The secret is to get out of the house. Wear long underwear. Listen to the ice whirl, moan and whistle. I’m going to get out my new ice skates after I drink a cup of hot chocolate. The lake has frozen solid all the way across to New York State with no snow cover. A hundred miles of an ice rink. I was standing on the ice, in some places a foot thick, thinking about the joy of walking on thick, not thin, ice for a change. Feeling solidly alive without dread, fear, anxiety about tomorrow — For a few frozen, white, quiet moments I was worry-free. Not thinking about money. Realizing that if i didn’t have any money instead of a little, I could not worry about money alot more. I think I will spend every last dime of my money so i don’t have to worry about spending it. I’ll just save enough money for fifteen tanks of gas, which will take me anywhere in the United States when my electricity gets turned off and the gas company refuses to refuel.
Pictured above: Buddhist Monk arrives for winter retreat at Camp Casey. He smokes, he drinks coffee, he reads, he sleeps, he thinks, he thinks some more, he sits at a desk and sketches little pictures that resemble kites in a black book. He eats, he makes hot chocolate, he sleeps, he thinks, he sews a button on his coat, he smokes, he smokes hash, he smokes cigarettes, he is always shoveling something into his mouth or down his throat. Anything but alcohol. Anything. Keep the Voo-Doo Vodka Devil away from my door! He owns one pair of pants and one shirt. He is penniless, and yet I have witnessed him give a bum on the street his last dollar and his last cigarette. He has taken me one step closer to enlightenment. Slowly, through the years I have come understand his thought process. He is living without a safety net, beyond the bounds of social acceptability. You know, that two step that the rest of us do in order to fit in? Or at least fit in as misfits, artists, wierdos, etc. We all pretend to be independent of societal pressures, but we march to different drummers in a very straight line. Do you know how straight YOUR line is? Let me tell you about my line. It is now laced with Adderol. I am severely ADHD. Look it up if you have to. It has destroyed my life. so far. Things are going to change very rapidly now that I know what the matter is. I remember the I.Q. test I took when I was twelve. My score was 81. Below retarded. I believed it. My teacher believed it. My parents believed it. My boyfriend believed it. Idiots. The score was 181. Watch out, world, here I come…………….
I am so sorry but it seems I have become a bore. Everything I think and do is boring, repetitious, insignifigant and substandard not to mention mediocre, trite, vanilla, pastel, mixed media. Even the squirrels outside my window are starting to wonder, “When is she going to pull out of this bore-ass phase and get back in the game?” Well, it will be happening soon because I am about to run out of money. When I get down to a tank of gas and a cheese sandwich, I will be back on the road, and the road is where I do my best work. A tiny room in Red Hook, a tent in Alabama, couches of friends from Jersey to Louisiana. Hi Diddly Dee, the gypsy life for me! I wish that I did not need to be motivated by desperation and fear but it seems to work for me. Have you tried it?
Today’s press release from Haiti includes a recipe for the dirt cookies that mother’s are feeding their children to fend off hunger pangs. Recipe: Dirt, salt, water, shortening. Mix Dirt with Water to create mud in a consistency not unlike cake batter. Add salt and shortening until mud is consistency of cookie dough. Press mixture into small pie shapes. Dry in sun. Serve with nothing.
That bit of news puts our own recession worries in perspective, although we are not as far from dirt cookies as we may think. Forever the prepared pessimist, I tracked down a woman living in the deep hills of Vermont who has baked extraordinary dirt cookies laced with hay and/or manure since before I was born. I could not ask her for any baking advice. Upon arrival I found her flopped stone dead on her porch floor.
My advice: Don’t eat dirt. More advice: get some money soon, however you can, LOTS of it and hide it.
Dr. Casey has had a mental breakdown and is having difficulties dialing the phone numbers of friends who might come to her aid. It occurred suddenly, the day after her skiing mania and subsequent remorse over buying ski equipment that she feels she will never use again. It was snowing for the fourth day and Dr. Casey no longer saw the snow as white and had no desire to walk in it, let alone ski down it. The skis are in the back of her car and will remain there as a constant reminder of how totally fucked up she is. It appears that her latest personality, Bernice, is a professional downhill skier. It was Bernice would bought the skis and Bernice who skied yesterday. Bernice left Camp Casey this morning for Switzerland, and Dr. Casey has returned, only to discover the skis, and worse, the receipt: Absolutely No Refunds. Camp Casey will remain a one-woman mental institution until Dr. Casey developes another personality with a PhD in Multiple Personality Syndrome. Neighbors in the area have suggested that Dr. Casey get in her car and drive either South or West until she spots a palm tree. They have offered to pay travel expenses. Dr. Casey has written recently of the environment in which she has completely lost her mind:
It gets so dark here at night, that when you drive the eight miles you must travel to get a loaf of bread you have to guess where the road is. You have headlights, sure, but headlights are quite useless in total blackness. You use the line in the middle of the road as a guide, but you cannot see the sides of the road, so when you are here, you feel the need to stay here and not get in the car unless there is a large moon in a clear sky. You go without the bread until daybreak.
If you are feeling sad, the sadness will fill the room you are sitting in and when the sun goes down, it will wrap around you like a strait-jacket; suffocating your interests. If you are happy, your happiness will expand like a baking cupcake and warm your sockless toes. You will sit in the dark and the quiet soaking in a happiness that is so immediate it becomes a physical presence you can talk to.
Once in a great while you will hear the moaning of a train whistle across the lake, an owl, the crackling flame of the gas stove, branches moving in the wind. Each sound is an awakening from the dead quiet that has taken you directly to the workings of your emotions. The quiet enters your brain and grants an interview. It enters your groin and causes a baseless arousal. You stay busy staring out the window, listening to the repeated sound of your own internal voice saying, I should, I should, over and over. I should. In a couple of hours, the “I shoulds” fade away.
I drove to Vermont from D.C. last week, to check on things. I went to Middlebury to visit friends and noticed that the town no longer existed. Main Street, Lolly-pop Land, had erased itself in an effort to be cute. There were many windows with snow suits, beads, cow mugs, folk singer posters. I decided to take a window hostage for a new Word Window Art Installation Project. Doug Lazarus, artist, had just opened a new gallery/studio on Main Street, and one of his windows faced an acceptable stream of pedestrian and car traffic. We discussed the project for four minutes and he gave me the window. I will be posting a continual stream of words in phrases for the next few months which will reflect the subtext of Middlebury and, in totality, when published, act as an artistic rendering of the collective unconscious of the area. My last Word Window was in Newport, RI in 1998, and became quite popular with the locals and police force. An example of a Word Window in Newport: You Are Not Your Car. I look forward to this art project, because I don’t have to stay in Vermont to do it. I will mail Doug the words and he will post them . I can simply lay in bed and think up phrases after reading the Middlebury newspaper and talking to artists in the area who will act as conduits for me.
I drove to Vermont with a man and I would like to tell you, now that he is gone, what happened, but I cannot because I am not sure myself. I only know that I am tortured by the many photos of my parents. On the desk, the wall, the piano. Now that I am alone with the ten-thousand dollar dog, the cottage feels like a mausoleum. It is not my home, although I now own it. It is theirs. It will always be theirs and there is nothing I can do about it, nor do I care to. The white quiet is deafening, the memories unbearably burdensome. All the days of before, without the comforting illusion youth provides — there are many days ahead. I am caught in the white quiet, like a fly in a web, and I know that it will close in until my breathe is shallow and my supressed grief has resurfaced. The lake is frozen solid and I can walk to New York. It was a skating rink until last night, when a new snow lay three inches of powder. Those inches of snow hang heavy on the evergreens and fence. I am thankful that he is gone so that I can talk to the white quiet, and ask what happened.
Standing in line at a Vermont health food store between two people. Man and woman. Both buying health food, looking healthy, but not smiling. The woman chatting it up with the hippie cashier, a ramble of gab, a garble of sentences about the weather, the price of coffee, – full force chattering while her goods are bagged. Her teeth are large, so it almost looks like she’s smiling as she talks, but the sides of her face are not moving, and her middle aged lines are not crinkling. Impeccably dressed in L.L. Bean, her winter skin, pale and flaky, she exudes a forced internal energy that seems to infuse her check-out activity with deep meaning. This shopping expedition seems critical to her self image. Her organic goods sacred, she shovels them closer to the cashier with a chilling sobriety.
Behind me, the man, also middle-aged with the steely thin frame of a mountain climber or jockey. Salt and pepper beard, scruffy hair. He is not smiling either, and why should he? He is standing in line waiting. Nobody likes to wait. I turn to him and smile. I am very close to him, my face about three feet from his. His eyes instantly divert, avoiding mine, and he stares past me, earnestly studying nothing, holding several plastic bags of nuts to his breast. I continue to stare and smile. I said “hello” No response. “Hello” again. I waved my hand in front of his face.
He looked at me with confusion, as though he should know my name, and when he did not, he froze, waiting for me to explain myself.
“I’m just saying hello” I said.
“Oh.” He seemed baffled and slightly sad, as though I were playing a trick on him.
It seemed I had broken protocol. I’d been away from Vermont for a couple of months and had stood in several grocery lines in Washington D.C. where I smiled and said hello to just about everyone who was standing behind me and they all smiled and hello back. The people in Washington D.C. could detect the simple twist of my head in their direction. They would automatically acknowledge it with a nod, a blink, a raised eyebrow, the sides of their mouth turning up as the muscles in their face reacted spontaneously to the presence of a fellow human being. (Vermonters, like my Great Aunt Sallie McKnight (1876-1920) seem more comfortable with a downward turn of the mouth .
This natural impulse, acknowledgement, has little meaning until it is not forthcoming. The man forced a grin and tried to save face. “Oh, of course, hello”
“Hello” I repeated, louder.
“Well, yes, hello!” he chucked.
Strange. A woman in a grocery store, standing in front of him at the check-out smiling at him and saying hello for no good reason. What could she want?
His forced smile was fleeting, his voice terse, and a shadow of panic crossed his face. His eyes widened, his pupils dilated as he prepared himself for a shopping line conversation. But what could he say? He couldn’t think of a thing.
“Why doesn’t anybody say hello in Vermont?” I asked.
“I mean” and I turned to the woman in front of me, “I mean, why don’t people in Vermont say hello or smile at each other?”
“We certainly do say hello and smile” she said, not smiling.
“You didn’t smile at ME” I said.
“I didn’t see you.” That may have been true and I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
“I’m busy bagging my groceries here” she said.
I had overstepped, offending the cashier, the man and the woman, with an unthinkable premise: People in Vermont were not as friendly as they were supposed to be. Especially in a health food store, where those bonded by the common cause of a greener planet sought out like minds. A tribe of vegetarian cannibals, united gastronomically, their innards churning up the same organic roughage.
I couldn’t back down.
“I’ve been in Washington D.C. for two months, and everybody smiles at everybody else in the grocery lines. They smile and then they say hello.”
The cashier, not smiling, said “Well, everybody says hello and smiles at me”
“That’s because you’re the cashier” I answered.
“Well, hello, then” hissed the woman, a hard smile stretching over her big teeth, her eyeballs trembling like black, boiling peas. “And, good-bye.”
“Hello, hello hello.” Sing-songed the hippie cashier, throttling my grocery items as she rang them up, heaving them violently toward the stack of paper bags.
I turned, once again, to the man behind me. He wasn’t smiling.
Dr. L.H. Casey has recently become privy to some interesting information about the Titanic. She is presently meditating in front of the Titanic Memorial in D.C. on which is inscribed “This monument is dedicated to the men who gave their lives that women and children might be saved” Part of Dr. Casey’s PhD Thesis-in-Process lecture will include several unanswered questions concerning the memorialized men and they’re incomprehensible stupidity. These questions have NEVER been addressed in ANY historical treatise on the tragedy.