PUNKY WOOD –Part 6– –Splendor's End–

Audley Bine’s appearance in the sanctity of my home struck me as an imposition, but I also knew it would be futile to protest to my mother. He didn’t have to put on his very-good-student face very much at all to wrap her around his little finger, for he was a man who had graduated from Harvard, and also could speak with a hint of an upper-class accent, and these two things automatically raised a person in my mother’s estimation. It also didn’t hurt that my mother’s grandfather was also a Bine, and she and Audley may have been distantly related. They also may have shared some unspoken common heritage due to the steep decline of the Bine family fortunes. Audley was a go-getter clawing his way out of poverty, and my mother was also a social climber. Though she’d been born poor, I thought my mother saw herself as a sort of Eliza Doolittle. She had cultivated a faux-English accent, and was thrilled at the prospect of moving to England for a year to mingle with the upper classes.

Though facing an unwelcome mandatory retirement from Harvard, my stepfather had accrued sabbatical time which he still could access, and discovered Oxford University didn’t mind that he was over seventy. He was therefore going there as a guest-lecturer, and also to study differences between English and American law. As he, my mother, and my two younger siblings lodged down in England, I was scheduled to be shipped north for a postgraduate year at a boarding school up in the northeast tip of Scotland.

In only six weeks my life as an American suburbanite would come to an abrupt end, and I had a sense there were things I wanted to finish. The last thing I wanted was some old person around the house getting in my way, and Audley struck me as old. Though only twenty-six he struck me as a person-over-thirty who I shouldn’t trust, and perhaps even a “narc”. He wore a sports-coat even in hot weather, which was definitely a bad sign.

I gathered from my mother and oldest brother that Audley needed a no-rent situation to help him through a lean time between his graduation from Harvard and his first paycheck. He had landed a job as a teacher at a boarding school up in New Hampshire. I liked him less for that, for I had an involuntary aversion towards most teachers because, in my opinion, all but a few teachers I’d known in school were unfriendly, unsympathetic, unimaginative, and some were downright nasty. Rather than help me learn teachers seemed an obstruction to my investigations (because much I wanted to investigate was, if not taboo, beyond the bounds of ordinary scholarship.)

It was difficult for me to express exactly what it was I was studying, or what it was I wanted to “finish” before I left for Scotland. Some things were admittedly crude; for example I wanted to “finish” my virginity. But most things were problems I sensed in a largely intuitive manner, involving how my community of suburban teenyboppers might survive in a world that seemingly wanted us extinct.

Suburban towns of that time felt under no compunction to make a place for the children they created. The town expected you to depart, either to college or Vietnam, and the only reason my idea, (that a community of youth might like to remain a community,) was not deemed laughable was because it never crossed most people’s minds.

I felt that such a heartless attitude was part of an old world, but that I was part of a new world which was going to replace such heartlessness with Truth, Love and Understanding. My blithe naivete seems a bit ridiculous, fifty years later, but I honestly believed I was living through a sort of spiritual revolution. Problems might surface, but problems could be solved. One of my favorite occupations was to sit around with my friends and solve all the world’s problems.

One of the world’s problems was pills. Despite my gross ignorance concerning the difference between a drug-high and a natural-high, I had only to look in a mirror to see that pills were not healthy. Admitting this simple fact forced me to admit that the purveyors of pills were liars.

Pushers always gave pills some sort of romantic-sounding nickname such as “strawberry starshine”, and advertised them as being “a real mellow mescaline”, when in fact most often they were amphetamines, barbiturates, or worse: One pill was called “black dot”; it was described as being “peyote”, because it made one vomit (and hallucinate after vomiting); in retrospect I think “black dots” were likely rat poison. Such pills were gobbled by trusting youths at parties, and dealing with the consequences of such indiscriminate trust was part of my life.

Even though I myself very much liked amphetamines, we all knew “speed kills”. We could see how swiftly certain musicians aged from album-cover to album-cover, and I didn’t like seeing similar aging starting to effect my seventeen-year-old face. Around the time Audley moved in I had decided to quit pills, and to stick with smoking leafy herbs, and also to eat more, regain lost weight, and to get back in shape by lifting weights.

A second problem was far more complicated than merely quitting an illegal drug. It was an awareness that sprang out of my enjoyment over hearing others “tell me their story.” I became aware that my community of teenyboppers were predominately from broken homes.

This realization came as something of a shock to me, for when my own parents separated in 1964 divorce was a rarity and I felt ashamed to be from a broken home. That shame became such a part of my life I didn’t notice times changing. In six short years divorce had become so commonplace in wealthy suburbs that less shame was involved. The divorce rate had leapt from 0.5% to nearly 50%, and in some cases divorce was even taken for granted. I heard kids ask other kids, “Your parents divorcing yet?” What was formerly unmentionable could be freely discussed, and being able to talk liberated me from the shackles of shame.

However this is not to say my peers were happy about divorce. Divorce didn’t seem to involve the Peace, Love and Understanding which was our ideal. In a way (which I think few saw) it was our parents who were choosing an “alternative lifestyle” when they renounced traditional marriage, and we supposedly-radical children were actually the reactionary conservatives, in that we wanted to embrace some sort of wholesome fidelity.

Of course the subject was not all that simple. Some, both men and women, very much liked the idea of gaining the pleasures of sex without the responsibility of marriage, while others wanted a love that was true. Some disliked marriage because they saw their parent’s unhappiness as being caused by marriage, while others saw their parent’s unhappiness as being caused by their parent’s failure to behave married. And me? I tended to be wishy-washy, and to see both sides as having their points. To be honest, I was more interested in getting others to “tell me their story” than in standing in judgement.

This landed me in uncomfortable situations, for in “telling their story” people tended to badmouth and backbite others. Then a second person would “tell me their story” and it would involve badmouthing and backbiting the first. I called such situations “triangles”, and they made me very uncomfortable, for I felt a pressure to take sides. Taking sides was not the same thing as the “Understanding” I desired.

In a sense the two sides were like the two sides of an arch, and required the “keystone” called Understanding. Without the keystone the two sides fell to a heap of rubble and made a mess, but with the keystone the two sides held each other up. This was something I could see but could not grasp, yet I was aware that at times I myself could be the keystone, though I wasn’t aware how I did it.

For example, one unpleasant aspect of using drugs was a certain paranoia it involved. This was especially apparent when a person at a party left a room for a while and then returned. There would then be an awkwardness, as if the person had been talked-about-behind-their-back (and fairly often, but not always, they had been.) It was as if a societal ice had formed while they were away, requiring a societal icebreaker. I tended to be the icebreaker, even when I myself was the person who had left the room. Often it involved merely filling the returning person in on what-they-had-missed, thus allowing them to get back into the flow of the conversation, but at the time I had no clue how I did it. I just recognized misunderstanding was occurring, and intuitively ended it.

I also intuitively knew that the strength of a community is based upon building understanding, and felt an urge to strengthen the foundational understanding of my own gang. As the end of the summer approached this urge became akin to desperation, for I knew our teenybopper community would need to be very strong to withstand the challenges presented by a suburb which basically wanted to throw us all out.

Therefore I was pleased to hear my mother and stepfather were leaving for England, to reconnoiter the situation where they’d live and work, in and near Oxford, and after that to tour Scotland. They’d be gone a month, and I was looking forward to being the king of their castle while they were gone. I felt it would be a great opportunity to develop understanding in my community. My mother begged to differ, for where I saw “developing community” she saw “one big party” and envisioned holes burned in her carpets. Therefore she went out of her way to cramp my style.

First, she put her car in the shop and loaned my stepfather’s car to my oldest brother, leaving me without transport. Second, she gave me a list of chores, such as mowing the lawn and packing things away (as the house was to be rented while we were overseas), which seemed unfair to me, as she was burdening me with the chores of a castle while denying me the benefits. She told the live-in maid Margie to keep an eye on me. Lastly, she invited my oldest brother to stay, as well as Audley Bine, which crowded my space.

It did not seem to occur to my mother that I might not be the only one facing a “Senior Summer”, a final time free before plunging into a less-than-appealing future. Audley Bine was also facing an end to liberation, a switch from the company of brilliant minds at Harvard to the company of boring boys at a boarding school. All my mother saw was a very serious-seeming and sensible Audley who nodded at all the right times and only smiled when it was proper. (Where my mother saw great promise in Audley I must admit I didn’t think the fellow looked too promising.)

The first sign my initial impression might be incorrect occurred even before my mother and stepfather left. I’d gone trooping down to my bedroom with a group of my friends late at night, with everyone chattering like a flock of grackles, and once in the room I’d shut the door and opened the windows, to let the songs of summer frogs and owls in, and the smoke out. Just then the person closest to the door made a “hisst!” noise and raised an index finger. There was an instant silence, and then we all heard it: A tapping at the door, as if someone was knocking with a single, pointed finger. Swiftly all illegal substances were removed from view, as I sauntered across the room. After an appraising glance about at my friends all looking guiltily innocent, I opened the door. There stood Audley, wearing his very-good-student smile.

I fully expected some version of, “Could you keep the noise down; I’m trying to sleep”, but what he whispered was, “Could you sell me a nickle bag of Mooner?”

A friend nearest the door laughed, and then turned to explain to the others, “He wants Mooner!” The tension in the air dissolved to palatable relief. Part of 1970 was the experience of seeing many people you thought of as “straight” switching sides and “turning on.” I could hear my friends beginning to exclaim about the phenomenon, and the words, “He wants Mooner”, being repeated, but I was the one who faced going to jail for selling drugs, so I was not so quick to drop my guard. I brusquely asked, “Who said I had Mooner?”

“Your brother”.

That seemed like a fairly safe recommendation, but I was not about to reveal where I kept my pound hidden (down in a heating duct accessed by removing a grill on the floor). I simply reached in the pocket of my jeans and handed him my personal supply.

Audley looked at the plastic bag. “That’s too much. More like a dime than a nickle. Here. Let me remove some.” He then stepped further into the room and opened the bag on the flat top of a bureau, produced a packet of “Zig-zags” from a pocket of his sports coat, and with impressive speed and deftness rolled three cigarettes, which he handed to me. Having impressed everyone with proof he was no novice, he handed me five wrinkled one-dollar-bills, pocketed the rest of the marijuana, nodded, and left.

Despite this evidence, I still entertained the view that Audley was an intellectual and likely a “dweeb”, (though I deemed a dweeb who smoked pot better than a dweeb who didn’t) but that view also needed to be adjusted, shortly after my parents left for England.

The fact Audley wore a sports-coat in summer weather seemed part of an effort he made to present himself as being more wealthy than he actually was, and put him at odds with my gang. We scoffed at fashion. Around a year later signs began appearing on the doors of restaurants, “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service,” and I always felt that sign was a personal affront. My view was that feet were far more healthy when bare, and that sunshine and dryness killed athlete’s foot, whereas shoes nourished the fungus. Furthermore we often visited Walden Pond, and the readers in my group liked to quote how Thoreau stated a man only needed two pairs of pants: One to wear and one to wash. Audley’s belief that how you “presented” yourself mattered was in direct conflict with our belief that it was what you were on the inside that mattered. Therefore it was with some relief we noticed Audley drove a battered Volkswagen bus that looked like it cost him fifty dollars.

Fifty years later I’ve noted such buses are nearly always portrayed in movies as a form of hippy-transport painted with flowers and peace symbols. Few actually were. (Many hippies couldn’t afford paint.) Hippies coveted the buses because they were very cheap even when brand new, and much cheaper used; they endured for years and could be repaired with a hairpin, so there were a lot of cheap Volkswagens floating about.

They were not a powerful vehicle. Whenever I saw one slowing down to pick me up hitchhiking I always felt a little guilty, for their air-cooled engines were so pathetic that I always felt the added weight of my body would force the driver to downshift, going up hills. Audley’s was especially ancient, and seeing him drive off in the huffing old wreck in the morning made him seem especially mortal and humble. But one afternoon we heard the far-off approach of a roaring car that squealed around distant curves of our country road, getting louder and louder. It was definitely not a Volkswagen. I was lifting weights outside with my older brothers, and we stopped to listen to the approach with interest.

My stepfather’s house had a circular drive with six apple trees in the middle, and the weights we lifted were in a turnaround off the circle by the garage. Abruptly, flashing bright orange against the green summertime background down at entrance, appeared a Lotus sports-car, which swerved sharply in and came around the circle six times faster than I’d even seen a car go on that circle, and then lurched to a halt in front of us. Audley was in the passenger seat, radiant and beside himself with laughter. The driver, a tall, elegant-looking young man with styled blond curls, swung out of the other side and walked over to my brothers, who were standing apart from me. He talked briefly with them, and they both shook their heads and jutted their thumbs over their shoulders at me. The man looked at me, and I thought I detected a trace of incredulity flicker across his face, before he walked over. “I’ve tried some of your Mooner. Excellent stuff. I’d like a lid.” He offered me a very crisp twenty and a very crisp five.

I hesitated, measuring the man. He wore a golf shirt rather than a sports-coat, but something about him oozed wealth and privilege. I decided a narc wouldn’t be so rich, nodded, took the money, and walked off thinking I was committing robbery, for usually I charged only twenty for an ounce.

I did notice one odd thing about the man’s sports-car as I departed. It seemed to have bits of cornstalks stuck in odd places: Behind the side mirrors, and in the grill, and hanging from both the front and rear bumpers.

As I returned with the contraband Audley was finishing a story that explained how the Lotus wound up in a cornfield. Audley seemed very enthusiastic, and appreciative of good driving where I thought bad driving must be involved. Rather than negative about failing to negotiate a curve Audley was extremely positive about avoiding a stonewall and a tractor. The driver inclined his head modestly, and then they hopped back in the Lotus and roared off.

I decided Audley likely wasn’t a dweeb. Dweebs don’t roar about in an orange Lotus.

The third bit of evidence that Audley wasn’t fitting my preconceptions was actually the start of our friendship, though one would think it was a good beginning to enmity, because it sprang oddly from the fact Audley liked to do yoga in silence in the morning, while I liked to bellow songs at the top of my lungs in the shower. As we passed each other in the hall outside the bathroom, me dripping in a towel and he slightly cross-eyed because his yoga involved trances, there seemed to be a gradual recognition that we went to a similar mental landscape, albeit in highly different ways.

As far as I was concerned yoga was a way to make your joints hurt; if I was going to seek such pain, I’d do stretching exercises before I lifted weights. Yet it was obvious Audley did it to get stoned. Not only were his eyes slightly crossed after he did yoga, but he leaned against the wall of the hallway as he walked. I found this intriguing, because getting stoned in any way, shape or form interested me. (I even tried out sitting cross-legged for five whole minutes, one time.)

What intrigued Audley about me involved the fact I seemed gifted, and could apparently do things without any discipline whatsoever. I’m not sure what first caught his attention; perhaps he overheard me improvising words to a song in the shower; in any case he became interested in my scrawls and doodles, and found them theoretically impossible. I wrote poems without any corrections (often with spelling mistakes) which Audley felt should have required six or seven drafts. To Audley my creativity seemed effortless, a fruitful trance that didn’t involve first sitting cross-legged, or controlling my breathing, or twisting my mind into a repetitive mantra, or any such discomfort.

Actually, after thinking about it for fifty years, I think my so-called “gift” involved huge discomfort, a discomfort greater than the contortions of yoga, a discomfort that went on and on and on for twelve years, a suffering which could make even subjects I delighted in become agonizingly dull, called “public schooling”.

Because my home was full of books I learned to read early, and therefore started grade school early, but being younger than others couldn’t make “Dick and Jane” interesting, or make classmates read any faster. Where the text read, “See Dick. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!” a classmate would stutter and mumble, “Sss-suh-suh. Eee-eee. See. Duh-duh-ih-ih-kuh. Dick.” By that point I was flipping ahead, and when my turn to read came I had no idea what page we were on, so the teacher assumed I couldn’t read at all, and put me in the slow-group. (I don’t really blame the teacher, who was dealing with baby-boom classes of over twenty-five small children.)

In essence I was on the wrong page on the first day of school, and spent the following twelve years on the wrong page. Rather than gifted I think I was lost, but, whatever I was, it was boring as can be. I had to find some way to keep my brains entertained. Therefore I developed my ability to doodle and scrawl rhymes. It was not effortless, for it took twelve years.

After I graduated it might seem that, without the reason to doodle and rhyme, I would stop doodling and rhyming, but at times life itself became as boring as algebra class, and I felt the same need to keep my brains entertained. To some degree I may have done it to also entertain my friends, in the same way I entertained my back-row buddies (who were as bored as I was by algebra class), but it didn’t really matter if anyone liked it. It was a joy in and of itself, and I did it because the person in need of laughter was myself.

Then Audley would wander by, and perhaps see a notebook on the kitchen counter opened to a page like this:

Such doodles stopped Audley in his tracks. He was fascinated, and whenever I was writing (in various places around the house and yard) he often came drifting up behind me, to look over my shoulder casually, and to ask what I was composing. Depending on my mood (or what drug I was on) I might be unwelcoming, or a chatterbox who volunteered far too much information, but Audley always listened with his very-good-student smile.

One time I was looking over a long poem called, “Exercise In Expressing What Hasn’t Made Itself Clear.” It was a mess, moving down one side of a page, sideways along the bottom, and upside-down back to the top, using up ever bit of available space with either writing or garish illuminations:

I was very dissatisfied with my effort, sneering at the page, but Audley wanted me to read it to him. I made various disparaging statements, but he insisted, so I read the entire thing.

It was actually fun to read to him, for he’d interrupt and ask me what I meant by certain statements, and then ask me to read the passage again. Also he’d exclaim or laugh, sometimes even shouting, and then I’d stop and demand he explain what he was making noise about. After I was done on this occasion he said, “Read part twelve again,” so I read,





Take the time
To be together
Then cry a little
Sigh a little
Raise a little hell.
It will work in in any weather
And in every case I know
It works out
Well.
Take some time for understanding.
Give a little reassurance to a friend.
Protect yourself but leave him standing.
He may be the Alka-Seltzer in the end.

Audley commented, “That actually has a unique meter. Dum-de-dum-dum. Dum-dum-dum-dum. But it seems familiar somehow. How did you come up with it?”

I laughed, “It’s from ‘Deck The Halls’. The Christmas Carol. You know, fa-la-la-la-lah fa-la-la-lah”

He looked astonished. “Why’d you chose that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The poem just seemed to be getting too down, too heavy. I thought I’d lighten it up a bit.”

Audley chuckled, “So you stuck in the tempo of ‘Deck The Halls’?”

“Yeah. It’s hard to get too serious when you’re going fa-la-lah”

Audley shouted a laugh and shook his head. “You have no idea how fucking amazing that is. Look here.” He jabbed a finger on the page. “You don’t even correct a word. You just write down a complicated meter like it’s a grocery list.”

I scoffed, “It’s not complicated. It’s practically a nursery rhyme”, and Audley looked at me incredulously, shaking his head.

It is a very nice thing to discover, every now and then in life, that someone thinks you are a genius. But I had mixed feelings about Audley’s admiration, for I didn’t feel I was the genius. What I witnessed when high was the genius, whereas I was the incapacity, the one constantly attempting, and constantly failing, to show what I saw.

Despite being young and naive I did suspect some sort of ulterior motives might be involved in Audley’s praise, however Audley wasn’t the sort who sweet-talked when face to face, and badmouthed behind your back. Word leaked back to me he was going around and telling people he had discovered the next Robert Frost.

This was a bit embarrassing. Also I didn’t much like the concept of being “discovered”, when I was the one doing the exploring. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella might be able to say they “discovered” Columbus, for he couldn’t discover America if they didn’t fund his ships, but my discoveries didn’t need ships. Not that I worried all that much about who got credit for what. Occasionally I might feel a passing wave of drug-induced paranoia, and fret about people “stealing” my ideas, and be hit by the urge to copyright everything in sight, but then I’d remember copyrighting would involve bureaucratic paperwork, and I’d be repelled. In my book paper was for poetry. Lastly, there was something absurd about the idea of copyrighting a poetic vision; it would be like attempting to plant a flag in a sunrise and claim the dawn in the name of a mortal king.

But it was difficult to dampen Audley’s enthusiasm. When he was hit by an impulse one tended to be blindsided and carried away.

For example, one day I had a whim of my own and, because I had no car, was planning to hitchhike to the trolley to go into Boston to its dilapidated waterfront to see my sister, who worked as a secretary in a warehouse on a pier that had an old, sunk, wooden fishing boat tied to it, (which I thought was “really cool”), and also to check out “Andre the seal” at the new Aquarium being built as “urban renewal” a couple of piers down the waterfront. It seemed a simple enough schedule, but then Audley stepped in.

Audley first asked me where I was going, and kindly volunteered to drive me to the trolley, but then decided, before we were halfway there, that he might as well drive me all the way in to Harvard Square, and soon afterwards stated that as long as I was in Harvard Square I should meet a Harvard poet he knew. I found the change to my plans bewildering. One moment I was going to see my sister and a harbor seal named “Andre”, and the next I was going to meet a genuine Harvard poet.

I was a little in awe. I’m not sure what I expected; (perhaps an austere old man who wrote with an eagle’s plume).

Audley’s Volkswagen bus puttered up to a seedy old building and jolted to a halt double-parked, and he flew out the van’s door and trotted up two flights of stairs to a stark apartment with almost no furniture, with me taking two stairs at a time to keep up. He barely paused at the door, banging loudly on it three times before bursting in without waiting.

I was very impressed by the poet, though unfortunately he was too occupied to grant me an interview. He was busy suffering, walking about with the back of his hand pressed to his forehead, striding swiftly yet aimlessly from window to window, looking out and up at the sky with an expression of anguish.

Audley instantly forgot all about me, instead trailing the poet, making sympathetic noises. I stood politely waiting in the stark living-room as they passed to and fro, to the far bedroom window and then to the kitchen window, repetitively. After a while standing hat-in-hand grew tiresome, so I looked around. The couch seemed to be the front bench of a car, and the coffee table in front of it was an old steamer trunk with brass trim. On top of it was a pamphlet of poems, so I sat down to scan the pages.

Much of the poetry seemed to employ gimmicks, such as sheets of pink paper, or the word “I” spelled in the lower case, and much seemed written in the tremendously stoned state wherein the inconsequential seems profound; a butter knife seems as amazing as Shakespeare. For example, one poem was the single typed word “stars” with typed asterisks strewn over the rest of the page. There were also some simple ideas made difficult, when I thought poetry was suppose to be the other way around. However there were also some very nice images, and I was intrigued by the word “Avalon” that appeared here and there, used in a loose and unspecific way.

Suddenly I noticed the footsteps had ceased crossing back and forth in front of me, and glanced up to see the poet looking down with his arms folded and a challenging look in his eyes, almost as if he was daring me to be critical of his poems. Instead I innocently inquired, “What is Avalon?”

A brief, smokey look of respect filled the man’s eyes, and he answered, “It is where you are young.” Then a look of anguish began to fill his face, and his eyes lifted to the far wall and looked through it to some distant space. “Everything is green there.” Then he raised the back of his wrist to his forehead and went staggering off.

I excused myself shortly thereafter, but as I took the trolley over the river and then underground to the Boston waterfront I found my mind had become more fertile, due to this meeting with a genuine Harvard poet. The person seated across from me in the subway might have wondered why I kept mouthing the word “Avalon”, but by that evening I was busily doodling. Soon Audley came by, curious about what I had written. It was a poem about yearning for a lost childhood, and began,

Swim on up the river
And Avalon is mine.
The water’s moving five miles
While I do four point nine.

“Perfect!” shouted Audley, making me jump. Then he looked at me innocently and said, “Proceed.” I ventured on, and several stanzas later read a stanza that stated,

I think I was in Avalon
Before my memories end.
I wonder if my place was saved
By some pre-fetus friend.

Audley gave another shout and burst into delighted laughter, pounding his knee.

I felt a little indignant. That stanza was not suppose to be funny. “What are you laughing at?”

“Pre-fetus”, gasped Audley, “Pre-fetus”.

“What’s wrong with “pre-fetus”?

“There is no such word.”

“There isn’t?”

“No, you made it up. You coined it, but it’s perfect, I tell you; it’s fucking perfect,” and with this Audley vented an odd whoopee, like a cowboy.

I regarded him a bit coldly; my poem was about a significant philosophical question, (whether there was life before birth), and here he was getting all sidetracked by a dumb word. However as I watched his enthusiasm I couldn’t help but smile. At times Audley single-handedly seemed like a congregation of about fifty, all shouting “Amen” at a preacher’s every utterance.

Audley and the Harvard poet and Avalon had coalesced into a thought-form my mind played with, yet it was only one of the many thought-forms drifting through my parent’s house while they were away. My oldest brother Halsey had other friends, and though he himself didn’t talk much he often would improvise elaborately at the piano for hours on end in a way strangely like a sermon, creating thought-forms without words; the piano became the background music of that time.

Also my other older brother Hurley appeared out of the blue, about as opposite Audley as possible, for he was in violent reaction to orthodoxy in all its forms. (He’d been the most practical and “square” member of the family, a pillar of strength midst the ruins of my parent’s divorce, but all that ended in a flash when my mother remarried.) He had a black girlfriend Iris, (which shocked many, both black and white, back in those days), and Iris was warmhearted and had a loving laugh and was kind to me. The keystone of Understanding brought Hurley and Iris together despite a vast gulf, and furthermore the two of them got on well with Audley, which made no sense to me, for the yoga Audley followed was orthodox. Hurley was more in the mood to throw all rules and regulations out the window. However the keystone of Understanding brought the two men together, (perhaps because Hurley didn’t entirely reject discipline; he was disciplined about disliking disciplines). I liked to sit back and watch them debate whether rules were wise, or whether rules were merely an invention the wealthy used to control the poor with.

The only person-over-thirty in the household was Margie, a fifty-year-old live-in cleaning lady and cook from Canada my mother had employed for seven years. She had a ne’er-do-well husband with a “bad back” and six grown children, whom she visited in a poorer part of Boston every weekend, but during the week Margie had become part of my family. With my parents gone she felt an unstated responsibility to keep some semblance of control over the household, and if I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend watching TV I could expect her to be a nuisance, coming through the room with armloads of laundry though it was after dark. She felt it was urgent that she chaperone because she had seen some of her sons forced to marry girls they had gotten pregnant, and she wished to save me from a similar fate. She also wanted to save Hurley and Iris from such a fate, and, when they went arm-in-arm into the woods behind the house with a blanket, Margie promptly trotted to the edge of the woods and began calling Hurley’s name. Hurley tried to ignore her, but when she persisted, calling and calling, on and on and on, he became annoyed and walked out of the woods stark naked and demanded, “What the heck do you want!” Margie ran back into the house as fast as she could.

I felt sorry for Margie and went into the kitchen as she had a cup of tea and four cigarettes. (She actually did this every day at “tea time”.) As we talked the spirit of Understanding walked into the room, and even though she was a person-over-thirty we had an amazing conversation.

Margie was a Catholic, and had a peculiar relationship with my mother, for she had remained faithful to her husband where my mother chose divorce, and she disapproved of birth control and abortion while my mother approved. Before my mother remarried they had been two women attempting to raise their separate families of six children with unhelpful husbands, one in a slum and one in a posh suburb. Neither could have made it without the other. My mother liked to see herself as the charitable one, helping Margie with immigration paperwork, and helping her get false teeth when her entire face swelled up, but there was no way my mother could have worked graveyard shifts as a nurse without Margie watching her children at home.

After four years my mother’s remarriage changed things. My mother had come to dislike Margie, as she became aware Margie didn’t approve of remarrying, and this dislike hardened when she became aware Margie told my Dad what his children were up to, which seemed like “spying” to my mother. As a consequence, at the end of the summer, Margie was going to be out of a job. This gave our chats a certain poignancy. This woman, who had been part of my life since I was ten, was going to vanish.

On this occasion Margie put down her teacup and casually wondered what drug Hurley and Iris were on, and, without anger, began to ask me what being “high” was like. She seemed particularly interested in hallucinations, and I did my best to describe them, whereupon she surprised me by describing similar hallucinations she had experienced without the help of drugs. She took me back to her youth.

She had been living in a London slum in the 1950’s, on a street which still had not been entirely rebuilt after the Blitz, in a house they had to evacuate from time to time as a UEB unit came by looking for an unrecovered and unexploded German bomb under the street. This danger was especially stressful as she had many small children and was pregnant yet again. She was clinging to her faith in her husband’s ability to provide, but he was breaking that faith on a regular basis. Because his back was bad she had signed him up for correspondence courses, but when the lessons came in the mail he scorned them. Finally it hit home to her that her man was not going to step up and be the hero she saw, buried deep inside his bloating beer belly, and that was when the wave of emotions and hallucinations overcame her.

The thing that was surprising to me was that she didn’t find the white walls turning colors and moving particularly unpleasant, nor did she stop caring for her children. Somehow she got the family back home to Canada, where they could at least grow better food than post-war London offered, and then she left her children with relatives and immigrated down to Boston, initially as a green-card worker just for a summer, and then moving her husband and children down when Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” promised better welfare than Canada had. One way or another she “got by”, and now, at long last, even her youngest was grown.

She was going to miss my family, which in a sense was her second set of six kids, but in another way leaving was going to be a relief. She lit another cigarette, and mused that for the first time in many years she’d have some time for herself, cocking her head to listen as Halsey began playing on the piano in the background.

I lit a cigarette of my own, appreciating yet another thought-form drifting through the household, and wondering if there might be a poem in it.

My own gang of teenyboppers like to come by and hang out, slightly in awe of the “old people” (who, besides Margie, were all under twenty-seven), and I never knew what sort of conversational chemistry might occur. I didn’t even know who might be home when I got home. I only knew that something marvelous was occurring. Our household became like no other home I visited. No one got too stoned or too drunk, nothing was ever stolen or broken, dishes were washed and the lawn even got mowed, and the entire time wonderful conversations were occurring. The Understanding I so deeply craved seemed to have moved in, and I yearned that It would feel welcomed and stay.

Even my girlfriend became involved, which seemed impossible because she was so very “straight”. She came from a solid family where her parents were able to argue without divorce being an option, and in some ways I liked keeping her separate from my hippy friends, as a secret serenity I could go to, to escape the turmoil and wildness of non-stop partying. I could depend on her parents to be strict and keep me from getting her in trouble, but suddenly they slackened the reins, and she shocked me by being less “straight” than I ever expected. For example, though she wouldn’t take drugs, one August afternoon we went swimming at a lake, and to my astonishment (and joy) she swam topless. However what shocked me most was an understanding I witnessed occur, which I had deemed utterly impossible.

My best friend, (one of the Three Musketeers I was part of), did not at all like my girlfriend, and she did not at all like him. They were irreconcilably different, part of a “triangle”. He was a “bad influence” and wanted to be free to take any drug and pursue any lust, and wanted me equally free, but she felt such “freedom” was addiction and slavery and would make me sick. The moment they set eyes on each other their eyes narrowed, and I felt sad and helpless because I liked both of them. When they arrived at the house at the same time in separate cars, I’d squirm. Yet so great was the Understanding flooding through the household that August that they decided that they could both like me without glaring so much. They could agree about something after all. Perhaps it was due to the fact I’d very soon be gone, in exile in Scotland. The sight of me packing perhaps prompted them to drop their differences, but to me it was nothing so simple. There was magic in the air.

Not that there were not differences, even with a persistently agreeable person like Audley. He did things I objected to. One was that I felt he tended to over-improve; Audley didn’t know when something was done.

For example, one time he sat down at the sheet of paper I laid out on the living-room table during parties, picked up some pastels, and with about twenty strokes of the chalks produced a beautiful landscape, in only thirty seconds. It was a rainbow over green hills, but what was most marvelous was how he captured the phenomenon of falling rain made silver by sunlight; it was mostly done by leaving the white paper white. I told him, “Stop right there,” but he insisted upon going on. I told him to stop a few more times, and then gave up in despair as he destroyed the picture with additions. He made funny “ick” and “eww” noises as the drawing grew worse and worse, and finally, when the rainbow was brown, he looked up at me sheepishly and admitted, “I should have stopped.” However he then bellowed laughter. (There was something about the atmosphere of the house that escaped recriminations).

Somehow it felt safe-to-be-open in that house, and one way Audley contributed to that that sense was to counter my self-disparaging remarks with affirmative encouragement. I didn’t always like this, for sometimes the origin of the disparagement was a person I respected. Yet, without the critic present, Audley would leap to my defense, indignant any should be so crushing towards a sensitive poet like myself, and he would verbally demolish the other person’s disparagement.

To be honest, I didn’t entirely mind hearing how those who criticized me were insensitive barbarians, especially when the absent people being rebuked were my sometimes-scornful older brothers, but on the other hand I loved my brothers, and felt put in a “triangle” that lacked understanding. However, for the time being, the understanding I was gaining far outweighed the lack-of-understanding I sensed was also present.

Perhaps the most destructive thing Audley did was to tempt me with drugs when I was trying to quit. Not that it took much persuasion; my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. I recall at that time I developed a hacking cough, and one day, in disgust, I dramatically shredded a pack of cigarettes in my girlfriend’s back yard, but then, within fifteen minutes, found myself hurrying down the street to buy a fresh pack.

It was easy for Audley to lead me astray; all he needed to do was crook a finger from the doorway of my older sister’s old bedroom, and I’d postpone mowing the lawn. He liked to sit cross-legged on his bed and hold court, as I slouched comfortably in an armchair, looking out through a big picture window at sky and tall white pines reflected in a dark forest frog-pond, only forty yards away.

I recall Audley smoked a water pipe from Nepal that looked like it cost four times as much as his Volkswagen bus. It was made of sterling silver with an ornate, etched design, with inlaid turquoise and red coral. Our conversations went places I greatly enjoyed, no matter what we discussed, and often he would want to see what I’d written that day.

Audley was appreciative of art even when he was straight; when he was stoned he could be downright absurd. For example one time he asked me to read a poem I had decided was far too belaboringly mushy, and was disgusted with. It went like this:

Ah, cry wind.
Sigh wind,
And people say you blow.
And learn, summer sun,
To burn someone
Before its time to go.

Anger grows,
Throws
Caution to the wind.

Frustration burns
Turns
Everything dry.

and we haven’t sinned…..

…Wind sighs
Sun fries
People catching
Butterflies
And pinning them down
Unsatisfied
To have them around.
Wanting
Control.

The wind cools the sun
While the sun
Warms
The wind.

We haven’t sinned.

Butterflies
Beautify
Sparkle the land
Touch the sky.

Couples lie
Blue sky
Butterflies
Wind sighs
Dew cries
It’s time for sun to go.

Why is it we want more?
When at sea you seek the shore
But when on land we yearn for waves again…
…Daddy shaves again
Removing his animal hair
Thinking if it isn’t there
No one would dare
Ask him to share
His world
With the wind
And sun
And he won’t have to run
From the natural
Animal.

We’d smoked a hefty amount of Mooner before I read the above poem to Audley, and Mooner was strong marijuana (for those days) and Audley was very stoned. He made such a racket as I read the above poem it became ridiculous. I read it slowly, with pauses, and he filled the pauses with yells and whoops, but what seemed like going-too-far to me was that each time I read the word “butterflies” he’d make a cooing noise, all but clasping his hands and prancing about on twinkle toes. I was getting used to his demonstrative behavior, but if I’d had friends around I definitely would have been embarrassed. I blamed the Mooner. (To be honest, Audley wasn’t the only one acting oddly; I was reading with the panache of a rock star on a stage.)

Besides performing poems I also liked to just talk about things, for Audley was a walking encyclopedia of historical trivia, especially when it came to incidents in the lives of famous people. It seemed he hadn’t just read one biography about a man such as Beethoven or Napoleon, but ten about the same man, and therefore he knew scores of factoids about their darkest moments, which made what they overcame all the more thrilling.

I had far less to offer in return, but he seemed fascinated by how my mind worked, how I arrived at conclusions without needing to undergo the bother of researching in any ordinary manner. Audley would ask me questions and get me wondering about things I ordinarily never thought about.

For example, what some called my “creativity” actually seemed a sort of “following”. My mind worked with connections that stated, “If A, and if B, then it ‘follows’ that C will result”. In other words, I was not the creator, I was the follower. This seemed weird, when I thought about it, for what was I following? Something good, or something bad? I had no idea, and if pressed I likely would have been wishy-washy and answered “both”. Sometimes my mind wandered towards hell and I felt queasy in my gut and “heavy”, and then would veer towards heaven and feel uplifted and “high”. But I didn’t feel all that creative, and rather that I was “following” a stream of logic, almost as if I was taking dictation as muses spoke.

Audley would make a great fuss and say what I was doing was impossible, when it seemed like no big deal to me.

For example, Audley would poke fun in a friendly way over how I refused to spell words correctly, even when he told me the correct spelling multiple times. I insisted on spelling “disgust” as “discust”. He got all psychological about it, and stated some bad teacher had stunted my memory-skills, for I was downright mulish when it came to refusing to memorize. I had to agree. I had flunked learning new vocabulary words in French 1 classes for four straight years. Something about learning by rote made my skin crawl. Audley stated I displayed “avoidance” and “resistance” and various other psychological things, due to “trauma”. But a few minutes later I would blow him away with my ability to remember, when I wanted to.

For example, one time we were sitting about on the back patio with my friends, having the sort of wandering, free-association conversation which smoking Mooner generated, and the talk moved from topic to topic until someone burst out laughing, and they wondered how on earth we had begun talking about the cooling power of hats in hot sunshine, and wound up talking about the ability of a Voltswagen bus to climb hills carrying a heavy weight. Everyone was very stoned and suffering amnesia and had no idea, so I explained our progression:

Hats and hot sun had led to the topic of the tops of ears being sunburned, which led to other ear-injuries, which led to deafness, which led to Beethoven, which led to Beethoven playing a piano with all the strings broken, which led to how hard it is to move a piano to a repair shop, which led to describing loading a piano into a Voltswagon bus, which led to describing how an overloaded bus had to downshift to first gear to get over a hill.

After I was done describing our progression I noticed Audley looking at me with his jaw dropped. “How the fuck did you remember all that?” he exclaimed, “You can’t even remember how to spell ‘disgust'”!

I suppose the simple answer is that how to spell ‘disgust’ didn’t interest me, but what-followed-what did. It doesn’t matter if you use the word “follows” or “consequences” or “progressions” or “reaping-what-you-sow” or “Karma”, we are all like meteorologists and want to know what the weather will be tomorrow, and, if possible, we want to control that future. We may not control the weather, but we want to avoid starvation by avoiding planting thistles, if we want to harvest wheat.

Of course it is easy for me to say that now, fifty years after the fact. At the time I was just facing the end of a wonderful summer, and didn’t want it to end. My mind was casting about desperately for ways to keep the teenybopper community and wonderful household I was part of alive.

If you are to have any hope of altering the future, you need to look at “what follows what”. Scientists call this “cause and effect”, and religious people call it “reaping what you sow” or “Karma”, but I just called it “what follows what”. I simply was exploring, seeing where things took me, following some boss called “creativity”. I myself had no idea what might next be produced by my pen, and Audley found my production fascinating, for apparently I was freely accessing subconscious images it was, according to his books, very hard to access. At times the images in my doodles were more interesting than the words, and one time Audley insisted on getting a xerox copy of a illustrated poem containing a surrealistic, quasi-Salvatore-Dali example of “what follows what.”

It made me uncomfortable when Audley desired xerox copies of doodles and became very intense, in his desire to figure me out. He’d want to know why, in my doodles, I had certain things turn into other things, and what my symbolism symbolized, when I had no idea and no answer beyond, “It followed.” However he’d keep questioning, poking and probing with cross-examinations until at times I felt like some sort of laboratory rat. I just wanted to do what I did without thinking about it.

One time an issue involving staying-home-versus-leaving-home was preying on my mind, and I produced a troubled poem which ricocheted around four topics: Staying home; Staying home but preparing to leave; Leaving home intending to bring back a trophy; and Leaving home for keeps to make a new home somewhere else. To me it seemed that no matter what choice you made you would wind up someplace where you had to make the four choices all over again; no home was permanent; no jail could keep you from eventually escaping through the bars by dying, and after death I could see no reason one didn’t face the same four choices all over again in a different sphere, and my poem concluded:

You can never be completely together until you die
Because you can’t give up
Until you’re completely together.

Audley looked at me with a disbelieving half-smile, and inquired, “Do you really believe that?”

“Um…well…it just seemed to follow…”

“Have you studied any Buddhism?”

“Um…well…no…”

“Studied any philosophies involving reincarnation?”

“Um…well…there is that Crosby, Stills and Nash song that goes, ‘We have all been here before.’ What’s it called? Deja Vu?”

Audley laughed. “And that is the extent of your research. And yet here you scribble a poem that traces the concept of Nirvana not being achievable until one gives up on the rounds of dying and dying and dying over and over and over again.”

“I did?”

Sometimes I worried about Audley, and even felt a little guilty about the possibility that my poetry was driving him mad.

However, even when research is aimed at high things, (and Understanding is a high thing), such research can be quelled by a limitation called “time”. And we were running out of time.

Things started to come to a head as the end of August approached and Audley began packing, to head off and teach at the boarding school in New Hampshire. He stopped smoking pot and grew more serious, and even a little sad.

I fought off my own melancholy by planning a final party in the woods, but my gang of teenyboppers all seemed busy shopping for school clothing the day I went out to gather dead branches for the fire, so I spent an August morning in the woods all alone.

It was hot even in the shade, and the paths were dusty and parded by dabs of sunshine. I noticed the dabs moved, though the air was still where I worked, and when I paused and looked up I could hear a slight breeze stirring the treetops. Into my head came the beginning, “Walking through a forest where the wind won’t go…”

It was a beautiful patch of forest, on the divide between the Concord and Charles rivers, and had seen many come and go over the centuries. An old Indian trail crossed the land; Henry Thoreau had hiked the landscape; farmers had made a living there and later failed, and left prehistoric, red-rust-iron tractors with trees as thick as my thigh growing up through their archaic engine blocks, and also left cellar holes and an overgrown corduroy road through a boggy place. All these things seemed part of “my” woods, but when I looked over at our fire-pit I saw dead leaves blown into it, and even a few fresh forest weeds overhanging its edges, and had the sense I too was a fleeting phenomenon, an object to someday be regarded with nostalgia. A louder breeze stirred the treetops, and stirred my creativity, and when I got home I sat on the patio and wrote down what I’d been humming to myself.

When I was done Audley said, “Amazing.” His mouth was around two inches from my right ear, so I jumped a foot. I wasn’t sure how long he’d been watching over my shoulder as I wrote. He continued, “I don’t see how you can do that: Five stanzas with only one correction.”

“Oh, it was pretty much done when I sat down. I wrote it while I was walking.”

“And you remembered it all?”

I nodded.

“But you can’t remember how to spell ‘disgust’.” Audley shook his head, and didn’t give me time to defend myself. “And, by the way, that’s not how you spell ‘corduroy’.”

I responded, “And, by the way, you sound like a teacher at a boarding school.”

He winced, and then replied, “Well, I suppose that is what I now am, or am about to become. And you are about to become a student at a boarding school in Scotland. Are you ready for that?”

“No fucking way. I feel like a coward. I’m only going there because I don’t want to earn a living. What I really need to do is write a hit song. That would earn a living real fast!”

Audley didn’t get much peace and quiet to do his yoga in, the next morning, because I was using up all the hot water writing a hit song in the shower.

If Audley had really wanted to become fabulously wealthy he would have quit his job at the boarding school and dedicated his time to making me fabulously wealthy, as my agent, but instead he lugged his suitcase out to his Volkswagen bus and went puttering off to New Hampshire. Little did I know, but with him went a level of appreciation I have never since received, for my doodles, in fifty years.

Shortly after Audley left Halsey also left, in my stepfather’s car to pick up my parents at Logan Airport. I can’t say I was in a welcoming mood to see them again, though I did my best. After all, it was their house.

I could tell my mother was actually quite pleased to find the house was not only still standing, but quite clean. (We’d used copious amounts of air freshener, and had the windows open all summer, to hide the smell of smoke.) Not only was the lawn mowed, but the first fallen apples of fall were removed before they rotted. However she did not praise, and instead simply had to comment how our weather was inferior to the weather in England, which was weather which was never, ever too hot or too cold.

I found myself quietly grinding my teeth. My mother had a way of saying things in a practiced manner, and I knew she had her comment about the local weather worked out before the jet actually landed and she actually knew what the local weather actually was.

My younger brother and sister arrived home only hours later, after spending a summer at my father’s farm in New Hampshire. My little sister had an uncanny ability to merge into whatever culture she was with, and her accent caused my mother to exclaim, “Whatever has caused you to start speaking in such a ghastly manner?” I writhed, because my sister’s faux-New Hampshire accent was nothing compared to my mother’s faux-English accent.

My mother’s dislike of all things American seemed so extreme that I thought she was something of a traitor. I saw loyalty and patriotism as good things, because Understanding grows through time. The better you know people the more you understand them, but in my mother’s case familiarity seemed to breed contempt. Where I was grieving over the thought of leaving the teenybopper community I’d grown up midst, she was rejoicing over leaving the awful town behind.

Not that I couldn’t understand her wanderlust. I myself had a hunger to hitchhike away from the more sterile aspects of suburbia, but I had also glimpsed a way to end the sterility, with Truth, Love and Understanding. I wanted to stay and work on what I had, but my mother seemed seduced away by people she didn’t even know, but was infatuated into believing were better. Everything English was better, to hear her talk. She was so besotted it seemed useless to even reason with her, and there seemed no way she could understand how I felt about leaving the town I called home.

Therefore I cursed silently when I saw her pausing over my notebook, which I’d foolishly left open on the dining-room table. I had started a new page, and there was nothing but a short poem and some doodles in the upper left-hand corner, but I expected nothing appreciative from her; nothing like Audley’s reactions. When she read my poems there was never any humor over my spelling “disgust” as “discust”, but rather a wincing horror beyond disgust, and she was so troubled by such spelling she never commented on a poem’s passions, even to call them “ghastly”. I was pouting at her as she read, grouchily thinking to myself that no true American ever uses the word “ghastly”, when she utterly astonished me by looking up and stating, “You know, though you spelled ‘evening’ and ‘paradise’ wrong, I rather like the sentiment in this one. This phrase, ‘To be fair to the other side’, is especially good.” As she walked away my jaw hit the floor, and I walked over to the page to remember what the heck I had written.

I scratched my head. It seemed the Understanding still lingered in the house, and perhaps my mother had caught just a whiff of it. But then I heard my younger siblings exclaiming in delight. Rather than taking a jet to England they were learning we were going the old fashioned way, by ship, aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2. This made me feel grouchy, as if we were in some way being seduced, and were selling out. I even felt a little ashamed. It was not that Understanding was deserting us; we were deserting Understanding. We were turning our backs on the most beautiful thing, for gaudy glitter and glamor.

Disgruntled, I slouched off to borrow my stepfather’s car to drive to town for some hotdogs, and then headed out to friends and a campfire in the woods.

Only nine came to our final party in the woods, and only four stayed until dawn. It was a somber affair and a chilly night. I had the strange sense the “underground” had seen it’s summer in the sun, but now had to go underground again. I fear I was not much fun to be with, and bewailed the way people had turned their backs on the most beautiful things.

Most of the young woman in my gang had been strictly forbidden from attending such parties, as parties earlier in the summer had become legendary, but there was was one young woman there who may have been as young as fourteen, yet decided I could use a gentle scolding. She suggested I should count my blessings. After all, a trip aboard a luxury liner wasn’t exactly the end of the world. I sighed and thanked her, but it was the end of my world.

The next few days were a blear of packing. Even my notebook of poems-on-graph-paper got packed away and locked in a storeroom. Even when I thought I was done I was asked to help others. I caught a cold and smoked too much tobacco and was miserable, until, on the afternoon before the dawn I was to depart, two cars arrived, one dropping off my girlfriend, and the other driven by my best friend. They’d both come by for a final farewell, which would have been awkward enough with each all alone, but seemed especially awkward with the three of us together. What can you say? All words seemed stilted.

Just then it occurred to me I had something that would spoil if packed away for a year, and asked them if they would help me use it up. It was a birthday present some ill-advised person gave me when I turned seventeen. Wine improves with age, but champagne does not.

They agreed to help me use it up before it went bad, and I snuck the bottle from the house. (Though the drinking-age had been lowered to eighteen because of Vietnam, I was still too young to legally drink.) We casually and innocently walked around behind the house to a steep slope overlooking the frog-pond, and I shot the cork at the frogs.

I actually didn’t approve of alcohol, seeing it as an obsolete drug used by people-over-thirty, which likely explains why the bottle was passed around as if by soldiers, and became empty so inappropriately swiftly. And then it was like the spirit of Understanding came out of the house and down the hillside to us. The triangle gained three keystones. My girlfriend and best friend, who long had been worst enemies, became utterly charmed by the brilliance of each other, and together we three laughed. Lord, did we laugh.

Somewhere up among the bureaucrats of heaven, the angels in charge of keeping records sat up straight. Something unusual was happening on earth. Three teenagers, who had absolutely no reason to laugh, were rejoicing. Why? Because being what they were in that moment in time, brief though it was, was enough.

And then, it was over. My best friend drove off, and I borrowed my stepfather’s car to drive my girl friend home, and we sat in the car in the night outside her house to say good-bye for ten months, at least.

For teenagers, we’d been very pragmatic about the chances of our relationship surviving being an ocean apart. We’d given each other permission to date others, if interesting prospects appeared, but promised to remain “friends”. All that remained for me to do was to say some baritone adios, hopefully more profound than, “Don’t take any wooden nickles”.

I completely blew it, because all that came out of my mouth was unexpected sobbing. Once I started I couldn’t stop, as my girlfriend regarded me in frozen alarm.

Why did I cry? I think it was because deep down I knew that once you turn your back on beauty, it can be a long haul before you see it again. Turn your back on Understanding, and do not expect reason, or for life to make sense. If I’d had more guts at age seventeen I’d have stayed, but I lacked such guts, and I left.

Punky Wood (Part 1) –Defeat–

Slim was a man of around forty who I knew forty years ago when I lived up on the coast of Maine. He was skinny but strong; wore unfashionable glasses with thick, brown rims; had light brown hair graying at his temples, greased back like Elvis; chain-smoked; had a leathery, tanned face; and had the sort of pointed jaw, missing mass in the cheeks, that made me wonder if he had any molars left to pull, though it was hard to tell, for he hardly ever opened his mouth. I hung on his every word, which was easy to do, for he rarely spoke any. I know he had some coffee-stained front teeth, for he occasionally would grin helplessly, despite his shyness. Usually he was smiling due to the palaver of a fellow he worked with named Tubs, who was Slim’s opposite: Short, round, balding, jolly and very talkative. The two men seemingly had only one thing in common: They were hard workers, able to take on a wide variety of jobs and complete them with speed and skill.

I think I first saw the two men working in 1974. It was a simple job, delivering my mother a pick-up truck load of firewood. I admired the speed of their unloading. It took less than five minutes. Slim never touched the logs, because he used a couple of small hooks with wooden handles, specialized tools I have never seen anyone own or use since.

The two men worked like it was some sort of race, with the musically clopping logs flowing off the tailgate of the truck like water. They never needed to stop for a break because they completed the job so swiftly, nor did they grunt and grimace as if it was some big effort. As they worked Tubs was telling some story and Slim was nodding and smiling. Then they saw me watching and immediately became suspicious.

This was to be expected. In 1974 the Vietnam War wasn’t over, and I had long hair. Slim had seen action serving in Korea, some twenty years earlier. In fact some of his shyness may have been due to post-traumatic stress. I imagined my long hair automatically made me be an unpatriotic draft-dodger in his eyes, which made communication between us difficult.

The irony of the situation was that I was not what my long-hair suggested; I had unexpectedly broken my connection with the so-called “counter culture”, and perhaps was in some ways more conservative than Slim, and certainly more conservative than Tubs.

I had not intended to become conservative. I had started out by doing the expected and the acceptable (to hippies) things hippies did: Hitchhiking long distances; joining some loose confederations and cults called “communes”; becoming involved in (and eventually repulsed by) unsavory adventures involving sex and drugs; and, as a sort of conclusion, traveling to India to seek “enlightenment”. (The “Beatles” did it, Peter Townsend of the “Who” did it, and Melanie Safka did it when she was disillusioned).

To be blunt, “enlightenment”, as I then envisioned it, was a sort of Disney-world hallucination lacking the harshness and schizophrenia of LSD’s. I had somewhat vague hopes that some door would open in my forehead, and I would be swept into an experience of shimmering colors and lights, resulting in bliss. Others claimed they’d had such experiences. I hadn’t, and to be honest I really was uncertain where I was going or what I was after, as I headed to India. All I was really sure of was that I didn’t want to work a Real Job.

Instead of visions, or a meeting with any sort of con-artist-guru who promised such things, I had the good fortune to blunder into somewhat boring “good advice”, from the disciples of Meher Baba. (Meher Baba stated he was the Avatar.) Largely the advise they gave was not the sort that would get me out of working a Real Job, so I was not all that gratified.

For example, they stated I should not neglect “attending to my worldly responsibilities,” which initially sounded OK, because I felt a poet’s “responsibility” was to nibble an eraser, gaze dreamily at the sky, and avoid getting a Real Job. Then they seemed to suggest such behavior was deemed “responsible” only if God permitted such behavior to pay my bills, (via hard work, and also fate or “karma”). This amendment soured me slightly, though I kept my opinions to myself. Yet their advise was delivered in such a lovingly down-to-earth manner that I found myself not caring all that much about the subjects we discussed, and instead admiring their down-to-earth delivery. I started to think being down-to-earth might actually be a good thing, and not necessarily be unimaginative “conformity” and a sign I was a “square”.

I must have been a very odd American for the disciples of Meher Baba to have to deal with. Here I had traveled half-way around the world, yet I asked no questions. Somehow I felt asking questions was disrespectful. So I just observed, and kept my questions to myself. I was scheduled to visit for two weeks, but my TWA ticket allowed me to delay my departure, so I kept delaying, and observing. After nearly three months I headed home, because I knew my family and especially my mother would be upset if I skipped Christmas. Also I was flat broke and had run out of people to borrow from. Now I look back and want to slap my forehead, because I asked so few questions, but at the time it was just the way I was, namely a three-letter word: “Shy”.

Because I never asked for advice I can’t say I ever received any, per se. Perhaps I did hear others ask questions I felt were rude to ask, and listened intently to the answers they received. But largely the “advice” I received was contained in the “example” Meher Baba’s disciples set.

I think what impressed me most was that the followers of Meher Baba were not “groupies”, like hippies tended to be. Perhaps hippies were dead set against wearing uniforms, but they tended to be copy-cats and “uniform” in other ways. For example the “Dead-heads” (fans of the rock-group “The Grateful Dead”) agreed about certain things, and if you veered from their “norm” they could be disagreeable. They tended to be birds of a feather who flocked together. The disciples of Meher Baba, on the other hand, were strikingly individualistic, definitely not birds-of-a-feather. They were as different as different could be, yet strangely not in conflict. How was this possible?

That was the question I should have asked, but was too shy to ask. It was on my mind because I had witnessed hippy communes, made up of very similar and on-the-same-page people, disintegrate over minuscule differences tantamount to straws that could not even break a field mouse’s back, let alone a camel’s. How could Meher Baba’s disciples manage what hippies could not? But I never asked, and instead observed.

Meher Baba himself had died nearly five years earlier, on January 31, 1969, yet it was obvious his influence was still profound. However I was not satisfied with “influence” alone. I didn’t want to only see the sunburned people after the Sun had set. I wanted to see the Sun. I suppose I was like Doubting Thomas, refusing to believe in Christ until he himself could finger the wounds on a risen Christ’s hands.

I was not gifted with Thomas’s experiences, and it was frustrating to me, for I constantly met people who had experienced a “risen” Meher Baba.

There was some event called “The Last Darshan” that Meher Baba had been planning-for, scheduled between April and June, 1969, which you might think would have been cancelled when he inconveniently died in January. But people went ahead and the event was held, and the people (from all over the world) who attended the event stated Meher Baba was present in spirit, and that all sorts of amazing stuff happened. However I was not informed and did not attend and wasn’t a witness. I was not gifted with such grand experiences.

In some ways I am like the dour man from Missouri who always says, “Prove it”. I demand certainty. Even back at age twenty-one I had too often been played for the fool, too often been the laughable sucker and embarrassing chump, and I’d be damned if I’d allow it to happen to me again. But I received no countering certainty or “proof”, in terms of supernatural events.

This is not to say I didn’t own a private, secret, inner world, nor didn’t have intimate, muttered conversations with God. I just didn’t hear answers delivered in a booming baritone. My personal “miracles” tended to be coincidences, such as a butterfly landing on my nose, or a certain song coming on the radio, which couldn’t withstand determined cynicism. My “visions” were dismissable as being the result of an overly active imagination; the same psychologists who were amazed at my ability to “free-associate” completely shredded any hopes I might have that my fantasized images might mean something positive. They subjected my poetry to a sort of ruthless cross-examination, hyper-analyzing every symbol, supposedly to increase my self-awareness, but in fact increasing my doubtfulness. In the long run the awareness I developed was that I should keep such thoughts to myself. Rather than making me more outgoing psychology hardened my fortress of shyness.

All the same, hanging around Meher Baba’s disciples was a deeply moving experience. Perhaps people-who-were-highly-individualistic-and-different-yet-who-managed-to-lovingly-get-along struck me as a bit “supernatural”, in its own right. After all, my own parents were brilliant, charming, and in some ways very similar people, but got a divorce. And the political “hawks” and “doves” of the USA were not getting along, and the so-called “alternative” hippy lifestyles were crashing and burning everywhere I looked. Meher Baba’s disciples were different. I saw, in these kindly and generous foreigners, an example I desired to follow, and people I wished to emulate, though I was highly individualistic in my own right, and couldn’t see how I could be a true “follower” of Meher Baba. One might say I was attracted, and perhaps a “follower-from-a-safe-distance”.

Oddest was the lack of “rules” they gave me to follow. The “good advice” lacked all the commandments which many scriptures make into an elaborate and detailed system of “laws”. In some ways I found this disturbing, for in some ways I was aware that the most productive times of my life had involved some sort of brutal drill sergeant demanding discipline and laying-down-the-law, whether the “drill sergeant” was a strict school’s headmaster, or an inanimate and savage storm at sea.

For the most part Meher Baba seemed to forego issuing commandments, and instead to merely describe the problems inherent within addiction-to-creation, and describe the benefits of escaping creation into the embrace of the Creator, without (in my view) mapping out what rules and laws one should obey during the transition. But I did gather, without asking any questions, two things which might be called “laws”, although they were “good advice.”

I should not take drugs and should not indulge in promiscuous sex.

Absorbing this good advice, and accepting it, put me at odds with my hippy peers. Though I was dreaming about harmony, I was plunged into opposition.

When I returned to the United States I discovered I didn’t fit in where I had once fit in. I wanted to share what I had glimpsed to the cult-like groups I was associated with, but seemed unable to find the right words. I didn’t want to reject anyone, but was inarticulate, and felt I had a very slow mouth among very fast talkers. After experiencing ridicule for suggesting sober, prudish, down-to-earth behavior might be wise, I felt hurt, rejected by my peers, and gradually began to search for a different society, where I might fit in.

Looking back, it seems it would have been for the best if I had made the separations swift and dramatic, and as complete as the separation between civilian life and boot-camp. But I was not a quitter, and always held out hope for improvement in relationships that, in truth, were withering away. Unfortunately this meant that, rather than removing a forearm-band-aid swiftly, I made it a long, slow, painful, hair-plucking, and drawn-out process.

To me it seemed loyal and faithful to give people who had in some way betrayed me a second and third chance to betray me. I prolonged my misery, for I felt forgiveness was spiritual, and was confused about when one should “shake the dust from your heels” and leave people in the past. I felt I should forgive people “seven-times-seventy times”, and consequently handed “my pearls to swine”. Last but not least, I was in some ways atrociously arrogant, and it was inconceivable to me that others wouldn’t realize how marvelous I (or at least my poetry) was, understand the enormous error of their ways, and profusely apologize. I felt that, if I only was forgiving long enough, they would mend their ways. “Someday they’ll be sorry.”

It didn’t happen, but I am getting ahead of myself. At age twenty-one I was still full of optimism, and assumed I was moving to Maine only for a brief time. I felt I needed to retreat and regroup, and “get my head on straight,” but imagined that soon my self-imposed isolation would resolve into happy reconciliations and reunions, and the “communes” would become new-and-improved, and we would all stride forward together into the bright uplands of happy-ever-after. (My prediction was that world-wide crises would come to a climax in five or six years, around 1980, and happy-ever-after would happen soon afterwards.)

In some ways I was expectantly waiting for cold stones to get up and warmly dance around singing, and such situations are bound to become frustrating, as you wait, and wait, and wait. Worst is the simple fact that patience of this sort doesn’t pay a positive dividend, but rather one starts to see a sort of rot set in. “All things come to they who wait”, but the best lumber turns into punk if it sits unused. It is through action that spiritual truths are revealed. I was just beginning the process of learning this Truth the hard way, when I moved to Maine.

In conclusion, I was not the typical “long-hair” Slim and Tubs thought I was. I was an ex-hippy with a newfound respect for the down-to-earth, and Slim and Tubs were the very sort of down-to-earth people I respected, but they felt zero affinity towards the likes of me.

Actually an odd affinity did exist, because Slim and I were both very shy, though I suppose Slim would have been horrified (and perhaps even insulted) if anyone suggested there was any sort of similarity between the two of us. He had worked and paid his way since he was sixteen, whereas I mooched off my mother.

I didn’t actually live in my mother’s basement. My step-father had bought a lovely piece of property overlooking the ocean to retire upon, which had two smaller cottages a short ways down a steep hill from the main house, and then, down an even steeper embankment, a dock, and on the dock was a shack. The moment I laid eyes on the shack I felt it was perfect for a poet. It was a lovely abode, (when the weather was warm), but in the eyes of Slim and Tubs living there merely made me a shiftless layabout mooching off his mother.

I tended to sleep late, because I usually had stayed up late the night before writing. I had strong legs and good lungs, and, clutching a tall, oversized, bright-orange coffee cup, would sprint up the staircase from the dock and jog up a steep drive to my mother’s house, to take advantage of the fact her kitchen had an extra faucet that delivered boiling water. This skipped the bother of waiting for water to boil in my shack (which did have electricity.) I’d stir instant coffee and four spoons of sugar and cream into my oversized cup, and often was back down in the shack at my typewriter within minutes. I’d guzzle the coffee, and often sprint back up to my mother’s house only an hour later.

Because I was so addicted to caffeine, my visits were frequent, and from time to time I’d barge into my mother’s kitchen as she had coffee with various people. (The kitchen opened into a dining-room with a beautiful view.) On such occasions I felt it was rude not to pause briefly and pretend to be sociable for at least as long as it took to smoke a cigarette. (Smoking inside was commonplace back then.) Once in a while the persons my mother was having coffee with were Slim and Tubs.

Some women of wealth have an egalitarian streak, or perhaps a mere curiosity, which has them inviting the hired help into elegant dining rooms and serving them coffee from expensive china. I have often been flattered by such generosity, in my own time as a gardener and handyman, and have always tried to reciprocate by being polite, (and as witty and charming as I dare), and asking questions and nodding at the replies. Back in 1974 I knew far less about being “hired help”, and was fascinated by Slim and Tubs holding coffee cups with their pinkies raised, and chatting comfortably with my mother.

My mother was amazing when it came to making people comfortable, which at times made me uncomfortable. Certain aspects of her hospitality didn’t seem entirely honest. For example, she spoke with an elegant English accent, when in fact she was a poor girl who had grown up in a broken home in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. A few times when, as a teenager, I had pushed my luck with the good woman, I had heard that English accent completely vanish, and in surprise had backed away from a fierce Fitchburg wench whom no gentle poet would ever want to mess with.

Despite the fact I was aware there was a side of my mother she did not expose to the general public, I clung to the incongruous and childish belief she was innocent and saintly. For example, I assumed hippies knew more about sex, although my mother had given birth to six children. For another example, I felt hippies were more “experienced” because they had taken LSD, although hippies had amnesia about what they glimpsed when drugged, while my mother remembered with vivid clarity, and had 29 more actual years of actual experience than I had. There is something audaciously comical about youth deeming their elders naive, but I felt my mother was naive and needed my protection.

Not that I had a clue of the wheeling and dealing that was occurring beneath the polite chit-chat, as my mother had coffee with Slim and Tubs. The two men were to some degree on the lookout for a rich lady who would supply them with their next paycheck, and she was on the lookout for local, Maine-Yankee carpenters who could do good work for a tenth of what an interior designer from Boston would charge. I had no idea such skullduggery was involved. I assumed they were above-board and up-front. To be honest, I was incapable of protecting my mother from tricky salesmen, and equally incapable of protecting Slim and Tubs from tricky Moms, because I myself was living in the clouds of idealism.

One cold,January morning in 1975 I came bopping into her kitchen, rumpled and yawning, with my tall, orange cup, and discovered them deeply involved in a discussion about maple wood. The low winter sun was flashing through winter clouds, slanting in through a window that showed a beautiful view of a harbor.

They didn’t look out the window, for the view was old to them, and instead they sat midst sunlit blue curls and wisps of cigarette smoke, intently discussing kitchen counters.

I quickly determined my mother didn’t like the orange Formica counters on the island between the kitchen and dining room, and wanted to replace them with maple. She didn’t want straight-grained maple, neither the creamy sapwood nor the buttery heartwood, and desired a grain less uniform, with “character.” Therefore they were discussing the prices of bird’s-eye, burl, and fiddle-back maple boards, all of which were expensive and made my mother look very disappointed and vaguely critical. As they spoke Tubs did most of the talking, sitting back and expansively ruminating with a jovial and optimistic expression, deferring to Slim when my mother wanted prices. Slim sat hunched forward with his hands folded as if he was praying, for the most part nervously smiling and nodding as Tubs spoke, but occasionally barking the prices of maple boards of various types in an authoritative way, at which point my mother would scratch out calculations on a yellow, legal notebook on the dining-room table, coming up with answers that she looked at with disapproval. Then they apparently arrived at some sort of insurmountable quandary, at which point Tubs sat even further back, locked his fingers behind his neck as a pillow, and looked out the window with deep seriousness, his face unusually grave, as if determining the fate of nations. Then his face lit up and he turned towards my mother with an unspoken idea. At the same point Slim winced slightly, and shrunk down a half inch, as if silently willing Tubs to keep his big mouth shut, but Tubs spoke.

Apparently there was a sort of sugar-maple lumber which not many people knew about. It came from a maple tree near the end of its life, when the growth rings became skinny but before the rot set in and the wood became punky in places, and therefore became unusable. Slim had a word for it. (I want to say “checkered maple”, but search-engines produce no such word.) It was typically light yellow maple wood, but had dark, broad veins of deep brown and even black running through it. When a sawmill sliced up a maple log which produced such boards they tended to cast them aside as relatively worthless, though the planks were solid. Tubs knew where he could get such boards for next to nothing. He wondered if he could bring some boards by, for my mother to look at, to see what she thought of the unusual coloring.

My mother looked intrigued. She always liked being unique, and I could tell she liked the concept of having kitchen counters unlike anyone else’s. She also liked the price. She looked out the window thoughtfully. Tubs smiled serenely. Slim chewed his fingernails as if the suspense was killing him. Then my mother turned to Tubs and said she was very interested in seeing what such maple boards looked like. Tubs nodded and smilingly said he’d bring some boards by. Slim sagged from stiff tension to palatable relief. Then the topic turned to the molding up where the wall met the ceiling, and I headed back down to the shack with my coffee, toying with a poetic idea involving maple planks, which I thought I might insert into a long poem I was laboring on.

The year was not 1829, and I was no Alfred Tennyson. There was absolutely zero market for long poems in 1975, but I thought I could create one. I fostered this illusion because my hippy friends spent hours listening to record albums (video games hadn’t been invented). We would sit and listen to a just-released album together, and have long discussions about what the songs meant. Sometimes, rather than spending an hour listening to an album, I would read them a long poem. (As I recall such readings came about due to a particularly enthusiastic friend demanding I do it, and had nothing to do with me overcoming my shyness and “selling myself”.)

What then happened was extremely gratifying, for, rather than appearing bored stiff or stampeding to the door, people would listen with wide-eyed, rapt attention, laughing at all the right places and growing misty-eyed when I became maudlin. They urged me to write more, looked respectful and interested while I wrote, gathered around to listen when I announced I was done, and never once told me I should get a Real Job. Then, in India, I had written a long story-poem in a wonderfully inspired fit, and it was well-received among total strangers when I read it to them. Due to this encouragement I had the idea I could sell my long poems, if not as printed pages, then as record albums (because people liked the sound of my reading voice.)

But by retreating to Maine I had cut myself off from such encouragement, and I found myself fighting “writer’s block”. I didn’t like admitting I needed encouragement, seeing such a desire as a weakness, as being susceptible-to and swayed-by flattery, but it was obvious that I craved attention. Isolation left me feeling marginalized, ostracized because I had changed my attitude towards sex and drugs, and a sense of profound loneliness descended and began staining my inspiration with gray.

I fought this bleakness with all my might, for most of my poems were in one way or another about how life is brimming with beauty, and I intended them all to be pep-talks for the disillusioned. For example, I might write about a person depressed because their garden was full of weeds, and then describe a friend showing up and weeding with them, turning the dreary task into a rapture about botany, and bugs, and the beauty of cumulus and sunshine and sweat, until weeding seemed like a delight people would pay for, (the way people pay to labor and sweat in a gym.)

The poem I was currently struggling with was called “Armor”, and was based on the premise that people become so emotionally hurt, through undergoing traumatic experiences, that they psychologically don protective armor that makes them clank around clumsily in emotional steel, incapable of touching-with and being touched-by love.

The plot involved two old knights who had died in battle. One then reincarnates as a innocent child with no armor. Because the child has a new brain he has amnesia about past pain, but while wandering dreamily in a garden behind his childhood home he finds a doorway in time, and goes through it and meets his old friend, who still has his armor on and is refusing to be born again. The two then get into an argument about whether or not it is worthwhile being born again, and that is where my imagination ground to a halt.

I tried to force myself to finish the poem with sheer willpower, but had “lost the thread”. The plot refused to go the direction I intended. The old knight with armor was a real sourpuss, but he came up with excellent reasons not to be born, while the boy came across as a bit of a twerp, and his logic was lame. I grew frustrated, whereupon the boy in the poem lost his temper and seemed on the verge of putting armor back on and….and…and where the bleep was my poem headed? The poem started to disintegrate into seemingly pointless sidetracks; for example, I might find myself writing about planks made of maple trees, and how the grain of wood changes as the rot sets in.

Frustrated, I crumpled up a page and trudged moodily back up the hill with my orange coffee up. Tubs and Slim were up by the street, leaving, and I could see them regarding me from afar. Tubs was saying something to Slim, nudging him, and Slim was shaking his head sadly. I didn’t imagine they sympathized with the agony of an artist. As they drove off I felt very alone. Inside the house my mother was smoking and pouring over the numbers on her yellow, legal notepad and looking pleased, and, as an aside, without even looking up at me, asked me to drive to the Post Office and pick up the mail. Our postbox was only a half mile away, but I managed to play self-pitiful violins during the drive. Then, in the mail, I saw a light blue airmail letter addressed to me, from India.

I felt a surge of hope. I can’t really say what I was expecting for I wasn’t expecting such a letter. I suppose the simple fact a blue letter had appeared out of the blue suggested I was going to be recognized in some manner. I tore the letter open, and my hope immediately crashed. Indeed I was recognized, but what was recognized was $50.00 I owed.

I was hit by shame. The debt I owed was utterly different from owing a hippy $50.00. Several hippies owed me $50.00, (which was one reason I was flat broke), but I didn’t think it was a big deal. In hippy terms, in 1974, $50.00 was what you made washing dishes for half a week. Minimum wage was $2.00 an hour, (worth roughly $11.00 now, in 2020). But one thing that I had been shocked by in India was the huge disparity in standards-of-living between “them” and “us”.

I became aware being poor in that land meant working for roughly a penny an hour, though there didn’t seem to be a “minimum wage.” Many seemed to subsist on an income so small they could only buy one meal a day. It gave, “Give us this day our daily bread” a far more poignant meaning. However when they sat down for this “bread”, (often a pancake of millet flour called a chapatti, with a gravy made of lentils called “daal”,) they seemed far happier than hippies managed to be, though hippies ate far more.

It is embarrassing to owe money to a person in a “third world nation”. I handed my mother her mail without mentioning my disgrace, and headed back to my shack forgetting to refill my coffee cup. As I slumped by my typewriter my poem “Armor” seemed pointless. It seemed worse than pointless. After all, of what concern are the problems of a couple of imaginary and dead knights named “Siegfried” and “Heinrich”, to the people of India? I had no excuse for failing to repay the money I owed. All the excuses I used, (which other artists had taught me to utilize on Americans), became utterly hollow when I tried to use them on people who suffer under hot sun for a penny an hour. The people of India didn’t need some ridiculous poem. They needed $50.00. And this meant I needed to work a Real Job.

Worst was the fact the repayment was needed immediately. I glanced around the shack for something I could sell, but I really didn’t own much of value besides my car. I had a pile of LP albums, but no record player. Beyond that I had nothing but old clothes, books and papers. In fact, as I looked around, my entire life seemed more or less worthless.

I saw it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the shack wasn’t inhabited by an illiterate clam-digger, and rather by some sort of intellectual. I always felt a clean desk was the sign of a lazy mind, and had six projects going on concurrently, but now they seemed like six silly ways of avoiding the fact I was doing nothing: The busy-work of a man suffering solitary confinement.

My interest in meteorology was demonstrated by notes of the daily readings of my max-min thermometer, and a graph of these readings as opposed to the average, with the time above-normal carefully shaded red and the time below-normal shaded blue. There were also numerous New York Times weather maps (far better then than they are now) clipped from my stepfather’s discarded papers and taped in chronological order on the wall. But what was the use of an avocation without a vocation?

There were also a few charts clipped from newspapers on the desk showing unemployment was rising to 10% in Maine as the Gross National Product crashed 84 billion dollars in the past year. I had an interest in economics, and had even passed my English university-level “A level exams” in economics (due to two terms frantically cramming under the tutelage of a pleasantly mad teacher in Scotland), but I had no clue how to turn such knowledge from an avocation to a vocation. However it did remind me to turn on my battered, crackling radio to listen to the noontime financial report.

I tried to forget my problems and focus on the news. They called the crashing GNP “stagflation” because prices were soaring even as economic growth slowed. It seemed obvious to me prices would soar, considering the Arab Oil Embargo had doubled the price of oil, but the snooty experts on the radio looked everywhere but at the obvious. One fellow stated that the government’s efforts to “stimulate” the economy made people buy bonds rather than investing in businesses, pointing at the component of GNP called “investment”, which had fallen to barely more than half of what it had been. Another fellow blamed women for getting fed up with being home-makers, and joining the work-force in such droves that it shrank wages and increased unemployment. A third fellow blamed “jittery” investors, because the communists in Vietnam seemed unlikely to abide by the terms of the peace-treaty Nixon and Mao worked at, with Nixon now disgraced and Mao now drooling at death’s door. The only good news was that exports, a minor component of GNP, had shot upwards. This was especially good news for coastal areas like Maine, but I shut the radio off, suddenly struck by the utter worthlessness of contemplating billions of dollars when I couldn’t even come up with fifty. Ordinarily I’d be intrigued by President Ford’s idea that tax-cuts might end the “stagflation”, but of what use are tax cuts when you make no money, and therefore pay no taxes?

My eyes roamed further along the desk to an absurd chart I had devised to better control my moods. It was based on my feeling that modern psychology was pathetic and in need of drastic improvements, and also on the then-popular idea of “biorhythms”. I was attempting to chart my inner weather the same way I charted the weather outside, thinking that, if I knew what my moods would be before they happened, I’d be better able to handle them; I’d be one step ahead; I’d have an umbrella if the forecast was rain. Now it all seemed worthless. You cannot predict the weather with perfect certainty, nor the economy with perfect certainty, nor your moods with perfect certainty, but one thing was perfectly certain: I needed fifty dollars.

I thrashed in irritation, and my eyes next chanced upon five separate volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and a novel from the local library. My stepfather had noticed the five holes in his bookshelf, and had asked me to return the encyclopedias the night before, and also I could not afford even library fines when flat broke. With a sigh I prepared to gathered the books up and embark upon the journey back up the hill. Hell if I had time to pursue historical research, if I had to get a Real Job, but merely thinking that thought paused me yet again.

I glanced out the window at the harbor, thinking of how my mind always got sidetracked. I had two catagories for this sidetracking in the “mental activity” of my “biorhythms” chart, and I swiftly jotted a 1.25 in the “wondering” column and a .75 in the “wandering” column. Then I laid my hands on the pile of books without picking them up, thinking how my “research” had sprung from a visit Slim and Tubs paid after a prior job.

Both my mother and stepfather loved books, but when they first moved into their new home the inner living room wall only held two garish pictures, and a small table between them with a garish vase. My parents wanted the entire wall turned into floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and my stepfather wanted a wall of his study made the same. Enter Slim and Tubs. After they were done they dropped by for a small, final payment, which could have been mailed, but they’d rather have coffee in the process of being paid. (Considering how cozy the local diner was, they were flattering my mother greatly by preferring her coffee, though they may have also been on the lookout for future employment).

Outside the landscape had been shuddering under the first arctic blast of winter, and Tubs came in overdressed as Slim entered as if he didn’t notice the cold. Tubs wore a very puffy parka that made him all the rounder, a sheepskin “mad bomber” hat with enormous ear-flaps down to his shoulders, and a gaudy scarf of a crimson plaid. Slim wore a baseball cap, a plaid shirt, and had his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his jeans. Perhaps his plaid shirt was a bit thicker than usual, but my mother exclaimed, “Poor soul! You must be frozen!” Slim smiled, but Tubs teased, “After minus forty on Chosin Reservoir, zero seems like a heat wave, to Slim.” Slim winced and shot Tubs an irritated glance, and my mother looked surprised, and then adopted a sympathetic expression that confused me. I couldn’t read the Greek on their faces. I should have asked some questions, but instead I was shy.

I retreated, and got the “K” encyclopedia to look up “Korean War” and see if I could find a mention of the “Chosin Reservoir”. It would have been far easier to simply ask Slim, as he’d been there, an actual eyewitness, but shyness made me into a parody of Sherlock Holmes, sleuthing when it was unnecessary.

Now such private-detectiving can be done via the internet. If you are too shy to talk to actual humans you can sleuth with the click of a mouse. But back in 1974-1975 I had to run up and down a hill, sleuthing with volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then visit the local library, employing the Dewy Decimal System and card catalogs to discovered an obscure history that likely never sold many copies, with some name I can’t remember, (such as “The Chosin Few”).

What I discovered was a wonderful way to sidetrack; engrossing historical trivia which made it hard to be practical, and easy to forget to put wood in the shack’s stove until I noticed my nose was getting cold. Not that I would have discovered much, within the Encyclopedia Britannica. There were things not mentioned in the “K” volume that I found in the “C” volume, under “Cochin Reservoir”, and things not mentioned in the “C” volume that were mentioned in the three subsequent volumes I browsed, but I always had more questions than answers. The obscure autobiography from the local library was a wealth of information buried midst atrocious writing, but if I wanted better I surely should have interviewed Slim, but I was too shy.

In school the Korean War had been described as a “conflict” and a “stalemate”, which made it sound like nothing had been achieved, and even as if nothing had happened. Midst the drab facts of the encyclopedia I saw drab dots, but I could connect the dots, and saw that, as always, war was hell. Through that hell Slim, as a teenager, once walked.

To me the leaders on both sides appeared to be a bunch of idiots, with the UN particularly moronic in terms of gathering intelligence, and Mao particularly moronic in terms of logistics. For example, the UN forces had marched victoriously from the very south to the very north, and assumed they were “mopping up” the final North Korean troops. They even named a maneuver “Operation Home-By-Christmas.” But in fact they were facing 120,000 Chinese troops. Yet Mao, in his haste to prove Chinese could fight better than Europeans, proved Chinese leaders could be equally stupid as Europeans, (though perhaps not quite as stupid as the English at Verdun), for he sent 120,000 of his finest troops south without food and in summer clothing. The cold swiftly killed more of his best men than the UN forces did.

The plight of the foot soldiers on both sides was extreme. At minus forty nothing worked right. Batteries failed and tanks wouldn’t start and walkies-talkies went dead and diesel fuel turned to jelly and guns jammed. Confusion reined on both sides. (One drab phrase from the encyclopedia seemed especially lacking in compassion to me: “Failed to fortify their positions.” It may have been factual, but failed in its own right to comprehend the desperate extremes both sides faced.)

At one point the starving and freezing Chinese troops overran a UN base, and logically assumed the hugely outnumbered and routed UN troops would be hightailing it south. What they didn’t understand was that the UN didn’t understand. Rather than seeing they had been attacked by a huge army, the UN thought the attack was the deeds of desperate North Koreans near the end of their rope. If the Chinese were noted it was assumed they were only a few “advisers”. Therefore the tiny force counter-attacked the huge force, and found the Chinese had “failed to fortify their positions”. Why not? Because they were doing what men do when at their wits end and on the verge of starving and freezing to death: They were rummaging through captured supplies for warm clothing and food. Many had dropped their guns; and they were as surprised by the counter-attack as the UN forces had been by the initial attack, and the rout became a counter-rout. But this then fostered the illusion among the UN forces that they should continue attacking north, when what they should have done is to use the snatched reprieve to swiftly organize a defended retreat south. In the fog of war they probed north, and they soon again met the might of superior numbers and a counter-counter-attack, and were overrun a second time. Units were encircled and cut off, unable to retreat south, with Chinese troops on all sides, and in one of these trapped units was Slim.

During the day the air was filled with the nearly constant droning, roaring and booming of American airplanes and jets, attacking from a base to the south and five aircraft carriers, but as the sun fell and the cold grew fierce all became quiet, and under the dim glow of flares Slim awaited the inevitable Chinese attacks. The dark had a nightmarish quality; you snatched sleep during the day. The encyclopedia showed neat lines and arrows of red and blue, but the battle was an extended melee, a derangement.

Just days before Slim had been patrolling northward through a landscape much like Maine’s, right down to the scattered wood-frame houses and long stretches of wilderness between towns. He was wary, and scared of snipers, but only heard shots and explosions far away. The weather was brisk and autumnal, and he’d been dreaming of being home by Thanksgiving, when suddenly weather colder than he had ever experienced and Chinese troops came storming down from the north.

A man never knows what he can do until he has to. Slim saw sides of himself he never knew existed: Horror, terror, grief, and the rage of a cornered rat. He saw bravery isn’t what you want to be, but what you have to be. But even more disconcerting was elation and hilarity midst all the horror, brotherhood midst bestiality.

One time Slim spotted two Chinese laying in ambush. He was uphill, but they were looking down as a patrol of Slim’s comrades crossed the slope further down. Slim raised his gun to shoot them, but the gun jammed in the bitter cold, so Slim drew his knife and crept up behind them, his pulse thudding in his ears. Then he realized they were frozen to death. Slim heard his own voice first giggle, then sob a single sob, and then growl to himself in the voice of a sergeant, “Keep moving, Private. Move!”

To bolster courage every other word became “fucking”. “Fucking get fucking ammo fucking fast!”

During hand-to-hand fighting airstrikes dropped napalm, and in he hellish heat some Americans roasted along with the Chinese, and a man cursed, “Fuck if I ever fucking pray to God to make it fucking warmer, ever fucking again”. For some insane reason midst insanity this sarcasm caused Slim’s squad to dissolve briefly in paroxysms of helpless laughter, before they all abruptly regained their grimness.

Surrender didn’t seem to be an option for either side. This went against the history of the Chinese warlords, who had tended to defect whenever it was to their advantage, as squads and even as entire divisions, both when fighting Japan and in their own Civil War. Now they fought to the final man, perhaps because Mao had executed the warlords and all were unified under him, or perhaps because his troops knew if they stopped moving they’d freeze, and prisoners would be forced to stand still. Meanwhile the Americans had seen or heard that Koreans were brutal to prisoners: The South Koreans slaughtered the North Koreans as predictably as the Communists “purged” the Non-Communists. The fighting was do-or-die, with the Chinese determined to bottle up and wipe out the UN forces, and with the UN (largely American) forces desperately attempting to break out and force their way south. Retreat was not a matter of backing up. One American officer famously stated, “We’re not retreating. We’re advancing in a new direction.”

Slim’s unit had been ordered to take a hill overlooking the road south, but it hadn’t gone well and they’d been driven back. Slim squinted south with the highway blocked, doubting he’d ever see home again. His gun didn’t shoot and his commanding officers were dead . Half of his unit was dead or wounded, and it was so cold the medics had to thaw the small tubes of morphine in their mouths before they injected the wounded. Many of the fellows he was with were teenagers like he was, eighteen and nineteen years old. What to do? Plan A hadn’t worked; what was plan B?

In this desperate moment Slim glanced sideways over the Chosin Reservoir. It reminded him of a big lake in Maine, and midst a tidal wave of melancholy and nostalgia he remembered ice fishing, and a little voice in his head wondered, “Is the ice safe for fishing yet?” Then he abruptly shrieked, “That fucking ice has got to be fucking thick. It’s been fucking colder than a fucking witch’s tit for fucking days.”

It’s unclear who gave the orders or whether there was any order at all. It simply seemed smarter to move out over the ice, which could hold even jeeps, and go around the Chinese rather than fighting through them. So that is what was done, with the wounded brought along, some walking wounded and some dragged. As the Chinese froze, laying in ambush along the road, hundreds and hundreds of troops escaped over the ice.

Arriving at a hastily-constructed airbase at the southern end of the reservoir, with more than half of his comrades dead (1450 of 2500) Slim was surprised to find himself one of the few judged “able bodied” (385), and while more than a thousand were helicoptered out he was assigned to hold the base’s perimeter along with cooks pulled from the kitchen and clerks yanked from their typewriters, as the marines retreated south from the other side of the reservoir, and reinforcing marines battled up from the south. Slim got to spend a week in this lovely landscape.

Rather than praise, Slim found his army unit belittled by the marines for retreating in a disorganized manner. Slim vowed to pound the heck out of the first marine he met in a bar, but the bars were far to the south, and first they had to break out of their base and fight south through “Hellfire Valley”. The Chinese three times blew up a bridge on the road south, but the engineers kept replacing it, supplied by “flying boxcars”.

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2F55%2F44%2F1e%2F55441e70d2212bd9193318475bd9bca8.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

If it were not for the Air Force they would have been overwhelmed, but in the end Slim made it to the port of Hungnam after two weeks of solid fighting, and then spent another two weeks defending the perimeter of that port as an evacuation like Dunkirk proceeded. The civilians had no desire to stay, and as Slim prepared to depart he saw 14,000 Koreans crowd aboard a cargo ship built to accommodate 12 passengers. (SS Meredith Victory) The next day, on Christmas Eve, Slim got to see North Korea astern, with massive fireworks occurring as the engineers blew up the entire port, so Mao couldn’t use it.

And now here I was, a quarter century later, and we were still fighting Mao, now in Vietnam. It had been going on since before I was born, and Slim had been there at the beginning, when Mao chose division over a United Korea.

I sighed and looked out over the mudflats. The tide was low. Even at winter you could smell the dead clams.

Actually, I mused, it had been longer than a quarter century. What year did Mao begin the Autumn Harvest Uprising? 1927? Nearly a half century ago. For nearly fifty years the drooling old man had been unable to make peace with his neighbors. For nearly fifty years he had been incapable of seeing any ideas but his own as worthy of anything but destruction. All traditions were his foe, all cultural variety was his foe, any power but his own was his foe, was “counter revolutionary”, and anyone outside was an “imperialist”. What an arrogant and paranoid madman! And what stopped his cancer from spreading? Shy teenagers like Slim.

If only people would, as John Lennon sang, “give peace a chance!” What a different world it would have been if people had chosen to get along, rather than choosing divorce, rather than choosing fifty years of murdering millions upon millions.

I shook my head and gathered up the books. Who was I to think I could solve the world’s problems? No one would pay a penny for my poetry, and I needed fifty dollars.

My mother shot me a curious look as I stomped into her house with a grim expression and began replacing the encyclopedias on the shelf. I was known for taking things out, and not for putting them away, so she knew something was up. However I was not about to tell her I needed fifty dollars. She’d fret, and I thought I’d rather face Chinese troops at forty below than face my mother’s worry.

As I drove to the library to return the book I pondered the fact that getting a Real Job would be admitting defeat, in terms of writing and being a poet. But Slim had been defeated at Chosin Reservoir, and it wasn’t the end of him, was it? I needed to adjust my attitude, and see my retreat was actually “advancing in a new direction.”

THE NOVEL THAT NEVER WAS

This 25,000-word post exists because someone asked a question.

I like writing about my time as a drifter  among the Navajo, Zuni and Hispanic of New Mexico, but someone wondered how a New England Yankee, who had not the slightest desire to go to such a place, wound up in such a place. This began as a reply, which I intended to be a short explanation.

*******

There are some life-changing events you don’t see are life-changing at the time. Later on, using twenty-twenty hindsight, the same event holds an import that slugs you in the jaw. We wonder how we could have been so blind.

We are surrounded by powers we fail to recognize. Even an atheist is subject to the reactions of rebounding Karma,  and those who in some way ask for the Creator’s help get an additional Shepherd’s crook prodding their ribs, but we often tend to be oblivious of these nudges as they move us and shape us, and then an amnesia dulls recall later. For this reason I advise all young writers to keep a diary. (Handwritten; that no hacker can digitally snoop into.)

I’ve been looking through the yellowing pages of notebooks I kept during my time as a drifter, and I simply have to shake my head at how blind I was. I was too busy reeling from one affront to my dignity to the next affront to my dignity, to attend much to the perfect timing of the affronts. However I did have a strange sense of humor, and did pause to note down the delicious irony of many of the incredibly inconvenient annoyances.

It would be nice if life would stop, and give a person time to evaluate what the last mistake was teaching, but life does not give one time, which tends to lead to the next mistake.

I was stubborn, when it came to demanding time to assess experience. I followed the rule, “Once burned, twice shy”.  After I was burned I wanted to think hard, identify what had burned me, so I could shy away from it in the future. But the future came too fast, before I had time to think. Because I hadn’t had time to think, I’d get burned again.

I had a softhearted mother, who allowed me to move into her basement to think about how I had been burned, but people sneer when you live with Mom; it burned me to be such a weeny. Also, even the nicest Mom can burn a man, if she is imperfect, and my Mom must have been imperfect if she made the likes of me. Eventually even the bomb shelter of a Mom’s cellar can burn to a degree where it has the heat of hell, and then a man must depart the safety of Mom’s and enter a world which never gives one time to think.

I always liked the line in the Eagle’s song “Lying Eyes” that goes, “Every form of refuge has it’s price.” I knew about the price one pays because I was always seeking new and innovative ways to work as little as possible,  pay rent as seldom as possible, mooch free meals as often as possible, and avoid all sermons, because I wanted time to think. I did quite well except when it came to avoiding sermons. People were always trying to “help” me by giving advice I didn’t want to hear. (I would have preferred money).

It seemed to me that no one wanted to talk about the things I wanted to talk about, which made me feel lonely. One way to escape the loneliness was sing your heart out in a shower to a mysterious audience which was much more appreciative than people in real life, or to write poems to that same mysterious Listener. However that only expressed my heart. It didn’t deal with the heartless, pragmatic intellectual arguments, which was what I wanted to think about, but no one wanted to talk about.

My way of escaping that intellectual loneliness was to create characters in a story who did talk about the things I wanted to talk about. Considering the subjects my characters talked about were the very subjects that people I knew didn’t want to talk about, it seems obvious that people I knew would want even less to read about such subjects. Few could withstand even the introductory paragraphs . I therefore spent a long time in a world of my own, scribbling  unpublishable stuff which I alone found intelligible.

When people asked what I was doing, I said I was “writing a novel”.  When they asked me what the novel was about, I could make their eyes glaze over fairly swiftly with my explanations. My explanations often lacked clarity because I myself didn’t have any idea what “it” was about. “It” refused to stick to the subject, even when I was attempting to “finish” “it”. “It” had an extraordinary ability to sidetrack and backtrack. When I attempted to write a synopsis, the synopsis would become longer than the novel.

I exasperated the kindest and most tolerant of people, who attempted to tell me I needed to simplify, and who then saw me promptly become more complex. No advise worked.  Any advise burned me, for it set off a cynical nag in my head who sneered at imperfections in my most eloquent paragraphs, whereupon I’d need time to think up an “improved” answer. “Improvements” always involved writing additions, and for a long time I seldom edited by shortening. When people told me I couldn’t possibly write in such a manner, I’d point out Balzac’s propensity to expand upon even the publisher’s proofs of his works:

Balzac_Beatrix_Proof

At this point even the kindest people would point out there was a difference between Balzac and myself.  Balzac was wildly successful and I was not. He made money and I did not. He could afford to be eccentric.  I could not.

I didn’t see why people had to be so money-minded.  They would respond they didn’t need to be so money-minded, but I did, because they were not going to allow me to sleep on their couch, or in their garage, or in my car in their driveway, any longer. I needed to either get a patron, or get a job.

Being pitched out into the street hurt, but for me it was just another burn to think about. Rather than decreasing the urge to write it increased it. The less I could afford a desk to write at, the more urgent my craving to write became. I was obsessive, compulsive, and people didn’t know what to do with me, which is why they pitched me into the street.

Eventually I discovered you can only ask so much of friends. It may be true that “ones reach should exceed ones grasp”, but there is such a thing as “a mooch too far”. Deep wells can run dry. Even if you don’t run out of friends because you have the better sort of friends, your friends can run out of patience. I was so persistent with my asking that not only friends ran out of patience; even family ran out of patience.

I was downright indignant. How dare they run out of patience!? I had no thankfulness nor appreciation for what they had to put up with, when they put up with me. Instead I just got angry and thought, “I’ll show them. They’ll be sorry, when I’m famous.”

In some ways being faced by the limits of what a poet can ask of fellow men and women did not make me better, but rather made me worse. Rather than writing less I wrote harder. Rather than one pot of coffee I drank two; rather than smoking forty cigarettes I smoked fifty; rather than a few beers I drank a few six-packs. I remember one time dropping to my knees and pounding the carpet with my fist shouting, “I will! I will write this down!” This sort of extreme behavior does become expensive, but that didn’t stop me. To really teach them all a lesson, I’d even get a job.

When I got a job my better friends would begin winking at each other and giving each other knowing nudges, thinking that their “tough-love” was bearing fruit, and that I was showing signs of becoming sensible and practical.  But I was no dunce.  I could see through all the silent, wink-wink, nudge-nudge stuff.  I found it infuriating. Had they no idea that they were trying to kill me? Did they not know that to make a poet work a steady job would be the death of poetry? What sort of friends were they? If I loved them, I really needed to teach them a lesson.

In essence, if they were going to throw tough-love at me, I’d throw tougher-love right back in their faces.  And in many ways that is exactly what I did.

It seems obvious, using twenty-twenty hindsight, that this situation was headed for a unhappy ending, as such escalation cannot go on forever before a sort of nuclear winter occurs.  In actual fact such a situation tends to go through all sorts of meandering perambulations, involving making-up and breaking-up, promotions and demotions, getting hired and getting fired, but the sitcom soap-opera is generally a downward spiral, if one is truly a mad poet. After all, to be a mad poet is to take offence when the world demands sanity.

But truly, when I came right down to it, the world had little business preaching to me about sanity, for the world was utterly bonkers. The lunatics were running the asylum, and hypocrisy was king.  Even if they never listened to me, they should at least practice what they preached, but instead I saw some horrible behavior.

I’ll save all the juicy details for a story I’ll someday write called, “California”.  To put it all in a nutshell, it was a time full of nice people yet was hell on earth, for the likes of me.  The Eagles song “Hotel California” was roughly what I experienced. (Considering the song was a hit five years before I arrived there , I should have been forewarned.)

The only good that came out of the hell of being a poet midst what seemed (to me) to be California’s antithesis of poetry was “The Novel That Never Was”.  It was a repository for my thought, and a church-like sanctuary I could flee to, and an excuse for times I wanted to retreat from making money, for my novel “might” make a fortune “when it was finished.”

I was actually cynical about the idea of any money coming from writing a novel, perhaps influenced by a somewhat sardonic Beatle’s hit I heard many times every day, for weeks on end, at age thirteen. In fact the hit song may have gravely embittered my world-view. It always seemed a reminder not to take myself too seriously, as a writer, when I heard “Paperback Writer” as a “golden oldie”, years later.

In essence, the hope of making money with my writing was a sort of trick to keep myself going, like hanging an apple in front of a reluctant and overburdened donkey, to keep it plodding forward. At times, when I saw something inspiring, I really believed others might like to see it, (if not pay for it), but then what I experienced was like asking a girl for a dance and seeing her shake her head, or only nod with a most pained expression.

Considering there was so little encouragement, writing was a sort of negative affliction, like an addiction.  The question then becomes, what did I get out of it?  Was it merely escapism, like the high of a heroin addict?  There were some striking similarities. When people pointed out the similarities they sometimes had the voice of Satan, reasonable and oily, and I battled my deepest despairs. I fought back, but couldn’t say what I was fighting (and writing) for. I can remember pacing around talking to God, saying, “I just don’t know what to do, Lord. I just don’t know what to do.”

Though I went to no church, and was not very obedient to what I thought I knew God commanded, I dare say I must have done something right, for the ways life burned me seemed to herd me in a way a shepherd might herd sheep.  Of course, at the time I would have deeply resented it if anyone called me a sheep.  Sheep are very dumb animals.  I felt I was radical and defiant and very smart.

In the story called “California” (which I hope to someday write) I’ll describe how I was “faithful but unfortunate” (the motto on Winston Churchill’s coat of arms) and how “doing the right thing was never the rewarding thing” (my personal motto for that time.) For now I’ll have to give a brief example.

I had started working for a young landscaper, (only 26-years-old, while I was thirty), and decided to impress him with how hard I could work. One morning he left me with a chainsaw, ladder, shovel and pickax, and said my job was to cut down a forty-foot-tall pine tree, cut and split the logs, and remove the stump.  I was very strong at that time, and the work I did that day was a feat of strength. When my young boss returned at the end of the day the wood was split and stacked and the large stump had been dug up and removed.  Unbeknownst to me, my boss had told the lady who owned the property that the job would take a week, and had charged her accordingly. I could see he was displeased, but all he said was, “You work too hard.”  Then he left me weeding the borders of a flowerbed as he went to speak with the lady.  As I worked they came walking back, and he was charming her in the way landscapers charm rich, beautiful, blond women, when the woman is the customer and always correct.

I was watching them, although facing away, for the flowerbed was below a picture window that inadvertently acted as a mirror. As they neared me the beautiful blond lost her train of thought in mid sentence, and her eyes focused on my back and shoulders.  I was working with my shirt off. Then she seemed to awake to her obvious gawking, and she smiled at my employer and frankly stated, “Your employee has a strong back.”

My boss did not look entirely pleased, perhaps because he was physically a bit stringy, but he attempted to remain composed, stating so I could hear, “Yes, he has a strong back…”, but then he continued, silently mouthing words, while twirling a finger beside his head, “…But a weak mind.” He was utterly unaware I was watching in the picture window, and could lip-read.

The woman did not look entirely pleased, and recoiled slightly.  As she looked away she looked into into the picture window, and our eyes met. As our eyes met my boss noticed her change in expression, and he followed her gaze into the picture window.  There was then an extremely embarrassing silence as reflected eyes met reflected eyes, and then she hurried one way to answer the phone and he hurried the other way to recover his dignity. I weeded, and chuckled to myself, “What a great scene for a novel!”

I had an evening to reflect, for my young boss left early without talking to me. It occurred to me that my hard work might have accidentally torpedoed his attempt to assert his own superiority. He did seem the sort of boss that assumes being boss automatically indicates superiority, and, though I had only worked for him a week, he had spent a lot of that week hinting that I might be wise to convert to (insert religion of your choice), stating converting might make me become a better person, (and by innuendo suggesting he was the better person).

I actually liked chatting about religions, but think I hurt his feelings, for rather than proving he was a better person I had accidentally proved he was a jerk. But jerks didn’t bother me, for I knew I was a jerk as well, and I didn’t take offence.

He showed no inclination to talk about the event the next morning, and I was willing to let bygones be bygones, and was friendly and cheerful, though he seemed a bit grouchy.

I later gathered he was not as willing to let bygones be bygones, for my job the next day was to clear a lot of leafless brush. He knew, but neglected to tell me, that the brush was poison oak. By the following morning I had a rash over three quarters of my body. This perhaps demonstrates that followers of (insert religion of your choice) do get the last laugh, but I did not have the slightest desire to convert. My rash was so severe I could not work, but, between hot, soapy showers,  I was able to sit at my typewriter and insert a new, despicable character into the plot of “The Novel That Never Was.”

I hope you notice that in the above episode I did the right thing, which was to work hard, but it was not the rewarding thing. This was only one of many episodes, and enables me to identify in some ways with heroin addicts.  Addicts go through detox, rehab, and wind up back on heroin. I would get a job, and do good, and wind up back working on “The Novel That Never Was.”

My  friends grew tired of my excuses. I suppose from their perspective their exasperation was understandable. They had felt a faint hope when I left my typewriter and got a Real Job, but when I returned to the typewriter with seventy-five percent of my body covered with a disgusting rash only a week later they felt like ripping out their hair. In fact I know one fellow who now, at age seventy-two, has thinning hair, and I think most of the thinning occurred thirty-five years ago, when I lived with him. As is often the case with heroin addicts, a day came when my excuses were not good enough.

It is a sad thing to realize you have used up your allotment of worldly compassion.  It’s like when an academic’s grant runs out, or a writer has burned through his advance, but in my case my patrons were unwilling patrons. My future novel “California” will involve descriptions of pathetic, fawning attempts I made to win back favor from frowning faces, but I was like a heroin addict who promises to be good without quitting his addiction. All pleading only makes the frowns firmer.

Finally I was down to sleeping on the kitchen-livingroom floor of my last unwilling patron, who was a soul so gentle and so kind he simply didn’t have the heart to throw me out. The abode was a shack in a so-called “surfer slum” in Capitola, California, and was basically two small rooms: A bedroom with a bathroom off of it, and a kitchen-livingroom which I was turning into a mess that stank of stale beer and cigarettes, as I’d again become utterly engrossed in “The Novel That Never Was.” One table in a corner held my typewriter midst overflowing ashtrays and empty coffee cups and unwashed dishes and heaps of paper. Finally even my gentle host couldn’t stand it, and he came marching into the shack one midday to lay down the law.

Laying-down-the-law was completely out of character for the gentle man. I got the feeling he had practiced his speech many times before a mirror to get it down right, but he was a bad actor. He basically stated, “This place is a filthy mess and stinks and I want it cleaned up right now.” To emphasize how serious he was he had planned to pound down his fist, but when he got to that part of his speech he realized there were dirty dishes all over the kitchen counter and no place to slam down his fist.  He had to hesitate and search before he found a place to pound, which completely spoiled the effect.  To avoid breaking crockery his pounded fist was more like a tap between dishes, but I got the message, as he wheeled and marched out the door.

I was horrified that I had driven this kind man to behave in a manner that was so obviously out of character. Immediately I began sweeping and scrubbing, though it took a while to find any soap and cleanser. I took rugs outside and beat them over a fence and scrubbed all the linoleum and aired all the curtains in the sunshine and washed every dish and put them where they belonged. I even sorted my papers. When my host returned, a bit drunk, that evening, he looked around in astonishment, and then a pleased look filled his face. Sometimes it pays to thump your fist. But when he looked at me he saw my eyes had a far-away look, and he shook his head slightly and walked away into his bedroom without a word. He could tell by my dazed eyes I was back into “The Novel That Never Was”, and things would soon be a mess again. I was a hopeless case.

What he didn’t know was that while cleaning up the books and arranging them neatly on a shelf I’d come across some obscure works by Mark Twain, involving the “Mental Telegraphy” described in this letter he wrote:

Hartford, Conn., October 4, 1884.

DEAR SIR, — I should be very glad to be made a Member of the Society for Psychical Research; for Thought-transference, as you call it, or mental telegraphy as I have been in the habit of calling it, has been a very strong interest with me for the past nine or ten years. I have grown so accustomed to considering that all my powerful impulses come to me from somebody else, that I often feel like a mere amanuensis when I sit down to write a letter under the coercion of a strong impulse; I consider that that other person is supplying the thoughts to me, and that I am merely writing from dictation. And I consider that when that other person does not supply me with the thoughts, he has supplied me with the impulse anyway; I never seem to have any impulses of my own. Still, may be I get even by unconsciously furnishing other people with impulses.

I have reaped an advantage from these years of constant observation. For instance when I am suddenly and strongly moved to write a letter or inquiry, I generally don’t write it — because I know that that other person is at that moment writing to tell me the thing I wanted to know, — I have moved him or he has moved me, I don’t know which, — but anyway I don’t need to write, and so I save my labour. Of course I sometimes act upon my impulse without stopping to think. My cigars come to me from 1,200 miles away. A few days ago, — September 30th, — it suddenly, and very warmly occurred to me that an order made three weeks ago for cigars had as yet, for some unaccountable reason, received no attention. I immediately telegraphed to inquire what the matter was. At least I wrote the telegram and was about to send it down town, when the thought occurred to me, “This isn’t necessary, they are doing something about the cigars now — this impulse has travelled to me 1,200 miles in half a second.”

As I finished writing the above sentence a servant intruded here to say, “The cigars have arrived, and we haven’t any money downstairs to pay the expressage.” This is October 4th, — you see how serene my confidence was. The bill for the cigars arrived October 2nd, dated September 30th — I knew perfectly well they were doing something about the cigars that day, or I shouldn’t have had that strong impulse to wire an inquiry.

So, by depending upon the trustworthiness of the mental telegraph, and refraining from using the electric one, I save 50 cents — for the poor. [I am the poor.]

Companion instances to this have happened in my experience so frequently in the past nine years, that I could pour them out upon you to utter weariness. I have been saved the writing of many and many a letter by refusing to obey these strong impulses. I always knew the other fellow was sitting down to write when I got the impulse — so what could be the sense in both of us writing the same thing? People are always marvelling because their letters “cross” each other. If they would but squelch the impulse to write, there would not be any crossing, because only the other fellow would write. I am politely making an exception in your case; you have mentally telegraphed me to write, possibly, and I sit down at once and do it, without any shirking.

I began a chapter upon “Mental Telegraphy” in May, 1878, and added a a paragraph to it now and then during two or three years; but I have never published it, because I judged that people would only laugh at it and think I was joking. I long ago decided to not publish it at all; but I have the old MS. by me yet, and I notice one thought in it which may be worth mentioning — to this effect: In my own case it has often been demonstrated that people can have crystal-clear mental communication with each other over vast distances. Doubtless to be able to do this the two minds have to be in a peculiarly favourable condition for the moment. Very well, then, why shouldn’t some scientist find it possible to invent a way to create this condition of rapport between two minds, at will? Then we should drop the slow and cumbersome telephone and say, “Connect me with the brain of the chief of police at Peking.” We shouldn’t need to know the man’s language; we should communicate by thought only, and say in a couple of minutes what couldn’t be inflated into words in an hour and a-half. Telephones, telegraphs and words are too slow for this age; we must get something that is faster. — Truly yours,

S. L. CLEMENS.

P.S. — I do not mark this “private,” there being nothing furtive about it or any misstatements in it. I wish you could have given me a call. It would have been a most welcome pleasure to me.

– letter to William Barrett, published in Journal of Society for Psychical Research, Oct. 1884, pp. 166-167.

To me it seemed that finding this work by Mark Twain was a rare case where doing the right thing was the rewarding thing, for house-cleaning had led to a wonderful discovery. My friends, however, did not feel my discovery was wonderful at all. It was bad enough that I wrote when I should be working a Real Job, claiming it was “art”. Now I also was claiming it was “Psychical Research.”

But Mark Twain’s observations about what he called “Mental Telegraphy”, [which he published in Harper’s Weekly, (as “Mental Telegraphy, A Manuscript With A History”; December 1891, and “Mental Telegraphy Again”; September 1895)] were an affirmation of things I had observed, but had never spoken out loud because I feared being called crazy.

Or, to be more precise, I didn’t fear being called crazy, for being crazy was a requirement of being a true Mad Poet; what I feared was being institutionalized. My father had spent time in an institution, and he stated that institutions were dangerous and evil places: Just as “houses of correction” seldom corrected and did much to teach young criminals crime, mental institutions furthered madness. Nor would it be the happy madness of ecstasy, which poets seek; it would be the sheer agony of isolation and lonesomeness.

Writing, by its very nature, involves isolation and a degree of loneliness. It is difficult to concentrate in a crowd. It makes matters worse when there is no compensating acclamation for the finished product, and instead one’s writing earns disapproval and tough-love. I felt marginalized, and was angry about it, yet at the same time had a deep craving for love.

It is likely it was due to my craving for love that many of the “coincidences” (which I felt might be signs of psychic contacts) I had noticed involved women. For example, I might be basing a character in “The Novel That Never Was” on a girl I knew as a teenager, and be picturing her vividly as I wrote, and the phone would then ring, and it would be that very woman, who I hadn’t spoken with in a decade.

Right at this time I was confronted by a peculiar “coincidence” that deeply troubled me. I had a number of “ex” girlfriends who still liked me, though they had concluded I was a hopeless case and not husband-material. I’d exchange letters with them on rare occasions, catching up on the news, and I confess I entertained the faint (but dimming) hope that one of these women might decide I was worth it, even if I was a hopeless case.  They drifted through my mind quite often, and I used to joke I had a “harem in my head”.

I tended to write such “exes” far more often than they wrote me. Usually my post office box was empty, (unless it held a rejection slip). Understandably I sometimes let long periods of time pass before checking to see if I had mail, and one time, after a long period, I checked my box and found two letters from two women. The two women didn’t know each other and lived states apart, but the letters were basically describing the same dream. In the dream they each were swimming with me in a warm sea with beautiful clouds in the sky, and laughing about the sheer joy of the experience.

I found this very troubling because I didn’t believe a man should have more than one wife, and I was very prudish (for those times) about having sex before marriage. When I read the first letter I was quite happy, as it seemed there might be some hope of a soul-mate appearing from my past and ending my loneliness, but when I read the second letter I felt like I had somehow committed a bizarre form of adultery without my conscious knowledge, in my dreams.

I needed time to think, but, as always, I had no time. I had used up the patience of even my gentlest,  kindest friend. He didn’t throw me out into the street; he simply packed up and moved out himself, stating “the rent is $400.00 and will be due at the end of the month, and I won’t be paying it.”

That got my attention. Minimum wage at that time was $3.35/hour, or $134.00/week, and even if I found work, after taxes were deducted I’d have money for rent but not food. I couldn’t bail on the apartment because I’d completely run out of other friends who’d let me move in and mooch. Anyway, I was mad at everyone, and going to teach them all a lesson. The time had come to “hustle.”

The next few months were a blear. I worked three jobs, worked on “The Novel That Never Was”, and conducted experiments to see if I could develop my powers of “mental telegraphy.” I very much liked the idea of developing psychic power, because I was so powerless in other areas.

The three jobs were scooping ice-cream in an obscure corner of a K-mart, making doughnuts from midnight until dawn, and working at a fast food place cooking burgers and fries. All three employers made employees wait between two and three weeks before paying the first check, and it was touch and go for a while, staying fed. I’ll skip around ten good stories about how I stayed fed, (I’ll include them in “California”), and instead focus on a specific setting where I did much of my research on “mental telegraphy”.

The setting was the burger joint, which typically hired teenagers. I had no problem getting a job there, because I had a good reputation; I had worked there earlier. (The 25-year-old manager confessed that initially he never would have hired an “old” 30-year-old drifter, but allowed his then-girlfriend, the assistant manager, to hire me so she would “learn not to hire that sort”. He laughed that the irony then was that, though I turned out to not to be “that sort”, his girlfriend did turn out to be “that sort.”)  In any case, I had worked hard and had given two week’s notice before I left, the first time I worked there, and therefore the manager was glad to have me back. It turned out he was having trouble finding strong, male employees.

I immediately noticed there were far more teen aged girls at the place than there had formerly been. Formerly there had been an equal number of teen aged boys, which kept the girls occupied,  but now the teen aged boys were running off to work at the start-ups of some boom involving newfangled things called “computers”. Apparently the pay was better, whether you worked at the actual start-ups, or for the construction companies building the computer factories, which were springing up like mushrooms. The result was that all the teen aged girls had no teen aged boys to keep them occupied, and I found myself in delightful danger.

I have already confessed I was a prude, but must now also confess I was terribly tempted. When I myself was a teenager only a few teen aged girls were beautiful, but somehow by the time I was thirty-one they had all greatly improved. Also at that (pre-AIDS) time California parents had a sloppy and confused concept of morality, which meant that their daughters were hopelessly inappropriate. I think one thing that saved me was that most teen aged girls are not very good at the art of seduction. When they tried, I had to turn away and pretend to cough to avoid laughing through my nose, (which might have hurt their feelings terribly).

Although I would have had to have been sexually active at age fourteen to be their fathers, I decided it was best if I became a father-figure, and managed to keep this facade from crumbling. It wasn’t easy. I recall one lavishly endowed blond girl asked me, “Do you feel a hug has to be sexual?” and when I responded, “No”, she hugged me. Thereafter, every day when I arrived, I got that hug. And that was only one girl out of fifteen. The situation was likely bad for my health.

As a father-figure, (or perhaps big-brother-figure), I found myself the unwilling psychologist offering guidance to around ten of the fifteen girls. Back then a psychologist made $60.00/hour, but I made $3.35. There were times I dealt with all ten girls in an hour, and should have made $600.00. Or more, for there were four bewildered young men midst the  chaos of that kitchen, also asking me advise.

Fortunately the booming local-economy caused by the start-up of the computer-age kept us all very busy. We never had idle hands for the devil to make a playground out of.

At one point a price-war with nearby burger joints lowered the price of the smallest burger to 37 cents, and this meant big,  burly construction workers, who ordinarily would buy two doubled versions of the biggest burger, would saunter in and buy twelve small burgers and then depart popping burgers like cookies into their mouths. Preparing for this onslaught of appetite meant that just before lunch we had to start cranking out small burgers, creating a mountain of wrapped, little burgers in the warming-rack by noon, yet fifteen minutes later the mountain was gone, and we were still cranking out little burgers as fast as we could.

It was in the frantic chaos of this overheated kitchen that I conducted experiments and made observations concerning “mental telegraphy”. These involved two areas.

The first (and most scientifically verifiable) area involved filling orders before the order came in. This phenomenon occurred with many workers, and happened so often it attracted little wonder. I suppose it could be called “coincidence”, but I noted it all the same. It sometimes involved a “special order” burger, but usually involved the rarely-ordered chicken or fish sandwiches, which were prepared in the same hot grease that sizzled huge amounts of french fries.

There was a company-commandment which stated that fish or chicken sandwiches should never be prepared beforehand, for they were wrapped and put up on the warming rack with a time-stamp, and if they were not purchased within fifteen minutes they were thrown away in the “wastage” bucket. Too much wastage got you in trouble, yet the company-commandment was broken with impunity, with very little wastage, though no one could explain why there wasn’t wastage. Workers merely obeyed a “hunch”, a bit like a successful gambler at a roulette wheel.

As it happened to me on numerous occasions I can describe it: I’d be frantically frying strainer after strainer of potatoes, sometimes four at once, attempting to keep up with the lunchtime demand for french fries, and all of a sudden I would have the inclination to fry two fish patties and a chicken patty. I followed the inclination, and then, just as the patties were done, the order came over the speaker from the front, “Twelve small burgers; thirteen small cheeseburgers, twenty-eight small fries, two fish sandwiches, and a chicken sandwich.”

The second area was less scientifically-verifiable. It involved the fact that, just because teenagers are frantically busy, it doesn’t mean they have no time to flirt. (I became convinced California teenagers would flirt even in the middle of an earthquake.) This in turn involved an uncanny ability I noticed many teen aged girls had even when I myself was a teenager: The over-development of peripheral vision.   A girl could be looking to your left when her focus was actually on you. This utterly mystified teen aged boys, but it didn’t mystify me. What mystified me was when the same awareness happened in a hot kitchen, when the girl would have had to have eyes that looked out of the back of her head.

There were many small examples of this within the frantic craziness of a rush, some involving tangible things such as ketchup bottles being handed to you before you asked, but others involving all sorts of wordless glances: Angry, sad, bitter, forgiving, consoling, loving. There was banter and bursts of laughter going on at the same time, but it was the unspoken stuff that I was most sensitive to and fascinated by. In some ways it was like a silent soap opera, but it was being played in fast-motion with the silent voices sped up until they sounded like chipmunks. Keeping track of all the relationships was like juggling an impossible number of balls; each of the fifteen girls and four boys had eighteen relationships. (Nineteen, if you included me.)

By the time I walked home my mind was a whirl. Having one or two teen aged daughters involves one in enough emotional drama for most men. However I had fifteen daughters (and four sons). I had a lot to think about.

When I sunk in a chair at my desk in my surfer shack I might have a few hours before I had to hurry off to scoop ice cream or make doughnuts, and I’d bravely start working on “The Novel That Never Was.” But I noticed something odd. The novel suddenly had fifteen new female characters and four new male characters.

Obviously real-life-experience was leaking into my creative life. This might be healthy in small doses, but I was experiencing an overdose. It might be healthy to have a single beloved drifting through your imagination, but fifteen girls was far too many. I didn’t have a harem in my head; I had a herd. My writing, which formerly had merely been incomprehensible to others, deteriorated swiftly into fragmented confusion which was becoming incomprehensible even to me. The herd of damsels in my skull could stampede.

In retrospect I think I was undergoing a mild nervous breakdown, but I was more aware of what was happening to me than most people are, as they go nuts. For one thing, I knew a lot of psychobabble and could define certain symptoms as “stress”,  and for another thing I knew enough New Age nonsense to define other symptoms as “psychic.”  Thirdly, I could feel a certain pride about how troubled the waters of my mind were, because, after all, one requirement of being a mad poet is to display insanity.

When you go mad there are certain people you tend to be mad at. In my case I was mad at the friends had who dished out tough-love, because they felt my working a Real Job would ground me in reality and make me more sensible. This did not seem to be happening in any way, shape or form.

I was also mad at California, for there seemed no way any responsible society would allow a mad poet to be a father-figure for fifteen girls. A good father wouldn’t approve of his daughter running around with a rock star, even if a rock star was rich and famous, and I most definitely wasn’t rich and famous. Yet California fathers seemed to be a bunch of men running away from their responsibility. I hardly ever met a California father who was born there.  Most were from somewhere else, and were running away from that other place, whether it was Mexico or the East Coast. Yet they called me the escapist.

Lastly, I was mad about being made spiritual against my will. I didn’t want to be chaste. I wanted a wife, and to have sex four times a night if I chose. To have to be a pure father-figure for fifteen nubile teenagers was like fasting while working in a delicatessen.

But perhaps this extreme spiritual discipline opened spiritual doors. After all, the reason some gave for fasting and purity and avoiding meat and doing certain sorts of Yoga was supposedly to close the mind to carnal focusing, which would allow the mind to open to highfalutin stuff.  Not that I could ever be bothered to do Yoga. I wanted cigarettes, coffee and beer, and to write. But now I was becoming vegetarian because I could barely afford food at all (and the burger joint would would fire employees who snitched burgers), ( I did snitch doughnuts and ice cream at the other two jobs). In any case, odd incidents of “mental telegraphy” became more common, and unnerving. I tried to blame the symptoms on too much sugar from ice-cream and doughnuts, but it was unnerving all the same.

The details will appear in “California”, if I ever write it, but to cut a long story short I’ll again describe a single situation.

Among the fifteen girls whom I was father-figure for were two lovely sisters, who seemingly disobeyed what I saw as a  California maxim. As I understood it, the maxim stated that a woman should delay marriage (but not sex), and should not have a baby until she was smart enough, and old enough, to be a grandmother. But these two sisters dared be politically incorrect by wanting to have babies and start families right away, and were looking for a good man. Both saw me as a good man, (though a bit old), and I confess I was tempted, which made the two sisters competitive and jealous of each other, (which I enjoyed) but also made two of the young men at the burger joint jealous of  me, (which I did not enjoy).

The two young men were also “old men” for the society of that burger joint, for one was twenty and the other was twenty-three (and had just gotten out of the army), but they saw me as ancient and wise at thirty-one, and, despite being my rivals, they were naive enough to question and listen to me. If I had been an evil man I could have exploited the situation,  but instead I directed traffic midst the chaos, and the two young men eventually wound up engaged to the two young women, as I wound up as lonely as ever.

The thing about this soap opera, (which took numerous episodes to conclude), that slightly unnerved me was that I spoke little with the sisters, beyond superficial banter. Much communication was wordless: Eyes that beamed; lips that pouted, all conducted midst the frantic preparation of burgers and fries. At times I felt I was communing with two psychic, young witches. It was uncanny.

It was also exhausting. The fact of the matter was no man should do what I did without support. I felt I deserved getting my shoulders rubbed and home-cooked meals, but instead arrived home to dead silence, sat down at my lonesome desk, and looked off into imaginative swirling.

I couldn’t write; the wellsprings of my writing seemed dried to a trickle; mostly I stared at the wall and thought.

I reread what I’d written, and noticed the setting of “The Novel That Never Was” had increasingly morphed into an antithesis of California: People in a fictional small town who stayed in the same place and worked out their problems rather than running away from them; people who worked to look deep, rather than skipping over the surface like a flat stone; people who sought the brilliance of understanding, using it to melt away the shadows of superficiality. The developing plot increasingly portrayed a Norman Rockwell nostalgia;  life as I wished it would be; not life as it was; and in many ways my creation was becoming a repository for all my heartache. Despite working in a crowd I felt achingly alone.

As I sat and stared at the wall the world of “mental telegraphy” increasingly seemed like a place where minds contacted minds in a manner that wasn’t all peaches and cream. It seemed a sort of combat, even a battlefield, conducted in a world polite people didn’t even admit existed. Each time I advanced an idea which was not politically correct, (for example, the idea it was normal and natural for a twenty-three-year-old man to marry a nineteen-year-old woman, and a twenty-year-old man to marry a eighteen-year-old woman), I felt like I was herding pigs through Mecca. Californians may have nodded and smirked polite smiles when I spoke, but their eyes seemed to glitter with malice. I felt I was at war with California, and imagined California knew it.  It was not a battle to be fought all alone.

Of course I had God, and as I stared at the wall He heard a fair amount of my grumbling. It seemed to me He might have written a better plot for the novel of my life. Yet I knew I wasn’t suppose to complain. After all, “omniscience” suggests God is infinitely smart, which in turn suggests He knows what he is doing. I just wished He would tell me what the plan was.

It did seem a bit nervy for a flea like myself to offer the Creator suggestions about how to create, but, as incredible as it seemed, I felt He noticed and listened to every flea. After all, faith does tend to have its roots in a person feeling they are noticed by the Creator. One is an atheist until God stops the entire creation, in a manner of speaking, to attend to the griping child that happens to be an atheist who is ripe and ready to become a believer. It is then that some “coincidence” occurs, some butterfly swerves from its path to alight on the tip of ones nose, which, better than any intellectual argument, convinces the sane atheist there is reason for the madness of belief. And, if a butterfly could be diverted one time, why not again?

Again it seemed nervy to ask for multiple miracles. In theory once God has halted creation to prove to you He exists, your faith is suppose to thereafter withstand all tests. However,  although I attended no church, I could recall that when I was in first grade they still began schooldays with the 23rd Psalm, and that dim memory suggested to me that, if “the Lord is my shepherd,” He would not be nice to a lamb only once, and then abandon the lamb to the wolves;  theoretically His care should involve more than a single example of compassion. It should involve my being coddled a bit, but I didn’t feel coddled at all.  Even God seemed to be joining the rest of California, and doling out tough-love.

The episodes of “mental telegraphy” no longer seemed all that miraculous to me. I was weary of fighting on a battlefield polite people didn’t admit existed. If you asked a polite person, “How are you today?” they would say “Fine”, even when it was an obvious lie. Then, when they would politely reply by rote, “And how are you?” you would be called “impolite” if you stated, “Me? I’m amazed you can say you are fine when your wife just ran off with the lesbian who trains your horses.” To be honest in this manner was incorrect and rude. You were suppose to live in a sort of denial.

I now think much of what I thought was “mental telegraphy” was not the slightest bit psychic. There is nothing particularly psychic about noticing a fellow’s wife ran off with his horse trainer. However, when you are the only fellow who is audacious enough to state a truth which even a child can see, and everyone else is in denial, it can appear you have powers others lack. Others are captured by their denial, and wear the blinders of California correctness, but you are too stupid to be correct, and you escape the chains and blinders of Hollywood by obeying a simple-minded thing called honesty.

The problem was that California correctness was so exasperatingly logical, about the wisdom of its chains.

For example, through research beginning in 1968, I had seen (for myself) that marijuana was more closely related to hallucinogens than to mere stimulants, but, when I tried to share what I had learned, I could only produce psychobabble:  “Marijuana robs the long-term memory of the energy necessary to condense scattered recall into greater gestalts.”  This profundity would earn me blank looks, and also the stupid response, “Hey man, marijuana is less harmful than beer.” It mattered not a whit I’d studied for a decade and a half, and was able to compare how my brain worked on the stuff with how much better it functioned after a decade off the stuff. At parties I’d wind up excluded from the cozy intimacy of the joint-sharing circle, and felt scorned. So I’d retreat to “The Novel That Never Was”. Suddenly the plot would involve a new character, a herbalist, who would appear from the woods, with a long gray beard, and explain in a patient and reasonable way to pot-head teenagers that, if Beethoven had smoked marijuana, his 9th symphony would have sounded exactly like his 1st, because his long-term memory could never manage to make greater gestalts. But, though such scribbling may have had some effect in the invisible landscape of “Mental telegraphy”, no one wanted to read it.

I got so exasperated about being marginalized in this manner that, at one party, I decided the hell with it. Though I knew it would be detrimental to the spiritual progress possible in my future, using my fleshy brain, I joined the intimate, joint-smoking circle and sucked my first marijuana cigarette in a decade. Then, robbing my future of inspiration for inspiration in the present, higher than a kite, I delivered what was likely an amazing discourse on why marijuana is more harmful than beer. I remember everyone was nodding,  and saying “wow!” and “far out!”, but no one (including me) could remember a thing about what was so amazing, the next day. I had achieved nothing but my own downfall.

There was no winning, in my war with California. As I sat in my shack in the surfer slum, looking at the wall, and then at the clock, and then wearily arising to go make doughnuts, it occurred to me California was winning. The tough love was wearing me down, grinding me into the dirt which California worms called sanity. But what could I do?

It seemed obvious I couldn’t go on working three jobs, so it seemed I’d better apply for work at one of the start-up computer businesses, even though I felt computers were stupid. (I had my reasons, which now, thirty-four years later, are becoming apparent. It basically involved society clambering out onto a frail limb, certain the limb was sturdy.) But what could I do? Everyone else was doing it, and when in California you should do what Californians do. Tough love was herding me like all the other sheep.

I recall one computer-place I applied to was up in the mountains in a place called “Scott’s Valley”.  It seemed to be a community of lumberjacks, with a sawmill, and now a computer factory. I recall some of the other fellows applying for work were big, burly fellows with plaid shirts. They were highly skilled at cutting enormous redwoods, and I was highly skilled at being a mad poet, but we were all pretending we were deeply interested in some new thing called “a hard drive.” None of us had a clue what “a hard drive” was. We were interested in “a higher hourly wage”,  but we were all nodding and attempting to look knowledgeable, as an extremely optimistic fellow interviewed us en mass.

In my usual manner I was being a sort of skeptical Sherlock Holmes, and thought I detected a reason for the man’s extreme optimism. It did not take “mental telegraphy” to note a trace of white powder by his left nostril. Into my my mind came the humorous maxim, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money.”

In any case, the fellow assured us we were as good as already hired, because the company could not produce “hard drives” fast enough. After dwelling briefly on how we would be educated about what a “hard drive” was, the fellow soared off into delusions of grandeur, explaining how Microsoft was on its knees, pleading that this little company produce more and better “hard drives”, and therefore we would be joining a company that could push even Microsoft around.

An alarm went off in my mind. Though I am an optimist by nature, a pessimist reared its head,  and I had a feeling that this little company would soon be on its knees before Microsoft, ( if it didn’t cut back on the cocaine). Rather than hiring they would be laying people off. But I offered no advice. I smiled and nodded, hoping to triple my hourly wage.

At this point something odd happened. I assume alarms went off in heaven. God and my guardian angels knew that, if my mad-poet brains became involved with computers, you could kiss poetry good-bye. I would be sucked into the cynical subject of “computer code.” I would be seduced, because code paid and poetry didn’t. I would have no time for assonance, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, sonnets would never be written, “The Novel That Never Was” would never be furthered, because I would be busy becoming rich, and perhaps live in a mansion and have a beautiful, blond wife, as my mind became absorbed and engrossed in trivial strings of data;  I would have joined the madmen dealing with the intricate details of leading humanity out onto a frail and precarious branch. “Computer code” was every bit as fascinating as the mathematics Bach used to write great fugues, but it made no music, because it had no heart.

But where had having a heart ever gotten me? Flipping sizzling doughnuts in hot fat at three AM?  I felt reduced to mere wiggling fingers reaching up for light and air from black, California quicksand. I was exhausted. My tough-love wasn’t tough enough to fight back against the wickedness of California’s.

The land was doomed. Everyone knew California was going to fall into the sea, but I supposed we all have to go some day; I might as well study computers and get rich and watch the wildfires and mud slides and race riots from my mansion in the mountains.

I drempt I saw the Reaper come
And stand above the city’s glare.
It was sunset. The sky was brass
Made dull with soot; a chimney’s flare
Of oily flames flapped just above
The rolling sun and seemed to say
No night would come, but grayness came
Above the flame….perhaps the gray
Came from the flame….but huge above
Both chimney and the setting sun
The Reaper stood. He calmly looked
Down on the streets as fishermen
Look down at trout they haven’t hooked,
And then he drew his huge scythe back.
He didn’t yell “fore!” yet the men
On the streets below seemed to know
He was above. Cars coughed, and then
Cars snarled and screamed through the streets;
The rush hour was on….Decade
Followed decade, and drum beats
Pounded ever faster. Men bought
Every insurance there was,
Invested in old gold hat racks,
And men did all this because
They sensed the Reaper stood above.
The one flaring chimney became
One hundred, and both black night
And grim winter fled the bright flame,
But the Reaper grew ever huger,
And his scythe drew back to the moon
And then began down like thunder
None heard but all sensed. I did not
Want to dream any longer.
The harder men tried to anchor peace
Down to the firm ground the stronger
The silent whistling thunder
Of the descending scythe became,
Which made men work so incredibly hard
They destroyed themselves in flame.
                                                                           1981

On one hand it seemed I should bail out on California, yet on the other hand “The Novel That Never Was” was all about not running away from problems. Yet there was a third hand, which was that California seemed built by people running away from problems and based upon the quaky earth of running away. So would I be running away? Or would I be running away from running away, which, as a double negative, equaled staying?

Obviously I needed time to think, which was what people got mad at me for taking. But I couldn’t help it. Then, if I let thinking leak into working, I’d burn the doughnuts, and earn anger for that, which was something else to think about.

During my brief time off between jobs I wandered down to the shore to look out over the Pacific. The dratted ocean was keeping me from running away any further west, but I dreamed that out there, past the sunset, there must be some island where I could live on coconuts and fish, without a job, and type at my typewriter to my heart’s content.

The problem then would be loneliness. I’d tried running away before, and living like a hermit in the hills, and found I became ingrown and mentally shriveled. I needed companionship. I either needed to meet some Polynesian woman out on the island, preferably topless and in a grass skirt, or I needed to meet some woman who owned a yacht and felt poetry was very important. I looked up and down the beach, but no such women were in sight. I looked at my watch, and it was time to flip burgers. I felt trapped, one lemming among many lemmings headed for a cliff.

It seemed time for God to stop the universe and intervene in my life with some compassionate miracle, but of course it was ungrateful to think in such a manner. He knew what He was doing and I most definitely did not.

As I flipped burgers I thought maybe my problem was my craving for companionship. Being chaste was suppose to make one detached from sex, but having fifteen nubile teenagers and various “exes” parading around in my skull made me feel more like a lecher, obsessing on sex. At age thirty-one it seemed high time for me to realize marriage just wasn’t in the cards for me. After all, the Christ said, “Leave all and follow Me,”  and “leaving all” meant leaving all.

I wrinkled my nose and served fries with a look of such fierce disdain that one of the teenagers asked me if they’d done something wrong, and I hastily apologized, and said I was just remembering something unpleasant from long ago. That wasn’t entirely true, for the unpleasantness was in the present as well: To have any hope seemed an exercise in self-torture. I’d had a recent dream where a voice said, “The one you are waiting for is coming”, but that dream just made me hope, and then nothing came of it.  To hope was to hurt, and what use was that? Even worse, to hope was to hanker, and hankering seemed more Wicca than Christ-like. The entire business of “mental telegraphy” seemed lewd and polluted and gross.

After my shift flipping burgers I didn’t have to look ahead to a shift flipping doughnuts, as I had a rare night off. In fact I didn’t have work anywhere for a whole thirty-six hours. It seemed a great luxury, and after catching up on my sleep I planned to sit at my desk and enjoy actually having some time to think. But the next morning, just as I finished my first coffee and was getting engrossed in chain-smoking and rereading, there came a knock at my door. Swearing softly to myself, I assumed it was the dratted Jehovah’s Witnesses again.

When I opened the door I was confronted by a beautiful woman standing in a pool of morning sunshine, her brown hair lit by the low sun behind her like a halo of gold. As she met my eyes tears began running down her cheeks, and she spoke my name.

Yowza.

I resisted the urge to say, “Who the hell are you”, and tried to remember. She did look familiar, and then it came to me: An acquaintance; the daughter of friends of my mother; not anyone who should be looking at me with such devotion. I hugged her, partly because she was opening her arms as if it was expected, and invited her in, and we had coffee. Then, among other things, I learned I wasn’t a mad poet. I was a superhero.

It was a bit like a dream to sit having coffee with a beautiful woman who remembered things I had done in the past in a positive manner. It was like whiplash, compared to the tough-love I’d been getting from my friends, who looked at my dedication to art with disdain. Rather than seeing my deeds in the worst possible light, everything I did was invested with glamour.

One thing that enhanced my resume was the fact I was five years older than her, and this made me a glorious figure in her childhood. Where I might remember her as a scrawny little squirt, she remembered me as a looming, laughing presence, bopping into her life at odd intervals,  and always saving the day.

One time, when she was quite small, her mother had visited mine, and the little girl had somehow managed to lock herself into an upstairs bathroom of our old, Victorian house, which had old, Victorian locks that were difficult for a five-year-old to manage. The situation swiftly escalated into a full fledged panic. The hysteria seemed silly to a ten-year-old like myself, for I knew that upstairs bathroom could be accessed by a disused laundry chute. While the concerned mothers attempted to console the screaming girl through the locked door, I headed downstairs, removed a few shelves from a downstairs kitchen cabinet, and scooted up the chute. When my head popped up in a corner of the bathroom it seemed a sort of miracle to the little girl. I unlocked the door and accepted the praise of the mothers outside as my due, but largely the situation seemed a lot of fuss and bother about nothing. The scrawny little girl didn’t impress me as being particularly smart, if she couldn’t even unlock a door, but to her I was a superhero. I think I symbolized an angelic rescuer, who miraculously appears out of the blue when you are trapped.

During summers my family visited hers up in Canada, way out in cornfields, and there too she struck me as trapped. Her family was (insert religion of your choice), and freedom seemed disallowed, especially for girls. I must have seemed wonderfully free, for I didn’t even have to go to church on Sundays, was allowed to believe in dinosaurs, and boyishly insisted that God (and the United States) were all about freedom.

My reputation as a free man was only enhanced when at the age of fifteen I hitchhiked up through Canada, and dropped by.  (The world was far safer in 1968, and hitchhiking was allowed.) Even back then I was a moocher, but people seemed far gladder to have me as a house guest, (likely because I didn’t smoke, drink, or stay long.)

Actually my secret reason for choosing to hitchhike to cornfields far off the beaten path was a pretty farm-girl, who lived down the road. That farm-girl  saw me as a glamorous foreigner and smiled at me, while girls in my hometown did neither, and I saw this as a good reason to hitchhike five hundred miles. I certainly didn’t go all that way to impress a gangley little girl. But once I arrived I hadn’t a clue how to arrange any meetings with the farm-girl, so I was stuck with being a polite house guest, which involved doing a few things with the gangley little girl, such as going fishing. Unbeknownst to me, these were rare holidays for the child, for her father worked very hard at a machine shop and had no time for fishing with his daughter. So this furthered my superhero image.

Meanwhile romantic progress was slow, with the farm-girl who lived down the street. First, I was very shy, and second, I had to hitchhike five hundred miles. I was seventeen before I finally got the nerve to go swimming with her in a farm-pond out in the cornfields. She agreed that swimming on the hottest day of the summer sounded like a good idea, but the way she agreed and smiled almost sprawled me backwards into a seated position in the corn.

Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately), intruders spoiled the romance. We could not successfully arrange this romantic rendezvous, because little brats tagged along.  The farm-girl had two little brothers following her, and I had a gangley twelve-year-old girl and her little sister trailing me.  Despite the interference,  I did manage to swim with the farm-girl,  and the brief swim was the sort of harmless moment in time which old men look back upon fondly. The sky was very blue, her teeth were very white when she smiled, and drops of clear water sparkled in her long eyelashes.

I have always wondered if one of the farm-girl’s younger brothers, seeing how she and I were smiling at each other, didn’t decide her virtue was at stake, and that drastic action was needed. For some reason he deemed it necessary to grab a gangley twelve-year-old who didn’t know how to swim, and who didn’t dare wade deeper than her ankles, and to drag her out into waist-deep water.

The gangley girl’s screaming went from extremely annoying past downright distracting to requiring immediate action. Though the water by the shore was only waist-deep, the clay bottom was slippery, and she couldn’t get to her feet. She was floundering and choking, so I swam over, waded up to her, and helped her up. That should have been enough, but she was wracked by sobs and wouldn’t stop crying. I tried to console, but finally had to hoist her up to my shoulders and take her back home through the corn fields, gangley legs around my neck and sobbing torso hunched over my head like a hood.

As soon as I deposited her in her mother’s comforting arms I hustled back through all the corn, but the pond was deserted. Never has a lone bullfrog sounded so mournful. I muttered curses about the inconvenience of gangley little girls, but God works in mysterious ways. I may not have thought highly of her, but in the eyes of the gangley girl I was a hero who had saved her from drowning,

Now it was fourteen years later and she wasn’t gangley any more. Nor was she bound by any church’s rules and regulations. Her family had gone through a lot in the 1970’s, including renouncing (insert religion of your choice). Faith, in her eyes, was oppressive. She was refreshed through escaping the austerity of spiritual discipline, but had discovered that freedom exposed her to all sorts of bad people. She wanted to escape the bad people, and even sought the shelter of marriage, but discovered “every form of refuge has its price.”  She decided she wasn’t willing to pay that price, told her husband it was over, and just took off, hitchhiking across the continent looking for a superhero she could have faith in. And that was me.

It seemed a novel idea: That anyone could have faith in me. I certainly seemed to have lost the faith of even my most patient friends, and didn’t have much faith in myself, either. Not that I’d ever been very secure, but I’d had faith in whatever “it” was I was trying to write about. “It” was not anything as almighty as God, but something more like the radiance of God, an effluence of light, like a colored cloud at sunset; not the sun itself, but uplifting and enlightening all the same. And “it” still seemed worthy, but my weariness made me feel like I was trying to draw a sunset using charcoal. I had little faith in the effectiveness of my efforts.  Now my drab and gray discouragement was dazzled away by the blazing extravagance of infatuation.

I of course laughingly dismissed the idea I was a superhero, but apparently my modesty was exactly the sort of modesty a superhero would display; her admiring smile only widened.

I’ll admit I likely should have fought off the pleasure I felt, but it seemed better to be a pacifist. Even as we finished the coffee she arose and, still chatting, washed the cups and a few other dishes; I couldn’t remember the last time someone had washed a dish for me, though I myself had labored long hours and through oceans of suds as a dishwasher. What could be the harm of turning the tables a bit?

Although she was scornful of the religion she had renounced, she retained some habits. She wasn’t a suffragette who disdains housecleaning because they have been spoiled and don’t know how to do it;  the way she pottered about the kitchen showed domestic service was second nature to her.

She opened my refrigerator and critically scanned its nigh emptiness with an appraising eye. It held six eggs, a half quart of milk, half a stick of of butter, a bottle of ketchup, and stale cinnamon-raisin doughnuts. Without asking, she began clattering about preparing me breakfast. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had done that for me, either.

At some point she asked me if my shack had a bathroom. I gestured towards the bedroom doorway, and she vanished for a while. While she was gone I walked over to my typewriter, reread some gloom, and then pinched myself to make sure I was awake. Then, when I myself had to use the bathroom later, I noticed my bed was made.

I’ll admit I felt some vague sense of apprehension when she referred to me as “master”, but she was obviously worn out from her travels. I told her to forget the breakfast dishes, but she insisted on doing them. Only then would she lay down on my bed, on top of the covers, and soon she was softly snoring. I went to my typewriter, but couldn’t think of a word to write. All I could do is look at the wall, which was lit by indirect sunshine and looked far brighter than usual.

Eventually I looked back to page 121B4 in “The Novel That Never Was”.  It described the protagonist struggling to resist a beautiful woman, and how it was “difficult” remaining pure. After rereading and chain-smoking, and decided to add page 121B4a, I swiftly became engrossed, and was making such a racket typing away at page 121B4g that I did not hear my house guest arise and come up behind me. She began massaging my shoulders as if that was the most natural thing to do. I paused my typing, and considered replacing the word “difficult” with “impossible.”

We did manage to remain pure for a while. I think we lasted 36 hours.

My life became entirely different. The only things that remained the same were my friends, who all became, if anything, more critical than ever.  It seemed to ruin their tough-love to have me get love that wasn’t tough, and I imagined they were bitter about my abrupt and unexpected happiness. I basically told them all to go get screwed. I was in the la-la land described in the old Percy Sledge song.

When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world
For the good thing he’s found
If she’s bad he can’t see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend
If he put her down

For the most part I felt the doubters had shifted from tough-love to green envy. None encouraged me. They all had things to say such as, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Not a single one quoted Henry Ford, “If you say you can, or say you can’t, you’re right.”

The one doubter who got through to me was a good neighbor in the surfer slum, who was crashing from the heavens of a fling of his own, and who simply stated, “If she left her husband then she can leave you.” Something about his sad assurance slightly unnerved me.

It spoils the plot for me to admit he was right, however I had two months in heaven, and I’m from the north, and am used to summers that only last two months. A lot can be accomplished in those two months that feeds the barren ten.

Not that I had changed my ideas about one-night-stands and short-term-relationships being destructive. During the thirty-six hours we remained pure we talked at length about the foolishness of thinking marriage had anything to do with church or state, and how priests and politicians should butt out of people’s private lives,  and I stressed that when two people committed to each other the commitment should be 100%, with no room for doubt. She had smiled and nodded, because it is easy to be 100% committed to a superhero. What I should have asked her is whether the commitment can remain 100% once you realize the superhero isn’t so super, or whether you can claim the contract is null and void because you were tricked into signing under false pretenses. In any case, we exchanged rings. We couldn’t afford gold so we made them out of rawhide. As far as I was concerned, she was my common-law wife. Her happiness was more important than my own.

While I was definitely in la-la land, and while my friends were in some ways correct to roll their eyes and call me madder than ever, there was an objective part of me that sat back and took notes about the amazing changes I was undergoing.  After all, one doesn’t want to feel like a puppet, completely controlled by their circumstances. Some people simply behave as they are told; when people call them a dog they behave like a dog and when people call them a superhero they behave like a superhero. I had resisted the negative labeling when it seemed that all called me a lazy moocher, and now I resisted thinking I was marvelous when I was called a superhero, (though I’ll admit the resistance was feeble at times, because I truly did feel marvelous).

One change that hit me like a ton of bricks was the decent of a profound tranquility. The herd of teenagers and “exes” in my head completely vanished, as did all sorts of “mental telegraphy”. I supposed this was caused by the door in my mind, which I accidentally pried open by being celibate, being slammed shut. (Also she started working with me at the burger place, and with her extra pay we could afford meat.) However I enjoyed becoming less “psychic”, because the racket in my head ceased. Silence is golden, and better for the brain than Valium.

In this tranquility I became shockingly (to my friends) practical and pragmatic. Although it may be selfish to attend to only one woman, and not fifteen teenagers, it greatly simplifies matters, and leaves a vast part of the mind free to attend to things other than drama.

I noticed popular music became suddenly dull. It no longer spoke to me. When I listened, I noted most of such music involved longing for love, with the longing ranging through a rainbow from red rage to blue sorrow. All such music was behind me and in the past tense, for I now had what everyone wanted.

Another large part of my brain had been committed to rebutting my friend’s tough-love, which tended to argue “you will never get what you want unless you obey us.”  How stupid their arguments appeared, now that I had what everyone wanted. I refused to waste my time arguing with them any longer, and that freed up another acreage of my mind. All my rebuttals of their Californian tough-love went silent, for rebuttals were unnecessary, and the silence was golden.

In my newfound tranquility it was quite easy to plan the next 40 years. It was a good plan, and could have worked, (but for obvious reasons I likely shouldn’t talk far beyond the following two months).

The goal was to escape California, and get to a Polynesian Island. We agreed about this, but lacked transport. Therefore we needed to amass funds. My plan was for us to work at a computer start-up and live frugally in a surfer slum, but she suggested there might be a better way, as she “knew people who knew people”.

This piqued my curiosity, and I asked what her connections were. They impressed me, for one offered immediate escape from California, and the other offered money for my writing.  It seemed too good to be true, and was. In such situations one should always “Trust but verify.”  Instead I nodded, and told her to look into it, trusting her completely.

Her first idea involved working on a ranch in New Mexico. It would pay far less than computer start-ups would pay, but, with no rent, we would actually save more. I liked the idea of learning how to ride a horse outdoors in beautiful scenery. I didn’t like the idea of learning about “hard drives” and “computer code” indoors under florescent lighting.  New Mexico became part of our plan.

The second involved a publisher in Toronto. This excited me, for it is a “break” for any writer to actually know someone in the business of publishing. To submit an “unsolicited” work is a bit like a serf requesting an audience with the Czar.  Often your work is sent back without anyone bothering to look at it. (I knew this, for I had cynically sent works with little hairs of rubber cement that would be broken if anyone bothered lift the title page and read the first paragraph. My efforts were placed back into the stamped, self-addressed envelopes (which those cheap bastards insisted I include, though they could afford stamps and I couldn’t), without anyone making the effort to read them. To me this proved those rich bastards could afford to pay a poor drone to send back manuscripts without reading the first page, but couldn’t pay attention to me or any of the other mad poets who sweated blood to submit hard work.  Those publishers at least should have had the honesty to say, “Do not submit unless we ask you to submit,”  but that would have made them look like the privileged royalists they were. The communities of mad poets recognized what inbred, royalist hemophiliacs publishers were, [though some editors claimed to be non-royalist capitalists and some editors claimed to be non-royalist socialists]. Consequently it was generally recognized, “It’s not what you know; it is who you know,” and therefore many young writers stopped paying attention to writing, and payed more attention to getting-to-know-an-editor.)

The idea that “The Novel That Never Was” might be looked at by an actual editor had a remarkable effect. It drastically shrank the novel.

This seemed odd, because all my prior efforts to get people to look at it had only made it get longer. But those readers only read a part, sometimes only a paragraph, and when readers didn’t “get it”, (or “got it” but didn’t approve), I felt I hadn’t explained enough, and wrote more, to explain what they didn’t “get”.

In many cases it was obvious the reason they didn’t “get it” was that they were incapable retards; some Californians were blatant dunces, like the German royalty who legend states criticized Mozart for writing music with “too many notes”, because inept royalty’s handfuls of thumbs could not play Mozart’s music. But in other cases the criticism made me aware I myself didn’t understand why a character behaved the way they did. This resulted in my writing sidetracks and flashbacks, seeking answers. The plot would grind to a halt, as a character launched into long soliloquies about what grandfathers had heard from their grandfathers. At times I’d even stop writing to study history books, for history was more important than getting to the climax of the story, which struck some readers as all foreplay without ever an orgasm.

Now I suddenly found myself throwing away all the sidetracks and backtracks, and keeping only the answers. As a rough guess, I’d say I threw a thousand pages away.

I probably threw some delicious stuff away, if you are interested in oyster stew. But I wanted to throw away all the slimy glop and keep only the pearls, to make a pearl necklace. What was remarkable to me was that I was able to do it. My mind was working in a completely different way. I was even able to write a synopsis of the tale, when we got a letter from the editor in Toronto requesting one.  I wrote it and my new wife corrected the spelling and typed it out. Then it was mailed, with a return address in New Mexico.

I gave notice at all my jobs and checked the oil and tire pressure of my tiny, old Toyota and sold everything I could sell at a yard sale. I threw the rest of my stuff away, except for seven cardboard boxes, which held all I owned, including “The Novel That Never Was.”

Then I said good-bye to my friends and family. It was basically “good-bye forever”. I doubted they’d visit Polynesia. But they shouldn’t be sad. If they didn’t like me then they should be happy they didn’t have to put up with me any more. I was happy I didn’t have to put up with them, though I did face a final flurry of worry, as I left.

There were things I had neglected to do, but my wife and I were fed up with a world that was more interested in stumbling blocks than in clearing the path. Both church and state were nothing but an obstacle, and we both felt that if you tried to obey all their nitpicking rules you’d never get anywhere.

For example, she, being from Canada, was suppose to fill out all sorts of forms to work at the burger joint in the United States, but we didn’t bother. It would have taken months, and she only needed to work for six weeks. So we just said the hell with it, and made up a social security number, and she worked as an illegal alien. We figured that by the time they caught on to us we’d be in Polynesia.

In like manner my car still had Maine plates from 1975. For years I’d been able to update the plates by getting a little sticker through the mail. Also Maine was one of the last states that had driving licences without a photo on them. Lastly, legality in Maine was far cheaper than the states I wandered through, and I felt those states had a lot of nerve requiring me to pay for a new licence and registration when I was only passing through. They sure didn’t pay unemployment when I got fired from jobs, just passing through. In any case, I had remained quasi-legal until 1984, when Maine stopped mailing me stickers, and also stated I had to get a newfangled licence with a photo. So I was now a criminal. But we’d only be Bonnie and Clyde until we reached Polynesia. Once there we planned to find a beach free of bureaucrats.

The one bureaucratic thing I did attend to involved getting a passport. (It is interesting to look at the serene, confident and healthy face portrayed on that passport, and compare it to the gaunt and haggard face from the New Mexico driving licence I got three months later.)

Though I think we were correct to feel the bureaucrats of both the church and the state  are all too often more concerned with preventing than assisting, I now can see there were things I myself should have hesitated at, and looked into more deeply. But that assumes one has time to think. I was responding without time to think.

Among the many things I didn’t do right, one thing I did do right was to, (rather quietly, desperately and secretly), throw myself at the feet of God and apologize.

Why was my prayer secret? My prayer was secret because my new wife tended to scowl at the mention of God, as she’d had such awful experiences with religion.

My wife stated we should put our faith in our love. To me love was the same thing as God, but I didn’t press the issue, because I preferred her smiling and nodding, to her scowling. But it made me nervous not to press the issue, because I figured God would notice my failure to praise Him and to shout of His glory from the rooftops. I’d read somewhere that if you are embarrassed about God then God will be embarrassed about you. I prayed to God to forgive me, and promised I’d “press the issue” as soon as He safely got us to Polynesia.

What was the issue? The issue was that if you exclude God from love then all you are left with is human fallibility.  Human love may see the divinity in their partner, and think their partner is a superhero, but sooner or later they will see their partner face a sort of kryptonite,  and superman will become a weenie and fall flat on his face.  It is this kryptonite that dooms us to losing faith in ourselves and our partners, and it is then we  most need perfect Love and a true Superman; IE: God. (In other words, a successful marriage requires three, not two.)

Perhaps God gently expressed His disapproval over being excluded, for I saw my new wife unexpectedly exposed as something less than superwoman, just before we left. Her imperfections didn’t trouble me all that much, because, after all, I’d always been older and she’d only recently graduated (in my opinion) from being a gangley squirt. But I was troubled by something I never had time to think about. It had something to do with expecting  too much from her, and disdaining God.  And it almost seemed that God wanted me to be well aware that, unlike He, she was imperfect.

We faced an onslaught of doubters attempting to talk us out of Polynesia. Why they thought it was helpful to attempt to derail us was beyond me. What is so bad about tropical islands? What is so bad about palm trees dropping lunch in the sand with a thump? What is so bad about fishing off a coral reef for dinner, rather than eating at a fast food joint? What is so bad about no heating bills and no air conditioning bills? What is so bad about a minimalist life, with no electricity but no landlord, no government, and no preachy church?

Yet everyone seemed dedicated to talking us out of our effort, under the guise of making sure we had considered every worry and “ironed out all the details”. I even had a family member fly in from far away. And though there was an attempt to wish us well, it was with an incredulity which hinted at the oily voice of Satan.  I didn’t blame my common-law wife for cracking under the duress, and flinching towards unwise relief.

The first breach of discipline involved the fact we were not suppose to blow money by going out. Our budget was frugal and strict. However frugality fights freedom,  and I’d have to preach, “Freedom isn’t free” when we felt the urge to go out. But my wife hated the religion-like restraint,  and demanded escape from chains using lots of clever arguments of the “all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy” sort.  I knew all the arguments, because I’d used them as excuses for writing, and I knew all the counter-arguments, for my friends spoke them when hitting me with tough-love. In the end I decided we could afford one night out.

The night out involved driving to Santa Cruz and riding a huge and primitive roller coaster. She got such joy out of  the wild freedom of being whipped about and jerked up and down that I felt the infringement upon our budget was well worth it. But then she said “let’s do it again!”  After the fifth ride the green tint of my skin should have been proof I was no superman, but perhaps she felt I was displaying a superhuman concern for budgets, when I said a sixth ride was unwise.

The second breach of discipline involved a friend who thought it would be helpful, on one of the final nights I was away working at the doughnut shop, to show up after midnight when my common-law wife was home alone, with a bag of cocaine to share. I felt she should have refused his generosity, but she felt that would have been rude.  When I arrived home from the shop at dawn she confessed he had dropped by, and asked me to forgive her, pointing at a line of white powder on the counter she had saved for me, as if saving it for me was redemption. The situation made me feel as queasy as a roller coaster, but I forgave her because I knew she was under duress and was flinching towards unwise relief. To show her I forgave her I snorted the cocaine, even though I didn’t much like the stuff, and deemed coffee superior.

(My one serious experiment with cocaine was due to the fact I had read that Robert Lewis Stephenson wrote “Jekyll and Hyde” when a doctor prescribed cocaine when he was suffering a high fever. He produced the rough draft swiftly, only taking a day or two, but when his wife criticized his effort he threw it into the fire in a fit of temper, stomped off, and rewrote the epic we now read, by the next morning.

Stephenson’s experience was attractive to me, because “The Novel That Never Was” was  taking a lot longer.  My novel insisted upon going into sidetracks and flashbacks, and refused to be done. I wondered if cocaine might give me miraculous powers, and I might make amazing progress over a single night. I could not afford the stuff, but a friend helped me, and I snorted a considerable amount of cocaine during a twenty-four hour period, being a mad poet when I should have been working a Real Job.

What I discovered is cocaine doesn’t work, for minds like mine. Rather than brilliant it made me dull. I did seem to avoid some sidetracks and flashbacks, but that was not helpful, because I just obsessed on one particular flashback, which got boring. It was as if I became myopic and lost all my peripheral vision.  At the end of this experiment I could only conclude that some people find relief in having their minds narrowed down like tweezers. But my mind was different. I needed a broader view, and peripheral vision, to see the elephant in the room, and I knew tweezers are useless when dealing with an elephant.)

In any case I made it clear to my wife cocaine was not a wise option, especially for people on a reduced budget, but she said it hadn’t cost us a cent so we shouldn’t worry. Still, apprehension stirred in the back of my brain and stomach.

The third breach of discipline involved the fact my wife had achieved a great victory over weakness. Once she had feared water, and only dared wade ankle-deep because she didn’t know how to swim. However part of her escape from religion involved refusing to be imprisoned by terror, and one thing she did was to learn how to swim.  It gave her great joy to defeat what had once terrified her, and to swim with her was to witness a person experiencing what I can only describe as ecstasy.

I felt no such ecstasy swimming in California, for that far north the water was too cold. It was even colder than Maine. The surfers wore wet-suits. I might plunge briefly into the water on a hot day, but I didn’t stay in long, for my body had no fat and I’d chill quickly.  Mostly I liked to lay in the hot sand and watch others.

One day we managed to free ourselves from drudgery long enough to walk to the shore, and I dove briefly into the icy water, and then sat in the sand enjoying watching her ecstatic smile as she stayed in longer. Then I became concerned as she swam through the inshore surf  and out farther. It occurred to me that she had no idea how cold the water actually was, and how great the danger of hypothermia was. I stood up and waved for her to come in, but she didn’t seem to see, and instead turned to swim out even further.

I came to an instant decision and ran into the surf to swim out to her and tell her to come back, but once I had battled through the surf I couldn’t see her. The water felt like laying in a tub of crushed ice; my skin was burning. I swam further and further out, looking around from the top of each wave, but still couldn’t see her. A horrible, haunted feeling was growing in my gut, and I was muttering, “Oh God, don’t let it end like this.” Then I spotted her, around a hundred yards up the long blue line of a wave, being lifted up, still smiling up at the sky, and then waving happily at me as I swam towards her yelling. Her face only changed to concern as I drew close, and she saw how stern I was. I said, “This water is too cold. Hypothermia. Get back to shore.”

Swimming back to shore probably didn’t take that long, but felt like a long, aching ordeal to me, and I barely made it. As we staggered up onto the sand we both were shivering uncontrollably. The sand was hot away from the water, but we couldn’t stop shivering. I said we should walk home for some hot coffee. As we limped over the hot tar she gradually stopped shivering, but I couldn’t stop. As we got back she heated up some coffee and I got into the shower with the water as hot as I cold stand. It was bizarre to shiver in a hot shower, but I felt cold to my core; only my skin got hot. I only stopped shivering as I drank the hot coffee, and even then I still felt cold and had goosebumps.

This should have been proof I was not a superhero, because superheros don’t shiver. But I suppose I may have again saved her life; the danger seemed a lot realer than when I helped her stand up in waist-deep water in Canada, when she was a gangley girl. But what stuck me was how oblivious she was that she was in danger.

I felt perhaps she was equally oblivious of the danger of our drive to New Mexico.  While we both were in la-la land, at times her disdain of church and state seemed like a disdain of other laws, like the law of gravity. I felt that, if we were going to scorn the law like Bonnie and Clyde, we should at least respect the law enough to take steps to avoid it. As much as possible I planned to drive at night, when my illegal Maine plates would be less conspicuous.

Finally the day for our departure arrived, and we left. I was  glad to leave all the doubters behind, but had doubts of my own. I silently prayed a lot as we drove into the twilight, her head on my shoulder. Our plan was to rest at a friend-of-a-friend she had just east of LA, and then continue on from there to the ranch in New Mexico.

We passed through LA after dark, and, even late at night, the traffic was terrible. It might have even been worse than day-time’s, for during rush hour it is bumper-to-bumper but slow, while at midnight it was bumper-to-bumper at breakneck speed. All I wanted to do was get though the hell of an endless expanse of city.

Surely midst the facelessness of such vast and inexcusable urbanization there are some spiritual neighborhoods, and even churches of loving people. However it seemed to me they must be the exception to the rule. ,For the most part such a city seemed to me like a cancer, an uncontrolled growth abhorring what was healthy.  Most didn’t even know their neighbors. They were faceless because they preferred having no face. They couldn’t face having one.

As my tinny and tiny Toyota screamed through the night like an enraged sewing machine, all I wanted to do was get my love, now snugly asleep on my lap, safely through the heart of what we were escaping: California.

As I negotiated the traffic, and the switches from one freeway to the next freeway, I saw in all directions a vast plateau of lights people didn’t turn off when they went to bed. They didn’t turn the lights off because they couldn’t trust. It was a world utterly wrong, and utterly different from Norman Rockwell’s small towns, or Polynesian Islands.

To keep myself awake I sipped at a big thermos of coffee,  and sketched out epic poems and trilogies I’d someday write. I was a good all-night driver, for I have the sort of brain that can stay busy and not fall asleep. I recall I was inventing a city like LA ruled by three witches, but was struggling to name the third witch. The first witch was based on Greed, and the second on Lust.  But the third?  Then I hit upon the idea of laziness. For, when you are running away, there is something you do not want to face, and even when it takes far more energy to avoid-facing than it would take to face,  you are manifesting a sort of laziness by avoiding.  Or “Sloth”, as they called it back in medieval times.

Next I had to figure out the physical characteristics of this witch of Sloth.  She, being a witch, had  to be ugly, but what sort of bends should her warty nose have?  And it was as I was sketching this witch in my imagination, and we began to head east and climb out of LA, that the engine made a sound as if it was exploding.

It went from a quiet screaming, like a deranged sewing machine, to a PAH-FOOM like a bomb, followed by a sort of GNAH that went on and on, amazingly loud. I heard metalic clanks under the car and saw some sparks on the road in the rear view mirror. I think I did a good job decelerating from 75 mph and finding my way from the passing lane to the breakdown lane in the insane traffic.  Once we had stopped I cut the engine and looked under the car with a flashlight, and saw no fluid dripping. Next I restarted the car, and, as it idled with a more subdued form of  GNAH, I looked again. Vastly relieved, I saw we had blown out a portion of the exhaust pipe between the engine and the muffler. The noise would be a nuisance, but the car would run.  I even joked: Because my tiny Toyota had only a 1200cc engine, it was the same as a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle, and we could pretend we were bikers in black leather. We accellerated with a deafening roar and headed uphill through LA, heading west, going GNAH.

My wife didn’t get the joke. I don’t blame her for not liking being woken that way. But I think she awoke in another way as well. She realized I wasn’t a superhero. Why? Because, for just a moment there, as the car made a horrible noise and swerved through speeding traffic to the breakdown lane, she saw me exposed to kryptonite. My heart was in my throat and my language contained expletives I should have deleted. I understood all too clearly I was with an illegal-alien wife in an illegal car that held everything I owned in the middle of LA in the middle of the night. I think I did rather well, given the circumstances, but perhaps a true superhero never allows such circumstances to happen.  I can honestly say my wife never really smiled lovingly at me again.

Of course I dismissed it as a “mood” at first.  It is hard to smile in a Toyota that sounds like a Harley. But, as we drove west, following directions to the friend-of-a-friends,  I noticed that, after we took a ramp off the freeway, we abruptly were climbing into a quiet and privileged neighborhood, where Toyota’s that sound like Harley’s are not welcome at 3:00 AM. And when we arrived at a small mansion and a man walked out I suddenly recognized our host as a friend of my mother’s, who I’d met a few times as a boy. It was my wife’s uncle.

I think the uncle did quite well, but his lips were tightly pressed, and I had the sense he did not approve of his niece ditching her first husband to run off to Polynesia with a buffoon. He was very kind to offer us a place to sleep, but I had the sense nothing I said was anything he felt was worth listening to; I could have been talking Swahili. For my part, I felt my wife should have warned me that the friend-of-friend was not exactly an ally.  Though exhausted, I did not sleep well.

Daylight revealed we were in a very posh neighborhood. I had coffee on a patio overlooking the flatness of LA from on high.  It was not what I expected. I’d expected a friend-of-friend’s abode would be in some surfer-slum or artist’s-slum or some other slum where I fit in. I did not fit in, on this particular patio, but I attempted to look like a wealthy novelist writing a best seller, sipping coffee and scribbling into a notebook (that now has yellowing pages). Meanwhile I could not help but note my host only talked to me in a most uncomprehending way, and did not take me aside to give me any tough-love.  Instead he did something rather rude.  He took my wife aside.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

After a late start we did escape LA, which I hoped might improve my wife’s mood.  It didn’t. I blamed her uncle’s advise, which she didn’t want to talk about, and also blamed our car’s non-stop “GNAH”. It was four hours and around 200 miles even before we crossed into Arizona. In an attempt to please her I detoured north to peer into the Grand Canyon.  It was a waste of time. The smiles I treasured were withheld. The Grand Canyon only delayed us, so we didn’t make it to the ranch, and stayed in a KOA campground in Gallup, New Mexico. In the morning we would take a road south to the ranch, down towards the Zuni Reservation.

The distances we crossed were huge. It was 400 miles just crossing Arizona, even without the detour to the Grand Canyon. I could see that people from “back east” or Europe couldn’t fully comprehend what it is like to drive long periods of time and still be in the same place.  They especially couldn’t comprehend enduring such drives in a Toyota going “GNAH.”

The desert struck me as ravishingly beautiful. The summer rains had been generous, and the desert bloomed. It also was surprisingly green, and the way the green contrasted with red, orange, yellow and peach-colored stone was beyond beauty. As I attempted to be poetic the only ugly thing was my wife. It was increasingly obvious I was no longer on her list of superheroes. I blamed the constant “GNAH” noise, though I was not sure it was the noise that was giving me a headache.

At last we turned off onto a well-graded gravel drive and drove around a mile up a long slow slope, to a house that was not what I expected. I expected stockades and rough-hewed sheds and perhaps a rambling ranch house of logs with a stove-pipe chimney.  This house was elegant with patios around the sides and big sliding glass doors.  Glancing about I did not see a cow or horse in sight.  The view was amazing, and the silence was awesome, especially after the deafening days in a muffler-less car.

There was no one there to meet us, which seemed odd, but my wife looked cranky about it, and contributed to the silence. I felt she had some explaining to do, but nothing I said seemed able to start a conversation; all my words fell strangely flat; I felt like a comedian bombing-out before a scowling crowd; for example, after peering in through a sliding glass door at modern furniture with shiny chrome, I said, “Well, apparently the price of of cows is pretty high.” This earned me a look of disgust. I sighed and decided we both could use some time to recover from the drive, and retrieved my notebook from the car and then sat on a stranger’s patio, looking out over the beautiful desert.

As a lifelong moocher I was fairly good at making myself at home on other people’s porches, but something seemed very different. I didn’t exactly feel I was trespassing, but that I was being carefully watched by something that was absolutely huge, beyond enormous.  This watcher was different from the three witches I fantasized in the night skies of LA. I felt like I should be very respectful. Then I rubbed my road-weary eyes. Where were these thoughts coming from?   I was too tired; it was stress talking. I tried to focus on something more pragmatic, like the geology of a layer of cream-colored limestone capping red sandstone forty miles away. Then, much closer, I saw a cloud of dust and heard, small in the huge silence, the faint sound of a truck.

The truck gradually approached until, jouncing and bouncing, it pulled up beside my puny car. The truck was muddy up to its driver-side window, well above my Toyota’s roof. A big, blond man got out and looked down at my car, more in amazement than in contempt, and he then noticed me and my wife on the porch. He waved and walked over to us with enormous strides, and casually spoke to my wife, “Your aunt and uncle are off on vacation; you’re welcome to stay where you stayed before. They’ll be back next week.”

I gave her a glance.  Another uncle?  This was not what I envisioned.

She obviously didn’t want to talk about it, and we carried our bags into a beautiful guestroom with a spectacular view, where she lay down to rest, as I went out to talk to the huge ranch hand.  He deserves a name, so I’ll call him “Norse”, for he struck me as a Westernized Viking, or else a Cowboy without a drawl. He was tall, clear-faced, kind, didn’t smoke or drink, and made me feel inferior without trying. He would have been accepted for a try-out in the National Football League no questions asked, and walked with such huge strides that I had to trot to keep up with him. Though I am six feet tall he made me feel as puny as my car.  I attempted to sound casual, as I asked questions and got answers which were somewhat devastating, as he casually loaded hundred-fifty-pound coils of fencing into to the back of his huge pick-up, like they were cardboard.

He didn’t know what my wife was talking about. There was no opening for me to be a hand at the ranch. Perhaps she was talking about so-and-so at the next ranch over, four miles off, over there towards that mesa, though so-and-so needed a baby-sitter more than he needed a hand. He’d drive me over tomorrow and we could ask. He added, as if excusing his own generosity, that my car would never make it through the muddy ruts.

My wife had more explaining to do, but a nap didn’t improve her mood. When I tried to gently bring up our predicament I somehow found myself sidetracked into a petty discussion about whether the absent rancher was her uncle or not. Apparently an uncle’s wife’s sister’s husband was not an uncle.  And we seemed to be rapidly descending into a quibble about whether or not only a moron would say it was wrong to describe such a non-uncle as a “friend-of-a-friend”.

Back when I was a bachelor I had always rolled my eyes when I saw my married friends involved in gruesomely uncomfortable quarrels with their wives; now they seemed a lot more reasonable. But I supposed this was merely our first quarrel, and we’d get through it, yet it sure was unadulterated misery.  My stomach hurt. I couldn’t understand why my wife didn’t even try to be nice.  I myself tried, attempting to change the subject to the spectacular view, but she found fault with my appreciation. She said she didn’t see why I had to ruin everything with geology, when geology didn’t even exist. She was reverting to (insert religion of your choice) and stating dinosaurs were a lie. Why did I have to spoil a perfectly good view with science?  Couldn’t I just leave it alone?

I said I’d try, and then just looked at her, dumbfounded. It seemed incredible that such a beautiful woman could look so ugly.  Why did she wrinkle her nose like that? Even the way she sat seemed intentionally uncomfortable. She was twisted into a hunch with her knees beside her ears, and looked strangely like the personification of an itch.

Again I didn’t sleep well.

The next morning Norse made a phone call, and then drove us to the adjoining ranch. The ride was great fun, as when we hit muddy sections of road Norse would gun the engine and we became a sort of speedboat, and he had a definite Cowboy grin. Horses may have given way to trucks, and rode to road, but a Cowboy was still a Cowboy.

As we churned up from the muck and drove a dry section of driveway up to the ranch house I saw this was much more like an old fashioned ranch. There were no picture windows or chrome in sight.  But the rancher shook his head. He had no need of a ranch hand.  But he did need my wife. He had children, and his own wife had died.

Arriving back at the first ranch I felt my wife had more explaining to do than ever. I had left three jobs for no job whatsoever. How was this going to get us to Polynesia?  Rather than answering my question my wife said she had missed her period.  Rather than thinking that this failed to answer my question, I felt it explained everything. I became tender and surprisingly, (for a misled man with no job), sympathetic. I said we needed to become very practical (which might make some readers laugh) and that we should, before we did anything too drastic, make sure she actually was pregnant.  This necessitated the purchase of a newfangled “pregnancy test” from the nearest drug store.  Norse informed me I’d have to drive all the way back to Gallup, an hour north. I hopped in my car and, with a loud GNAH, set off to purchase the kit.

I drove in a daze, and the drive took longer than my wife approved of, for besides a pregnancy kit, it seemed that, as a potential father, it might be a good thing to look for a job. Even more than a job, I craved cigarettes, and I pulled over at a tiny market in the middle of nowhere, not much more than a shack.  Besides asking for cigarettes I asked for a job, and, because the old fellow running the lonesome market had long stretches of time to wait between customers, and was garrulous, I’d smoked a fifth of the pack before I left.

He was not reassuring. He stated he could not hire me; he could barely afford to hire himself and was thinking of closing his store. The problem was Hippies. Folk used to be able to drive ninety minutes east-northeast and make big bucks at the Uranium mines in Grants, but anti-nuke Hippies had wrecked that, and now people had to pack up and leave, or else starve. Hippies didn’t understand that to close a mine didn’t just hurt the owner, it hurt all the workers and all the little bars and markets like his. It even hurt the ranchers and Indians. He made a joke of this. He said Hippies thought Indians would like them, for putting so-called “Nature” before Uranium, but what they did was take away fat paychecks and give Indians unemployment,  so Indians thought Hippies sucked.

When I inquired about jobs on ranches, the fellow gave me far too much information. He was too willing, in my humble opinion, to gossip. He shattered my naive assumption that ranches were a Norman Rockwell reality, untouched by California.  Instead he spoke of the good old days, before the Hippy nonsense of wife-swapping afflicted the ranches.  The 1970’s were hard on the ranches, like everywhere else. The old shopkeeper did not approve, and spoke of his disapproval in a manner that pricked my conscience.

My conscience was pricked because besides gossiping about husbands who swapped wives, he gossiped disapprovingly about wives who swapped husbands.  That was too close to home,  for me. But what was even worse was when the garrulous old shopkeeper described a rancher who, hurt by the swapping, took a stand against the swapping, and became a preacher of (insert religion of your choice). As he spoke I was stunned, realizing this good preacher was my wife’s uncle, who I had never met, but whose ranch I was staying at.

My face must have worn a strange expression, for the shopkeeper stopped talking. I was thinking, “A preacher?  Her uncle’s a preacher? And I’m committing adultery with his niece?  And we’re running away to have a baby in Polynesia?” I excused myself and walked out to my car in a daze. A classic comment from Oliver and Hardy drifted through my mind.

No man likes to admit he has miscalculated, but my journey to Polynesia was not beginning as I planned. However a man must play the hand he is dealt, and I was not ready to fold. After all, no great endeavor would ever be achieved if one allowed a few piffling details to make one a quitter. As I started up my car with a GNAH and pulled away from the tiny market I was glad to see a young Indian man hitchhiking ahead. The world might be cruel to me, but that didn’t mean I had to be cruel in return. In fact it seemed a sort of defiance to be kind, so I pulled over to pick him up.

I apologized for the noise, and he shouted back “I’m used to loud cars,”  flashing me a very white smile. I liked him immediately, perhaps because it had been several days since I’d been smiled at, and we shouted to and fro like old friends as we drove through the beautiful desert. When we got to the turn-off where he asked to be dropped off I said I might as well drive him up to his house, and we headed up a road of bright red dirt between vivid green pinyon pines. I was nervous we’d be stopped by mud, but the road stuck to the high and dry ground, dipping and rolling, with the car always tipping left or right and never level, for mile after mile. Finally we rounded a sharp curve to a lone hogan, small but with lots of laundry on the line outside. The young man hopped out, and said “you are a very kind man,” and, with a modest inclination of my head, I backed around and headed back out the incredibly beautiful dirt track, digesting all the information the cheerful young man had shared as we shouted.

He said work was hard to find, and this was the good season. Once the tourists left things would really get rough. Unemployment was the rule and not the exception.  And yes, pregnant women could be difficult. But that might not be the only reason she was bitchy. Tourists were not used to being up at an altitude of 8000 feet. They lost their minds a lot. If we’d just come from the seaside we might be losing our minds for a while. I shouldn’t let it bother me. He’d noticed the same thing when he got out of the Army, and came home. You would only be crazy for a couple weeks, and then your blood would thicken up. Gallup was a thousand feet lower but tourists lost their minds there, too. I should check in at the unemployment office to the left on the road into town. They were not much help in the office, but I might meet other guys looking for work there,  who might know where the construction sites were and the spot labor was.

I did not spot the unemployment office as I drove into Gallup. I was looking for a gigantic bureaucratic edifice, when I should have been looking for a small, squat structure made of white sheet metal. The Registry of Motor Vehicles was the same; I should have been looking for a building not much larger than an over-sized trailor, but was looking for a vast Californian cathedral-to-inefficiency, full of lines of people waiting impatiently for bored tellers behind plastic counters. Gallup in 1984 had a long way to go to catch up, in terms of bureaucratic wastefulness.

I really knew I was in a different world when a police car pulled up behind me at a traffic light on old route 66 in downtown Gallup. I thought that the officer might notice that the little sticker on my 1975 Maine plates only updated my plates to 1983, and not to 1984. Sudden sweat trickled down my back. Then I noticed the pick-up in front of me did not even bother with having plates. To my astonishment I noticed the same was true for another pick-up in the lane next to me. I then spotted a third plate-less pick-up parked on the road-side.

I inquired about the phenomenon of trucks without licence plates at the drugstore, which was very modern and did have pregnancy tests. The clerk was an old Hispanic lady who looked me up and down in an appraising way, when she saw I was buying a pregnancy test. Her eyes came to rest on the rawhide ring on my ring finger, and she definitely disapproved, so it seemed good to change the subject to pick-up trucks. She also disapproved of scoff-laws, but informed me  that the “Indio” resented “Anglos” coming into their land and making up a bunch of bossy rules, but the police were too busy with drunks to bother with petty infractions such as missing licence plates. I tried to make my eyes very round and innocent, nodding and agreeing that rules were only there to protect people from consequences, and should be obeyed. The old lady glanced at me with a knowing smile, patted the back of my hand, and handed me the pregnancy test. As I left I decided maybe she only scowled because maybe she needed glasses.

I actually thought it was a good sign that people in Gallup didn’t come down too hard on people who didn’t dot every bureaucratic “i” and cross every bureaucratic “t”,  and thought my wife might be glad to get this news when I got back to the ranch. She was not. Nor was she the slightest bit interested in hearing that people went crazy when they went from sea-level to 8000 feet. Instead she shot me a look as if she was saying, “Are you calling me crazy?”  I decided the best thing to do would be to shut up, and have her take the pregnancy test.

It was negative. When I told her the results she grinned. A grin is very different from a smile, sometimes. A smile holds love, but a grin can be sheer selfishness. As she grinned she looked up at me and our eyes met, and then she quickly looked away. She did not want to talk about it.

Things that are quite obvious to me now were not at all obvious to me then. I could not understand. I was incredulous. How could this woman, who so recently saw me as a superhero, now behave as if the sight of me made her skin crawl? What had I done that was so different?

Because I couldn’t talk to her I sat down on the patio with the unbelievably beautiful view,  and the overpowering silence, and the sense someone huge was watching, and “expressed myself” into my notebook.

The yellowing pages do not show the scribbles of a very calm nor rational man. I was very angry about the way my honeymoon was turning into hell, and was grasping at straws like a drowning man. I was seeking a cause,  a reason, but this turned into fierce blaming. In a most inarticulate manner I blurted rage at all uncles, ranchers and especially preachers, despite the fact I’d never really talked to any of them.

I was especially irate that the uncle-preacher had such a nice house. I was no chump, and know you don’t get rich herding sheep or cattle in a desert. On a dry year 2000 acres can barely support 50 steer. I understood the Indians only eked by herding sheep in a most minimalist manner, which was how I planned to eke by, on coconuts and fish on a Polynesian Island.  Indians were good, in terms of minimalism, but to own a house with picture windows and chrome furniture involved bigger bucks. Where was the money coming from?

It did not take delicate inquiries to learn the answer from Norse; he was perfectly frank and unashamed of the reality: Ranchers did not get rich, or even get by, on the profit from their ranches. Such profits were too small, and modern trucks could not be fed hay like horses in the old days. People who could afford ranches were either were spoiled royalist children with big trust-funds, or made millions elsewhere, as was the case with Hollywood movie-stars,  or they had a side job. Norse informed me the uncle-preacher’s side job was to sell farmers equipment. He owned a parking lot, full of tractors and combines and all sorts of other stuff, down in Gallup.

As I “expressed myself” in my notebook I showered contempt on my kindly host, who I had never met. He was not living off the land. He was living off selling tractors to Navajo, but the Navajo were not able to afford tractors with what they made, living off the land. The Navajo could only afford the tractors due to far-off tax-payers who made government hand-outs possible. In other words the wealth was all an illusion, a scam, wherein dirt-poor Navajo and dirt-poor ranchers mooched off taxpayers, reaping what they did not sow.

The above paragraph adroitly and succinctly summarizes something which, 34 years ago,  was inarticulate. It wasn’t even close to the tip of my tongue. Instead I blurted rage on paper at a host I’d never met. It’s embarrassing to read it now, but was honest.

I think I was in a state of extreme defensiveness.  I was afraid the treasure of my life, my wife, was comparing me to ranchers and I was coming up a distant second, and therefore the thing to do was to rip them to shreds. It may not have made much sense, but it did “express myself”, and actually felt good.

We slept as far apart as it is possible to sleep, in the same bed. I thought I’d have trouble sleeping again, but exhaustion hit me like a hammer,

I hoped things would look different in the morning. They did. They looked worse. My wife was not the only one repenting over the haste of our marriage.

I did not like the way she looked at me. The fizzling of infatuation is a two-edged sword, in that the face of the person who once was infatuated shifts from admiring to critical, and, while an adoring face is adorable, a highly critical face is ugly as sin. I wondered over my own blindness. How was it I had never noticed how completely repulsive she looked?

Fortunately my first cup of coffee has a side effect of kicking my sense of humor into effect. It struck me as sort of funny that, while some women wear make-up, making an effort to hide their ugliness, my wife, who didn’t wear make-up, seemed to be making such an effort to be ugly. When the thought made me smile she saw the smile and got nastier, snapping “what are you smiling at”, which made it even harder not to laugh.

She seemed to be trying to pick a fight with me, and I thought I should not go there. Some sexist stereotype kicked in, and I thought the woman is suppose to be emotional and irrational, while the man remains a tower of strength. As long as the effect of the first coffee lasted, the more she was crabby the more I would be cheerful.

But one effect of altitude-sickness is that nothing works quite the same. It feels like the wine is watered down, and the cigarettes are all low-tar-and-nicotine, so you look at them and wonder if they really hold tobacco or are actually dried cabbage leaves. Your body is short on a crucial thing, called oxygen, (which is closely related to the energy or “prana” of certain yogic breathing exercises).  Altitude effects even the ambition and optimism many receive from their first cup of coffee. This seemed a great pity to me, for my wife’s crabbiness seemed to require ten cups of coffee, down around a thousand feet below sea-level, on the shores of the Dead Sea.

An example of how she would pick a fight involved me cheerfully describing the young hitchhiker I’d learned about altitude sickness from, the day before. Almost as if she knew it would rub my fur the wrong way, she said Indians were not good people, describing some sullen Cree she had a bad experience with in Canada. At a lower altitude I might have been more curious, and sensitively asked about the reasons for her dislike, in the manner a  caring psychologist might inquire about the trauma that formed opinions. But such responses seemed strangely difficult at 8000 feet. I myself needed only to look in my own notebook and I could see myself badmouthing my host as a person who exploited both Indians and American Taxpayers, though I had never met the man. Instead of responding like a caring psychologist I simply sat with my jaw gaping, amazed.

Into my mind’s eye drifted various Shakespearean shrews, especially Lady Macbeth, who was full of bravado when urging her husband to commit murder, but who completely fell apart when she saw the actual blood, resulting in the famous, “Out, damn spot,” speech. In like manner my wife had been big on my renouncing friends and family and California, and making a fresh start, but when push came to shove she was backsliding to friends and family, and uncles, and even the preachers she had seemed so contemptuous of.

I figured it might be a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, but that puts the man in the role of standing his ground and supplying the will power. If we were ever going to make it to paradise in Polynesia I was going to have to be tough and unswayed by discouragement. But it wouldn’t be easy, for my wife was so swayed by second thoughts that she seemed increasingly dead-set on discouraging me from the first thoughts.  As infatuation fizzled, so did all our plans and dreams.

I needed time to think, which I did not get. It seemed the story of my life, and the reason for going to Polynesia. In fact, the very sight of me writing now seemed to make my wife’s skin crawl.  Even the songs I hummed to myself annoyed her, for example, a snatch of Jimi Hendrix:

He cries “Oh, girl, you must be mad
What happened to the sweet love you and me had?”
Against the door he leans and starts a scene
And his tears fall and burn the garden green.

And so castles made of sand fall into the sea, eventually…

(It may sound silly, but she objected to me humming because it interrupted her concentration on a a maudlin song about an old boyfriend she was listening to on the rancher’s stereo).

When she found me so constantly objectionable I gave up on countering her bitching with cheer, and instead said we obviously both were suffering, and needed to have a serious talk. But before I could talk I needed to think, or I would just be lashing out thoughtlessly at her. Because she objected to me rambling across a sheet of paper, I was going to ramble across the beautiful countryside.  Did she care to come? No? Well, I needed to go, but I’d be back. If she wanted to look at the rawness of my emotion she was welcome to look through my notebook while I was gone. Then I wheeled away and walked off into the beautiful desert.

It was a wonderful and very long hike, well over ten miles but less than twenty, (which I thought little of walking, at that age.) To be honest, as I strode my thinking dwelt little on my wife, which is one advantage of rambling across a countryside rather than a page.

I could feel my shortness of breath at that altitude, but had the attitude that the fastest way to acclimatize was to push myself and work up a good sweat. It was like I had a hangover, and wanted to get over it quickly by shoveling coal into a blast furnace. I tested myself and put myself in danger, scaling cliffs without the politically correct equipment. It was like I wanted to prove I was a man, after my wife made me feel so far beneath superhero status.

It was a glorious and ravishing landscape, and it was an indescribable relief to get into it, rather than just seeing it dazzle from afar, from a patio, midst the camel-straw pettiness of a marital spat. Mile followed mile, glory after glory, relief after relief. The entire time I could not shake the strange sensation something big was watching me.

After around two hours I chanced upon a chip of Anasazi pottery, bright red with black zigzags painted on it. I thought this was wonderful, and pocketed it as a rarity. But as I clambered up a rubble slope I saw more and more chips, some red  and some a silver gray, until it seemed I was in an Anasazi dump. Then I looked up a cliff of silvery rose and pink, and wondered what lay on top. After a difficult climb I discovered the ruins of a huge, circular kiva. It was amazing, and I clambered down into it, full of awe and curiosity about all the work that went into stacking the stone, and curiosity about what it was for, and curiosity about what happened to the builders.

As I crouched, examining the stacking of the stone with interest (for I’d built stone walls back in New England), I suddenly heard a voice bluster, “Hey! You! Didn’t you see the sign?” I looked up and saw a man in a ranger uniform. Apparently I had trespassed into some sort of park.

I climbed up the wall to talk to the ranger. It was fairly obvious he was in the right and I was in the wrong, and the bluster in his voice seemed meant to intimidate, but he wasn’t very intimidating. In fact he was about as able to intimidate me as I was able to intimidate the big ranch-hand Norse. I was a good six inches taller, and he was very slender. If he wasn’t a 98-pound-weakling he was close. To top it off, he wore wire-rimmed glasses, like he should be a clerk and not a ranger. My imaginative mind immediately concluded he got the job because he knew the right people in some university anthropology department, and not because he fit the definition of ranger. A true ranger would wear revolvers and be a man who could deal with a sweaty, ignorant trespasser like myself. This ranger quailed slightly when I came clambering up like King Kong up the Empire State Building, and said, “Sign?  What sign?”

I immediately felt very sorry for the man, but could not comply with his breathless request that I stay within the roped paths that led to the parking lot.  I apologized and explained I had no car and would have to return the way I came. Then, despite his bleating objections, I walked around the circle of the kiva to the edge of a cliff, gave him a little and (I hope) friendly wave, and vanished off the edge. My last vision of the little man was of him standing with his eyes wide and his mouth agape and his spread palms just off his hips.

This episode seemed very funny to me, and a perfect example of being an outlaw and renegade in the late-twentieth-century. In the late-nineteenth-century I surely would have been seen as more of a sissy. I could not help laugh to myself, and thought my wife might smile to hear about my adventure.

She didn’t. She had read my notebook, and told me to see the comments she had put in the margins.

I have the yellowing pages to this day, and her handwriting is lovely cursive as mine is scribbling, and her comments are sane as I am raving.  She displays the complete incapacity to understand the reason for the raving, (the “method in the madness”), that a stuffy schoolmarm would, before an irate ten-year-old boy. The only difference is that she likely thought more highly of a ten-year-old. With amazing clarity she points out what I already knew, for example that I had never met our host, and likely shouldn’t be judging him. She was utterly missing my “self expression.”

There are few experiences worse than to, in a sense, “bare your breast” to another, and rather than understanding to be totally misunderstood. It is part of the “suffering of a poet”, but in the 34 years since I’ve realized poets don’t own exclusive rights to such suffering. It is the daily fare of quite ordinary people, who grow numb to such treatment and expect nothing better.

I do expect better. I expect better from myself. I expect better from you. Because we are better than that.

In 1984 I was a lot less able to argue the specifics of this dynamic than I now have become, but I had been a writer fifteen years, and was more skilled with experiencing rejection than many are. At the very least, I didn’t merely become numb and expect nothing better. And this was especially true with my wife.

The time had come to have it out with her. Was she for me, or was she against me? The preachers quote Jesus, who said one cannot serve two masters.  My wife had said she was leaving all, but now was definitely backsliding to uncles and to what we were supposedly renouncing and leaving behind. Was she with me, or was she abandoning ship?

I felt she was getting sly and slippery and tricky with her logic. If she could leave her first husband behind for a higher truth, why shouldn’t she leave me behind for the same higher truth? The problem with such lack of loyalty is that it makes you fickle, and prone to the flaming and fading of infatuation. If there was some higher truth she was following, shouldn’t it be stated? Even if she hated religion, shouldn’t truth have a capital “T” and be spelled “Truth”? Even if she was an atheist, shouldn’t there be a thing more lasting than infatuation, which one could commit to?

It was for that reason I had stressed, during the first 36 hours when we were still pure, the importance of “100% commitment”. I made it quite clear I would not be involved unless this criterion was met. Our marriage might scorn church and state, but it would not scorn the rock-like faith we would have in each other. We would be proof of the power of love.

And now I confronted my wife with the commitment we had made. It didn’t matter that infatuation had faded. It didn’t matter that we had been exposed to kryptonite and saw our superhuman status reduced to weenie status. We would remain loyal and steadfast and keep the faith we had in our love.

My wife disagreed. She said she had decided that it was her job to get me out of California, and she had completed her job. She was done with me. Incredulous, I blurted, “But you said you were 100% committed!” She put on a rather snide expression and replied, “Well, maybe I was 100% committed then, but now I am not 100% committed any more.”

To my astonishment, a hand then appeared and smacked her on the cheek.  I looked down, equally astonished to see the hand was attached to my own arm. I then looked up, treble-astonished to see she looked triumphant. Abashed and ashamed, I arose to apologize, but my ex-wife jumped up and ran away. I pursued across the patio and around the corner of the house, where I found her clinging to Norse. She looked up at him appealing, tearfully pointing back at me, and cried, “He hit me!”

This is one of the top ten worst moments of my life, but at the same time it struck me as being so utterly stupid I thought, “Can’t use this in a novel. Too ridiculous.”

Norse was amazing. He carefully and tenderly examined her cheek, and commented, “There is no bruising,” and then looked at me. What could I say?  I said, with a sort of writhing shrug, “I totally lost it.” Then Norse politely backed out of the final Act-Five-Scene-Five, of our asinine soap opera.

It seemed to me she had already ended things, but also that I should make some sort of official statement. I walked to the bedroom, got my bag, and, as I left, paused to tell my ex, “If you are not 100% committed then I shouldn’t be here. We need to separate until you change your mind.” Then I walked to my tiny Toyota and it went GNAH, and I drove down the long driveway through the silver sagebrush, with some huge thing watching me.

When Truth first met the Faithful One
Sweet Truth had sighs to say:
“I feel that now our love will last
Forever and a day.”
The Faithful One enchanted was.
Truth caused his soul to thrill,
And all that he could reply to her
Was, “Yes. Oh yes, it will.”

But Truth could never tell a lie
And so there came a Day
When she broke Faith by telling him
“My Love feels gone away.”
The Faithful One was shattered
And groaned this in his woe,
“If love has gone please tell me where
For there I have to go.”           (1984)

I suppose I could end my tale with, “And that is how I came to sit in a campground in the middle of nowhere,” but that really wouldn’t explain why I continued to work so diligently on “The Novel That Never Was.”

I entertained the old-fashioned belief that, while it may be a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, a man’s promises are binding. I knew this was actually the law in some states; a woman can back out of a promise to marry but a man faces legal repercussions if he breaks his word. This didn’t seem particularly unfair to me, because the woman bears the baby and the man doesn’t. It also occurred to me that the newfangled pregnancy-tests were not 100% reliable.  Therefore I should stick around and be there for her even if she wasn’t there for me, at least long enough to see whether her waistline expanded.

I was very responsible, for a mad poet, hustling work and saving money. I continued to work on “The Novel That Never Was”, because a letter might come from Toronto any day, and if there was a baby we’d need extra money.  When the weather got cold I moved from the campground to the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup and rented a nice room. She never visited, but from time to time I’d visit her out on ranches as she bounced about. At no time did she show any interest in serious reconciliation. When I asked her if reconciliation was even possible, she said, “Oh well, I suppose anything is possible,” which gave me a small crumb of hope.

The only music I could get on my cheap transistor radio was country music, which I thought I didn’t like, but which I found interesting when forced to listen to it over and over again. I was surprised when its melancholy actually began to speak to me. After a while I thought I might give writing a mournful country song a try:

           BARTOON

Been a while since I missed
Like I’m missing tonight.
Though the beer’s really good
And the band is all right
And a gal with intent’s
To the left of my sight
     I don’t meet her eye.
     I don’t even try.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

I’m missing the chance
To dance and then score;
To smile and smile broader
And walk out the door
With warm at my elbow;
A warmth I adore;
     And she is right there
     But hell if I care.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

My table is empty
But there is a chair
And easy as drinking
You could be there.
The chair-leg would scrape.
You’d hide in your hair,
      Look up, and say “Hi”
      In a sort of a sigh.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight. (1984)

Eventually I became acquainted with the ranchers I had badmouthed in my notebook.  They were actually gruff but kindly men, who likely saw me as a bit pathetic, but also as loyal and long-suffering and even, at times, amazing, for I could reach their houses in my absurd little car. (When I reached rutted sections of road I’d just turn off the road and navigate through the sagebrush until I was past the rutted section, and could return to the road again.) My stubborn persistence must have impressed one fellow, for he mentioned he might have some work for me in a month, in the spring. When I asked my ex if she would mind,  if I worked there, she said she wouldn’t mind because she’d be gone. A short time later I heard she had headed off to a relative who lived in Denver. I never saw her again.

At about the same time a forwarded letter came to my post-office box in Gallup. It was from the publisher in Toronto. They said they published math books, so my work wasn’t really what they were looking for.

At this point I had no hopes left.  In a sense I had left all for Love, and because I had left everything I had nothing. I wasn’t really attempting to renounce the world and be holy, and to be honest I had been lustful, committed adultery, and was ungrateful and angry towards those who attempted to help me with tough-love, but, in a backwards and bumbling manner, I had obeyed the Lord’s request to “leave all and follow Me”, because I had done what I had done for Love. Not that I was happy about it:

I think I am going to die soon.
I see a skull’s face in the full moon
And high in the sky hear a mad loon
Luting a lonely and sad tune.

Why am I frightened of leaving?
I won’t leave anyone grieving.
Why am I staying here groaning?
Life’s just a way of postponing.

Someone, please some-
Body want
Me.

Ask me to stay.                      (1984)

At this point some might wonder why I didn’t go creeping back to California with my tail between my legs and beg for forgiveness. Quite honestly the thought never occurred to me. It wasn’t due to pride, for I had little of that left. It may have simply been because I was too busy staying alive to plan any long trips.

But also I was curious about what lay ahead. Even though I had renounced the world in a selfish way, I had done it. And, according various scriptures, because I had renounced the world I should see some “coincidences” occur. If “the Lord was my shepherd” I should not be left to rot and become bleached bones in the sand like a dead lamb.  On Sundays the country station had churchy music, and I heard it sung, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto thee. Alleluia.”

Well, maybe I didn’t seek God first. I sought a grass hut in Polynesia, and a babe to share it with, first.  But I didn’t get the grass hut and lost the babe, so all I really had left was God.  So God was now first.  I had been nudged and prodded like a recalcitrant ram to the proper pasture, by an unseen shepherd…..so where was the green grass?  Did I deserve any, considering I was not exactly an aspiring saint, seeking all the right things for all the right reasons, and instead was a mad poet?  Would I see “all these things be added unto thee?”

As my mind entered this wondering mode “The Novel That Never Was” started to get longer again, for it actually never was a thing meant to be finished. It was like a gymnasium to work out in, where I could develop mental muscles, and as such was more like an activity, like skipping rope or hammering away at a punching bag, than it was a work that would ever sit in a frame like a completed picture. (Also, late on lonely nights, it perhaps became a battlefield in the strange landscape of “mental telegraphy”.)

I did see many wonderful things over the following four years, as I drifted about the desert, which is why I enjoy looking back and remembering, and writing about what reflection reveals. I felt like a black sheep under the care of an incredibly kind Shepherd. But this is the end of the tale of how I came to be there.

UNEXPECTED KAVANAUGH REPERCUSSION: Getting Over It

I’m certain I’ll offend some by stating this: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s apparent inability to leave a teen-aged affront in her dead past seems a sad testimony of how psychology fails to help people.  The fact she is a “doctor” should indicate some skill at healing,  but the only nursing involved seemed to be the nursing of a grudge.

We all have traumas in our past.  Some are worse than others. As a writer I used to hang around with other “sensitive artists”, and we could become absurdly competitive about which one of us had suffered the most. Then, in California in 1983, I met a Cambodian woman who had been through the nightmare of Pol Pot, and a further nightmare involving pirates, as a “boat person” escaping Indochina’s horror and fleeing to the United States, and, after hearing her tales, the worst traumas I had ever endured paled in comparison. I even felt a little sheepish about ever having called my pains “trauma”.

Yet traumas we have been through, both major and minor, are bound to effect us. This is only natural, for we learn through our experiences: “Once burned, twice shy.” Our successes are only the result of a great many failures. Even as I now write, these words are part of a rough draft I will later go over, and improve upon. It would be a sad thing if the rough draft could not be improved upon, and instead indicated “trauma” that would burden me for the rest of my life.

While I recognize Justice Kavanaugh strenuously asserts Dr. Ford’s recollection is a false memory, and that he never did what she “remembers”, I’ll mention that even if he was guilty of inappropriate groping as a teenager (and many of us were) it should not be held against him for the rest of his life. Nor should Dr. Ford be permanently scarred by the discomfort of unwelcome advances. Considering the society of that time tended to mock abstinence (AIDS didn’t become a major concern until later in the 1980’s), and considering adolescents are not known for a lack of social clumsiness, the goofs of youth should be expected, and forgiven, if not forgotten.

The question then becomes how we “get over” the traumas of our past.

The most natural thing to do is to forget about it. For example, as we learned to walk we experienced the trauma of losing our balance and sitting down hard. After a brief spell of bawling we forgot about it. The lesson was learned,  and became part of our “experience.” This natural process allows us to do many things without thinking. For example, there have been many times I’ve driven long distances with an engaging conversationalist, so engrossed in the conversation I hardly remember the drive at all. The simple fact I didn’t crash into anyone (or a tree) demonstrates that my learned “experience” was able to do the driving, even as my consciousness was elsewhere. In this example the action of driving was “unconscious.”

Psychologists ask the question, “What is driving you?” There is the assumption that our past traumas make up our current identity. The reason that we turn left or turn right in life is that we are avoiding past pains. (Some focus more on pleasure, as a motive, but pleasure can be seen as avoiding-pain.)

In spiritual terms the same dynamic can be seen as our frustrated or gratified desires. What are desires? Well, some things attract us and some things repel us, due to “impressions” we gather. Some things impress us positively and some things impress us negatively. (There is actually a word for these impressions: “Sanskaras.” A sanskara is a sort of sub-sub-atomic particle of mind, and collected sanskaras make up sub-atomic particles of energy, which make up material atoms.)

Because psychologists have an awareness we are “driven” by things that we don’t even think about, they have a tendency to root about in the backs of our minds, seeking what motivates us. Our subconscious mind is an interesting place to explore, but unfortunately some investigative psychologists are clumsy, even brutal, and often their efforts to “fix” us are not helpful.

For example, when a person is troubled, some psychologists simply zap the brain.  The idea is that the brain needs to forget, so electricity is used. Such psychologists like to justify their zapping by pointing at what they see as “positive results”, though they have no idea what they are doing. I have always felt that “electric shock therapy” is the equivalent of giving a malfunctioning TV a whack. If the picture improves it does not make the whacker an electrician, (and sometimes the whack breaks the TV).

Drugs are the same sort of thing. More harm than good has come of trying to deal with troubled people with pills, whether the “cure” is doctor-prescribed or self-medication,  although some forms of self-medication, (such as Churchill’s cigars), are not entirely ruinous. (After all, he was over ninety when he retired from politics.)

A third form of foolishness, which I myself was very involved with, involves rooting about in the past, when you should be facing the future by attending to the present. There were times I would have benefited more by simply going out and getting a job, but instead avoided getting a job by thinking deeply about the psychological roots of my dreads and desires (when my desire was to hide in my mother’s basement). In such cases I was seeking in the wrong direction; the cure lay out in the fresh air, but I stayed stuck, thinking the cure lay in “psychology.”

Psychology should free people who are stuck. A great irony is that some psychologists prosper by keeping people stuck on a sort of treadmill of problem-causing thought, because some psychologists stand to gain more by advising people to sign up for fifty-two psychological sessions than they would gain by advising the person to go get a job.

The greatest irony is when a psychologist does this to themselves. I am not saying Dr. Ford did this, but her peer-reviewed paper on self-hypnosis and creating false-memory does suggest the possibility of her being overly inward. (The expressed idea suggests that, if you are controlled by a real memory of a past trauma, you can escape that control by using self-hypnosis to create the new control of a false memory.) The danger of such inwardness is that, rather than going out into the fresh air and interacting with real people in reality, one stays stuck in the musty halls of academia, diddling with old ideas attempting to make something new out of fossils. Rather than the fresh outlooks of another’s view one instead is stuck with their same old mind’s same old views, and one reviews, and re-reviews, and re-re-reviews…

In my own life I called this becoming “ingrown”. I tended to fall prey to it because writers do withdraw a lot, and do look inward a lot. Also I often found other people’s minds very boring, even disgusting, and would want to run away and be a yogi on some mountaintop far away, in a beautiful landscape. However sitting around without the input of other minds gradually made me bored, even disgusted, with my own mind, as I became “ingrown.” Eventually I’d be driven to come down from the hills and rejoin the human race.

Not that I’ve ever completely conformed to the world’s boring ways. In some ways I am still as imaginative as I was in first grade. In first grade I always found “Show-and-Tell” tremendously dull, and would attempt to liven things up a bit with sheer balderdash, (which I suppose could be called an example of “False Memory Syndrome”).

When I was young school was a bore
And so I said, “A dinosaur
Came walking through my yard today.”

The time was “Show and Tell”. I told.
The teacher didn’t have to scold.
My neighbor coughed and scoffed, “He lied!
There was no dinosaur outside!”

“He lied! He lied!” The taunting burned.
“He lied! He lied!” The taunt returned
In midnight flames that made me mad.

So I went mad, and didn’t care.
From the blackboard’s deep despair
The window’s view would lure my eyes
To peek to see how moved my lies.

Did you know angel’s paint the skies?

                                                            (1973)

I wrote the above poem when I was twenty, and deeply involved with “getting in touch with my feelings” through men’s groups and sessions with psychologists. As I recall, I did a lot of weeping and wailing about how teachers abused me and tried to make me sensible, rather than appreciating that I was a sensitive poet.

What did this accomplish? Well, I certainly felt a lot better. Originally no one had wanted to read my poems, so I felt unheard,  but “therapy” let me feel heard.

(Of course, if I had paid people as much to read my poems as I paid the therapist, they might have read my poems. But I didn’t want to pay people, I wanted people to pay me, to read my poems).

In any case, once I felt better I was more likely to stop sulking, and more likely to go out into the world and begin interacting. That was what all the weeping and wailing was good for. It didn’t really accomplish anything, but it put me in the “mood” to accomplish something.

Of course, some therapists didn’t really approve of me feeling so much better, as it would lessen their income if I was “cured”, and some might therefore start saying things that lessened my confidence. When I objected they could then state my “hostility” towards them was a sign of “resistance”, and that more therapy was needed. When I objected further it was a sign of “denial”. The interactions became a sort of downward spiral, and by the time I told the psychologists to “shove it where the sun don’t shine” I stood accused of all sorts of “subconscious sabotage”, no longer felt all that good about myself, and was back to sulking.

Besides wasting a lot of time and money, psychology taught me a lot of jargon I could use to describe the inner workings of my poetic side, and also let me see “feelings” were something more than a sign I was immature wuss. “Feelings” were a sort of sixth sense, able to “feel out” situations, and grasp the “shape” things were in, before the intellect could even begin to find the words to describe the same situation.

In some ways that difference between “feelings” and intellect is the boundary between poetry and prose.  Poetry grapples with indistinct shapes, with gestalts and Jungian symbols, whereas prose is more scientific and precise. Poetry, at its finest, (for example in the case of Shakespeare), has an adroit capacity to comprehend the subconscious that puts an ordinary psychologist to shame. Poetry playfully toys with what psychologists struggle to grasp, and too often mishandle. Once I became aware of this psychology seemed far less interesting to me. To be honest, my psychological knowledge felt more like a ball and chain than like wings. I longed to dismiss it, but it lurked like a post-traumatic ghoul in the back of my mind.

At this point (age twenty-one) I had “got religion”, (though I was not affiliated with any church), and had renounced the hippy concept of free sex and free drugs. I became rabidly anti-drugs , and grimly prudish. I felt that the natural consequence of sex was a baby, and I therefore should not have sex unless I was prepared to support the mother and child.  I did not merely talk the talk, but walked the walk, and women seemed to sense they were “safe” with me. This resulted in situations I did not enjoy at all.

At that time I held the simplistic view that women sought three things in a man. They wanted financial security, sexual gratification, and the emotional sensitivity of heart-to-heart talks. As a writer I was dirt poor, which was strike one. My spiritual discipline made me avoid sexual gratification, which was strike two.  But my poetic understanding (and complimentary understanding of psychobabble), allowed me to have heart-to-heart talks. With certain women this hit a home-run, for though their husbands were rich and very good in bed, they had the sensitivity of brass knuckles, and their wives had a deep longing to talk about mushy stuff that made their husbands gag. They found me a wonderful adjunct to their lives.

I didn’t like it. I felt like a sort of effeminate hairdresser, a man women felt safe to be close to because he wasn’t as threatening as a vibrant and viral man. In fact at this point in my life various homosexual men (and I knew many, in the world of writers), informed me their “gaydar” told them I was “gay”. I told them I wasn’t, and told them (and a few women) that the one thing I could never understand about women is why on earth such beautiful bodies would want to lay down with something as unlovely as a man.

It was tiresome, but for the most part I could handle women who made me be a sort of adjunct to their marriages to other men. This was largely because these woman also had the sensitivity of brass knuckles, when it came to being the slightest bit sensitive to what men care about. Having heart-to-heart talks with such women made me aware they really weren’t all that attractive. They may have felt heard when we talked, but I felt increasingly unheard and increasingly lonely.

It was when my loneliness was at a crescendo that I met a married woman who could hear me.  It struck me as a most remarkable thing, to be heard, without having to pay the price a psychologist charges.

To cut a long story short, I fell in love with her, which spoiled everything. I couldn’t live up to the high standards of my spiritual discipline, and was fed up with being a hairdresser, but she didn’t want to be more than a friend. Emotionally, it was devastating.

When you had troubles I was there.
When I had troubles, what?
When I was in my direst need
I found your doors were shut.
                                                           1980

Unrequited love is not a healthy situation to remain in, when your constitution cannot withstand it, so I hit the road and never returned.

Was this a trauma? Yes. Did the memory pursue me even as I ran away? Yes. Did it haunt me? Yes. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford does not have a monopoly on the trauma of heartache.

What’s more, whereas Dr. Ford claims she was grievously wounded by a man trying to have his way with her, I assert a man can be just as grievously wounded when he doesn’t have his way. Many women have the sensitivity of brass knuckles, when it comes to unrequited love.

But one more question should be asked: Did I get over it? Yes.

        AX-MAN’S SONG

Ask me why I’ve dropped my ax
And wear the fondest smile.
Ask me why the wood’s unsplit
For just a little while.

I now recall a girl I knew
Who had such lovely ways
That it is like I’m wrapped in warmth
Recalling her these days;
But when we split my mood was dark
For she was not for me
And if there’d been a clipper ship
I would have gone to sea.

Like Frenchmen in their legions far,
Far from friendly homes
I’ve known the skies that lack a star
To guide the man who roams.
Where some may slay a dragon’s wrath
And hope to win the fair
I had no hope; the foe I fought
Was my complete despair.

Without the path that leads one home
Or guiding star above
My only hope in hopelessness
Was, “God made life for love.”
Even though I couldn’t see
Examples this was true,
And wandered on without a dawn
Or midnight moonlight-blue,
And even though I saw all hope
As something of a sham
Like salmon to the springs of birth
My dreaming spirit swam,
And there, by clearest water’s spring,
I saw, when I began,
I had no dreams or hopes on earth.
I simply was a man.

I saw my hope of ownership
Had blinded me to light,
And that to lose that single hope
Had closed the lids of night.
Then, opening my eyes, I saw
Past greed and past desire,
And saw what’s true and beautiful
One always will admire.

Unplucked or picked, the rose must wilt
But beauty it revealed
Will ever be, unless my lids
Know sleep, and all’s concealed.
And that is why my face is softened
With this dreamy smile
Musing on the ways that were
For just a little while.
                                              1986

The ability to smile about something that once made you grimace is a sign you have “gotten over it.”  It involves more than merely erasing a memory, or repressing it. It involves digesting and assimilating experience, and moving from innocence to maturity.

This still doesn’t answer the question, “How does it happen?” The simple answer is to say, “I don’t know how it happens; it just happens.” It is like a cut on your finger. We do not really know how it heals; it just heals.

The confidence that a wound will heal, given time, goes a long way towards relieving the pain, because for many the pain involves a lot of baseless worry that they are forever maimed when they aren’t, especially when they feel worse than they have ever felt before. This confidence is also called “faith”, and even atheist doctors know how important faith can be in the healing process.

But simple answers aren’t enough for me; I’m like a doctor who isn’t satisfied with the knowledge a cut will heal, and who wants to know more about the process, and if there is any way to speed the process. Therefore I am always poking about in my past, and listening to the stories others tell, looking for clues concerning how people “get over” heartaches.  If you are at all inquisitive you can learn surprising things about the most dull-seeming people, and the adversity they have overcome, if you only ask.

Hearing the testimony of people who have survived what you are going through seems important, though it may be the last thing a suffering person wants to hear. When you have just hit your thumb with a hammer it does you little good to hear another say, “I did that once.” It can even make you mad. You are hurting and they aren’t, and you don’t want to hear about how they don’t hurt. That’s flipping obvious, because it your thumb that just got crunched; not theirs. There are times it is wisest for onlookers to simply keep quiet and do nothing, (unless they happen to have some Novocaine handy.)

Just as one may hop about for a while after hitting their thumb, there seems to be a sort of emotional equivalent. To a degree people need to rave, or have a good cry, or shiver with fright, as their emotions “feel out” what they have been through. I suppose at this point it is best for onlookers to reserve judgement, and just sympathetically listen.

Then, just as a day later one may gingerly flex and touch their sore thumb to see how the process of healing is proceeding, people seem to have a need to revive a past trauma. This can get boring, if you have already heard the sad tale thirty-six times, and I suppose one can be forgiven if one stops reserving judgement, at this point. It is at this point your testimony is more likely to be heard, if not accepted and assimilated.

Recently I’ve been going through old notebooks dating from my time as a drifter, looking for times I showed signs of maturing a little. I want to write a book about those times, but don’t want it to be a depressing collection of gripes, for, although those were hard times, I learned a lot, and I now smile, recalling my hardships. I didn’t smile so much back then, for I had no idea better days lay ahead, but one reason the future held better days was because I was well taught by the School Of Hard Knocks.  I have a feeling that, if I was able to testify about how I was taught, the tales might be eagerly read by youth in similar situations today, and they might gain some sort of uplift.

Back then I often camped during the summer, either where there was no fee, or at campgrounds where the fee was small, and one spring, after I moved out to a campground, I saw a spell of terrible luck give way to a period of such beneficence that I looked up at the sky and just said, “Thank You.” It was as if I was being rewarded for getting through the winter.

My routine was simple. If I couldn’t find day-labor I would return to the campground and write, chain-smoking and sipping coffee mixed with thick, powdered milk (which enabled me to avoid the bother of eating), deeply engrossed in my thoughts. For some reason many seemed to find the sight of a man chain-smoking at a typewriter at a picnic table irresistible, and they’d come strolling over and attempt to start a conversation. I usually found them a distraction, and I wasn’t very welcoming.

Often they would ask, “What are you writing?”

I might gruffly reply, “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

While this did end their nosy interest in my writing, many refused to be discouraged. They would laugh and sit down and change the subject to the weather, or the advantages of their camper over my pup tent, and with a sigh I’d light another cigarette and sit back to see what God had brought to my table.

On a couple of occasions I was somewhat startled by the sequences of fascinating people who appeared out of the blue, day after day. It seemed so contrived that I again glanced up to the sky. If I ever get around to writing a book people will think I am making it all up, especially when it was a sequence of truly kind people, after a winter without many crumbs of kindness in sight.

For now I’ll just describe one kind person, a woman who in some ways uplifted my attitude permanently.

I was not all that happy to see her approaching my table out of the corner of my eye, and tried to look very busy and focused on the page. It was a day I had devoted to writing, after making some decent money (for a bum) with day-labor the day before, and it furthermore was the time of day when I usually did my best writing; mid-morning, when the campground quieted down after many left, and before the day grew hot and the desert winds grew gusty and flapped my papers about. As she arrived at the picnic table she asked, “Do you mind if I join you?”

I gave her my stone-face, and responded, “Looks like you already have.”

“This is true,” she laughed, and sat down across the table, and continued, without much of a pause, “So, what’s your story?”

I did a quick evaluation. She wasn’t looking at the typewriter, so that wasn’t the story she was curious about. She was about my age, and reasonably good looking, considering she wore no make-up and her hair was tousled, yet I had zero sense she was considering any sort of sexual advance. The frankness and friendliness in her eyes was that of a sister I never knew I had, and we quickly fell into a long and comfortable conversation. It was all about me, for when I asked her about herself she deftly steered the talk back to me. I never learned where she was from or where she was going, nor heard even a tale about what she’d experienced in life, yet she struck me as wise. Around lunchtime she walked back to her car (which was already packed) and drove off and I never saw her again. Yet I felt on a different level.

She was blunt, in a disarming way, and seemed to have no fear of asking me if there was some woman behind my destitution. I was equally honest in return, and told her I had a whole harem of women, in my memory, but in real life I had given up on women. I confessed that over the years I’d met three I’d wanted to marry, but they had the good sense to lose me, and I’d concluded I was a complete fool, concerning women, and marriage was now out of the question. I said chasing woman is the normal behavior of a lusty, young man, but once a man passes thirty such behavior increasingly looked like the behavior of a dirty, old man.  I’d had my three chances, and three strikes meant I was out. I was too old.

These were lines I’d spoken so many times to so many strangers that I knew them by rote. She wasn’t buying it. She casually said,  “Oh, you’re not too old,  although I’ll admit…” she looked thoughtfully to the side, pausing before smiling at me and continuing, “….you’d be difficult to train.”

I remember smiling broadly, and shaking my head at her nerve. I admired the way she felt free to make statements people usually waltz around making. Later on she said something I had to scribble down in a notebook, telling her “I’m going to use that in a poem.”

I had been telling her what I fool I was, and how I was completely incapable of telling the difference between a good woman and a facade-witch. She wanted to know what a facade-witch was, and I explained it was a Norse demon that, from the front, resembles a beautiful woman, which always tries to face you, for from the rear it looks like a hollow shell, lacking any heart or guts. I added I’d met a girl like that, who only needed to smile and nod at me, and I was completely convinced she understood and agreed, though she did not agree at all. I continued that I had told the girl I didn’t believe in short-term relationships, and the girl had smiled and nodded when I said there must be “100% commitment.”  I explained I thought I had found my soul-mate. Then I bitterly laughed, “It wasn’t two months before that girl announced, ‘I’m not 100% committed any more.’ ”

“Actually,” the stranger responded from across the picnic table, “You are lucky she left if she loved you so little.”

       WISE WORDS

“You are lucky she left
If she loved you so little.”
So spoke the wise one I met on the trail.

I knew she was right
But my laughter was brittle.
Humor is humble when loving seems frail.

I thought and then answered,
“But she could say this:
‘I’m glad he is gone if he wouldn’t pursue.'”

She cocked her brow
As if I were amiss,
“Which one left whom?”
                                                   “I haven’t a clue.”    1986

Not only did this stranger give me a good first line for a poem, but she also gave me a totally different way of viewing the same situation. I went from “I am the victim of a facade-witch” to “I am lucky.”

Which returns me to an earlier point, which was that one should avoid being too ingrown, and instead should seek the fresh air of other’s views.  That is why we don’t have a single eye like a cyclops. Having two eyes gives us a third view, called “depth perception”.

And perhaps it is when we start to view life with the depth perception we gain from other’s views that we find we are able to “get over it.”

JUDGE KASANAUGH VS. FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME VS. #MeToo

I myself actually was sexually abused when young, and, though I am a man, can feel for women who are swept up in the #MeToo movement. I understand a lot of the self-loathing and guilt, and also rage and hatred, involved, though I myself have largely “lived it down”, in terms of my own life.

Part of the process of leaving such trauma in the past involves confession. It is a very ancient process, described all the way back into Old Testament times.

The reason events are hidden is often due to an element of shame, for quite often, even when a person was taken advantage of in a most foul manner, the situation began with the person being tricked into trusting someone they should not have trusted, and they therefore feel ashamed for trusting. Because the person is so ashamed they never bring the crime out into the sunlight of Truth, and it lurks about in the shadows of their mind, influencing them in any number of ways. However as soon as they confess, the sunlight of Truth disinfects. Saint John described the process like this:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Of course, if the abuser is a priest, one wants nothing to do with the church. However the exact same process is enacted by secular psychologists, even if they happen to be atheists. They may not believe the Christ is the Truth and the Way, but they do notice the “Way” to “mental health” involves “Truth”.

People in the #MeToo movement tend to feel they are involved in something new, riding the breaking wave of social progress, but in fact we old-timers know we have “been there and done that”. Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s there was a great deal of excitement about new “psychologies”, and that in turn sprang out of a disillusionment with older Freudian psychiatry which people had been excited about in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Many of Freud’s own students stated his approach had flaws, and came up with “new and improved” approaches of their own. As a young hippy I tried out a number of the interesting new approaches, and I also worked for a psychologist and got to see the new approaches from a different and interesting angle. Lastly, I studied psychology further on my own, not as a client but because I was very curious.

I had and have no doubt it is good for the soul to confess. I witnessed some heartrending catharses that used up entire boxes of Kleenex, and could often see people felt much better afterwards, as if a huge burden had been lifted. I took part in pounding pillows for various reasons, “getting my feelings out” and expressing “repressed hostility” towards people I hardly remembered, (for example a football coach who benched me back in Junior High). To be honest, it got a bit silly at times, for I was “less repressed” than some, and recall I one time alarmed a psychologist because I got too enraged and beat the hell out of a pillow with too much ferocity. In the end there came a time when enough was enough, and it was time to stop dwelling in the past and to go get a Real Job.

In the process of digging up things one resented from their past one entered a interesting landscape where so-called “recovered” memories were encountered. These were not things that had troubled you for years and years, but things you had supposedly “completely forgotten”. Some psychologists made a good living by claiming they could help people “recover” things they had forgotten.

The problem was, the human mind is very creative. In exploring various psychologies I’d  investigated the interpretation of dreams, and also fantasies. Fantasies were very interesting, in that they were windows into your own subconscious or the subconscious of another, and it was fascinating what people could dream up when wide awake. In cases where powerful emotions were involved, the fantasies could be quite vivid, as real as an intense dream. The problem with “recovered memory” was that they might be the same thing.  I actually witnessed people “remember” things that hadn’t occurred.

The mind is constantly working on  ideas. An idea does not simply sit in the brain, but rather is revised and improved-upon.  These changes are actually a good and healthy thing.

There has been some research hinting that memory itself is initially stored in one part of the brain, and later filed in another, and then called forward and worked upon and then refiled, undergoing revisions in the process. Memory isn’t a photograph that stays the same, (or perhaps yellows with age, becoming “golden”.) For this reason witnesses have varying accounts of the same incident.

This is also a good reason to keep a diary. (I’ve kept a diary since I was nine years old. Now, as an old man, there are certain stories I’ve told [and perhaps bored people with] many, many times. It is a bit shocking to look back in my old diaries to when the event actually occurred, and see how I have changed the tale. I have made it “better” in some ways, altering the chronological order and even my own responses, but I have not made the story more accurate.) The mind’s ability to improve upon raw data means that it is important to verify what is remembered, to be sure it is true and not fictional. In some cases a memory may be false.

The creation of a false memory is called “memory consolidation” by some. Much like a dream, the mind creates an image that basically states how the person feels. Then the image is “recalled” and the person believes it is an actual memory.

It is unfortunate that some psychologists can, either inadvertently or intentionally, cause this process to occur, and confuse a false memory with a real one. There have been cases where lives have been ruined because parents were “turned in” by psychologists for sexually abusing their children, when no such abuse occurred. In some cases the “recovered ” memory was from when a child was supposedly only two.

My Dad befriended a woman who had suffered such an experience, and refused to accept the disgrace and suffering she and her husband were subjected to without cause. Her name was Pamala Freyd, and she and her husband Peter started the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation.” The response was immediate, because it turned out a lot of parents were falsely accused by their hippy children. (Having been a hippy, I used to visit some cult-like communes and met megalomaniac leaders and saw how susceptible young, innocent and suggestible minds could be to B.S.)

Here is the False Memory Syndrome Foundation website:

http://www.fmsfonline.org/

There are, of course, tremendous battles between accusers and the accused, with each insisting the other is false.

My initial impression is that Judge Kavanaugh is a victim of False Memory Syndrome. My reasoning is that:

1.) It took so long for the memory to be “recovered”. That in and of itself is not a good sign that the memory is genuine. In cases where actual abuse has occurred the memory is not forgotten, but rather tends to plague the person year after year. They attempt to forget, but are haunted.

2.) There is a huge lack of corroborating evidence. In the example I gave from my own life, I can go look back in the yellowing pages of my own diary to check up on the details of my recollections. I also have old friends and family I can talk with, to see what they remember. Christine Ford has failed (as of this time) to offer more than a “memory” that came back to her thirty years later, in a psychologist’s office.

I only throw my idea out to be considered, for I haven’t heard False Memory discussed at all.  Like everyone else, I wait to see if any corroborating evidence is forthcoming.

FALLACY BY INCREMENTS

As a person who loves Truth, I also prefer honesty, but honesty is not always easy, person to person. There are things we are trained to abstain from revealing. For example, as a married, sixty-five-year-old man I might find a young woman extremely attractive, but I would be ill-advised to be too honest about my true feelings. Not that I lie, but I “don’t go there.”

Why not? Because honesty has repercussions. If I tell a young damsel she is beautiful, she will respond, and I will respond to her response, and who the heck knows where I might wind up?

Sometimes, out of purely scientific interest, I become curious about where I might wind up. To avoid harassment-lawsuits, black eyes, and divorce, what I do is to write a short story. In the story I allow the responses to play out. (I change the names to protect the innocent, of course.) In this manner, where anyone else might feel guilty for entertaining a fantasy, I get to call myself an “artist” for doing the exact same thing.

When writing such a story there is a tendency to aim for a “happy ending”. For example, as my wife is spiritual and reads the Bible a lot, I might write a story where the wife allows her husband to be like King Solomon, and have six hundred concubines. As I aim my plot towards this happy ending a little voice in my head starts to object. “No,” it states, “This is not going to happen.”

It turns out we have an innate pragmatist in our imagination which is able to envision all sorts of unhappy endings. Call it your “conscience” if you will, it applies the brakes to our unwise impulses. Working in the field of Childcare as I do, I get to watch these brakes be built. Where a three-year-old jumps and sprains his ankle, a four-year-old gauges the height, shakes his head, and climbs down.

The ability to foresee the consequences of our actions is actually a science, and involves the ability to weigh actions and reactions. In the west we say “you reap what you sow” and in the east they speak of “Karma”, but it boils down to the same thing. “Don’t do the crime if you can’t spend the time.” “You’ve got to pay the dues if you want to sing the blues.” “What goes around comes around.” “You’ve had your way; now you must pay.”

The fact which most really don’t want to accept is: This science isn’t flexible. People are always looking for loopholes that don’t exist. People don’t really like the idea that there is such a thing as “Righteousness”, and a “Day of Judgement.” At my Childcare I am always unwillingly put in the role of almighty judge, and hear small children invent the most absurd loopholes, as they build elaborate cases about the ownership of inconsequential items such as sticks, and then later, when I wearily drag myself home, and turn on the evening news after work, I don’t watch all that long before I mutter to myself, “Adults aren’t all that different.”

People need loopholes, because people screw up. Even a gentleman opening a door for a lady may see the lady step through the door into the path of an oncoming truck. Every lifetime has a quota of several thousand apologies, and no one can survive without mercy (which some are more able to accept than others.) However at this point a distinction needs to be made. There are those to whom loopholes are a gift of compassion which they blush upon receiving, and then there are those to whom loopholes are a way of life, which they manipulate for their own advantage.

The difference seems to involve ones relationship with Truth. Some believe there is such a thing as Truth, and some deny that there is any such Reality. Some believe there is such a thing as “Law” and some scorn such belief. Some earnestly strive to conform to higher principles, and some sneer that such conformity is a sign a person is a sucker and a chump.

Personally I believe it is best to strive for Truth, for I believe that if you stand by Truth then Truth stands by you. This does not seem like some sort of esoteric mysticism to me, but rather a sort of practical matter involving sensible engineering. When an engineer builds a bridge he wants honest, truthful measurements, or the bridge may fall down. Of course, all engineers know about “Murphy’s Law”, (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”), but they don’t go out of their way to seek such consequences. Sometimes the criteria engineers are subjected to involves a best-effort built upon sand, even though scripture advises against building on sand, but in such a case the “given”, (perhaps a minuscule budget), is the Truth, and engineers do their best to relate to Truth.

I think the same is true for so-called “social engineering” (which is just a highfalutin way of describing what ordinary folk call “relationships”, “friendships”, “partnerships”, “marriages” or even, in battles, “the rules of engagement”). When people “build” a relationship they employ certain tools and techniques, and some people are more honest in this process than others. My experience has been that honesty is the best policy, in the long run, although I’ve seen plenty of people be sneaky and think they “got away with it,” in the short run. If you are young you will have to just take my word for this: “It all comes out in the wash.”

This can be a bit nervous-making, when an Authority such as Jesus states, “Be on guard against…hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops.”

Yikes. I’m not sure I want stereo speakers attached to my brain, broadcasting my stray inner thoughts. It might be all right to have thought-balloons in cartoons, but, in real life, being psychic would be embarrassing. I prefer to sort out my thoughts, and to go through several rough drafts before publishing them with my big mouth, and, as far as other people’s thoughts are concerned, I know some people who make me very glad I lack psychic powers.

On a more positive note, I have had the good fortune to meet a few people in my life who I wouldn’t mind learning were psychic. Hopefully you have known a few such people yourself, for otherwise you won’t have a clue what I am talking about. They are the sort of person you can talk to for hours. They are agreeable people, even when you disagree; they are people you feel a deeper-than-normal level of understanding with.

Now that my hair is gray I understand such people are few and far between in life. If I had my life to do over again I would have done a better job of staying in touch. Even though I have lost touch with many, they stand out in my memory as people who restored my faith in the goodness of humanity, or at least in the potential which humanity has (and perhaps fails to live up to) to be splendid.

This brings my thinking around to wondering what the heck it was that these old friends, (or “we”), made so easy. To be honest, it was honesty. It is dishonest people, it seems to me, that make life be hard. So then I have to think hard. What in the world makes a hard life seem better, to some, than an easy life? The answer I have come up with is that there was some hardship in the past that hardened some people’s hearts, and convinced them that it was foolish to expect better. Born and bred in corruption, they think corruption is the way of the world, and so they perpetuate corruption. It never occurs to them life could be far easier.

The easiness of Truth is often dismissed with words such as “naivete” or “innocence” or “overly optimistic”, as if only children believe in Truth, as if Truth was a sort of Tooth-fairy or Santa Claus. The cynical distrust that feeds corruption is based on disillusionment, broken hearts, shattered faith, and all the other sad events that harden the tenderhearted by subjecting them to difficulties they did not deserve. Yet, despite the most hardened hearts, the corrupt betray a secret longing they own, a hidden hunger to believe in Santa Claus.

How can I assert such a thing? It is because even after making life ugly, they demonstrate a fondness for beauty, or at least for the trappings of beauty. True, they often destroy the beauty in their attempts to clutch it, building a garish mansion smack dab in the middle of a pristine wilderness,  or pawing a young woman in their dotage because they can afford a “trophy wife”, but, all the same, they hanker for beauty, and therefore deny the very cynicism, and the sophist scorn of softness, that they based their hard and harsh lives upon.

The hypocrisy involved can be huge. The wealthy dowager floods her sinuses with phlegm and uses up a box of Kleenex, enjoying a good cry watching a PBS tearjerker about poor and humble people, stuffing her face with caviar and bonbons brought to her on a platter, as she lounges in bed, by a servant she is able to underpay because the servant is an illegal alien, or in some cases a veritable slave, who was recruited from a third-world hellhole with the false promise of a decent wage. Or the billionaire spends millions on a painting by Vincent van Gough, while at the same time underpaying his gardener, who happens to also be a man who suffers, in order to daub upon canvases.

Van Gough loaned us his ear, but such snobs cannot hear, and Beethoven wrote music from the silence of deafness, and the imbecilic wealthy jam into the symphony halls to hear his silence, willfully as blank-eyed as the brain-dead,  concerning the very heavenly Truth that makes such music possible: Silent realities, that the rich would call a “cost” and which they refuse to budget for, but which were in fact an “expense”  easy as pie for Beethoven to pay. Music was not hardship for Beethoven. Rather music was joy, derived from silent Truth. The hardship in his life involved bringing such an easy thing into a corrupt world which makes that which should be easy be hard.

Beethoven, though as flawed as any human, was in some ways the opposite of the corrupt. Though he could not hear, he gave us beautiful music. The corrupt, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “have ears but cannot hear.”

This logically brings me to the sad state of American politics, where the fundamentally Truth-based premise of the American Constitution is crashing into corrupted concepts, exemplified by the dishonesty of Bill and Hillary Clinton. If ever there were two people who seemingly proved the route to success involved dishonesty, they were paragons for such cynicism. They made millions, and fooled millions as well. They sweet-talked people who should have known better, corrupting courts, charities, the EPA, environmentalists, much of congress, the press, and all but the American voters, who at the last possible moment rejected the sickly-sweet talk of corruption, electing an oddball president, Donald Trump.

It may be a case of too little too late. Though the American people are so disgusted with the corruption in Washington that they refer to it as “The Swamp”, there are many people (tens of millions) who owe their livelihoods to corruption, and these dark people will not go gently into the light, called honesty. They prefer deceit.

This brings me back to where I began, which, in case you forgot, was, how it may be difficult at times to be honest. But why should it be difficult, when I have just wasted a considerable amount of your time stating it should be easy?

The ingredient that makes honesty dangerous is desire. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about the old and wrinkled admiring the beauty of the young and smooth; it is when craving enters the picture that you see old fools hustling off to purchase Viagra. “Desire is the mother of much misery”. It is in recognition of desire’s potential to raise havoc that yogis flee to hide out in the Himalayas, and Saint Paul moans, “Oh what a wretched man am I”. There is no escape from the hankering, which is why Saint John stated, “If we say we have no sin, then the Truth is not in us.” Even if we despise desire, we are desiring, for we are desiring desirelessness.

It then turns out it is best to be honest about desires, and to “confess”. Some enter a Catholic confessional, some sprawl on a psychiatrist’s couch, some lose inhibition and discretion in a tavern, and some chat over coffee with a dear friend,  but all find a sort of relief in openness and honesty (even if they rue their big mouth, when they awake the next day with a hangover.)

The trick seems to be to confess the desire without obeying the desire. One must confess craving another’s chocolates without actually snatching them. This is the true test of ones spirituality.

Where corruption enters in is when the desire lurks in the background, demanding gratification. If stamped down into the subconscious, it still influences in sly and devious ways. For the well-meaning, this results in remorse and apology and repentance, but for the truly corrupt, it is simply a way of life. It is the “given”, and results in statements such as “he is given to fits of temper.” It doesn’t matter if you call a wrong a “sin” or a “foible”, the “given” makes life harder than it needs to be.

Once one enters the landscape of fallacy what was simple becomes complex. Even Murphy’s Law turns out to have all sorts of clauses and sub-clauses.

In terms of logic and debate, the complexity of fallacy is a headache for seekers of the Truth, and a sheer delight for lawyers.  There are amazingly numerous ways to confuse, complicate, cloud the issue, and avoid Truth:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

I urge people to glance through the above link’s list-of-fallacies, but not to adopt an indignant look of disapproval while reading, but rather a sense of humor, and to think of whether you yourself adopt certain argumentative fallacies when caught red handed in the commission of some high crime or misdemeanor, (for example, using the curtains to dry your hands, after washing them). What logic do you produce, when cornered? (“Well? What do you expect? You do say I should wash my hands, don’t you? And don’t you say not to use the guest towels? You leave me with no option!”) (Fallacy # 72).

A sense of humor is a great way to deal with our various shortcomings and failures, and also to deal with the fact there are differences in what different people value. For example, as a long-time bachelor, curtains were never an important thing in my life. I could take them or leave them. Far more important to me was the “delete key” of old fashioned typewriters, which was stuff called “white-out”. My wife, on the other hand, could take white-out or leave it. Then, as we came to know each other better, we had to be in some ways dishonest. I had pretend I cared about curtains, and my wife had to pretend she cared about white-out. We did this because we cared about each other, however our true feelings tended to surface when we were in a hurry and under stress. My wife would buy cabbage and forget to buy white-out, and I’d use her curtains as a hand-towel.  Silly things such as these are the ammunition for tremendous marital battles, which outsiders, (especially when they could care less for either curtains or white-out), should steer clear of.

One thing I have noticed is that one can start to keep an account of the times their beloved forgot to buy white-out. White-out can become absurdly important, and, even after one was given an Apple 2C computer and white-out became obsolete (though one might forget and paint the green type on the flickering screen), one might still nurse the memory of the fifteen times their beloved bought food to eat, rather than white-out, and one might use the collected events as evidence the beloved was not, and is not, and will not care in a correct manner. Meanwhile the dearly beloved has her own collection of your own failures, for example the time you lost your temper and stormed off to buy white-out, even though company was coming and she needed help putting up the new curtains. At this point the sense of humor is failing to kick in, and veins are bulging and faces are turning purple about serious, serious things: White-out and curtains. The situation is tragic, I tell you, tragic.

What then saves a marriage is not the sense of humor the couple might have. After all, it is no good to make a joke if the other thinks it is no joking matter.  My wife might make a great joke about my (somewhat silly) focus on white-out, but I would just rear up like Queen Victoria and say, “I am not amused.” What is required is something I call “common sense”, but it is not the ordinary common sense of the mind, but rather is a common sense of the heart.

It would be easy, and correct, to simply use the word “Love” at this point, but I am a cerebral fellow and prefer to avoid simplicity. Instead of simply saying we should “listen to the heart”, I want to study the games the brain plays, when it usurps the role intellect has no business pretending it can manage: The Landscape of Love.

What the brain seems to do is to collect bits of what excruciatingly logical people might call “fallacy”, (see above link), and to, increment by increment, built up a totally ridiculous argument. Each particular increment may not be terribly false, but the cumulative effect gets to be great. A little hyperbole in point six, and other examples of incorrect logic in point three and nine, and the slight fallacy gets greater and greater.

Psychobabble is very handy, if you want things distorted. When your wife buys cabbage and forgets to buy white-out, you can get extra mileage if you call it “subconscious hostility” or “sabotage.” Before you know it you have arrived, with your intellect certain it is sane, at the insane conclusion: “You are trying to kill me, aren’t you?”

It is at this point what I call “the common sense of the heart” kicks in (hopefully). The wife and husband face each other, intellectually certain each is out to murder the other, or at least to drive the other utterly bonkers, but some humble voice then says, “Actually I don’t want to kill you, or not right now. Actually I love you.”

You’d be surprised by how many children have been conceived at the end of ferocious arguments. The cynics say this is merely because lust overpowered logic, but you’d be surprised how many of these cynics have never had or raised a child. They tend to be oblivious, when it comes to the common sense of the heart.

Within the compound of marriage, wherein one is confronted with the utter insanity of the opposite sex, witnessing them fuss about absurd things, (white-out or curtains), when the inflamed intellect turns events into a haystack of “final straws”, a power beyond the intellect may appear. It makes no sense to the brainy. It is like lowering a bucket into a black well in a dark cave, and hoisting up sunshine. It is like approaching the sickbed of a person you have carefully cultivated hatred towards for decades, and finding your heart inexplicably overflowing with tenderness and compassion. It allows one to laugh about falling in the mud, and keeps one from laughing when someone else falls in the mud. It is irrational, but a fundamental element of Truth. In fact it gives Truth amazing power, and also makes Truth easy.

One thing I have noticed is that accessing this power seems to involve letting go of desire. The common sense of the heart simply realizes white-out is not all that important, and shrugs off the intellect’s insistence it is the end of the world, of one goes without white-out. Perhaps it is for this reason people who are poor can have excellent senses of humor. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” One is able to be more easy-going when one is not always fretting about losing something. I have lived among people who have no idea where tomorrow’s dinner is coming from, yet who seem to derive far more joy from today’s supper than people who have no such worries. It may not make sense, but it is Truth.

On the other hand I’ve known people who simply can’t let go of their desire. If they are not honest about it, it lurks in the background as a sort of ulterior motive to every conversation, and when they protest their innocence they always resemble greedy Miss Piggy exclaiming “Moi?” to Kermit the Frog.

While humor can to some degree defuse the danger of fallacy, by making it obvious and by (to some degree) “confessing the sin”, the danger remains as long as one puts the desire ahead of Truth. The greatest danger of all occurs when the fallacy, increment by increment, grows into the absurd falsehoods of the “my-wife-is-trying-to-kill-me” sort, and yet the absurdity is not recognized. At that point one is starting to break the Ninth Commandment (Eighth, if you’re Lutheran), because you are “bearing false witness” about another person.  Once you step over that line you are cruising for a bruising, and making life much harder than it needs to be.

There seems to be a choice involved, wherein one has free will and decides what they value. In my humorous example the choice is between white-out and Love. The choice is less humorous in the case of a heroin addict, looking at his wife’s pocket book, and facing a choice between withdrawal symptoms and saving money for his children’s food, but even in the case of an addict it is a choice between desire and Love.

In the end, Love is the correct choice. Love is the most high and mysterious and beautiful aspect of Truth, and cannot be comprehended by the calculating intellect. One should chose Love as the “given” in their life, for your “given” determines what you will be given to doing. You can be given to fits of rage, envy, lust, and sly, manipulative back-stabbing, and always be looking over your shoulder, fearing knives in your own back, and resort to slander and propaganda until you can’t remember what Truth is, (IE: Much of modern politics), or you can be given to Love, and discover the more you give the more beauty you receive, and that when you stand by the Truth, Truth stands by you.

ARCTIC SEA ICE –Whaler Gales–

The modern millennial likely would not approve of the life Whaler’s lived, seeing them as back-stabbers, but Whaler’s lived in a society where if you did not produce food, clothing and shelter you would not receive food, clothing and shelter. The choice was quite simple, back then: Work your ass off, or freeze and starve in rags. It was downright Biblical, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Given this choice, men and women in the times Whalers sailed were motivated to do far more than the millennial mentality allows. There were no trophies for “participating,” for life was clearly a matter of life or death. Winning was life, and losing was death, and it was left to the angels in heaven to decide whether the dead got a “participation trophy.”

Not that people back then didn’t believe that certain losers, called “martyrs”, did get a “participation trophy” of far greater value than the plastic objects handed out to modern losers. However it was because they had given the ultimate sacrifice, their own life, so that others might live. Life and living was still the focus, and there was the awareness that in order to give, and be charitable, you must have. And in order to have, you must work your ass off. You must have a life worth living in order to perform the ultimate charity, and give your life away as a martyr.

Millennials seem confused about the basic premise which states one must have something to begin with, in order to be charitable. Some millennials indeed have things completely backwards. Where, in fact, an act of charity leaves one with less materially than one started with (though one may be richer spiritually), millennials feel they should wind up with more materially, if they are charitable. They only “give” because the pay is good; a “non-profit” should be highly lucrative; a “public servant” taxes those he supposedly serves. This colossal ignorance represents a complete redefinition of the word, “charity.”

This can only have occurred because millennials were misguided. Somehow they were misled into thinking you could give without first working your ass off. Perhaps this ignorance began with the ability of governments to reap without sowing, by printing money that didn’t exist. Who knows? I wasn’t there and I refuse to take responsibility for starting it.

I will accepts a certain amount of responsibility for perpetuating the lunacy of thinking charity is profitable. After all, I am a “Child Care Professional”, which means I profit off caring for small children. It is a shameful profession, for little children have no wallets, and to make money off innocents is surely a vile exploitation. The only redeeming factor is that the pay stinks, so I don’t share the shame of those who get filthy rich being “charitable.” However far better was the old ways of the old days, when a mother charged nothing for her milk.

Some of the worst offenders are psychiatrists, who do get filthy rich by helping the troubled. Likely they are aware of the shame involved, for no other adult occupation matches their rate of suicide. However, until they crack up, they like to sit in their stultifying offices and criticize whalers sailing out in the open air. They like to raise their noses and invent fancy words that demonstrate their contempt for honest men working honest jobs. To harpoon a whale is “sadism”, and the suffering of life on the pounding sea is “masochism.”

This only demonstrates their appalling ignorance, for they can have no idea how wonderful the wildness of whaling was, and that the people involved lost fortunes as often as they made them, but chose that life because a Nantucket sleigh-ride was the opposite of stultifying.

Arctic Whalers 2 1000 dpi un framed

Even though it did not always end well.

Arctic Whalers 3 3ae5bc1d-052d-40e0-80c5-83bff1f82e77

In any case, the daring lifestyle of Whalers took them to where whales congregate, and one such place was the edge of the arctic sea-ice.

Arctic Whalers 1 Arctic-Whalers

It is from these men we learn most about how the sea-ice has expanded and contracted in the past. Because whales like to push their limits, (because the edge of the ice hold the richest foods), and because even whales sometimes pushed their limits too far and were trapped in pockets of open water and eventually killed by expanding ice, (because whales cannot breath if they have to swim too great a distance under ice),  whalers were tempted to pursue the whales into compromising situations. Whaling ships were also trapped, and crushed, and crews only survived by hauling lifeboats south over sea-ice to land, or to open water.

Some captains, such as William Scoresby (Junior), kept amazingly scientific and accurate logs, but most captains had no idea we intellectuals-of-the-future would ever wonder what they saw, and bicker about what the sea-ice was like back then.  Their logs are far less scientific, yet we can learn much from them.

For example, in 1871 forty ships sailed north of Bering Strait in June, and proceeded to hunt whale along the coast of Alaska nearly as far as Barrow during July and early August, but then the winds shifted and the ice came crushing south and trapped all but seven of the ships. 1219 lives were on the line.

At this point I suppose certain people of the “vegan” persuasion are clapping their hands in glee. They hate the idea of men stabbing whales in the back, and if you visit their websites you discover their hatred does not frown upon wishing death upon fellow humans, if those humans feed children with meat. Nor would it trouble them much to learn that some captains had their sons and even wives aboard, so the 1219 doomed people included women and children. Certain vegan types basically loathe humanity, preferring beasts, and snicker when true saints weep.  The fact whales also were trapped by the southern surge of sea-ice wouldn’t trouble them much, as it would be well worth the glee of seeing 1219 evil “hunters”die.

Some of these people would also be glad to see so many ships destroyed. Even though they were mass-produced very cheaply in the shipyards of those times, they were worth roughly a million dollars each (in modern dollars), (though you could never build such a ship for a mere million dollars today.) (Each ship must hold a crew of 25.)  In any case, 33 lost ships represented a loss of 33 million dollars for the investors. The vegan mentality claps its hands in glee, for, though some have never made an honest dollar in their lives and dwell in a mother’s basement, they prefer to avoid their own motivations and instead accuse others of “greed”.

The problem with this idea is that, if greed alone was the motivation, many captains would have gotten out when the going was good. Having made their fortune, they would have stayed home. They were well aware of the risks involved. Why should they risk losing a fortune they’d already made? Yet some of the captains involved had made and lost fortunes more than once. This suggests something besides greed was involved. It suggests men might live for something other than profit. It suggests men might rejoice in the sheer challenge of the sea.

Not that some of the “vegan” mindset can comprehend the joy of such danger. A person who loves danger will seldom hide in his mother’s basement, (unless he understands that is a dangerous place for a man to be).

(As a daredevil who has experienced both storms at sea and living in my mother’s basement, I will testify the sea has a beauty and joy which basements utterly lack, and for that reason a basement may be more dangerous. But the basement’s chief danger involves cowardice, while the sea brings out your courage.)

It is the courage of the doomed 1219 that really stands out. They knew, as the sun sank and September chills filled the air, and the ship’s timbers moaned under the stress of the increasing sea-ice, that the sea-ice wasn’t going to miraculously open and allow them to sail to unload cargo at the home port. It wan’t going to be a happy, profitable voyage. It was going to be one of the unprofitable ones they’d heard tales about. From members of the crew. If not the captain himself. So they knew it was time to abandon ship. They lowered the lifeboats, but not to water. The lifeboats went “clunk” on hard sea-ice, and then served as sleds, as 1219 doomed people headed south for land.

1219 made it to land, and then headed southwest along the Alaskan coast, to where the sea-ice didn’t crunch against the coast. And what did they find there? They found the seven smart captains who had escaped the sea-ice. They were the seven winners, and faced a choice of what to do with the 33 losers.

Now, if the seven winners happened to be like some “vegan” I’ve known, then when faced with 33 loser “meat-eaters” in dire danger, they would not lift a finger to help. They’d likely shriek, “Die! Die! Die! For you deserve it, because you are greedy and cruel to whales!”

In actual fact the seven smart captains may have made a choice that the stock-holders far away frowned at.  They dumped the entire profits of their voyages overboard, to make room for the 1219 lives they saved.

The end of the story is that millions of dollars were lost, but not a single life. The 1219 all arrived safely in the sunny south, to bask beneath the palms of Honolulu.

Knowing this, perhaps you can understand why I am less than trustful of those who write a sort of revisionist history, describing Whalers as being wicked, sadistic, greedy men. Surely they were not perfect, but they had a class you seldom see these days.

Consider, if you will, the class displayed by the seven captains who saved 1219. Talk about charity! They could have been rich, but instead chose to be poor and save 1219 lives.

And then consider how different are seven Climate Scientists. They have been nowhere and done nothing, in reality, though they may have jet-setted to Bali and Paris, spending other people’s money to talk nonsense they could have just as well talked (with less expense)  at home. All their adventuring is in a mother’s basement, with the “mother” being the funding of a government which cannot make money, and instead must print it. It is a landscape devoid of the reality where one must actually catch a whale. And, rather than demonstrating sacrifices they themselves must make to save people, they instead utter strident cries that others should sacrifice, so they (and hypothetical future generations) can profit and do “further research”. It is an intellectual world so divorced from catching whales, from hard facts, from food, clothing and shelter, that I can only conclude it is stark madness.

It is perhaps fortunate that I wasted a winter in my mother’s basement long ago, for I know how the mind can stray from reality in such circumstances, inventing excuses for not leaving shelter, concocting elaborate blamings of others for ones own spineless reluctance to go out into the cold. But I got sick of it, and faced a stark dawn where the choice between fresh air and stultification, between sanity and insanity, was blatant. So I stepped out into the cold, and discovered something that surprised me: Life is a blast. One may not be able to sign up to crew on a whaling ship any more, but there is plenty of fresh air out there, if one only leaves the basement.

Perhaps there are now simply fewer opportunities for millennials to work meaningful jobs, where they can see they actually produce food, clothing and shelter. A lone man in a tractor can now do the farming and produce the food which once would have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of toiling farmers to produce. Robots now do the tedious toil, but should not this allow people to be poets? To study Truth? Instead many just become nasty, and disingenuous, and more prone to con-artistry than to art.

It is for this reason I distrust ideas that seem to be produced in a setting like a Mom’s basement, and have a greater trust of ideas that seem from the decks of ships at sea. I am skeptical of data from models, and more interested the raw facts from “field studies”. And this is most especially true when the maps and graphs produced by professors in cozy offices differ significantly from what is shown, (often without comment) by their interns out on the ice. Or by the floating cameras out on the ice. Or by the adventurers out on the ice. Or by the historical records of Whalers who sailed long ago, and never dreamed a society could exist that is in the state ours is in.

This at long last brings me back to the topic of sea-ice, and the fact one can compare computer-generated ideas of what the sea-ice was like, back before we had satellite pictures, with the records kept by sailors. One discovers the two views disagree. Ships were sailing where the computer-generated maps state they could not have sailed. After all, William Parry observed a sailing ship could be brought to a halt by as little as an inch of sea-ice, unless there was a strong following wind. The people back then were not aboard icebreakers that smash through six feet of ice with impunity. Therefore their reports of open water are not “modeled”, but based on actual fact.

Even the old Danish sea-ice maps, which are decent regarding where the sea-ice lay on the European side of the Pole, tend to overdo the historical amount of sea-ice on the Pacific side. The old Eskimo (Inuit) spoke of whaling every year along the same coasts the Danish maps show as being gripped by ice. One surmises the Danes were just guessing, but the Eskimo, (perhaps the most gutsy whalers of all), not only spoke from experience, but their very survival was staked on there being open water. (One reason the Inuit replaced an earlier people called the “Dorset Culture” may be because the Inuit could hunt from kayaks while the Dorset required sea-ice, which in turn suggests times of thicker ice was advantageous to an earlier people, but losing that ice (perhaps during the Medieval Warm Period) put them at a disadvantage.)

The computer models, for some reason, show more sea-ice in the past than the Danes and Inuit reported. To me it seems the modelers have been so eager to demonstrate that sea-ice is decreasing, and in a “death spiral”, that they ignored the eyewitnesses, and the models became an example of “garbage in, garbage out.”

To get around such bias I have always preferred the eyewitnesses, whether they be Eskimos, Whalers, Explorers, O-buoys, Satellite pictures, or modern adventures sailing those waters.

The modern adventurers often are full of zeal, when it comes to promoting the idea that sea-ice is in a “death spiral”,  but that never bothers me, for they can talk the talk, but they also walk they walk. Often they inadvertently share a picture worth far more than a thousand words, for they share pictures of persisting sea-ice, even while agonizing about an ice-free Pole.

I am of the opinion that the Arctic Sea was at times ice-free, or nearly ice-free, as recently as the Medieval Warm Period. Though sea-ice has increased since then, it has not done so in a steady fashion, and the reports of whalers like William Scoresby seem to suggest there was one summer, around 1817, where there was less ice up in the Arctic Sea, on the Atlantic side, than we have ever seen, during our Modern Climate Optimum.

This pits me against some computer models, and it also, (to those who have great faith in those models), makes my observations seem a sort of heresy.  I try to point out that the models do not match the historical record, but some simply refuse to hear such a possibility can even exist.

I also try to point out that a return to the relatively sea-ice-free summer conditions of the Medieval Warm Period would be good for humanity,  but this also seems like sacrilege to those who think a decrease of sea-ice signifies doom.

In the end time will tell. I just watch what happens, and rue the fact we have so few cameras this year, (for the funding of eye-witness views seems to be greatly decreased).

Because we have so few cameras I am thrilled that a group of sailors, calling themselves “Arctic Mission”, are thinking of attempting to sail several boats north as far as they can:

https://www.facebook.com/ArcticMissionUK/

These are fellows following in the footsteps of the whalers of Yore, and testing the limits of the edge of the ice. I am not particularly concerned about their politics, (one fellow suggests there may be less sea-ice this year than any summer in 120,000 years), because Truth is better than politics, and these fellow will report the Truth.

A slight problem has occurred, as Truth doesn’t always involve fair weather. They were planning to have left Nome, Alaska by now, and to have headed up through Bering Strait, but rather than the summertime calms they expected, there have been gales in Bering Strait. So they are delayed.

Hmm. Is it just me, or is there some irony in the fact that in 1871 forty whaling ships made it north of Bering Strait in June, but these guys are delayed in August?

But I will not deny these fellows have guts to be attempting what they are attempting. They have not the vegan-mentality that stays at home. I’m a little worried they may get trapped up there. But they will give us eye-witness accounts of what the sea-ice is up to, and I personally value that more than any model.

In terms of weather, “Ralph” continues to storm up at the Pole, but high pressure pumped up over Siberia may be swung around to Bering Strait and give “Arctic Mission” some sunny sailing.

Subfreezing temperatures are becoming more common.

DMI4 0811 meanT_2017

Waters are open north of Bering Strait, but “Arctic Mission” should start meeting sea-ice at around 75° north latitude. (For some reason NRL hasn’t updated its maps for three days.)

Thickness 20170811 Attachment-1

Our lone camera shows the thaw has resumed after a sharp freeze, south of Parry Channel. The melt-water pools briefly skimmed with ice, but now are again expanding. Much of the melting now comes from beneath, and the ice should soon break up even if a freeze occurs above the ice.

Obuoy 14 0811 webcam

Stay tuned (even if hurricanes to the south get more interesting.)