Neo-American Church

Chapter 33


But no; you see I was an unknown person, among a cruelly oppressed and suspicious people, a people always accustomed to having advantage taken of their helplessness, and never expecting just or kind treatment from any but their own families and very closest intimates.

On the night Tim returned, I had an experience that was pretty damned weird, even for Millbrook. I was stoned on the lesser sacrament and was sitting in the music room, in the dark, by myself, enjoying the moonlit snowscape. I heard a car coming and went to the French doors that led to the porte cochère to see who it might be. A sedan passed by. Tim was sitting next to the driver. I could see Susan in the back seat. I went around back to greet them.

Nobody was there. The people in the kitchen hadn’t noticed anything. Weird. I went back to the music room and watched more snow fall. About an hour later, the big bell started ringing. Someone had been alerted from town by phone. I heard a car and went up to the French windows to the porte cochère just as I had before. Exactly the same scene I had witnessed an hour earlier was repeated, but this time it was most assuredly Tim in the flesh, and Jackie, Susan and a couple other people. Joyful and genuine greetings. What the hell, politics or no politics, it was nice to see them all again.

“Timo!,” I said.

“Arturo! I have been hearing all kinds of good things about you,” said our glorious leader. Susan was beaming, but Jackie looked uneasy.

“Well,” Wendy said to me that night, “I bet things get pretty heavy around here now.”

When Tim appeared in the music room the next day and found it converted into a place of industry instead of meditation, with Michael, Wendy and I busily picking away at our various tiny tasks over light tables and drawing boards, he seemed torn by a variety of conflicting emotions. Haines had predicted instant disaster, which seemed reasonable since most of the League members regarded our sequestration of what I had to admit was one of the most beautiful rooms in the house as an act of piracy if not impiety. I had wedged the door to the back stairs closed to keep out the dogs, and there was a sign on the French doors to the library warning idlers and monologuists to keep their distance during working hours.

I showed Tim around. Ordination certificates. Membership cards. Nearly completed mechanicals for the cover of the Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook. Michael had just done his original drawing of The Great Seal, showing a three-eyed toad with the motto “Victory Over Horseshit” below it, and Wendy was whiting out ink spots and smudges.

“I don’t like your motto, Art,” Tim said, looking over her shoulder. “Victory? Over? Horseshit?”

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“It isn’t a gentle love message,” Tim replied, with a straight face.

“Well, I’m going to add this explanation,” I replied, trying to keep my face straight also. I showed him a paragraph I had written describing the difference between horseshit and bullshit:

Our victory is over horseshit rather than bullshit. Bullshit is a rare and valuable commodity. The great masters have all been superb bullshitters. Horseshit, on the other hand, in the common parlance, refers to downright crap. The free, playful entertaining flight of ideas is bullshit; and more often than not will be found afterwards to accord perfectly with universal truth. Horseshit is contrived; derivative, superstitious, ignorant. We might take Gurdjieff as an example of a master bullshitter and Meher Baba as an example of a master horseshitter.

Tim was amused. His private tastes were not always bad, by any means, and if he saw something good, he couldn’t help appreciating it, even if he wished it wasn’t there.

“What are your objectives, Art?” Tim wanted to know.

“Money and power,” I replied, very much off the cuff.

Tim laughed, threw up his hands, and walked out. There were no attempts to kill our projects. Instead, Tim gave us all the help he could, so far as intramural matters were concerned.

If Tim had asked me the same question when I had first visited Millbrook, I would have replied differently. At that time I was looking for Enlightenment, for the Truth with a capital “T.”

But I had found it, so now what? Did I want to tell the world? Certainly. Solipsistic nihilism has been given a bum rap by people who don’t know what they are talking about or, often with great effort and tongue biting, not talking about. It’s natural that I would champion the doctrine I knew and loved but which was routinely picked on by the other kids on the block and pooh-poohed in the schools they went to. Paternal love came into play. I wanted to see my pride and joy vindicated and treated right.

Am I consumed with a passionate zealotry to bring all and sundry to worship, as it were, at the same shrine, as it were? No. It isn’t like that at all.

I feel no obligation to drag people into the woods, through the woods, and out the other side. If they follow my advice, they can leap over the woods in one mighty bound, like Superman. Or they can stay where they are if they like. I don’t care.

Those who honestly confess to confusion and sincerely want Enlightenment excite my sympathy. Aside from the Supreme Sacrament, what they usually need are a new set of concepts to think with. I try to supply this.

As Confucius said, “The first thing that is necessary is to call things by their right names.” True in every Zmm.

I’m indifferent to those who are indifferent, or who think it’s all a lot of crap but don’t pass laws that savagely punish us for being the fools that they declare us to be. I would have little interest in convincing them otherwise if they would leave us alone. In many ways, it has been the enemies and adversaries of the Church who have kept it alive, not me.

Nothing unusual about that, historically speaking.

What I wanted for the Church, when Tim asked me, was what I wanted for myself then and now: a congenial setting, minimal economic restraints and the power to defend myself and my fellow religionists against the assaults of our enemies. In other words, I wanted the best shelter, services, tools and weapons I could get, just like everyone else. What I was willing to give up for those outcomes was and is another matter entirely.

Despite Tim’s bland attitude toward my activities, it didn’t take long before he announced that he wanted to bounce the Ashram, which may have explained his bland attitude towards my activities. The old “one enemy at a time” trick.

“He says,” Bill reported to a glum group, “that he made it clear when he invited us here that it was just temporary. He doesn’t want us to move into the Gray Buildings, either. What he thinks we ought to do is move into Art’s place up in the Adirondacks. How we are supposed to swing that sweet little deal escapes me.”

“Hitchcock, I suppose,” I said. “I’m sure Karl would sell if the price was right.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” Bill said, “I want to be here when this place falls apart to get my share of the kiss-off money. And so should you, Kleps, if you know what’s good for you. I can see it all coming. The parties are going to start upstairs and you’re going to have total insanity around here again very quickly.”

“But we can’t stay here, and the Hurdles are living in the Gray Buildings,” Betsy said.

“The Hurdles can move,” Bill said. “What about that stone house up by the barns?”

Haines convinced Billy and Tommy to move the Hurdles to the empty stone house adjoining the barns, by offering the Ashram’s services as house cleaners and painters to make it habitable. The barns could be seen from the public road which enclosed the property, and were such outrageous examples of conspicuous consumption that they often stopped those few motorists who were sightseeing or had taken a wrong turn. Jeez, is that a cathedral over there, or what?

I helped paint the interior of the house, which turned out to be as much fun (it all depends on the spirit which prevails) as it was work. As the Hurdles neared completion of their migration to these much more sumptuous quarters, Wendy and I moved our office into a room on the first floor of the Gray Buildings. Our new office had one door opening on a small corner porch and another to the large concrete-floored space which we now called “the press room.” We carried our completed work back and forth to the Big House, where we slept with it.

In unstable, unpredictable social situations, those who make no effort to guard what they value are often the most paranoid. They either think they are divinely protected or suppose themselves so efficiently persecuted that caution is useless.

“Heaven forbid that we should appear paranoid, Wendy,” I said. “We shall therefore protect the Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook as if everyone in sight wants to destroy it.”

Wendy, from whom a party or parties unknown had recently stolen about $600 worth of jewelry, readily agreed.

The soft-headedness of many of our fellow residents was demonstrated by a spectacular event that happened at about that time: Gigantic blossoms of glowing color appeared in the early night sky. Everyone ran out on the porch. Flying saucers! God! Shiva’s aura! “I’m ready,” Karen Detweiler cried, “come and get me!”

When the show was over, Wendy and I wound our way up the hill to our place of work, as usual. Hurdle and family, soon to move out, were seated on lawn chairs, drinking beer and eating potato chips. They were the only people around with accurate information. It had been a NASA experiment, sodium bombs in the stratosphere, or something of the sort, and they had read all about it in the New York Daily News that morning.

Haines shrewdly and smoothly negotiated the Ashram’s migration, including two public confrontations with Tim over the issue when both were on large doses of the Supreme Sacrament. During the second of these powwows, the second floor hall became impassable, so great was the audience gathered to cheer on their respective champions. Having already decided to make a bid for the Gatehouse, I stayed in the background, although I made it clear that I supported the Ashram.

One of Bill’s ploys during this period, when the issue of the Ashram’s right to stay on the property at all was still considered debatable, was to sneak into Tim’s room and find out what book he was reading that day. If it was, say, The Magus, a silly novel which Tim seemed to find highly inspiring for a while, Haines would play the role of a solemn, moralistic and traditional yogi. If, on the other hand, Tim was reading Krishnamurti, Haines would become jocular, irreverent and nonchalant.

No matter how fanciful these debates became (at one point, Tim invited Bill to fly down to the Caribbean with him to “get a fresh slant” on the situation) or how profound the philosophic depths, Bill would terminate the exchange by pounding his cane on the floor and saying, “I want those Gray Buildings.” He got them.

Occasionally a mild, contrarian remark, such as, “Well, after all, he did invite us here in the first place,” or something of the sort would be voiced in the Ashram, probably just to keep Haines rolling.

“And what would this place be like without us?” Haines would reply. “Why don’t you ask yourself that sometime? Besides, it’s my understanding that the Hitchcocks didn’t give the place to Timmy alone but to Timmy and Dickie and Ralphie all together, right? What do you suppose happened to the other two members of that sweet little trio? Do you think for one moment it wasn’t the good doctor himself who eased them out of the picture? Well, I am not so easily conned.”

The real battles took place at the Bungalow, where Tim and Bill went to plead their cases. I stayed out of that too. Tim had already let me know, in an assurance which I knew I could rely on as much as any other politician’s promise, that he would be happy to have me stay in the Big House with Wendy if I wanted to.

Bill’s tirades of rhetorical questions were one of the foundations of his authority. He knew how to make people feel morally right in situations which otherwise would have made them feel guilty and weak. After one such morale-boosting session, Haines and I were left alone for a few seconds. Bill winked at me and said, “There’s nothing like a little self-righteousness when you’re trying to get your hands on someone else’s real estate, Art.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Susan Leary, much to Haines’ delight, enlisted in the Ashram shortly after the move. She stayed about three weeks. She said she wanted to get away from Rosemary, whom she thought to be a witch of darkest pitch. Bill was confident that a period of “healthy living” with “normal kids her own age” would fully renovate and disinfect her polluted psyche.

I employed Susan, who was famous for her blank stare, to keep Michael Green’s nose to the grindstone. She would track him down and gaze at him until he fled to work. Haines was impressed, and said I had made a major contribution to managerial science.

One day, while Susan was placidly awaiting her next assignment, I asked her what it was all about. Did she really think Rosemary was a witch? Her expression abruptly descended to about 50 degrees below zero, and she proceeded, in flat, sing-song tones, to lay Rosemary out in spades. She was an “evil woman.” She was trying to destroy “Timothy.” She hated Susan and Jackie. She was frigid and barren and did not love Tim. All she wanted was to destroy everything she could lay her spells on.

I wasn’t exactly crazy about Rosemary myself, but this seemed somewhat harsh. On the other hand, what did I know about it? And yet again on the third hand, it took two to tango. One thing’s for sure; Rosemary’s replacement, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who “latched on to him,” to use Bill’s characteristic phrase, in Switzerland, was worse. She coincided with Tim’s most lunatic intellectual phase, while Rosemary coincided with mere opportunism and amorphousness.

Wendy announced that she needed a vacation. Since we had been working about twelve hours a day, every day of the week, I could see her point. Her parents were paying for it, so, with no objections from me, she flew off to Florida to visit “an old girlfriend” for a couple of weeks. “Girlfriend,” shit, but I didn’t care, and I had never pretended to Wendy that I did.

Shortly after Wendy left, I got an engraved card in the mail. I was invited to a “psychedelic seder” at Peggy Hitchcock’s house in New York, as were Bill, Tim and a few others from the League and the Ashram. It further developed that Tim and I were to read the service, or part of it. I had never heard of a “seder,” psychedelic or otherwise, but Ted Druck set me straight. “Oh, Passover. Yeah, right. Celebrate killing the first-born sons of all Egyptian families. Sure, why not? Give them gnats first. What will God think of next?”

The kids of Jewish origin in the community were greatly amused by the idea of a seder on acid, and thinking of, say, an Easter service conducted with the Supreme Sacrament as Eucharist, I could see why.

I went down in the Ashram’s van. Our excursions to and from New York on the beautifully landscaped and non-commercial Taconic Parkway, one of the many lasting achievements of the semi-socialist ’30s, always put me in a good mood, which was improved on this occasion by the absence of twerps in either the League or the Ashram vehicle. Peggy had been selective. It wasn’t that I didn’t like our twerps, or, it was clear, they me. The problem was their incessant moralizing about almost everyone and everything. It tended to put a damper on the free flow of conversation.

The band of brothers communal ideal, and the endless list of rights and wrongs which followed from it, were assumed by the twerps to measure the moral worth of all conduct on the place. This attitude was alive and well despite the authoritarian guru systems firmly in place, and the fact that most of us were unemployables living on the charity of the rich.

As the only avowed elitist around, I was in many ways immune to the pressures exerted on Tim and Bill. I got a lot of flack for this at first, before it became generally known that I was a hopeless case.

“Meritocracy doesn’t have anything to do with the Church, or with religion, or with psychedelics,” I would say, “or with who is the better person, or the more likable person, or the more trustworthy, or whom I want to hang out with,” and the list would go on and on.

Well, what did it have to do with?

“The franchise. I think how many votes you get ought to be graduated by IQ and achievement test scores and stuff like that.”

End of discussion, almost always. None of the band of brothers moralists and egalitarian primitivists I’m talking about, and in those days there was one behind every ornamental shrub, wanted to discuss their favorite subject in such blunt, bloodcurdlingly factual terms. They wanted to vent spleen and make all who didn’t conform to the latest totems and taboos squirm and confess and tear their hair out and cover themselves with ashes and throw themselves into hideous contortions, thereby evening the score, as it were, for the crime of enjoying any distinction of any sort.

I just wouldn’t play.

Neither would Bill Haines. He wouldn’t explain himself, he would just threaten to kill, or seriously injure in some picturesque fashion, anyone who attempted to lay this kind of crap on him. “Nitwit” was one of his most favored terms.

Tim, on the other hand, was inextricably enmeshed in the egalitarian mystique, and was obliged to repeat and endorse and appear to observe in actual practice all the kid-culture political dicta and moralistic formulations “our” media ordained. It’s the classic price extorted from those who seek prominence in this field of endeavor. The French radical politician Alexandre-Auguste-Ledru-Rollin succinctly summed it up to a court trying him on the charge of joining in the aborted revolution of 1848:

“I had to follow them,” he said. “I was their leader.”

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