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The fabulous [profile] lifeinroseland is visiting this weekend. Whirlwind of activities!

Exciting tour of the Poughkeepsie ‘hood!

Strange dinner cobbled together from ingredients found at Ocean State Job Lot.


Dragonboat fest!

Local Downton Abbey sighting!

Rhinebeck retail! (I bought a $3 pair of scissors at Sharpy’s!)

More sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

Barbecue with L’s drunken boyfriend!



Today’s itinerary:

An intimate meetup with the Biggest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere.

Antiquing in Cold Springs.

Teary farewell!


I am dying to see if that pink Dior jacket in perfect shape that I didn’t buy for $50 three years because it was a tad too small is still in that antique store in Cold Springs.

It was still there two years ago although bizarrely, the store had doubled the price – I mean, if something doesn’t sell, aren’t you supposed to discount it?

The jacket was beautiful, and for an entire year, I tortured myself: I will write away to Hong Kong for fabric swatches to find one that will match its precise color – something between Hello Kitty and that frothy color you get when you beat Cool Whip into raspberry jello – and then I’ll find some struggling seamstress who is struggling to make commissary money to send to her sons – all three of whom have been locked away in the Fishkill Correctional Facility on cocaine trafficking charges – and I will pay her $25 bucks to lengthen the sleeves and do something about the shoulders –

But damn! A hundred bucks for something I can’t possibly ever wear? I don’t know.

If it’s still there, it should be up to $200 by now.


C is a pretty bright guy, but when he drinks, he turns into a total redneck. And not just any redneck: a redneck with liberal kneejerk biases. Thus, instead of the usual All Muslims are scum! from C, you get, All Republicans are scum!

“And the bastards are trying to shut down Poughkeepsie’s bus system!” C growled.

He had started slurring his words.

One of the big local issues hereabouts is that Dutchess County is finally wresting control of the city of Poughkeepsie’s flailing bus system. Really, the City of Poughkeepsie should not be running anything. The City of Poughkeepsie can barely keep its streets plowed in the winter: I still remember Adventures in Grocery Shopping between the months of December and March when I was living in Poughkeepsie and I did not have a car. They involved hopping from ice floe to ice floe kind of like Eliza fleeing the hounds.

Lois Lane does not have a car and is completely dependent on the public transportation system, so I get weekly updates on just how awful the City of Poughkeepsie’s administration of its bus system is.

Public transportation, in fact, is one of those few areas where economies of scale make perfect sense.

So, it was kind of a ridiculous argument to be having, plus I have a deep sense of C’s underlying tragedy – I can hardly look at him without flashing on the beautiful young artist wife who went mad and the beautiful young artist daughter who went mad: How do you survive tragedies like that without hating yourself, without thinking, It was something I did, I drove them mad?

Nonetheless, I continued having it – fueled, no doubt, by my deep contempt for Joel Tyner whom C kept citing as some kind of an authority. Joel Tyner is the flamingly left-wing county legislator from Rhinebeck, a weasely attention ‘ho of a type that’s very common in Berkeley – I used to date his clones regularly, which no doubt accounts for my deep, irremedial hatred for him. Talking about Joel Tyner in front of me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Anyway, at some point, I realized I had an incredibly well-behaved guest sitting to my left who had not made a peep but who no doubt was bored to tears by this conversation, so I made C shake hands with me – See? We’re still buds! We can still discuss the finer points of cinematography in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”! – and toddled off to the Patrizia-torium where I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

What a ridiculous movie, and how Hitchcock must have suffered when Selznick and the Hayes Code board forced him to tack on that awful ending.
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The ice skating scene.

If I wanted to turn this into an exciting, experimental piece of po-mo fiction, I’d write something like, Then they all went ice skating. Gentle reader, do you really give a shit about what their little ice skating party looked like, what its members did, what they wore? ‘Cause I know I don’t. What’s important is what came afterwards.

But alas! This is not a piece of exciting, experimental po-mo fiction. It’s a ghost story in the classic Edith Wharton style.

Although it might be fun to give it a final po-mo sumdge-over once the realistic scaffolding is in place.

We shall see.



Spent a solitary day hanging out with the cats. It’s odd how when I’m in a baaaad mood hanging out with the cats is prima facie evidence of the complete worthlessness of my existence but when I’m feeling la-la-la, it’s entirely enjoyable.

I’m tellin’ ya: It’s all just brain chemistry.


Chatted a bit with L about the Former Democratic Candidate’s memorial, the hour-long stream of eulogies: She was the saintliest person evah!

“But Doris was kind of a bitch!” L said, puzzled.

“Well, exactly,” I said. “And that’s why I liked her. She was incredibly generous, but you know, judgmental, and she didn’t suffer fools gladly. But memorials are for the living, I suppose, and that’s how her daughters want to remember her.”


Texted with a bunch of people, thereby adding a satisfying The Machine Stops ambiance to my solitude. BB’s entertainingly nutty friend Malika livestreamed a thunderstorm for me: The thunderstorm was doing its best to take out Ulster County but obligingly missed Dutchess.

Got over my crush on the last male human I was kinda, sorta, maybe on alternate Thursdays attracted to: Alpha Male made him a moderator in the Sooper Sekrit Political Group, and he has been pounding me with avalanches of bureaucratic verbiage about governance and leadership traits and fuckin’ Meyer-Briggs profiles.

What is it with these people and their stupid Meyer-Briggs profiles? How is saying smugly, I’m an INTJ! any different, say, than saying, I’m an Aries with Libra rising?

I suppose the truth is that I’m never going to be attracted to another male human ever again. Male humans are fine as friends. But as limerence objects? I dunno. As a class, they show a remarkable lack of appreciation for the subtle.
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B and I were texting about the latest (awful) season of Orphan Black.

What IS it about television writers and islands? I texted.

B texted back: Well, you know, as a very good writer once wrote: “The thing about an island is that it’s a long way from home, and you have to cross water to get there.”

Good line, I thought automatically.

Then two seconds later, it hit me: OhmiGAWD – that’s my line! From a story I wrote in 1993 called The Hidden Ecology of Islands about vampires who take over an Indian casino .

I didn’t even remember writing it.


On the current writing project – I got sidelined after I wrote a close flashback into another close flashback that had nothing whatsoever to do with my outline. Thus wrote 700 words that were completely useless though not inherently bad or anything. But they had to come out, which left me with a sinking, despairing feeling: You are wasting what little life remains on a story that nobody will read when you could be watching The Real Housewives of New York!

Short stories are much, much harder to write than novels.

Anything goes in a novel. You can dump in the kitchen sink! But with a short story, you aren’t describing or even conjuring so much as you’re sculpting empty space (if that makes any sense at all.) It’s not what you write that’s important in a short story, it’s what you choose not to write.

I excised the offending 700 words and put them in the prose burble-over file.

Umbrella phrases, I thought: Expeditions were organized on the days following… The next day, Papa took the children to the pond… Etc.

Stick to the outline.

Snowball fight; Nell gets beaned. Skating party; Nell falls and twists her ankle. We need one more example of Winter Sports Gone Wrong.


Then it was time to scuttle off to the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress’s memorial service.

Huge turnout. There must have been 400 people.

And it was a very nice memorial. The fantasy her daughters concocted for public consumption was that the Candidate had died with a smile on her lips while they gathered round her bedside singing If I Had a Hammer (Pete Seeger version not Peter, Paul, and Mary version.)

But. Having been the instigator of one such Death Myth myself – when I told reporters Tom died listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony instead of the hiss and sigh of his morphine pump, a fantasy that made it all the way into his Wikipedia entry – I have my doubts about the truth of that bedside performance.

And I didn’t recognize the person whose virtues were extolled throughout the memorial at all. I liked the Candidate a lot, but she wasn’t particularly saintly. In fact, her Serious Bitch Potential was one of the reasons I liked her.

I suppose this was the fantasy the daughters felt safest with. Offspring rarely want to invest the time in learning what their parents were really like as human beings: It’s too threatening; it’s much easier to view them as some sort of primordial monster hunkering down over those deeply repressed feelings at the bottom of the psychic well.

I toasted the real Candidate in my heart as I listened to various speakers eulogize some saintly milquetoast I did not know.

When I slipped out to reclaim my car, there was a crisp $20 bill lying right next to it.

Huh, I thought. The Candidate knew I was hurting for gas money (‘cause the Asshole still hasn’t paid me!) Thanks, Doris!


Then I went out exercising. Mid-80s and so humid, I broke a heavy sweat even on the level pathways.

Staggered home and instantly fell into the deepest, deepest sleep.

Dreamed about my mother.

Never dream about my mother.

But there I was in a house, waiting for her. It was not her house, and I had no idea why I’d decided to wait for her there…

Woke up around 9pm. Decided to go back to sleep.

Maybe I needed 12 hours of sleep.

Because when I woke up again this morning, I felt fine. That awful funk I’ve been in lo these five days past completely gone.
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Dreamed I was hosting some sort of party for Max at a VFW hall. Max was sharing his guest-of-honor spot with another guy who was a real soldier and much beloved by the Hare clan – Bill and MaryAnne kept sneaking off to interview him, and when I asked, “Oh, can I watch?”, they said, No! I lacked the proper credentials.

This refusal made me feel edgy and insecure.


Of course, yesterday I felt edgy and insecure all day. Mostly because a sizable client payment was missing in action, and I’d spent the entire contents of my Rainy Day fund 10 days before on car repairs.

The money will come, and I won’t do any work for this particular client ever again.

But in the meantime, this kind of grasshopper behavior and financial mismanagement on my part fills me with self-loathing. Why am I always ending up in this position? Why can’t I learn? Yes, yes, I always make clients sign contracts, but in truth, enforcing that kind of contract is problematic: He lives in another state.

Really, I need to vet clients more systematically.

But more really, years and years and years ago, I should have figured out a way to stash six months of living expenses in a bank somewhere just like Suze Ormond – another alumna of the Buttercup Bakery! – recommended.

I figure it’s probably too late for this ancient gadfly to retune its antennae, so I’m doomed to live out my remaining days in this precarious cycle of mini-boom and bust.

I should toddle off and watch reassuring documentaries about outsider art, right? Henry Darger. Vivien Meier. Now they were losers.


The other reason I felt edgy and insecure was A’s apology.

Because as hard as it may have been for him to write – and I know it was hard for him to write because most of the apology actually consisted of how hard it was for him to write! – I’m simply not that interested.

And that’s making me feel guilty.

I mean, shouldn’t I be giving him positive reinforcement for these faint, faint stirrings of personal growth on his part? Am I not acting like a complete and total bitch if I don't participate in his karmic IEP?

But the fact is that rekindling any sort of friendship with this person would involve having the type of meta-conversation that would result in intimacy.

And while I would be okay going back to the kind of light-hearted activity partnership we shared for a couple of years, I do not want an intimate friendship with him. That ship has sailed.

Really, he should have just blown me off and stuck with it.


And speaking of blowing off, I cannot blow off doing lots and lots and lots of remunerative work today! The way I did yesterday because agita made it impossible for me to focus.

I must get my sorry ass on the trail while it's still cool enough to exercise, and then I must get down to work.
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A apologized.

That was unexpected.

I didn’t actually think he’d notice I’d trimmed him from the cosmic Christmas card list so self-involved is he, so completely caught up in reenacting his miserable high school years from the perspective of a moderately successful older man. Just having a penis makes you a hot property in geriatric circles, doncha know. Plus A drives a BMW, owns a lovely home, and is pretty good company if you can nudge him out of his self-absorption.

What irks me about A is that we have a little bit of that mental telepathy thing going, that deal when you anticipate exactly what someone else is about to say because you’re both on the same wavelength, at least in a present-tense time and space. And yet, he persists on using me as a prop, as background clamor, as an extra in the scene where he gets to do the middle finger at all the K00L KidZ who made his adolescence torture. Note that those K00L KidZ are no longer in the room!

Irksome behavior, but you know. I am not sans irksome behaviors of my own.

Plus it’s not like we spend huge amounts of time together.

So, around the beginning of June, I get a text from him: We need to get together what does your schedule look like?

Need? I thought. Need?

Yes, it would be fun to hang out, I reply. How have you been?

Ok. Still a bit unsteady on my feet, he replies. He’s had Major Upheavals in his life over the past year of the no-longer-having-your-cake-but-still-wanting-to-eat-it variety. I’m not unsympathetic: Who among us would not want to have a magic cake stashed in that cupboard whose scrumptious chocolate morsels never grow stale?

Think about what you'd like to do. A 2-3 day trip might be fun, he continued.

A 2-3 roadtrip with A?

Uh – no.

But hanging out for a day would be pleasant.

Lemme look at my schedule and see what I’ve committed to do in the next couple of weeks, I texted.

Got back to him the next day with some dates, and…

Sorry. June is packed. July some time?

What the fuck?

Inexcusably boorish behavior.

I wonder whatever gave him the impression he could behave like that toward me? Or toward anyone for that matter?


Back in the groove after five days of play, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the various money-making activities necessary to keep the cats in toys and Fancy Feast and myself in food and books.

The T-Burg trip had its ups and downs as I love RTT, but I honestly don’t have a clue what to say to him when he’s dejected. But the trip to the City was fun-fun-fun from beginning to end. [profile] lifeinroseland is the world’s most gracious hostess; her apartment is a lovely reflection of her own intriguing personality; and she screened Moonlight, took me to see the awesome NYC 5-barge fireworks and escorted me to Coney Island where I had not been for years.


My one swimsuit is so ancient and hideous that I didn’t bring it. I should have, though, or I should have bought a new one. All around me, women of approximately my own age basked unashamed in the sun, and I should have had the arrogance and amour propre to bask unashamed, too. I mean, what the hell. I’m 65 years old, I’ve had two children, I have a mildly disfiguring autoimmune disease, and I don’t have discretionary income to spend on cosmetic surgery. So, no: I’m not gonna look like a Playboy centerfold anymore.

But why the hell should that matter?
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Once again, the goats are back at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

And once again, I did absolutely nothing of any substance all weekend long.

Oh, to live in a world inhabited solely by sentient goats, cats, dogs, bunnies and elephants!

(My father was an alcoholic child molester, which kinda puts a damper on Father’s Day celebrations, no?)

BB, stumbling across Internet access from somewhere along the Appalachian Trail, posted that he had hiked 15.5 miles that day in 95-degree heat, which fuckin’ shamed me (‘cause I have a hard time stumbling out of the house when the temp is much above 82.)

The last man I was kinda, sorta, maybe attracted to (at least on alternate Thursdays) apparently quoted me at length somewhere and then sent me a long flattering email apologizing. A quote from his email: It's a completely unrelated sentiment by you that just happens to support everything I am doing professionally. I am too lazy to track down the actual quote.

Jeanna called to say that she was getting married and that she was buying another house so that I could come live with her. I gathered all this from her phone message. I haven’t yet called her back. I don't actually want to call her back. Although, naturally, I must.

If she gives me a month lead-in time, of course I’ll come to her wedding. Even though it sounds like a hideous ordeal.


Max is second chairing his first trial.

“Wait!” I said. “You’re only a second year law student.”


“And they let you…?”

“In Alaska and Colorado, yes.”

“Oh, is that why you wanted to do an internship in Alaska?””


Max likes trials.

Max is very good at trials.

Max has always been a very compelling speaker and a relentless arguer.

I’m inclined to think this is a rare talent even among those who are attracted to practicing law. He is winning awards at UCB Law School for his oracular proficiency, too, which makes me think he doesn’t need to be in the top 10% of his class to snag a career that will be fulfilling for him.

We spent half an hour or so on the phone batting around the particulars of the Michelle Carter case.

“Is it likely to set precedent?” I asked.

“In a juvenile court? Do you mean a precedent that could apply to principals who are over the age of 21?”


“Doubtful that it could be an authoritative precedent. Maybe if it goes to appeal.”

We talked for a while about the case’s implications for assisted suicide.

I doubt very much that the authors of any of the assisted suicide measures currently working their ways through state legislatures ever envisioned the facts of a case like Carter/Roy when they were formulating their statutes, but in a very literal sense, this is an assisted suicide case.

And one of the reasons why I personally have never been a fan of assisted suicide legislation.

Assisted suicide is a very slippery slope to my way of thinking.


Else? I watched a very strange film called Personal Shopper from the same director who made Clouds of Sils Maria.

I regretted I did not have the opportunity to watch it in a theater – Personal Shopper is filled with caesuras, prolonged intervals during which absolutely nothing happens except that Kristen Stewart progressively grows more freaked. These types of scenes often work in theaters where audiences understand that their job is to channel the protagonist, but they seldom if ever work on a home screen where the tendency – when nothing is happening on the screen – is to check your phone and think, Huh! Maybe I should fast-forward to the scene where Kristen Steward masturbates –

Stewart is an intriguing screen presence. Absolutely beautiful and, at the same time, a complete and total physical mess. The film, which is ostensibly about her character’s search for the ghost of a dead twin brother, seems more to me to be about the character’s obsession with social media. The character is completely oblivious to the physical world she inhabits.

It’s one of those films that would benefit from being seen twice.

But I have no intention of watching it again.
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Third day in a row of sweltering temps.

If I was truly virtuous, I’d be out the door at 7:30am when temps – still in the 70s – are manageable. Since I’m deeply flawed, I don’t manage to get out till 8:30am when the mercury is up over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. And I berate myself throughout the entire course of my run/fast tromp/crawl/whatever you want to call it. I cut the run/fast tromp/crawl/whatever you want to call it short. From three miles to a mile and a half. ‘Cause I don’t want to die of heat stroke.

Of course, if I was mentally healthy, I’d be congratulating myself for getting out the door at all.

‘Cause it’s not as though I like exercise. When I was younger, I liked it. Now? The best I can say is that I don’t mind it. Now, it’s something I do – like brushing my teeth, like drinking lots of water – to stay healthy.


On Friday, B sent me an email. LOL read the subject line. Ran into strangers in Catania today, he’d written.

With this snapshot:



On the train ride back from Chicago, I amused myself by looking out the window, by chatting animatedly with a portly but attractive lawyer, and by reading Matthew Desmond’s exceedingly brilliant book, Evicted.

The lawyer was the spitting image of Godwin. No, not Godwin as he’s likely to be now – although truthfully, who the hell knows what Godwin looks like now? If I had to guess I’d say that he’s grizzled and that he has wiry grey hairs sprouting unattractively from his ears.

No the lawyer looks like Godwin looked approximately 35 years ago when he was as pink and plump and creaseless as a newborn baby, and I was flirting with him. This was odd because I reckon the lawyer and Godwin are approximately the same age.

The lawyer was extremely well spoken. Good with puns. Good with banter. At some point after we had wrung all the humor out of our mutual dislike of airports and TSA, and our speculations about how Amish men managed to keep their hats on when they fall asleep on trains, the lawyer tapped my book lightly: “What are you reading?”

Evicted,” I said. “Excellent investigation into one of the leading factors that keeps poor people poor in this country. Did you know that most poor working families are living unassisted in the private rental market and are spending half to three-quarters of their income on housing costs?”

“I did know that, as a matter of fact,” the lawyer said. “I used to be chief counsel for the NYC Housing Authority. At the point in time when housing projects had fallen into massive disfavor so we were shutting them down. And, of course, theoretically, many people who were eligible for public housing in projects should have been eligible for housing vouchers. Except at that particular point in time, we were gutting the welfare system. So…” He shrugged.

“You must read this book!” I screeched. “I should be finished with it by the time I get off in Poughkeepsie –“

“Well, then, we’ll trade books!” cried the lawyer.

Except I wasn’t finished with Evicted by the time I got off the train.

The lawyer insisted on giving me his book anyway – a first edition omnibus of three Flashman novels. It had obviously occupied a place of pride in somebody’s library for many years.

“Oh, you shouldn’t,” I said.

“Oh, I should,” he said.

He also gave me his card.

He kept touching my hand when I said goodbye to him. Our farewell, in fact, had the feel of two old lovers who’d been meeting once a year for a day of hot sex in a hotel for decades and decades.

And now I’m gonna have to read the book. Even though I have absolutely no interest in George MacDonald Fraser. Because when someone gives you a book, it’s like a bookclub selection from God.


It wasn’t just my white liberal guilt that made me respond to Evicted so deeply.

Long-time readers may remember that a mere five years ago I was living in absolute squalor in the Cement Bungalow 10 miles outside of Ithaca in a town called Freeville, then as now the capital of Tompkins County’s thriving methamphetamine industry.

I had to maintain a house.

After vanishing completely off the face of the planet for four weeks, Ben had magically reappeared with a new girlfriend who was so in-LUV that she was willing to let him crawl into her life like a hermit crab. She was footing all the bills. And Ben had decided to take me to court for custody of Robin. Now that he had a girlfriend that could afford Robin’s standard of living.

This could have been a joke.

Except that it wasn’t.

There was no fucking way I was gonna let Ben have custody of Robin.

Because I was determined that Robin was gonna graduate from high school, and I didn’t trust Ben to see that through.

So, I took Ben to mediation and I won. Lucky me! A surly teenager! All mine except for visitation.

I snagged a horrible minimum wage job that paid $850 a month.

And the rent on the Cement Bungalow was $650 a month.

Yes, yes, yes – I certainly had the qualifications and the resume to snag a better job although at that point in time, I was so broken in mind and spirit that I think any interviewer would have called Security to have me forcibly ejected from his/her office after the first round of questions. (And what do you think you have to contribute to [Corporate Name Goes Here]?)

Everything I owned on the planet was in storage in Monterey.

And storage costs money – which eventually, after I used up my small savings, I could no longer pay.

The role that storage facilities play in homelessness is one of the scenarios discussed at some length in Evicted.

Long story short – my friend Susan (Max’s godmother) who owns a lot of real estate in West Oakland told me she would take my stuff and store it for me in the basement of one of the properties she owned.

Except that she didn’t.

She and her husband Jeff (whom I do not like), and Marybeth and her husband Kim (the perps in the photo above) and Max went through the stuff, loaded up a small part of it. Max put that small part in storage in San Francisco where it remains to this day.

The rest got auctioned off. I assume.

I could just imagine their conversation while they were doing it –

“Poor Patty! Why did she ever start that business in the first place? I could have told her it was doomed to failure –“

“It’s not that she’s stupid. She’s smart. But she’s got no common sense –“

“And what the hell is this? Why did she put this into storage? Why didn’t she just get rid of it?”

"Why didn't she have a rainy day fund?"

Etcetera, ad nauseam.

Oh, I tortured myself pretending to be a fly on that wall.

The utter humiliation of it. The shame.

Sort of as though your closest friends had all of a sudden decided to conduct a colonoscopy on you. For kicks.

There was really nothing I could do. I didn’t have any money.

Money is really the only thing that protects you. Don't have it? Better convince yourself that you like the feeling of free fall.

Susan and Marybeth were actually doing me a favor.

I knew that.

And yet I felt so betrayed.

Reading Evicted was very healing because it made me realize that this horrifying experience that had shamed me to my very marrow wasn’t unique but evidence of a pattern of systemic societal failure. In my case, when a bunch of Wall Street bankers decided to get rich by loaning money to people who didn’t have any and selling that debt – bam! Twenty percent of the American economy had to be surgically amputated. I was part of that 20%.

The families described in Evicted just had the misfortune to be born poor.

Don’t kid yourself: There’s plenty of bank to be made exploiting the poor.


Anyway, I have made it up into the middle class again. By dint of a lot of hard work.

But I will never speak to either Susan or Marybeth again.


Max tells me they are somewhat mystified by this.

Fuck ‘em.

Seeing that photo of Marybeth and Kim did make me cry, though.
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Vivid dream: I was back in my apartment in Oakland on Telegraph Avenue. My very first apartment! The one that sat over a storefront that most of the time was the Independent Driving School but sometimes turned into an adult bookstore and on at least one occasion took up tax preparation.

I’d arrived there through some sort of vaguely Orphan Black-ish cloak-and-dagger activity. I was hiding out from menacing authorities! My trusty backup squad consisted of two LJ friends whom I’ve never met – smokingboot, a Brit, whom I envision as quite ethereal, and Rob H.

Smokingboot was showing me around the apartment, which she’d decorated entirely with mirrors, stained glass, and quaint Tales-of-Hoffman-ish automatons – I remember one automaton, embedded somehow in one of the stained glass windows, was the simulacrum of a famous 1920s tennis star and would recite the tennis star’s entire biography if prompted.

I was going to have to hide out in this apartment for some unknown reason.

I looked around and thought, That’s not so bad; I kind of like this place


The Oakland apartment is a major touchstone in Where You Are When: Ybel lives there, and it’s the apartment where Danny and Megan keep staging colorful suicides in various iterations. That plus special guest appearances by LJ pals made me think: Aha! I’m dreaming about writing.


During my absence, western Dutchess County somehow metamorphosed into the Cotswolds. It rains. And rains. And rains. And the gardens bloom!

Mostly it’s been a manageable drizzle, but sometimes it pours. Not something I’ve felt like going out in, so I’ve been under-exercised and generally crochety.

I suppose I’m gonna have to break down and join a gym.

I hate gyms.


That Grateful Dead documentary made a strong impression on me. In particular, the Haight/Ashbury footage from the late 1960s.

I was a student at Berkeley at the time – yes, yes, I was only 16, but I’d skipped two years of school – and I hopped the AC transit bus into the City often. Golden Gate Park was one of my very favorite places to drop acid.

In a way, it’s the same thing that appeals to me about small towns – it’s as if remnants of the past are trapped like genies in flat black and white images or in abandoned, dilapidated buildings lining an empty Main Street.

Who knows what powerful magic those genies might be able to perform if released, right?

In particular, I stared at Bob Weir who in my benighted 20s seemed to me the very epitome of male beauty. Today, all I can think is, Damn! What a slack-jawed, country bumpkin-looking moron. Pretty but very obviously dumb as blunt nails.

The editing in the documentary was very weird; it jumped from a scene of Weir on the stage to a shot of Weir as an old man – well: a man my age – climbing into an ecologically friendly motor vehicle and buckling up his seat belt with a trembling hand. The dumbness is a constant. I wonder how come I missed that back in the day?

In retrospect, I can see all sorts of things that were wrong with the Dead scene. It was a complete male chauvinist fantasy. Women existed to be fucked, to prepare food, or to do those weird, whirly hand dances – their straight, carefully-parted-down-the-middle hair flying – while the Dead played Dark Star.

About a year later, I started modeling professionally, which took me frequently to New York where I hung about on the fringes of the Max’s Kansas City/Andy Warhol Factory scene. Incipient punk. A lot more dangerous than the Grateful Dead scene, but – oddly – a lot more egalitarian when it came to gender roles.

Still. There was something about the Dead that spoke to me, and I continued catching the occasional show and doing the occasional tab until Garcia dropped dead.

Whereupon I gave up psychedelics altogether.


The Former Democratic Congressional Candidate’s brother posted this photograph of her looking elegant and imperious and as though she would snap the head off anyone who made a stupid remark.

This is how I would like to remember her.

Except that I didn’t actually know her when she was this person.
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Came back from my trip and thought about writing and wanted to write – I had adventures! – but did not write.

And I’m not exactly sure why.

Trips are good. Trips reaffirm you as the primary stakeholder in your own life; the center of your own narrative, if not of the universe.

I want to go on more trips.

But I guess I’m so innately lazy and undisciplined that a week is all it takes for me to lose a habit.


After a couple of days, the small adventures of everyday life began to take over the brain cells allocated to trip memories.

For example: One afternoon, I was tromping fast or running – whichever one you want to call it – through the Vanderbilt Estate when I was passed by a car. Not a limo, but a black car – Crown Victoria maybe? And inside that car sat the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress. This was really confusing to me because I’d heard through the grapevine that she was desperately ill, too ill to leave her bed, or so, I’d been told.

If the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress saw me, she made no sign.

When I got home three hours later, there was an email: The Former Democratic Candidate for Congress had just died.

And this was just very weird because it strongly suggests that the Vanderbilt Estate is either the hellmouth or the pearly gates, I’m not exactly sure which.


And yesterday, which I’d put aside for writing about my trip, I could not wake up. All day long I had that really frustrating feeling of trying to jumpstart my mind as though it was a power mower or a chainsaw, and feeling it sputter and spurt as fuel was fed but remained unsparked.

Finally, I gave up and watched a six-hour documentary on the Grateful Dead.

I would never describe myself as a Deadhead, but I did see the Dead in concert innumerable times. Dead concerts were always a great place to do psychedelics. Plus I really liked the fact that here was this huge underground phenomenon that had received little or no acknowledgement from the mainstream press and PR machines; a whole transient economy and community that came together and then dissipated in the time it might take a handful of itinerant Buddhist monks to make a sand painting. Think Burning Man without the hype.

Still. Jerry Garcia as a Christ figure is stretching it.


Before I forget – there are three pieces I’d like to write in the coming week:

(1) The Kathy Griffin saga. Think what you like about the tastelessness of swinging a severed and bloodied head – hey! It worked for Salome! And for Judith! – this was a woman who was prepared to do battle on the enemy’s own turf.



Vulgar to a Trumpian extent, in fact.

Fighting fire with fire is not an inherently bad thing, so I was deeply puzzled when Griffin was castigated by both the Left and the Right.

The Left loves to eat its own.

But this one makes me wonder whether the real reason the Neanderthals lost out to Cro Magnon Man wasn’t because they were too polite.

(2) A deconstruction of the Hillary Body Bag trope. I have a list of all of Hillary's (alleged) bodies, and it’s far more extensive than Seth Rich and Vince Foster. But I'm wondering if there's another episode in American political history where a particular politician was accused of so many back channel murders. I have this sense that it’s a hoary narrative, but I just don’t know enough history to support that contention. So I’m fishing around for 19th century or 20th century examples.

(3) Why Americans don’t care about climate change. And I suspect that Trump called the zeitgeist exactly right here: Most Americans will actually concede that scientists are right and that climate change is happening. But they don’t give a shit. Why? Because climate change, indeed environmental issues in general, are widely perceived to be rich people’s causes. As though one morning, the One Percent woke up and realized, Uh oh! We’re sharing a planet with those dirtbags. We gotta do something.

Naturally, every strategy for reducing greenhouse gases has a disproportionately large effect on the poor.

How many tons of carbon does the Lear Jet that Al Gore uses to travel between climate change conferences generate anyway? But you’re not gonna find Al Gore reserving a seat on Amtrak any time soon.

There’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance involved with behaviors like this, and mainstream Americans are not blind to it.
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Spent the first part of Mothers Day in a snit because the offspring were pretty late with those adulatory phone calls plus neither of them appears to have the slightest inclination to tattoo “Mom” in a big heart on their Popeye muscles.


Went running – and almost literally ran into Donnelly Paulson, himself running for the Dutchess County Legislature. Although, unfortunately, not from my district.

I suspect Donnelly spends so much time walking his dog on the grounds of the Vanderbilt Estate because he sees it as a way to connect with potential voters. He’s not shy about introducing himself: “Hi! I’m Donnelly Paulson, and I’m running for…”

When I encountered him yesterday, though, he was a bit shaken up.

“I’ve just spent 20 minutes talking to a couple of Trump voters,” he told me. “And they don’t seem to care one whit that Trump has broken practically every one of his campaign promises.”

I shrugged. “Even Nixon after his impeachment managed to maintain a 28% approval rating. You figure Trump’s gonna retain about 30% of his base no matter what. They didn’t vote for him because of his campaign promises. They voted for him because he pisses off the right people. They voted with their middle fingers, you might say.”

Donnelly shook his head. “I just don’t understand it.”

“Well,” I said. “You can’t afford to alienate them. Just because they voted for Trump doesn’t mean they won’t vote for you. In local elections, people tend to vote for candidates they know and like personally. Politics is really secondary. Most people know Jack Shit about local issues.”


Donnelly is waaaaaay hunky. Hunky to the point that were I 15 or 20 years younger, I might seriously entertain a crush. Tall, dark-haired. Did I mention tall? Tall! Looks a bit like George Mallory after whom my LJ is named. A social studies teacher at Poughkeepsie High School, which has got to be one of the noblest and hardest jobs ever invented.

In the evening, Pat and Ed invited me over for dinner. And that was nice, too. Excellent food, stimulating conversation.

So all in all, a good day.

Except at one in the morning, I woke up in a complete panic.

I was actually so freaked that I had to drink myself back to sleep, which is always problematic.

The panic seems to be revolving around my planning for my Memorial Day trip. Except there’s no reason for me to be panicking over my Memorial Day trip. I like Carol; I’m certain I will have a good time hanging out with her. I like Chicago; I’m certain I will have a good time hanging out there. Whistler’s Mother is back at the Chicago Art Institute! Plus Toulouse-Lautrec and Sunday on the Isle of Grant Jatte! And the Thorne dollhouses!

There’s some part of me, though, that’s getting more and more and more reclusive. Like really, I’ve got my living space configured precisely the way I like it, so why should I ever leave?

I suppose that’s the part of me that’s raising all that fuss at one in the morning.
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Yesterday it rained. And rained. And rained.

I worked desultorily. Read an Inspector Wexford mystery that I’m absolutely certain did not exist until I scored it a local library book sale for five cents1 . Tried to watch an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on Netflix: The Benighted Orphan is one of my favorite literary genres though Anne of Green Gables is not a particularly outstanding example of the genre. But the Netflix adaptation is just awful: I would have been much more entertained watching the annoying actress who played Anne get eaten by slobbering zombies.

I began making concrete arrangements for my upcoming trip.

And I spent waaaay too much time on FB arguing with the members of the Sooper Sekrit Political Group. They’re all guys, and you have to figure that if they’re spending their Saturday nights on FB arguing about idpol, they’re loser guys.

But, of course, here I was on a Saturday night, arguing about idpol on FB.

So, I suppose I’m a loser, too.


L was particularly chatty yesterday.

She wanted to keep tabs on me because she knew I was feeling weird and freakish.

But she also want to gossip about Katy Day whom I know I have written about in this journal before (though I can’t now remember what pseudonym I gave her.)

Katy Day has a severely retarded 26-year-old son who lives at home; a sardonic, right-wing, Trump-voting husband who’s chronically ill and who spends most of the week harvesting the Big Buck$ in New York City, and a 23-year-old daughter, Misty, who looks like a fairy-tale princess.

This week, Katy Day was hit with a perfect storm when the husband contracted some sort of antibiotic-resistant systemic fungal infection and Misty was hospitalized following a suicide attempt.

“She didn’t actually take enough pills to kill herself,” L sniffed.

“You sound like you’re really angry,” I noted mildly.

“Well, I am. Imagine doing something like that when she knew what her mother was going through!”

Personally, my sympathies are all with the daughter. I actually had a dream about Katy Day once in which some floating, omniscient figure explained to me that the son’s retardation was really Munchausen by proxy.

No, I am not saying my dream was true.

What I am saying is that Katy Day is a control freak at an almost pathological level and also kind of a drama queen. And that caring for the son at home allows her unfettered exercise of both those tendencies.

“Oh, of course!” I said to L. “Still. It can’t have been easy for Misty growing up under those circumstances. She would have learned at an early age that the best way to get attention was to be utterly helpless and dependent.”

“She has mental health issues!” snapped L. “And she loves Greggy very, very much. They all do! Greggy is a sweetheart!”

“Well, of course, he is,” I hastened to soothe L. “And, of course, they do.”

Greg does have a very sweet disposition, and Katy Day takes wonderful care of him so that for that first fraction of a second when you see him, what you see is the very handsome, very tall young man he would have been had some mysterious malady not knocked him down in his third year.

What Greg has is not autism.

Neurologists, biological psychiatrists, and other doctors aren’t exactly sure what it is.

Psychiatrists aren’t exactly sure what Misty has either. Some say bipolar disorder; others say borderline personality syndrome.

Personally, I think it’s the family situation. Growing up in the shadow of a severely disabled older brother who got all the mother’s attention, with whom she could never compete. It cracked Misty in some essential sense.

And maybe if she’d had more innate emotional and psychological resilience, it wouldn’t have cracked her. I dunno. Both Benito and Caro Snowdrop have disabled siblings who lived at home while they were growing up. And they’re fine.

Anyway, it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to articulate my own thoughts on the matter in any way that was going to be palatable to L, so I gave up trying.

Instead, I nodded and sighed and shook my head at appropriate intervals in her dramatic narrative: Katy Day, Living Saint.

It’s not like I have any real connection to the Day family. Who cares what I think of their family dynamics?

But I do have a real connection with L, so if something I say upsets her, I’ll think of ways I can stop saying it.

As a parenthetical note: L is the only person I’ll deign to have half-hour conversations with about that weird cup mark that seemed to be burned into the kitchen counter. The many ways I had tried (and failed!) to scrub it off. How she had used Ajax or Bon Ami (she forgot which) and finally gotten rid of it.

I can’t imagine having conversations with anyone else about subjects like this.

But with L, I actually enjoy it.

1 This was probably one of Ruth Rendell’s first published novels. It appeared in 1969. It’s particularly interesting to read it as a footnote in the evolution of her singular signature style. Here, her clever descriptions are a bit too arch and ramble on for way too long, and Wexford’s internal dialogues are neither illuminating nor particularly entertaining to read but pedantic.
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“There’s a tunnel in the basement of the old building,” Lois Lane told me. “It ran beneath the arterial –“

“Mill Street,” I said.

“—all the way to Conklin Avenue on the other side. It was an underground railroad stop. There was a false wall, but you know. The building was in such awful shape – all the bricks were crumbling, trees growing up through the foundation. So you could see it. Billy –“ her boyfriend “– grew up on Conklin Avenue, so he knew where it came out.”

I’d absolutely hated the Literacy Center’s old building with its rabbit warren of gloomy rooms, its perpetual miasma of mildew and the scent of the dead animals that had crawled into its crumbling walls over the course of a century and a half.

And there was a lot of underground railroad activity in Dutchess County.

But I’m more inclined to think that this tunnel was dug around the turn of the 20th century to serve as a conduit for underground telegraph wires.

I’ve done a lot of research into the history of this locality. No Quakers lived in Poughkeepsie proper in the 1840s and the 1850s. And Quakers were the guiding spirits behind the underground railroad.

“What happened to Poughkeepsie anyway?” I asked Lois Lane. (Long-time readers will recognize this as a question that has obsessed me since I moved to the Hudson Valley four years ago.)

“Crack cocaine,” said Lois. “And prisons – parolees have to live near ‘em. And rehabs. Because wherever you have ostensibly recovering junkies, you will have an equal or greater number of non-recovering junkies. And, of course, the line separating those two groups is very, very permeable.”

“During the 80s and 90s, there were a lot of wild parties in those underground railroad tunnels,” she added. Wistfully.


Lois Lane and I were socializing.

For some reason, the Vassar Art Department had decided to book the actor Federico Castellucchio (Furio on The Sopranos) for a lecture.

I was interested because, you know, Furio. (Have you thought about flooring?)

Lois Lane was interested because fr-r-r-eeee!

Lois Lane is someone I’ve wanted to socialize with for a very, very long time. She speaks the language, she’s really fuckin’ smart, and she has a fascinating backstory. Moreover, there is something almost saintly about her – no, no, I’m not exaggerating – a halo of pathos: She’s someone who’s known great pain and has come out the other side without the protective amnesia that most people develop when they’ve had the experience of great pain.

I’d put out tiny feelers from time to time, but I’d understood when I was rebuffed. I can see how much it takes out of her to maintain that façade of normalacy; I sensed that her needs for decompression, down time, isolation were probably much, much greater than mine. No hard feelings.

So, I was shocked and pleased when she suggested this outing.


Castellucchio – who mispronounces his last name Casta-looch-ee-yo – turns out to be a fairly talented artist who knows a lot about 16th century Baroque painting, so his lecture turned out to be fairly entertaining even if he’s no longer the steely-eyed stud in the Angel Raphael hairstyle that Carmela Soprano lusted over. I should note here that Carravagio is one of my favorite painters (plus talk about your interesting backstories.)

Lois Lane was too broke to do dinner afterwards, and I didn’t want to embarrass her by suggesting that I would pay for her to eat. So we chatted in the parking lot outside the Literacy Center’s new, rather boring but completely odorless digs.

“What was the moment that turned it all around for you?” I asked softly. “Was it when you were institutionalized?”

“Not the first time,” Lois Lane said. “Not the second time. But the third time… I was really strung out and hooking on the streets. And there was this girl. And I can’t even remember what I did for her, but she remembered what I did for her.

“And, of course, I got busted and was standing in front of the judge in my little orange jumpsuit. ‘You used to be a Marine!’ says the judge all shocked. Because I was ex-military, they gave me a light sentence, right? But part of it was lockup.

“And I get this package. And it was from that girl. It had gummy bears and coffee and all the things you’d need to make coffee in lockup, and a bunch of other stuff you need when you’re in that situation. And she’d written a note: You were very kind to me when I needed it, so I want to return the favor. And I’m going to say what you said to me then: You’re too good to be doing this.

Lois Lane sighed. “That’s really what did it.”

I nodded. “The message in the bottle.”

“I mean, not that it happened overnight. It was a long, long, long struggle. I was homeless for a while there. I was –“ She bit her lip and stopped talking for a couple of moments. “It was the beginning, though.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Last time I heard, she was strung out. And hooking.”

“You really need to write a memoir, you know,” I told Lois Lane.

She’s a fine writer.

“Also you really need to come with me to the Brooklyn Museum to visit the cat mummies.”

“I would like that,” Lois Lane said. “I would like that a lot.”
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Met up with Summer and Chris in NYC because Chris was the only person I could think of who might enjoy the Floating Farm as much as I would.

Chris, you see, was brought up in rural China. The only child of doting agrarian parents who gave him everything – China’s One Child Rule! – naturally his only goal in life was to put as much distance as possible between himself, his doting parents, their horrifyingly arduous life on the collective farm, and the strange hierarchical culture that had endowed him with so much privilege. So he came to the U.S.!

The Floating Farm, though, was not where it was supposed to be.

I’d arrived early after an invigorating tromp around Urban Blight in the Bronx only to find Pier 25 deserted. A cold day. Scattered joggers braved the foggy causeway; a few mothers herded shivering children through the luxe playground.

This is gonna be a bust! I texted Summer.

But yes, Summer texted back. We can walk a little bit and maybe go to 9/11 memorial center and even go to the charging bull to check the fearless girl out? How do you think?


When I was a teenager, Battery Park – believe it or not – was an actual beach, a dune with scrub grass and sand, cordoned off from the forbidding, tenantless Twin Towers (gone, baby, gone) and the empty factories of what’s now known as Tribeca by an elevated thoroughfare called the West Side Highway. (There is still something called “The West Side Highway,” but it’s not the same one.)

To access that beach, you literally had to run across the West Side Highway, which was always teeming with cars and trucks. Drivers were intensely irritated by the Highway’s narrow width and S-shaped exits where an 18-wheeler could get stuck for days. They expressed that irritation by leaning on their horns the whole drive down from 129th to Canal Street.

[Insert five-page policy wonk rant on the evils of poorly designed urban thoroughfares.]

The elevated West Side Highway was dismantled in the early 1970s when cars and trucks began falling through its big gaping holes. Today, that area is a charming park that winds along the Hudson River, and this is the itinerary Summer, Chris, and I followed as we made our pilgrimage to the Fearless Girl.


“OmiGawd!” I said.

I’d just spied the most adorable thing in the world.

It was a turtle except that it was really a spindley-nosed humanoid male creature crammed inside a turtle shell with a smaller female humanoid riding its neck. It crawled along a pathway made of oversized pennies.

I looked around. The things were everywhere! But subtly placed. Nothing that screamed at you: I am a work of art, commissioned by a benevolent city commission to nurture an appreciation of the visual arts among the plebes!

Obviously a unified vision. The creations of a single artist.


Whimsical? Yes. But clearly attached to some complex narrative in the artist’s mind.

A strange world populated by stylized animals and bonsai humanoids. Not abstract except in the way that cartoons are abstract. Some of the humanoids wear recognizable clothing – top hats, long gowns, hard hats, overalls. Sartorial clues to the story the artist was telling.

But no hint of the artist’s name.

Not the smallest plaque.

Clearly that story was a series of interconnected allegories that had something to do with capitalism, hence the oversized pennies. Really, I would have been content to wander in that park all afternoon so I could decode the story he or she was telling.

But we had Fearless Girls to see and 9/11 victims to mourn.

Dahlman identified the artist for me the following day. (Dahlman is kind of a dick, but you can always count on him for encyclopedic knowledge.) “Tom Otterness! He’s all over New York City. He’s pop culture and haute arte! A laxative and a furniture polish!” (Dahlman thinks he's funny, but unfortunately most of his jokes revolve around punchlines in commercials that haven't aired in 40 years.)

Tom Otterness turns out to have his own complex narrative.

He shot a dog!


The funniest magazine ever published, The National Lampoon, couldn’t possibly be published today. It specialized in a kind of profoundly amusing black humor that would require too many trigger warnings for dear little Millennials to enjoy.

Its January 1973 issue was entirely devoted to death and featured a harlequin-faced mutt with a gun pointing at his head posing next to a headline: If You Don’t Buy this Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.

I guess that’s how shooting dogs first entered into the popular imagination as an ironic statement.

(Three years later, an unknown assailant actually tracked poor Cheeseface – that was the puppy’s name, Cheeseface – to the farm where he lived and shot him, thereby making him the first celebrity animal assassination in recorded history.)

A year or so after that, Tom Otterness – a 25-year-old punk art aficionado, recently relocated from Wichita, looking for ways to make a splash in a New York scene that was then equally divided between Warhol’s jaded commodifications and the compulsion to make extreme social statements – adopted a dog from the local humane society, took the dog home, fed it, presumably petted it a couple of times, bought some film for his video camera, and shot the dog. While his video camera was rolling.

He called the resulting video Shot Dog Film.

People knew about the movie, but it didn't derail Otterness's career. It was mentioned throughout the early 80s as a kind of afterthought in the various press releases touting the underground art collectives with which Otterness was associated. Always with a kind of grudging admiration. Like, Wow: This guy’s extreme.

The zeitgeist changed. And as it changed, so did Otterness’s art. He left the underground and went commercial. Perfected that cartoonish style of sculpture that had captivated me so: Mickey Mouse, yes? But at the same time... not Mickey Mouse! Duality! Corpus and ka!

And as it turned out this allusive style made him very popular with people making decisions about public art commissions.

Only now the dog-shooting story was a problem. Now, when the dog-shooting story resurfaced, angry pet-loving taxpayers began writing letters.

In 2007, after a number of remunerative contracts for public artworks were yanked, Otterness offered a public apology: Thirty years ago when I was 25 years old, I made a film in which I shot a dog. It was an indefensible act that I am deeply sorry for. Many of us have experienced profound emotional turmoil and despair. Few have made the mistake I made. I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me.

I have no doubt that Otterness’s apology was sincere.

And yet I cannot find it in my own heart to forgive him.


Art is produced by contemptible human beings all the time, of course.

William Burroughs murdered his wife.

Norman Mailer almost murdered his – he had several – and beat up all the rest.

Anne Sexton and Marion Zimmer Bradley sexually molested their daughters.

Byron had an incestuous affair with his sister.

Gustave “Madam Bovary, c’est moi” Flaubert paid for sex with underage boys.

Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason, quoth the adored children’s book author Roald Dahl (He was speaking about Jews but probably not to children.) Richard Wagner, Edgar Degas, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, H. P. Lovecraft, Edith Wharton – compiling an accurate list of literary, musical, and artistic anti-Semites would take 50 pages and a tiny font.

"Goodness” and “badness” are moral judgments that have nothing to do with aesthetic merit. To equate human worth with artistic value is the sign of a rigid mind. While very often the effect great art has on its audiences is ennobling, a clarion call to all that’s highest in the human spirit, the proximal cause of that effect is almost always a species of monstrous self-absorption, a license to neglect and abuse.

In 1952, Gregory Hemingway wrote his famous father, When it’s all added up, papa, it will be: he wrote a few good stories, had a novel and fresh approach to reality and he destroyed five persons — Hadley, Pauline, Marty [Martha Gelhorn], Patrick and possibly myself. Which do you think is the most important, your self-centered shit, the stories or the people?

Oh, puleeze, Greg, I want to snort.

Ya gotta ask?


Not that Tom Otterness’s work qualifies as great art, I hasten to add. It enchanted me because it’s an elevated kind of kitsch, and I love kitsch. But it’s hard to see how it could ever be commodified – which seems to be the definition of haute art in the 20th and 21st centuries: Its setting in public parks, college campuses, and subway stations makes it too self-deprecating.

Also, Tom Otterness didn’t shoot a person. He shot a dog. For all we know, he was and is unfailingly polite, kind, and compassionate to all human beings. He holds doors open for old people with walkers; he gives up his subway seat to pregnant ladies. Every year, he donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to Syrian war orphans.

Shooting a dog, though. Light years worse than shooting a human.


Because there’s a kind of contract human beings have with the animals who've agreed to be domesticated as pets. We are willingly giving up our freedom, their eyes tell us. To be your friend.

Shooting a cow, shooting a pig. Not as black a sin.

Shooting a dog is the second worst thing a human being can do 1.

Even if you’re shooting them because they contracted rabies while guarding the homestead against marauding wolves, and got all foamy and weird, and tried to attack Arliss – as was the case with the titular canine in Old Yeller, a movie I saw when I was just five years old, that I haven’t seen since, but that made such an indelible impression on me that even now, remembering, my eyes are filling with tears.

Plus let’s face it: Who isn’t an asshole at age 25? A cocky, blustering, self-absorbed twit who knows everything there is to know and who will do anything to prove it?

I know I was.

Still. Forgiveness?

I don’t think so.

Understanding, maybe.

And a kind of determination not to judge. But that last is a test of the steel of my own Buddha nature. Not a response to Tom Otterness's remorse.

You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it, said Atticus Finch.

Come to think of it, Atticus shot a dog, too.

1 Really? You have to ask? Shooting a cat.

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Dreamed I was back in a Himalayan country that I hadn’t visited in many years and that I deeply loved. But I couldn’t remember its name! In that strange dream camerawork where you simultaneously inhabit yourself and see yourself, a great deal of the dream, was wide shots of me marching around stupas, muttering aloud: “Nepal? Bhutan? Sikkim? Tibet? Laos?” (I don’t know how Laos got in there; I know where Laos is.)

The country had changed. There was an enormous gold market now where there had once been a sanctuary. The outside of the gold market looked exactly like a Target store. I refused to go inside.

My mother was living in this country, too, somehow, and the action of the dream (which I mostly don’t remember) consisted of me trying to get back some jewelry that belonged to me but that she had pawned. In the end, I got the pieces back – a nondescript broach set with four lusterless stones, a single earring, two rings. I thought, Wait! Someone was actually willing to give her money for those? But they’re worthless.


Maybe there’s some sort of cosmic law about social events: The more you dread them beforehand, the more entertaining they will be.

Conversely, of course, something you’re really looking forward to will always turn out to be a drag.

The birthday party yesterday was a blast. Clark showed up!

I didn’t recognize him at first.

“Wow,” he said after I finally screeched and embraced him. “I thought you were giving me the cold shoulder.”

“No!” I said. “You look different. Have you lost weight?”

Clark snorted.

“But you look different!” I insisted.

He did look different. Healthier. Taller. Last time I’d seen him, he’d been waxen and pale. This time he had color in his cheeks.

We chattered like a pair of monkeys. It was so good to see him! I’d forgotten how much fun he is! The deal with Clark has always been that if he’s not having sex with you, he’s not particularly interested in you. We tried sex once or twice, and it didn’t really work out. But I always loved just hanging out with him – he is so funny and so upbeat – sanguine even – and so unapologetically himself!

DeeDee has gotten the cruise bug. She and Nadia went on a cruise, and had a fabulous time. They want Clark to come next time.

“But, of course, you won’t,” I said.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Clark said. “Third person in the cabin sails for free!”

“But – but – but – you’d have to tour foreign countries!”

“Says who?” said Clark. “They have volleyball on cruise ships. And ping pong. I like volleyball and ping pong. Also poker! And I’m a good poker player. The rest of them can go off and tour. I’ll just stay onboard playing volleyball, ping pong and poker!”

Next time I’m in NYC, I’m definitely gonna go by the Home for Wayward Wimmen for some extended hangout time. I’ve missed all three of them, Clark, DeeDee and Nadia.

“DeeDee’s been very depressed about the election results,” Clark told me. "Really depressed. She won’t even leave the house.”

“Is she still doing her music?” I asked.

“No!” Clark said. “She’s been too depressed.”

That's serious. DeeDee belonged to a rather famous vocal ensemble. They sang frequently at Carnegie Hall and toured the Swiss music festival circuit every summer.

I had this thought then that I’d lure DeeDee up to the Hudson Valley and spend three days spoiling her. DeeDee is a mover and shaker. She has great administrative talents. The revolution needs her! We can’t afford to have her on the wounded list.


A’s daughter Emilie was there, too. Emilie looks just like Jane Austen! Or at least the extant portraits of Jane Austen. Really a remarkable resemblance.

Emilie does social activist work in Burlington and was speaking about putting together a workshop that would teach people how to do social activist work.

I would actually drive to Burlington to attend something like that.

I am still very interested in doing something that would, that could, that might make a difference. But I’ve all but given up on the DCPAA. All the DCPAA seems to want to do is to recruit people as extras for an ongoing series of rallies and protest marches.

Rallies and protest marches may be all very well in their place.

But, you know: Enough.

I’m into really specific, quantifiable, actionable agendas. (Hey! I used to be a nurse.)

I want to start some sort of organization that focuses on voter registrations.

Yes, yes – it would register voters. But it would do more than register voters. It would act as a resource for voters. It would lobby to change repressive registration laws. It would try and motivate people to get out and vote.

And it would be nonpartisan. I don’t care if you want to vote for Trump. I don’t care if you want to vote the straight Democratic line. Just vote. It galls me when the majority of Americans don’t exercise a right that most people in the world don't have.

I am meeting with district assemblywoman Sue Serrino on April 10 to lobby on behalf of Schneiderman’s voting rights bill.


In other news… Killer blizzard forecast for Tuesday. End of civilization as we know it. I will have to eat the cats.

And I really must buckle down to make some money today.
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1931425_1086126590898_1453_n Let’s face it: The Internet was invented so you could spy on X-Boyfriends. E-commerce, the dissemination of fake news and memes – these are secondary benefits. What you really want to do is use the Internet like a time machine to walk inside those footsteps on the beach before they get entirely washed away by the sea.

And so it was after a long day of selfless public service and an evening spent perusing Mary Karr’s Lit (all praise to [ profile] lifeinroseland!) that last night I found myself idly Googling Jon _____'s name.

I’ve written about Jon and Ann and Reed before. Though not extensively.


During the winter of 1971, I lived in Montreal. I was running away from romantic problems. Enrolling at McGill University seemed like a good move – 3,000 miles away from the male person upon whom I was projecting my angst and relatively close to New York City, which was providing me with my periodic cash infusions.

Ann was in my physics class. I can’t remember now how we became friends.

What I do remember is that Ann pursued me. And that she was very brilliant in that kind of linear thought way that’s so different from my own infinitely curved perspective.

Ann was the lynchpin of a romantic triangle consisting of Ann, Reed, and Jon. The official boyfriend was Reed. Jon was his best friend.

Jon was a tall boy with broad shoulders who’d grown up in Bethlehem, one of the Pennsylvania towns that got hit the hardest by the closure of the steel mills. Summers, he went back to Bethlehem to work in the steel mill.

Jon had long thick blonde hair that reached down to the middle of his back. Maybe it was his hair, or maybe it was the fact that his academic specialty was English Renaissance writers – Spenser, Bacon, Sir Thomas More; Shakespeare was too mainstream for him – but whenever I made love with Jon, I had this vision of being clasped in the arms of a William Blakean angel. I could even see the Blake drawing superimposed over Jon’s intense face and laboring body – he always made love with his eyes wide open – a kind of sepia copper plate etching that illuminated his muscles and that unearthly mantle of hair.

Ann was sleeping with Jon, too.

In fact, Ann seemed to prefer Jon to Reed. So, I never could understand why Reed was the official boyfriend.

Reed was not supposed to know that Ann was sleeping with Jon (although, of course, he did.) Everyone knew I was sleeping with Jon, and I suppose I could have turned that into a bigger deal than it was if I’d wanted to.

Ann confided that she thought I ought to sleep with Reed, at least once. But I wasn’t at all attracted to Reed. He looked a lot like Lytton Strachey right down to the pubic hair beard; moreover, his academic specialty was Wyndham Lewis, someone I’d never heard of. I figured if I’d never heard of him, Wyndham Lewis was probably a poseur. I had (and have) a really extensive knowledge of English literature and art, and let’s face it: I’m a snob!

But I knew what Ann was really saying is that she thought I ought to sleep with her. So I did. She’d never been with a woman before; she was very nervous. I’m not sure whether the bigger erotic thrill for her was the nervousness or the sex. Ann is one of the most self-contained and confident people I’ve ever met. She doesn’t have the opportunity to get nervous very often.

The only other thing I remember about sex with Ann was that she got positively swoony over how soft my skin was.

Did we make love more than once? I honestly don’t remember. I’m inclined to think we did because the four of us proceeded to fuse into one of those tremendously self-congratulatory core groups that Donna Tartt writes about, that Donna Tartt has cemented an elevated literary reputation writing about, in fact. Sex and intrigue are always the things that glue those core groups together. We’re having it; you’re not. We're the undisputed center of the universe.

The other undergraduates talked about us. We spent most of our time together. The time I did not spend with Ann and Jon and Reed, I spent holed up in the stacks of the McGill library, reading. 1971 was the year I discovered Larry McMurtry. 1971 was the year I read all four volumes of Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God.

Springtime approached, and Ann and Jon and Reed asked me to join them on their round-the-world expedition. They’d all been accepted to graduate school – Ann to Johns Hopkins medical school, Jon to Yale, Reed to I-can’t-remember – but they’d decided to take a year off to travel to Europe and after that to the Middle East – Damascus! Baghdad! the Khyber pass – and after that to southeast Asia. A journey that was possible nearly half a century ago but would not be possible today.

But I decided not to go.

The angst-inducing male person and I had been writing each other long, sappy letters throughout my banishment. Though I liked Ann and Jon well enough, I thought Reed might turn into a bit of a problem if I had to be around him somewhere I couldn’t easily get up and walk away: Reed was very long-winded, and once he got going, it was impossible to shut him up. And, of course, on the Khyber Pass, there'd be nowhere to escape to. It felt as though Destiny was beckoning me back to California.

The three of us saw each other now and then after that year although never again as a foursome. A couple of years after McGill, Ann helped me realize a childhood dream when we went to Egypt together.

I’d spent much of my childhood obsessing over Greek and Roman mythology. Edith Hamilton was my St. Paul. I’d used my modeling earnings to finance a trip to Greece in my late teens, but of course, the universe of Greek and Roman mythology spills all across eastern Europe – unexplorable when I was young because it sat behind the Iron Curtain – and North Africa.

Ann and I spent three weeks in Luxor – ancient Thebes! – poking around in the vast necropolitan valleys, losing ourselves in the Karnak temple complex, sitting in decrepid cafes by the banks of the Nile. We explored Alexandria together where the maps did not even begin to describe the topography and Cairo where one day in Tahrir Square, I realized that I was a foreign protein to which the entire Arab population of the city was having an anaphylactic reaction.

I met up with Ann and Jon one more time after that. In Baltimore. They were married. Very unhappily married.

But that’s a story for another time.


Anyway, I don’t know whatever possessed me to go Googling for Jon. Probably because I was reading Mary Karr and wondering why I’m too lazy to write a memoir. (But, honestly. Who’d be interested?)

Ann and I are FB “friends” though she’s way too smart to maintain a strong presence there. Her most recent photo shows she’s hardly changed at all physically. Still thin and wiry with that very intense gaze. She’s even got the same hairstyle. She and Jon divorced long ago.

Reed apparently just got drummed out of the university where he was a dean. For bullying students. No surprises there.

Jon turns out to teach at a university on Long Island. He participated in the New York version of the recent Women’s March. There’s a photo of him looking very jowly and self-righteous, holding an incendiary sign aloft. His hair comes down to just below his ears, still on the longish side for a sixty-something guy, but his hairline is receding. No trace at all of the Blakean boy angel. Not even a glimmer. Jon is just another uninteresting-looking old guy.
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It isn’t as though more celebrities died in 2016.

It’s that there are more celebrities. And hey! they gotta die sometime.


In 2013, Wired Magazine actually attempted to quantify the number of famous people on the planet. They somehow came up with the figure 0.000086, but of course, that’s 0.000086 of seven billion, which works out to approximately 600,000.

Six hundred thousand celebrities!

That number is probably higher today.


What is a celebrity?

The word was originally a synonym for fame

And then it became an anthropomorphization for someone who possesses fame.

Thus a “celebrity,” in the most essential sense, is someone who exerts influence by being famous. He or she may have become famous through various accomplishments – movie roles, political offices, polio cures – but that accomplishment is not what determines celebrity status and increasingly, is actually irrelevant to celebrity status.

So what does determine celebrity status?


In 1994, I wrote an article titled "Elvis sighted in ancient Rome!" This piece, published in the relatively obscure Whole Earth Review, generated a fair amount of traction. For several weeks after its publication, national radio shows clamored to get interviews with me. This was considerably post-Liz-and-Dick – which we enlightened anthropologists from the planet Mars now recognize as the first manifestation of unadulterated “celebrity” in modern times – but before the Internet had become a state-of-the-art celebrity stamping machine. The National Enquirer was still held in contempt by most intellectuals, and my cheerful admission that not only did I study it scrupulously every week but that I also studied The Globe and Star immediately made me a suspicious character to the eggheads who were interviewing me.

“Do you read People?” one interviewer asked me.

“Never!” I said. “They just take National Enquirer stories and spruce up the adjectives. They don’t even pay for their stories!”

Of course, a couple of months later, I was working for People.

My thesis was very simple: Celebrities have psychological power because they key into collective archetypes. These archetypes represent niches that are embedded into some deep substrate of ontological thought. Liz Taylor is only the most recent embodiment of Helen of Troy. Elvis is a just another reboot of those beautiful Greek boys who died staring at themselves in reflecting surfaces and who, oddly, inevitably, were transformed into flowers.

You wanna template for contemporary culture? Read Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Of course, this thesis wasn’t necessarily original to me: Sexual Personae had already been published. I was and remain a big Camille Paglia fan: Even when she’s pigheaded, which she is a significant portion of the time, Paglia is always interesting. Even enlightening.

But it was something I’d been musing on my entire life, long before I encountered Paglia.

Four things got me through my exceedingly painful childhood and adolescence: LSD, Victorian and neo-Victorian British literature, movie magazines, and my obsession with and encyclopedic knowledge of Egyptian, Greek, and Norse mythology.


Browsing the Internet feels intimate. There you sit in some kind of reverie, engaging in one-on-one communion with your computer/iPad/smartphone/whatever. It’s hard to shake the subconscious belief that what you’re reading, watching, hearing on that little LED screen isn’t your own mind talking back to you. Your own weird little accretion of interests and obsessions made manifest.

When all is said and done, the Internet isn’t a channel for the dissemination of information or a facilitator of human communication. No. It’s a tremendously efficient niche-marketing engine.

And celebrity, is the ultimate niche market.

So, of course, celebrity is gonna multiply in the age of the Internet.


All of which is a very longwinded way of saying that while George Michael’s demise left me completely unmoved, Carrie Fisher’s death made me sad.

The George Michael niche: Male, British, gay, cheesy, drugs, 1980s, hips, thrust, lewd encounters in public lavatories, confusion with Boy George –

The Carrie Fisher niche: Liz and Eddie, Liz and Dick, female, Star Wars, writer, wit, drugs, When Harry Met Sally, romantic disappointments, gallantry, service animal –

Well. I think you can see which side of the fence I'd come down on.


In other news, snowcapalypse forecast for tomorrow, starting perhaps as early as this very afternoon.

Yesterday, it was 60 degrees out! I went for a longish hike since I’m still feeling too bloated from Christmas sweets to actively participate in raising my heart rate much over 100 beats per minute.

It was very pretty out. Springlike, you might say. I felt like a little battery, storing up as much radiant solar energy as possible. This time of year is very hard for me, so-o-o dark.

I was supposed to meet up with ____ tomorrow, so he could tell me all about his latest romantic misadventures, but snowstorm? I ain’t leaving the casa! Not even to be taken out to dinner at the incredibly expensive Bistro restaurant in Rhinebeck.
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Summer and Spring sent me a very sweet video.

I think it may be my favorite Christmas carol ever.

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I found this interview with Steve Bannon quite fascinating.

Really, he doesn't sound all that different from Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren except that he inserts the phrase "Judeo-Christian" into every other sentence. (Possibly because he's speaking at the Vatican?) He almost sounds like a Marxist when he talks about how the Tea Party was a reaction to crony capitalism. He neatly channels that systemic distrust of the media and political systems that’s been around for at least a decade and that Liberals had relegated to a sidebar: Oh, look! Pew sez only 19% of Americans trust the federal government!

In view of Bannon’s emergence as the alt.right White Nationalist Poster Boy, these words are the most interesting: There’s always elements who turn up at these things, whether it’s militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more.

I can’t tell whether Bannon actually believes this, or if this is an apple he wants you to bob for. So that that when you put your head underwater, you drown.

This is one of the reasons why I could never be a politician.

I’m not pragmatic enough to accept all types of support.


I did decide I could not possibly accept Carol Day’s Thanksgiving invitation. I like Carol, and if she’s far more self-involved than most people, I’m inclined to cut her slack. Because she’s very generous. Because she has an autistic, severely retarded son whom she keeps at home, and because I cannot imagine dealing with a situation like that myself.

But she voted for Trump.

And right now, I just can’t be around people who voted for Trump.

I don’t particularly approve of this reaction in myself. I’m Libertarian enough to think that people get to believe what they want to believe without checking in with me first.

But I don’t trust myself to keep my mouth closed at the dinner table should the talk turn to politics.

I’d make a scene.

“Come up here!” Ben said.

So, I will.


In graduate school, I had a pal named April. Single mother. Plucky. Smart. Pragmatic. She’d discovered house-flipping. One of her X-boyfriends, a sleazeball lawyer named Sheldon, was responsible for helping her find distressed properties. Now, some 35 years after the fact, I suspect he may also have loaned her the initial down payment.

Sheldon always had a string of hot young girlfriends. He was one of those nervous, skinny guys with a braying laugh and oily skin. You just knew Sheldon had been a loser in high school and that he was never gonna get over it. But now, he had money!

Anyway, April had a dinner party. Invited me. Invited Sheldon. Invited some other folk.

Sheldon turned up with his latest girlfriend in tow – an extremely striking young African American undergraduate.

Sheldon was one of those people who liked to insert sexual innuendoes into every other sentence, and during the course of the evening, as he grew drunker and drunker, the sex talk grew louder and louder.

“You would not believe what this one here can do with her tongue!” he announced, grabbing his date and inserting his tongue in her ear. “Mick Jagger is right! Brown sugar is the sweetest.”

The poor girl looked as though she wanted the ground to open and swallow her up.

“Stop it, Sheldon!” I said. “Just stop it. Right now. Cease and desist.”

Sheldon did the wide-eyed innocence pose. “Stop it? Why?”

“Because you’re embarrassing me, and you’re embarrassing your friend.”

“Embarrassing you? Well, who the fuck are you? You don’t get to tell me what to do. And as to embarrassing this little piece of prime black ass –“

“That’s it,” I said. I rose from the table and headed for the bedroom to retrieve my coat.

April followed me.

“Patrizia!” she entreated. “Don’t do this. Sheldon’s an ass, but he’s harmless –“

“No, April," I said. "That’s where you’re wrong. Sheldon is not harmless.”

April looked as though she wanted to cry.

So, I patted her tepidly on the shoulder – could not bring myself to hug her – and walked out the door.

In the days that followed, I was led to understand that I had embarrassed April horribly, had ruined her dinner party.

I can live with that, I thought.

But April and I remained pals. “Pals” in my lexicon is code for people with whom you interact on an amicable and regular basis but with whom you exchange no real intimacies. Pals are a necessary survival tool. Cogs in what I suppose marketers call “networking.”

Generally speaking, I only make dramatic gestures and cut off people to whom I’m bound by ties of love or blood. Possibly because I have higher expectations of them, and when they disappoint me, it’s a very big deal.

Most people, though, I see as more-or-less interchangeable personas who are currently occupying a particular slot in my brain. They’re not that important. What they do is not that important. And if I cut them off, then I’m gonna have to go to all that trouble to recruit somebody new for that slot in my brain.


May. 28th, 2016 09:09 am
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We spent Thursday night at Amy’s house. Amy is a friend of BB’s sometime-lover Carol. I could imagine Amy in Huguenot garb being arraigned in front of an ecclesiastical court in 16th century France.

Amy is a high school chemistry teacher in the greater Detroit metropolitan area. “Ha-ha,” she said. “Yes. My students make a lot of Breaking Bad jokes.”

A few years ago, the local school board decided to make all high schools in the area college prep.

An insane decision: Putting kids on the college conveyor belt is only gonna increase the dropout rate. Not every kid benefits from going to college. Unfortunately, the American educational system offers very few alternatives that don’t leave non-college-bound students at a considerable disadvantage in their subsequent economic lives.

An insane decision, but a well-meaning decision. Or at least, so I assumed.

Amy shook her head. “No. A cost-saving decision. It is considerably more expensive to offer a welding class that teaches kids a skill than it is to offer a college prep class. In a welding class, the student/teacher ration has to be capped at 12 to one. In a college prep class, you can cram 40 kids into a one teacher classroom.”

Wow, I thought. Those smarmy, sanctimonious, self-serving, hypocritical assholes with their No-Child-Left-Behind bullshit.


This conversation continued to haunt me as we trekked deeper into the Mid-West.

Unlike many people who live on one of the Coasts where culture is ostensibly more sophisticated, I really like the Midwest. People are friendlier; personal style is actually a code and not a programmed response to the supplier-induced demand of superhumanly cunning marketers.

I’d initially wanted to tour Detroit because, you know – burned out buildings covered in graffiti and rat droppings mit attendant urban blight = Disneyland for moi. But the trip up I-75 as the sun was setting into polluted clouds was almost as good. Think Mad Max without the costumes and props. My personal nomination for the Darwin Award was a young man on a motorcycle careening 75 miles an hour while texting on his fucking phone. His girlfriend rode shotgun; they were both helmetless. Five minutes later, we saw this same guy apparently drag racing with a white Corvette. They were going about 100 miles an hour.


Carol, BB, and I got on very well. I was initially a little nervous about that because, you know, third wheel and all. But Carol is a really interesting woman – beautiful, brilliant, and intense – and BB, of course, was my brother in some recent lifetime, so we get along like close siblings, affection and the presumption of good faith overriding occasional squabbles. (I have a Sicilian temper, and I tend to explode when tired and overheated.)

BB is bonkers about Carol, and I can see why: They really mesh; they speak the same language. In some essential sense, too, they’re both far more generous in their notions of interpersonal relationships than I am: I don’t necessarily want exclusivity in my love relationships, but I definitely want primacy.

Carol also looks a great deal like Maria Wilhelm. When I analyze her face, it’s not a feature-by-feature resemblance, more a kind of overall stylistic similarity. They’re both an homage to the Uma Thurmond character in Pulp Fiction. The resemblance is strong enough, though, to make me want to avert my eyes from Carol in her physical presence: I'm afraid of staring.


WisCon itself is rather adorable. I did a few science fiction conventions back in the days when I was working for Charlie Brown at Locus, and I hated them.

More recently, Lucius took me to a Readercom in Massachusetts – I didn’t hate that one quite so much; in fact, I ended up having a really good time, but then, I was there with Lucius, so I got to sit at the Cool KidZ table.

Here, we’re dealing with a group of people, most of whom are marginalized in their ha-ha-ha real lives, who are coming together to be a tribe for the weekend.

I’m not a part of that tribe – in fact, I’m not a part of any tribe: I’m a social wolf; I have a deep aversion to social groups. My aversion is not necessarily relenting, but it is mellowing as I age: I can see the utility of tribes now, which I couldn’t see when I was younger. I can be moved by people’s tribal interactions.

I still don’t ever want to join one.
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My pal Ren, the Buddhist priest, came to visit, so I took her on a tour of Hudson Valley hotspots – the Culinary Institute; the fabulously perched Olana. We had a good time.

Sometime during the course of the afternoon, though, my Fitbit fell off my wrist and was lost forever. And when I got home, that was all I could think about! Hello! It’s a Fitbit! We are not talking the Koh-in-noor diamond here! We are not talking a tail feather from the one true phoenix that can cure heartbreak, grant eternal happiness, and restore the carelessness of youth! You can go to Target and buy a Fitbit! You can go to Walmart and Best Buy too! You don’t even have to leave the house because you can order a fucking Fitbit on Amazon!

Nevertheless, I fell into a deep… Well. I wouldn’t call it a depression. More a kind of OCD-tinged anxiety attack. How could you fail to notice something dropping off your wrist? Don’t you know how important it is to track at all times? ET-cetera.

Of course, Ren and I were chattering away like characters in an Ella Ferrante novel, hardly pausing to take a breath. One of those time-out-of-time times. We both came of age during the late 60s/early 70s. We both took a lot of acid. Kind of like growing up in the same family. So, yes – I’d turned the tracking off.


Olana is a very weird place, beautiful chiefly because of its location, high on a hill, overlooking the Hudson with the distant shapes of the Catskills giving what might otherwise be a sentimentally bucolic scene a certain heft and gravitas.

The Rip Van Winkle bridge was not there 150 years ago when Frederic Church stood out on his porch, barking orders at the maid.

Frederic Church was a painter in the Hudson Valley School, an art movement that would have fallen into obscurity except that art, of course, is a commodity, especially if you can get art historians to talk it up. So it’s had a revival in the last 30 years or so.

Frederic Church was also an heir to the Aetna Insurance dynasty – yep! that same corporation that’s overcharging you for healthcare insurance even today! You didn’t think he could build a rich man’s folly off the proceeds of a few unimaginative paintings of the Holy Land, did you?

And Olana is a rich man’s folly. A very rich man’s folly. A house built to resemble a Persian potentate’s palace – extruded masonry, colored brick, strangely stenciled windows, bizarre asymmetrical towers. Calvin Vaux is the architect on record, but Vaux had taste, so I imagine he ran screaming out of the room after his many of sessions with the prim-lipped, autocratic Church. The house is kind of hideous. Interesting, but hideous. And disjointed. Almost uncomfortably so.


Church was another one of those enfants terribles who took the world by storm. In his early 30s, he did a monumental painting he called Heart of the Andes, which he then put on display, charging 25¢ a head. He made $10,000 off it in a very short period of time, which was a lot of money in the 1850s. He sold the painting for $10,000, too – the highest amount a painting by an American had ever sold for, and that record stood for a very long time.

Photography was not then common, and of course, most people didn’t travel. So this ten-foot wide canvas was about as close as most people were ever gonna come to visiting South America.

The painting is at the Met, and I’ve seen it. It is very, very detailed. There is something romanticized about it that I didn’t like. The one thing I did like about it is something that I imagine viewers and art critics at the time couldn’t have picked up – the fact that it appears to have been painted using a point of view that was physically impossible at the time, hovering somewhere maybe 40 feet above the canvas but with no loss of detail. As though Church was using a drone and binoculars.

The Hudson Valley School lost cred in the years following the Civil War, and by the time Church died in 1900, he was completely forgotten.

One of his sons inherited Olana, and that son and his wife continued to live there. The son died in the 1940s; the wife in the 1960s. Olana by that time was decrepit and dilapidated, filled with moth-eaten stuffed peacocks and porcelain paintings of Mt. Fuji. I think it may even have been slated to be torn down. I would have loved to have seen it then in all its glorious ruin!

The house was rescued by a consortium of concerned citizens who persuaded the Church heirs to bequeath it to the State of New York. It has since been restored. I’m glad about that. Olana definitely deserves to be seen.


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