Neo-American Church

Chapter 16


If knights errant were to be believed, not all castles were desirable places to seek hospitality in.

Back at Cranberry Lake, Charlie Merchant greeted me with great excitement. All hell had broken loose. I had been on the national morning and evening news. The Watertown paper had put out a special edition with a full page devoted to the North Country’s latest tourist attraction, me. Some guy had driven over to sell it at the Star Lake high school and had been thrown off the property by Person in person. The name of Art Kleps adorned every lip. Charlie was delighted. Any publicity for Cranberry Lake was good publicity as far as he was concerned.

I called Sally a day or two later and told her to get on the first plane she could manage. Things were looking up. With all the publicity we earned from the Senate hearings, it would be duck soup to fill MGL all summer with paying visitors. There would be a ready market for anything I wrote. Suddenly, the mailbox was loaded with membership applications for the Church every morning. All we had to do now was attend to business and in a short time our troubles would be over. There would be enough money by fall to winterize the lodge, or we could rent a house in Syracuse. Every prospect pleased. Good scenes coming up.

Sally, it turned out, wasn’t exactly seeing things in these terms. She liked Miami. She wasn’t even sure she would come up during the summer. It wasn’t that she had given up chemicals. Far from it. She was hanging around with the college kid speed freaks and paregoric heads whom I had tried to convert to finer things while I had been there. She described a fight she had witnessed between one of our boo hoos and a junkie who had burned him in an acid deal. She was helping her mother look for a house in Sarasota. Good old Frank Green, the wife beater, who lived there with his mother, had suggested the area.

Jesus Christ!

Ramakrishna, whenever he was informed that a nice, “spiritually inclined” young man he had just met was married, characteristically responded as if he had been told the man had a bad case of tuberculosis and wasn’t expected to live. If it turned out the guy had children, Ramakrishna would, as oft as not, burst into tears. In terms of social control, it is no accident or trivial matter that the state almost always gives all the property and custody of the children to the mother.

This simple threat has probably nipped more potential revolutionaries in the bud than all the armed might in Sado-Judeo-Paulendom. Social deviance is no less common in women than in men, but the form it takes is rarely a threat to established institutions, since it’s usually mere escapism or misbehavior like hanging out with the “wrong” crowd. No matter how radical her opinions or how intelligent and elevated her tastes and ideas, a woman with children will almost always behave according to tamasic values. The state can depend on her, as long as she has food and a roof over her head, not to give too much trouble. I have not seen many exceptions to this rule, I don’t expect to see many and, because kids need protection first and foremost, I don’t really think there ought to be many.

At a time when all flags flying seemed to signal fair weather, I was holed below the waterline by a torpedo from left field. With all the assurance in the world that the law was on her side and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it, Sally was telling me I would either do things her way or I could forget about my kids. My mental condition went directly from euphoria to black depression. I couldn’t write. I did nothing to encourage visitors. Cranberry Lake, glittering in the early summer sun, might as well have been a gigantic cesspool for all I cared. I started drinking quite a bit more than was good for me.

I’m not interested in contributing another account of emotional misery to the already swollen collection. When one is caught in one of these situations the best thing to do is fight like a cornered beast to rectify matters and, if that proves to be impossible, crawl into a hole somewhere and pray for a speedy recovery, but I don’t have any respect for the condition itself and I didn’t then. This bummer lasted from the time of which I am speaking, early summer of ’66, to January of ’67, when I moved into the Big House at Millbrook, divested of everything except the clothes on my back and my indomitable will, etc. I’m going to give a sort of telegraphic account of the high and low points just to keep the record straight, and resume a more discursive style when I’m on the train headed back to Millbrook from Birmingham.

A teenage boy and girl, who had joined the Church in Miami, came up to visit, flat broke. I let them use a cabin but told them to forget any delusions they might have formed about my willingness to feed the poor while in the same condition myself. Dorothy, the marijuana goddess, was a hot little number, in a scrawny kind of way, but I couldn’t have cared less. They were classic Miami-style nitwit street druggies. They didn’t even try to find jobs. I went to visit Bob Eddy for a few days. When I returned, I found my best boat half under water on the town beach. Fortunately, I had preserved enough common sense to stow my outboard motor, a charming little Mercury, in the trunk of the car before I took off, along with my charming little semi-automatic Browning rifle chambered for .22 shorts, the prettiest and most fun firearm ever manufactured, in my opinion, and cheap to use also. Back at the lodge, I discovered that most of my library was gone, including all my letters from Tim.

Sally flew up for a three-day visit in a supposed attempt to “adjust.” It was as if I were asking her to move into a tenement in Harlem for the summer. She returned to Miami. She flew up again. Money for which there were much better uses was being wasted.

The whole family was back together, but “only for a month.” It was a demonstration of the ancient truism that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him wash his armpits. We had some interesting visitors who didn’t steal anything; we went swimming and fishing and such almost every day; but there was no genuine enthusiasm or satisfaction, because we both knew there would be no happy ending. Sally intended to return to Miami. I didn’t know what I would do, but whatever it was, I knew I wouldn’t like it. Sally’s mother sent her tickets. The next day she and the kids left with Yossarian and Anna, who gave them a ride to the airport in Albany.

My Life in the Woods adventure had been converted into a stupid soap opera. Because of the kids, I just couldn’t say to hell with it and find another girl. I went to Syracuse a couple times and screwed around, but didn’t enjoy it much. I returned after one such excursion around 3 a.m., drunk and stoned on hash. In the boat, when I wrongly thought myself about halfway home, an elaborate and gigantic image in neon blue, which resembled a Sanskrit letter or a Chinese ideogram, appeared in the pitch darkness in front of me. I cut the motor. The vision vanished. As my eyes refocused, I saw that I had taken a false bearing and had been seconds away from piling up on some rocks which were a well-known hazard in the north-central section of the lake.

The emotional effect was close to zero. To the question “sink or swim” I would have answered “as you like it.” This state of mind, at that point, represented progress. It didn’t bother me at all to sell the outboard and the rifle for half of what I had paid for them.

My car having been confiscated by one of my creditors, I hitchhiked and then took busses from Saranac Lake to Millbrook. J.D. Kuch, bee hee of Washington, D.C., and husband had agreed to pick me up at Millbrook in a few days and then drive me to Steve Newell’s place in New Jersey. Steve had good connections. Perhaps he could get me a job for the winter.

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