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If you ran into C in a bar, you’d think, Redneck.

Except C doesn’t hang out in bars.

Plus C is the scion of a famously Democratic family with deep roots in these parts. He’s a rabid left-winger.

You never really know people unless you know their families, too.

Which means that most of the people you think you know, you don’t know at all.


I spent Labor Day at the home of C’s youngest daughter Elizabeth, watching the complicated and yet, at the same time, mundane and ordinary dynamics of the Zeigenhirt family (not their real name!) play out over three generations.

Elizabeth is a lovely person. The loveliness of Elizabeth is enough to renew your faith in mankind since, by any standards, Elizabeth’s childhood had to have been difficult: Her mother had a complete schizophrenic break when Elizabeth was six, and while I like C a great deal, I can’t imagine that being fathered by him was any walk in the park. And yet, Elizabeth is this warm, generous, practical human beneath whose placid surface lurk no subterranean monsters of any kind.

She’s a potter and a graphic artist, married to a friendly, kindhearted, engaging man who emigrated from Turkey and makes beaucoup $$$$$ working as an engineer. The party was a housewarming party for the new spread they’d bought in the outer reaches of Milbrook, and it’s just this insanely beautiful place with acres of gardens and a pool and a pool house that Elizabeth is going to convert into a studio. She is very practical about her pottery. It is not a hobby. She plans to make $$$$ doing it. Having seen her product line plans and reviewed her marketing strategy, I think she may have a real shot at that.


“How did Elizabeth manage to survive so unscathed?” I asked L as we drove home.

“She had a very close relationship with her grandmother,” L said. “Poor Cassie never had a close relationship with anyone. Cassie was a difficult child, resentful and rebellious. ‘Can I call you Mother?’ Cassie once asked me, and I told her, No. ‘I’m not your mother,’ I said. ‘I’m your friend.’”

L is an easy-going person, but she’s a stickler about personal boundaries. You can never force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. She’s immune to guilt, and she never feels sorry for anyone.


Cassie inherited the full brunt of her mother’s madness.

And it came on at exactly the same moment in her life that her mother’s madness came on, in her mid-20s.

After a few abortive experiments with not taking her meds, Cassie realized that she had to take her meds if she didn’t want to end up homeless or dead.

The meds blimped her up to 300-plus and while they make the voices in her head manageable, they don’t make the voices go away.

The big deal at extended Zeigenhirt family get-togethers is the food, so I volunteered to help Cassie make her splash. Baked Camembert with sautéed mushrooms. Easy, right? How can you go wrong? I bought the ingredients and oversaw Cassie in the kitchen while she did the prep. She had a massive panic attack and begged me help her cook. But I refused. Channeling my own inner L, I suppose.

The Camembert all got eaten. Mostly by Cassie.


Bob Zeigenhirt, the patriarch of the family, is 94. He lives alone on the Zeigenhirt compound, which is the remains of the 19h century family farm, but since he build houses for many offspring on the compound, they drop in on him many times a day, and he’s just a stones’ throw away from help at any time. He’s in full possession of his mental faculties. His memory is as sharp as mine. (Of course, I have a terrible memory.) He still drove until two years ago.

I tried to call him “Mr. Zeigenhirt,” but he wasn’t having any part of that.

“Please! Bob. Mr. Zeigenhirt was my grandfather. He hasn’t been around since before World War II.”

Bob doesn’t like being old at all. It's very boring, he says. “Mostly, you sleep. And think about things that don’t exist anymore.”

I ended up talking to him for close to an hour about Dutchess County in the 1920s and 1930s. The Zeigenhirt compound is very close to the underground distillery where Dutch Schultz produced the rotgut that fueled Scott and Zelda’s NYC debauches. (Those underground bunkers and tunnels are now open to the public; they would be fun to visit.)

Bob is a national treasure, and really, someone needs to get him on tape. This is stuff you won’t find in any history book.

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On my 40th birthday, I got very morose.

Never again will I caress an 18-year-old male body in lust, I thought.

Never mind that I’d never been particularly big on caressing 18-year-old male bodies in lust. Even when I was 18.

I had a minor depressive episode that lasted for six months or so. Its chief symptom seemed to be a fixation on handsome bagboys in supermarkets, zeroing on their biceps and triceps as they crammed boxes of breakfast cereal into my environmentally conscious carrying totes. I wanted to lunge out and caress those biceps and triceps, and on at least a couple of occasions, I wept furiously and frustratedly in the parking lot when I got back to my car.

At 40, I felt so-o-o-o old.

Who would ever have believed that one day I’d be 65?


Spring has finally sprung here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. Progression of the spring flowers has finally begun: Crocuses are fading; we’re on to forsythia.

I tried to tromp around in it a bit yesterday, but I haven’t been sleeping well – not sure what to attribute that to – so I gave up after three miles or so. Came home and collapsed.

It’s really odd to experience one’s body increasingly as a horse that’s simply not up to the demands one makes on it.

Ditto on the brain.

I just can’t think after a certain point in the afternoon.


State of the Fiction Projects:

I will be joining the delightful Carol for the annual pilgrimage to Madison, Wisconsin over Memorial Day. (Hope to spend at least one day in Chicago beforehand running around with [ profile] chezsci. Possibly two days if the Beautiful Historian is in town.)

There’s a critique session in Madison, and it seems to me that I should probably submit the Eleanor Roosevelt ghost story and the first few chapters of Where You Were When for critiquing – both would benefit from plotting suggestions from outside intelligences.

There’s also a very professional pitch conference in New York City in late June where I could workshop my June Miller novel. It costs serious money, but it might be worth it if the MS were in good enough shape.


Many, many years ago Micah – she of the witchy green eyes and curiously abrasive but nonetheless reliable insight – told me she thought my diary was the reason why so many of my writing project languished in a state of genteel incompletion. “I think you have it in the back of your head that your diary is your real work,” she said.

I think she’s right.

From the time I was a very, very small child, I’ve wanted to use this life to tell stories. But more than that, I’ve wanted to use this life to bear witness.

I’ve succeeded at that.

But compared to fame, fortune, and great wads of cash, it seems like such an insignificant and hollow victory.
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Continuing in my pissy mood today. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s good. I guess I’m just one of those people who goes about wanting to randomly smash people’s heads into the wall a certain percentage of the time. Must be my Scorpio moon. The rest of the time I’m a pussycat.

Maybe it’s just autumn.

The Future Mother of My Unborn Grandchildren is coming to visit for a couple of days next week and I’m trying to think of ways I can spoil her without seeming too officious.

Liza’s coming to New York without Max who has a fairly demanding job these days. She and I have never really spent any time together, so I decided to invite her up here to get the opportunity to know her a little. Check out her teeth. Measure her thighs. Administer the Stanford Binet. All those things that prospective mothers-in-law need to do to make sure their sons’ choices are good breeding stock.

Ha ha.

“She’s very nervous about visiting you,” Max told me on the phone last night. Squeals of girlish protest in the background. “She doesn’t want to you to know, of course –"

“Put Liza on the phone,” I said. “Hello, Liza. You should be nervous to meet me. In fact, you should be terrified because I’m going to spend 72 hours judging you –“

This was a joke, of course, but possibly the wrong kind of thing to say because it’s not clear to me that Liza has a sense of humor.

“But seriously, Liza, Max is the one who should be nervous because I’m going to share all his childhood secrets with you –“

This time she laughed.

One of my conceits is that I get along very well with people who are much younger than me. That’s probably a delusion. Older people are really quite irrelevant to younger people. Give us half a chance and we’ll start nattering about the way things used to be.

You didn’t invent it! I want to tell them. We were just like you only we used different technology!

Most of the time, though, I’m successful in shutting myself up, smiling vaguely when they get passionate.


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Every Day Above Ground

September 2017

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