LB Gschwandtner
LB Gschwandtner

From Here To There

By L B Gschwandtner


One – babies


Giving birth is a messy business. An eruption of bodily juices. So if you’ve decided to go down this road, I suggest you let nature take its course – and keep a towel handy.


I learned I was pregnant in a hotel room outside of Paris, France. On a business trip with my husband.

While he was out businessing, I practiced my high school French on the maid, who turned out to be Spanish, and busied myself feeling nauseous. When this feeling lasted more than two days with no other symptoms, I got suspicious. Can’t put much over on me.

Even in those days, you could get a pregnancy test to do in the privacy of your own hotel room. My husband got me one. Instructions in French of course. I waited for the little circle to appear at the bottom of the dish. When it did, I was happy. My husband was happy. But I was still nauseated.

Then the business part of the trip was over so we packed up and headed out to visit hubby’s feudal clan in Austria where everybody eats meat – lots of meat. And these large semiporous ball things called leberknoedel (I think literally meaning “large soft ball things,” and pronounced lay-brrrr-kah-nerh-dle) that are made from bread crumbs or maybe potatoes and – liver – thus the word leber (lay-brrr). These liver balls are rolled by hand after the cook adds whatever is left over from the week before, then dumped into a pot of boiling broth. The cook can tell when they’re done by the odor of ripe old shoe insole that rises from the cauldron. When they’re not eating these things that could sub for bocci balls, they’re eating plain meat or downing just about anything covered in whipped cream.

Whipped cream is known as schlaggobers (pronounced schlagg-obers). Nearly everything in Austria is spelled with sch in it somewhere. This is only one of many mysteries in Austria, a very old land the Romans invaded and left their mark on after subduing the indigenous tribes that had been perfectly content to hunt wild boar in the forests and pick lingonberries in the mountains. They didn’t have any need of viaducts or aqueducts but I guess the Romans knew better because they arrived with all sorts of improvements.

Maybe whipped cream was one of them. Austria is the whipped cream capital of the world. South Africa is known for its diamond mines. The U.S. is known for McDonalds, France has perfume and England, well, they have dysfunctional Royals. But Austria has its schlagg.

The Austrian flag should have a mound of whipped cream up in the left hand corner. They could put a mound of manure in the opposite corner. Every town you go to in Austria has a huge mound of manure – called a misthaufen – right by the Welcome To Our Village sign. Welcome and here’s a manure pile just to let you know we really mean it. When you arrive at my husband’s ancestral village the pile is particularly large, maybe two stories high. I wouldn’t venture a guess at its base in round numbers. But by careful calculations I think it would come off pretty favorably compared with the Great Pyramid at Giza. The Great Manure Pile At Gschwalingendorfersburgergehapft. This shows it’s one of the more prosperous villages in the region. That would be the Salzkammergut. I’ve heard many an American wax poetically nostalgic about the beauties of the Salzkammergut but no one ever mentions the manure. Leaving it to me.

By the way, these are relatively short words in Austria, where instead of adding more vowels to their words, they have devised a symbol denoting where a vowel used to be or could be or should be but really isn’t. Namely the umlaut. You can read more about this in the next chapter, Travel.

At the restaurant where we met the Teutonic tribal council, everyone was very jovial. And noisy. Austrians are a noisy people. And tall. A tall, noisy people. Who like to drink beer. A tall, noisy, tipsy people. Who eat meat. A tall, noisy, meat-eating, tipsy people. The smell of meat cooking inside the beirschtubbe (another of those sch words) made me run out into the street after only being introduced to one of my husband’s old friends – Agilodangle. Yes, that is correct. His name is Agilodangle. Which is pronounced AH-gee-(hard G)-lo-don-gull. I swear.

I tried to go back inside but every time I smelled that searing beef I got nauseous again and raced out the door where I had staked out a bench. My husband tried to take me back to the hotel but I insisted he stay by telling him I would be equally sick anywhere else so why not just let me sit on this bench and puke into the gutter. I told him everyone would just think I was practicing for Oktoberfest. For readers who are not acquainted with Oktoberfest, it is simply the Bavarian version of Saturday night on frat row, on a much larger scale and with really odd music that sounds as if an oompah band just got let out of an asylum for the very, very unrhythmic.


All the Austrian relatives were happy about our good news on the baby front. And looking back on it, I should have been delighted with simple seasickness. Because back in the States and a few months later I got a real surprise.

Here’s how it happened.

After the usual doctor visits, I had reached month seven and a girth that put the Hindenberg to shame. One day standing in front of the kitchen counter I reached over for the ketchup bottle. I should tell you I had by this time developed the most insane craving for anything with a tomato base. I would awake in the middle of the night and sneak into the kitchen to spoon cold Ragu sauce from an extra large jar in the refrigerator. Ketchup was my version of a hot fudge sundae. On this day at month seven I did a one-quarter turn to reach the bottle but just kept spinning, the weight of my stomach pulling me around like a dervish. I spun clear over to the other side of the room where a wall prevented me from revolving out into the street and across to my neighbor’s yard, where I might have been impaled on her yard art version of a colonial gate keeper hitching post man with the metal ring in his hand.

This was the same month when I had to move the car seat so far back to squeeze myself behind the wheel that I could barely touch the accelerator pedal. It was my last solo drive to my doctor.

Ah, my doctor. He was the chief of OBGYN, as it’s known to those of us who wind up spending a lot of time within the department being prodded, urine sampled, stirruped, speculumed, bled, shaved, painted, numbed, swabbed and weighed – the last being the most degrading of all these procedures. In the nine months of my pregnancy I managed to pork up from a lithe and athletic one hundred fifteen pounds to an elephantine one hundred seventy-two, just three pounds shy of my six foot three inch husband. I am five foot four.

My doctor was a wonderful man. Very energetic. He liked the word “lovely.” The bigger I got the more he used that word. He would look at my imposing girth and say, “lovely, lovely.” When he got up to three lovelys I knew I was really, really big.

After lumbering up to the fifth floor in the G.W. Clinic and signing in I was told to go to exam room number eight. There I was given the usual instructions to strip and don the paper “gown.” Why they call this thing a gown is beyond me. As if you’re some deb going to the prom. This thing is a shapeless sleeveless blue paper robe-shirt at best. Its plastic belt barely encircles your waist under normal conditions but in my seventh month I just threw the belt in the trash.

I had begun to think I might be the world’s first human baby hippo surrogate and by then I was looking forward to making The Guinness Book. I knew the minute the doctor entered the room he (in those days almost all the doctors were he) would flip me seat side up in the air, feet in stirrups and start poking around where no one except the father of this as yet unborn child had been for years.

Of course he would say: “Relax.”

They always tell you to relax.

Sure. I imagined hanging my naked bottom out the window for a few minutes to get into a more Zen state.

Before this picture could be fully realized, a nurse breezed in unraveling the cord of that little baby stethoscope thing they listen for the heartbeat with and she passed the business end of it over my beachball belly and we both heard a scratchy but steady kathump kathump kathump. She started wrapping up the wires, getting ready to leave me there flat on my back like a reversed turtle, belly almost touching the ceiling, my unseen feet somewhere at the end of the table, my head obscured by the middle mass of my body.

“Hey,” said I, “could you maybe listen for another one?”

“Another one what?” she shot right back at me.

“Heartbeat. You know, another heartbeat. I’m just so big.” I was feeling downright silly begging for this service but was not in a position to do much of anything for myself beached as I was atop this stainless steel table with the paper sheet under me.

At this suggestion, Nurse Hard Ass suddenly appeared next to my head so as to bring the full force of her next comment to my attention, leaned over me, grabbed two fingersful of skin where my left hip used to be some five months before and pinched a wad, saying, “You’re just fat.”

The line thus delivered she left me to ponder the ceiling tiles and the humming overhead fluorescent light. I hesitate to use the word demoralized. But it was not one of my more self-confident moments.

I lay there having a wild fantasy that revolved around hopping onto her retreating back, pulling out all her tightly bunned hair, stabbing her with a well polished speculum and shouting, “Who’s fat?”


When Dr. Lovely Lovely arrived he took one look at me from the other end of my feet, came around to my head and told me, “You’re enormous. I’m sending you down to X-ray for an ultrasound. I want to know what’s in there.”

Well, that certainly helped me in the self-confidense department. If he didn’t know what was in there, we were all in for some tough explaining.

Now, in 1976 ultrasound was a new procedure that doctors only used when they suspected something odd. I certainly qualified. Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby was cute as a button compared with me at seven months.

On the monitor the first swipe across my jellied abdomen showed two heads. Then two little beating hearts. Four legs. Four arms. This explained a lot. Why my stomach was a study in constant motion. Why my weight was climbing at a daily average of one point three pounds. Why I now had to sleep on nine pillows carefully arranged to support various distended and extended parts of my body.

I sat in front of the doctor and cried for quite awhile. I must say he was very kind. And kept repeating, “lovely, lovely.”

On the way home I stopped at a country store and bought two cigars for the father to be. He is not a smoker. I just didn’t know how else to tell him. I think I was embarrassed.

When I handed him the two cigars, he gave me a crazy look like: “What are you doing? You know I don’t ….” Disbelief washed across his face. Followed immediately by confusion.

He sat down. He could not speak.

We sat there staring at each other. Numb from absorbing this one-two punch from life.

Lamaze class was interesting. I could not stretch, breathe, move or contract any muscles anywhere. Except for the all important sphincters, which we were told would play a major role down the road. Once on the floor with all the other breathing he-he-heing couples, I couldn’t get up.

Soon my legs started swelling and the doctor told me to get in bed and stay there until the due date. He said studies showed that women carrying multiples were likely to deliver early but that those confined to bed for the duration had a much higher chance of going to term. Oh goodie. Now I could just lie in bed all day and watch myself grow. He told me not even to get up to go to the bathroom. He said to use a bedpan.

A bedpan? I couldn’t even get off a couch by myself. How did he expect me to perform this acrobatic feat? Install a crane in my bedroom?

To get to my bathroom I had to pass a full length mirror. It got so difficult to look at what used to be my body that I hung a sheet over the mirror.

One day, when I had sneaked off to the kitchen for some refrigerated Ragu, the cat saw me standing by the sink and leapt onto the top of my belly, obviously mistaking it for a piece of freestanding furniture. She used my hip as a clawhold, leaving behind a five inch gouge.

As the months ground by, I finally arrived at due date minus three weeks. And I was beginning to develop a rash. On my belly. At first it was a small blotchy pink area just above the belly button. A word here about what happens to a woman’s belly button in the later stages of pregnancy. At least what happened to mine. It was no longer an inny. But it was not an outy either. It was a big eye. Like the kind you see on an elephant. A big roundish oval that seemed to be looking out from my belly. And it kept growing right along with the rest of that protruding mass.

By due date minus three days the rash had turned red and the blotches became deep lines of raised bumps. The redness graduated to crimson and I am sure to this day it was because of all that Ragu. Then it began to tingle. The tingling became an excruciating want-to-tear-your-flesh-off gnawing itching. Off I went to the doctor’s office. He sent me to the dermatology floor. This was the good part of being at a large university clinic. Whatever you needed was but an elevator ride away.

A word about what my belly looked like at this point. Between months five and nine I had gone from a 24-inch waist to exactly double that. I would guess that over 85 percent of the weight I had gained was in that monster ball.


At Dermatology, the chief of the department carefully examined each crimson welt. Baffled, he called in his chief resident.

“What do you make of this, Chuck?”

As Chuck was doing an in-depth appraisal of the angry looking red area on my prize pumpkin-size midriff, the rash began to spread. Right there with two doctors looking on. So they called in a few backup doctors. Seven more arrived in total. Me, my belly and nine doctors all watched as the killer rash spread slime mold-like on the outside of each thigh, then on my ankles and up my shins.

“Dr. Elgin look at this.” Chuck pointed to my thigh as red blotches began to appear.

“Hey, it’s starting down here.” Another doctor pointed to my left ankle.

“I see it starting over here now.” A youngish one came over to my left calf.

“Wow.” They were very impressed. The incredibly large and unwieldy woman turns red and bumpy. A sci-fi thriller in plus sizes. It was a moment of medical mystery so deeply moving that one ran out and returned with a camera. He and two other doctors (by now I was immobile unless supported on both sides, like some giant apparatus that was about to topple over if it ran low on batteries) supported me by my arms so Dr. Shutter Finger could stand opposite my inflamed belly and get a real close-in shot.

I know he was a doctor and not a photographer because he was wearing a long sleeved white cotton coat that buttoned down the front. It’s the same sort of coat butchers wear, sans apron. I wonder if one company supplies these coats to either profession.

I still have this immortal picture. In fact so does NIH – that’s the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., in case you’re ever asked for a snapshot of some really bizarre condition that they have no clue what it is but they absolutely must have it for their collection. Like a rare butterfly wing.

In came Dr. Chuck wielding a very sharp looking knife. A scalpel it turned out to be. Small but effective. They laid what had become much more than me down on the examining table and offered to slice off a chunk of rash for NIH to examine. Supposedly the experts over there could give us a positive I.D. of this peculiar skin lesion. For Free.

Of course I leaped at this unique opportunity. I’m always in favor of pure knowledge for its own sake. Hey, but what about the itching?

“No problem,” Dr. Scalpel Wielding Chuck tells me. “We’ll just give you some prednisone and that’ll settle everything down nicely.”

As an afterthought he said, “Of course prednisone could induce labor. But we can’t tell when.” Slice. Slice.

Oh fine. I’ll go home now with my rash and my drug and wait to see what happens. I’ll just be over an hour away down the Interstate. In the beginning of January. The time of year when snowstorms usually hit Virginia.

Naturally that’s exactly what happened. The drug broke my water – at least one of them since there were technically two water sacs, but we didn’t know that then. See, with fraternal twins there are two sacs whereas with identical twins there is a shared sac.

The force with which the sac burst felt like the Grand Cooley Dam giving way. I felt sorry for the poor folks living downstream from me.

For months my husband, sleeping by my side as I waited and gained weight without ever eating anything, would sit bolt upright in bed whenever I sighed and shout: “Is it time?”

He became so agitated over the entire process that he took up horseback riding.

“Why?” you ask.

“Who knows?” I answer.

But the night after I took the first pills, when the water hit the fan in a manner of speaking, he never budged. I sat up to see him sleeping blissfully by my side. So I hauled off with my left arm and whacked him a good one across his sleeping chest and yelled out: “It’s ti-ime!”

Without a word, he bolted out of bed and went straight for the bathroom where he disappeared behind the closed door leaving me to haul my massive girth out of bed, shove a towel between my legs, gather my overnight bag with all the stuff they tell you it is essential to have if you ever want to get this thing done with – stuff like a sponge to suck on, a pillow, a straw, a cup for ice chips – basic birthing equipment that women have relied on since time immemorial.


So there I was lumbering around trying to negotiate the stairs with my towel, pillow, bag, wearing my husband’s ski parka, his shoes, the only jumper I could still get on because it was shaped like a tent with a long zipper up the front, and of course my thin stretchy black knee socks that looked like leftovers from a nun’s convention. Yes. I was a rare beauty. So large and swollen that my husband’s size in shoes and jackets were now just perfect for me.

Arriving at our front door I flung it open to see the now infamous blizzard of January 7th, 1977 in full progress. At least five inches on the ground and you couldn’t see more than two feet in front of your hand. What they call whiteout conditions. In the South this is not good. We are not prepared for this type of storm. We know heat that could melt tall buildings. We know humidity that could choke a moose. We know clouds of mosquitoes that block out the sun for days. We even handle softball-size hail. But we do not tolerate snow well. And you can foget about wintry mix. That shuts us down completely.

My husband, bless his Alpine heart, had filled a suitcase with heavy books – I believe there was a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica plus three dictionaries and Roget’s Thesaurus, hardcover International edition, plus the collected works of Shakespeare and a classic version of Moby Dick, illustrated and annotated with whaling lore – and he tossed it, along with a storm anchor from our sailboat, the Sabrina, into the trunk of his car, a 1974 Plymouth Sebring, red, with two doors and bucket seats. This was one of those quasi sports cars that Europeans think is quintessentially American because it is larger than any of the roads that were ever built anywhere in Europe. Seeing it on the showroom floor he fell in love and had to have it. It was the butt ugliest car I ever saw.

As I stood there looking at the snow whirling around my stomach, which was outside the doorway while the rest of me was still inside, I was vaguely aware that my birthing coach, my life partner, the father to be of my soon to emerge offspring, was nowhere nearby. Turning, a minor accomplishment in itself at this stage, I spotted him in the kitchen, refrigerator door open, bending over, an apple in his mouth, collecting every bit of movable food he could find and stuffing it into a bag. One thing was sure. He was not going to arrive at that hospital hungry.

In a matter of seconds he was breezing by me and heading for the car. He jumped behind the driver’s seat and gallantly leaned over the passenger’s bucket seat to push open my door.

“Come on,” he yelled through the howling wind.

Trudge, trudge, trudge. Me fighting the stinging blizzard, pioneer woman style, hoping to reach the car before I was covered, immobilized by snow like a buffalo marooned on the prairie.

“Get in the back seat.” He pushed the back of the bucket forward so I could more easily climb into the back.

“Gee it’s hard for me to squeeze through here.”

“Are you in?” He slammed the door by pulling the inside handle.

Lurch, spin, lurch again, grind a bit, and we were off. Crunch, crunch. No, that was not the sound of snow under the tires, that was the sound of his second apple.

“You’re going too fast,” I said.

“You take care of having the babies. I’ll take care of the driving.”

That was the very last conversation we had until we parked outside George Washington University Hospital at three fifty-nine a.m. It had taken us a record breaking forty-eight minutes to make the trip. On the way up we passed an entire convoy of trucks doing about twenty miles per hour to our seventy in the unplowed lane. We passed two state troopers. I prayed they would haul us over, maybe give us a police escort. But they never blinked. Maybe they got a glimpse of me in that back seat, prone, with my belly in the air like a blimp that had been caught and harnessed but still wanted to float free.

After the rash had started my parents had come to visit and “help out.”

I don’t know what they thought they could do.

One evening we violated curfew and went out. In the hall outside the restaurant I was waddling along in front of my parents (there wasn’t room for me to waddle next to them) when we rounded a turn to see a man coming towards us. When he spotted me he shrank against the wall looking as if he wanted to melt into it for fear I was going to explode all over him. It occurred to me that in my present shape I would have been a perfect instrument for crowd control.

“Look out, rabble. We’re facing the big huge woman with the stomach that wiped out Lower Minneminnooha (I think that’s the correct spelling). When the indigenous American peoples created their complex of languages, did it occur to them that we would have to be writing those words in English for hundreds of years after their languages had been squashed like so many bugs? I’m sure words like Minneminnooha looked much better in pictographs on leather or perhaps spelled out as so many elk on the outside of some beautiful and useful clay pot. Dances With Wolves. Now there’s a really descriptive name. Like my husband’s name that comes to us from the land of shoeplottle and the ever popular yodel.

Name: Gerhard (more common spelling, Gerhardt, usually in Germany)

Meaning: Strong With A Spear

Take that, Dances With Wolves.


When we arrived at the hospital, Washington, D.C. was under a thick blanket of snow and it was still coming down. No vehicles were on the roads. No people were out. But there we were, finally, at the end of my long road, my weary journey, my life-giving mission and, dammit, the hospital door was locked.

But we did not panic. Not yet. Strong With A Spear jumped out of the car and took action. Which is to say he promptly disappeared.

So I climbed out of the car with my towel still between my legs to absorb the water that was still gurgling forth, clutching my bag with the pillow and the sponges for sucking and the wash rag and whatever else I was supposed to bring and began my march through the blizzard to the fort.

I wound around to the back of the hospital where the emergency entrance was located and headed through the swirling snow toward a dim light.

Suddenly the double doors swung open and my brave mate emerged pushing an empty wheelchair as if he was at the Indianapolis Speedway.

“Look I got you a wheelchair.” He was so proud of himself, all puffed up in the chest.

“I’m fine walking. Just kind of wet from this sac that burst over an hour ago and is still running water down my legs.”

“Here. Get in.”

“Really I can walk. Just help me up these stairs.” Finally he saw it was futile to put me in the chair since my weight made it impossible to push the thing through the snow.

We got inside, located the elevator and pushed three. We sighed with relief as the ascent to the maternity floor began. Halfway up the shaft the car jammed and we were stuck between floors.

Okay. I admit it. I got panicky. There was no way I wanted to deliver two babies in the hospital elevator between floors.

Strong With A Spear started punching the door, then moved to the panel with all the buttons.

He started yelling.

It was nearly four in the morning in the middle of the biggest blizzard to hit Washington in twenty years. In those days Washington was a southern city, totally unprepared to deal with any snow at all, let alone a large amount of snow. Consequently the hospital staff was set on paltry for the night.

By then I was slumped against the back wall of the box we were stuck in while Strong With A Spear was really hollering for someone to come fix this damned thing before his wife passed out. You think you’re on safe ground once you reach the hospital. Otherwise I would have joined those birth at home Moms who seem to sail through the entire procedure without so much as a burp.

Finally someone yelled back:

“Punch the green button, then push the three button twice, then press the open door button and then hit the close door button.”

Oh sure. They run these elevators by secret code. I forgot. This was Washington. The elevator was on a strictly need-to-know basis.

We lurched upward and the door creaked open, disgorging us onto the maternity floor where a resident met us with another wheelchair.

“See. I told you there was nothing to worry about,” said Strong With A Spear in one of his shining moments.


Now the fun part began. The waiting for full dilation. And the measuring thereof. What I want to know is, what happened to the birthing hut in our culture? I know why we got rid of the menstruation hut. But there’s still a whole lot of embarrassing leakage in the birth process. Anyone who’s about to take this step and thinks it’s not a fully functioning fluid fest had better study up. What are we, over ninety percent water? And then the two babies are also mostly water. And the sac, or in my case sacs. And then all that blood. When you are carrying a baby your body creates an extra third of your blood supply to feed the baby. With twins that’s double. I will not begin to contemplate more than twins.

On the subject of fluids I won’t discuss what happens with some women when they go into labor. Suffice it to say that a bad fast food meal could do to you what labor sometimes does in the fluid department.

But women are used to dealing with liquids.

I remember being in a department store with my mother. I am about seven, maybe only six. I know nothing about my body. Or anyone else’s. A woman wearing a dress is standing with her back to us talking to the lady behind the counter. There is blood running down one of her legs. It is mostly on the inside of her leg but some has branched out and shows at the back of her calf. It has not yet reached her shoe. My mother lets go of my hand and goes over to the lady. She taps her on the shoulder. The lady turns to my mother, it seems to me in slow motion. I am confused. The lady looks down at where my mother is pointing. Her face changes when she sees the blood. I am more confused. Now I am frightened. My mother comes back to me and takes my hand. We walk away. My mother seems annoyed with me. I remember the look on the lady’s face. She looks ashamed. I blame my mother for shaming her.

The first thing they do when you arrive at the hospital, that is if you have preregistered and they have all your insurance info in the computer, is set you up on your back in a room on a bed, get your clothes off, make you sign for anything you leave in the little closet thing. If you have not preregistered and just show up about to drop a baby anywhere, I’m not sure what they do, but I suppose they’d have to catch it and at least make some effort to clean you up.

They have already told you not to bring much of anything and not to wear any jewelry including your wedding ring. So naturally no one can tell if you got into your situation legitimately or not. As if that matters anymore.

And they stick a baby monitor on you. In my case it was a belt strapped around my waist (I use that term in its very loosest sense), unless you had more than one baby in there and then you got the double whammy. The belt and something else that they shove up your you-know-what, which you haven’t seen in at least five months. Everyone else this side of Maine has seen it, but you haven’t.

A word here on just who has been feeling around inside your you-know-what for these past months.

  1. Your doctor.
  2. Your doctor’s alternates (computed by how many share that practice or how many are in a possible rotation at your teaching hospital).
  3. Resident doctors. In my case these were seen or rather they saw my you-know-what at my many trips to the maternity ward pre-delivery when I was in labor and then not in labor over a four week span prior to due date. This was not what is known as Braxton Hicks contractions, which are fake. I don’t know who Braxton Hicks was but imagine going down in history as the person for whom fake labor was named.

This was real labor. A contraction every twenty minutes gradually tapering down to every ten and then every seven minutes. Off we would go on that hour-long drive. I would get on the table and some resident or intern or medical student would feel around in my you-know-what and pronounce that he felt something. I felt it also but we were not feeling the same thing.

One time about three weeks before my due date, I was on that table with a few doctors standing opposite my you-know-what and one young doctor was feeling around while an older one, the chief resident, stood next to him offering encouragement.

“That’s right, Simon. Just feel for the bulge. Yes you’ve got it. Now what do you feel?”

“I think it’s a foot, Dr. Erdlinger.”

Dr. Erdlinger stood up really straight at this point. I could see his face. He looked upset. In hushed tones he said to Simon:

“No. Don’t tell the patient. Just feel around and make a mental note of what you feel.”


Now I started wondering about this “foot” he had felt. A foot means the baby is facing upside down. This is known as a breach position. The baby will have to be rotated to come out head first. This means some degree of difficulty in the next phase of baby making one-oh-one, The Delivery. I may not know much but I do know how they’re supposed to be arranged in there and a foot right at the port of my you-know-what is not part of the configuration specifications. The way twins are supposed to be arranged is one head at the top of the uterus, knees bent, and the other baby upside down facing the first one’s knees. There should not be a foot anywhere near the Port Of You Know What.

Three weeks later, after the elevator ride and the blizzard, strapped around the “waist” and inserted with a monitor in the you-know-what, lying on that bed in labor room ten, my husband having disappeared again briefly, watching the screens for the two baby heartbeats that these contraptions are supposed to be monitoring, one of them suddenly flatlined.

“Help.” I screamed. “Help nurse.”

No one came.

“Nurse. What’s happening? Somebody please come here.”

Then some contractions which kept me busy for a few minutes. These were not painful. Just exhausting after three weeks of them. Then I started yelling again and in walked a nurse who was almost young enough to be my daughter.

“What’s wrong?” She bent over the huge lump that was my stomach, peering into my face.

“The monitor. It stopped. Is my baby okay?”

At this point, after nearly nine months of watching myself grow, of swelling up like a blowfish, of feeling nauseated, of having people shrink back into walls when they saw me approaching, of watching my mother cry every time she looked at my body, of having my husband take on some sort of manic fear reversal that mimics total control but is actually its polar opposite, all I could think about was the welfare of these babies.

Another nurse, an older, wiser, steadier one, marches into the room and pronounces:

“You’re going to have to calm down. It’ll be a much longer night if you don’t.”

I suppose this threat was made in some sort of attempt at empathy but it failed to hit the mark.

“Listen, bitch from hell.” Says I. “Find my husband and get him in here. I am a patient of Dr. [insert name of very bigwig doctor here whom everyone at this hospital completely adores and bows and scrapes to] and I want to see him and I don’t want to see you. Now check this baby and tell me if it’s all right. And then write down your social security number and check your badge at the door. You are history here.”

Well, I wish I said all that. In reality I had another contraction and Strong With A Spear showed up and took my hand and settled me down. The nurses left after fiddling with the monitor and getting it to respond normally and for the rest of the night and well into the next day I was too busy to remember to fire them. Now, some thirty years later, I think it’s too late.

Okay, here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. Delivery.

To review: I arrived at the hospital in that snowstorm just before four in the morning of January the seventh, nineteen hundred and seventy-seven, the year of the great blizzard that totally buried Buffalo and did a pretty fair job of bringing nearly everything in Washington, D.C., to a halt – except my labor. Readers who like to track such events as hurricanes can put this on a flow chart and make little progress dots across the page.

At around eleven that same morning my doctor, who had arrived sometime around dawn and been monitoring my progress – let me amend that, he had been monitoring my lack of progress – came to my room with the following information based on any number of reports from interns, residents and other hospital personnel, presumably including the night trash man, all of whom had examined my cervix for the all important dilation report. In centimeters.

“Hi. How are you doing?”

Didn’t he know?

Me: huff huff. “Pretty good. It’s been a long night.”

Strong With A Spear: “She’s doing great. Just great. I’m really proud of her. And she’s beautiful.” He patted my hand as I have contraction number 10,348.

“Good.” Dr. Lovely Lovely said. He smiled at me benevolently. “Here’s the story. You are still dilated to four centimeters and you haven’t progressed. As you know, the contractions are supposed to move the dilation process forward until you’re up to nine or ten centimeters and then we would move you to delivery and you’d go into hard labor…”

I picture me on a rock pile at hard labor, twenty or so other pregnant convicts in a line, all of us chained together at the ankle, clanking along with our pick axes, singing Swing Low, or possibly Slow Hand if we were all Pointers Sisters fans. In my fantasy I am the largest, belly-wise. And not progressing. The chain seems to be holding me back somehow.

“… but since that is not happening we have to consider the alternative.”


Strong With A Spear inquires in a nervous voice: “What alternative?”

“A Cesarean Section.”

Now I’m a grapefruit. About to be sectioned. My fantasy shifts to a luscious smörgåsbord (Note the optional use of the umlaut previously discussed in this chapter. I don’t know what that little thing over the “a” is called.) where I am spread out on a very long table smack between the macaroni salads and pickled herring. My belly protrudes proudly above all the other offerings, nearly grazing the domed plastic that protects the food from the human breath and microscopic dust mites swirling in crazy abandon in the air above us. Around my girth, grapefruit sections make a symmetrical pattern and in my mouth a large apple keeps me from protesting this treatment. Also I am smothered in some sort of red sauce, which turns out to be a prophetic image.

“I think that’s the only course at this point. You are definitely in labor. But with multiple births often the uterus is so distended that the contractions can’t build up the necessary oomph to achieve total cervical dilation.”

Oomph? Would that be textbook oomph? Four years of medical school and six years of residency and $250,000 in student loans to pay for your medical education oomph?

“I have to catch a plane at twelve-thirty so I won’t be doing the actual surgery. But any competent surgeon can do it. The hard part is behind us.”

I get a faint image of the hard part that’s behind me except that in my mind I can’t see anything behind me because every time I try to turn around to look all I can see is my own belly and it appears to be dissociating from me and wandering around on its own. I can’t move but the belly that looks like it ate the Bronx is having a fine time. We’re quite a pair. Me and my belly.

But wait a minute. Slow down just a fraction of an instant so I can get my breath here. We’ve waited these long, hard, heavy, swollen, nine months. And now Dr. Lovely Lovely is telling me he’s not even going to deliver this matched set?

I would like to tell you I argued him down from his plane trip and required that he stick with me through all the mucous membranes ahead, but he left soon after that and frankly, I was pretty busy being able to do absolutely nothing but lie there and have things done to me.

And then events began to move along on their own with no concurrence from me nor consultation about any other potential options.

Two nurses hauled me off the bed in the labor room and onto a gurney. Well, to be precise, an intern had to come to their aid in this lifting endeavor. But they got me moved. Then one of them wheeled me into prep. This is a term that stands for preparation or preparatory. But not as in prep school. As in getting ready to slice one open. They do not tell you what they are about to do.

In walked a new doctor.

And at the moment when I need him most, Strong With A Spear has been banished to a waiting room. After all the Lamaze classes and the he-he-he breathing and the sponges and the ice chips and the towel between the legs and the sphincter exercises, it comes down to me alone on a gurney in a room with about ten beds, each with a track above them where a curtain is pulled back from the bed area. I am splayed out on my back with the baby monitor belt around my stomach and the other one stuck up my you-know-what, wearing one of those hospital gowns with no back.

This new doctor introduced himself.

“Hello, Mrs. (he looks at my chart then massacres my name, but so does everyone else I ever meet so I don’t bother to correct him). I’m Dr. Gonzalez, your anesthesiologist. I’m going to be administering the epidural today.”

What are you going to be administering? My mind whirls back to Lamaze class number five and the discussion of alternate birthing experiences.

Wasn’t that the one where everyone agreed it was a failure not to deliver naturally? Or was that just the blond woman who seemed so hell-bent on no medication, ever, no matter what? Or maybe it was the class about having a “section” and that somehow you miss something if the baby doesn’t come out the Port Of You Know What. And wasn’t some husband talking about video taping and what should he do if the wife had to be sectioned?


“First I’d like for you to roll over onto your left side if you will.”

Right. Back to reality. The land of no choices.

“We’ll be giving you a small shot to numb the immediate area and then we’ll be inserting a catheter along the lower spine that will allow us to keep a nice steady drip of anesthetic going during surgery. This will numb you from the waist down so you won’t feel a thing during the actual operation. But you’ll be fully awake throughout the procedure and will be able to talk with us.”

I was so excited about the prospect of getting a shot in my back, becoming numb from the waist down, and having my stomach sliced open that I could barely contain myself. If I had been in any kind of normal shape I’m sure I would have catapulted off that gurney and danced around the room hugging everyone in sight, my gown flapping wildly half open at my back. Of course lying there like a flipped turtle I couldn’t do that. So, being basically an accommodating person, I tried to roll over onto my left side, as Dr. Gonzalez had requested.

“Uh,” puff puff (I am still having those contractions every seven minutes) “I’ll try.” So I try.

“I can’t.” Puff Puff. Contraction over. Calmer breathing.

“Perhaps we can get a nurse to help you,” said Dr. Gonzalez. I spotted a needle on the tray table he had moved next to my bed. It looked large. Then I noticed a really long slender plastic tube-like thing. With a point at one end. The nurse rolled me over with some difficulty. She checked the tubes leading from me to the monitor that was still showing fetal heartbeats.

Dr. Gonzalez was behind me. I could feel his body heat but of course I was facing the other way.

“Now this will just feel like a little bee sting.” I heard the rustling of his white doctor coat as he bent down to his work.

“Yeeeoooowww.” He neglected to ask if I was allergic to bee stings. I am. But the sting of the injection passed quickly and I kept my mind on the ultimate goal. To get these babies out of my body and into this world.

After a few minutes another anesthesiologist, presumably a resident, arrived. Together, the two doctors attacked my back with the catheter and – I know this is hard to believe – a hammer. I never actually saw this hammer. But as my lower back began to accept the catheter inserted down my spine, I could hear the distinct sounds of hammering as my body felt the blows that drove this plastic tube down under my skin.

The hammering got more intense as the doctors started muttering about this and that, the unmistakable sounds of frustration as their work progressed with less than complete ease.

Finally, after what seemed like at least thirty minutes had gone by, but it was actually a short time, they stopped. I sensed something in my back but couldn’t really feel it, until suddenly I was aware of a sensation of cold under my skin behind my backbone radiating down and sideways.

Dr. Gonzalez said, “I am just giving you the epidural that will numb you below the waist.”

Still lying on my side facing the opposite wall I pictured what waist used to mean. In a few minutes I realized that even if I wanted to, I could not possibly roll over as the stuff took hold of the will in my lower body.

In marched the nursing squad. They rolled me over onto my back and pulled off my gown. They walked away leaving me naked, the curtain around the bed pulled completely back. In walked another nurse carrying a tray and some other stuff that I couldn’t see. She pulled over a table on wheels and placed the tray down. She unwrapped a razor. She soaped me up somewhere below my belly out of my range of vision and sensation and started shaving me. The sound was familiar. She shaved my entire belly, down my crotch and over the sides of what should have been my waist but was now just part of the great blob that was me. She packed up and then took out a long plastic hose and a plastic bag and started fooling around somewhere down below my belly. I saw, but could not feel, my legs being spread apart. Even if I were not numb from the waist down, somewhere inside you go numb when people in white uniforms begin working on you as if they are mechanics and you are the car high up on a lift, your greasy, road-worn under carriage exposed, dark gray with lots of mileage on it.

“I just have to catheterize you,” she said.

“Great.” My thoughts tend to the bizarre now. I’m a grapefruit being squeezed for its pale yellow juice. They’ll pack me up and put me in a big jar and I’ll reside on a shelf at Safeway until one day a health conscious and svelte suburbanite will take me home and then I’ll sit in her pantry for ages until someone finally goes on a crash diet and drinks me down in one sitting.

Next she picked up a big bottle and started swabbing my belly with Betadine, which is a bright orange red. Splayed out on my back like a whale, legs wide apart in an inviting stance, I now looked like an overripe naked pumpkin.


Nurse Picasso walked away, taking her paper and wrappers with her. Leaving me lying there, unable to move, feeling like a piece of meat hanging in a store window. Orderlies, nurses, doctors were all walking past me as if I didn’t exist. Finally I yelled to anyone within earshot, “Hey. Will somebody close this curtain.”

They looked around as if I was demented.

A young doctor looked over at me, surprised by the voice coming from this orange lump with legs wide apart like a drumstick that got pulled off with a wad of meat attached. As he walked by he took hold of the edge of the curtain and gave it a casual tug. It slid easily halfway around my bed, its little steel rollers going wheeeeeee along their track. Then they stopped and he continued out the door.

In a few minutes a nurse came to wheel me down a short hall and into a surgical theater. Halfway down the hall she tossed a sheet over me saying:

“We don’t want you to get cold now.”

Once in the operating theater, two nurses slid me from my royal conveyance onto a steel table. Now this was comfy I must say. Then they started what’s known as “draping.”

Now if any reader is considering a career move about now, I strongly advise either the laundry or the pill concession at any metropolitan hospital. In 1977 when I birthed these babies, a Tylenol was going for $2.50 per pill. When I saw that I spit the last one they tried to pop in my mouth right back at them. They must be about $500 a pill by now, making a hospital headache perhaps the most expensive illness to treat on either an in- or out-patient basis and therefore a hell of a good way to make a living if you’re the concession holder.

As to the laundry. Hospital personnel just adore draping everybody. See the way it works is this. The very first thing they ask you to do when you arrive at the hospital is to give them all your clothes. Now you’re standing there at the reception desk naked and visitors are looking askance at you so they throw a hospital gown over you and then they make you lie down on a bed with wheels and then they throw a few sheets over you. And they always leave one down by your feet. Hospitals love to use sheets. Nowadays sometimes they’re blue. But mostly they’re still the white ones. A good sized hospital (always referred to by the number of beds), say a 1,000 bed facility, could go through, in a good month where there’s lots of turnover in those beds, perhaps 120,000 sheets. Roughly. If business is good. That doesn’t take into account the draping in surgical theaters. That’s a whole different category of linens.

They draped me with pale blue cotton, thicker than a sheet. They started in front of my face. But first they spread my arms out to my sides and strapped them down to the steel table, one anesthesiologist at either side of me. Presumably in case I decided to bolt and managed to roll off the table onto the hard cold floor, they would haul my ass back up to where it damned well belonged.

They plugged a whole new set of tubes into the IV needle inserted into the back of my hand.

A note here on inserting the IV needle itself. If you have what medical personnel like to refer to as “good” veins, this won’t be a problem for you. But if, as in my case, your veins are hard to find and equally hard to puncture, you will find a certain degree of discomfort in this procedure. And if, as in my case, the nurse just cannot get the needle into your vein after say, twelve tries in both hands, as was my experience in this particular hospital stay, you will find a doctor has to be called to do the job. Later, after your belly wound has started to heal, you may find, as I did, that the needle punctures are more painful than anything else. And that looking at your surgical incision is fairly uncommon since you’re wearing clothes most of the time, there is no way to avoid looking at your bruised hands frequently.

But back to the surgical theater.

They attached a set of monitoring devices to my other arm and attached these to a screen to my left where I could watch my heart rate and blood pressure rise and fall with each sound or breath. The cotton drapes were hanging from an armature above me. They were about a foot in front of my face rendering it impossible for me to see anything that was going on anywhere except to my immediate left and right. It was a very narrow field of vision. Finally I was all draped behind powder blue. Sort of like being in a blue padded cell. And it was mighty quiet in there.


See, they all know you’re wide awake and in a rather hyper state, so they can’t really engage in the banter that usually accompanies an operation. Since this was a teaching hospital, I got the full complement of staff. Let me do a quick head count for you:

The OBGYN/surgeon. Not mine. But the Associate Chief of OBGYN. By this time my doctor, Dr. Incredibly BigWig Lovely Lovely, was on a plane for California where he was delivering a lecture the next day, presumably on delivering twins when the woman’s body simply refuses to let them out.

Two pediatricians (one for each baby)

Two surgical nurses (one for each baby)

Two baby nurses (one for each baby)

Two anesthesiologists (one for each of my arms)

A medical student

An intern

A resident

The OBGYN chief resident

And Moi.

They would not let Strong With A Spear into the operating theater because there were so many people in there already. And they thought it might be a bit crowded. They set up a two-way speaker so he could hear what was going on and talk to me. He never said a word.

They keep surgical theaters at about fifty-two degrees because, around the time that Americans were slaughtering each other in a civil war, Louis Pasteur, using a newly upgraded invention called a microscope, proved that germs, unseen by man’s naked eye, were swirling around everywhere like a cosmic cloud. Germs, it seems, like a warm moist environment. To keep them from reproducing like micro-rabbits, especially where surgery is performed and people’s insides are laid open to possible invasion by just about anything, hospitals keep surgical theaters pretty cold.

I remember my arms feeling chilled, but the rest of me was just hanging there as if not of my body. It was still snowing outside, I found out later. I was lucky all these people had shown up for my big event. It was one p.m. on January seventh when the doctor made the incision. Of course I didn’t feel a thing. And I didn’t hear a thing. And nobody said anything. It took just three minutes, I also found out later, to remove the first baby. Four minutes later her sister arrived. The rest of the forty minutes of total surgical time was taken up sewing me back together, layer by layer – seven of them, I was told.

Now, some thirty years later, I look down below my stomach and wonder how they ever got those babies through that three inch vertical incision scar which is the remnant of the knife slice through my lower abdomen halfway between my belly button and the hair that covers my you-know-what. Two babies and just that little bitty opening. Some women get a scar that goes from hipbone to hipbone, horizontally across the bikini line. The doctors sometimes call this the smile line. Some get cut clear from the belly button all the way down almost to the you-know-what itself. And others, like me, get these innocuous little scars that could easily be covered by a bikini, if we ever had the guts to pummel ourselves into one after all that body abuse. Which by the way I never have. And I’m sure you would support that decision if you could see for yourself just what happened to my lithe young body.

And it sure was quiet in there.

The only thing the doctor said was, “The first one’s a girl.”

“Is she all right?” I asked.

He only said: “The second one’s a girl too.”

So I cried out to the void: “Are they all right? Where are my babies? Are my babies all right? Why aren’t they crying? What’s happening?”

You expect to hear the classic newborn howling as if coming into the world is a universal shock felt the same way by all humans since time began. We forget that when animals give birth their baby goats, cats, deer, dogs, horses, tigers, mice or whales never yowl in pain. That’s probably because no moose doctor is standing there waiting for the little baby moosey to come sliding down the moose chute ready to be slapped on the rump.

I don’t know how many doctors still do this – hold the baby upside down and whack it one just to see if it’s paying attention – but my babies just got bundled off to the weigh-in station, like little trucks on the highway off ramp.

They arrived at a neat five pounds eight ounces, the first one out, and six pounds eight ounces. The first born was twenty inches long. That’s pretty long and lean. Not an ounce of fat anywhere on her. The other was a plump dumpling at eighteen inches.


There is nothing more lonely than a roomful of people who are all ignoring you. Especially when you can’t move. And want to scream.

After what was actually a very short time but what seemed an eternity to me, two nurses showed up, one on either side of me, each holding a tiny bundle tightly wrapped in cotton swaddling, each head topped with a tiny wool cap. They bent down and laid the babies on either side of me as the anesthesiologists unstrapped my arms so I could hold the bundles.

And at that moment a surprise thought came to me.

“This is forever.”

I felt light as air and completely without any consciousness of self. Just me with my babies. Finally I could see them, touch them, smell them, listen to them, feel their bodies, hold them.

They both had blue eyes. They gazed at me with what seemed like intense interest. They seemed to know me. Tightly wrapped in their swaddling blankets, they were quiet and still. But so alert.

I was delirious.

Until the staff dropped the blue draping. And, lying there on my back, staring straight up at the ceiling, I suddenly understood why this was called an operating theater. A circle of about twenty faces above me were looking down through a large circular window, all smiling broadly. For the first time in many months I could see beyond my own belly and what I saw was my own feet sticking up wearing my black nun’s stockings.

Talk about humiliated.

“You sons of bitches.” I yelled at everyone and no one. “You left my socks on.”

When they wheeled me out, still cuddling my babies, Strong With A Spear was standing there and I said, “Look at this.”

I saw the same look on his face twenty years later in our boathouse.

A pair of wrens had built a nest in one end of a furled Hobie Cat sail that hung from the rafters in the off season. The rather loose furling had left a prefect cavity for their small nest. The baby wrens, each about the size of a ping-pong ball, chose the moment when my husband reached the center of the boathouse to fledge. A sudden fluttering and they landed all over him, about eight of them, clinging to his shoulders and arms and legs, chirping happily and flitting their wings to their parents who called back to them. The tiny fledglings clung to him as if he were a six foot three inch tree. There he stood, with an expression that said: “Look at how they trust me and depend on me.”

In that moment outside the delivery room, en route to recovery, bruised, half numb, full of legal drugs that had some of the same effects as the illegal ones I remembered from the sixties, not yet realizing I would have to deal with the incision pain, the reality of round-the-clock baby care and unaware that I would not sleep at all for the next five months or so, I felt at one with the universe. Totally satisfied.

Three years later I gave birth again. And you know what? It snowed even more the second time.

Coming Next: Strong With A Spear and I go traveling.

Two — travel


For anyone who’s planning a trip outside the U.S. here’s a short course on how not to do it:

First, don’t accompany, or in any way connect with, or even meet, or have any contact at all with, my husband. This includes getting to or from any airport, anywhere.

That may sound callous but I assure you I have reasons for this cautionary note.


In chapter One, Babies, you already learned that my husband is from Austria, a small European country with fine traditions and an exalted history. In fact you could say that much of modern western culture as we know it emanated from his native land, although it’s tough to see that when you go there today. Most of the country still looks the way it did when those fine traditions were in the making in the twelfth century. And of course everyone dresses the way they did then. Including the she-witch-Nazi-dirndl-wearing prison matron we encountered on the very first day. But more on that later.

We went all the way over to the old country just to visit my husband’s family. This is an emotionally loaded destination for him since if he were really inclined to spend time with his family in his native land, I submit that he would not have left there. Which he did some 32 years ago.

We took uneventful leave of our house on July the sixth at 11 a.m. heading for Richmond, Virginia where we would debark, in a manner of speaking that harks back to a less frenzied time when travel to the continent was actually pleasurable and relatively calm, for Philadelphia where we would join our trans Atlantic flight leaving at 5:30 p.m. for Munich. Eight and a half hours aboard the good ship USAirways made our arrival time in Munich — by our time zone — about 2 a.m. Of course the good ship took off almost an hour late making our arrival time in Munich 3 a.m. our time, six hours later local time or 9 a.m. So THEY were all wide awake and ready to take us to the cleaners — in Deutschmark (a serious currency followed by all foreign newspapers) or the Austrian Schilling (quoted on no exchange anywhere by anybody that I could find) and even more extremely absurd GROSHEN for those of you crossing what used to be the border between Germany (a real country) and Austria ( a pseudo country where everyone seems stuck somewhere in time around 1158 and eats at Gasthauses, dark, hot rooms with tiny windows, large wooden tables and benches and waiters and waitresses wearing outfits dating back to King Arthur — from the smell of some of them, literally dating back that far. One thing I noticed right away about old-style clothing though, those guys must have been the inventors of the push up bra. In the old country every Fraulein’s boobs cascade over every plat du jour you order. For men this may be a reason to visit the Old Country. For women it is not a reason to break into a chorus of Ach Du Lieber Augustin.

Here’s my first meal in Austria, the Old Country.

Waitress: “Vood yoo lyke zum freetantenzuppe mit Kreeme ov mutton stchew? Oops, forgif my booobies, zey alvays fall out like zat on ze plates of ze customeers. I yust poosh dem oop agayn. Und now zum schlagg mit dat mutton schtew?”

Mmmmm good. Clear soup with strips of pancake floating in it and mutton stew with whipped cream. What could be more refreshing for BREAKFAST?

But I digress. I won’t go into the three mile hike at Munich airport to the rental car counters, nor will I discuss my husband’s traveling style (chaotic mingled with frenetic, a trying blend in one’s own country, simply put, impossible in a foreign clime). Further I refuse to go into my husband’s need to make extensive arrangements for months before the trip only to change them up until the last minute before leaving, only to change them again upon arrival at our destination. As I say, I won’t discuss these parts of the general travel scene. I certainly can’t blame the foreign land for THAT. But keep in mind that while he continually changed our travel plans, he also made a variety of backup plans. Consider the rental car.

Not happy to take just any car they gave us, he wanted a BMW. OK. I can live with that. No no. He wanted a particular BMW. Anyone who has ever rented a car anywhere knows that you take what they give you when you get there, hoping it will at least be the size of the car you are paying to get. To insure he got the BMW he wanted, he made multiple reservations with multiple car rental companies. While my daughter, her friend and I waited, my husband ran from counter to counter seeing who would come through with the winning ticket in the BMW lottery. In the process he discovered he had rented a car from EuroCar, which sounds like a company. Translation: you have rented a CAR in EUROPE from some rental car company, you have to find out which one. More running from counter to counter. After an hour of this (it’s now 4:30 a.m. for us) I see my husband’s arm raised in a victory salute to let us know he has found the right counter, the right company and the right car. In my excitement about the perfect car I almost raise my head from the suitcase I am using as a pillow.

But you want to know about the she-witch-Nazi-dirndl-wearing prison matron. Patience.

It takes awhile for my husband to find this perfect driving machine in the huge dungeon of a garage under Munich international airport but we finally close in on it, after listening to my husband’s usual rantings about the damned Germans, their attitude, their demeanor, their accent, the way they stand, walk, look, act, sound, dress — you name it, he hates it about them. We find the car and he waxes poetic about its every feature.

Please note: This car that he is at this point seriously romantically involved with was conceived, designed, manufactured, improved and marketed by these same arrogant, obnoxious, rigid, offensive Germans he was a moment before denigrating. But men are the logical ones and women pure emotion.

What you have to understand is this: When a person from Salzburg speaks disparagingly of a “German” he is really speaking of a Prussian. German speaking peoples are not grouped, as Americans or Brits might be, by common language. More precisely they are a regional, tribal lot. My husband’s tribe has more in common with folks from Munich than with those from Berlin, or (God forbid) Hamburg. He is, in fact, a Bavarian. Not one of those backwoods Tyroleans. Nor one of those hoity toity decadent Viennese. Of course in Vienna when you say you are from Salzburg, you just might see a smirk cross the face of your Viennese companion as he (or she) quickly equates “Salzburg” with “Country rube of the first order.” Suffice it to say that the initials BMW stand for Bavarian Motor Works. And it is a purely designed hunk of car fit for anyone who hankers after a sublime driving experience.

But the single thing I pick up on right away about this car magnifique is we can’t fit all the luggage into it. So the girls and I end up sitting on or with a good portion of our bags. We leave Munich behind and whiz onto the Auotbahn, the world’s scariest highway, particularly with my husband at the wheel. After being cooped up in speed limit limbo in America for over 20 years, he finally lets loose with a vengeance. There is no car in all of Germany he can bear to let pass us. The countryside becomes a blur as we shoot past what I think were cows, trees, barns, houses, villages, I really can’t say for sure. After 20 minutes or so terror has made me forget how tired I was, what time it was, how hungry I was. All I could do was grip the door and plead between clenched teeth for my husband to come to his senses and pull over to the middle lane. No dice. He was an unstoppable, irrational competitive racer who had rediscovered his driving roots. No matter. Forty kilometers of this and traffic ground to a halt. An accident somewhere ahead in Lithuania had closed the Autobahn and brought his world to a dismal anticlimax.

For the next hour we crawled behind trucks from Poland, Romania, Latvia and Italy until we followed the rest of the traffic off the hallowed racing ground and onto a small country road which took us the rest of the way to Austria and Salzburg. By the time we arrived it must have been 8 or 9 a.m. for me. I had now been up over 24 hours. I was ready for the big suite with the double rooms, huge beds, giant terrace overlooking the mountains and the city and the feather comforter and pillows that we had prearranged for at a wonderful hotel halfway up a mountain overlooking Salzburg. We had stayed there two years before and I knew peace and tranquillity would greet me there.

We drove up the Geissberg. Our hotel, perched 2/3 of the way up the mountain where clouds sweep through the rooms on days when the sun shines and the high clouds move swiftly across the low Alps, awaited us. So did Frau Herzog or, as my husband calls her Old Leatherboobs. This refers to the dinrdl she wears and the color and texture of her skin. And yes, as expected, there she was. In the five years since I last saw her, she had added a spa and tanning palace to the hotel. She seemed to be its best customer. I never saw such dark skin on such an otherwise obvious Aryan. Also her hair was now copper red. And, true to plan, she was wearing the traditional dirndl out of which her boobs protruded at the top of her chest. I tell you those old push up bras must have been responsible for some riotous times back in the old days. How come we don’t see more of that at Busch Gardens The Old Country?

“Oh, Missus Gschwandtner (she pronounces it properly, too, although it is impossible to give you a phonetic spelling and even if I did you would not believe it), Zo gut to zee you. May I geef you a hug hello?”

I’m too exhausted to resist this treat.

She leads us into the lobby, which seems smaller than I remember. Then there is a lot of talking in German with Austrian accents. I see keys, I hear my husband’s voice raised, I see Frau Leatherboobs gesturing and off we go down various hallways towards what I assume will be # 35, the largest and best suite in the hotel, the one my husband arranged for (along with 3 other hotel arrangements he made for the Austria leg of our trip) and that has been promised to us. Imagine my surprise when we stop outside number 18 and she proudly announces this is our suite with the girls down the hall facing the parking lot. I see my husband’s back stiffen. I know what’s coming. I retreat to the lobby, sit down on the small couch and put my head back. Negotiations that make the Paris peace talks at the end of the Viet Nam war look like a board game, commence.

Frau she-witch-Nazi-dirndl-wearing prison matron Leatherboobs has given away suite # 35 and is trying to sell my husband on a lesser suite (all she has left) for the same price. Another hour slides by as it becomes clear that my European vacation is going to be neither peaceful nor stress free. It occurs to me that shifting plans and changing arrangements may be an Austrian national custom, which would explain a lot of my husband’s behavior. I am too tired to think about it deeply.

We travel the halls of the hotel looking at every suite she has. We settle on one, but not until she has told us the history of everyone staying at the hotel even to the point of trying to move a set of bodyguards who are assigned to some singer she keeps ranting about as if it is someone, a) I have ever heard of and b) I would give a damn about if I had. The final negotiation takes place over furniture (none of these suites has 2 beds), they move things around (another characteristic of my husband’s when traveling — he always moves around the furniture in every hotel room I have ever been in with him) and put an extra cot in our living room. Not exactly what we had expected. But we can finally go to sleep. It is lunchtime there. Our terrace overlooks the roof of the restaurant. No clouds sweep by. In fact it is raining and so cold you can see your breath.

Two days before we left home another daughter had flown to Brussels to connect with a flight to Portugal from there or Paris. She wasn’t sure which she could get. We hadn’t heard from her since. I was getting worried. On our third day at the Nazi she-witch hotel, the old Frau cornered me at a rousing breakfast of boiled beef and cabbage to tell me that my daughter had called the night before.

Relieved to hear this I naturally thought she-witch would then hand me a telephone slip with a number where I could reach my daughter. Now whatever made me think that?

She-witch: “Eet vas zo late zat I told her, ‘Your mozzer needs her zleep. And zat music vhere you are is zo loud. You cannot talk to her now.” Then she hung up on my daughter as any professional hotel operator would.

“Have you tried zee schtew mit lingonberry dressing und zee ssshocoladde pastry mit schllagggg? Eesse gut to haf a rrrousing brrreakfasse in zee mountainzs.”

This menu suggests a hint at what’s responsible for Frau She-Witch’s triple EEE boob size.

I was left to wonder if my daughter was calling from a) a hospital, b) a jail c) a frat house in Brussels, Paris or Lisbon? I was too agitated to partake in the rousing breakfast and went off to locate Strong With A Spear. Maybe he could manage to pry some information out of the telephone records.

But let’s move on. To the Relatives.

And start with names.

Having not seen any of these people for the past ten years, the boy nephews I remember have turned into young men and have either married or moved in with young women. The younger brother of my husband has divorced and moved in with a middle aged women. The older brother of my husband is still living with the woman he married the first, and only time. The names of these women are, for practical purposes, all the same. Here is a list:






and finally the dog, DreiLinda

If you think a family outing at a long table with this group of names makes for easy, flowing conversation, think again. First of all, most of them speak a kind of English that is taught by people who have never spoken any kind of English. Example:

Lauwrrrah, shoen ist gut cocacola?

Anything with cocacola at the end means they are speaking English. Also the words, Beeg Mack pass for bilinguality with the Austrian relatives, all of whom are over six feet (women included) and supercharged with energy for hiking, the favorite pasttime in this Alpine vunderlandt. We hiked EVERYWHERE. In the rain, in the fog, in the cold, at night, early in the morning, after lunch, before supper, after breakfast and when we had nothing else to do since it was raining all the time. Here’s how a typical conversation went:

I am at one end of the table, DietLinda at the other.

Hey there, DietLinda, when did you get your degree in architecture?

Five female heads turn in my direction all saying, “Lawurrrah, shoen ist gut cocacola und BeegMack.”

I ladle out more freetatensuppe and pile on the boiled beef you’ll remember from BREAKFAST and call the conversation game a lost cause.

Never mind, one of the male relatives who went to school in England for two years leans over to tell me some family news.

“DerLinda izz going zroooh anozzer depreszcsion. Zhey’ve had her on zeven different drugs but she schtops taking zhem. She zays zhey make her feel bad.” He glugs down a glass of beer and raises it up for more. His older brother raises his glass and they break into a chorus of Ach Du Lieber Augustin. The waitress brings more beer leaning way way over to pour it giving the push up bra a real workout. I wonder which Linda is the depressed one. I imagine it’s the older one across and two Linda’s down to my right.

I ask if there isn’t a better medication for DietLinda’s depression. Such a naive American.

“It’s Derlinda und it doesn’t matterrr vhat medicine zey gif her. Zee momente she ztarts to feel betterrr, she zinks zumsink is wrrrong und she shtops taking it.” He tops off his beer and cuts into a slab of wurst.

“Oh, right, DERLinda not DietLinda.” I glance around the table again to try to fix the Lindas in my mind.

Meanwhile, down at the other end of the table, Strong With A Spear’s 88 year old mother is busying herself rounding up all the uneaten food at the table and stuffing it into the biggest purse I have ever seen. Later I learn this is her going out to eat purse, especially designed for leaving no crumb standing.

We had exactly five such family meals (all after long hikes in the country). Luckily the dog, yes you guessed it, a female named DreiLinda, had to stay in the back of the car because “Is better for Lauwrrrah.” Yes, it was better for me. An overbred under achieving boxer that drooled with abandon.

On the one day we didn’t have a meal planned, we were to meet Strong With A Spear’s younger brother & SIEGLinda at a cafe in Salzburg for coffee and relaxed talk. Only his older brother had faxed Strong With A Spear orders for the evening’s meal to convene at his house at 4 p.m. for a cookout. Youngest Bro didn’t want to make this scene and was glum over Oldest Bro’s imperious attitude and tyrannical manipulation of everyone. Girlfriend SiegLinda, an assertiveness trainer who also teaches conflict resolution, was mum on the subject and Strong With A Spear was busy trying to figure out the tax sticker issue.

His brothers said he needed one on our rental car to drive in Austria.

Where to get this sticker was an issue.

The tax sticker conversation went something like this:

Brother: “Goomfurtebegassetreibefereung und fierumferkoopferlangen scheisse under dem rebesperungenstranderung arbereitergekopft.”

Husband: “Vas? Vas? Das ist der schtupider furkompfengurungerbrumberkomft Ich bein frunderwasserkoperfiericht. Varoom nicht der polizei nicht underschtrubberstaraberingerfunterungerbrachten?”

Oh, sorry. You need the ENGLISH version. Don’t feel bad. Once I saw the veins under the skin of my husband’s forehead about to burst, the Linda standing there had to translate for me too.

Brother: Did you get the tax sticker for your rental car at the border?

Husband: What are you talking about? What tax sticker? Nobody told me about a stupid tax sticker. How am I supposed to know about that?

Brother: You have to get a tax sticker either when you rent the car or when you cross the border into Austria or they could fine you (he being the brother who lives in Germany gives a figure in Deutschmark, which my husband translates into Austrian Schillings and then quickly computes into dollars).

Husband: What? That’s $650. That’s ridiculous.

Brother: Yes but you have to get it or they’ll stop you.

Husband: Where do you get it? Do I have to go back to the border toll?

Brother: You could get one at the Post Office.

A word here on the POST OFFICE.

Europeans have cornered the market on doing things the slow inefficient way. If you think standing in line for your book of stamps in the States is a chore, welcome to Postal purgatory doing it in Europe. See the Post Office in Europe represents the culmination of 1000 years of consolidated bureaucratic hierarchical Catch 22ism. In any Post Office of any metropolitan center anywhere in Europe there are at least 20 lines. Each line has a sign that tells you practically nothing about what awaits you at the window end of it. So no matter what line you choose on the very best authority that it is the one you want, you can be sure, after you wait for 30 or so people in front of you to finish conducting their piddly business and you finally wind up facing the bureaucrat with bad breath and worse teeth who has been sitting behind that window for 42 years, that you will be in THE WRONG LINE. I give you my personal guarantee on this.

While Strong With A Spear went off to do battle with the sticker windows at the post office, youngest brother, assertiveness trainer SiegLinda and I reviewed our options. I knew Strong With A Spear on a mission is an unstoppable locomotive but we would just have to wait until the engine rolled back into the station. Youngest brother again complained of oldest brother.

Naive American steps off the edge of the earth and asks, “Why don’t you tell him to screw off?”

Assertiveness professional SiegLinda and Youngest Brother gape at me. “To VAS?”

“To screw off. It’s an American expression meaning to take a flying leap, to go jump off a bridge, to piss up a rope, to put an egg in your shoe and beat it. You know, just tell him you don’t want to go to his house for dinner, that you have other plans.”

SiegLinda looks totally dumbfounded and I must admit completely non assertive. Brother just looks really baffled. I jump in again.

“Look, he’s your brother. His wife is the depressed Linda right?” Brother nods. “The last thing she needs is all of us to show up at her house for a backyard barbecue. So just tell him it’s a bad idea & that we all have other plans and can’t make dinner by 4. Then tell him to pick a restaurant and we’ll meet him there at 7.” Now I get all kinds of reasons why this won’t work. I get impatient.

“Look, do you want me to tell him? Here’s a phone. Dial it and hand the receiver to me.”

“No, no,” brother says. He’s ashamed of being such a wimp now. So he makes the call and tells Brother Tryannical we can’t make it. He comes out of the phone booth beaming. “It vorked,” he says. He has new respect for me.

“Yeah,” I say, “That’s conflict resolution 101 in America.”

“Yes, I zeee. Go shcrew off. Verrry nice. SiegLinda can use zat in her courrrse.”

We go for coffee. After an hour and ten minutes in Postal Hell Strong With A Spear emerges from the Sticker Wars ready to toss a well aimed bomb at the building that he swears every time we go back to Salzburg that he will never ever enter again no matter what. After coffee he tells me he can’t stand one more day in his native country and has called Italy and moved up our reservations. We are leaving in the morning.

That night we have one last meal with the Lindas. Again I try to fix who is which in my mind. I think the depressed Linda took a few pills before coming because I couldn’t tell one from any of the others at that meal.

After the meal is over a Linda comes over and gives me a huge hug.

“Zsank you.” She smiles right at my eyes.

It’s DERLinda, the depressed one. She’s thanking me for saving her from a family entertainment ritual sacrifice and I realize these women never learned how to tell their men to screw off. No wonder depression is a problem in the old country.

I was glad to be leaving for Italy. I like pasta in all its forms except that penne stuff which looks like maggot eggs.

We packed up and headed for Lake Como where I never expected to meet a Japanese rich bitch wearing the biggest diamond bracelet this side of Yamamoto.

But before we leave Austria behind, let’s take one last in-depth look at the culture, which consists primarily of castles, known by their Germanic title, schloss, and The Sound Of Music. This well-known musical adaptation of a legendary escape from bad Germans who had invaded Austria and were forcing all its most elite titled nobility into forced labor in submarines, has formed the basis for an endless chain of commercial enterprises that now spans the Atlantic Ocean.

Case in point. In Austria you can go on Sound Of Music Tours guided by lilting voiced Frauleins who lead you through, over and under every nook and cranny that Maria and the children touched or spat at before, during and after their escape, presumably across the Alps to Switzerland. Having seen the topography and weather, I doubt very much that Maria and Company made it past the Glockenspiel, a large cafe in downtown Salzburg where you can eat whipped cream until it oozes straight from your arteries. You can buy Sound Of Music books, cards, costumes, histories, wines, candies, pictures and even rosaries. This is no joke. I’m pretty sure the name Austria will soon be changed to Soundenofmusiclandt. Gesundheit.

But, on a less commercial note, consider the reverse. Not only can Americans travel to Austria to relive those thrilling moments of Rogers and Hammerstein (two revered Austrians if ever I met any) but Austrians can now take their own Sound Of Music Tour. Here’s the way it works. Austrian nationals, all of whom harbor a deep attachment to anything that is even remotely maudlin, can board an Austrian Airlines jet in Salzburg, fly to Munich, catch an 8-hour flight to Boston and then board a charter bus to Vermont where they can visit, in person and up close, the actual home of the Von Trapp Family after they emigrated to America and opened a ski lodge and gift shop selling Sound Of Music memorabilia.

I repeat: This is no joke. It’s a very popular tour in the Old Country.

So on to Italy, leaving behind the wonders of a 1,000-year-old culture that has deteriorated to playing musical comedy for a living.

The drive from Salzburg to Lake Como has to be one of the most beautiful anywhere. I recommend it to anyone without reservation. And lots of Schlosses.

I would like to state for the record, however, that my husband’s driving did not let up anywhere in the rugged and picturesque Tyrolean Alps. Mr. Hyde would have been no match for the driver he became that day. I was afraid I would have to get my jaw pried open by a safe cracker when we finally arrived at our hotel, which was billed as a lovely old converted villa right on the lake with a suite reserved just for us.

Let’s see, to me suite implies two rooms, one to sleep in, the other to sit up in or escape your spouse in, or eat breakfast in, or whatever, but another room as in — two rooms. Our one room “suite” was positioned in such a way that every truck and motorcycle rounding the bend of the only road that encircles the lake seemed to be aimed right at our bed. Also, the bend had an uphill incline that required all vehicles with stick shifts (Italy is simply loaded with them) to shift into second gear. Thus our lovely villa was, in actuality, a speed bump on the road to Como. How is one to know these things from way back home in America? I immediately suspected why those old Italians had sold the family villa to a commercial enterprise and headed for the hills.

Strong With A Spear immediately looked for better accommodations and we ended up at Villa D’Este, a world famous watering hole for the likes of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor and other notables (it says so right in the about the hotel stuff on the desk next to the day’s menu and how to use the pants presser or call for more towels) and us. Needless to say we classed the joint right up.

Before our stay came to an end, we happened to meet a young Japanese woman who launched into a most interesting description of her love life. I right away noted the diamond bracelet weighing down her wrist, not to mention the diamond earrings and Lanvin handbag. She didn’t actually launch into her love life right off the bat, but told us about her stay at the Crillon in Paris before coming to D’Este. It seems her uncle owns the Four Seasons chain and has an interest in D’Este as well so she gets the royal treatment everywhere she goes. She right away invites us to Paris & the Crillon for New Year’s Eve 2000. I perk right up and say of course, we’d be delighted. Strong With A Spear gives me a dirty look. I am mystified by this since he loves Paris. Perhaps traveling with me has been more trying than I realize.

It seemed Midori’s Italian boyfriend had just dumped her, in so many words, and she was trying to figure out if that’s what happened or perhaps she had gotten it wrong. She was quite distraught, as you can imagine, and I tried to comfort her the best way I knew how. She wanted to get away so I told her of the perfect solution. Take the Sound Of Music Tour. Hop on a plane in Milan, get over to Munich, then fly to Boston and grab the bus right up to the Von Trapp Family Lodge and Gift Shoppe. Well she took my advice and now is the proud owner of two dirndls, three rosaries with Maria Von Trapp’s image hanging on an amulet, the complete collector’s video set plus annotated biographies of BOTH Richard Rogers AND Oscar Hammerstein. With all that, who needs sex?

On our third day at the incredible Villa D’Este a call came through from the daughter who had not been allowed to speak to us in Austria. I know this comes as a shock but at D’Este they put calls through to the hotel guests no matter what time of night the call comes into the switchboard. Radical, no? She wants to join us. She will arrive by train from Portugal.

The next day we find ourselves in the BMW totally lost smack in the middle of Milan rush hour. Where the hell the train station got to I will never understand. But Italian drivers are not known for their excessive concern for caution, rules of the road or speed limits. I felt as if I had landed in an anthill when the queen’s in heat.

Now in Milan, all street signs are located on the corners of buildings way back from the street. And they are pretty much made of the same material as the buildings — that is some type of gray stone. My eyes are not real good. On a par with my math skills you could say. So there we were being pummeled by all the hungry tired Italians going home from work, me trying to locate some street sign that would tell us about where we were, Strong With A Spear keeping up with the traffic flow, but not at all sure he was headed anywhere useful to us.

“Look at the map again.”

I open it on my lap and notice it is getting darker outside.

“Oh look, do you think it’s going to rain?”

“Look at the damned map.”

“Yes, honey.” This is a big lie. I never call my husband honey. Later I will tell you some of our pet names but we’re not far enough into the book yet. We have to develop true intimacy before I share that with you.

“Is this the train station?” I point at a blob on the map that is in Italian of course. I have been looking for the shape of a station or at least something substantial enough to be a major building.


“What’s wrong?”

“It’s starting to rain I think.”

I look up from the map as a huge splat hits the windshield. In less than four seconds we are being pelted by hailstones the size of robin’s eggs. In case you have never seen or held a robin’s egg, they are the size of an average oval ice cube made by an ice maker in an older model GE side-by-side refrigerator freezer combo.

“Shit I can’t see a thing.”

“What? I can’t hear you.”


“I asked you what.”

“I said I can’t see anything.”

“Neither can I. Why don’t you stop?”


“I said stop.”


We are both yelling by now as the hammering of hail becomes a movie theater sound surround.


“I can’t.”

He follows the traffic which has slowed somewhat since no one can see anything.

“I think it’s this way.”


“I just think it is.”

Let me stop the action right here to make an observation.

My father was one of those very controlled people who planned trips down to the most finite detail. Which is not to say he didn’t leave room for extemporaneous events once you had reached your destination. But getting there was serious business that required Marine Corps style organization. If he were going to Milan to retrieve one of his daughters from the train station, he would have known precisely what route to take down to the last traffic light. My husband, on the other hand, never even knows when his plane is taking off and, on occasion, has even gotten on the wrong plane. Even walking very confidently headed in the wrong direction, he appears to know what he’s doing.

Still, he always gets where he wants to go. He’s one of those people for whom things just work out.

Back to Milan.

“Let me look at the map again.”

“No no, I think it’s up this way.”

“Have you ever been to Milan before?”


“Then what makes you think it’s this way?”

“Because there it is.”

The last of the clouds roll away and, as the light in the sky returns, I see a massive stone building in front of us with train tracks going everywhere. He pulls into a parking space that has just opened up in front of the huge entrance and jumps out of the car, beaming. This is perhaps his most annoying facial expression.

“See? I knew we would find it.”

The train station is more like a feudal city state than a building. If I were going to write an espionage thriller I would start it at the station in Milan. I never saw so many suspicious looking types. All ages. All shapes. All languages. All styles of clothing. And lots of entrepreneurs hawking just about everything imaginable. Truly Italy is the land of cultural latitude. If the Prussians represent rigidity, the Italians represent WHATEVER.

Daughter trundles off the train and we have a happy reunion before climbing back into the BMW and taking off for Lake Como where they will find her a maid’s room at a cut rate, a lovely little room that has more charm than 95 percent of the houses built in the states over the past fifty years. She promptly becomes constipated and the next three days don’t yield any relief for the poor girl.

Strong With A Spear and I take ourselves to the only pharmacy in the village where Villa D’Este makes its home. Cernobbio.

A moment while I wax poetic about Cernobbio. If only I had trained as a travel writer instead of a business editor.

Some places on this earth contain a kind of magic, an unseen force that embues your time there with an other worldly feeling where you can lose yourself to the space and yet return to your daily life as if nothing had happened to you and no time had gone by. They can do for you what Harvey did for Elwood P. Dowd. Such a place, for me at least, was Cernobbio.

Small crooked streets along the Lake rising almost immediately to steep roads that climbed forever toward the Alps beyond and the snow that rested there even in summer. Houses that I longed to explore, lush nearly semi tropical trees and vines, flowers and shrubs. The whole region exists in a weather warp of its own with palm trees at the lake level and snow capped mountains hovering high above.

The shops were a mixed bag of completely local and highly sophisticated so that I could walk along the cramped village thoroughfares and go into a shop that sold the most mundane shirts and shoes for a pittance or traverse the back street where twice a week an open air market offered fresh vegetables and raspberries, T-shirts, scarves, eggs, apples, flowers, handbags, jeans, just about anything and then go into a shop a block away and buy a Missoni. I bought lovely little decorated white cotton string Tees at the open air market — the Lire thing had me a bit overwhelmed, everything being in thousands like that — that turned out to be six for five dollars, and some rather expensive but drop dead gorgeous Missoni scarves, shirts, shorts and sundry other items at the little store that was no bigger than a comfy armchair. I am not a shopper but the pleasure I remember of that day can only be ascribed to the magic of that little town on Lake Como.

The pharmacy was packed, it being Saturday and near closing time for all the stores.

So how do you ask for a laxative when you speak no Italian? And no Italian in the pharmacy speaks any of the three languages you do speak between you and your husband. That was another of the charms of Cernobbio. Although it is host to one of the world’s most famous watering holes for the rich, famous and worldly, the town itself has managed not to become corrupted by its grand neighbor.

“Pardonne.” Strong With A Spear stands at the pharmaceutical counter surrounded by Italians awaiting perscriptions, looking at the bottles and vials and cure alls stacked floor to ceiling behind the pharmacist. We just knew what our daughter desperately needed was right there in front of us. But which one was it?


After this the conversation took a series of unexpected turns.

“J’ai besoin d’un laxatif pour une fille, s’il vous plait. Vous parlez francais, no?”

The pharmacist gives my husband a bemused look and shrugs.

“Ich gefundgredunkeroptigut meinne dachter fundergrabbergunseit immmer dem klockschpeilebefrechten.”

Now the pharmacist shrugs with palms raised. He’s willing to do his part but no more.

“Do you speak English?”

The pharmacist, a professional fellow who wants to help us but just does not know how, smiles at my husband and says, “Goood morrrning.” He rolls his r very smartly.

Strong With a Spear looks at me, eyebrows raised.

I take out my pen and motion for a paper. Strong With A Spear watches in bewilderment. Have I hidden a dictionary in my purse? Have I been holding out on him and secretly learning Italian through some subliminal tapes while I slept next to him?

I begin to draw a rudimentary human. Unclothed. Italians love this. I have noted in passing that all their statues are naked. I draw my nude from behind (you should excuse this rather metaphorical descriptive phrase). I draw my nude standing next to a toilet. I put a huge X across the bowl.

“Ahhhh. La senora bellissima giuligantiscalorra con imaginario fundilussintari.”

Obviously he thinks it is a self portrait.

With one swipe he hauls over a pink box and slaps it down on the counter.

“Quatro cente mille quanto cinque Lire.” He punches the cash register and grabs the drawing to hang on his wall. I don’t know if he ever framed it.

After a day and a half we achieve our goal and life proceeds. Daughter finds her way to a wildflower meadow high in the Alps above the lake and rents a horse. She takes the ride of a lifetime through the meadows under the snow capped peaks, with the blue blue lake far below looking like a Persian miniature in crazy perspective, faraway and altogether pristine.

I hike up one of the roads that leads from Cernobbio straight skyward. I climb and climb. By the time I stop three hours have passed and I am nowhere near the top, which sleepy people taking the noon three-hour break. This is what they mean when they say Europe is more “civilized.” They nap a lot. Americans just work straight through everything.

By the time I reach the lake again and hobble into D’Este, my right hip is hurting so much I have to bend over to walk. Unfortunately this affliction, whatever it is, will stay with me for the remainder of the trip.

Four days later we arrive at the hotel in Munich. It is very fancy. And very famous. And Strong With A Spear feels not too angry because most of the Germans are Bavarians here and speak his kind of German.

Bavaria is known for its cool climate. The day we arrive it is 102 degrees. That’s Fahrenheit. I call that hot, no matter where you are. The Müncheners (you noticed the umlaut, huh?) are sweating profusely and acting like junkyard dogs on an August day in Mississippi. The lobby of our hotel is the only air conditioned room in the entire city.

We ascend to our tenth floor suite in an elevator that could have been used as a weight loss sweating box. But it is as cool as fresh dew compared with our south facing room.

I collapse on the couch. Strong With A Spear gives the porter a giant tip and asks if they have any fans.

The porter stands about five three, if you could have stood him up straight. His curved spine made him look like the hook of a question mark giving him the stature of one of those gnomes you read about in fairy tales. He was about 104, gnarled, wizened, slow of gait. I felt guilty letting him lift our bags. When I tried to help he shrugged me away. Maybe he was feeling as sorry for me in my bent over state as I was feeling for him in his. But the tip — now that lit up his watery old eyes. He scuttled off nodding and grunting.

Ten minutes later he returned pushing a machine that only my great grandmother could have loved. About the size of a LaZEEBoy, it stood nearly as tall as he did, was about two feet across and had a huge vacuum cleaner type hose sticking out of its boxlike top and a fat black cord coming from underneath. He wheeled it over to the window then wedged himself behind it. Taking the big brass window handle he flung it up to unlatch it, then pushed the great window wide open.

Great. More stifling afternoon air. What a good solution to the heat situation.

He plugged in the cord and a fan’s roar filled the room. Before backing out bobbing and bowing as if we were royalty, he flung the giant hose out the window. I stood there staring at this contraption wondering what it was supposed to do. Bring in more hot air? Exchange our hot air for the hot air outside? Make fun of us in some great plot to show that American’s are indeed the most gullible people on Earth? Gingerly, Strong With A Spear moves closer to the CONTRAPTION. He eyes it quizzically. He goes from one side to the other. It hums along merrily, oblivious to his presence. He puts a hand out the window. He feels the air inside near the room. He pokes the hose. He fiddles with the dials on top of the box.

“It’s an air conditioner.” He announces proudly.

“I can see that, dear.” This is my second lie. I never patronize him by using the word “dear.” I do it in other ways.

“No, look.” He pulls the hose inside. “This is releasing hot air to the outside. And these vents,” he places his hand in front of the thing’s grill, “release cooled air into the room. This thing actually works.”

It does feel slightly cooler.

“Isn’t it an odd way to cool the air inside by opening the window and letting more hot air inside?” I query.

Maybe I’m just not mechanically inclined but I do feel Americans have earned their bragging rights to air conditioning. Along with Bay Watch and corn flakes. When the history of the “developed” world is studied in say two thousand years, the way we now study the early Christian era or the Chinese dynasties, I’m convinced air conditioning will rank as one of our finest moments. What about SPACE TRAVEL you ask? I doubt it will have the same relative significance. After all it was really due to air conditioning in post WWII America that allowed scientists to think on hot days at all. And to drive from place to place for their meetings of the minds. Otherwise they would have had to go to the mountains and sit in cool streams all day and that is no way to do advanced calculus.

Imagine, if you will, the following scene:

Edward Teller, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are sitting in a cool stream passing the day while jays and titmice squabble in the trees above their heads.

Einstein says: “Isn’t zis vasser refreszhink?”

Hawking replies: “Itssss [click] muchuh betterrrrr [click click] thanuh thatuh hohttt [click] lecturrrr roomuh [click whoosh].”

Teller is mute. He wiggles his toes in the sand of the stream bed and plays with a handful of pebbles, tossing them in the air and watching them fall with a splash into the stream. He seems fascinated by the explosion-like ripple effect .

Hawking, whose breathing apparatus and chair sit just at the edge of the water so that his toes can dangle in the stream, watches the pebbles land. He yawns, which pulls great thwunps of air through his breathing/talking machine.

Einstein skips a flat rock against the current.

He poses a question: “Vhat do you tink vould happen to time ifv man vould be able to ezscape zuh pull of all zuh grrravitayzhonal vorces of all zuh planutz?”

Hawking: “Whatttuh issss a planutz uuuuhh [click whoosh]?”

No one answers and soon they are all lulled into a nap from which they awake in time to put their shoes back on and go to take a glass of iced tea.

See what I mean? It would have been way too exhausting to fight the heat AND come up with concept shattering formulas. No, they needed the structure of bland, academic air conditioned surroundings to come up with their breakthroughs, thus moving mankind inexorably forward (please see chapter ten, Technology).

After our room cooled down, our daughter decided she needed to make some calls home. Her friend and Strong With A Spear went out for a walk. After about twenty minutes they found themselves in a park — The Englischer Garten — by the river Isar that flows through Munich. A lovely park. Tall shade trees. Picnic areas. Trails. Grass. You know, basic park surroundings. Plus one extra attraction.

It being lunchtime, business people, both men and women, in suits, were arriving in great numbers to take a break from the unbearable heat in their offices. Once they reached the banks of the river, they would take off their jackets and carefully fold and lay them down in the grass. Then they would loosen their ties. Then unbutton their shirts, unzip their slacks, step out of their underwear, strip off their shoes and socks and dive into the river. After which they would emerge and just lie around, naked, presumably studying the Börse (the umlaut is altogether proper here) reports.

Even in California this rarely happens during the normal business day. If it does, I’d like someone to let me know where and when. If you have pictured this scene accurately, you might try going one step further and remember, if you will, that French Impressionist painting where people (well, ladies actually) sit around in the grass naked with a picnic spread out around them. The man in this famous painting, Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe, is fully clothed, much to my mystification. I guess Manet felt that a guy being naked at lunch was just too outrageous even for pre-WWI France. But the gals, that was okay. It’s a well established fact that women often take off their clothes to eat — weather depending.

I once took off all my clothes to go swimming in a public place. Every stitch. It was on my honeymoon. On Cape Cod.

We were like that June Carter, Johnny Cash song, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout, Strong With A Spear and I. We chose Wellfleet way out on the Cape because I had spent a lot of time there and knew it well. On our third day of married life we found our way down one of those sand trails that is more a buggy lane than a road and ended up at one of those cyrstal clear ponds formed eons ago when the Ice Age pushed all the sand and a few huge chunks of ice from Northeastern Canada all the way down to the outer edges of the east coast and formed the sand spit now known as Cape Cod. The ice got trapped under all that sand forming perfect fresh water ponds in the middle of sand surrounded by the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay. Today those ponds are as fresh and clear as they were then and you can still see clear to the bottom no matter how far into the middle of the ponds you go.

The pond we found that day was deserted. We laid out a blanket at the southern edge under some pine trees. Pretty soon the sun broke through the branches, touchiong us with spattered light. After an hour or so a man riding a bike showed up. He got off and leaned the bike against a tree.

“Nice day,” he said to us.

“Yes,” we agreed. We smiled.

He wandered over to us and squatted down next to our blanket. He was a bit shaggy looking. Like an artist maybe.

“You ever been here before?”

“No,” we said.

“I come here a lot.”

“Really? Do you live on the Cape?” Now we were interested.

“Yeah. In the summers. I work in the city during the winter but a lot of painters from New York come to the Cape in the summer.”

Confirmed. He was an artist. At that point I noticed that his sandals had some paint splatters. And his nails had paint under them.

“Are you visiting friends?” he asked us.

“We’re on our honeymoon, actually.” Strong With A Spear shared this information. I don’t think I would have. But it was okay.

“Really? That’s great. Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” I laid back down on the blanket and closed my eyes. Where else was there for this conversation to go after all? I had done my part. Now it was up to the guys.

“Hey, do you mind if I take my clothes off and go for a swim?”

I sat up again.

“I mean this is the free pond you know. The park rangers and the locals have an unwritten understanding. If we don’t use the bigger ponds where the tourists go to swim, they leave us alone here.”

“Oh sure. No problem.” We both nodded.

So he took off his clothes and went for a swim and then got out and dried off in the sun for a little while then got back on his bike and took off down the sand path. He waved goodbye once. For the rest of the day people wandered in, sometimes alone, sometimes two or three of them, went over to a remote spot under the trees, stripped, swam for ahwile and left. Not a whole lot of people. They were all quiet and peaceful. No loud music. No beer. No picnics. No outdoor grilling. Just the crystal clear pond and the pine trees and naked people. After awhile we decided why not join them? So we took our clothes off and swam in the cool clear water. It was lovely. Strong With A Spear took a picture of me from the side standing knee deep in the water, my long hair hanging down my back. We still have it. I had an eight by ten print made and hung it next to our front door with a lot of other pictures of our babies and some flower pictures he took. It made a good ensemble. Our children’s friends always wanted to know who the naked person was standing in the water. You couldn’t really tell it was me. It was not exactly the standard Sears portrait.

Word on the street was that our marriage would never work. Of course my parents were hopeful. They had put up with a lot from me and they wanted this to be IT. I didn’t think about longevity. I was just glad to be with someone I loved who loved me back. After four months of married life, during which we lived in Paris where Strong With A Spear had been working for two years, he said he wanted to see The States. And here I was all prepared to improve my French and learn how to deal with all the stores in our neighborhood closing from noon until four every day so everyone could go home and eat lunch and have sex and nap. Or, alternate plan B, have an affair. Well, one thing you learn fast in a marriage is the value of felxibility.

So he arranged a leave of absence from work so we could go back to America and he could take a good look around. They agreed to hold his job for him for a couple of months until he came back. Now to me this meant they valued him highly. So I thought I had made a good catch. I just had no idea what he did every day. But whatever it was he must have been good at it.

At this point you’re probably waiting to hear that I found out, after rushing into a hasty marriage, that I had become the wife of some EuroTrash mobster who was busy all day putting the squeeze on hapless victims who were into his “associates” for cash plus the usual interest rates of 150% a week, me locked away in an ill gotten villa not allowed to work, waiting for his call, completely starved for contact with my old life but helpless to break my bonds and start a new one. Not exactly. But if that describes YOUR marriage, you have some self analysis in your future.

As for me, it was back on the road with Strong With A Spear, this time aboard the only cruise ship that still separated passengers by class, as in First Class, Cabin Class, Tourist and the ever popular Steerage. On this ship the classes were separated by locked glass doors. Guess which one we booked. Keep in mind, young marrieds, just starting out, Strong With A Spear who could have just as well been named Bavarian With A Tight Fist on leave without pay from the only job between us.

Traveling by ship is always romantic, no matter how far down inside the hull your cabin is located. Ours was as far down as it gets — D deck — and all the way forward under the ship’s nose. The crossing would take six days as this was one of the last of the Italian liners designed specifically to make crossings from the old world to the new. It had two sister ships. Together they constituted the Pinta the Nina and the Santa Maria of the late twentieth century. Traveling on any one of them was about the same as making that historic emigration back in 1492. I’m happy to report they have all been reduced to scrap and sold off as jungle gyms to many a fortunate city park.

We hit our first gale on the third day out, halfway across the North Atlantic in December, a time of year I would avoid if I were you and thinking of a pleasant ocean crossing between anywhere on the European continent and America’s northeast coast. We were headed for New York, that great port of call where so many have arrived completely exhausted after puking their way across the Atlantic Ocean.

I knew something was up when I got off the ship’s elevator on my way to the dining room and A) the large public area where the elevators and the stairways were located across from the bursar’s office had been criss crossed with heavy ropes about five inches in diameter that were hooked onto the walls with heavy brass tackle and B) people were hanging onto these ropes so they wouldn’t fall all over the floor.

Now I grew up on and around boats. I was taught water safety from my earliest memory.

“Always respect the water,” my father told us. “You’re no match for what the sea can dish out.”

I immediately reconsidered my options. I could die there in full view of everyone hanging onto those oversized lifelines, or I could go down with the ship safely hiding under my covers in my Steerage cabin.

I failed to grasp one vital piece of information. To whit: as far forward as our cabin was situated, the up and down motion would be at its absolute zenith right in my bed.

By the time I got there I was bouncing off the walls of the passageway oblivious to everything but my ultimate goal — to collapse and die in my lower berth.

I doubt that any reader has actually been face to face with the gaping open mouth of a gray whale swimming at high speed in a beeline right at your head, but that’s just what it felt like in my bed in that cabin down below the water line and as far forward in that ship as one could get without actually being in the water swimming like hell in front of its bow.

Every wave hurled us up and over its crest. After the crest we dipped way down. The sounds that accompanied this joy ride are hard to describe without the actual sound track intelf but I shall try. Imagine that you are a very very large mastadon of the Pleoscene era. Now imagine that a group of resourceful cave peoples has decided to harness you and drag you away against your will. Further imagine, if you will, that the implement they have chosed to wrap around you is made of a very stretchy rubberized material that grates and pulls against your smooth skin (you are not a wooly mastadon but a leathery skinned one). The resulting stress when these two materials meet at the great forces exerted by you the mastadon trying to break free and the cave peoples trying to overpower you makes a fearsome wail that reverberates throughout the prehistoric world first in your direction and then in the cave people’s. This noise continues unabated rising and falling with each round of galactically powerful heaving and tugging.

I admit it. I cried out to no one in the room with me to just let me die there immeditately.

And then Strong With A Spear opened the door.

Strong With A Spear does not get seasick no matter how rough the sea, no matter how small or large the boat, no matter who else is puking for glory all over the deck, no matter what he has eaten, no matter how dark the sky or ominous the waves.

He hauls me from the bed and drags me out to the corridor.

“Please,” I beg him, “just let me die right here.”

“You have to get out of this room. This is the worst place for you to be.”

“I’m dying. I know it. I accept it. Just let me stay here.”

“Come on. I’m taking you up to the First Class lounge. It’s in the dead center of the ship where there’s the least motion. You’ll feel better there.”

Now here is the wonderful part of being married to Strong With A Spear.

He had managed to get a key to the First Class lounge doors. As we approached, me half dead, him half dragging me, he hauled out a large brass key and slid it into the lock. We passed through to the better half and immediately sank into chairs covered in thick maroon velvet. With the pitching and rolling noticeably reduced I managed a wan smile of thanks.

“You stay here.”

Where did he think I was going?

“I’m going to the pharmacy to get you some seasick pills. I’ll be right back.”

This is an accurate report of the content of his missive to me. However to be completely honest with you I must say that he does not actually pronounce all his letters, especially when the word is a contraction.

Therefore I’ll becomes I.

The phrase “I’ll be right back” really sounds like this:

I be righback.

Consquently I’ve spent a good deal of time over the past 28 years translating what Strong With A Spear says. And he has spent a good deal of time getting me medicine.

He disappears and I sink back against the velvet and close my eyes imagining that I am swimming away from the large whale although he is still pursuing me with that gaping mouth, still making waves that haul me up and down, up and down. This image refuses to leave. My stomach refuses to calm down. My head throbs. My body feels as if a large vise has gripped it and is pressing it. I sit there for a long time. Finally I hear a voice. I look up to see Strong With A Spear walking toward me with a very drippy blond woman hanging on him.

She is about 28. Her blond hair is long and wispy. She wears a lot of gold bangley jewelry, especially large gold hoops in her pierced earlobes. Bracelets clank and jingle at her wrists. Her black dress is pretty tight. I sit up.

“Here. Sit down.” Strong With A Spear deposits here on the couch opposite me.

“Oh. Here’s your room key.” He fishes in his shirt pocket and pulls out a key, handing it to her.

I am feeling a whole lot less sick.

“This is my wife.” He says to her, although he says VIFE.

“This is Bambi.” He says to me.

Bambi rolls her eyes and collapses back sgainst the couch.

Strong With A Spear hands me a little yellow pill and a small cup of water.

“I had to wait at the pharmacy. They were so busy. Everyone’s sick. Eighty percent of the crew is out sick.”

It’s hard to imagine but the crew’s living quarters are even farther down in the water than ours. No wonder they’re all down for the count.

“They don’t have anyone to serve dinner.”

And who could eat, except Strong With A Spear and maybe the captain? I start wondering about the captain. Is he still at his post? Or is he taking these little pills too.

“I was in the elevator going down to the pharmacy when the doors opened and Bambi fell in on me and dropped her key in my hand and begged me to take her to her room. I could see she was sick so I took her to the pharmacy with me and then brought her up here. She already took a pill.”

Four months into my marriage I’m of course happy know that Bambi is not a fleeting elevator affair. Bambi is now stretched out on the velvet couch moaning.

“Oh God. This is much worse than my last night in Rome when I got so drunk I took my clothes off and waded through the Trevi Fountain. I was with this wonderful man, Luigi, and he was so very in love with me he did not want to let me return home to America.”

Jangle jangle. Bambi”s bracelets did their own talking.

“But, you know, he had his responsibilities and I had mine.”

Luigi, it turned out, was responsible for seven fine fat Italian children and one fat Italian wife.

After the gale passed and Bambi’s head and stomach returned to their proper positions in her otherwise healthy body, she attached herself to a Frenchman on his way to New York to a fellowship at one of our finer medical schools. No doubt she obtained a few free physicals.

The second gale we passed through on that voyage just about did me in. By then I was a seasoned survivor of what I assumed was the worst the North Atlantic could throw at me.


We had exactly one night of smooth sailing before the second one hit. I knew immediately what was up when the telltale heavy ropes criss crossed all the ship’s open areas. Lest you think we were all a bunch of nobodys traveling from Genoa to New York, I’d like to set the record straight by informing you that a number of luminaries were aboard our liner. Let’s see there was the famous Greek actress Irene Pappas, who had starred in Zorba The Greek. She was murdered by her own townfolk. In the movie that is. There was the son of Hedy Lamarr, a famous Austrian beauty who came to Hollywood to make films before the GREAT WAR. The son was a photographer. He took some shots of us newlyweds and complimented Strong With A Spear on the fine wrinkling of his pale blue work shirt. He should have been complimenting me on my fine ironing which produced those sought after wrinkles. We still have one of the pictures he took. I have since learned through the magic of television that Hedy was something of a mathematical prodigy and an inventor, having successfully patented and then given to the American government gratis, a system of musical note codes used to outfox the radar of German U-boats during said great war. She was incredibly beautiful, was Hedy. Aslo aboard our hapless vessel was one Eubie Blake, at that time around 94, a chain smoker and jazz musician extraordinaire. In fact I helped Mr. Blake and his sister, who was traveling with him, across the heavy ropes on Promenade Deck at the start of our second gale.

A gale is classified by winds of 32 to 63 miles per hour. I suppose a gale could be blowing in the North Atlantic and no one would be able to say for absolutely certain that the winds did not kick up well over sixty-three MPH. During that second gale it sure seemed as if there was nothing else on earth but wind.

Being a seasoned gale survivor by now I headed up to First Class at the very start of Gale Redux. By now I was carrying my own supply of little yellow pills. The lounge was a long room that spanned the entire width of the ship with windows facing out on both sides, the better to enjoy the ocean panorama on a clear day.

The sixty-three mile per hour wind had taken that ocean and turned it into a roiling mass of huge waves, each one thirty feet tall — aboput as tall as a two story house — as far as I could see in any direction. It was the scariest sight of my life. Our ship, which seemed so big in a calm sea, now seemed like nothing more than a walnut shell being tossed mercilessly. If we were still making forward progress I couldn’t tell. The groaning and straining against the waves crashing around us from all sides was deafening.

“Isn’t this great?”

Strong With A Spear knew where to find me.

“It’s awful. What’s going to happen?”

“It’s so exciting. I was just up on the bridge with the captain and a huge wave broke right over us and smashed the glass in front of the control panel. We got soaked. The captain lost his hat and the first mate got a big cut over his eye from flying glass. This is great. Well I gotta go back to the bridge. The captain said I could steer for awhile. You okay?”

“Oh sure. I’m just fine.”

“Good. Stay here. This is the best place for you. Got your pills?”

“Yes. Got ’em right here.”


He kisses me and is gone. Well, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Two months later he calls me at my parents’ house in Connecticut. We’ve had a fight and he has disappeared. With the car. For a day and a night. My parents are not too thrilled. We never should have stayed with them while trying to decide what to do next, life-wise.

“Where are you?” Me, worried and tense.

“At a motel in New Jersey.”

“Why in New Jersey?” Me, cautious, worried and tense.

“Because that’s where I ended up.”

“Well, where does that leave us?” Me, trying hard not to break down.

“Where do you want us to be?”

“Together. Not like this.” Me, trying to be conciliatory.

“I don’t know how I feel.”

“Could we just talk about it together?” Me, trying to get us back together.

“I don’t know what to say. I threw my wedding ring in the toilet.”

Four months after the vows and my marriage was already in the toilet.


These are short words in Austria. I have omitted the oomlouts (actually spelled umlaut). Which by the way the Austrian government is holding talks with Germany about. Word on the street is that umlauts are out. Who needs those two little dots above the vowel that differentiate a sound a vowel makes when it’s in front of another letter from the way that same vowel sounds when it’s not in front of that other letter or when that other letter is by itself or when neither of them is in the room at all?

As I say, heads of state are discussing this question even as I write. After all, since the year 1026 when Glumpert The Great decreed these dots as necessary, nations have risen and fallen on them. Or so it would seem if you read the papers in Austria where current forward thinking individuals are lobbying for the radical dropping of the dots now without further ado. These high level discussions have been on a fast track, government speaking-wise, since 1983. In 1976, when this story begins, the talks had not been initiated, although a radical front in one of the universities, I think it was Linz, where the Linzertorte originated, was already grumbling about umlauts in secret bundessribeschkellars (note the sch).

Although it may seem that all Austrian towns are named after some food or food group, this is not really the case. However Salzburg is named after salt. Salt Town, to be exact. Or Salt City.

The first day in Salzburg my husband wanted to show off his relatively new bride by meeting some of his old cronies at some steak and beer joint in downtown Salzburg, a city that everyone waxes poetic over because it is so romantic and beautiful and old and charming. And no huge manure pile. Only random droppings left by the tour bus horses that clop around on the ancient cobbled thoroughfares.

It’s where Mozart lived, wrote music and starved to death. They make these chocolates called Mozart Kugellen that they sell everywhere. At shops, on the street from little carts, at hotels, in restaurants, at newsstands, at tourist offices, from the aforementioned horse drawn carriages. This concession is much bigger than Sabrett hot dogs or Big Macs [more on the famed Big Mac in chapter two, Travel. If you’re a MacDonalds fan you can skip forward to that chapter right now]. While there is only one MacDonalds in all of Salzburg and it, along with all stores and establishments except hotels close at five on Friday and don’t open again until Monday morning, you can engorge yourself on these Mozart Kugellen anywhere, at any time of the day or night.

These ubiquitous one-inch diameter snacks are semi-hard spheres of pale green marzipan candy surrounded by a not too thick layer of not very sweet milk chocolate, covered in gold foil with Mozart’s picture on top in full color with all that long white hair that he wore all curly just to be considered quaint in the 20th century. In his foil portrait he’s smiling. I’m sure he’s pleased that his great musical career was eclipsed down through the centuries by his even more stellar performance inside a candy wrapper.

I think there’s a Mozart Kugellen detox center at the border between Austria and Italy. If there isn’t there ought to be.

And by the way there is no actual border now that the Eurodollar has become the law of the land, actually most of the lands. I don’t really understand why there was such a to do over borders and guards and passports and all that for so many centuries. Napoleon tried to do that. Unite all of Europe under one government. One currency. One language. One political system. I don’t know if he wanted to include God in that like we do. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, etc. I think Napoleon just wanted one nation, under Napoleon, with no liberty or justice necessarily but everything might be negotiable, depending on what you had to offer. Not so different from what we ended up with in America after 200 years. Except they got the Eurodollar. And no border guards. And we got drugs criss crossing from Canada and Colombia and Mexico and who knows where else to just about every place in the U.S. And we still have border guards.

In 1999 a border guard at some little nowhere ferry in Washington state caught some supposedly big time terrorist who could not keep his face from twitching like a popcorn bag in a microwave, trying to smuggle bomb stuff in a 1984 Datsun over from Canada and then cross country to New Jersey or somewhere. That made me feel much safer. That they caught this dufous who looked like he had red ants crawling inside his boxers. All I can say is thank goodness we have the Ferry Patrol on high alert.

I think Mozart Kugellen must be a state run industry. Austria is not a democracy. It used to be a monarchy. Then it became a neutral socialist parliamentary system. Now I think they are divided about what to do next. Some of them want to split off from the rest of the world and go back to the days before The War when a certain faction came to power and nearly destroyed the world. Others seem to find that a less than desirable course. That’s why I never get into politics. These decisions are just so hard to make. On the one hand you have tolerance, peace and prosperity. On the other you have bigotry, war and famine. Tough choices, indeed.

Three — men


What can I say? No matter what you’ve heard about how careful you have to be about dating, it’s all true. Every word of it. So listen to your mother. Or as one of my friends put it – men are pigs. If it moves they’ll fuck it; if it doesn’t they’ll eat it.


There’s no such thing as gender neutral. Or what hair salons like to call UNISEX. And don’t try to tell me there is. Boys and girls get treated differently. It starts in the family. Take mine for instance.

My brother was the smart one. I was the pretty one. All things considered I guess that’s better than the other way around. We were more than that though. He was the good one. I was the screw up. In most families it’s the reverse. The boy is supposed to be a bit wild. The girl is supposed to be good. Or so we’re led to believe.

But in my family the norm got itself reversed and I became anti-matter.

My brother was born first. In 1942. Our dad was off at World War II. He was a Marine and only twenty-four. At Paris Island, where the Marines take basic training, my father didn’t tell them he had graduated from college. So he spent a lot of time marching with a fifty pound pack on his back. Or maybe it was seventy-five pounds. In any case he marched a whole lot of miles with that pack and he got real trim. The Marines do a lot of screaming at raw recruits. Especially the Drill Instructors. After basic, my dad became a DI. The Marines are known as a tough, mean, don’t-get-in-their-way-because-they-don’t-take-any-shit bunch. Of all the Marines, the DIs are known as the toughest of this tough bunch. I didn’t know this until I was well into my thirties. I didn’t even know what a DI was until I heard someone talking about his Marine Corps training and how scared he was of the DIs.

“My father was a DI at Paris Island,” I remember saying out of nowhere.

“Jesus,” the guy said. “That must have been hell for you kids. Having a DI for a dad.”

“Actually, he was always very reasonable. Very calm. He never raised his voice or told me I couldn’t do something or put any restrictions on me about anything.”

“Are you kidding?”

“No. Honest.”

At the Marine Corps base they like to keep everything operating-room clean. Years later, after I had moved to Virginia not far from Quantico where the Marines train their officers at OCS (Officers Candidate School), my parents used to go back to the base to picnic. My mother said she knew the bathrooms and picnic tables would be cleaner there than anywhere else on earth. They were too.

When the Marine Corps noticed that my dad was pretty smart, they looked up his records and saw that he had gone to college. Four years at the Wharton School tagged him for testing. My dad was one of those good test takers, especially the math part. My brother inherited that part of his brain. So the Marine Corps sent him up to Quantico to OCS and he became a second lieutenant. Then they sent him off to kill or be killed.

Our dad almost never talked about THE WAR. The few times I remember him talking about it he said he was at “The Mop Up At Guadalcanal.” Maybe everyone called it that because that’s what it was called. But since I never heard anyone else talk about it, I always thought that was HIS name for it. As a kid I always pictured him with a big bucket and one of those Navy swab type mops, my dad standing in some muddy canal pulling that mop from side to side swabbing like crazy but never able to get all the mud up and out of there. In these images my dad was always whistling under his breath. Which is what he did when faced with a daunting Mr. Fixit type job. Like putting together a bike on Christmas morning.

My dad was not one of those handy-around-the-house type dads. He was more the “I’ll make huge gobs of money and hire other people to do all that other stuff” type. He wore custom made suits and dress shirts and Italian silk ties. Even his casual clothes were the best you could get. He never had a pair of raggedy jeans (I never saw him in a pair of jeans at all) and his khakis were always specially made for the task at hand. Thus when he was going out into the country where there were likely to be tall weeds with burrs or thorns, he wore “Bush Khakis” designed not to allow anything to stick to them. As if he was in The Bush — you know, in Africa. Not that he ever actually went anywhere near “The Bush” in Africa or anywhere else.

The only time I ever saw him wear clothes that looked at all worn was on a boat. For boating he went for the “salty” look. He had a series of battered hats, each looking at least twenty years old and as if he had fished them out of the water after someone else had cast them overboard. His boat was always orderly, each line (not ropes please) carefully swirled in a flat circle on its appropriate spot on its correct deck next to its own cleat. And you would never see a speck of dirt on my dad’s boat. Salt yes. Salt was de rigeur. Dirt was un Marine Corps. He named his 30-foot Egg Harbor Semper Fi. You see this slogan, which is a bastardized version of the Marine Corps slogan Semper Fidelis, on a lot of cars in eastern Virginia where the Marines long ago established Quantico as their HQ. Here’s us pulling up at a gas dock in Essex Connecticut one summer — me at eleven:

The man who works the pumps sees us heading for the dock. He stands waiting to receive the bow line my brother is ready to toss.

“Here son, toss it over.”

“Got it?” My brother.

“Yeah. Who’s that astern with the aft line, your sister?”

This is a joke because it’s my mother. She tosses him the line and he pulls the boat alongside. He walks past the stern of the boat to tie up the line to the big cleat on the dock and looks up to see the boat’s name carefully painted in bold golden letters.

“You Goddam sonofabitch bastard.” The dock guy.

“Yeah you too you M-F-ing goldbricking bastard.” My dad yells back at him as he jumps from the boat to the dock.

Why is my mother smiling at this I wonder.

The two men clasp hands as if they’re old buddies. Back slaps all around. They walk over to the gas pumps swearing and yakking.

“Mom,” I look over at her.

“A Marine.” She reports and goes below to perform some galley type chore.

“The Mop Up At GaudalCanal” was a strange description for what he actually had to do in “The Pacific,” another phrase that went with his almost never told war stories. It seemed to me that the generation that fought in World War II always referred to where they were sent by continent. Thus his friend Jack Shapiro fought in “Africa” against Rommel (ThatGoddammKrautSonofabitchRommel, as Jack often said, as if it were one word). In The Pacific, my dad was assigned to lead men into the jungle every day looking for snipers that the Japanese had left behind to pick off Marines who were sent out into the jungle every day looking for them. He told us they could only see about two feet in front of them because the jungle was so dense. They went out with machetes and their guns and hacked away at the jungle. That was after they all lined up every morning to take their quinine and salt pills. Malaria was a bigger threat than the Japanese I think. Every night what they had hacked away would grow back. This was before Agent Orange. By VietNam we had become far more efficient at totally annihilating every living thing. But back in the nineteen forties they didn’t have such efficient ways of exposing the enemy.

My dad went over to the Pacific in a troop ship. He described it as a big steel belly with hammocks for thousands of guys stacked one over the other. These guys spent the weeks in transit puking their guts out because the rolling and pitching was so bad and the storms so severe. In case you don’t know the difference, rolling is from side to side and pitching is front to back, or stem to stern if you’re a nautical type, which I like to think I am, except that I get horribly seasick but never throw up. (see previous chapter, Travel) It’s supposed to be better to actually puke if you’re seasick. You get some relief that way. I just get sicker and sicker and want to pass out but can’t. Maybe that’s because I think I’m pregnant, which feels the same way to me.

Before our twins were born Strong With A Spear and I bought a sailboat. I started sailing when I was ten. My mother believed in exposure to everything because you never knew when it might come in handy and because the more you got exposed to things the more likely you were to find something you liked or were good at. Later I would take this whole exposure to everything theory to an extreme she never dreamed of but when I was ten she sent me off to a sailing school in a miniscule Connecticut hamlet called Noroton, Connecticut. Noroton was a suburb of the almost as teensy Rowayton, which was affixed to the waterfront community of greater Norwalk, which at that time was a rather neglected town on the Long Island Sound just before you got to Westport as you were coming northeast on the train from New York City.

We were supposed to sail every weekday morning out of Noroton’s Five Mile River. But first we had to learn rowing. This was a familar sequence.

I had been to summer camp in Maine for two years starting when I was seven. Since many of the girls came to Camp Minnehooha from cities like Pittsburgh and New York, swimming was a really important part of the first month there. Because I had spent six months a year in Florida since I was two, I was one of the best swimmers at Camp Minnehooha. I had been swimming nonstop for years by then. At the edge of the lake they had roped off swimming pens and designated these by cap color. White Caps were the kids who had lived their entire lives in a city and were afraid to go in past their knees. Red Caps were beginning swimmers. The doggie paddlers. Blue Caps were accomplished in two strokes and Gold Caps (there were only a few) could go anywhere they liked in or out of the pens and swim freely at any time. These girls could do every stroke including that most underused (for good reason) of all swimming styles, the butterfly. Now if you had a shark circling you in the water I maintain that the butterfly would not be your first line of defense.

At seven I was the youngest girl in camp my first year. So they stuck me in with the White Caps. I swam around and slipped under the rope and joined the Reds, kept on going under the next rope and popped up with the Blues and finally disappeared underwater again until I joined the two teenaged Gold Caps who had been attending Camp Minnehooha for six years. I headed for open water but a counselor whistled and stopped me before I hit the falls about a half mile down the lake.

They made me pass a bunch of tests. In order to trip me up, these included diving, which was optional at Minnehooha so technically unfair to ask of me. When I executed a perfect Swan Dive off the lower board, they finally had to admit I was qualified for “Swim Alone.” A real honor at Minnehooha. But I had my sights on a bigger target. Blue and Gold Caps could start to learn boating. Rowing first of course. They always make you do the boring stuff first. Life is full of prerequisites. They stuck me in a heavy tub of a rowboat, a pram I think it was and pushed me off from shore with instructions to follow the course laid out with small red floats. Turn first to starboard and then to port and then row backwards and keel haul and ship oars and stow oars and name the parts of the boat, gunwale, stern, and like that. It was pretty easy. The next day they had to let me take out a canoe. Which had been my chief objective all along. I’d never been in a canoe before. They looked pretty sleek. Not an aluminum canoe. These were all wood. Very DownEast.

I sat in the bow and a counselor sat in the stern. I liked everything about the canoe. The counselor, whose name was Ajax (at least that’s what everyone called her) must have been five foot ten or eleven. I stood twiglike at about forty-four or -five inches. The canoe swooped way up at the bow. I listened to every order she barked at me and swung my paddle from side to side watching as we miraculously slid through the water, turned, made a circle, paddled in figure eights against the side of the canoe to bring us up alongside the beach so we could both get out easily, backpaddled, me paddling like crazy to keep up my part of the bargain. Pretty soon we switched seats and I gave the orders. After a few days I got good at it. So good in fact I became the youngest camper in Minnehooha’s exalted history to become a “Stern Alone” canoist (or canoer) thus qualifying me for two important and life altering options. A three-day canoe trip leaving from Minnehooha and heading down the Three Long Lakes, including camping out overnight and going over the falls and, late in the summer, a day trip by bus to Lake Keekoopaki, a much larger body of water, for one mind altering day of water skiing. I think that day set me up for my life’s most outrageous purchase, at age 22, a Porsche 911, wherein my mother almost gave me up as the failure of her life.

Sailing lessons three years later on Five Mile River followed a similar pattern. Except you didn’t have to prove you could swim. If you said you could, Captain Bill, the sailing teacher, our grand master, a man of about forty (as I said, I was ten so maybe he was thirty or even twenty-six) took you at your word. He had light reddish hair streaked with yellow and white. It was long and curly. He also had a full and blustery beard which always seemed to sport remnants of his breakfast. He favored eggs as I recall.

Sailing school lasted two weeks — ten mornings in all. We spent nine of those days practice rowing. I dutifully went through the same exercises I had learned at Minnehooha. On the final morning, all nine of us climbed aboard the Sea Snake, a sixteen-foot sloop, and putt putted out to the open Long Island Sound, leaving the many pleasure craft on Five Mile River behind peacefully bobbing at their moorings. Nobody but kids ever went out during the week. Besides Captain Bill and his “mate,” a nineteen year old boy who had obviously given up a Supreme Court summer clerking job for the adventure of the unbridled sea, the eight other young people aboard were all twelve or thirteen. My mother also believed in sending me forth upon the world for experiences way before other parents thought their children were ready for them. Much later I suspected this had a lot more to do with her need for time and space than my particular need for these experiences.

“This is the tiller.” Capt. Bill thumped the wooden handle with the palm of his hand.

“It attaches to the rudder.” He pointed down toward the water.

“By pushing the tiller, I can make the boat change direction.” He pushed and we swerved to starboard. Another push sent us in the opposite direction. We weren’t sailing yet, you understand. We were still underway courtesy of the small outboard motor mounted at the stern of the intrepid Sea Snake.

“This is the mast.” Capt. Bill pointed at the upright wooden pole in the middle of the boat.

“And this is the boom.” He touched a horizontal wooden bar lashed to the sides of the boat so it wouldn’t swing wildly and hit any of us.

“The sail goes up the mast and along the boom and catches the wind.”

We putt putted toward a dock not far from the mouth of Five Mile River.

We tied up at the dock.

Capt. Bill took out a cooler. He handed out sandwiches all around and opened some Cokes and passed these around also.

“Being on the open water makes you hungry,” he told us.

We ate our sandwiches. When we had finished the mate collected our wrappers and cans and tossed them in a trash can on the dock then hopped back aboard and pushed us off. We putt putted a few hundred yards from the dock and miracle of miracles, Capt. Bill unfurled the sail and hoisted it up the mast. Then he unlashed the boom sheet (this is a line that ties onto the boom allowing you to guide the boom against the wind) and the sail puffed out to one side. The boat rolled over a bit.

“This is called heeling.” Capt. Bill told us as we all tried to sit upright while the rest of the world tilted at an increasingly uncomfortable angle.

Soon we were going at a pretty steady clip headed straight down Five Mile River and back to our starting point. The whole trip took about an hour. We tied up at the dock and our mothers were all there waiting. In those days no mothers in our world worked. They all carted kids around all the time. Except that sometimes the maid would cart the kids around while the mothers went to “the club.”

“Bye, Captain Bill,” we sang out.

Capt. Bill waved at all of us and said he hoped to see us next summer.

I hope my mother didn’t pay much for that camp. It should have been called rowing camp.

A year later my father gave me a sailing dingy. Well it was actually the dingy that went with the thirty foot Egg Harbor that he bought, but he paid someone to outfit it with a centerboard and detachable rudder/tiller combination. And a mast and sail. No jib. Just the one sail. I tell you this because it has important implications. This sailboat, and I am stretching it to call this craft anything other than a dingy with a lot of chuztpa, was not a great challenge to racing vessels of any class. Mainly because when the wind took that little sail and the tide was anything but dead low or full high, in other words when the tide was running at all, that little sailing dingy, which probably weighed no more than a hundred pounds, went straight sideways. But fast. And the one sailing lesson I’d had with Capt. Bill didn’t really teach me how to deal with this situation. Or much of anything else in a sailboat. So I had to learn on my own. And that’s what I loved most about my father. He just handed me the tools and walked away. So I learned.

Pretty soon I was sailing sideways up and down our inlet and into the river on the other side of our little spit of land and then out into the Long Island Sound as far as the little dingy would take me in an afternoon, but not too far.

One very windy day I was skimming the shallows on the east side of our cove. As the dingy got close to shore the water depth lowered to about eighteen inches and the centerboard of my little craft dragged bottom and lifted up, almost popping out of its slot. Then the rudder caught the rocky bottom hard, flipped up to the water line and wrenched half free from the bronze fitting that looked like a horizontal L, the smaller leg of the L being the part that kept the rudder from lifting off. This broke off from the pressure and my rudder dangled precariously by the remaining lower L fitting, making steering my sailing dingy next to impossible. When I heard the crunch of the centerboard colliding with a large rock underwater and saw a sizable piece of flat wood pop to the surface and float away, I realized that the day’s sailing was over. I let go of the tiller, lowered the sail, furled it loosely and packed it down at my feet, grabbed my oars, pulled up the oarlocks and started pulling against the wind. All of Capt. Bill’s schooling came back to me in a flood and I suddenly saw the value in learning the basics.

When my father finally saw that sailing that dingy was truly a demented way to get from point A to point B, he bought me a small catamaran. An Aquacat. Two air filled pontoons and a canvas sling strung between them above the water. But still only one sail on an aluminum mast at the top of which a large white styrofoam ball which sat like the star on a Christmas tree. In case the cat ever capsized, this ball would in all likelihood keep you from turning a full one hundred eighty degrees and ending up with your mast stuck in the mud and the pontoons facing the sky. I never got to test this theory since I never capsized.

My father had never learned to sail. If he had I’m sure he would have made the connection between a jib and being able to come about neatly without losing ground or running sideways against a strong current. For that is exactly what this new craft did. Very much like the dingy. Only faster still. So I could get even farther out into the Sound than with the dingy. I can still see him standing at the end of the dock, me way out near the entrance to our cove heading in at sunset, his arms folded at the waist, his legs slightly apart, just waiting to see that I was coming back. As soon as he spotted the white styrofoam ball at the top of my cat’s mast, he would turn and walk back up the hill to our house. He never said a word about where I had been or how long I’d been out or why didn’t I let them know when I was going sailing or anything like that. He just wanted to know I was safe. I spent three summers taking that cat sideways out into the Sound and running her up and down the coastline as far away from my house as I could get and still be able to return by nightfall. I never thought about how much faith he had in me. Or how worried he might be. Toward the end of those years I began to argue with him. But that was a different time and I had discovered I was attractive to boys.

I went on my first real date when I was just twelve. This means that a boy called me on the phone and asked me to go to a dance with him. His parents drove us there and back. I had no idea what to say to him. I don’t remember his name. I don’t think I liked him much. I do remember wearing a dress with a crinoline under it. It rustled when I walked. He must have been my age. But other, older boys were showing up on the horizon. Boys who were already driving cars. Boys who did not go to private school. Boys who wore their hair in ducktails. One boy in particular whose name was Rusty. Yes that’s true. Red hair and all. He was a bad boy. Or so it seemed to me and therefore highly desirable at the time.

I was in the fourth grade when I first fell in love. It’s doubtful that it lasted very long but it seemed an aching eternity. He seemed completely oblivious to my existence, probably the major reason I had any feelings at all towards him that fourth grade year that was so full of complexity in my tenth year of life. His name was Mike. Funny thing was, a lot of other girls in Miss Hammernick’s class were intoxicated with the mysterious Mike, who was about as short as anyone in the class and extremely skinny. Soon I would affix my affections to another Mike, an older Mike, a much handsomer Mike, a friend of my brother’s Mike and therefore even more out of my league. Mike II and my brother were in seventh grade. That meant they had graduated to Junior High. Exalted. Independent. Almost High School Mike. Tall, lean, blond-haired, freckled, soft spoken, elegant Mike. Who never ever said a word to me no matter how many times he came over to our house to do boy stuff with my brother. At ten, I was simply “the little sister” and there was nothing about me that would have interested any boy. But I had no idea why not. By twelve, when I began to have the vaguest inkling of what did interest boys, it really pissed me off. Naturally I blamed my father. But not right away. I waited until my eighteenth birthday before starting my mass campaign of revenge for the way women were treated in western society in general and MY society in particular, by arguing with him about everything and anything. These arguments included, but were not limited to, that most beloved of all our constitutional amendments, the very glue that holds our great society together, NUMBER TWO — the right to bear arms. The year was 1967. Flower power was budding throughout the land. THE PILL had given women certain social options they had never known before. In three years I would be bringing four pounds of marijuana through Kennedy airport. Or two keys, if you prefer the lingo of 1970. (Forget it, I checked. The statute of limitations has run out on my crime and I don’t plan to run for any political office and yes, dammit, I did inhale. And I NEVER sold any of it. It was purely for medical use. I suffered from terminal feelings of outrage and this was my palliative drug.)

Let me state for the record here that I was not interested in bearing arms myself. I was busy bearing a pottery wheel or a paint brush with acrylics dripping from it as I attacked a stretched canvas. Sometimes nude.

Here’s how this argument went, while my brother, the Harvard man, sat out each inning on the sidelines presumably storing more standardized test type information in his enormous brain which seemed to have a limitless capacity for anything that could be answered by filling in a small circle with the point of a number two pencil.

Dad: Did you see where those kids marched on Washington? And then burned their draft cards?

Me: They have every right to petition their government. It’s an immoral war.

Dad: When your government tells you to go to war you don’t have the option of questioning the morality of it. It’s your duty to go.

Me: That sounds a lot like what the Nazis said. I was only following orders.

Dad: I fought for the rights of people like your friends who are marching so they would have the freedom to do whatever they want, no matter how ill founded and misguided it might be.

Me: So we agree. They have every right to march.

Dad: I fought for those rights but I don’t agree with them. So they should go and fight this war even if they don’t agree with it.

Me: That’s crazy. It’s like saying because we have the right to bear arms that every one of us should have a bazooka in the backyard next to the barbecue.

Dad; Exactly.


Dad: My point exactly. I defended with my life the right of every American to bear arms. And to speak freely even if I don’t agree with what a particular person has to say.

Me: So you think the right to bear arms means we should be able to have a Howitzer parked in the driveway?

Dad: The second amendment says the right to bear arms and I take that literally.

Me: Well then you wouldn’t mind if I manufactured my own nuclear device in the kitchen. I would be protected by the Constitution.

Dad: That is not the point. You’re not going to do that.

Mom: Will you two stop now?

For the edification of the reader I will now place in evidence the exact wording of the second amendment, proposed by the Congress on September 25, 1789 and thereafter ratified by a bunch of states over a series of years until ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution was completed on December 15, 1791, with the last few holdout states finally ratifiying on April 13, 1939 when Connecticut FINALLY put its John Hancock to the paper. By the way Connecticut is where Lyme disease was first identified in a family that had been suffering from some very unpleasant rashes, swellings, fevers, joint pain and other symptoms. So named for Lyme Connecticut where this family lived. Which is not far from where I grew up, presumably with some of the same tick carrying deer.

When you pull a tick off your dog and it’s been on there a few days or a week, it’ll be all bloated so you can’t even see its head or its little waving legs. It just looks like a big taut gray ball. So what you want to do is pull it off and then shoo your dog away. Then you want to drop the tick on a stone patio. I’m sure this is why so much flagstone is used in Connecticut. Nice and flat. Then you want to go “Eeeyoouu-ooo, gross” a few times. Then you take a hammer and smash it as hard as you can so all the blood goes flying all over the place. An alternate scheme involves igniting the gray ball with one of those big wooden matches. You achieve similar explosive mass but in my book the added pyrotechnics do not compare with the sound of the hammer on the flagstone. I would give it a seven on the kid satisfaction gross out chart. The hammer gets a nine point eight.

So here it is, Article [II]:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

That’s pretty simple. And from this we get twelve year olds blasting their way through middle school math class with dozens of rounds of ammo and kids who can’t drive yet bringing pipe bombs to school or ambushing their ten year old classmates from some bushes behind the soccer field. I would just like to know how that equates with a well regulated militia. Anyone?

At eighteen I decided I was emancipated.

And ready for love.

Although I did not find love right away, I did a lot of looking for it, and did find some approximations. I will share just one of them here.

I located him near the end of a summer stint at art school in Provincetown, a small hamlet populated by tenth generation Portuguese fishing families some of whom still fish while the rest ply the tourist trade in a variety of forms. Every summer Provincetown swells to ten times its normal number of inhabitants, most of whom depart after Labor Day to resume their normal city lives. While on the Cape, they act like bohemians and generally bum around. There’s a good deal of drinking and drug taking and lots of partying. There is also sex. Although my summer experience was pretty dry in all departments since I don’t drink at all and had not yet, in that summer of 1963, been introduced to any drugs or to the sex act itself. I was aware of it. I just hadn’t found the right partner to try it out with. Not for lack of offers.

Provincetown was the site of the first Pilgrim landing. Before they hit Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims stopped off in what is now known as P-Town, which is sitiutated at the end of the hook that Cape Cod makes as it reaches out to sea and curls back in on itself. At the very tip of town there is a long stone jetty that creates a protected harbor for the town and serves as a breakwater against the Atlantic Ocean waves that can be pretty brutal in a Nor’Easter. But not in summer. Then the jetty is a wonderful place to walk on a moonlit night. The jetty sits high above the water, its huge flat rocks making a perfect roadway to nowhere like something the builders of Atlantis left behind for some unknown reason. Not like that one that runs for miles under water in the Bahamas smack in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. I’m sure that’s not Atlantis. It’s probably some old rum running road that sank because its builders were so sloshed they didn’t support it correctly and it sank. Still it is a mystery the way those rocks under water are so symmetrical and stretch in such a straight line in the middle of nowhere. See, I think they once connected an entire atoll that has since disappeared. But where? Ah, there’s the real mystery. I’ll bet there are islands under water at various points along that road. I’ll bet they just got washed flat by the waves.

Cape Cod is like a barrier island even though it is really a penninsula. It gets battered around by the wind and water. Its dunes, miles and miles of them, shift continually. That’s what these seashores are supposed to do. We think of them as fixed. So we build houses and hotels and casinos and golf courses on them. Then a big storm comes and gouges out some great chunks and the ninth tee sinks like a sandbag and people wonder what happened to their investment. And then the government comes in and pays them to rebuild it. Now you know that ninth tee is going to get hit again someday because that’s what sand does. It shifts. As in the expression, “the shifting sands.” Ocracoke Island, the last inhabited island at the southern end of the Outer Banks of North Carolina doesn’t even remotely resemble the way the island looked on a map of two hundred years ago. Portsmouth Island, which is the next one south of Ocracoke, used to be inhabited but no one lives there now. In fact, one hundred and fifty years ago, Portsmouth was the big island where most of the people lived and where all the big boats came into port. Then the island sands shifted and the channel closed up and the port just up and disappeared into the shifting sands. So that under water road in the Bermuda Triangle must have been heading somewhere but the shifting sands just shifted that somewhere to somewhere else. At least that’s my theory.

At the end of my summer in P-Town one of the other art students asked me for a ride back to New York. So I said yes. Well why not? He was the big cheese of our little summer school. Had a Fullbright for the coming year. He was going to Brussels. A country that is half French and half Walloon, whatever that is. It’s a very gray country. It always seems to be about fifty-two degrees (Fahrenheit that is) and raining. At least that’s the way it is in Brussels. There are lots of bankers in Brussels. It doesn’t seem like a real center for the arts. But that’s where the Fullbright people sent him. To paint for a year. He did big canvases. It was during that whole abstract expresisonist time when Jackson Pollock and Willem DeKooning and Franz Kline and all those tempermental self destructive guys were driving through globs of paint and then driving their cars over huge canvases in their garages out on Long Island. Those were heady times in the art world. It was also a very macho time. I can remember three women artists who were getting any recognition at all. There was Georgia O’Keefe of course. She was already famous in a certain segment of the population. At least in the ART WORLD. And there was Helen Frankenthaler, but she was only famous in smaller art circles, which are really pathetically small. Marisol was well known in art circles too because she made large sculptures out of wood. They were all groups of people, like one was a wedding party with all the wedding members — the mother of the bride and the father of the bride and the bride and groom and the maid of honor and best man and all the others including the ring bearer, a little carved out girl carrying a pillow with the ring painted on it. All the figures were attached to each other — actually carved out of one huge chink of wood I thjink — and they were all painted up in their ceremonmial wedding outfits. And Marisol (she had no first or last name, long before Cher) had painted her own face on all the wedding party members. She did that on all her sculptures in those days. I have no idea what she’s doing now. One other woman got recognized not too long after that — Louise Nevelson. She made wall sized wood assemblages. Really big ones. I never liked them. But she got pretty famous. She had a rich husband. Helen Frankenthaler was married to Robert Motherwell who taught at Columbia and also painted huge canvases with large blotches on them. I never liked his work at all. He was very famous among the arty set too. Collectors paid lots of money for his wall sized art. You can see it in a lot of museums. I still don’t get it. I get Jackson Pollock. He was great. Until he drove his car head on into a tree. DeKooning was great too. He was the only one of that group of men who lived to see his old age. Mark Rothko — well nobody really knows what happened to him. But he sure could paint. That man was a painting god. This was before Pop Art got really big. But that summer Pop Art was just beginning to catch on and the two New York painters who ran the art school were feeling a bit threteaned by it. I realized this when they kept asking all the young students what they thought of it. They even asked me.

During the drive to New York this artist and I got to talking, which we hadn’t done all summer because of a lot of different circumstances. I will enumerate them:

  1. He was dating another girl at the school.

A brief description of this other girl follows:

She lived in New York and was the daughter of a famous actor who had gotten himself killed in a car accident with his mistress. This girl’s mother had remarried a dentist or something. Anyway he gave her a more than comfortable life on Central Park West in one of those big old apartments that today cost about twenty million dollars and he became a stepfather to this girl, who wanted to break into the movies but was at this art school because she also thought she wanted to be an artist. She was slightly plump but otherwise pretty. Isn’t it amazing that after all these years my claws are still visible?

  1. I was in the “other” room.

A not so brief description of this other room follows:

There were two rooms at Camp Painterly. The rooms were identical in all aspects — size, number of windows, number of easels, distribution of work space — except for one thing. A very important thing. One room housed all the scholarship students — the serious artists who couldn’t afford summer camp but who had undeniable talent and had to pass a rigorous portfolio critique not only to get into camp but to get the all important tuition from the school. These were the future of art as the officials who ran the school saw it. They were all from eigteen to twenty-six or so. Once you hit thirty and you haven’t been singled out for your potential in ART, you can pretty much pack it up. Or get a job in advertising.

Now I had gone through this portfolio review, been accepted and been offered a precious scholarship to cover the tuition. I had done all this on my own during spring break of my senior year of high school. In my ignorance, however, I thought this was an insult and had told them I did not need their charity and could pay my own way, thank you very much.

On the first day of camp, when they put me in Room One, and I looked around at all the gray-haired ladies carefully brush stroking small canvases with scenes of gulls nesting in marsh grass and red barns against green hills, I realized my mistake. But it was too late. I was sandwiched between two sixty somethings who spent the rest of the summer clucking over my wild abstract splatterings and trying to stay out of my line of fire.

My companion on that trip back to New York City had spent the summer with all the other radicals in Room Two, getting ready to take the art world by its ear and, by the way, preparing twelve foot canvases for his Fullbright to Brussels.

Once in New York, Mr. Fullbright Scholarship and I spent a harried week frenetically trying to carve out a few moments alone with each other while he made aborted attempts to extricate himself from his involvement with the actress/artist/famous actor’s daughter who did get offered a one line part in a movie later that year. I believe her stepfather put some money into the production but don’t quote me on that. At the end of the week I went to the dock to see Mr. Lovegod off, me bravely waving as the ship pulled away with my love standing woefully at the rail waving back and promising to write. Eighteen is such a lonely age. Well I was eighteen. He was twenty-seven and he should have known better by then.

But he did write. Often. And we hatched a plan for me to come to Brussels at Christmas for two glorious weeks of being in love. To me it seemed like the most romantic plan possible. What better way to, ahem, become a woman, finally? It never occurred to me that I could have saved a lot of travel time and money, not to mention the hassles I had to go through to convince my parents that this was a perfectly sane thing to do, by going to just about any bar in New York and putting up a red flag. Perfumed of course.

Well the first night there the deed was done and afterwards I looked around to see where this love god actually lived.

Brussels is very gray in winter. And stays at right about forty-three degrees. And there’s a misty rain falling all the time. His apartment was on the third floor. A walkup. It had a tiny bedroom and a smallish living room with very basic furniture that came with it. There was no kitchen except for a two burner hotplate. A sink provided cold water. The bathroom, which was a toilet with a door and a separate shower with a door that had a hook on the back for your clothes, was on the second floor, shared by three other apartments, all inhabited by Belgians who spoke only Walloon. Try telling one of them to put the seat down after going.

My lovegod was perplexed by my lack of enjoyment of our main sport, the reason for my visit. Though not for lack of trying on his part.

Lovegod: “Every woman has trouble in the beginning.”

Me: “What kind of trouble do you mean?”

Lovegod: “Well, there are lots of kinds. You know frigidity has many causes.”

Me: “What is frigidity?”

Lovegod: “Oh, come on. You know what we’re talking about here.”

Me: “You know. I don’t.”

Lovegod: “Just be patient with yourself. It’ll happen in time. Just relax. Let’s try again.”

So we tried again. Lots of times. He had a great two weeks. I returned to New York with a few small gifts from Lovegod. It took me the next two weeks in my well heated apartment with its own bathroom to thaw out. Maybe the weather and the cold water flat had been to blame. In order to try out this theory I advanced a plan to meet up for the entire summer and travel through Europe together. The plan was accepted by Lovegod. In mid June I was on a plane heading back to Brussels.

Now Lovegod had been a busy boy during my absence. He had taken temporary leave of his painting responsibilities, for which the people at Fullbright Inc. had paid him a meagre but presitigious wage, and attached himself to a traveliong theatre troupe which had ended up being sponsored by a wealthy American woman who had bought a villa outside Rome, where she was now housing all eighty-three of them plus a few hangers on, one of whom was Lovegod, who had wheelded his way in as the troupe photographer. He would document all their outrageous but ground breaking theatrical performances for posterity. In glorious black and white, his preferred medium. The troupe settled into a regular performance schedule in Rome at an outdoor theatre (naturally an old one with stone seats) where they made history by performing a number of shows a week, mainly in the nude, theater in the round style, so you couldn’t avoid seeing at least some private parts during an evening’s performance, which often involved at least some audience members (and I do mean that double entendre). Naturally Lovegod got some pretty unusual shots. He also got a 1957 Lambretta out of the deal from the troupe’s director who couldn’t pay anything but did have this old thing with donut tires that he didn’t need now that they were steadily employed in one location. No more of that nomadic troubadour stuff for this group. They could take off their clothes in the same theatre week after week for at least one year. And eat three squares of pasta and chianti.

We departed from Brussels on the Lambretta in mid June. Between us we had one small bag for clothes, a tent that collapsed into a small tube tied up like a sausage, two sleeping bags rolled up tightly, and a small rectangular food case that we carried strapped to a rack on the front fender of the Lambretta. This vehicle had fairly wide running boards for resting one’s feet while in motion and a seat that accommodated two people. Us. Me riding behind Lovegod. It’s maximum speed with the two of us and our gear was forty kilometers going straight downhill. Uphill was about twelve. Unless it stalled. It had one spark plug. This was the only thing Lovegod knew anything about so whenever the Lambretta sputtered to a stop and could not be coaxed back to life, he would get off, and take this spark plug out from wherever it was housed and scrape at it and spit on it and blow on it and then put it back. We’d be off again. And then it would rain. It rained all the way from Brussels to Paris where we erected our tent in the campground in the Bois De Boulogne. It was nice there. We met a lot of other people camping their way through Europe including a guy from Indonesia who shared his supper with us. The spices nearly killed me. I reccommend Paris for obvious reasons. All of them are quite valid. Years later I would find myself living there. On this trip I would be introduced to something besides sex.

While visiting with an old school friend of mine who had moved to Paris two years before, Lovegod pulled out some odd looking cigarettes. Handrolled they were. And pungent to the senses.

“What’s that?” I inquired.

“It’s reefer. Jane. You know — pot. I got turned on in Rome by the theatre people. It’s great. It’ll really loosen you up.”

I didn’t know I needed loosening. I checked all my bolts right away but they seemed okay.

He proceeded to light one and took a deep drag then passed it to my friend, who also took a drag, as she was a smoker and used to doing this sort of thing. Her boyfriend then took a drag and the smoking thing arrived at my door. I took the half smoked joint and did as my compatriots had done. We went around like that until the only thing left was a tiny stub at which point Lovegod pulls out a tiny clip and holds the stub so as to get the very last curls of smoke into his lungs by sucking at it noisily.

In a little while we were all laughing like crazy about absolutely nothing. Lovegod disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing in a few moments with a bowl full of sliced fresh peaches and another of whipped cream. We made a night of it first with the peaches and next with strawberries. My bolts may have loosened up, but Lovegod wasn’t interested in anything but food that night.

By the time we left Paris pot had become a staple of our evening meal. If we hadn’t gotten back on the road I’m sure I could have gained ten Parisian pounds. We smoked our way through the south of France and headed for Spain where we smoked through some of the most intense heat I’ve ever experienced and finally took the ferry over to Tangiers, where a contact from the theatre led us to an American poet and his Russian mistress who were living on about twenty cents a week which included a Moroccan nanny for their three kids. The poet took Lovegod off into the country where they met a Moroccan farmer who sold him a donkey load of marijuana for twenty dollars, probably more money than that man would see in a year. Maybe two. The poet even took a cut.

We spent the rest of the week sitting in our tent rubbing the dried leaves and flowers off the branches and sifting them down into a bowl. After five days of this grueling handwork we had four pounds of freshly dried pot and nowhere to put it.

Of course you may be wondering at this point why I got myself involved in such an operation. Here’s your answer.

Because I was stupid.

“We have to leave Tangiers in three days. Where are we gonna put this stuff?” Lovegod was not a really clever contraband handler. Smuggler is the term some might use.

“How about we divide it up? There’s too much to put in one place.” I had always been a practical child.

“Yes. Maybe we could stuff it in something.”

“Good idea.” Now I was on the trail of a tidy solution. “How about we stuff a pair of your socks since they’re bigger than mine.”

So we did that. Now we had two tubes of socks stuffed with crinkly fresh pungent pot.

“Okay, now what do we do with the socks?” Lovegod was beginning to think like a professional.

We looked around at our little tent, our sleeping bags, our Lambretta, our few paltry pieces of clothing and our food bag.

“There’s nowhere to hide anything really.” I was glum. Then I started to examine the Lambretta.

“What about the spare tire?”

Lovegod looked at me, then at the scooter.

“Yes. Perfect.” He went to work unscrewing it from its housing. He took it off of its metal ring and went into the tent to get the socks. He inserted them on the inside of the tire neatly following the curve of the rubber form. Then he put it back on its metal housing and screwed it back onto the Lambretta.

“Now what about the rest of it?”

“You mean there’s more?” I had not stuffed the socks.

“Yes. Quite a bit.”

“Let’s just put it in a plastic bag and use it as we travel. We’ll leave the socks where they are.”

“Good idea. We should be able to go through at least a pound over the next month.”

A couple of real hardened criminals, the two of us were. But those were early years in THE WAR ON DRUGS. And we were at the beginning of the curve. And I had no idea this was illegal as in a you-could-get-thrown-in-jail-doing-it way. I thought of it as forbidden. But that was all. And I never dreamed that Lovegod would suggest that I carry our contraband with me on the airplane back to the states since he would be traveling back by ship with thirteen trunks and crates full of paintings and they would be sure to inspect everything at the New York pier in customs when he got back with all that stuff whereas I would just be a tourist coming home by plane with almost nothing to declare and therefore I was much better suited to bring the stuff home. Which I did. He was twenty-eight after all. He knew EVERYTHING. He knew about pot, didn’t he? And sex?

We hopped a Yugoslavian freighter to cross the Mediterrannean to Italy, our next goal. You have to be very patient if you’re planning to travel by freighter. You spend a lot of time waiting at the dock for the ship to fill up with cargo. There’s no telling how long it will take. This freighter had twelve cabins for passengers all of whom were American. Some of them had traveled on this barge from Newark five weeks before. It must have been the longest crossing since the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria left Spain looking for the spice route and found Hoboken. The crew all spoke Yugoslavian exclusively. The ship had s small library. Most of the books were in English. I remember a lot of Dickens. There was also a chess board. Captain Slobishslanovanovisk — or Capt. Slob as the passengers called him — liked to play chess with the Americans when he wasn’t at the helm or otherwise occupied with captain type duties. Chess is a universal game that breaks the language barrier nicely. If you can play it. If you can’t it’s a pretty deadly spectator sport, especially if at least one of the players you’re watching speaks only Yug.

You have conversations that go like this:

“That was simply a brilliant counter castle up one over three Spasky triple swing move.”

“Shplerdlumoph grrhhhlowstoyetskaputch nyarenmayeh.” This is delivered with a glowering scowl.

“Okay I get the message. You’ve got to concentrate on the game. The stakes are high and you’re not gonna be trounced by some stupid American who probably doesn’t even know where Belgrade is on a map. By the way, when do we actually take off from this port? Should I enroll in Moroccan social security?”

After a three day crossing which followed a five day dock wait, we landed in Genoa, Italy. In the middle of a garbage strike. That was three weeks old. In late July. It was about ninety degrees fahrenheit. The rats sat on the two-story piles of rotting trash with little tablecloths spread out and checkered kerchiefs at their little hairy necks. They wiped their mouths with their tails and some of them sat back and smoked cigars. I swear one of them had a protection racket going with the block where his trash pile had grown into the middle of the street. I saw at least three residents tossing him fresh pasta so he would tell his little rat goons to eat their way through the pile on the east end of the street so it would grow west toward the next block.

We drove our Lambretta up to the customs gate and waited for the guards to finish their chianti before waving us through. Lovegod told me to wear my little sundress that stretched very tight across my hips. It was my diversionary tactic. It worked pretty well. No one looked at the tire. Lovegod had secured the plastic bag with the rest of our food figuring who was going to go pawing through our old cheese and bread. What with the garbage strike and the heat, no one was interested in what contraband we might be hustling through so they waved us on and we putt putted through the city holding our noses and dodging chicken bones that the rats tossed on the streets with abandon from atop their piles and headed north toward the Swiss border at twenty-two kilometers an hour.

I have to admit that two months on the Lambretta with Lovegod had not really stirred my libido in a major way. I did contract my first yeast infection however. That was in Spain. In that powerful heat. We were traveling on less than five dollars a day. Gas for the Lambretta with its one cylinder/one spark plug engine and one pint – translated into one quarter liter — gas tank was a minimal expense. We prepared most of our own food. We camped in farm fields whenever possible and campings whenever not. We tried to bathe regularly but sometimes a good rainstorm was about the best we could do. At least it was cool. But once we hit Spain the rain was not in the plain. It was over one hundred every day and the whole country shut down from noon until four. Except us. If we ever hoped to get anywhere we had to keep pushing that cycle all day. Crossing the Pyrenees we felt like Syssiphus. At times I wanted to get out and push the Lambretta to make better time. But Lovegod insisted I remain atop my royal perch while he whisked me from point A to point B in only eight hours — a distance of thirty miles.

Upon reaching the roof of the Pyrenees we looked over the top at the vast downhill road that twisted before us and sighed.

“Next stop Madrid,” said Lovegod.

“We’ll be in a bed by tomorrow night,” I sighed.

We forgot our little two-wheeler didn’t do much better downhill than it did uphill. Four days later we limped into Madrid after being stranded for five hours ten kilometers outside of town rubbing and spitting on our stubborn spark plug until a freindly Spaniard took pity on us and stopped. I have no idea what he said to us but he understood the problem and went to work on the plug. He got the machine fired up and we aimed for the big city. We gave him an orange for his trouble. It wasn’t much in comparison with the Marshall Plan but it was all we had except for a melted chocolate bar. If we had met him after Morocco we could have offered the bag of pot.

Which brings us to my triumphal return to Kennedy airport armed with four pounds of pot in two socks and a plastic baggie. In addition I was carrying the following:

The old rectangular thermal food carrier.

A small duffle type overnight bag with two changes of underwear, one pair of blue jeans, two pairs of socks, one cotton sundress – all unwashed — an extra pair of sandals, tooth paste and brush, hair brush and comb, deodorant stick, small toiletry bag and three Tampax, unused.

The socks and plastic bag with contraband was stuffed soemwhere in there with the dirty laundry.

I left my sleeping bag and the tent with Lovegod to bring back on the ship with his trunks and crates and other paraphernalia.

Waiting in the customs line a light somehow broke through the resistance of my idiot’s brain and I realized I could be in some kind of trouble if the customs man pulled out the socks, or the bag.

Which is precisely what happened.

While my heart started to bump like crazy against my chest cavity. Kaboom, kaboom, kaboom.

As the man in front of me — a large Ugly American Tourist type with three cameras slung around his neck, loud bermuda shorts and a cigar stuck in his mouth — closed up his bags, the customs guy said: “Next.”

My paltry belongings and I slid into position.

Customs guy: “Anything to declare?”

Me: “Nothing.”

Customs guy: “Been away seven weeks is it?”

Me: “Yes.”

Customs guy: “And you didn’t buy anything?”

Me: “I bought two rugs in Morocco but they’re being shipped back. They were one hundred fifty dollars.” My heart is now thumping wildly.

Customs guy: “Where’s your luggage?”

Me: “This is it.” We both looked down at the overnight bag and the food bag, now empty save for an apple. I must admit it looked a bit odd for a seven week stay.

Customs guy: “Like to travel real light, dontcha?”

Me: “I was camping and traveling by scooter. Not much room.”

Customs guy: “Open the bag please.”

I unzip the small duffle. My heart is now thumping so hard I think my chest must look like a drum that someone’s striking from inside my rib cage.

Customs guy slides his hand deep into the bag and pulls out a suspicious looking sock, which I know has the unmistable heady scent of freshly harvested marijuana.

At this instant Ugly American Tourist Guy takes a deep pull on his foul smelling cigar and unleashes a giant cloud of smoke directly over the entire area occupied by customs guy, me, my bags and the sock.

Customs guy and I breathe the smoke. It is all we can smell. Customs guy squeezes the sock.

Customs guy: “What’s this?”

My brain races. I remember all the lies I have told in my life and realize this has to be the most exalted shining moment in an otherwise not undistinguished career of prevarication in the service of getting off any number of unpleasant hooks.

“It’s my dirty underwear stuffed in socks,” I say staring straight at his eyes. I never moved a msucle or gave any indication that this was not precisely what I was telling him it was. In that moment, I think I grew up about ten years. It became obvious that Lovegod was not the protector my father had always been, that I was going to have to look out for number one, that sex and love are not the same thing, that men are not always fair or even kind. It just never occurred to me before.

Customs guy shoved the sock back into the bag and pushed it down the metal slide.

“Next,” he said to the person behind me, who was smuggling foie gras from Fauchon in Paris, a watch from Patek Phillipe in Geneva and three leather handbags from Milan. He got caught. I saw him standing at the tax window pealing off hundred dollar bills. On top of the tax, there’s a pretty sizable penalty if customs guy catches you in the act. If he had caught me I could be just about to leave those clanging prison doors behind to start life on the outside. Hell I could have written five or ten novels by now. Prison matron type books with me as the desperate victim and evil foul smelling women with hand made knives surrounding me in the yard, determined to teach me a lesson about getting along and playing nice with the other inmates.

Instead I ended up on an artist’s commune with Lovegod and an odd assortment of kindred spirits, all of whom used to visit our living space regularly to dip into the open bowls of pot that dotted our living room where we had one large and very colorful Moroccan rug and no chairs or couches. We’d sit on the floor and smoke our joints and eat M&Ms and stare into space. That is when we weren’t painting or making pottery or taking photographs.

After one year of this I left Lovegod and moved to New York. And met somebody else and discovered that sex was really a pretty good thing. I guess my bolts finally loosened up. Maybe it was all the pot. Or maybe Lovegod just wasn’t my type.

Four — drugs


There’s not a drug on earth that doesn’t have the potential to do something bad while it’s doing something good. Legal drugs – the kind that require a prescription – are supposed to do more good than bad. But some of them do a heap of bad while only doing a modest amount of good. So you have to watch out which drugs you take.


It’s not possible to avoid drugs altogether. Unless you’re a member of one of a few very specific religious sects. And I’m not sure they don’t have favored potions concocted of age old recipes handed down within the pages of a well worn holy book. For the rest of us, drugs are everywhere. Even in primitive cultures people who can’t get hold of pills or powder or syringes, chew leaves and pound bark into ingestable essences. To get high, people will lick frogs and insert parts of certain cacti up their butts. This is absolutely true. Not to mention smoking all manner of foliage.

Lots of people question the value of the so-called illicit drugs. Others consider them a normal and natural part of life. Many cultures rely on drugs for religious purposes to transport them into an altered state of consciousness wherein they can receive great and meaningful spiritual messages which scientists conclude are nothing more than electromagnetic impulses in the brain registering on the eyeballs of the user. But these people insist there is great import to these messages and they call the drugs sacred. And therefore beneficial.

Not all drugs react the same way for all people. We have individual chemistry that plays an important role in a drug’s effectiveness. And I use that word it in a global sense, effective being whatever you expect to get out of your drug of choice.

I assume everyone living in the United States today has taken some kind of a drug at one time or another. If you take the long view on drugs, this could include caffeine or any other ingested stimulant, including chocolate.

So try to don’t claim: “Not me, buddy.”

In the nineteen twenties you could buy cocaine without a prescription at any drug store in America. Coca cola. Now what do you think the COCA part means? That is absolutely correct. In every bottle of Coke there was a wee bit of cocaine. In the ads of the day, they even claimed Coke gave you “that little lift.” Little? You bet it was a little lift. “That little high,” they should have said. That is if truth in advertising existed then. Which it didn’t. We weren’t a consumer conscious nation then. We were still an agrarian culture and the government was not in our faces the way it is today. If you think this means I am a Republican, you’re nuts. I’m not saying that I am a Democrat either. That is equally nuts.

I know this will sound downright subversive but if you look at all the products we buy, the ones that make up the basis of our culture, are all addictive. Here’s my short list:

Sugar (and anything that has sugar in it which is just about everything that did not come directly from an animal or plant)

Tobacco (whether chewed, smoked, snorted or wadded up and shoved between the cheek and gum)

Caffeine (in so many products it’s hard to tally up – even in medicines)

Saturated Fat (and all the health related costs associated therewith)

TV (needs no explanation)

Cars (again I take the long view and include all the internal combustion motor related vehicles and their dependents like oil, gas, smog, insurance, etc.)

The Stock Market (you may include money in general, which we spend with impunity on a bunch of junk less than a quarter of which we actually need or will ever use.)

Beer (and of course vodka)

Chemicals (this is everything above and everything else not included above)

The big drug problem in the forties and fifties was morphine. They called it having a monkey on your back. You got “hooked” and there was no escape from that monkey. When I was a kid you still saw black and white movies made in the nineteen thirties and forties about otherwise good guys who lived in the city and had this big problem that was ruining their lives. They all had monkeys on their backs. I used to watch those old movies and I never once saw the monkey they were yammering so much about.

Years later it dawned on me.

“Oh. It’s a metaphorical monkey.”

I still don’t know where they came up with calling it a monkey.

In the sixties and seventies you never would have heard any flower child talk about a monkey. You were stoned or high. You were groovy or cool. You were down. Or possibly up, on speed. But the monkey had disappeared.

The medical establishment still pushes morphine as one of the top three heavy hitting pain killers of choice. They gave me morphine when I was in the hospital after delivering the twins.

Morphine is supposed to make you completely mellow. I hear from unsubstantiated reports that it doesn’t really take away the pain, but it makes you so laid back that you don’t care. Not me.

But even before the morphine arrived I had to deal with the drug they had injected down my spine to numb me below the waist.

“Now this will remove all sensation in your lower body,” the anesthesiologist, Dr. Painfree, told me. “You will be completely unaware of any physical sensation that’s happening during the surgery. You may just feel a slight tugging or pushing but that’s a normal part of the process. You are actually feeling the shifting inside your abdominal cavity as they’re removing the babies. Are there any questions?”

From my slablike position on the prep bed, I envision a doctor, hands up to the elbows inside my stomach, feeling around for a baby’s arms to airlift it out then diving back in to get the other one. Will he know which cord is attached to which baby or will he tangle them all up like a ball of twine and be in there untying the knotted strands for hours? And what about all that placental junk? Do they haul it out by hand and dump it into a bucket or what? Animals eat it. Are they going to require something like this of me? I’ve heard of peasant women doing this for nourishment. Well if they ask, I’m definitely going to order from the hospital cafeteria. No matter how much people complain about hospital food it has to be better than that.

And what about all the extra blood. Where does that go? I mean do they use a sump pump. Does the uterus just hang there limp and empty or do they give me little get your uterus back in shape exercises. Sac-Aerobics.

“How long does the numbness last?” I was too embarrassed to ask anything else. And besides, those doctors always seem so busy. It’s not like they get paid to educate the consumer.

“Don’t worry,” he told me. “It will last as long as they need it to last. This tube is releasing a steady amount of drug to take care of you. Now after the operation, when they take you into recovery and remove the tube in your spine and take you off the IV, you may feel some slight tremors.”

“Tremors? You mean like an earthquake?”

“No no. Nothing like that. But some women have a reaction to the medication or just to the trauma of having the catheter inserted down along the spinal column. Sometimes it affects the spinal nerves and in that case you may feel some slight shakiness. Mainly along the back and down the legs. But don’t worry. That only happens to about ten percent of epidural patients.”

“Oh.” Where I would come out in the shake lottery was up for grabs at that point.

I went off to surgery and my babies were airlifted out of my abdominal cavity and the staff did something with the blood and did not get the umbilical cords tangled or anything. I was not even offered one helping of afterbirth. I’m just hoping they didn’t freeze dry it to keep me going in my twilight years.

In the recovery room they removed the catheter and unhooked me from the IV in my spine leaving only the one with saline solution and who knows what else dripping into the back of my hand. It took about ten minutes for the anesthesia to wear off and the shakes to begin. By then Dr. Painfree had skipped town.

I must have been in something like the ninety-ninth percentile of drug reaction-prone patients because those shakes made a West Virginia Appalachian meeting of Holy Roller Snake Handlers look like a bunch of zombies at a wake. I mean I was jumping all over that recovery bed. I shook from the neck down to the heels and back up again. Great uncontrollable wracking shimmying shakes that thumped the bed and pushed the pillows off, disarranged the sheets and actually moved my bed right up against Gladys Gruthpert’s. Gladys had been operated on for gallstones. She was seventy-eight and not too thrilled to have me visit in such a boisterous way right after surgery when her hair and face were such a fright.

I jiggled and shook until our beds were locked together at one corner and then my legs, which I still could not control, flapped over onto her bed while the rest of me stayed in mine. The shaking began to part our beds at the pillow end and pull me sideways until my body made a bridge between the two beds and poor Gladys looked like she had seen the devil himself. I’m sure she thought she was delusional because she began crossing herself every few seconds and praying to Jesus to deliver her from the evil doers.

“Hey, what’s going on over there?” A nurse showed up. “You shouldn’t be over there with Gladys.”

“Do you actually think I chose this configuration?” I asked her.

She called for backup and two orderlies and another nurse showed up. The recovery room SWAT team. They moved my shuddering body back to my bed and strapped me down, which did not stop the shaking but did confine me to my own area. By now my teeth were chattering.

“I’ve never seen one this bad, have you?” The first nurse asked of the other one who put a finger to her mouth, obviously trying to spare the hospital a malpractice suit. They should have checked their collision insurance. I think the beds got dented in the crash.

An hour and a half later when the shakes finally gave out, I was wheeled to what would be my private room for the next week. There was my proud family lined up to congratulate me and glory in the momentous miracle of twin birth.

Before they let me out of recovery a nurse gave me one parting shot. I mean a real shot not some snide remark. Morphine.

By the time I got to my room I was already feeling its effects. Which were:


A feeling of being suspended somewhere just below the ceiling.




These were not classic morphine responses.

Two nurses started to slide me from the gurney.

“Not so fast.” I heard my own voice come from somewhere over by the window way up high and pretty loud. “Don’t rumple those sheets. Christ can’t you people do anything right?”

The nurses looked at each other and hauled me in one swoop onto the new bed.

My father appeared in the room. He was smiling. I had never seen him look so happy. My mother stood behind him kind of hovering. She was smiling too. Strong With A Spear stepped through the doorway. He came over to my side and leaned down to kiss me.

“The babies are so beautiful. And so are you. I’ve never been so happy in my life. I’m so proud of you.”

I was floating over by the closet door up near the light fixture. I don’t know who HE was talking to.

My father came over to kiss me and all of a sudden an enraged voice erupted out of my body.

“I need a damned bedpan. Get me a damned bedpan quick.” I threw the sheet off and I think my father must have seen some blood stains on my hospital gown.

The big Ex-Marine turned kind of white and suddenly looked like a mouse being chased by a huge cat. He skittered out of the room, grabbing my mother’s hand as he passed by her and I didn’t see them for the next three months. I think they went straight from the hospital to the airport and headed south to Florida leaving poor Strong With A Spear to deal with the new babies and his drug demented wife.

Somehow word got out on the ward that something odd was going on in the private room at the end of the hall because a doctor showed up. The chief resident. Very good looking. Very kind. Quite young.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“What the hell do you mean what’s up? They gave me some shit that’s making me crazy that’s what’s up.”

“You mean the morphine?”

“How the hell do I know? You think I normally act like this?” I see Strong With A Spear nodding vigorously. “Oh shut up,” I yell at him.

“We won’t give you any more morphine,” says Dr. Goodlooking. “But what about the pain?”

“You think feeling like this isn’t painful? You think this is fun?”

“Okay, let’s just see how you feel when the morphine wears off. I’ll put Percocet on demand in your chart. How’s that?”

“What in hell is Percocet?”

“That’s a pain killer. It’s fine as long as you don’t walk around while you’re on it.”

“You think I plan on a lot of walking around? They just carved open my stomach and I don’t think they sewed it up very well.”

“Actually you have staples.”


“Staples. We don’t sew anymore. We staple.”

“What a bunch of lazy bums.”

“Anyway Percocet causes dizziness when you stand up.”

“Oh yeah. Dizziness. Like I’m not dizzy now. By the way when are we gonna get down from the ceiling?”

After Dwight Eisenhower was elected the thirty-fourth president of the United States, he warned Americans to beware of the military industrial complex. He thought the Pentagon was a scary place that might engulf the rest of the country, maybe the world. Eisenhower was a great military leader and Americans viewed him as the person most responsible for winning The War In Europe. He was also an avid golfer. And he had a bad temper but not too many Americans knew that at the time. He also had a big bed that he had the army deliver to his new quarters whenever he and his wife moved. In the Army you move around a lot. I guess he really liked that bed. After he got inaugurated he had it delivered to The White House.

Between the end of The Great War number ONE and the time Ike was Winning The Great War number TWO, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. By accident.

See, in 1928 Sir Fleming was doing a series of experiments in his lab. I don’t know what he was looking for and I don’t think he wanted it generally known either because he never found it. But somehow a green mold that had probably formed on an old piece of bread from a lunch that he had left sitting around the lab a few days before, got into one of his experiment dishes. When staph bacteria failed to grow in that dish, Fleming was naturally intrigued (being of a scientific mind after all). Et voila! He made the connection between the mold, peniciillium, and the inhibition of bacteria. The next steps are a bit cloudy but eventually everyone hailed this as a great discovery. It cured all manner of bacterial infections including pneumonia, which was often a lethal killer without the new drug. So, essentially, Sir Fleming was a slob who made good.

After Ike was elected, Jonas Salk discovered the Salk Vaccine, which prevented children from contracting polio. This was an amazing piece of purposeful medical sleuthing and Jonas Salk went on to marry one of Pablo Picasso’s ex mistresses, who had borne him two children even though he never married her, which was highly unusual in the nineteen fifties. Even in France. When she and Picasso split up she wrote a tell all book. This made Picasso really angry. I don’t know why. Basically it reported that he was short but a real stud.

Ike should have been warning about the dangers of the military industrial DRUG complex instead of that Pentagon thing but I don’t think he ever considered that we would go from World War II, Korea, The Cold War and Vietnam directly into THE WAR ON DRUGS which would last longer than all the other twentieth century wars combined. As of this writing, in century number twenty-one, the government’s War On Drugs is still ongoing with no appreciable end in sight. Personally I think we should declare it a draw and go back to our respective corners and light up joints all around.

It took a whole year of semi-communal living to make a sizable dent in the four pounds of pot the socks and plastic bag netted once we emptied them out and weighed the contents in a truly scientific manner. I know it was scientific because we met a chemist who had rented a house down the street from where all of us artists were living and he did the weighing with his precision instruments. I know he had precision instruments because in addition to his work with a large chemical company located in White Plains New York about a half hour from his house, he moonlighted as a producer and distributor of LSD which he manufactured in his kitchen with said scientific instruments. I don’t know if he actually tripped on acid more than a couple of times himself. He was a very reserved math/science type guy with few social skills. The manufacture of LSD catapulted him into a social sphere that he found rather heady and exciting. I think that was the main draw for him. Girls who were working as musicians and artists, lithe young dancers, singers and other assorted exotic types of women flocked to his brick rambler situated on half a secluded acre in Port Chester, NY just off the last exit of the Merritt Parkway right at the Connecticut and New York State line. He had stripped his house down to carpet and a few large floor pillows, installed some stage lights that changed colors as a wheel with color gels rotated in front of them and hung some paisley shawls from the ceiling so that when you were lying down on the carpet and looked up you saw great swirling patterns. On acid it was a pretty fine effect. Devoid of acid it just looked stupid. The guy had few actual decorating skills. And he never sold the acid that came out of his manufacturing site. He just used it as a party favor. For his friends. And their friends. And friends of their friends.

Pretty soon the little lab that could, got its reputation spread in such a wide circle that some pretty famous names in the psychedelic world starting coming around. Hippies showed up from New York City and from the Haight in San Francisco. Soon our little suburban group was hosting light artists and going to clubs in the city and hanging out with the rock and jazz crowds.

One night, after a tour of clubs and a series of parties downtown, we ended up in an apartment off lower Fifth Avenue. Now maybe my consciousness had been altered. I won’t deny that I smoked a good bit of grass that night. But nothing more. And I distinctly remember this apartment. And the young woman who lived in it.

She had very dark hair and very white skin. She was slim and tall. She wore a long wine red dress with thin straps over the shoulders. Drippy earrings hung from her ear lobes. Tall lamps stood around the perimeter of the living room beside a couch here, a table there, an armchair, a chaise lounge, all scattered about the room as if they had been moved out of the way. The lamps were all oversized, about seven feet tall. At the far end of the enormous living room that, judging by the height of the windows, I gauged to be at least twelve foot ceilings, was a huge table completely covered by generous platters of expensive foods of all types. It was as if royalty had been expected at the party, and the hostess had gone to fabulous expense to ensure no one would be slighted or left out of the social equation. In one corner was an equally well stocked bar table with a tub of ice and mixers behind it. All the bottles had been opened including Moet champagnes, vintage scotches, bourbons and cognacs. There were bottles of wine and tins of opened Beluga caviar. Everything was overflowing with a kind of bacchanalian abandon.

We had been told by the friend who had invited us to buzz the mailbox that said “Commander Tice.” Naturally I assumed he lived there. When a return buzz clicked open the door lock for us we went to the ground floor apartment not knowing what we would find.

“Come in.” Our friend met us at the ten foot door. It was made of solid wood and it dwarfed him although he stood well over six foot. The apartment was painted a dark red. The ceiling was inlaid in a geometric checkerboard carved wood pattern of thick black and white strips against the ceiling above it.

“Glad you made it. The party’s over but there’s plenty of food left.”

Something about the place made Don, one of the men in our group, nervous and he began to laugh. For the rest of the night he just kept on laughing. He couldn’t seem to stop.

“I’d like you to meet Alexandra.” Our friend introduced us to the woman in red.

My friend laughed as he took her hand.

“Yes,” she said to him smiling, “it’s all pretty funny isn’t it?”

She had a slight accent but I couldn’t tell from where. Maybe the south. She led him over to the food table. He heaped a plate and looked around for somewhere to sit then spotted the couch. It must have been fifteen feet long. High wooden arms at either end made it look something like a very long shallow sleigh. It was covered in dark red velvet and had gigantic pillows tossed carelessly against its back. The shade on the standing lamp at one end of it was one of those beaded things but its beads hung down about four feet. It was as if everything in the apartment had taken a bite of the eat me cookie and had just grown super large.

Don laughed his way over to the couch and began to eat.

I could not stop staring at everything.

Alexandra wandered over to the kitchen and started cooking something so I followed. She was making an omelet.

“Not enough food for you?” I asked her.

She looked up at me, her face blank. She didn’t say anything. Just shrugged.

I wandered off to find the bathroom. I did. I closed the door and flipped on the light switch. I looked around to see myself surrounded by floor to ceiling wallpaper that was nothing but a variety of photographs of our hostess in various naked poses and I must say in some of them she was not alone. No sirree. And she was more than not alone. She was actively engaged in some pretty explicit activities not alone. And not just with men not alone. And not just two of them not alone. Well you get the picture, or pictures. I stayed in there for quite some time. Up until then my sexual education had been pretty circumspect. There was just Lovegod, who was with me that night. And while he was a willing coach and teacher, he was not your most experimental type. And what did I know?

I emerged feeling as if my horizons had definitely been broadened. And I certainly looked at our hostess in a whole new light.

Don was still laughing when I reentered the living room.

The friend who had invited us was smoking a hash pipe.

Red dress was eating her omelet and drinking champagne, judging by the glass.

“Hey, laughing man, wanna lie down and relax? You look kind of tired.”

She led Don into the bedroom which was in the back of the apartment. As she walked by me she invited me to join them. Now I know what you’re thinking but you’re wrong. Red dress had no such thing in mind. She just wanted to hang out and talk.

The bedroom was even more gargantuan in scale than the living room. The bed alone must have been built for a moose.

Across the bed, covering the entire span from side to side and head to foot, was a mink blanket. I spread out across it and I remember thinking I would remember that opulent feeling for the rest of my life.

Don was still laughing. He was sitting upright against the headboard that loomed about five feet above him.

Red dress left the room for a brief spell and our host friend joined us.

“Where’s her husband?” I asked him.

“What do you mean? Whose husband?”

“Alexandra’s. Isn’t this their apartment?”

“Be serious.”

“I am.”

Our friend just said: “Hey you guys missed a real show tonight. The president’s daughter showed and a bunch of secret service guys. And a military escort. It was really funny. All these stiff assed military types and all us hippies.”

“What about her husband? This place must cost a fortune.”

“Come on stop it. I thought you were hip to this scene.”

Don started laughing again and Red Dress came back into the room.

“That’s right,” she said. “You just keep on laughing and it’ll all work out just fine.”

Three weeks later I met up with our friend again at a jazz club. I saw him out back handing out little packets and taking fifty dollar bills in exchange. We sat down at a small table in a smoky corner. He was very high.

“Alexandra got busted.”

“What do you mean?”

“Busted. You know.”

“Yes. But for what?”

“What d’you think?”

“I have no idea. Was she dealing?”

“Oh sure. She was dealing all right. Dealing in military secrets I think.”

“What?” I was really confused by then.

“Commander Tice.”


“A big guy at the Pentagon. Real hush hush.”

“At the Pentagon?”

“Shhh. No so loud. I don’t know if I’m being followed. I thought I saw a guy the other day. And then tonight I had the feeling someone was on my tail.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Boy you really are a cute one, y’know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it possible you really are as innocent as you play it?”

“Look. I am seriously in the dark here. Who is Alexandra? I thought she was Mrs. Tice. She lives there. His name is on the mailbox. What else am I to think?”

He looked at me for a long time, not saying anything. Whatever drug he had taken was now at its peak.

“She’s a hooker you idiot. Commander Tice lives in Washington. He keeps her up here in that huge apartment. He owns her. Everything in there is his.”


“God, you really are stupid.”

“Well where is she?”


“Yes but gone where?”

“You think they left a note saying where they took her?”

“Who is they?”

He just stared at me then. The drug was on the downhill slide now. He closed his eyes and grooved on the music. I didn’t know what to do. I just sat there feeling small and young and dumb, wondering what Alexandra was doing at that moment and if she was okay.

Not long after that I dropped acid for the first time. I guess I felt I had a lot of growing up to do. It’s a mystery why I thought that would do the trick.

Lovegod and I and some of the other artists from the farm met a guy named Jim at a club in New York one night. This was a very in club at the time. They had light shows. Jim was one of the light artists. Everyone at the club was tripping on something or other. In the late sixties there was a lot of press about the drug scene. But mostly the press focused on the hippies of Haight Ashbury. The flower children. That made them sound sexy and cool and as if they were on the cutting edge of some wonderful new cultural awareness. In reality they were a bunch of unhappy lost young kids many of whom died of overdoses or just got completely strung out and couldn’t rescue themselves. The ones who survived from that era were the ones with real talent and some kind of grounding. Besides the psychedelic drugs made famous by Timothy Leary and The Beatles, there was plenty of heroin on the streets. Heroin was a real scary drug that I never went anywhere near. But I knew plenty of people who did. And there was a lot of talk in those days about marijuana being a gateway drug. I refuted this whenever I had the chance.

But there I was one day at the farm with Jim the light artist visiting and that’s the day I tried acid.

I did it inside in my living room. Soon I was awash in a sea of swirling bright colors and patterns that covered everything. It was enchanting. I was enchanted, some Egyptian goddess with hieroglyphics covering my body and my black cat, Siren. Jim stayed with me the whole time. The theory among us neophytes was that to have a “good trip,” you needed a guide with “good vibes” who would be there with you through thick and thin. This was not supposed to be a spouse or lover or anyone too close to you. Clinical detachment was all important. What science we based this on is a mystery. I think it had something to do with the I Ching. Or maybe the Third Eye. These were Eastern concepts that floated freely among the psychedelic sub culture. But I think Jim was just after my body. He had spent a lot of time hanging around before this, encouraging me to find my real self through exploration of this other realm. He said it was very spiritual. Later he introduced us to Timothy Leary and Babba Ram Das at a big old estate farm in Millbrook. Tim was a tall, aristocratically good looking ex-professor from Harvard. Ex because he had really revved up the flower power generation by trying all sorts of psychedelic drugs starting with the organic ones like peyote and mescaline and moving rather swiftly past pot and into LSD, which could be manufactured easily and inexpensively by anyone with access to a lab and certain chemicals. Timothy could get to the lab, Harvard being a major institution with all sorts of rooms and anterooms, and I guess the chemicals were not much of a challenge either. Ram Das was a spiritual name assumed by a friend of Timothy’s. I think he came from the Bronx, did Ram Das. Tim Leary went on talk shows and argued on panel shows and hit the news a lot over a couple of years there. Finally the attorney general of the state of New York went after him and, after a lengthy trial that made big news and gave Tim Leary a venue to really espouse his views, which boiled down to the simple three phrase mantra, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. Years after he got out of jail he was still dropping drugs of all kinds but by then he was doing it as a testing procedure for drug companies. He was still saying we were moving toward a totally chemical culture where everyone would rely on drugs for survival.

During that first trip I wandered outside to the huge vegetable garden on the farm. It was June. A bright sunny day. Clear and not humid at all. I walked through the rows of staked tomato plants and began picking ripe red ones from the vines. I still remember the heady way they felt, how dense and rich as if I were feeling the very essence of them through my fingers – the souls of those full ripe tomatoes. And then I began to squish them in my fingers and to taste them and it felt like I was eating the sun, warm and succulent.

The trip lasted a good five hours. I don’t remember the rest of it. It was odd and pleasant and something I am lucky went well for me.

Others were not so lucky. One of our little group began tripping alone and often. Over a few months she disintegrated into madness and ended up in a state psychiatric hospital where she stayed for about three months. When she came out she was pale and nervous and resentful of me. Her mother lived in the midwest. She was German and had come to the U.S. after the War. When our friend was released from the hospital she began to blame World War II on the Jews.

About that time I left the farm and Lovegod and moved to New York. Our four pounds of pot was nearly gone. I was about to turn twenty-one. I still had not grown up and was still in the dark about sex. But not for long.

My new home was the second floor of a brownstone on east eighteenth street in New York City. From the back windows I could see the gardens behind the two rows of houses on nineteenth and eighteenth streets. Birds flitted around all year long and I could see the seasons change with the leaves. I used the larger of the two bedrooms for a studio where I painted and made small constructions. I began to look around for a gallery to show my work. And I became involved with some musicians I had met during one of the parties at the chemist’s house.

One of the musicians and I became very close. After two years together, as I was walking out the door for the last time, I told him we were like poison oak and poison ivy — just too close to make a long term relationship work. By then I had grown up enough to know you need balance and counterbalance to make a marriage. We didn’t have it. We did have love. And THE PILL, which I relied on primarily because everyone said you could.

When I realized I had gotten pregnant on THE PILL, it also dawned on me that just because a bunch of experts say something is true, doesn’t guarantee anything. You pay your money and you take your chances. The flower children phrase “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” began to take on new meaning as I searched for a solution to my problem.

In 1967 abortion was illegal. If you were poor you risked your life getting one, usually in someone’s back room in Harlem or sometimes in an alley or sometimes with a coat hanger you wielded by yourself. A lot of women bled to death alone. Others showed up in hospital emergency rooms and bled to death there. Women who had the money could see abortion doctors who charged by the thousands for performing the procedure in secret after hours operations in cloak and dagger fashion like spies with military secrets that they had to hide from foreign agents provocateurs. These doctors were often ordinary physicians in their normal work days. Some did it for the money. Others did it for more altruistic reasons. They believed women should not have to risk their lives to control their bodies. THE PILL was supposed to end all that. Of course it didn’t.

I found my doctor through another doctor (who has been dead now for decades).

“Call this number and ask for Dr. Stoner,” she told me.

“Where is his office?”

“Now listen to me. This is illegal for you and for him. You must be careful. I can tell you he is a real doctor and you’ll be safe with him. But you must be careful. So do exactly as he says. When he gets on the phone, tell him Rachel McGuire gave you his name. He’ll know what that means. He will tell you what to do. Don’t say anything else except thank you after he tells you what to do. Then hang up the phone and don’t call him again.”

“Is that all? It sounds so sneaky.”

“This is the way it has to be,” she said. “Don’t call him from your home. Call from a phone booth somewhere far away from your apartment.”

“Okay. I’ll be careful.”

“Bring a thousand dollars with you in twenty dollar bills. Put it in a plain envelope. no name on it or anything. Wear gloves. Don’t let your fingers touch the money or the envelope.”


“I know. It sounds silly. But those are the rules.”

I went home and walked way over to the west side and then uptown about twenty blocks. I dialed the number from a phone booth.

“Hello.” A man’s voice.

“I’m calling Dr. Stoner please.”

“This is Dr. Stoner.”

“I need to make an appointment. Rachel McGuire gave me your name.”

“Be at my office at eleven on Wednesday. Three twenty-five east thirty-sixth street. Apartment number two.”

He hung up before I had a chance to say thank you.

On Wednesday I took a cab over to thirty-sixth street. It was a building like mine with a front stoop. Six steps up and I was at the front door. I rang buzzer number two at precisely eleven a.m. A buzz came back and the door clicked open.

A man of about fifty opened the door. He looked around the hallway before letting me into the waiting room of what was obviously an apartment converted into an office. He motioned to one of the two small couches. I sat down. He sat at a reception type wood desk and pulled over a pad and pen.

“How far along are you?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. I think three months.”

He nodded and wrote something down.

“Did you bring the money?”

“Yes.” I reached into my bag and pulled out the envelope with my gloves still on.

“Lay it on the desk.”

I did. I sat up very straight on the couch.

He stood up, slipping the money into a briefcase by his desk.

“Follow me.”

We walked down a short hallway. At the end he opened a large dark wooden door into a sterile looking room with a curtained area at the back and a gynecological type examining table in the middle. There were a few glass cases with instruments, cotton, things like that. Everything was very clean. The room was brightly lit. The floor was scrubbed linoleum. There was a fresh sheet on the examining table. The stirrups were in the up position. There was a small black metal footstool next to the table.

“Go behind the curtain and remove all your clothes. Put on the gown and the slippers and get on the table. The gown ties in front. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When he returned I was lying on my back on the table. He lifted my calves and placed my legs in the stirrups. He pulled over a metal light on wheels and clicked it on. He adjusted it to shine right between my legs. I could feel the warmth of the lamp.

“This procedure is called a D & C,” he began to explain.

“I’m going to spread the cervix open gradually with a tool that expands the neck. The neck of the cervix s a muscle that can open wide enough for a baby to pass through. We’re not doing anything your body is not equipped to do on its own. The spreading of the cervix can cause slight labor like pains. These will not be any worse than period cramps. How does that sound to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I mean I’ve never had cramps so I don’t know what that feels like.”



“Well it may hurt a bit but nothing you can’t stand. Then I’m going to go inside the uterus with this tool.”

He reached around to my side to show me a shiny stainless steel tool with a flat elongated spoon at one end. It was much longer than an iced tea spoon. It looked very precise around the edge of the spoon.

“I’ll scrape the inside of the uterus with this tool and that will dislodge anything that is attached. There may be some blood but that’s normal. Afterwards you may feel some cramping as the uterus contracts and clears itself of any remaining tissue. Are you ready?”

“I guess so.”

He inserted the speculum and started prying open my you know what. I could hear the mechanism cranking open farther and farther. My muscles clamped against it.

“Relax,” he said.

They always said that. They still do.

“Now you’re going to feel some twinges when I start stretching the neck of the cervix. Remember this is just like bad menstrual cramping. Oh, that’s right. You’ve never had cramps. Well it shouldn’t be too bad. Once we get inside here…” screek screek as the cervix stretcher does its thing… “you won’t feel a thing because there are no nerve endings inside the actual uterus.”

Now I know this sounds as if it was the most medieval scene possible but in actuality I felt no pain whatsoever. And I was too ignorant to be scared. I trusted the guy completely. Hadn’t he been recommended by someone I knew and trusted? Well that was enough for me. The fact that I went there alone with a thousand bucks in twenties in a plain envelope and never took off my gloves for fear of leaving fingerprints didn’t faze me one bit.

“That should do it.” It had lasted about ten minutes I would gauge. He pulled the clamps off my cervix, unscrewed the speculum, laid his iced tea spoon on the surgical tray and went to wash up.

“You should lie still for ten minutes. I’ll come back and take a look. Just relax.”

I closed my eyes and tried to think about something specific but my mind wouldn’t focus. So I just let it wander.

“Well, how are you feeling?” He was back. How many minutes had actually elapsed since I had buzzed at eleven that morning?

“I’m okay.”

“Good. You did real well. You can put your clothes back on now and I’ll see you in the reception room.”

I expected to feel weak or something when I got down from the table but I felt absolutely normal. Being twenty-two is a wonderful, resilient thing.

“Now I want you to take a cab home and lie down for the rest of the day. Don’t lift anything and don’t go anywhere. First I want you to sit here for another fifteen minutes so I can be sure there’s no bleeding. I had a woman from New Jersey in here a few years back. She had eight children and here she was pregnant again. She said she just could afford one more and her husband didn’t know about it yet so she wanted to take care of it before he found out. We did it right then and there. Afterwards she kept bleeding. I did everything I could but she just kept bleeding. Then she told me she was a mild bleeder — hemophiliac. Jesus, I was scared. I told her she should have told me before. I told her she was risking her life. She said she knew that but if she had told me I wouldn’t have done it. I told her she was damned right I wouldn’t have. And now she could die. She said no she wasn’t going to die. That she’d stop bleeding eventually. I kept her for five hours and she finally did stop. But she lost a lot of blood and I was worried she might get home and collapse. I never heard from her again. I guess it worked out. But these women will make you old before your time. Well how’re you feeling?”

“I’m fine. I think I can go home now.”

“Well okay if you think you’re over the worst.”

Look who he was asking for a mature evaluation.

My musician came over and sat with me but it was obvious our two years together were at an end.

When my third daughter was no more than two I began to have strange feelings. I would get hot and I had trouble sleeping. Sometimes I awoke and my nightgown was soaked. It got worse and worse until my doctor finally listened to me and tested me for estrogen levels. Turns out I was completely wiped out — no estrogen left at all — at age thirty-seven. So I went on hormone replacement and within two weeks I was pretty much back to normal. Now this is what drugs are all about.

When I hit fifty the doctor said I had to have my colon looked into. That it was recommended. Well that would have been fine with me but there’s one catch. They give you a plastic gallon jug and some powder and tell you to put the powder in the jug, fill it with cold water and start drinking an eight ounce glass of this stuff every half hour until it’s empty. Oh, and they warn you it’ll make you have to go to the bathroom somewhere around the sixth or seventh glass. It varies from person to person.

In my case that estimate was a bit on the conservative side. On the fourth glass of this disgusting bilge water my body rebelled. By the fifth glass, if I just looked at that jug, my throat closed up tighter than a bank vault. By the sixth glass there was no way I could swallow any of it let alone drink the rest of the gallon. So I figured the doctor had chosen this line of work, let him deal with the consequences, and tossed it in the sink where it settled like a blob of protoplasm.

The next morning I was lying on a gurney awaiting the nurse who would wheel me into the room with the sigmoidoscopy screen. The pump room if you will.

“Did you drink the whole bottle?” It was my friendly gastroenterologist leaning over me, the benign expression on his face belying the real intent of his question which was… “Are you all cleaned out in there?”

“Oh yes, doctor,” I lied neatly. Well he didn’t know my history of lying to the customs agent so convincingly. He bought this just as totally as that guy had bought my line about dirty laundry stuffed in socks.

“Good. Very good.”

In I went. They hooked me up to an IV. I had already lied about my drug allergies. Ever since my first bout with morphine I had taken to telling them I was allergic to it. Medical type people hate that word allergic. But if I were to say on that form “Morphine makes me really cranky” do you think they would stop giving it to me? The answer is “no.” And why? That’s simple. Because the medical establishment, although highly advanced compared with one hundred years ago, still does not consider emotional reactions in the realm of the physical. As if the brain is somehow separate from the body, unless you have a tumor up there. Then it is obvious something is wrong.

“We’re just going to start the IV going now. You’ll feel a little drowsy. There won’t be any pain.” The doctor nodded to the nurse who flipped the switch. I felt a cold sensation in my wrist and forearm. In a matter of seconds my body began to feel light and floaty. My head relaxed. My back and shoulders seemed to melt away from my spine. I was completely at peace.

“You can watch on the monitor if you like,” said the nurse. She rolled my head toward a big screen that showed my intestine in weird colors.

“Oh, that’s all right,” I sort of sang to her. “I’m fine, just fine.”

I don’t know how long I was in there with that metal shower hose snake up my guts from the back end but I really didn’t care. After they wheeled me out I was in the recovery room for awhile just grooving along. Somehow I got dressed and Strong With A Spear drove me home. I got into bed and floated along for the rest of the day and night and well into the next day. After three days the valium demerol IV mix they dripped into me finally wore off. That was the best three days I’ve had in forty years. Now that’s what I call a useful drug. But I hear demerol makes some people throw up.

When my father had his breakdown he really fell apart. Sat there like a zombie and couldn’t move or say a word.

He used to say confusing things to my brother and me when we were kids.

He’d say, “I may not always be right but I’m never wrong.”

I don’t know if that confused my brother as much as it did me. I sure wanted him to be right about everything. But on my twenty-fifth birthday he just lost it and that’s when I found out that sometimes he was very wrong. Catastrophically wrong. That was the day he found out he’d lost fifty million dollars. Not all of it his. But a lot of his, and everyone else in the family’s.

When he realized it he just went numb. Then we found out that the doctor he’d been seeing had been mismedicating him and he hadn’t slept for three weeks.

Then we found out that he was bi-polar. In those days they called it manic depressive. Now there are different types of manic depression and I’m no expert on the finer points. But it seemed my dad’s type was the kind that’s triggered by external stress. So of course he chose to run a hedge fund on Wall Street which, as anyone who knows about these types of activities will tell you, is only the highest stakes crap shoot on THE STREET, which is also called by denizens of that world, THE BIG GAME.

So I am here to tell you right now that if you are invested in THE MARKET with anything more than play money, you should know that a great preponderance of people who work down there are drawn to it because they have some sort of mood disorder. Like die hard gamblers. They go for the rush. The adrenaline flow. And few of them get out in time when they’re winning. It’s an immutable law. And very like a drug.

I was on my second true love since my first true love, Lovegod and things were not going well. I had decided at the end of the first six months of this relationship that I wanted marriage. Now that’s not an easy shift to make if you don’t start the relationship there. All of a sudden we went from…

“… whatever you want to do tonight honey…”


“… well, when already?” Meaning marriage.

Anxiety was at a fever pitch between us. I was still an artist. He was in the early stages of a surgical residency. At a renowned medical establishment surrounded by world famous doctors who had people fawning all over them from Reykjavik to Rio. He had left some skiing gear at my apartment two weeks before. On the morning I turned twenty-five I met him at his apartment, his ski boots in one hand, my ultimatum in the other. And I laid it on him.

“Hi Lovey,” he said opening the door.

“I just stopped by to bring you these.” I raised the hand holding the boots to show him just how deeply entwined our lives had become.

He rubbed his eyes. Obviously he had been asleep.

“I’ve been on call for three nights.” He fell back from the door and settled on the couch looking half dazed.

“Do you want these?”

“Sure. Were we supposed to meet this morning?” He yawned.

“I can’t go on like this any longer.”

“Well then why don’t you just drop the boots if they’re that heavy. You don’t need to hold them up.”

“I’m not talking about the boots you bastard.”

Dr. Ski ran a hand through his thick mop of curly hair. He was textbook handsome — like Michaelangelo’s statue of David.

“What’s the matter?”

“I already told you. I can’t go on like this. Not knowing. Just floating.”

“Can we talk about this some other time. Maybe when I’ve had more than three hours sleep in four days?”

“I cannot go on like this any longer.”

“Please can’t we just postpone this for a couple of days?”

At that point I threw the boots across the room.

“You can take your boots and all your other stuff back. I’m through.” I slammed the door behind me.

Back at my apartment I waited for him to call. He didn’t. My stomach knotted up and I began to feel sick. Hours went by like this. Then the phone rang. Aha! He was crawling. This was good.


“I need help.” It was my mother.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your father’s sick.”

“What do you mean sick?”

“Can you come over?”

“I’ll be right there.”

So much for my love life.

My father had taken up residence in a cantaloupe color satin chair in the corner of my parents’ bedroom. He sat slightly hunched forward, arms resting on his knees, legs slightly apart, his light blue cotton Brooks Brothers bathrobe tied loosely but open above the knees. He always wore pale blue cotton boxer shorts, the roomy kind that came halfway down his thighs like shorts. But he was always very fastidious about keeping his robe closed when he sat down. As a kid, I only saw him in his boxers when he had on a T-shirt and was walking around his room getting dressed. Even that was rare. His T-shirts were always carefully ironed as were his boxers.

Today I could see right up under his bathrobe to his testicles. I looked away quickly but he just sat there.

His face looked blank. He just stared straight at the carpet. When I walked into the room he raised his eyelids slightly, saw me, then stared at the floor again.

My mother stood next to me.

“I’ve called Dr. Schaefer. He’s coming right over. Your father’s been like this since this morning. He got home very late last night.”

“What happened?”

“The market.”

Even I knew there had been a crash. It was 1970. The worst crash since ’29. People were jumping from ledges again.

“Has he said anything?”


The doorbell rang and she went to get it.

A few minutes later Dr. Schaefer was standing there trying to get my father to talk.

No dice. He just stared at the floor.

“He’s depressed.” Dr. Schaefer, a small man who was a natty dresser, had a truly inspired way of summing up the obvious. He smiled around the room at no one in particular as if we were an audience of two.

I left the room. My mother followed me.

“I’m going to call Dr. Sontag. I’m afraid I don’t trust this one.” She made a motion toward the bedroom with her thumb.

Later that day Dr. Sontag showed up. He nodded to both of us and to Dr. Schaefer who it seemed was in this thing for the long haul, and went into the bedroom. Ten minutes later he emerged.

“He needs some sleep,” he told us. “If you don’t mind doctor, I’d like to take over his medication and see if we can’t get him some rest.”

“Oh no problem doctor. I agree with that completely.”

It was certainly nice how doctor doctor were getting along.

“Well if you’re taking over here I’ll just let myself out. I think he’s better off under the care of only one doctor, doctor.”

My mother walked him to the door and thanked him for coming over and for all his help.

“I never trusted that man.” She said it as soon as she heard the elevator door in the hallway shut.

“I think he needs to get away from the city.” Dr. Sontag was writing a prescription.

“I can take him up to Connecticut.”

“Yes that would be good. I’m going around to the corner drug store and get this filled. I want him to take one right now. And I want you to make sure he takes them exactly as prescribed. He’s going to be doing nothing but sleeping for about two weeks now. Can you handle that?”

My mother nodded. She’s always good in a crisis. The worse the crisis the better she performs. It’s the down times when nothing is wrong when she falls apart. She began bustling around, calling the garage to get their car ready, packing their personal stuff for the trip out of the city, getting some clothes for my father to wear, packing up all the spoilable food in the refrigerator. Hell could be boiling over right under her feet but she would never let a damned head of lettuce spoil in the city while she was away in the country. No those pesky leftovers would have to be used. It was the fiscally responsible thing to do. Forget that my father had just lost $50 mil. That just made it all the more logical to save every string bean from certain death at the bottom of the refrigerator drawer.

I went in and sat down with my father who was still staring straight ahead at nothing. I took his hand. He did not respond.

“Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. No matter what’s happened you’ve always taken care of us. Now it’s our turn. You just relax. Mom and I will be right here with you.” I kissed his forehead. He never moved. But I caught sight of his eyes. They were laden with tears about to spill over. I knew he wouldn’t want me to see that. But it made me feel good to know he could cry. When you have something to cry about and you don’t, that’s bad. When you do, then you’ll be all right. Eventually.

The drugs worked. He did sleep for two weeks. At the end of that time he went out to his garden and began weeding and mulching and planting and trimming and coddling his flowers. That summer they made the best show I’d ever seen. He spent four months on his knees out there every day until it got dark. He just needed to know he could nurture something. He was sick for about a year. But the worst was over in a couple of months. I don’t know what other drugs Dr. Sontag put him on. After awhile he was drug free. It took another two years to divest himself from his fund and all his internecine financial dealings.

He learned a lot about mood disorders in that time. He got out of Wall Street. He still made money. But he found other, safer ways to do it. And he stopped investing for the likes of the Rothschilds and The Bank of England, which is really the Queen, and a lot of other big mucky mucks in America. He always had big dreams. Sometimes you get lucky and your dreams coincide with a market that’s on the rise. You may hit it just right and get out just right. But more often you crash and burn. Then you’re lucky to get out making a bit more than you had when you went in. My father did okay over the long haul. But the big score eluded him. Maybe it was always a fantasy tied to the mood disorder.

“He had this once before.” My mother had eluded to this before.

“What do you mean?”

“He got sick in the Marine Corps. They called it battle fatigue. But it was really the same thing. He just got sick. Couldn’t take it.”

As if she would have been able to face a steamy jungle full of snipers aiming at her from God knows where every morning.

“I don’t think this is the same thing.”

“Oh yes it is. He’s always making me out to be the sick one. But he’s the one too.”

That Saturday night on my twenty-fifth birthday I went across to the west side of Manhattan to a party. I had just exploded a two year relationship with a man I adored, my father had gone bonkers and now my mother had taken him to the country to be a zombie for two weeks. I would go out there the next day but tonight, I needed to get out.

So I drove over to Central Park West and parked my car on a side street and hauled myself up to a party I had no interest in attending.

And that’s’ where I met Wonderman. I wasn’t even on anything. Drugs I mean.