold” AMO was sixty years ago, and the satellite-records are either very poor or non-existent. Therefore I don’t blame forecasters for scrambling a bit. We haven’t seen this before. But what amuses me is those forecasters who try to look like they aren’t scrambling, and saw this coming. They didn’t.
Nor did I, but I don’t pretend to be a know-it-all. I try to just observe, (though I do compare the present with the past when I can.) And I wonder.
It seems that these superstorms must deeply churn the waters, and alter the stratification of the waters entering the Arctic Sea. Some waves have been ninty feet tall, winds have been over 100 mph, and pressures down to 27.14 inches (919 mb) suck cold waters up from the depths. Considering contrasts in water temperatures to some degree fuel and direct such currents, a significant change in temperatures may even alter the direction such currents flow. And if we replace a warm current under the summer sea-ice with a cold current, we may find ourselves wondering, “Why isn’t the sea-ice melting?” We shall see what we shall see. Stay tuned.
I tend to roam about like a lurking wolf, skimming over current ideas regarding the current situation, and it is wonderful how the theories flourish and utterly contradict each other. I have read, on the same afternoon, that the arctic has a puny effect because it has so little heat compared to the tropics, and that the arctic has a huge effect and has shifted the El Nino from east to west, from a traditional El Nino to El Nino Madoki.
I prefer to think the Arctic has an effect, (due to my obvious focus-on and bias-towards sea-ice). Here is a link to a couple know-it-alls at the UCSD Scripps center, who suggests a Global-Warming-caused decrease in sea-ice is causing the westward shift in warmth to a El Nino Madoki in the Pacific:
I note they state “further study is needed”. I think Scripps is hopeful to get some of the ten billion which virtue-signaling Jeff Bezos is getting a charitable deduction for, for donating to the cause of “Climate Change”. Personally I would like to remind Jeff that a few years back Scripps predicted a massive La Nina which never occurred, and also that we could use a few fifty cameras drifting about on buoys in the Arctic Sea.
(It seems to me that, as the “cold” PDO starts to form the backwards “C” of cold water in the Pacific, the extension of the southern arm of that “C” would tend to push warm water west, and turn El Ninos to El Nino Madokis, but perhaps that idea is too simple and requires too little research money.)
I’m expecting to see things we haven’t seen before simply because we didn’t have much in the way of eye-in-the-sky satellites, the last time the AMO flipped from “warm” to “cold”. However I predict that when others see what they have never seen before they will state it is “unprecedented”, and a sign of End Times, and that if I fill my gas tank I will be told, “How Dare You!”
And I will meekly whimper that I’m not the one misbehaving. It is the weather that is misbehaving.
One final bit of misbehavior was enacted by the most recent and largest Icelandic Superstorm. It waited until people had stated the cold was “locked up” at the Pole, due to the breakdown of “stratospheric warming” at the end of last year, which created a strongly positive AO.
Ryan Maue tweeted a wonderful picture of this highly stable stratospheric doughnut, convincing me of its stability and the inability of cold air to escape its wrapping embrace.
But what does the danged superstorm then do? Instead of fading away and sliding along the north coast of Eurasia, it drove right on up to the Pole and became a “Ralph”, giving our first truly sizable spike in Polar temperatures of the winter.
I note this spike is small, compared to the steadily higher temperatures of 2016 (lower left) or the amazing spikes of 2018 (lower right):
However the appearance of Ralph is a bit unnerving to me, for when “Ralph” bumps up and becomes king-of-the-mountain he tends to bump cold air south, and it looks like it is being bumped to the Canadian side. In other words, as soon as I assume the cold air is “locked up”, it escapes.
Don’t ask me what happens next. I’ve learned my lesson. Instead I’ll just sit back and be a quiet observer.
Here are some DMI maps I saved which show the pelude-to, the comings, and the goings of the two recent superstorms:
I’ll begin back on January 31. We’d been seeing a pattern with High Pressure wobbling from side to side of Bering Strait, marking the center of a tilted “Polar Cell” as, in a quasi-Zonal-manner, low pressure drifted around the edges, displaced to lower latitudes in the Pacific and climbing to higher latitudes in the Atlantic. However towards the end of January I thought I might be seeing the end of that pattern, as the high pressure, (which I will dub “Bear” for Bering Strait) was fading and eroding away, as a “Ralph” appeared at the Pole. I’ll call this particular Ralph “Trub” as it was troublesome. In fact I should call it “Trub 3”. It was one of a string of “Ralphs” which made mincemeat of my theory that Ralphs are formed by warm feeder-bands of milder air surging to the Pole and rising. In the case of Trub there was little mild air and in fact the center of Trub was very cold, and in my book had no business rising at all. Also it formed first and the feeder-band came second, drawn north by Trub’s circulation.
This new pattern resulted in an elongated feeder-band nearly from the Atlantic to the Pacific, feeding Trub, with the feeder-band seeming to start to form a more traditional “Ralph” near Svalbard. However Bear was showing signs of reforming over Siberia. The two maps below illustrate how swiftly the feeder bands cool over a twelve hour period.
By January 7 Bear had reasserted itself over Bering Strait, and low pressure been repressed back to the Atlantic side. I thought a new Ralph might be trying come north through Baffin Bay, but we’d seen this earlier and it seemed the old pattern was reasserting itself. In the end the Baffin bay low couldn’t out-push Bear, and instead hopped over Greenland taking the old North Atlantic route
Three days later this low was crashing into Norway. (I accidentally deleted the isotherm map, so I stuck an igloo in its place).
A day later and the gale is north of Norway, bashing Barents Sea, as many gales have this winter. It is a sub-28.00 inches gale (sub 950 mb) and a superstortm in its own right. Its circulation steered the next gale south of the range of these maps into England.
The next map shows, four days later, the first superstorm lashing Iceland with 100 mph winds. Notice that the storm that was over Barents Sea drifted up to the Pole with a feeder-band, but is much weaker.
Two days later the second superstorm crashes into Iceland, as the first swiftly weakens into a mere appendage. Barents Sea is relatively tranquil.
Now here is where it gets interesting, for the second superstorm doesn’t swiftly fade. but continues up across Barents Sea.
And then, fading but still strong, into Kara Sea
And then it hooks north towards the Pole as a true “Ralph”.
And now we see yet another sub-28.00 inches gale just south of Iceland.
There’s a lot to digest, even as I keep observing.
Considering the economy of Maine was ordinarily depressed every year, once the warm weather and tourists departed, and considering the national economy was suffering “stagflation” as it struggled to recover from the Arab Oil Embargo, and considering unemployment was near 10%, you might think thatas soon as I heard there might be work at a sail loft in Portland I would have rushed to be there as soon as it opened the next Monday morning. But considering my tendency to procrastinate, it was somewhat amazing I made it by Thursday.
It may not be fair, but I did the psychologically-correct thing and blamed my mother. She had an amazing ability to derail my initiative. Rather than encourage me she always seemed to see problems in my plans. Part of that problem was that I often couldn’t be bothered with plans. I preferred spontaneity. I felt I was a man who could fly by the seat of his pants, but my mother tended to feel I couldn’t do that unless I first remembered to put my pants on.
It really won’t do, to go into too many details; after forty-five years there are things which lose their urgency; they pass beyond staleness and enter the realm of absurdity. Back-breaking straws are seen as what they actually were: Straws. Let it suffice to say that though we loved one another we weren’t always constructive. Her advice was unwanted, and I was not good at accepting advice.
For a woman over fifty she was remarkably well preserved, smooth skinned and slender, partly due to ointments, creams, lotions and potions that littered her bedroom bureau, and partly due to her insistence upon serenity. A serene face stays smooth. As a trained nurse she could remain calm midst blood and gore. Therefore it was something of a wonder to me that I could age her ten years in a flash, simply with the bad spelling within a poem. And my plans had the same effect.
One way she achieved serenity was to be extremely well prepared. She had grown up during the want of the Great Depression and had experienced the rationing of World War Two, and was careful to keep shelves well stocked, not merely in terms of food, but in terms of hand-lotions and lipstick and soap and detergent and floor wax and vacuum bags and nails and bolts and screws and bandages and medicines and toothbrushes and scissors and paper and pens and brake fluid and spark plugs. If World War Three had broken out, our home would have been the place to loot, (perhaps to prepare for such a contingency, she did have a gun permit, though I never saw an actual pistol.) She had savings and stocks and also other investments which wouldn’t crash if the stock market crashed, and she paid premiums on ordinary insurance as well as some insurances for odd misfortunes which it never occurred to most people to insure, (for example, for obscure diseases, or for earthquakes in New England). She avoided all debt; she and my father had bought their first home with cash, and she’d never had a mortgage.
One preparation she did not make was for nuclear war; I remember she and my father discussing building a fallout shelter, while walking around in our cellar when I was small, but I think they deemed the likelihood of survival too small to be worth the investment; their noble plan was to send us children far off into the hinterlands, if possible, and then to die in Boston treating the burned.
The only other thing I can think of, that she didn’t prepare for, was the waywardness of sons. There was no telling what we might do. Sometimes we might take off just to escape being prepared, because at times her preparedness felt as stifling as an OSHA horse.
Despite the suffocating aspect of being overly prepared, I really liked my mother’s serenity. There was something comforting about being in her presence; you just needed to approach her with care. Sometimes I had the delicacy to say absolutely nothing. I’d walk into a room where she was smoking and reading, meaning to ask her if she’d seen where I left my shoes, and decide not to bother her. Instead I’d pick up a magazine and light a cigarette of my own, and just sit, enjoying the comfort. Eventually she might murmur, “Yes, dear?” But what was really odd was occasions where I had forgotten what I came in to ask, and had become totally engrossed in the magazine, and she murmured, “By the pedals of the piano”. I was absolutely certain I hadn’t said a word to prompt such a response, but when I went and looked, that would be where my lost shoes would be. The woman was mildly psychic, yet was completely unaware of it.
Having now raised five kids myself, I’m more aware of the complete shambles the young can make of the most carefully constructed plans. I had less pity for parents when young, and called my mother “too withdrawn”. But I likely can’t imagine what it was like for an only child (like my mother was) to be confronted with the utter ruination of a parent’s idealism which six children are capable of achieving. However I do now know there are times an exhausted parent simply needs to zone out, to become comfortably numb. It need not involve alcohol or drugs; a good novel or prayer will suffice. In any case, it is unwise to press a parent at such times.
My Dad used to joke that, when my mother was smoking and reading, she would respond “Yes, dear,” to whatever we children asked or announced. If we said, “Mom! The back yard is on fire!” she would dreamily murmur, “Yes, dear.” He also would joke we had a “statute of limitations” and should not confess to fiascos which occurred while camping, or to having capsized our sailboat, until at least a year had passed, because, rather than enjoying hearing of an adventure, the tale would “disturb the peace.” However in the end he himself “disturbed the peace” too much, and was shown the door.
All six of us kids had tested her limits, and were all well aware we could push the serene woman too far. Her dreamy eyes were capable of blazing. It did not happen often, but partly that was because once you witnessed such eyes, you did not wish to ever see them again. As a result there were certain subjects we were extremely careful about, if we brought them up at all.
This resulted in a wrench in the works of communication. We kids were not blatantly dishonest, but there is something which, if not dishonest, is distrusting, about doing things behind a mother’s back.
One technique we utilized was the fait accomli. One brother came strolling in to dinner at age sixteen and mentioned, “Oh, by the way, I’ll be living in Germany this summer as an exchange student; a German kid will be coming here.” Such announcements can be disconcerting, if you are a parent who is big on careful planning.
Another technique was borrowing-without-asking. This caused no problems if the borrowed item was stealthily replaced in good condition, but my mother was not pleased if we forgot to put things back, or used her silver forks for can-openers and put them back looking like they were having a bad hair day. And there are some things you simply should not borrow-without-asking, such as a car or a rich neighbor’s yacht.
But now I was twenty-one, and figured I’d left all the goofs of youth in my past. I was grimly determined to make no further mistakes. I’d studied my dreams and motives with five different psychologies, and had decided that the best psychologists were poets, and Shakespeare was the king. I’d dabbled a bit with reading scattered scriptures, and then abruptly surprised many by dropping Atheism and by stating I was convinced there was such a thing as a Loving God, and that, even if I couldn’t solve every problem, I had a Friend who could. I not only felt I had a clear vision of my own gifts and weaknesses, but also thought I had everyone else weighed and measured, and that included my mother. Therefore it was surprising to me that, despite my supposedly advanced maturity, my mother could still completely derail me.
She might say something innocuous, such as that I’d be wise to get my hair trimmed before applying for the job at the sail loft, and it would feel like a insurmountable stumbling-block, because I had no money for a haircut. I’d then have to have a “session”, (with my self as my psychologist), sifting through all my rude and inappropriate responses for the appropriate one. This could take a long time, if I allowed it to, for I liked looking into the past at childhood memories (and quite obviously do to this day, and am doing it now.) The study of faded traumas, and the cause-and-effects of karma, is much more interesting than getting a job (to me). Also a change-in-life such as getting a job could result in odd dreams, and those dreams, if analyzed, were a gateway to the landscape of poetry, which was (and is) a beautiful place and felt more like home than some grim brick warehouse down towards the waterfront in Portland. However I was also self-aware, when it came to understanding the excuses I could invent to justify procrastination, so I’d be my own drill sergeant and tell myself to get off my butt and quit worrying about my hair. I’d just borrow my mother’s scissors from her hair-cutting supplies, and trim my own hair, and also write a reminder to comb it carefully when I applied for work, tomorrow. Tomorrow. Always tomorrow.
I could have used a bit of coddling, I suppose, but I had become aware of my need for encouragement and was sick of it. I felt I should be able to do the right thing whether people appreciated it or not. Maybe a little child needed reassurance and support, but I was an adult, and had quit promiscuous sex and drugs even though my hippy friends booed rather than cheered. As I looked in the mirror and trimmed my hair my face adopted an expression that was rough, and tough, and sneered.
Another wrench in the works involved the simple fact my shack down by the water had become too cold to live in. Keeping the pot-bellied stove going involved scrounging for driftwood along the shore, and I’d have no time for that, if I was working from dawn to dusk. Therefore I’d have to move up the hill to my parent’s basement, for at least the time it took me to get my first paycheck and could afford firewood.The prospect of informing my mother of this move made me nervous, as it would derange her order, but I was a rough, tough man, so I took a deep breath and tried to be bold without sneering. After all, in the poetry of Aaron Hill, way back in 1750, it stated:
Tender hearted stroke the nettle And it stings you for your pains. Grasp it like a man of mettle And it soft as silk remains.
It often turns out actions aren’t as terrible as one envisions beforehand. I had only gotten as far as venturing, “It’s…um…getting sort of cold down in the shack…um…and…um….I was wondering…um…” when my mother surprised me by swiftly responding, “Oh, good.” Then she continued, “I was hoping to get you to move up to the little cottage and keep its pipes from freezing, at least until I can convince your Grammy to move up from Massachusetts.”
The “little cottage” was one of two cottages crammed onto the hillside between the Main House and the dock. A dark haired waitress named Allison had rented it during the summer, but when the restaurant where she worked closed for the winter she’d been unable to come up with the money to pay the rent, and recently moved to a friend’s. I became busy packing up my papers, typewriter and clothes and moving them up the steep stairs to the cottage, rather than applying for work at the sail loft. In the process I found a couple of rumpled dollars and lots of loose change and, with $6.35 to my name, didn’t feel so broke any more.
Ordinarily it would take me a long time to pack papers. I seemed compelled to linger over each page, thinking and sorting. Also I had a reluctance to put away things undone, and one poem required a rhyme for “orange.” This would then involve taking my Mom’s two dogs for long walks by the water, looking thoughtfully at the sky. (Over forty years later I explained this dilemma to my youngest son, and it took him four seconds to respond, “door hinge.”) (However I’m still looking for a rhyme for “silver”.) Fortunately it was so very cold in the shack I was able to pack papers far more speedily than usual.
I had the good sense to avoid unpacking my papers. I knew that could take as long as packing them could. Instead I took my dirty clothes up to my parent’s washing machine, because I figured I wouldn’t have time for laundry once I was working. Then I headed back down to the small cottage and took out a notebook and planned out schedules and budgets I might adopt, if I got the job at the sail loft. It was at this point I heard a metallic clashing behind the cottage, and went out into the early evening to investigate.
It was Mort. Mort was one of the Tradesman who Tubs and Slim had gotten my mother in touch with, as she shouldered the task of renovating the property, and adding improvements.
Mort rebuilt brick chimneys, and was the perfect fellow to find, for initially every chimney on the property had seen better days, and the chimney for the little cottage was crooked and crumbling and looked like it might totter and fall in the next good gale. Mort had set to work the spring before, up at the main house, which had a three story chimney connected to two fire places and was a major job, and then worked his way down the hill, and now every chimney on the property looked new; to me they almost looked too good, too perfectly orange and straight and flat and neatly mortared and perfectly square; I figured a chimney ought to have a certain roughness or it lacked character, (though of course I kept my opinions to myself).
The little cottage’s chimney had been the last one he’d worked on, and there was some minor detail he’d been unable to get to before the arctic blasts hit, and he occasionally showed up during thaws trying to complete the task, which required temperatures above freezing. (Also I suspected he liked chatting with Allison, though she was a third his age.) Now at long last he was done, and was taking his aluminum ladder and two big tool boxes home.
I liked Mort, for he was the only tradesmen who didn’t automatically look at me askance, assuming I was a long-haired hippy and therefore hopelessly effete. Mort seemed strangely blind, in that regard, and always seemed glad to see me, and to chat about a vast repertoire of inconsequential topics. He spoke with a rich, coastal Maine accent, clipped rather than a drawl, and he also had the ability to make nearly any subject interesting. He appeared to be around sixty, was wiry and hale but also a bit arthritic, and usually had a young go-for with him to do the heavy work, such as lugging bricks. They never lasted long, as such lugging is hard work, but he would laugh he never blamed them for quitting, ” ‘Cause I can’t affawd t’pay ’em maw than peanuts.”
One helper, Sammy, apparently would return as soon as he had spent his paycheck, and Mort would chuckle about how mad Sammy would be to find he had been replaced, and how he’d tell Sammy to be patient, for the new help wouldn’t last. Sammy wasn’t to be seen, on this occasion, and other help had apparently all gone back to school, and Mort was regarding his ladder and two toolboxes with a sad, wry humor. Without even thinking, (because I had found religion and believed in random acts of kindness,) I offered to help lug stuff up the hill, saying I had to go up the hill to get my laundry in any case. Mort grinned broadly. For an effete hippy I was very strong, and could hoist the ladder to one shoulder and lift one heavy tool box with my other hand.
As we started up the steep hill Mort wryly and somewhat sheepishly explained in his clipped speech, (wonderfully turning some dropped “R’s” into entire syllables), “I da-yah not puttah my old truck down he-yah, fuh fe-yah, that with the drive icy, I’d be stuck down he-yah ’til May.” Then he glanced sharply up the hill, where another tradesman was shifting the topmost, flat field-stones of an enormous retaining wall. Mort called out, “Good aftahnoon, Mistah Cappatelli. ‘Bout finished?”
“Yep. Fool’s Folly’s ‘ficially finished. And by Gawd, I’m glad!”
“Fool’s Folly” was my stepfather’s name for a rose garden he had promised my mother. Because it was built on the steepest slope of the hill, the field-stone wall had to rise nearly twenty feet to extend a flat garden out thirty feet. The wall Mr. Cappatelli built was the biggest wall he’d ever built in his life, and perhaps taxed his engineering skills. His first effort had come crashing down when nearly completed. Undeterred, he rebuilt a better footing and the wall arose a second time, but it was the talk of the town, (or at least of the post office, where I learned details after I returned from India). It then was back-filled with subsoil, then topped with peat moss, and finally Grubby Douglas, the neighborhood gardener, came and planted a collection of roses in rotted horse manure and covered them with white, Styrofoam cones, to await the spring. Great things were expected, though I thought the white cones made the garden look silly.
Although the job was complete and Mr. Cappatelli had been paid, he seemed to like to come by during the off-time of winter and tweak the positioning of the flat, topmost stones, and also to anxiously regard the doings of frost heaves down by the footing, and perhaps to quietly gloat over his accomplishment, (and lastly, I suspected, to be invited in for a drink).
He was a very strong man, pushing forty, with curly black hair and a flashing white smile. He was not as tall as me but very muscular, with massive arms twice as thick as mine. What was most intimidating about him was his habit of looking you squarely in the in the eye with his big arms folded. No one called him “Raphael”. Even when he smiled I tended to look away.
I looked away as the burly man folded his arms and flashed a grin, stating, “Well Mort, looks like you got better help than those puny runts you usually hire.”
“Aye-yup, but ’tain’t hired. This’s boss’s son.”
“Really!” That was all Mr. Cappetelli said, as he scrutinized me from head to toe. Then he turned to Mort, “The boss has invited us in for a snort of hooch. Will you be joining us?”
“I may drop in t’ chat, but my daughtah’s comin’ by with grandkids, so I think I’ll steeah cleah of booze.” After a pause he added, “And boss tends to twist the wrist ‘n’ tip the lip far ‘n’ long.”
“Oh, he’s liberal all right” agreed Mr. Cappetelli as we passed. Both men seemed to find my stepfather’s trait a virtue.
I lifted the heavy toolboxes into the back of Mort’s battered pickup and hoisted the aluminum ladder to an odd roof-rack made of wood, thinking the ladder looked too modern for the truck. Mort was petting our two black dogs, opining about whether the winter would remain mild, (though it didn’t seem mild to me), and I talked about the jet-stream. Weather was one thing I could talk knowledgeably about. After Mort expertly roped the ladder to the roof we headed in, “to pay owah respects”, as Mort put it.
I had to pass through the kitchen and dining-room to the stair down to the laundry in the basement. I did so slowly, taking in the warm atmosphere. Mr. Cappetelli had already made it in, through the back entrance, and my stepfather was already making him an Old Fashioned. Slim and Tubs were also there with two women I didn’t know but assumed were their wives, along with Grubby Douglas and an elderly woman I recognized as the postmistress. Everyone seemed to be talking at once and laughing a lot. My stepfather gestured towards Mort silently with a big half-gallon of Old Crow, pointing at a glass invitingly, and Mort shook his head and laughed, “Thanks but no thanks. If I had one I’d need six, and my grandkids are comin’ by for dinnah.” I slowed slightly, thinking my stepfather might invite, but just then my mother loudly informed me, “Your psychologist called. I gave him the phone number for the little cottage.”
To me it seemed the room became instantaneously quieter and that everyone regarded me curiously, except for Slim, who took a step back and bit a knuckle. I lost all interest in staying, nodded to my mother with a smile, and continued on to the laundry. I imagine my face became quite different the moment I was out of eyeshot.
I was fuming. Why did she have to use the words “your psychologist?” Any other time she’d say “Audley Bine called”. Was she trying to make me look like some sort of dorkus? Irritated, I seethed with absurd rage when my clothes weren’t in the washing machine. Rather than being thankful that my mother had put them in the drier I was angry that they had cooled before they were folded. Was she trying to make me look all wrinkly when I applied for work? I turned the drier back on with a self righteous twist of the dial, folded my arms, and sneered down long avenues of idiocy as I waited.
It wasn’t until I shouldered through the door of the little cottage with my arms full of laundry that I came to my better senses, because my eyes fell on a motto under a picture the size of a credit card, taped to the fridge.
I had taped the picture onto the fridge as one of the first things I did upon entering the house, though it was a picture I took a fair amount of grief for. One friend told me he thought Meher Baba looked like he could make a good pizza. Another asked me what city he was mayor of. Yet I taped the picture up because I was rough and tough and didn’t need the encouragement of my peers. Also I found it hard to be crabby looking at it. On this occasion, however, it made my shoulders sag slightly.
I walked through the tiny kitchen into a surprisingly large living room, which held a bureau that smelled vaguely of Allison because the bedroom, which also smelled of Allison, was so tiny it belonged in a train. The living-room also held a small wardrobe because the bedroom was too small for a true closet, though it had a flat cabinet you might hang a shirt sideways in. As I hung my four shirts in the wardrobe, which smelled vaguely of seaweed, I muttered to myself, “I can’t believe I let Mom do it to me again”. Then I smirked and mimicked her voice in fallsetto, ” ‘My psychologist’. ‘My psychologist’ Why’d she say that? Audley hasn’t been my psychologist for a year, but with the postmistress there the whole frickin’ town will gab. But…but…but what the hell do I care what anyone thinks?”
Of course it was right then the telephone rang, and of course it was Audley Bine. Instead of “Hello” he said, “Why the hell didn’t you call me!”
“Call you? Was I suppose to call you?”
“That was the message I gave your mother.”
“You did? All she told me was that she’d given you my number.”
There was a long pause, and then he said, “Oh.”
Audley was becoming a bit of a pain. I spent more and more time listening to his problems and complaints, as he grew more and more impatient with mine. If anyone paid anyone for being a psychologist, he should have been paying me; I’d long since stopped paying him, and therein lay a problem.
I had worked for Audley, and it seemed to me that, although perhaps a trainee should pay for the training he receives, that should stop when the trainee is trained; then he should be paid for the work he does. Audley’s problem seemed to be that he wanted to keep being paid, and didn’t like to pay, though he could become quite angry when I told him so. I had become like an apprentice who has become a skilled journeyman, and wants to set up a shop on his own.
Not that I wanted to do what Audley did. He was a idealist who was forever collecting groups of followers and attempting to create a perfect society, but they all tended to be communes that crashed and burned. Being associated with him was a sort of roller coaster ride which I initially found inspiring, (when I believed the communes might succeed), and still found fascinating, (though I suspected his latest commune was failing).
Audley and I had a swift and somewhat brusque conversation. I learned the commune was in crisis, which didn’t surprise me, for that tends to be what you get when you form a commune of people in need of psychological help. Audley wanted to “seize the bull by the horns” and demanded I come down for a “group session”. He could be a bit of a bully when in his go-getter mood, and refused to take “no” for an answer. My problem was that I couldn’t lie. When I told him I was broke and couldn’t afford gas, he asked if I was really broke, I confessed I had $6.35 to my name. Audley did some quick calculating. Gas was 56 cents a gallon in 1975, and my tiny Toyota got 31 miles a gallon. I could drive to Newton and back to Maine for four bucks. What was I so worried about? I needed to get away from my mother’s worrying, because…
I cut him short, because I was in no mood to be psychologically dissected like some sort of frog. We shifted to the topic of whether I should be looking for work rather than saving a sinking commune, and Audley pointed out tomorrow was Sunday and Sunday was not a good day to find work, so I might as well go for a drive. Next I protested I could do no good, and at this point Audley shifted to wheedling. I couldn’t stand that. I didn’t want to hear how I was a “moderating influence” when I didn’t feel moderate, but in the end I caved,
The surprise-ending for this chapter is that I don’t end it by applying for work in a sail loft, but heading south towards the suburbs of Boston. When it came to procrastination, I was a master.
Actually I’ll begin the next chapter roaring south after dark on the Maine Turnpike in a tiny, tinny Toyota that screamed like a deranged sewing machine at seventy mph, for a night highway is a good place to contemplate the phenomenon of Audley Bine. I’ll conclude this chapter with me dashing into my mother’s kitchen and making myself an instant coffee at the boiling-water tap at her kitchen sink, for the drive down.
The party was still going on, but I figured I should tell my mother my plans. “Heading down to Boston. Lights are off, and heat’s down to fifty-five, in the little cottage. Be back tomorrow.” I tried to dart out the door and not see I had aged her ten years.
Love heals. Remember that. One of the four Horsemen peers into my little valley. Death doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. A plague pops dreams for each Tom, Dick or Sally. I look up and think he’s got a long neck To reach here from China. Must he try us? Must games be cancelled, and a sad wreck Be made of small dreams by a small virus? Must schools be shuttered and markets made empty To teach us that such things are not lasting? The panicked will run, and will swiftly see They spread sickness. With prayer and fasting Others will know Love alone endures. Love alone heals. Love alone cures.
Over the years I have held well over a hundred jobs, and gradually came to very much enjoy job interviews, as the prospect of rejection grew less intimidating.
I think I first stopped being terribly intimidated in New Mexico at age thirty-three, when I was required to show proof at the unemployment office that I had applied for work in at least three places every week, in order to obtain tiny unemployment benefits of $32.00/week. (The benefits were hardly worth the effort, but I continued to bother spending a day each week walking around fulfilling the requirements, primarily because I knew my getting benefits irritated my mean, crooked former-boss.) It was benign summertime, and the rest of the week I was busily writing in a campground where the rent was $25.00/week; I had absolutely no desire for the interruptions caused by the nuisance of employment. To make certain I wouldn’t accidentally get a job, I applied for work at the oddest places, and adopted an attitude of curiosity where it didn’t matter that it became immediately obvious I wasn’t qualified for the job; I asked questions because I was interested in learning about a job I couldn’t do. I became more like a reporter than an applicant, and for some reason most (but not all) interviewers liked the tables being turned, and being the one interviewed, and we’d sit for half an hour “chewing the fat” over coffee. They seemed surprised a shabby drifter was so articulate, (and I liked the free coffee.)
But when I was young and terribly shy it was a completely different matter. Looking for work was a humiliation and a hell.
It wasn’t so bad when I ran my own little landscaping business in the wealthy suburb I grew up in. I walked up and down streets putting a file-card-sized advertisement in mail boxes, with big lettering that inquired, “Spring Cleaning? Need Muscle?” and then had details and a phone number in small lettering. Then I sat back to wait for others to call me. Rather than like asking others to dance it was more like the phone rang and others asked me to dance. (In my list of jobs-I’ve-had I don’t know whether to count this business as being one job, or twenty-five; rich and interesting people asked me to help with all sorts of interesting tasks, but that is a tale for another time.)
It was quite a different thing when I looked through a newspaper’s classified ads for the help-wanted ads, and had to go fill out an application. Then it was like asking a girl for a dance, and I was never very bold in that respect. In some ways it could be worse, like asking a girl to dance when you didn’t know how to dance, and she’d be required to teach you.
(As an aside, during my first date with my wife we attended a Cajun barbecue with Cajun music, and were both surprised to see people begin dancing in a way I supposed was Cajun. I said I didn’t know how to dance, and she said she didn’t know how to dance, and then we decided to invent our own dance and danced joyously for ninety minutes straight. I knew then I had found someone special. However I was thirty-seven when that happened.)
At age twenty-one I was gruesomely uncomfortable when it came to job interviews and “selling myself” in any way, shape or form. “Tooting your own horn” seemed somehow immodest, even rude. But in January, 1975, I was flat broke, which is a state good at pushing a man past his self-imposed limits.
My mother knew something was up when she came downstairs and found me plunked at her dining-room table, sneering distastefully at the small local paper, which was opened to the help-wanted section. She was, as she put it, “all gussied up”, which meant she was dressed up in tweed to go to some sort of cocktail party; fragrant with subtle perfume; tall; her short, dark hair perfectly styled with gray wings at her temples, and wearing dangling tear-shaped earrings of green jade. She radiated an aura of pleased serenity, but the moment she summed up my situation her serenity became creased by concern. The fact I apparently needed a job suggested there was a problem, and she did not like her children to have problems, especially when she was about to go out to a party.
She veered carefully away from the topic of my prospects, and instead inquired if I would sprinkle some salt on the icy front walk before my stepfather came home. I was glad to escape the dismal want-ads, so I got up to do it, aware he’d be home any minute.
It was just getting dark as he pulled up to the side of the street, even as I sprinkled the salt, which I decided made me look good, as he didn’t often see me working. He smiled at me as he gingerly got out of his Saab, an elderly man with only a fringe of grey hair left, but with his baldness hidden beneath a checked, deer-slayer hat like the one Sherlock Holmes wore. I thought the hat looked silly, but never told him so because he so obviously enjoyed wearing it.
My stepfather was 28 years older than my mother. His friends had told him that marrying her would either extend his life or kill him, and initially we kids did our best to kill him, and he actually did have a heart attack within the first six months of adopting six troubled children.
Immediately after the marriage I’d done my best to be polite, but when the old man accidentally offended me I began to refer to him as “the fossil” behind his back. I deemed him an old fool, and even a home-wrecker, for I preferred being a struggling family on the verge of having to move out of a wealthy suburb, to being mere used baggage bought by an old coot who wanted a trophy wife. But then things changed. Somewhat amazingly I began to feel like a trophy stepchild.
He had been a Harvard Law School Professor, and fit the mold: “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.” He would speak with long pauses, as if he was a very learnéd man and all the world breathlessly awaited his thoughtful opinions. He seemed quite blissfully unaware that the mannerisms he felt were charming were in fact dreadfully dull.
During our first dinners together as a family I attempted to bat my eyes politely as he took forever to say even the most inconsequential things, “I think…..I would like….some mustard.” My ten-year-old and eight-year-old younger brother and sister would have none of it, and would interject silly things into the old man’s pauses, completing his sentences for him: “I think….I would like….to tap dance?” Then they would dissolve into helpless laughter. My stepfather initially was infuriated by the affronts to his dignity, but his manner of punishing them was to rise in wrath and stalk silently away from the table, which made my younger siblings only laugh all the more helplessly, as my mother regarded them with horror. I hated dinnertime. But after six months, and especially after his heart attack, I began to notice something. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the old man dropped the long pauses.
The late 1960’s was a tumultuous time, with disrespect of elders in fashion. My two elder brothers were away at college, and both dropped out to join a commune two thousand miles away. My older sister had a scandalous relationship with a married, older man and got thrown out of our house, which I thought a bit hypocritical of my mother, considering she too was living with an older man. At age fifteen I decided to tell my mother what she was doing wrong, and was rewarded with a slap across my face I likely deserved.
In retrospect my stepfather seems slightly mad to have walked into such a buzz-saw at retirement age. Having been a stepfather myself, I now have a better understanding of the problems stepfathers face, but at the time I had no mercy. I loved my father, felt my mother should have stood by her man, and saw my stepfather as an interloper.
My father had been a famous surgeon who had at least five major trauma’s simultaneously occur in his life, not the least of which was the fact the woman he’d had six children with didn’t love him any more, (and perhaps had never loved him), which led him to begin raving and drinking too much. But the specific trauma that intellectually hit me hardest was the simple fact he couldn’t do what he once had done. He’d been an amazing surgeon, able to suture the ends of severed arteries back together with twenty tiny stitches and tie the knots with one hand. No other surgeon could do what he could do, enabling him to make what, in modern terms, was roughly a half million to a million dollars a year. But then, (in the same manner that even Babe Ruth reached an age when no team wanted him), my father hit the wall at age forty-four.
This contributed greatly to my desire to become a writer. I wanted to find a vocation I’d never be too old to do.
My stepfather went through a similar crisis, which for obvious reasons I watched with interest, (if not compassion). When he hit age seventy Harvard College retired him. He was as mentally sharp as ever, but it was simply the college’s policy in 1970: When you hit seventy you were out the door; no discussion.
I was somewhat incredulous that he should be hurt or angry, and puzzled that he became as crabby as he became. In my eyes getting a job was more likely to make me crabby. He had a fine pension and plenty of money saved and could just kick back and laze as happily as a clam, but instead he was miserable. Was it possible a man could want to work?
Then something nice surprised him midst his bitterness. Three of his former students had formed a law office in Portland, Maine, and they came to him and very humbly inquired if he might be so good as to consider helping them out by becoming the law office’s senior advisor. I have never seen an old man stop being crabby so fast. He seemed to feel like a man granted a reprieve on the gallows, and accepted the job as a very great blessing, and seemed to never forget he was blessed, gently twinkling like morning stars in the afterglow of glory.
I think it was my older sister who first understood that the old man deserved appreciation, which was a bit surprising, as she’d become a fiery feminist. She made me walk on eggs, for fear I’d offend her. I didn’t think she’d put up with anyone over thirty. Yet when she visited she took to greeting the old man with demonstrative hugs. He most definitely was not a man prone to hugging, but he seemed to like hers, especially during the days when he was unemployed and crabby.
I myself didn’t hug the man. I’d tried it one time, the first breakfast after we became a new family. I came downstairs and gave him a hug as he sat at the table reading the paper, and he gruffly stated, “Don’t feel you have to do that ever again.” I recoiled, and it was only after four years, (when involved in some sort of “express your inner feelings” pop-psychology), that I confessed I’d been hurt, and he apologized, saying he only intended to free me from feeling I had to display any sort of artificial affection. At the time I took him at his word, and stayed away from him.
I didn’t approve of my younger sibling’s irreverence at the dinner table, and tried to frown at them, although they were so funny I sometimes couldn’t manage it. For my part I politely discussed weather and sports with my stepfather and then excused myself; I left the table as swiftly as I possibly could. I assumed he didn’t care for me. At age sixteen I ran away from home for a week as a sort of grandiose gesture, and was a bit taken aback that he never really noticed, because my mother never told him; he just assumed I was off visiting friends.
Only gradually did we become interested in each other. I think the first common ground we discovered involved a love of puns. Then, because my mother had a large dictionary on an ornate stand by the dining-room table, we shared an interest in the derivation of words. The closest I ever came to being so bold as to argue with the man involved words. One time I ventured I didn’t approve of the word “niggardly”, and he protested the word had nothing to do with race, so we looked the word up. Usually he was correct and I was not, but, on the rare occasions I knew something he didn’t, he always behaved appreciative rather than offended. That surprised me.
Then, as I became a hippy and began hitchhiking around the country, he actually supported my adventures rather than attempting to prevent them. The police tended to investigate smooth-cheeked hitchhikers, to see if they were runaways, and I was able to show them a permission-slip from my stepfather that I carried in my wallet. (I don’t think it was the illegible handwriting that impressed the officers, as much as it was the fact the stationary read, “Harvard Law School”, at the top.)
Though I hitchhiked because I was restless, and the suburbs were sterile and bored the hell out of me, I always pretended I was doing it “for a school project” or “for an English paper.” This caused a bit of a problem when no such papers were forthcoming. However I did produce one paper, a “senior project”, which drew a strange response from the old man.
What I did was to overcome my shyness and interview every member of my senior class I could get to talk with me, during lunch in the cafeteria. I asked them to describe what cliques they had belonged to, going back as far as they could remember. Then I wrote a paper with the title “The Evolution Of Cliques In A Suburban High School” which I got in trouble for, (because I handed the same paper in to both my English and Social Studies teachers, blithely unaware such redundancy might present a problem). The paper contained a fair amount of sarcasm, and was vain, for it described hippy poets as the “most highly evolved” clique, and my stepfather was completely enchanted by it. He took it in to Harvard and showed it to all his friends, even making extra copies of the badly typed document. We never talked together about the paper, but I could see the man was delighted. I found the experience strange, for I didn’t tend to think of myself as being delightful, at age seventeen.
When I was eighteen one of my older brothers “borrowed” a rich man’s yacht and we sailed it south, intending to load it with marijuana in Jamaica and get rich quick. We made it as far as Nassau before the Law caught up with us. We deserved jail, but my stepfather fought for us, and he got us off with a slap on the wrist, though it cost him a pretty penny. Sometimes having a stepfather who is a boring professor of law isn’t all bad.
Now I was twenty-one and had known the old man for seven years, and not only had I failed to kill him, but against my own will I found myself liking him a lot.
He had become very careful and methodical in his old age, to avoid falling or losing things. He stretched little ice-grips over his boots, and followed a three-step process when leaving his Saab to make certain he did not forget his briefcase, keys, or to turn his headlights off. Even though I had salted the front walk, he took all the care of a man on a tightrope, gingerly walking to the front steps, and then, after entering the house, went through a similar process, reminding me of Mr. Rogers in the way he always hung up his coat and deerslayer hat in an identical manner. He was particularly slow and deliberate when hanging up his car keys on a particular hook. Then I shadowed him to the dining room table, where he would open his briefcase and remove the Portland Press Herald and the New York Times. He was well aware of my tendency to lurk like a vulture, and handed me the papers with a smile.
He was also slow and deliberate with his questioning (though he had dropped the long pauses,) and was very observant. As a lawyer, he knew how to cross examine, and despite his caution he’d learned to think quickly on his feet. A lot seemed to happen in his silences, at times giving me the sense he was psychic.
On this occasion he must have noted I didn’t reach for the Times, and instead for the Press Herald, and noticed that rather than opening to the weather map I opened the paper to the “Help Wanted” page. He also may have noted the town newspaper was already open to “Help Wanted”, on the table. He looked interested, and inquired, “Any work?”
I pretended to find the situation humorous. “Well, there are three jobs in the local paper. I can pretend to be a mechanic at the cannery, or pretend to be a cook at the diner, or pretend to be an expert at veneering the decks of yachts, at the marina. The trick would be to get at least one paycheck, before they fired me.”
My stepfather didn’t say anything, but he did give me a slightly unnerving, very penetrating glance with his very blue eyes, before my mother came bustling in and said it was time to go.
Then abruptly the house was gruesomely silent. A sterility I knew all too well was pressing in from the black windows, as I faced a Friday night alone. I swiftly glanced through the help-wanted ads in the Press Herald, not expecting to find anything and having my expectations confirmed. Then I began to pace around my parent’s house, trying to find something to think about, to escape my despair.
Sometimes escapism is too obvious. I could click through all the shows on the T.V., and nothing would grab me. I could glance over the spines of all the books in the ceiling-to-floor wall of books in the living-room, and every author would be dull. I could go to the piano and try to lose myself in a song, bellowing at the top of my lungs because no one was home, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. All the symbols of wealth in the plush home were sucked dry of value, and became empty trinkets. There was no escaping a poverty that came creeping in from black windows like ghouls, so I put on my jacket, hat and gloves and went out to walk in it. Something about walking in the darkness was soothing to my soul (and it wasn’t because, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”).
The soothing was a bit of a mystery to me, and still remains a mystery, when I see a young man striding along a highway when I’m out driving after dark. I’m sure the police are curious as well, but when they pull over to ask a young vagrant what he’s doing or where he’s going, I doubt they get a good answer. (The best answer is “going for a walk”, because then you don’t have to explain). However the real answer is, I have decided, something which involves levels of our being beneath the superficial skim we call our intellect or our “our rational”. Even in the pitch dark we are “communing with nature”.
I found hiking-in-the-dark annoyed psychologists, for they were like the officer questioning the vagrant, and always wanted to know exactly what I was communing, demanding specifics when there were no words. (Also perhaps they were annoyed because when I went for a walk I didn’t have to pay them to be healed). But what (or who) the healing involved was always a mystery. In a sense it was like talking-in-tongues, words that sounded like babbling but were the super-conscious speaking to the subconscious, without granting the conscious mind permission to eavesdrop. Or that’s the best I can do to explain the inexplicable. The simply fact is: After-dark hiking made me feel better without any excuse for feeling better.
One psychologist explained that I “burned up excessive hormones through physical activity”, and I’ll allow that, if it makes him feel less insecure, but he was never in my head in that darkness.
There definitely was a physical component, especially as the walking became striding (which hippies called “trucking”). I’d become caught up in the rhythm, the way feet sounded scuffing over the tar, the way the streetlight pools came and went and bobbed up and down as I strode, the way my striding shadow shortened and then lengthened. Then out of the rhythm would come lyrics, and sometimes the melody of a song. Often it was an old song, for example I might find myself humming a song that came to me when walking home from my girlfriend’s, (back when I had a girlfriend), the evening before I set sail as an outlaw with my brother, when I was well aware I might die at sea.
The night is cricket’s velvet. My cigarette is glowing. A police car whispers by. I have no way of knowing Will my baby cry When she finds me going Going going…
The world is swimming softly. The cool night air I’m drinking Brings me softly down From my happy thinking. I cannot turn around Though the happiness is shrinking Shrinking shrinking…
The streetlight pools are nodding. The steady pavement’s flowing Surges as my march is on. Can she see I’m knowing This could be my ending song? Oh am I really going Going going gone?
Other times the song would be a new song, and I was always a bit mystified where they came from. Not that I worried about such things. Instead merely I enjoyed the sensation. I now blush a little to think how unselfconsciously absorbed in my own emotions I became, and wonder what people sleeping with their window open thought, as a crooning crazy-man approached on the street outside, and then faded away. But I myself became wonderfully carefree, sort of drunk without alcohol, and within a bubble where I felt most like myself, and free of the person I had to pretend to be when applying for some job I really didn’t want to do.
On this particular occasion it slowly dawned on me that there was nothing I could do before daybreak; there were no offices accepting job-applications after dark, and therefore it was a waste of energy to worry. It then occurred to me that, if I couldn’t find a job, perhaps I could join the clam-diggers I saw slogging out over the mudflats from the window of my shack, as the tide went out. In the bitter winds of January it looked like a miserable job, and I had noticed there were fewer and fewer of them as the weather grew colder and colder, but as I paced in the darkness I found the idea strangely appealing. It would be a job with no boss. But they didn’t dig clams in the dark, so it was no use starting right away.
Eventually I found my way along the waterfront to my shack on the dock down below my parent’s house, but it was bitter cold inside. The fire had gone out in the pot bellied stove, and I’d neglected to get firewood or split kindling. That was another problem to deal with in the morning, but in the meantime I decided to grab my notebook and to head up the hill to my parent’s warm abode, and to jot down a poem that had come into my head as I walked, and eventually to sleep in their warm basement.
When my parents returned from their cocktail party they found me scribbling and smoking at their dining-room table, as if I’d never left. I was feeling much better, for my poem pleased me, and also I had decided I had a job. I’d be a clam-digger. My mother didn’t ask about my poem or job, but rather to please clean up all the newspapers on the table, so I did it, after clipping the weather-map from the Times. As I did I idly inquired if the party was fun. They both seemed a little flushed, and I suspected they’d had more than one cocktail.
My mother rhapsodized about some client of my stepfather’s she had met who had opened a place that made sails, in Portland. My mother could be quite dazzling at a party, but she was equally charm-able, and I gathered the businessman had charmed her.
Listening more carefully I learned she had absorbed details of the sail-making business like a sponge, and could even become righteously indignant about people who had caused the businessman a problem and to require a lawyer. Apparently there was some government grant aimed at enticing businesses to Portland, to lower the high unemployment rate, but some disgruntled employee had tattled about some “i” the businessman forgot to dot or some “t” he neglected to cross, in order to qualify for the government grant. The man found American employees very ungrateful for the work he had brought to their city, and it was then my ears perked up. I immediately assumed the man must be from some foreign place that had Queen Elisabeth on their stamps, and must speak with one of several British accents that my mother could never resist, (even if they weren’t the King’s English). Sure enough, when I inquired I discovered the businessman was an Aussie.
For the most part my stepfather had remained silent, merely nodding and smiling as my mother chattered in her musical voice, but suddenly he turned to me and I realized he hadn’t forgotten me, even at a cocktail party. His face grew serious and he said two dreadful words. “He’s hiring.”
I sat back, a bit stunned. Me? A sail-maker?
Oh well, I hadn’t really wanted to dig clams in January, anyway.