My Mother Didn’t Love Me But I Denied It

That’s it, that’s the story.

It takes a while to face up to such realities. In my case I didn’t get it till middle-age. Certainly I never articulated it till now, in my 60s.

She was a sociopath, but that’s not something you can detect in early childhood. Surely, when I was six, I saw that her behavior was erratic, her actions quite mad.

My grandparents’ idea was that my mother’s behavior problems were due to my sister, a very unruly and headstrong child. So my sister was sent away to a boarding school far away. She had just turned eight years old.

My “Bad Seed” sister demanded of me that I’d watch her favorite TV soap operas (these varied, but primarily included The Edge of Night) and report on plot developments when I next saw her.

Soap operas were not my thing, so in last-minute desperation I tried to watch some episodes just before she returned for a long weekend sometime in October. I made up plot lines that seemed plausible from my minuscule exposure. My sister seemed happy with that.

Before my sister came back home, for her first and second holidays from school, my mother had me help her construct a huge sign of colored paper letters on pegboard: WELCOME B_____!

When my sister went back to school my mother’s mood turned very sour. She was deeply attached to my sister, didn’t care for me. I was in school much of the time (day school, a local parochial school taught by Ursuline nuns), so I saw her furor mainly in late afternoon when she’d rage at me for nothing in particular.

She was having a baby. She did not want a baby. Six months before, she’d staged a fall out of our attic which she hoped would bring on a miscarriage. But the fall was only about three feet. Nevertheless she pretended to be deathly ill. She demanded that I run to the neighbors and bring in medical help. This made no sense to me, and as I was pathologically shy, I never got beyond chatting up the 4-year-old girl across the street. I was  five years old. I remember it was a cold day in early spring.

Well, my mother found her way to bed and phoned up all her available TriDelt friends and her sister–in-law in Rowayton. It’s only in retrospect that I realize that this big gathering of relatives and friends was because my mother was telling them she was very ill from a probable miscarriage.

I’d knock on the bedroom door and my mean aunt would shoo me away. I was supposed to sit still and watch TV. Watching TV was with my sister (not yet exiled to Yorkshire) and cousin Vicki, daughter of the mean aunt. On the tube at 4 pm was Amos ‘n’ Andy, a TV retread of a negro radio comedy.

My brother was born, not miscarried, at the end of October. My sister was summoned from her convent school, and saw my mother in the hospital in Stamford. I thought I should go in as well, but they only let one child at a time, or more likely, my father didn’t want to take me and my mother didn’t want to see me.

Apparently she thought she needed to send me some kind of souvenir. So she had my sister bring me three paper pill cups, nested. I’d waited in the car for maybe an hour-and-a-half before receiving this valuable keepsake. When my mother would go down to New York with my sister on the train to have lunch at Schrafft’s and see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, sometimes she’d bring me back a sugar cube. Pill cups and sugar cubes: all I deserved.

Only when I tot up these recollections do I realize how cold and unloving my mother was. Other thoughts tumble in: she broke and threw away toys, especially ones that had been gifted by a relative or friend she was in a snit about. There was a model coronation carriage my grandparents brought from London in 1953, and a pair of huge stuffed dalmatian dogs, and a lovely teddy bear that she put in the garbage for no particular reason, and a toy seaplane I barely remember; I had it in the bath perhaps once. Years afterwards I saw her slice up my baby brother’s stuffed toys, just for the hell of it.

Up at boarding school, my sister had a friend named Josie, and Josie came to stay with us on Easter Vacation. Josie’s parents lived on the Riviera (the French Riviera, the first time I heard of such a thing) and that was too far to travel, this close to the end of the school year. My sister and Josie shared the Simmons Hide-a-Bed fold-out sofa in the living room.

Josie’s mother was a big society dame known as Kiki Reynolds who was in the Social Register and eventually divorced the guy on the French Riviera. Josie was a real thrill, always upbeat, and closer to my age than my sister’s. Unlike my parents and my sister, she wasn’t half-cracked, so was a novelty in the house. I loved Josie, so did my mother.

But my mother didn’t love me, to restate the obvious.. She and my father came up with a scheme where I’d be sent to live with his father and stepmother near Philadelphia. Bordering their back lawn were the grounds of the Friends Central School, and in summer the Friends Central School had a day camp. So I would live with these old people in Wynnewood and go to Friends Central Day Camp in the daytime.

I was six years old. To me, it was a hell comparable similar to my sister’s time in boarding school. But as with my sister’s boarding school tales, there were some good friends and happy times. We made collages in arts and crafts. We made killing jars in nature study and went out on hikes to catch insects. We made field trips to the Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Evening Bulletin plant.

But mainly—in the eyes of my parents and grandparents—I was at Friends Central Day Camp to LEARN TO SWIM. This was a specialty of my family. In their teens, my father and aunt got Red Cross Lifesaving badges. In the 1930s my aunt was actually a swimming coach at the YWCA and for the girl scouts, and somehow parlayed this into a radio career.

But I was six, terrified of water, loathing of locker rooms, and entirely unhappy with the arrangement. Not only did we have to attend a formal swimming class early in the morning, taught by a big, doughy, veiny woman named Mrs. Campbell; in mid-afternoon we were supposed to change again for the Open Swim. We wore poker chips around our necks to show our swimming proficiency. If you were a non-swimmer, like me, you got a red chip. I got embarrassed by that after a while and asked for a white chip (“intermediate”) instead. Some spoilsport spotted me in the shallow end and put me on report. I got a big lecture from the pool warden, an ancient coot with nostrils full of hay-colored hairs.

Day Camp went for six weeks but after three weeks, and this experience, I decided I’d had enough. I had a cold, or pretended to have a cold, for the last few days. My father and mother were perturbed that I did not wish to remain so I could “learn to swim.”

When I returned to my parents’ house in Stamford, I hoped for a warm welcome, maybe even a pegboard sign in the picture window. I got nothing. “So you didn’t want to Learn to Swim?” was my mother’s impassive remark. She didn’t want to have me around, even though I was quiet and reclusive and kept out of sight.

My father didn’t like me at all, always full of snorting contempt for me. But he wasn’t much in evidence, usually away “on business.” At least till the end of September, when we moved to Pennsylvania. After we moved we saw more of him, but that was no joy since he was always angry. We lived in terror for the crunching sound of his car in the driveway. Often he turned up very drunk and very brutal. My mother fled deeper into her psychoses or pretend-psychoses, till finally she was put away in insane asylums. But that’s another story for another day.



More Gym Notes: Bye Again, Chelsea

“The only sensible endgame for Chelsea Piers at this point
is just to cut its losses and shut down for a year or two”

I have decided to quit Chelsea Piers for the time being. They’ve been charging me $25 per month for a freeze fee. I don’t wish to pay that January 1st, neither do I want to resume paying the monthly $175 come Feb 1st.

I was sitting on the bubble about this until a few days ago, when I received a circular e-mail from CP. They are once again monkeying around with their COVID rules. As noted in an earlier post, they kept altering their policies….mask/no mask, vax/no vax/super vax, vax card/super vax card/special green vax badge, check out and leave at side door/no checkout needed, leave through main door…to the point where no one could follow them, apart from their regular employees, and even they had to keep consulting the most recent daily ukase.

This latest circular says that all the staff wear masks, and they are encouraging their fee-paying clientele to do the same. (See screenshot, bottom.) One wonders what “encouragement” will be implemented.

Festering in the back of my brain is the annoyance I felt in October 2020, soon after I rejoined. I got a nasty email from one Leslie Kriger at the club because I’d had a (friendly) altercation with some deminog employee who wanted me to shift my mask up, but this made my glasses fog.

The only sensible endgame for Chelsea Piers at this point is just to cut its losses and shut down for a year or two, then perhaps reopen with new staff and management, who perhaps will have their act together. I first joined in 2006 and have never seen them this confused.



Night Falls on Gymdom, March 2020

After writing the earlier post about Chelsea Piers and its many petty irritations, I reflected on how many stages of civic collapse we passed through last year before I signed up with CP once again.

On March 1, 2020, I went to my local NYHRC and found that it was shuttered, except for some workmen on site. They told me it would be shut for renovations for some months, and all the members had been notified by e-mail. Well I must have missed that one.

Not too peeved, just surprised, I took the subway down to the HRC on 23rd Street. Same thing there. Like my local club, this was being transformed into a “Lifetime” club and wouldn’t be open again for six months.

NYHRC 13th St: dinky

Over the next two weeks I sometimes went to the NYHRC way over on East 45th Street near Lexington. It’s one of the strange, early, HRC’s, with odd little rooms and maze-like passages.

Twice, I think, I went to the one on East 13th Street. Very similar, but in a cheerier neighborhood. There is, or was, a Dick Blick art supply shop across the street, and it’s in the happy quarter between Union Square and Astor Place. Old, cute, dinky.

But the best of the surviving HRC’s, by far, was the Whitehall one, at the very bottom of Manhattan. About four storeys, spacious floors, peaceful atmosphere. I think this was the only one where I used the pool, which was almost always empty, or nearly so. I don’t think I’d swum in over three years. Whitehall was a pain to get to, and there were nippy March winds coming off the harbor, but I pretty much made up my mind this would be my gym for the foreseeable future.

‘Twas not to be, of course. Come Monday, March 16, I did my light cardio and swim, and then, upon leaving, learned from the bemasked attendant that the club would be closed down indefinitely. Per order of the Governor, the incompetent and bumptious Andrew Cuomo.

By this point, the smart money had fled the city. Most of the people in my neighborhood have another home or two, on the Cape or in the Berkshires, or maybe the Hamptons or Europe. When I canvassed for the Census in late summer, my work consisted mostly of leaving Notices of Visit in their mailboxes because the concierges assured me no one was home.

By April, every restaurant posted “Closed for Covid” signs on their windows. Theatres were likewise shuttered. Groceries and drugstores were open, for the most part, but you often had to stand in a “social distancing” queue that snaked down the sidewalk.

Riots erupted in May and June, with crowds of negroes breaking windows and looting on Fifth and Madison Avenues, and in the shopping district of SoHo. Mayor Bill DeBlasio pandered to them by painting BLACK LIVES MATTER in ten-foot day-glo yellow lettering on Fifth Avenue, in front of Trump Tower. Because, you know, it was all Trump’s fault.

Otherwise the city seemed mostly abandoned except for a proliferation of derelicts and beggars. Until around August, when a few restaurants reopened, serving customers in wooden huts that stood in the street. “Streeteries,” New York magazine called them.

So when I saw that Chelsea Piers was planning to reopen, I had no issue at all with the plethora of restrictions: short hours, 90-minute pre-booked sessions, mask mandate, online daily health declaration. It only bothered me later when they got gimmicky and changed their gimmicks every two months.

*   *   *

Recently I paid a visit to the old NYHRC on East 45th Street. It’s now a New York Sports Club. Same layout and equipment. The one difference I noticed was that the Concept 2 rower on the second floor is no longer oriented north-south (where you got a view of takeouts across the street) but east-west. It’s a depressing place, whichever way you’re facing. But the run-down look and feel is what we’ve come to expect from value-priced NYSC. So far as I can tell, most of the other old HRC clubs are now either defunct, or in a 2-year transition to their LIFE TIME franchise. Some locations have rebranded and opened (Astor Place, 23rd Street, Park Avenue South) but I don’t foresee much future for them, inasmuch as the new operators have set their price points at about twice the old HRC level, and, as with NYSC, haven’t added much in the way of amenities.

LIFE TIME on 23rd: just a rebranded NYHRC

My guess is that investors went on a spree about five years ago, projecting a huge demand for new “fitness” spaces, particularly on the West Side. Perhaps this tracked the Manhattan building boom, particularly in Midtown West—the colossal Hudson Yards fiasco, the 100+ storey skyscrapers around West 57th Street, the vast assemblages being emptied and excavated in the 40s and 50s. So a dozen, two dozen new commercial gyms were planned around 2017-2019, and when they were close to opening, Covid-19 hit.

Perhaps some lucky gym investors didn’t lose their shirts; they waited till the market tumbled and then leased spaces at a discount. I wonder if that’s how TMPL got their new space in the Citicorp Center at 53rd and Lexington, which has been in the retail dumps ever since Barnes & Noble closed a few years ago. (From 1977 to 1994 the B&N space was occupied by Conran’s. You might say the Citicorp mall has been on a downward trajectory for thirty years.)

I see the LIFE TIME people, who focused on taking over select HRC locations rather than expanding into new spaces, have gone public on the NYSE (LTH) and the price has remained stable for its first few days ($18-20). But I’m still bearish on them and on the gym business in general. It will take these businesses years to get out from under their Covid losses, and it’s a very competitive market for the next year or so. There will be consolidations and price wars. LIFE TIME’s $249 basic month-to-month is out of line with their product.


Au Revoir, Encore, Chelsea Piers

In which the Complainant recounts her recent history with a revived gym membership, and gives a list of Particulars about why she’s freezing her Chelsea Pier Fitness account, at least for a few months.

A bit over a year ago I rejoined the Chelsea Piers gym. Like the other gyms in the city, CP had been shuttered since mid-March (2020), but now was reopening with limited hours. I badly needed a gym, as I hadn’t had a serious workout or swim or shower bath in six months. (That’s right.)

CP’s monthly fee wasn’t much above what I used to pay, 2006-2014, and moreover I now had an extra $100 a month available because my other gym (NYHRC) had tanked, never to reopen: so I gladly re-upped. I’d checked out other gyms, but no sale. The Equinox at Columbus was convenient to me, with a decent pool and equipment, but its monthly fee was close to $300. This is completely unreasonable . . . unless your company is subsidizing your membership, which I gather is often the case.

I was delighted to discover that my old bar-coded Chelsea Piers ID card from 2006 still worked. All in all, it was a pleasant and longed-for homecoming.

But not perfect. The COVID-19 business had thrown commercial gyms into such a frenzy that when they gradually opened in late 2020 – early 2021, they instituted rigorous, baffling policies that seemed designed to discourage all but the most determined fitness enthusiasts. To take one example, at the New York Sports Clubs not only were the steambath and sauna closed (as at other gyms), but so were the showers, at least till mid-2021. Thereby eliminating a primary reason for joining a gym.

Thankfully at least the showers were available at Chelsea Piers. But there were so many obstacles in getting to the Piers that there were a couple of months when I went only once or twice. Getting there involved a two-subway ride plus a 3/4-mile walk. And then, in order to enter the facilities you had to fill out a daily health disclosure form (online), attesting that you weren’t sick, didn’t have Covid, hadn’t been ill in the past two weeks, etc. etc.

And then, the masking nuisance. Everybody had to wear a facemask. And maintain “social distancing,” keeping six feet away from everyone else. This meant that in a row of treadmills or elliptical machines only every other machine was available for use. You were required to tote around a bottle of green disinfectant and green towel, and wipe down your cardio machines or weights or pulley devices after you used them—or maybe even before. In the lounge, the (very good) coffee/salad/smoothie/sushi bars of yesteryear were closed.

And you were limited to 90-minute sessions, which you had to book, on an online app, before you arrived. This meant in effect that your workout, or workout and swim, or class, had to be squeezed into an hour (because presumably you’re going to be changing clothes and washing up). It also meant you weren’t supposed to hang out in the lounge for hours (as people traditionally did), checking your messages and working on your novel.

Not only did you have to check in when you entered, you had to check out when you left by the side door on the south side of the track. CP was keeping track of how many bodies were onsite. You got an e-mail alert when your 90 minutes were nearly up, and another alert when you ran over your time limit. When I knew I was going overstay by a half hour, I’d go to the red-eye checkout device and show my barcode without leaving. I don’t know of anyone being sanctioned for this kind of monkey business, but the psychological pressure was intense. You had to keep looking at the clock.

Writing this down now, I realize for the first time how awful it all was. But on the upside, these onerous restrictions meant that the Piers were never crowded. There might be only a dozen other members there when you went there early afternoon. You didn’t have to wait for a swim lane or a Concept 2 rower. And this is pretty much what the Chelsea Piers Fitness Center was like from September 2020 to May 2021: a pain in the neck to use, but big, empty, and familiar if not quite friendly.

I’m sure the outfit was running at a steep loss during this period, with only a fraction of its usual customers. So around May 2021 they attempted to liberalize their policies, but just got annoyingly tricksy, changing policies every couple of months.

There would no longer be a blanket demand that everyone wear a facemask. If you claimed to have been vaccinated, you could skip the mask and the daily online health disclosure. In theory you had to have some sort of vaxx card or certificate, but these could be easily forged and no doubt were. In an e-mail circular in May, Chelsea Piers informed us that 95% of their members were already vaccinated: a preposterously high estimate based on no data at all. At least nobody ever asked me.

A couple months later (July) they decided to tighten things up. Members had to register with something called the New York State Excelsior Pass, and display that at least once, whereupon you were emailed a green badge with a checkmark. At this point you could get an Excelsior Pass basically on your own say-so, as Excelsior wasn’t yet tied into any master database of vaxx customers and facilities.

But after some weeks that too changed, and we were required to upgrade our passes to a super-duper enhanced Excelsior Pass, which was linked to a database. I don’t know what happened to CP members who didn’t upgrade their passes, or were rejected by the database because of a technical glitch or because they’d been creative with their vaccination information. But I remember being glad I didn’t forge a vaxx card when so tempted.

This brings us up to August or September 2021. By this point the café bars were partly open and the 90-minute restriction was gone. You didn’t have check out at the red-eye scanner by the side door and walk down the red fire-escape stairs; you just left through the main entrance, the way you came in. Things were almost back to normal. People were hanging out in the lounge again, as in days of yore.

Inconveniences still abounded though. Hours were still abbreviated by comparison with the old days. And the running tracks were gone. They completely removed the banked 200m track to make room for an Astroturf area where they’ll be putting the boxing ring, or something. Meanwhile they tore up the 400m Mondo track for replacement, and took over six months to lay the new one in. Very poor planning. That kind of thing should be done in two weekends.

Incidentally that 400-meter Mondo is not really a 400m track, since the only lanes available are the outer ones—mainly 7 and 8. CP has gradually eaten up the other lanes with  basketball flooring and other facilities. One lap in lane 8 is around 450 meters. Management could have shortened the track at the west turn and made it a true 400 meter track, but that would have required too much imagination.

(Explanation: A regulation athletic track has lanes a bit over 1.2 meters wide. Figure out how many meters there are betwixt Lane 1 and Lane 8, then multiply by 2. That’s your extra diameter, about 17 meters; multiply this by Pi, and see what you get [~53 meters]. Years ago I was in a CP race where I supposedly ran a mile in 7 minutes on the “400” track, only it was really more than a mile-and-an-eighth. I’m surely not trying to impress you with my speed, but this shows how easily fudged are track times when you’re not running a true 400 track.)

Dream on.

Did I mention how app-happy Chelsea Piers has become? In October 2021 they demanded we download yet another app, one that gave us a QR code for our account information, and a scheduling module for lap swims, yoga classes, whatever. We’ve already had the daily health declaration, and the scheduling app from September 2020. Both are now obsolete. I don’t know why they couldn’t just revise the old app and ask us to update.

A bigger question is, what about the folks who don’t have a late-model smartphone or any mobile device at all? It all smells of wrongheaded advice from an outside vendor who’s mainly interested in developing pretty little apps, and has no practical sense or awareness of the end users’ convenience.

I’ve never used the new app except to book swim times. On my last few visits to CP, I just showed the red-eye scanner my barcoded photo ID from 2006. And it works perfectly well. Same account number, same member database. Fuck your QR codes.

To recap, Chelsea Piers Fitness Center has acted like a beloved but neurotic relative ever since reopening in September 2020. They change policies the way some people change their socks. Other gyms reopened with a blanket mask policy, then revised that to a vaxx policy—and left it at that. No more rule changes, no more hassle, no propeller-head toy-phone app with QR code. But Aunt Chelsea is out of control. She just cain’t he’p herse’f.

So I’m freezing my CP membership for a while, to save money and contemplate my gym future. I’ve joined another gym, one that’s within walking distance and costs half of what I’ve been paying CP. It doesn’t have quite the gloss of Chelsea Piers, or such amenities as bathrobes or high-power hair dryers, and its 25m pool doesn’t have quite as many lanes as Chelsea’s. But it’s an intriguing change and attractive facility. It’s dark and neon-ish, like a 1981 dance club or 1991 rave. Lest we doubt this was intentional, they’ve got a pop-art mural of giant red lips with a drug capsule held between. Eccentric, edgy, beguiling.






Sam Calls. About Adam.

Sam C. phones around 12:30 today, a talk we’d scheduled for the Adam P. bio. We really didn’t accomplish anything. After Adam died in 2018 Sam got in touch with me and I gave him extensive data-dumps in notes and memoirs and possible contacts and even a phone chat or two. My Adam-mine is pretty exhausted.

The central topic this time concerned a fellow named James Downer (?) who bylined one of the conspiratological essays in Apocalypse Culture. As I recall, this posited a Freemasonic angle to the JFK assassination. 33º North Latitude, thirty-three degrees of Masonry, whatever else. Sam suspects that the author was actually Adam himself. This is because he can’t find any information on Downer anywhere.

This prompts me now to i-srsch him, and I find the name is actually James Shelby Downard, and he’s all over the conspiro-net, linked in a Wiki article to Bill Grimstad. Part of the Apocalypse Culture article, now long out of print because it was dropped from the second edition of the book, is here.

So I was not very helpful to Sam in this. The one thing that occurred to me was that Whatsisname in Colorado might know. “You know, the one who that the album, Martinis and Misanthropy and whatever…?” I was groggy from Trazodone and vodka, and the old memory not up to its steel-spring traditions. But we came up with the name, Boyd Rice. I forget whether Sam said he’d asked him.

Otherwise, Sam talked about how the bio project is in a logjam right now, because Adam’s sister Jessica has taken over the publishing house and is making it very PC, and doesn’t want to be reminded that Adam built his career on consorting with neo-nazis, satanists, and other mongers of the outré and occult. Bit of a surprise here: I didn’t know Adam had a sister (two, actually) though I once met his brother on a trip to the desert. Anyway I told Sam to just plow ahead, because Adam was at least a semi-public figure, and his story needs to be told, warts and all.

I wonder if he has a publisher or agent at all? Possibly not. This book began as Adam’s own memoir, then turned into an oral history.


Harry in Chicago (Reprise)

(A post from an old blog, dated March 6, 2005.)
Shortly before I go to swim and shower at the gym, Harry phones up from Chicago. He’s on his Sprint mobile phone. He barks through a tincan in a windtunnel for three minutes, then disappears, phones back. I tell him to phone me on the landline. He says he can’t because he’s outside, and he doesn’t have long-distance on his regular phone and it’s cheaper for him to call on the cell. I don’t quite follow. The connection fogs out again. Finally, third time around, I explain that I meant he should phone me on my landline.

Harry is one of those people who like to talk on the phone, and like most of that ilk, he likes to say the same thing over and over, which makes it doubly difficult for me because I don’t like to talk on the phone and I have a low boredom threshold. He keeps telling me how wonderful Chicago is and how glad he is he’s there, because he could find an affordable place to live, which he never could in New York. (Subtext: New York will not dote on me and I don’t have the money or connections to live there, so pooh on New York.)

Harry is now in his early 50s, but he got frozen into the mindset of a 20-something actor/waiter of the Nixon/Ford/Carter era. I could give you a laundry list of examples of this attitude, but then I’d be halfway into a novel. Suffice it to say that he sneers and carps at young people—I guess that would be anyone under 40—especially young gay men, who are far less cool and brilliant than Harry’s young peers were thirty years ago.

Harry’s been an offstage presence in my life since I was a kid. I first heard of him 32 years ago from a crazy girl from Chicago, daughter of a Sun-Times editor, who’d been in the nuthouse with him in Evanston, circa 1971. Harry’s story, in brief, was that he was very messed up. He and his younger sister went through a series of foster homes when small children, finally becoming adopted by a well-to-do childless couple in their forties. Harry worked as a child model and commercial actor, playing teenagers till he was about 25. Then he found he could earn oodles of money as a waiter and maitre d’, and that discovery shaped the next fifteen years of his life. Some people become accountants and lawyers, some turn to crime, others work in restaurants.

In the 80s Harry was a part-owner of a restaurant near South Street Seaport. Somehow his investment came to grief, so he parted ways with his partners and used his remaining capital to start a gay bookstore in Ft. Lauderdale. This failed and he went bankrupt. He then went to Vietnam and Bangkok to promote himself as a restaurant consultant. He was right in time for the economic downturn of ‘98-99. He wound up teaching English in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

He’d come armed with a presentation binder filled with encomia from restaurant associates, as well as headshots of himself as a young man when he appeared in ads for Strawbridge & Clothier and Seven-Up. The headshots greatly impressed the boys in old Sai-Gon, who made the intended inference that Harry was a bigtime American movie actor. Thus Harry, who likes oriental boys, had a grand old time in the Far East. But then there were visa and legal problems, and he washed up again on American shores, where he begged his semi-wealthy parents for a small stipend that would enable him to reestablish himself as an expert in the wine and food trade.

It was around this time, the year 2000, that I finally encountered Harry in the flesh. He’d taken a share in a nasty hi-rise apartment in Flushing, living with a half-Jewish woman many years his senior. The flatmate tried to seduce him sexually, then turned on him, finally calling the cops and accusing him of having beaten her up. Harry got hauled off to the pokey and spent the next six months in a horrendous legal maze, dividing his time between attending court-ordered Anger Management classes and asking his parents for enough money to pay for two hair-weave pieces. (His signature blond thatch had started going thin after 35.)

That whole year, 2000, was a hellacious time for poor Harry. Fortune kept tossing him nuggets that turned into fools’ gold. Dorothy Sarnoff, the public-speaking guru, flattered him and encouraged him to write a book and set up a successor business to her own. But then it turned out Dorothy was senile and apparently was under the impression that Harry was her nephew. Suddenly she wouldn’t see him anymore, because (he said) either her mind briefly cleared and she realized the mistaken identity, or maybe she’d found out he’d been arrested for beating up an old woman. Other promising jobs and prospects would pop up, then suddenly be withdrawn. Still an undischarged bankrupt from his Florida days, Harry now decided he was unemployable because his arrest and bankruptcy kept showing up on his records. Toward the end of the year, when he was still attending Anger Management sessions, he got a few months’ work demonstrating recipes at an upscale grocery chain in Manhattan. He lived in a room in the Greenpoint YMCA.

Finally, in early 2001, he cadged enough money from his parents to move back to Vietnam.

Last time I saw him he was back in Manhattan for a few days, preparing for a move to Ecuador, again as a teacher of English. Oh boy, I thought.

Now he’s back in America because he never finished his BA, and he needs a minimal degree to continue in his TOEFL career.

He’s the only person who’s had a career as chequered and scary as mine. But my life has not been as bleak. I’d like to keep it that way.


The Trough: It Feels Like Ten Years

About ten years ago my life went into a trough, a slough, a slew, a ditch. Grossed up, it’s been a time of unemployment, creeping poverty, and physical decline. I was pumping up the tires for a couple of bicycles earlier today, and you know, I cannot raise myself from a seated position on the ground without first bracing myself with both arms on the side. I’ve developed a gut which I really feel in that position. If I try to run or even jog, even a slow jog on an uphill treadmill, my abdomen wobbles like Jello.

The physical business I can fix; I’ve done it before. Everything else seems beyond me, because being in the trough means depression, and depression means you can’t climb out of the trough.

It has not been an unbroken wasteland of unemployment and desperation. I went for almost a full year without any paid work at all (save bitsy freelance assignments), but this was during the economic slump of 2008-2009. It was very easy for me to manage on the $1700 of unemployment benefits. When I got a few weeks of “contractual” (temp) work here and there, I often didn’t even bother to notify the Unemployment Insurance office. With paychecks and UI benefits, I had some periods when I was netting $6000 per month.

Then came a couple of years of solid work at a magazine publisher (Time Inc./Amex Pub). I told myself that the Trough of being jobless was well behind me. Superficially this was one of the best jobs I’d ever had, since it was in a broad technical field that I thought I wanted to work in. What I didn’t see, or couldn’t face up to directly, was that I was often miserable at this new job. My surroundings were a sty, and my coworkers were not the jolly, witty bunch I was used to working among. They were far younger than I, most of them, and quite stupid. I let my health go and dragged myself through the day, never once looking forward to going to the office. I stopped running and working out regularly, I came to work hung over and groggy with sleeping pills every morning.

Finally it turned out that a couple people in my department were sedulously plotting against me. It wasn’t necessarily personal. Through recent org changes, I now had a Jewish homosexual and a reed-thin negro as my bosses. There were two women in the department, and the gay boy and the black boy had set themselves the goal of getting rid of us. They forced my colleague out and then set to work on me. After six months of harassment, and various lies to the obese negress at HR, I was out. This was one of the only times I’ve ever been fired or exited from a job, and the unpleasantness sticks with me still.

Thanks to savings, and a small severance package, and unemployment insurance, I was pretty comfortable for the next year. I had a couple of temp jobs in there, and spent much of my life daydreaming about what my next career would be. I would finish one of my novels. I’d get myself back into competitive shape: perhaps work as a coach.

Then unemployment benefits stopped, the occasional temp jobs dried up entirely, and I slowly began to drain my bank accounts. I hooked up with some political bloggers who paid me pittances for writing book reviews and incendiary cultural criticism. Once or twice a week I went to job interviews. Once or twice a month I was absolutely certain that I had landed a plum position. But I always got shot down. Often it turned out that the hiring managers were just jerking themselves off, setting up all-day interviews to fill a position they had no real intention of filling. There was a Condé Nast company in Jersey City that recruited me repeatedly for one of these unfillable jobs. We’d have nice chats on the phone and then I’d let it slip out that we’d spoken six or eight months before. At this point they’d cancel the face-to-face interview, because they only wanted to waste the time of people whose time they hadn’t yet wasted.

Two or three years into this new trough of unemployment—we are now at 2015—I suddenly had a great developer position with a mighty large publishing house. The office was a short walk away, the coworkers were delightful, and I was again certain this job was going to spin off into a fine, long-term position. Alas, the temp job was just temp, maybe six weeks, and the publisher wasn’t interested in me for anything else. Temp agencies found me some new slots, but the folks in those places were not comfortable with me, and the jobs folded after a week or two.

Then Robert Half Technology signed a fat contract with me and hired me as a full-time employee in a consulting division. They sent me out on one mismatched job at a loathsome pharma ad company called Truveris. Truveris was building an “app” that provided coupons that gave you a pharmacy discount on your favorite prescription drugs. The Truveris app—called, I think, OneRx—was virtually identical to two or three other apps that were being launched about the same time. All were essentially useless scams, providing no added value to the customer or vendor; they earned their keep by wheedling money from the drugstores and pharma companies.

My work was very simple; I was replacing someone who had overstayed his vacation. Then this someone came back from holiday, and I was given the bum’s rush.

It turned out I was at Truveris merely “on approval.” Robert Half Technology was trying to hard-sell me to Truveris, but Truveris wasn’t interested. I think the head developer gave me a bad review so the RHT people would shut up and go away. RHT voided or suspended my contract. Meanwhile the folks who’d hired me at RHT also got the heave-ho. It seems RHT decided this new consulting division wasn’t such a great idea.

Meantime I got more bad news. For two years and more I had been pursuing an Arbitration case against that magazine publisher, or rather Amex, which was my employer of record. I had a pretty solid case; the stinkers in my department, and the HR flunkies, broke every rule in the book. They made up lies about me, failed to pay the amount of severance due, continued to build up a case against me even when I had left the firm. Much of this came out in discovery.

The Arbitration dragged on from late 2013 to the end of 2015. Then the Arbitrator Rosemary Townley, asked for an extra month to make her judgment, which I and the opposing attorneys were happy to give. A month later she said her clerical employee had the flu, and could she have another month? Well, a few weeks after this the American Arbitration Association slapped her down, saying in effect, “Miss Townley, you’ve dragged this thing out far longer than is excusable. Write up your decision now!”

And so, very hurriedly, Arbitrator Townley scribbled off a convoluted statement of findings and her decision. She denied my claim against Amex. (She also denied Amex’s counter-claim against me. Amex’s counsel was trying to say that I had “unjustly enriched” myself by accepting a severance package which I then voided.) She based her denial of my claim on a nonexistent document that she claims I received, but which is nowhere in the evidence book.

I went back to Townley, suggesting that this was an honest mistake. She was having none of it, just straight-out refused to revise her judgment. So, essentially, she was consciously lying, and knew she was lying. There was no question of a typo or misreading. Townley did not want to find against Amex, because (my guess) she wanted to preserve her viability as an AAA Arbitrator.

So in the end I lost the case that I had fretted over for two and a half years. i pretty much took to the bottle (I’d been at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a while) and crawled into bed for two months.

Let me add, however, that the protracted arbitration was not a complete loss. I was in the dark about what had actually gone on with my coworkers and HR back in 2012. I could see I’d been mistreated and hard done by, but I had no real evidence. The plotting and misrepresentations against me were mainly in confidential communications that were never shared with me. And never would be shared with me, short of this legal action. So I did not get my big award, but I got peace of mind. And I got the goods on some very very wicked people.


The Sin of White Idiocy

An old friend from the 1980s, Jim R, contacted me to tell me that there was an interesting talk going on at a church on East 96th St.

I said, “Sure,” as I usually do to these things.

The talk was by a crazy little woman who teaches at Fordham and has written what looks like a self-published book called The Sin of White Supremacy. Everything about the program looked hilarious.

For one thing, the title of the book is a double shibboleth: “sin” can be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view. But let’s accept it’s a bad thing, a mortal sin or a venial sin, and figure the author is making a theological point.

Thus “white supremacy” is something like a moral sin. But what is this “white supremacy” anyway? It’s a cant phrase used largely by Jewish Communists in the 1940s and 50s, to describe segregationists of that era.

As a thing it never existed. There are race-realists, white nationalists, white separatists, civic nationalists, ethno-nationalists. “White supremacists” are just a Communist invention. Rather like “racist,” another concoction of these people.

Anyway, I went to this talk, part of a program called “Pop-Up Theology” in the basement of the St. Francis de Sales Church on East 96th St. Attendees were mostly old folks. Cat ladies, funny old men, some oddball youngsters. Mainly white, a few coloreds.

The little lady who supposedly teaches theology at Fordham was a lively, articulate sort, but her slide-talk was even worse than I could have hoped. Her thesis is that helping to improve the spiritual situation of nonwhite savages is somehow a “sin.” I don’t know if she is Catholic, but I doubt she is.

A few of my colleagues arrived, the usual gang of idiots. Besides me and Jim, we had old Rob in his funny coat and shuffle-shoes, and Basil O’Connor, our 40ish balding guy who’s a bland, generous supporter of all race-realist groups. Jim asked a long but concise question about how white people are being dispossessed in their country, and how little attention is being paid to this, along with such crises as the Sacklers’ promotion of opioid addiction.

Too much furious steam was coming out of my ears for me to raise my hand. But a nice old lady beside me queried me afterwards, having noted my anger. I told her the whole premise of the talk was sacrilegious. Leading the American people to race and national suicide is the truly huge, grave sin on the table.

The old lady’s head was full of cottage cheese. She corrected me repeatedly when I referred to illegal aliens. She wants to call them “undocumented.” I said documents are not the issue. She took issue when I told her the “indigenous people” (Red Indians) were not indigenous at all; they came over from Asia. This bit of anthropology was known to every 6-year-old when I was little 50 years ago, but apparently it was news to the Old Lady.

Afterwards I and my three confreres went next door to a tiny “Italian” pizza place run by Mexicans. I think we each had a slice and a few laughs.


No Dead Poets’ Society Dinner

A week ago GJ proposed a dinner for a recently deceased dead poet. After a few days he hadn’t located a venue, so asked me to look around. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday making phone calls and visits. Dropped in on some excellent little bar/restaurants in Chelsea and the East Village on Wednesday, and rather enjoyed myself.

We saw a Paul Cadmus exhibition.

But I came up snake-eyes because every venue with an event room was already booked. Saturday night (that is, tonight) is a big March Madness playoff-fest. I had no idea of this, neither did Greg. Neither did my husband.

So I told Greg and, sounding disconsolate, he told me he was calling the whole thing off because there weren’t that many respondents.

During the day I dropped in at the Zwirner Gallery on W 19th and saw the Paul Cadmus and Robert Crumb shows. Will have to write something about those.



Chatham Ghost

Bobo calls on one of the landlines. Inevitably about the Chatham Ghost. Some terrible story that a retired friend he knows from Cape Cod and New Canaan, made up.

I wasn’t inspired by the “poem” there, although I could do some drawings, a la Ditties for the Nursery. Really need to see a few shekels.

Bobo’s had other health crises, down at NYU Langone for a week. Had a benign brain tumor a while back, but latterly another brain malfunction that is not a tumor or a stroke.