Neo-American Church

Chapter 36


Still, I had one comfort; here was proof that Clarence was still alive and banging away.

One day when Wendy, who was pregnant, was in New York having her hair dyed or her legs waxed or some similar office performed at her mother’s expense, I went over to the Bungalow to see what Billy was up to. I found him seated at a wrought iron and glass table next to the swimming pool, looking bored.

It was mid-morning of a fine, breezy, summer’s day and the other Bungalowites, Aurora included, were away in New York.

“You’re just the maniac I wanted to see, Kleps,” Billy said, brightening up considerably at my appearance. “Let’s raise a little hell around here, what?”

Do ducks go barefoot in the park?

I made myself a Bloody Mary at the bar between the two dressing rooms at the end of the pool, and joined Billy at the table.

“The way I look at it, what’s the use of having a place like this if you can’t have any fun in it, what?” Billy asked.

Good point.

Margaret, who was always gracious and composed no matter how crazy things got, appeared with some breakfast for Billy, and asked me if I would like some, too. I said I would, thanks, and told Billy about an invitation, which I had received and accepted the preceding day, to appear on the Alan Burke TV show. Billy was delighted to hear about it, and said he would invite everyone on the property over to the Bungalow to watch the show on his new color set.

“We’ll make a party out of it,” Billy said. “Too bad you won’t be here to enjoy it.”

Any excuse would do for a party that summer, as we shall see. While I ate breakfast, I thought of several, and so did Billy.

Priscilla Ashworth. An ex-girlfriend of Ted Druck’s, Priscilla, a tall, brown-haired beauty of the Gibson-girl variety, in her late twenties, was visiting the Ashram for a few days. I had met her briefly and had been favorably impressed. Besides being gorgeous, she had that telltale look in her eyes that means a high IQ and a lively sense of humor. I didn’t know what kind of relationship she had with Ted, or exactly why she was visiting.

“She sounds like my type,” Billy said. “Maybe I can beat Ted’s time. All’s fair in love and war, what?”

Good, that took care of Billy’s gonads. As for my own, there happened to be three unattached “marijuana goddesses” at the Ashram at the time, any one of whom I would gladly have crowned Queen of the May if we had been having Druidical ceremonies in the woods. The notion of ravishing all three of them in a row, in the manner of a traditional Mormon bishop or a king of Israel, entered my head.

“Little Lisa” was eighteen or so, a lithe and lovely raven-haired doll type who, although she looked the picture of virginal innocence, had, so she had told me during a previous brief encounter aborted by my being arrested for not having a helmet while taking her to town on Tord’s motorcycle (fine: $50), embarked on a career of dissolute and sensual living at the age of fifteen, as a regular at Bobby Baker’s club in Washington, D.C.; the same den of iniquity pointed out to me by the secretary from the Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee the day before the hearings as a “high old times” kind of place.

Little Lisa seemed to be vaguely attached to the Bhavani-Sarasvati-Susan Shoenfeld axis. She had been sleeping, the last time I noticed, with a sixteen-year-old named Ginger, in a room at the Ashram. Little Lisa might have been somewhat “femme,” but during a skinny-dipping party she had demonstrated, to my satisfaction, that she wasn’t hostile to the “seed-bearing” faction of the population, at least not in my case.

Ginger, a pretty, strawberry blonde of the standard American type, was, I knew, fighting with her boyfriend, a crazy and violent boy of twenty or so whom Haines seemed to be tolerating because he had a small private income, most of which he was turning over to the Ashram every month. He later split, joined the League in the woods, and became a fake Indian of both continents, a wearer of buckskins and also a worshiper of Yama, the Hindu god of death.

“Big Lisa,” an extremely blonde blonde, also sixteen and not so named because she was tall or fat but because she sported a pair of jugs that just wouldn’t quit, was a contender. This girl, a daughter of the foremost female leader of the old-fashioned Vedantist contingent in upstate New York at the time, had conned her mother into believing that the Ashram was straight and was actively resisting the evil, drug-soaked influence of Leary and his crew, so that she would be allowed to spend the summer with them as a student. The only virgin around over the age of twelve, Big Lisa got a lot of kidding, particularly when she exchanged a few words with me.

“Watch out for that man, Lisa,” Haines boomed on one such occasion. “He likes them young. I don’t know how Professor Freud would explain it, but personally I think it’s because he’s a lousy lay. I have been told as much by people who should know.” When I asked for the name of his misinformant, Bill said he was “not at liberty to divulge that information,” which he claimed to have received “under seal of the confessional.”

When Billy and I had completed our list and a couple joints, a couple drinks, and breakfast, there was no question about how we intended to spend the balance of the day.

“Listen, Art,” Billy said, “let’s go down to the Ashram and have lunch there. I’ll bring some wine and flowering Vietnamese tops that just came in.” This was the name given to sinsemilla in those days.

Haines treated Billy’s and my activities, such as dispensing wine and joints to one and all, engaging every girl in sight in frivolous banter, and so on, both before and after lunch, which was served outdoors, with increasingly obvious intimations of displeasure. Billy had not been coming up with the kind of contributions to the Ashram he had not been coming up with to the Church, and Bill was primed to explode.

“Well, I hope you boys have enjoyed your free lunch,” Haines announced. “But I want you to realize this is a yoga ashram, not the Copacabana.” Haines was full of dated references to show biz in the ’40s and ’50s. He continued in the same vein for several minutes, much to everyone’s amusement. At this point in Bill’s tirades it was usually possible to interpret the whole thing as a first-class comedy act, and if fuel wasn’t added to the fire it would usually remain at that level. The temptation to add fuel to fires is not the easiest one for me to resist. I got a fiver from Billy and handed it to Haines. “To pay for the lunch,” I said politely.

Haines got out of his rocker and walked to the center of the rough circle we formed in front of the house. Ceremoniously, he struck a match and burned the five-dollar bill.

He shook his fist at Billy and me.

“That’s what I think of cheapskates,” Haines bellowed. “And as far as I’m concerned I don’t want to see you around here again, Hitchprick, unless you bring your checkbook. And you can take your pimp with you when you leave!”

Haines’ attitude toward lewd and lascivious conduct was not as simple as this instance might make it appear. On other occasions, he would dilate at length on how desirable it was for all and sundry to “get laid” and trace the source of all human error and unhappiness to “not getting any.” In dealing with relations between the sexes, it often seemed Haines had only one rule: Whatever was happening was wrong. When he was stoned all of this usually evaporated, along with almost every other abrasive characteristic, and Haines, from the viewpoint of his own celibacy, seemed to regard the various sexual and romantic gyrations around him with amused tolerance and sympathetic concern.

Haines, as a personality, bounced up and down in place like a yo-yo from straight to stoned and back to straight again. Stoned, Bill was a wise and lovable rogue; unstoned, as often as not, he was not much better than a common scold.

With a flick of his robe, Bill swept out of the scene and up the stairs to his room on the second floor. Sheatsley, Ted, and Howie and a couple of others, shaking their heads, went back to work in the press room. The rest of us proceeded down to one of the lakes for a swim.

“What more can one ask?” I asked Billy at one point, as we lounged on a grassy bank sipping wine and smoking the best money could buy while several glistening, jiggling creatures of the female disposition played in the water before our bloodshot eyeballs. “And many a girl with her virgin breasts encircled with gold comes forth to the inward joys of lovely spring,” Milton wrote at the age of twenty-one. Good for him.

“Art, I think I’m going to drop out,” Billy said. He was serious. He was fed up with New York. Aurora didn’t understand him. Millbrook needed him. He only had to go to New York once a week and his job, first at Lehman Brothers and then at Delafield and Delafield, was good for $300,000 a year, but who needed chickenfeed like that? He already had $300,000 a year for being born right. (I’m not sure Billy used these exact words, but “born right,” along with “undeserving rich,” are idioms which have always appealed to me as suiting the case very well.) He wanted to buy a helicopter, but maybe he could get E-Z payments, and so on and so forth. I think he actually did say “E-Z payment.” Billy could be pretty witty, whacked or unwhacked.

During this Lucullan disquisition, other versions of which I had heard before and had come to realize were straightforward presentations of Billy’s day-to-day money problems, however bizarre that might seem to those who thought of “money problems” in an entirely different context, Priscilla, who was getting dressed nearby, started giggling instead of freezing up. Most people went blank when they first heard Billy discuss the perplexing economic choices that confronted him. It didn’t seem “real,” I guess. Was this guy “jerking everyone off,” or what?

But Priscilla appreciated the ludicrousness of it all. During all the time I knew her, she took all the unexpected Byzantine twists of plot and improbable combinations of characters that life at Millbrook and with Billy afforded in a spirit of tolerant and intelligent amusement.

Perhaps, as a student of English literature, Priscilla was able to find a parallel for almost everything that happened in some literary context. So could I, up to a point.

Big Lisa, with whom, by some concatenation of circumstances, I found myself up at the Bungalow along with Billy and Priscilla later in the evening, was a different story. Since her impressions had been produced by the pop Vedantism of her mother, the pop education of the public schools, and a few weeks’ exposure to Bill Haines and his crew, I found it hard to imagine what, if anything, was going on in her head.

After Billy and Priscilla disappeared down the curving hallway, leaving Lisa and me sprawled out on the bear rug in front of the fireplace, I found out what I should have known all along: No matter how fantastic the setting or distinguished the company or expensive the drugs, Lisa was not about to come across until she heard a few protestations of undying affection. Things hadn’t changed that much. Nothing short of certain key words, which I found it impossible to pronounce, would do the trick.

I would get the traditional booby prizes, and that would be it.

We listened to Carmina Burana for a while (the best recording, an old Decca, seems to be out of print) and then I drove Lisa back to the Ashram.

Sure enough, as I had expected, the lights were on in Bill’s room. He was waiting up for her.

“Oh, God,” Lisa said. “I hope Bill doesn’t throw me out. He probably won’t believe nothing happened.”

I assured Lisa that, if necessary, I would defend her honor by swearing she had repulsed my advances by citing the spiritual teachings she had learned at both the feet of her mother and the pair attached to Bill Haines.

“OK,” Lisa said, brightening up considerably. “I’ll come down and see you tomorrow morning, right?”

Is the Pope a Catholic on Easter? As I drove down the crumbling, moonlit road to the Gatehouse, I congratulated myself on my sportsmanlike conduct, and anticipated the delightful reward which, it seemed to me, Lisa’s parting words suggested that I might enjoy when the sun dawned. Surprised again by “instant karma”!

I parked the car under the shadowy arch of the Gatehouse and got out. Could it be?

Yes, Little Lisa and Ginger were sitting on the steps, with a duffel bag and camping packs beside them.

“My cup runneth over,” was all I could think of to say, as I showed them the way to the guest bedroom.

Haines had kicked them out of the Ashram, but they didn’t seem terribly worried about it. If I couldn’t put them up they would just move out in the woods with the League. I instantly made it clear I was delighted to have them for the night, bears being known to shit in the woods when it’s raining, but we would have to discuss a more prolonged invasion with Wendy, who was expected back late the next day.

The precipitating factor in their expulsion, according to Ginger, who, like Lisa, lost no time in getting her clothes off and making herself at home, was the behavior of her ex-boyfriend, David, the Yama lover. He had struck her in a violent rage because she wouldn’t let him fuck her anymore. She saw herself as just a typical American teenager who liked to take a lot of dope and screw around, but her boyfriend was on a weird, if common, occultist trip in which he saw her as some kind of evil, but irresistible incarnation of seductive forces which sought to mire his soul in the toils of carnality. She had made him fall in love with her just so she could torture him later, etc.

Nothing she could say would make him believe she just wasn’t interested in a “heavy trip” with anyone at that stage of her life. Then, on top of having to contend with that kind of crap, she and Little Lisa were subjected to a constant barrage of obscene insults from Haines, who poked his cane in their crotches and told them to get their “filthy coozes” out of the room while he was talking about yoga, and suggested that they buy bicycles and go to Poughkeepsie to “peddle ass” to contribute to the support of the community.

I laughed, but Little Lisa pointed out that, although it was funny when you told about it later, it wasn’t so funny when it was happening.

“How would you like it if someone was always grabbing you by the cock?” Lisa asked, giggling as she suited her actions to her words.

After the orgy, I got the rest of the story. My appearance on the scene with Billy, and the resultant day-long party of skinny dipping, boozing and dope smoking, had apparently set off all kinds of emotional bombs and sent Haines into a frenzy of “house cleaning” during which he had ejected these two charmers and had attempted to throw out David, a paying student, as well. That had convinced everyone that Haines meant business.

When the girls had last seen him, David had been crouched in his room sharpening a knife and threatening all and sundry with bloody murder if they didn’t keep their distance. David moved out to the woods a few days later, after I arranged to store his belongings, which he professed to fear Haines would steal, in the basement of the Bungalow.

The next morning I awoke, with a clear head, to a charming scene, a materialization of many a fantasy in my youth: two stark naked girls of my very own, so to speak, dusting the furniture, making breakfast, collating my latest bulletin to the Neo-American membership, and unabashedly assuming as many provocative poses as possible in an enthusiastic spirit of lewd and lascivious cohabitationalism.

There’s no use denying it. It isn’t true love, but it’s nevertheless impossible to place any monetary value on this kind of thing, because it isn’t prostitution either. What is it? It’s impossible, that’s what it is.

“Jesus,” I said, as we sat around the table out on the porch, having wine coolers. “Here comes Big Lisa.”

Sure enough. Over the brow of the little hill made by the bridge appeared, in a regular series of magnifications and escalations as her steps brought her both closer and higher, Big Lisa in all her splendor, wearing a bikini, sandals and nothing else.

When she got upstairs, Big Lisa put a good face on the matter. She may have been relieved to find her intentions, which I’m pretty sure did not involve an audience, frustrated. She hung around for a while, told us the latest developments of the great purge, which did not involve her, since Haines had expended his animosity on much more serious malefactors, and then left, after politely declining my invitation to doff her bikini and join the group.

“Boy, those people up there are going to flip when they hear about this scene,” Ginger said. Ginger held a low opinion of Haines and of most of his followers as well.

“So will Wendy,” added Little Lisa, not one to beat around the bush.

Yes, much as I hated to think about it, certain questions were begging to be answered. Exactly what the hell did I think I was doing? Wendy was pregnant. To the best of my knowledge, she was devoid of the bisexual inclinations which would have made a ménage à quatre possible.

If I insisted on the girls staying, Wendy would leave, and it would make her unhappy. Also, I would miss her. She wasn’t the greatest passion of my life, but I loved Wendy in my fashion, and Little Lisa and Ginger would forget the whole incident fifteen minutes after reaching Lunacy Hill. In fact, they would probably forget their own names and nationalities within fifteen minutes after reaching Lunacy Hill.

On the other hand, here was the solution to the stalemate on the property, jiggling around right in front of my eyes. My seraglio was at hand! I could turn the place into a kind of girls’ dorm.

Millionaires by the dozens would flock to the banner of the three-eyed toad! With solid financial backing for a change, the Neo-American Church would reign supreme as the Great Whore of Babylon, just as foretold in the Scriptures. I loved the image. Wendy was the only problem.

When Wendy returned, she coolly surveyed the scene with a tight smile and narrowed eyes. The girls had dressed, and their belongings were in the downstairs room that I used as an office. “I would like to let these devoted and industrious parishioners move in, Wendy,” I said. “What do you say? They can help you with the dishes and cleaning and whatnot besides doing church work.”

“No,” Wendy said flatly. “It’s either me or them. Take your pick.”

“Sorry kids,” I said.

“Oh well, I guess we’ll go live in the woods with the League,” Little Lisa said, picking up her pack. “I think you’re wrong, Wendy. We could have had a lot of fun together.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Wendy said. She started rattling pans around in the kitchen. “I don’t want to discuss it. Just go away.”

And that was the end of that one.

(The phrase “that one” was used constantly at Millbrook to refer to any episode, argument or game which presented a coherent conceptual organization, and was most often employed as I have employed it here—in dismissal. “That ones,” one might say, were the great benchmarks of our social existence.)

This abrupt termination of my efforts to broaden my horizons while lightening Wendy’s domestic obligations by two thirds at least, didn’t cause resentment to burn in my breast or anything like that. What the hell. A few thousand years in the past, Wendy might have beaten off similar assailants on the family cave with the jawbone of an ass, if necessary. It was all too elemental to complain about.

But my failure to take the matter seriously went to her head. One would have thought I had given her a license to kill.

I was taking a bath one afternoon when I heard, indistinctly, more than one feminine voice in the hall. Jean Lewis and her sister, Meg? No shit? Far out!! I turned off the tap and shouted that they should make themselves at home. I would be right out.

When I emerged, after maybe five minutes, neither Jean nor Meg was anywhere in sight.

What the hell?

“Where did they go?” I asked Wendy. “I don’t know. They didn’t tell me,” Wendy answered, in her most plonking tones.

Probably went for a walk, I thought. I hung around the bridge for a while and surveyed the lovely landscape from the tower. I could hardly wait to see Jeannie again. Should old acquaintance be forgot? I wanted to show her off to Billy and Bill, who were capable of appreciating the finer gradations of the finer things. Jeannie, besides having a kind heart, intelligence, good taste and genuine curiosity about all manner of things, possessed an irrepressible, effortless, almost solemn, whimsicality (Nancy and Jessica Mitford come to mind), a trait which suited life at Millbrook perfectly.

Hell, even Bali would have liked her.

My favorite ’50s-style paragon and her kid sister never showed up, and I didn’t learn until much later that Wendy had given them, as Otto would have put it, the “big freeze.”

This pissed me off a lot, when I found out about it. I then learned, through Noel Tepper of all people, that Meg was living with her current admirer on a small farm near the estate. We went to visit. It was a goat farm, that is to say, a tax dodge. Let us draw the curtain on this beastly scene.

Let’s draw the curtain on the Jean Valier scene which followed also (although, if this were a commercial book, I wouldn’t). Two Jeans and a Meg sacrificed to the green-eyed monster, and Wendy’s career as a big time doe hunter had just gotten off the ground.

Millbrook was recognized by all who lived there as a mother of misalliances, to such an extent that it became a standard comedy routine to speculate on which improbable disassortive mating would be next. Endless Fazzm theories may be advanced as to the whys and wherefores.

Psychedelianism tends to make people more tolerant of the failings and faults of others, up to a point. In general, the variations of human nature seem amusing instead of threatening. Wendy and I, one might say, had both gone on vacation from our normal stamping grounds when we had shacked up together. At the same time, psychedelic experience acts as a powerful bonding agent and, if you are so inclined, an aphrodisiac. And, in my experience, if and when you do hit it right on a trip, putting the resultant alliance asunder is almost impossible, no matter what.

All Psychedelian communities should seriously consider term marriages. They are permissible in the OKNeoAC.

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