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Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Tribes

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.

Of Fitbits and Olana

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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


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.

olana3


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.

The Burden of Communication

aa6491d7f9f0a8c29baaf2541692d1eb Went off to Rhinebeck Sunday, ostensibly to hunt down a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing to send to RTT but really because – well – Rhinebeck. It’s a cool little town. The Carmel of the Hudson Valley. Independent bookstore. Art house movie theater. So far as I can tell, it survives on tourism – I have no idea what the locals do when winter comes.

Anyway, at Oblong Books, I found a copy of the kinda, sorta graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which I’ve been looking for practically forever (or at least since I saw the movie) along with deeply discounted copies of The Best American Short Stories 2014 and The Best American Essays 2014, two volumes I used to read religiously every year when they first came out.

And then came home and fell into a kind of paroxysm of self-loathing: Are you fuckin’ crazy? You can’t afford to buy books! You have bills to pay! Plus you’re about to go off on a five-day road trip and that’s gonna cost money

Etcetera.

Plus I have serious hoarder tendencies when it comes to books. I tried to count all the books I owned when I packed the Monterey house up, but I lost count around 2,500.

###

I’m trying to compose a missive to put into the RTT care package along with the Stephen King book and the chocolate guitar I found at Koch’s, the World’s Best Chocolatier (I mean, really.) Something chatty and affectionate.

But I am failing miserably.

I don’t know what to say to him.

I’m not mad at him.

But it dawned on me some time this week that if he failed a class way back when that he never bothered to make up that he must have known for ages that he couldn’t graduate. That, in fact, his very attrition viz classes this last semester may have been based in good part on the fact that he knew he wasn’t graduating anyway, so why bother?

I’m not really sure what to do with that fact.

And I find myself a wee bit resentful that somehow, throughout this all,the burden of communication must always initiate through me.

Road Trip Fever

ROAD TRIP MINUS FIVE!

I get quite dizzy and bubbly when I’m anticipating road trips because you know – road trips! Just the greatest thing evah!

Plus I got a nice little postcard from my pals at General Motors! That last bit of expensive work that needs to be done on my car? Well, it appears that my car is under a recall notice for that work, which means the parts and labor should be free-ee-ee!!!! Not that my mechanic was gonna tell me that.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Reads "Othello"

I collapsed yesterday.

Not quite literally.

But almost literally.

Went out to go running. Stood at the trailhead and felt weak. Thought, There is no fucking way I can do this.

Came home. Ate monstrously huge piece of chocolate cake.

The world is just an awful place.

Terrorist explosions on plane. The imminence of a new Cold War with China. Zika virus. The travesty of the upcoming Presidential face-off between two morally corrupt and despicable candidates.

Cats, I thought. Just don’t think about anything but cats. Maybe dollhouses. Maybe dead post-Romantic writers. But mostly cats.

###

Finished Careless People; started Richard Russo’s memoir, Elsewhere.

Careless People almost certainly started out as Sarah Churchwell’s PhD thesis. Not exactly sure which parts she added for book publication – maybe the stuff about the Hall/Mills murder? Except the stuff about the murders feels just weird and disconnected enough to have been a central hypothesis in some graduate student’s sleep-deprived brain. The murders hardly seems to have anything to do with the ambiance around the lives of a monumentally self-involved young couple in the early 1920s.

I do enjoy reading about Scott and Zelda’s self-involvement.

Because I know exactly what’s going to come next.

###

I’m a Fitzgerald completist in the sense that I read everything Fitzgerald ever wrote by the time I was in my mid-20s – all four and a half novels, every obscure short story in The Saturday Evening Post archives, the crack-up essays, everything. I’ve also read just about every Fitzgerald biography.

This isn’t because I like Fitzgerald particularly as a writer although I will grant that he has moments of such hard-faceted brilliance as a technician of the written language that certain of his books seem to emit a detectable glow on the shelf in the dusty library stacks to which they’ve been consigned.

Thus there is this:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.

The justifiably celebrated closing line of The Great Gatsby.

Which, unfortunately, is preceded by this:

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . . And one fine morning—


Which is the kind of prosaic sermonizing so commonplace in all American lit-ra-tchure written before Hemingway did us all a big favor and streamlined the language.

No, my interest in Fitzgerald exists because his life is a passion play for me. First act: Aspiration; unstoppable ego and ambition of youth. Second act: Pride. Third act: Self-immolation. Fourth act: The Confederate soldier limps home along a road lined with burned mansions. Maybe one of those mansions is Gatsby’s mansion. I dunno.

Fitzgerald’s life is much more interesting to me than anything he ever wrote. In the same way that Byron’s life is much more interesting to me than anything he ever wrote.

The other day, I stumbled across an actual recording of Fitzgerald’s voice. He’s reading from Othello of all things. When I see photos of Fitzgerald with that brilliantined hair parted in the middle and that cupie doll face, I figure he just never talked! No one ever talked in the 1920s! They just skittered around really fast – projection speeds back then were only 12 frames per second – and when they wanted to communicate with one another, they did it through subtitles that they conjured up through some kind of ectoplasm.

But, no, here’s proof.

Not only did Fitzgerald talk, he actually sounded like Will Rogers. That Midwestern twang is unmistakable.

http://www.openculture.com/2012/09/f_scott_fitzgerald_reads_from_shakespeares_iothelloi_and_john_masefields_on_growing_old_c1940.html

I would kinda like to get back to writing my own flawed novel today. I’m back to writing chronologically, which puts me at Chapter 3 – with vast bits of subsequent chapters already drafted. I have to jump from June’s memories of her father to the dinner with Miller and Emil Cohen where Cohen immediately recognizes that June is Jewish. (Judaism is playing a central role in this novel.) It’s kind of a tricky transition: I’ve made two attempts at it now, and neither one works.

Maybe I'll just start in the middle and write my way to the periphery.

Damn

Started gathering stuff together for the Road Trip last night. Took out my passport and – whoa! It’s expired? Seriously? How could I have let my passport expire?

I can get into Canadia on an expired passport.

But I’d have trouble getting back into the US of A. Because, you know. I’m probably an ISIS recruiter.

Damn.

No Road Trip.

Damn.

The Redemption Arc

Thilly me to think for one second that ESF and Syracuse University wouldn’t be glad to take our money and that various financial institutions wouldn’t be glad to continue loaning it at usurious rates.

Of course, RTT can stick around till December!

Pat, the one sane member of the RTT crew, is also matriculating in December and has an extra bedroom that RTT can rent. Drew will give him a job in T-burg this summer digging foundations at 10 bucks an hour three days a week, and – great news! – since Drew is on court-mandated urine tests every week, Drew is no longer drinking or smoking weed! No bad influences.

Ben dragged RTT off to Tompkins County Mental Health Services first thing Monday morning – as much to make the reapplication process look good on paper as out of any concern for RTT’s mental hygiene. RTT starts therapy tomorrow.

It ended well, so it all must be well, right?

I dunno.

I did have an awfully good time with Max:

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But I floated through yesterday feeling positively awful. Weak. Tired. Unable to focus on anything.

I binge-ate half a bag of incredibly salty, awful potato chips.

Jeanna called, and the phone reception was bad. “Are you drunk?” Jeanna said. “You sound drunk.”

No, I’m not drunk,” I snapped. “What an incredibly offensive thing to say!”

Very uncharacteristic reaction on my part.

I mean, I know Jeanna is a complete and total space cadet. Most of the time, I love her anyway.

###

Justin accompanied RTT and me on our college tour of Purchase.

“Wait!” I’d said. “Nobody is taking you on any tours of college campuses?”

He’d shrugged.

So I'd carted him along on this one. Which in retrospect was a mistake. Purchase was a hideously long way from Ithaca. We spent hours and hours driving, and I got lost, and the campus tour only lasted an hour. The boys camped out in the back seat listening to hiphop and cracking jokes in that curiously abbreviated language that only two people understood – Justin and Robin.

“So, do you think this might be some place you’d want to apply?” I asked Justin. In my fantasy, I was already editing his admissions essay.

“Nah,” said Justin. “I want to study business.”

“My nigger’s workin’ on his first million,” said Robin.

“Robin. I have told you before. I do not want you using that word.”

“Why not? Justin doesn’t mind.”

“Justin does mind. He just doesn’t think he can say that to you.”

“Do you mind, my nigger?”

Justin shrugged.

Robin cackled.

Justin said mildly, “Don’t be disrespecting your mama like that.”

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Justin ended up getting the We-Need-To-Diversify-This-Whitebread-Student-Body scholarship to some dinky little liberal arts college in Massachusetts. I’d never heard of it. Given what ended up happening to him, I can’t say he was lucky to get the scholarship. But certainly, it seemed like a redemption arc at the time.

###

By his senior year of high school, Justin had started drinking heavily.

“Justin doesn’t do weed,” Robin would tell me self-righteously. “Justin gave up weed.”

Right.

But Justin routinely drank himself into such a stupor that he pissed his bed. (For some odd reason, Robin thought this was hilarious.)

Robin and Justin would hang out in DeWitt Park doing God knows what until long after dark. Robin was supposed to hop the bus and come back to Freeville after school. But he hardly ever did. Around 9pm, I’d get the call: “I’m spending the night at Justin’s –”

“Oh, no, you’re not,” I’d say.

And hop in the car. And pray that the fumes in the gas tank were enough to get me to Ithaca and back.

And deal with the screaming fests over going to school the next morning.

Of course, Justin had no interest whatsoever in going to school either. When she rescued Justin and his brother Jason from the crack addict mother in Richmond, California, Janet, Justin’s grandmother, depleted the last of her energy. She was in her late 70s anyway. So it fell to the redoubtable and saintly Meryl, then the Dean of Students at New Roots High School, to drive to Janet’s house, and kick Justin’s ass. And make Justin go to school.

###

Justin was extremely soft-spoken. He liked skateboards. He liked bluegrass music. He liked dropping acid. I guess you could call him a hippie.

The gangsta in the family was Justin’s younger brother, Jason.

One day, Justin and Jason ended up in a car with some other dude against whom Jason was carrying some sort of gangsta grudge. Jason was also carrying a gun.

Jason was sitting in the backseat; Justin was riding shotgun. They got to the Sunoco Station on Greene Street and Seneca – shortly to be torn down to make way for a condo highrise – and Jason pulled out his gun, held it to the back of the driver’s head.

“I think I’m just gonna get out right here,” said Justin.

Thus, Justin avoided getting charged as an accessory to the burglary and assault with a deadly weapon charges that sent Jason to the Big House for 10 months or so.

“I don’t understand how Justin could just get out of that car like that!” Ben raged afterwards.

In Ben’s revisionist history, he’d always liked Justin although, of course, he’d always recognized that Justin had Major Problems.

That’s not the way I remember it.

I remember Ben hating Justin. Blaming Justin for all RTT’s lapses.

Myself, I’d always seen it the other way around. RTT was the instigator; Justin the follower. Except that Justin was black – something RTT wanted to be. But wasn’t ever gonna be.

“Of course Justin got out of the car,” I said to Ben. “That was the only sensible thing to do.”

“What? And just leave his own brother with a gun in his hand?”

“That’s right!” I said. “You don’t talk to someone with a gun in his hand.”

“That’s bullshit,” said Ben. I guess Ben has his own gangsta fantasies.

###

A year or so later, Justin ended up as the token black kid in a lily white college.

And committed suicide in December 2012.

The story I pieced together was that Justin began drinking more heavily than ever and got popped for a DUI. Couldn’t stand the pressure of having failed to live up to everyone’s expectations. Didn’t tell anyone he’d gotten popped. Didn’t show up for his court date. Stopped going to classes.

Hung himself. In a closet. You can find full instructions on the Internet if you’d like to try this yourself at home!

Just before he killed himself, Justin had called Robin.

Only Robin was busy and didn’t pick up the phone.

I suppose James Taylor is a terminally white and terminally corny troubadour. Nonetheless, it’s James Taylor’s words I always think of when I think of Justin: The plans they made put an end to you…

And Robin has survivor’s guilt.

Maybe therapy will help him with that.

Tags:

Apples. Trees. Borderlines.

Later Ben told me, “For three years, I thought I was going to die. And the thing that kept me alive was the thought that I had to be there when Robin graduated from college.”

###

Only Robin didn’t graduate.

He may still graduate.

He probably will graduate. In December.

But we all thought he was going to graduate on Saturday. In fact, we thought he had two graduations: One from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry on Saturday and one from Syracuse University on Sunday. Max flew out here, and he and I drove up to Syracuse. We were just fighting traffic to edge our way into the overcrowded parking lot and figure out where we had to go to make it to the Environmental Science reception – on time! whew! – when Robin texted: Where are you?

On our way to Baker, I texted back.

Wait no. I’m not there. Can you come pick me up

“I just parked!” I said to Max furiously. “Why can’t he walk? It’s less than a mile.”

“C’mon, Mom,” Max said mildly. “Don’t be like that. The weekend is about him, right?”

So we drove to Robin’s house.

Robin has moved three times in three years. Each time to a house that for all intents and purposes was identical to the house he lived in the year before. Syracuse University is surrounded by a student ghetto consisting of acres and acres of two-story A-frames with steeply pitched roofs and rickety porches. It’s an ugly area, and it functions kind of like the Serengeti Plain for the predators who live in the heart of the city a few miles down the hill. I sometimes try to figure out what population these structures were originally designed to house, and I can’t. But then, I’ve never been able to figure out why Syracuse exists – I mean in the economic geographic sense.

Robin was sitting on his rickety porch waiting for us. In a raggedy teeshirt and ratty jeans. Well, okay, I thought. He’s dressing down. Certainly wouldn’t be my choice, but who am I to judge?

He got in the car reeking of stale cigarette smoke.

“I’m not graduating,” he said.

I thought this was a joke. It is, in fact, a typical Robin humor gambit.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “Well, it was awfully nice to see you. Max, you up for the drive back?”

“No,” said Robin. “I’m serious.”

"You're serious." I blinked at him. “What do you mean you’re not graduating? What happened?”

“I stopped going to classes this semester,” he said. “I blew them off. So I flunked out.”

“You stopped going to classes?” I said. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just couldn’t make myself care.”

I looked at him, and I thought, I really should be furious.

But I didn’t feel furious. I didn’t feel anything.

And I knew, intellectually, that not going to classes, not graduating, was not the issue here. The issue was that Robin has profound emotional and psychological issues that he’s never, ever gotten help for – never got counseling after Justin’s suicide; never got counseling after that time that Pat, the one savvy human among Robin’s motley assortment of drinking buddies, got concerned enough after Robin said, “I wish I was dead,” one time too many to call an ambulance and have him carted off to a local psychiatric facility. He was supposed to get counseling. But he never followed up on it.

What would a real mother do in these circumstances? I asked myself. Because I’ve never felt like a real mother. This comes from having been inadequately parented myself. I used to – no shit – watch The Cosby Show for tips on real parenting. (And you can imagine my feelings when Cosby turned out to be a serial rapist only a few degrees short of a necrophiliac.)

A real mother would recognize that her son is in intense pain, I thought.

So, I reached over and just hugged him. “Oh, honey,” I said.

His eyes had that teary, glassy look, but he didn’t cry.

I suppose in addition to all those cigarettes, he’d also been smoking a lot of dope.

###

What to do next?

We drove off to meet Ben who Robin had delivered his announcement to just as Ben was taxiing from the bus station. Ben was standing in front of Starbucks, and my heart just broke to see him – he was wearing his natty straw Panama and his old blue blazer, prepared to be so proud.

I got out to talk to Ben.

“I want to kill that little fucker,” Ben said.

“Well, Ben,” I said. “Understand that I am not saying this to be cruel. But the apple does not fall far from the tree, and you have to understand that he is modeling behavior that he saw in you the whole time he was growing up. I mean, all that obsessive lying stuff. In fact, you’re probably the only one who can reach him because you used to pull shit like this all the time. You know what the motives are. I’m kind of a compulsively blunt and honest person, so I don’t.”

“Never mind that,” said Ben. “Without a degree, in one month he’s going to have to start repaying those school loans. How’s he going to do that with no degree and no job? His life will be ruined. We’ve got to get him reenrolled in school to buy him time. There’s a timeline involved there with the registrar, with financial aid. It may already be too late.”

I shook my head. “I get that, Ben. But this is a kid in crisis. And you have absolutely no guarantee that even if we do manage somehow to smooth is way back to school for a semester so he can get that degree that he’ll follow through with what he needs to do if his mental health is this bad.”

“Well, he’s just got to,” Ben said. “Send him over to me please. I need to talk to him alone.”

I got back in the car. “Robin, your Dad would like to talk to you.”

Robin got out.

Max and I looked at each other.

“Now what?” I said.

“Well, I think we try to keep it as light as possible,” Max said. “We go somewhere, the four of us, and we interact as positively as possible. No drama.”

No drama.

Right.

###

Max ended up spending the night with Robin – the plan all along had been that they would hang out Saturday night. They see each other so seldom.

I carted Ben back to T-Burg where we watched a series of really awful movies – something called The Keeping Room, which appeared to be a remake of Night of the Living Dead except the zombies were Union scouts in the Civil War; something called Dope, which was a black teen exploitation comedy that was supposed to teach us that not all young African Americans aspire to selling dope on corners. I also occupied myself by writing a four-page list of all the things that Robin would have to do if he wanted to get readmitted to school so he could get a degree in December: See registrar. See Academic Dean. Find out if needed classes or equivalents will be given first semester. Talk to mental health person –

You shouldn’t be doing that list,” Ben said. “Robin should be doing that list.”

“I get that,” I said. “And Robin will be doing this list. Then you can compare Robin’s list with my list to make sure he hasn’t missed anything.”

Really, I wanted to get shit-faced drunk, and I don’t even like drinking very much. Ben poured me the last of the expensive single malt Scotch that predated his diagnosis and then gave me a Xanax. I still couldn’t sleep. It’s not as though I was feeling anything. I just Could. Not. Sleep.

###

In the morning, Ben and I drove back up to Syracuse. Loaded Max and Robin into the car. At some point the night before, Robin had wandered over to his girlfriend’s house – not the girlfriend he’d been so smitten with back in January; the girlfriend he believed was out of his class, Daisy to his Gatsby. He’d been so infatuated with her; I’d heard that they’d broken up, but I hadn’t heard any details. I wondered if that breakup had somehow triggered the behavior we were looking at now. I wondered if he felt bad at all since he’d apparently had no qualms about walking out on the brother he hadn't seen in a year, the brother who'd flown 3,500 miles to watch him graduate, leaving that brother in the awful house with the rickety porch.

###

“Did you talk at all?” I asked Max on the drive back to the Hudson Valley.

“We talked some,” Max said.

“Well, I mean – I’m not asking you to betray any confidences. I know full well that Robin loves me, but he doesn’t like me very much. I’ve kind of made my peace with that.”

“Oh, no,” Max said. “In fact, he said some pretty complimentary things about you. He said he would never even have made it through high school except you were on his ass –“

“Well, that is true,” I said. And flashed momentarily on those epic screaming battles back in the Cement Bungalow. Fuckin’ Freeville! Now, apparently the epicenter of Tompkins County’s burgeoning methamphetamine industry.

“I’m sick,” he’d whine.

“You are not sick, and you are going to school if I have to physically drag you out of bed and carry you on my back every inch of the way,” I would snarl.

Ugly, ugly scenes. Day after day.

I may be a complete failure, I thought. My business failed, my husband walked out on me, I'm 3,500 miles from anyone who cares whether I live or die. I'm living in absolute squalor. But by God, I'm going to see to it that this kid graduates from high school.

Bad, bad times.

I quickly willed myself not to think of them.

###

So, Robin. A really brilliant kid. Superhumanly physically attractive, too. But a bird with a broken wing.

What is wrong with him?

Clinical depression?

Bipolar disorder?

Could he possibly be a borderline personality?

My mother was a borderline personality. Is there a biochemical factor to borderline personality syndromes, possibly genetic? Or is it a behavioral dysfunction?

I don’t know.

The other possibility, of course, is that he’s some kind of sociopath. And that would be ironic – to have one child who’s intensely empathetic and another child who feels no empathy at all.

###

I had to get Max back to my place so that he could work on his law review paper. Max is flying back to California tomorrow, leaving for his summer clerkship in Albuquerque on Thursday. The paper's got to get done. No drama.

So, we left Robin with Ben who will hover over him making sure that the things that need to get done to get Robin reenrolled – assuming that Robin can be reenrolled – will get done even if (as likely) Ben has to do them himself. I still think the most pressing issues are (1) Robin’s mental health and (1) Corollary A: Why is Robin turning into such a pathological liar? But I understand that those issues aren’t on as tight a deadline.

The plan is to get those things dealt with and then to dispatch Robin to me here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley.

I’m not sure what I’ll actually do with Robin here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. Talk to him if he’s up to talking. Cook for him. Give him books to read. Take him on long hikes.

That's assuming, of course, that he actually comes to the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. I have a feeling he won't. The quaint and scenic Hudson Valley is not filled with amusements that would appeal to him.

“I should never have come to school here!” Robin said in that initial conversation in the car. “I’m not interested at all in this subject matter!”

“I know,” I said. “Personally, I was shocked when you decided to go here. I always thought SUNY Purchase was the best choice for you. You have artistic talents, you have the artistic temperament. Purchase is a place where artists flourish. But you know, once you’d made up your mind, it was impossible for me to tell you anything.”

###

At home back with my cats, back with people who care about me, I still don’t feel anything. There were errands I had to do this morning that I did because they were on my list of things to do. I made breakfast for Max because that’s the way that mothers should behave.

But I feel numb.

If I could find my “Off” button, I’d definitely hit it.

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I was trying to remember – for fictional purposes, natch – what it felt like to really want someone. In a physical sense.

Not because status, money, security, or personality is involved, all – in their respective ways – appropriations of that old cannibal hunter’s instinct: I will suck every last pearl from your dick, I will turn your nipples purple with my tongue, I will consume your heart, because I crave your manna, I want to put it inside me, I want to be you.

Not because you had to get them off if you wanted them to get you off. Turnabout is the only fair play!

But because their rectus abdominis drives you wild with a temporary and quite satiable desire. And when you’re done, you’re done! Lust, right? Next!

I know I used to feel that with some degree of regularity.

I know I don’t feel it now.

Though I did feel a ghost of it with the beautiful K________ brother. He had the most bee-you-tee-ful body, and his glaucous eyes were Rik’s eyes. Never mind that he kept texting me these strange YouTube videos of Mr. PotatoHead on the Nautilus machine and had problems separating “your” from “you’re.” I would tongue the groove of his rectus abdominus; I would crush his cock between my breasts; I would ride him like a stallion. I would breathe his scent, like green barley, like crushed daisies –

That kind of lust is always very driven by smell, isn’t it? Very chemical.

But I’m a bookish girl at heart. I’d rather have long, rambling conversations about the nature of the universe than orgasms.

I mean, even back when my hormones were percolating like a Mr. Coffee on the morning of final exams, that much was true.

###

I think the best description I’ve ever read about that kind of lust comes from Nabokov: My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.

###

Since I only got five hours of sleep night before last, yesterday was kind of a wash. I’d hiked around 12 miles the day before. My foot was aching. I was feeling all sorts of anxiety about the upcoming Syracuse trip and even Max’s arrival, thinking of all those hours I was going to have to spend willing that Virgin Airlines plane he’ll be on to stay up in the air, not to crash.

I holed up in my room and read The Camomile Lawn.

Around suppertime, I ventured forth and had a long, rambling conversation about the nature of the universe with Benito.

Benito interests me because he is so Machiavellian. One might describe him as a sociopath who has vowed to use his awesome powers for good. He is very success-driven; I have no doubt whatsoever that 15 years from now, he will be helming his own restaurant empire.

I wonder about the nature of his relationship with Toddie, his wife. I’m not sure Benito has emotions in the same sense other people have emotions, and I also think he prefers men sexually – and knows it – but isn’t driven by it.

Our minds, that distillate of purified intellect, seem to be remarkably alike although that, of course, could be an illusion created by him – he has that talent for sensing what other people want him to be and playing to it.

I wondered briefly whether I would have felt lust for him back in the old days. He’s exactly the physical type I used to go for in both men and women – very blond, very lean, very chiseled. Blue-eyed.

But we’ll never know, will we?

###

Thing I remember best about lust is its peculiar urgency and contractile properties. Lust shrank the world. The world had only two people in it – you and the objet du desir. Everything else was background noise. Everything else was preamble. All that mattered was the weight of that body, the smell of that sweat, the slippery secrets.

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