Monday, April 29, 2013

Some Maine Pictures (August 2012)

These are from a two day trip I took to Maine with my two older sons last summer. I have actually passed on putting up pictures from some other excursions I have taken lately, as they didn't lend themselves so readily to narrative.

Especially now that I only have so many years left of life, and the summer seems so short when one has to go to work every day, I try to pack in as many outings and trips during July and August as I can. By around the 10th of August however my wife has usually had enough of driving and dragging the younger children around everywhere and listening to their fighting, and doesn't want to go on any more complicated excursions than a last day or two at the mountains or the beach. I had four days off however, and as I was visibly restless at the prospect of spending them at home, it was decided that I would go somewhere and take the two older children if they wanted to come. It was sad at first that not everyone was coming, since I never go anywhere without the entire family, though once we got going I slowly acclimated myself to the unusual dynamic, and in truth not having all of the little ones opened up some possibilities, such as going to visit sites or restaurants, that we would not have had had they been there. Besides which, we were only staying away one night.

1. Backdoor Entry Into Maine. Most tourists and other visitors arrive in the state via the somewhat more glamorous Piscataqua River Bridge on I-95, or perhaps the US-1 Bridge nearby with its view of the elegant skyline and ships of Portsmouth. This is on US-202 passing from Rochester, New Hampshire into Berwick, a route I take sometimes if I am going to Portland and points further north. 202 is a rather unattractive road that goes past a lot of shabby auto repair and salvage yard type places, as well as the well-worn French-Canadian towns of Sanford and Biddeford, which I have some familiarity with as my high school teams used to play against these towns in my long-ago day.

2. We Stopped First in Portland For a Couple of Hours. Monument Square. You can't see it, but we are looking out from in front of the Public Library. Things have changed a lot in the nearly quarter of a century since I lived there, of course, as everywhere has. Life has gone on without me, and without missing me too much, which would not only have seemed impossible in 1987, but the thought of it would have broken my heart. I really felt at home there, and now it is like all of that is gone and a totally different city has been erected in its place.

3. We Decided to Take the Tour of Longfellow's Childhood Home, Which I Had Never Done Before. You can't see the house very well in any of my pictures, as the trees blocked any view with which my camera would have been able to fit the whole edifice in a single shot. This is both a literary site and a 1966 Encyclopedia state highlight for the whole family, so my motivations to go there could not have been much more primed. I enjoyed the tour, as I enjoy any experience now that involves human interaction without beeping or flashing lights on a screen, and the house is a worthy attraction, though I have to admit that if you only have time to visit one Longfellow house, the one he lived in as a successful poet and Harvard professor in Modern Languages on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Mass. is the livelier and more extravagant experience of the two. The Portland House is owned by the Maine Historical Society, which maintains an exhibit space in the visitors center next door, and they had a small but engaging exhibit on the history of the Central Maine Power Company which I also liked, as it recalled me to the "old" (pre-1990) times, of which I am grown so fond in the ruins of my middle age.

4. This is Supposed to be My Old High School (if the picture displays). I loved this place so much when I was there, but now it just looks like a building, albeit a somewhat nice one, that I have no connection to whatsoever. I don't feel like it belongs to anyone else either in the way that I perceived it as belonging to me and my schoolmates at the time. I had very romantic ideas about it, and about the whole city of Portland, that if they were not illusions, and I do not think that they were, wholly, have not carried through in the same characters at all to the present.

My 25th reunion is coming up in June. You may recall I didn't have an especially good time at the 20th and hardly anyone remembered me, but I am still considering going because I have so few opportunities anymore to get out without my children and go to a party where there is drinking and people dress up a little and that sort of thing. For this same reason I am going to my company's annual employee banquet in May, which I have never gone to. I think as long as I don't try to be overeager to ingratiate myself with people, can find something to wear which will be presentable without making me look awkward or not striking the right note, and can maintain extremely modest expectations, I think I could have a good time.

5. Boothbay Harbor. This was the primary destination. If you remember I noted in my account of my viewing of the movie Carousel, much of which had been filmed in this town, that I had never been there and that I ought to go sometime in the summer. That was the inspiration for the trip. The town didn't really strike me as looking like the one in the movie, and there were no references to the film anywhere in any of the local tourist literature. Not that I needed that, but it had informed my expectations, to a certain degree.

6. Photo-Op at the General Store. If you don't have a boat docked there or a vacation home that your family has been coming to for a hundred years, the town is kind of a walking around, shops and restaurants kind of deal. Pretty enough, but not substantially different from Kennebunkport or Ogunquit or York or some similar more upmarket Maine beach town, other that Boothbay Harbor is actually located on an inlet and there is not a beach right near it that I am aware of.

7. Bowling Alley. Taken Through a Window. This was closed and inside a building that gave no indication of opening up again anytime soon, to the public, at least. I think it may have been some kind of private lodge.

8. The Guys Were Able to Amuse Themselves For Several Hours By Walking Around the Docks. I am fortunate in that these older children at least are not helpless in the face of potential boredom, so long as they are kept fed.

9. This Picture Isn't Showing Up, But I Think it Was Supposed to Be Me at Dinner. Believe me, it is no great loss if it doesn't come out in the final post.

10. Dedication (Reversed?) on the Maine State Liberty Bell at the Capitol in Augusta. These 50 replica Liberty Bells were gifts, I believe from France, that were given to each of the states around 1950. I have developed a minor interest in seeking them out if I happen to be near a state capital (that is where most of them are located, but not all--the one for New Jersey, for example, I believe is in Perth Amboy) because the Maryland bell happens to be on the campus of my college, and though I did not take much notice of it there, when I began hanging around the state house in Concord, I noticed that the Liberty Bell they had on the front lawn was the same as the one at school, and this made for sentimental associations, and so on. So I think I have seen five of the bells to date, the others being Wisconsin and Connecticut. Of course I have also been to the actual Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. That is of no moment, but this paragraph seems incomplete without noting it.

I deleted my Liberty Bell picture in trying to fix the alignment of my paragraphs, which have gotten messed up. I am not at home so I can't put it in again at the moment. Maybe I will go back and do it later, or maybe I will put in a different Liberty Bell picture. But probably I will do neither.

11. James G Blaine House (Governor's Mansion), Augusta. James G Blaine was Maine's best hope, probably for all time, for having a president, being the Republican nominee in 1884 and losing to Grover Cleveland in a pretty close election. He actually was born and grew up in Pennsylvania, but his wife was from Maine, which is how he ended up there, though not because he was a layabout with nowhere else to go, but through his talent and the impressions he was able to make on important people on short acquaintance who made it worth his while to move his family there.

Apparently the governor actually lives there. There is an official governor's mansion in New Hampshire, but no governor has deigned to live in it in the entire time I have lived here. I don't know whether they use it at all for receptions or other grandiose affairs. I have never been invited to one in any event, and whenever I drive by it it looks as if it is just sitting there empty.

12. It Was Sunday, so the State House Was Closed. This was disappointing, as we are all fans of state houses, but unfortunately it could not be helped. I guess we were lucky that the Liberty Bell was outside, which is not always the case.

13. Looking Up at a Tree near the State House. It looks like a pine tree to me going by the bark but I am probably wrong.

14. Back in Boothbay Harbor. This is the Restaurant We Ate Lunch at the Second Day. They had lobster for $10 a head, which traditionally is cheap in a restaurant, though last year the lobster catch was supposedly abundant, so prices were low. I would have preferred to get something else as we also had lobster the night before but the boys were gung ho to have it again, and they wanted me to join them in this revelry, and I think to get the $10 deal you had to order 3 lobsters anyway, so lobster it was.

15. Inside the Restaurant. This would be in the cabin part of the ship I think.

16. Child #1 Getting His Crustacean. It looks like we got a pizza too. Interesting combination.

17. Tourist Trolley. Farewell to Boothbay Harbor. It is just far enough away and not possessed of any singularly compelling enough attractions that there is a good chance I won't make it back there again. I suspect it is the kind of place that if you make a connection to it when young, or come to it in adulthood as your first, or among your first, vivid experiences of a Maine seaside town in summer, that it will always retain some meaning for you. But as I already have several such places, and have for a long time, I was not evidently susceptible to this effect. Or perhaps I am too old and finished to receive such impressions anywhere anymore.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is This What the Middle Class Has Been Reduced To?

This shouldn't bother me, because I know it is the whole purpose of these kind of schools to do this, but I got one of those mass mailings today for my local technical/community college's summer course offerings, and there was a picture of a dweeby-looking guy on the front of it, accompanied by the celebratory news that he was a 2011 graduate in IT which had led to a 'career' at Fairpoint, which is an evil Comcast-esque telecommunications conglomerate. This is what is supposed to motivate us, that maybe we can latch on to a position at Fairpoint that (possibly) pays a living wage? I mean, Fairpoint? We aren't talking about the CEO, or even a vice-president or high ranking manager. It's some unidentified IT job. And that's what you're celebrating as a triumph for your school? Admittedly, my own career is dreary and probably less remunerative than this guy's but I was at least allowed at some point in my life to have loftier aspirations and an opportunity to develop myself in a more comprehensive and potentially exhilarating way, even if I was unable to succeed in doing so. You want a concrete example of how corporate domination is draining all the spirit and life out of this country, there it is. Fairpoint as the main reward of any course of education? God help us.

My 2002 Ford Focus died about a week ago--the engine basically exploded. I had bought it new, and it had 175,000 miles on it. I am still a little sad about it. I bought a new minivan to replace it, because my other minivan (a 2007) has 170,000 miles on it and I don't want that to be my main car anymore. When that goes maybe I will get a used smaller car. As in all things I went very slow in life in getting wrapped up in cars. I never had any car for more than a month or two until I was 27, and then my wife and I shared one car between us until I was 37 and she was 34 and we already had 3 children. I took the bus to work for ten years. This is how I was able to avoid early bankruptcy, I guess. I didn't take too many long trips in the Focus. In 2003 we went to Illinois and Missouri when my oldest son was a baby. And we went to Montreal a couple of times. Mostly though in those years we didn't travel far afield much. We didn't start going to Florida until we got the van. We drove around a lot in New England though, especially as for the first couple of years gas was still cheap. It cost around $15-16 to fill the tank, and had been more like $35 in recent years. Now I have two $65-70 behemoths to fill up, though if I only drive the old van around town it might only need to be filled every other week or so...

It's not liberating, to write like this. I am sentimental about the old car because it was a link to the days when I was still pretty young, and my two older boys were babies, and I had a lot more energy and there was a lot more free time and I still could write, both in terms of actual physically sitting down and writing several hours a day as well as putting together semi-cohesive compositions. So that is why I am sad about its dying. I feel about the same degree of sadness as when our cat died in 2006.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Generic Movie Post That Took 2 Weeks to Write

valour kinds say time have think begin country

The goal with these, rarely attained, is always economy.

Avatar (2009)

They should have made the movie about her.

My beautiful wife did not watch this movie with me, but she came and sat in the living room for a few minutes while it was on, in the midst of working on a project and observed, with an air of mild bemusement, "Wow. This is not a typical Bourgeois Surrender movie." "No", I admitted, my body rigid in equal parts embarrassment and perplexity at the direction the world has gone in since 1995, "That it is not."

This one came recommended from Roger Ebert's 2012  Movie Yearbook, which I picked up at a discount without realizing that it only rated movies from the years 2009-2011. So I will probably be seeing more movies from those three years, though this book is the last in order which I refer to. [Roger Ebert's death was announced while this post was underway, but I don't know what to say about such things. He appears to have had a fulfilling and fortunate professional life in writing and the arts, which seems to me a rare happiness]. In recent years Ebert began to display an extreme strain of contemporary liberalism that I had not noted him to have before and he evidently found this movie to have cast a great blow for the causes of environmentalism, anti-militarism, anti-greed, etc. Perhaps these attitudes were driving creative forces behind the movie but they made little impact on me.

All of the characters in this movie are alpha males, including the women and the tree-hugging natives of the planet Zoltran. Every sentence of dialogue is confrontational, challenging and conveys the attitude that the speaker has attained a perfect competence in his calling and overall superiority of person and that no one else is worthy of being spoken to with even basic respect. One suspects this is not merely how the director, famed egomaniac James Cameron, deals with people--dominant artists and leaders usually seem to have to be this way--but how he actually views the general nature of human relations, which is not reassuring to me.

It is worthy of notice (to me--maybe this trend has been in motion for a while) that after a long tradition of stories about beings from other planets being smarter/more technologically advanced/militarily superior than Americans--interestingly, extraterrestrial life never seems to make its way to Pakistan--the popular liberal imagination at least now envisions interplanetary conflict as the American military in concert with rapacious corporations on the offensive in distant reaches of outer space. It says a lot about the mindset of a lot of people at this cultural moment with regard to how powerful and uncontestable the big companies and the high-tech military, and the individuals who have high positions in these entities, are perceived to be.

What was the big deal about this movie again? The special effects? The story, apart from a few adultish trappings, was about at the level of something my children would have watched, minus the humor. I can be impressed by computerized special effects in a movie where I can see something that strikes me as imaginative, like A Bug's Life, for example. I didn't think the concepts here were very imaginative at all--as my wife pointed out after watching the movie for five minutes, several things were ripoffs of Star Wars, and even I did not notice anything particularly futuristic other than the alienating anti-human headquarters of the space station and the Michael Jackson oxygen chamber where your soul left your regular body and was transferred to that of a space-creature--and both of these appeared in the first five minutes of the movie.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1975)

Sometimes called The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser. Also sometimes called by a more literal translation of the German title, Every Man For Himself, and God Against All; but somebody must have decided they wanted to try to sell some tickets in America, so for purposes of commercial release, that title was scrapped.

This is a European art movie--from a "New Wave", no less--about a curious historical incident and set in the 1820s or 30s. It is predictable that I would imagine I liked it. It was a comfort after the unrecognizable depiction of existence that was Avatar.

The aesthetic is very much of its time. There are a lot of leisurely outdoor scenes in gardens and fields and orchards kind of after the Bergman manner. The whole movie is comparatively restrained and 'unbusy' for a Werner Herzog film. There is almost no dialogue at all for the first half-hour, and until about the halfway point of the movie Kasper Hauser himself does not speak in more than monosyllables, though people begin talking about him. The second half is composed of a series of short scenes, vignettes almost, that do good service in keeping up interest in the story while maintaining the enigmatic effect. It is great, but it is also very suited to my particular sensibility.

Being a German movie, it is not surprising that a logic professor is brought in at one point to investigate the development of Hauser's reasoning capacity. I had to replay the professor's question and answer a second time before I 'got' it, but I am satisfied at least that I did get its particular elegance. I rarely get anything like that anymore.

There was a commentary on this featuring Werner Herzog himself, who, not surprisingly, speaks English well.  It was not a great commentary though, as Herzog kind of went all over the place and the moderator, who sounded like a fairly callow American, was not especially effective at asking questions or guiding the conversation, indeed engaging Herzog in conversation at all. The typical exchange was what you might expect when you pair up an earnest and totally overmatched American with a vigorous and highly experienced European artist:

American Moderator: So what you are trying to show in this scene is how Kaspar has no preconceptions about anything that a normal person would take for granted as a basis of society?

Herzog: Actually no (or yes, then talks for five minutes on some entirely different topic).

I am trying to figure out what some of the formulas are for a good commentary. Some lapse of time, usually a  long one, seems necessary. If the commentary features people who were actually involved in the movie, they should either be retired or long past the phase of their career/life in which they made the film. The film should not require promotion, unless it is a plausibly good old movie of which the reputation has languished.

Good commentaries are able to reproduce something of the atmosphere and intelligent mindset which vitiated the film, assuming of course that the film is so vitiated. There has to be a good correlation between the intelligence of the commentator and that of the film. It also helps for the commentator to have a somewhat engaging conversational style. Scholars and critics especially tend to be hit or miss on these points. Directors for obvious reasons are usually strong on the first criterion, but some flail on the second. I cannot say that Werner Herzog was one of these flailers, but it would have been better if he had had somebody a little more up to the task of engaging with him and directing him in more focused channels. Actors and actresses are usually decent enough at conversing but their intelligence levels vary widely--by which I do not refer to their scores on IQ tests so much as things like sense of humor, ability to discern between things that are more noteworthy and interesting of observation than other things, and ability to tell a story/explain something that the typical video drone would not know about but might find curious.

Father of the Bride (1950)

If I were a normal, well-adjusted, forward-looking denizen of the present day, or were even consistent with my criticisms and dislike of nearly everything about that same present, I would be able to eviscerate this movie for its silliness, triviality, and almost unbelievable self-contentedness at its vulgar bourgeois materialism with a full heaping of (seemingly appropriate) self-satisfaction of my own. But predictably my apparently incurable sentimentality for almost any production of this time period won out and I found myself enjoying the movie against all of my better instincts, to say nothing of the wasted decades of attempted training of my intellect. I think it was Spencer Tracy's devotion to martinis and dogged consumption of the same, as well as the overflowing ash trays, all carried off in the unaffected manner of the time, that allowed me the freedom to enjoy myself. Also my wife, who doesn't care for most of the movies I get anymore, actually watched it with me and enjoyed it, and it is after all fun to have a good time with other people once in a while, if you can manage it. She pointed out that numerous items for this wedding in 1950 cost multiples of times in constant dollars what was spent on our own nuptials in 1997.

We haven't seen much of Spencer Tracy so far in this program of mine. He was, as his Wikipedia page asserts, one of the truly major stars of Hollywood's golden age. He is an interesting figure to me, but as there are a few other of his films coming up imminently, I will say more about him later.

Most capsule summaries of this movie mention as a big selling point that it features 'Elizabeth Taylor at her most beautiful'. I would say that she looked better in A Place in the Sun myself, but in any instance she generally looks better in newsreel/paparazzi footage from this time then she does in either of these movies. Not that I think she is ugly or anything, but I have never thought she was notably that much more desirable than thrity or forty other stars of her generation. Not that I know anything about the matter. Clearly she made men hungry--and the nearer they got to her the hungrier they became--in a way that even most beautiful do not quite do. Acknowledging all that, she was still a surprisingly minor presence in this movie, given all the hype about how beautiful she is supposed to be in it.

This was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who has been turning up a lot in these reports (The Clock, An American in Paris). He had a good run as a director, especially from around 1944 to '54. Mostly famous for his musicals, but he had, as a studio man anyway, the gift of touch or something. All three of his films that I have reviewed here have seemed from the critical point of view to suffer from some weakness or triviality but in the end impressed upon me some quality that made it impossible for me to dismiss them and indeed even inspired affection; though overall I have less affection for Father of the Bride than the others.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, even I don't really believe life was superior in 1950 to what it is now. Apart from the obvious abominations of the era, if I were actually forced to go back and live in it on a daily basis I would probably find it boring and stifling, especially if I had to live somewhere outside a major, New York-Los Angeles-London level city. It's not surprising to me that people drank a lot more than they do now. Still, there must have been something legitimately appealing about it compared to the present day, right? Something that is superior to life now? Let me try to think of a few possibilities.

1. There were far less people in jail at this time than there are now, both overall and per capita. This is well-documented. For most of the population there was much less of a police state/security atmosphere than what we are subjected to now as well. Even in New Hampshire, having a cop in public schools is de rigueur now. When I go back to Philadelphia there are security guards at the doors of supermarkets even in the inner suburbs. This at least hasn't come to northern New England yet.

2. I like the girls/music/literature/art of that era, most of which however I probably would not have been aware of had I lived at the time, and that obviously includes anything exciting that might have happened with the girls. I actually like the Girls of the 80s too, but even though I was actually alive in that era I might as well not have as far as socializing with any were concerned

3. I have mentioned in past posts that the bars/nightclubs/house parties of this time as depicted in movies look a lot more jovial than most of what I have known. St John's parties, like a lot of other things there, did often have a little bit of this retro feeling about them, which I obviously liked. Unfortunately I have to live the rest of my life in a more assertively post-1965 environment, which is a shame as far as partying goes at least.

This is not a point in favor of the 1950s but an aside regarding the sense I pick up sometimes in the present that back in those bad old days rapists and child molesters must have been running wild and commiting their crimes at will. This may have been so in some unfortunate cases but I am not certain that the volume of these kinds of crimes was any higher than it is now. Most older people I knew in the 70s and 80s, and by this I refer mainly to women, seemed to think children and girls were in much more danger of being subjected to these abuses and violences than had been the case when they were young. Also the general movement for women during the 60s and 70s was towards more freedom from parental/societal constraint in regard to relations with men rather than more protection from them. I know these are two different things, but they are probably not unrelated. One does hear and read the stories from this era of course about the extremely aggressive and brusque assaults (what we would call assaults certainly) that men would spring a la Mad Men upon women at cocktail parties or in offices. Those kinds of things obviously still go on today, but I am guessing among the professional classes anyway they are less frequent or are at least instigated by a much smaller number of men than formerly. Some men who would have behaved in this boorish way back in the 50s probably have actually become more enlightened in the matter of how to treat women appropriately, others probably would not be able to resist the temptation had they any longer enough power to safely risk nothing more in the attempt but a cold reception. Most men of course don't understand what they are supposed to do when no women seem to want anything to do with them at all, but obviously want all variety of pleasurable-sounding things from certain other men. One obvious response is to waste your life dreaming about being one of those winners and getting to do all the things the winners get to do with women, because let's face it, most of the time nothing else really matters. Indeed, the irony is that the less substantial and important and intelligent a person you are or become, the more your mind is probably taken up with sensualistic fantasies, because you literally have nothing else to think about...

Thursday, April 04, 2013

I Muse About My Vacation Plans

I was thinking about skipping taking a vacation this summer in order to save some money and try to get on top of my expenses in the event of imminent catastrophe of some kind, but now I am thinking I ought to go. Do I enjoy them? I do in theory. I only have a few years left when my older children will be little. I am depressed quite a lot about the endless grind of work and expense and the trips, modest as they are, give me something to look forward to. I am starting to feel ever more worn down, and even almost sick from time to time. Today I am feeling awful. I don't see how I will live to see 60. I am now leaning toward going,or doing something, anyway, especially as if things get really bad, I may not ever be able to go anywhere for many years, or ever. But maybe not going is what I and the family actually need. I don't know.

Memories of Martika, Maine, and Olive Higgins Prouty

This is about one of those coincidences when two things that have nothing to do with each other recall to one a similar time or long lost state of being.

I forget what I was doing when I heard this song--you may be confident it was prosaic--but it bore with it a heavier meaning than I would have thought, for I remembered hearing it long ago during one of those strange, semi-feverish hours when, unbeknownst to oneself and identifiable only in retrospect, one passes out of one stage of life into another. I do not remember the exact date of this event. The song however was the number 1 hit in the U.S. for two weeks from July 22 through August 5, 1989, which sounds about right. That was the summer I was 19 years old, which must be among the more important summers in nearly everyone's life. It was in mine too, and this despite nothing really memorable managing to occur. It set a tone for my future life to follow, however, and it was probably the last time that I harbored certain excitements and hopes with regard to friendship and other aspects of social life, or at least the last time I harbored them in certain milieus and aspects. I was still infused with something of this old spirit on the day I am recalling when I heard the song, though it was the last gasp of it.

This was the last summer I spent in Maine. I had graduated from high school there the previous year, but I had not yet really moved on in my life--the extra years it takes me to move on from various life stages compared with my contemporaries is a recurrent theme with me. I had at least been away a little--while I had not gotten into any colleges straight out of high school I did make a disastrous and very short-lived attempt to embark on a collegiate career starting after Christmas and had ended up living in Philadelphia with my grandmother for a while. One of my relatives had gotten a job for me in a dreary warehouse at the Franklin Mint, a company which used to be, and perhaps maybe still is, infamous for its kitschy collectibles--historical-themed chess sets, collections of classic books bound in faux leather with gilt-edged paper--probably my deepest readers will themselves own a few of these items. The Mint was an hour's drive away from my grandmother's house, and well outside of the city. I had to get up at 5 in the morning, I had no friends, I knew no girls--there weren't any girls in the warehouse at the Mint--I couldn't find anyplace to meet anybody who would be a likely friend for me. So as summer drew near, and the colleges let out, the urge to go back to where I at least knew people overcame my consciousness of humiliation over my disastrous college situation, and I decided to go back north.

Of course there was the immediate problem that I did not have any job there either. It seemed necessary and proper that I should work, as I was not doing anything else, and no one was giving me any money. I believed this in theory, of course. In practice I saw and found little enjoyable in the working man's life, and went about my task of securing employment half-heartedly at best. The obvious choice in that part of the world, restaurants, I was determined to avoid. It was already clear that due to my general appearance and bearing I was everywhere going to be deposited in the bowels of the kitchen, to be placed under the power of a tyrant, set to endlessly repetitive tasks which I would invariably do poorly, paid little, and be too diminished in every possible way to entertain the slightest hope of taking the mousiest busgirl in the establishment into the linen closet. This was long before the days of internships and other strategic preparations for post-college advancement, and most of my friends appeared to me to be keeping a fairly light work schedule, with hours that never seemed to conflict with parties or beach outings. They also were personable and competent enough at the jobs they did have that their co-workers, old and young, male and female, working class and professional class, more or less accepted them and seemed in most cases to like having them around. Sometime around the beginning of July one of these friends' fathers, who had worked there himself for more than 20 years, got me a job in the J J Nissen bakery in Portland, which was a bread and confectionary factory, Nissen's being a big company in New England (the son himself did not work at the bakery, I might add). I think I have written about the factory elsewhere on the site. I had to take a drug test, which so far is the only time in my life I have had to submit to this. Evidently I passed, though as I took the test at around 9 in the morning after drinking from around 2 the previous afternoon to 2 that morning, my alcohol level must have been near the top of the chart. I worked there for about 3-4 weeks. The pay was quite high compared to what I was used to getting and there was even overtime, but since I had no end in mind to work towards and I was having to go there overnight and on weekends and missing (as I perceived it) on all the fun, I barely cared about the pay. In many ways I would have been a perfect internship person, because when I was young so much emphasis was put on my laziness and aversion to hard work that when I began to be expected to get jobs I focused simply on getting the job and being present at it for so many hours a day to show everybody that I was not so lazy and that they could stop hating me and I never paid much attention to the pay. Even in the early years on the job I have now I did not often know specifically what my salary was (I have to be somewhat more aware of that now both for planning purposes and to be able to compare myself with people in New York Times stories).

The bread factory had a locker room like the one the coal miners had in The Deer Hunter. Besides the man I already mentioned, there was another father of a friend of mine who had also worked there for over 20 years, the thought of which is still mind-blowing. This second man is dead now. The first is still alive, though I assume he is retired by now.

There was a girl from my high school who worked there, in the cookie room, who was friendly to me and even made vague hints about us doing something outside of the factory. You would think I would have been jumping out my shorts at this opportunity but I was not attracted to her and was unresponsive to her attempts at friendliness. She was very skinny, kind of bug-eyed, had frizzy, badly-styled brown hair, and struck me as weird in the sense that she did not do anything in an endearingly girly way. In retrospect she does not seem all that bad. At the time my level of sophistication in these matters was such that all I could think was that I did not want her to be my girlfriend, as though if I made out with her in a car one time for half an hour or strung her along in some way suitable to my needs at the time or even put a clammy hand on her bony knee I would be harnessed to her for all time, with no hope of escape. Of course I am probably projecting--she probably wasn't interested in me in these ways at all. Doubtless she was taking pity on me with her snackroom patronage and airy suggestions. The whole business was really more of a Smiths song than anything real anyway. She probably talked to me twice.

Sometime near the end of July or beginning of August I had a night off from work that coincided with a party. To this day I have no idea whose party it was--it was at a house on a lake 15 or 20 miles out of town. I rode out their with some friends of mine. I do not specifically remember very much about it. I spent most my time outdoors, in a kind of grove, which had lights strung in the trees. I realize now that I reproduced this setting, which obviously was highly pleasing to me, for a party scene in the book I wrote, though I had not placed its origin at that time. A couple of girls of the sort that never talked to me spoke to me briefly. I don't remember how objectively beautiful they were, or even much of what they looked like--even with the Christmas lights, nighttime in the woods in Maine is very dark--but I remember that they were unfreakish, normal-looking girls with smart polo-type shirts and sailing shorts and their hair was obviously done by someone who knew what they were doing and they had talked to me--me!--as if I were actually a regular man. This was the most incredible thing of all. Perhaps they had mistaken me for someone else. Since this never happened on any other occasion throughout the whole of my life it is the only plausible explanation. When my friends came to me--so early it seemed--and told me they were heading back to town I could not go with them. I was happy and I had to remain where these girls were as if my life depended on it.

Unfortunately, five minutes after my friends drove away, the girls also left.

I think those girls, who of course I never saw again, must have been some kind of magical fairies or demons, because as soon as they left the party transformed into the ordinary nasty, hostile sort of party, and now of course no one left there knew who I was, so quite a bit of the hostility was expended in my direction. I soon left and began the long walk back to Portland in pitch blackness along the typical sidewalkless Maine country road, scampering off into the woods at the sound of a distant car to avoid being seen, though there were very few of these.

I walked this way until the sun began to come up, which would have been at least 4 hours. I was still not close to town. As you can imagine I was quite tired by this time so when it became light enough to see I decided to try to hitchhike. A policeman coming from the other direction duly spotted me and made the usual investigation into my affairs. It turned out there was a warrant for my arrest due to an unpaid speeding ticket from two years earlier--at that time about $75. I was carried back to Portland and placed in jail. I was only there for an hour or so but it seemed much longer, because I was so tired, in addition to having to share a cramped space with the dregs of society, of whom I was clearly one that morning--even the girls who had been at the party the night before would have recognized that. My father, somewhat to my surprise, because he was rather fed up with me by this time for many reasons, came quickly down and bailed me out of jail. He  was quite certain I was on drugs, which, as I tried to explain, I probably would have been if I had been cool enough to be given or know how to get them.

At this juncture I went mildly crazy. After sleeping for the better part of twenty-four hours--and don't I wish I could have one of those long sleeps such as were only possible circa 1989 now--it was clear I could not go back to the factory. My life needed stirring up. I had no idea how I might go about doing this of course but I thought it would likely entail venturing abroad. My father was due to go away shortly after my visit to jail--I don't remember exactly how shortly, but it was not more than a day or two afterwards--and he had left me his car in spite of my supposedly erratic behavior, though it seemed to me any normal person forced to have to exist as me would have been carrying on much worse. So I got in the car and began driving, figuring it would occur to me where to go once I was out. My instincts in this matter were typically ludicrous. It would be obvious to any real person that if you are starting in Portland, Maine and tired of waiting around for something interesting to happen in your life, that you would need to go to some place full of exciting young people. But I went out of town and began heading north, and not only north, but inland, towards Waterville and Bangor and places like that. It is true that there is very little traffic to contend with in this direction. It was also true that I had already come to Maine from what one would think would be the more dynamic mid-Atlantic area because I could not compete socially or in any other way with the comparative superpeople of the latter region and thought I would be able to participate in life more successfully in the less exacting conditions of the north. This I had been able to do, to an almost life-saving extent, but it was clear that that period had reached its end; and Portland and the wealthy surrounding towns had still proven too sophisticated for me to be able to impress upon people that I was up to the task of doing some of the major late-teenager activities like going to a real college or ravishing eager young women. Of course there was no place on earth where I could have impressed these facts upon people at that particular time, but what good would it have been to know as much?

I came to the last exit on Interstate 95 and, bearing in mind both my recent visit to jail, my lack of any money or plan (gas and greasy meals at this time were extremely cheap--a $20 bill could almost cover both for a couple of days--but I didn't more than 2 or 3 of those) and my driving a car that was not my own, I thought it imprudent to try to enter Canada. At the same time I could not bear to turn around yet, so I turned onto route 1, of which there remains at that point still several hours worth of driving before you come to its end, and continued on my way.

I should pause here and say that it not occur to me at this time to go to a place like Baxter Park or some other hiking place or vacation lake up there where I might have gotten to calm down among natural beauty or even met and gotten to tag along with, or at least seen, some other young people along the trail. I did not know anyone who went to such places. I never knew what to do or where to go to find activity and social opportunities, which is perhaps one reason why I am so keen on finding and recording and thinking about visiting interesting and moderately popular tourist spots even into my 40s.

Eventually I got into the very far northern part of the state, Aroostook County. The forest on the sides of the road there has been cleared and the highway is lined with farmhouses and potato fields. It looks similar to Quebec, not surprisingly. I pulled into Presque Isle (pop 11,000). It was a sleepy and rather ugly little town, as remote border outposts frequently are. I had lunch, sensed there were no very likely prospects of getting invited to a wild party or orgy with women who had never met an exciting person from far away before, and continued to roll onto Caribou (pop 9,000) which was even dingier and poorer-looking--lots of low-slung warehouses and third rate chain stores (the Shur-fine, IGA, Pathmark family, which is when you know you're a long way from any real place). It was just before the false glory of the entrance into Presque Isle that I heard the Martika song just as I was having a kind of last hysterical fit of imagining myself as a sexual tour de force of some kind about to descend upon an unsuspecting gaggle of provincial girls. Taking two, or possibly even three of them at a single blow seemed for a delirious ten minutes to be an almost inevitable outcome. Martika was only eight months older than I was, and she was so deeply immersed in real life, or what seemed to me to be real life at the time--sex, drugs, drama-filled relationships, hints of danger--and I was going to have these things too. Why couldn't I? It was absurd. But the dismalness of those pitiful towns proved equally deflating. I continued on and the towns grew only smaller and more dismal--Van Buren, Madawaska--finally the end of the road came in view--I am remembering something like a large dam, and the edifice of the border crossing producing something of a jolting effect after so many hours of tired potato farms and boreal forests.

I have no memory of where or when I slept on this trip, which would have taken 2 days to go all the way up and back. I also have no memory of the drive home, which I suspect is because I was essentially dead in spirit at the time. All of my recollections of these northern towns and potato fields occurred under a bright and almost too domineering sunlight, somewhere between the hours of 1 and 6 in the afternoon, though unless I had left home at four or five in the morning, which seems unlikely, I don't see how I would have been arriving there at that time. Most likely, I left around midnight in some kind of frenzy of frustration, drove until 4 or so when my directionless nighttime energy would have burned itself off and pulled off to sleep on the side of the road for four or five hours until the day's heat forced me awake again.

When I got back people were largely busy, either going on one of those August vacations people go on, or, after the middle of the month, getting ready to return to college. I may have have gone out a couple of more times--it is probable--but I did so knowing that my social status was non-existent and that nothing very exciting would be permitted to happen to me. By the end of the month I too had gone back to Philadelphia. I worked at a store for about 3 weeks in September and attempted, with about $300, to set off on another traveling escapade, this time by foot and hitchhiking. I lasted almost 3 weeks on this trip, which included bouts sleeping outdoors in Pottstown and Scranton and New York City (Madison Square and Central Parks) and Litchfield, Connecticut, interspersed with some unannounced visits to friends in various colleges in New England, who allowed me to spend the night in their dorm rooms. However, by this time it was starting to get cold, I was nearly out of money, and it was becoming obvious that all of the people I really wanted to be meeting were in college. So I returned to Philadelphia and set myself to the task of getting accepted at someplace resembling what I thought of as a real college to begin the following fall, which happily I managed to do.

I never lived in Maine again.


A few months ago, around Christmas-time, I was doing some self-gifting by way of ordering some books online that were due to come up imminently on my list and that I was reasonably confident I would not be able to find at one of my local bookstores. One of these books was Edward Burnett Tylor's Anthropology from 1881, which was still, as of 1960 at least, according to the University of Michigan press, one of the finest introductions to the subject available (it was a good book). In my original order, however, instead of Tylor, I was sent a copy of Olive Higgins Prouty's 1947 novel Home Port. I reported the mistake, and upon being informed that the seller did not care to have the Prouty returned, I figured I would have to dispose of it somehow, as I do not have endless space to store books. However, as I noted that it was largely set in the Maine woods and had a romantic element to it, which in the 1940s time period promises to appeal to me, I decided to leave it in the bathroom for a few weeks and see if it happened to be any good.

I should start by noting that while I had never heard of Olive Higgins Prouty, I had heard of some of her books, as she was a fairly popular author from the 1920s through the 40s, and her two most famous books were made into decent movies with big Hollywood stars (Stella Dallas, with Barbara Stanwyck, and Now, Voyager, with Bette Davis). She lived from 1882 until 1974, but she fell into obscurity soon after she published her last novel in 1951, and even the late Home Port seems not to have attracted much notice on its first arrival. She provided financial support to the young Sylvia Plath. She was from Worcester, Massachusetts. Her burial site appears to be unknown.

Five of Olive Higgins Prouty's novels, two of which are Now, Voyager and Home Port, concern various members of the Vale family, whose headquarters are on Beacon Hill in Boston. The books are loosely connected and are not considered to form a saga. Now, Voyager, for example was about the spirit-crushing domination of Charlotte, the youngest daughter of the central family by her mother, the ferocious matriarch, and Charlotte's treatment and awakening from her lifetime of repression. Charlotte is mentioned only in passing (as the aunt of the main character) in the later book, and in the movie version at least of the earlier book, only Charlotte's sister, the mother of the main character in Home Port, appears among that volume's characters at all, and that very briefly. The protagonist in Home Port is Murray Vale, and being a member of this prominent family he is expected to go to Harvard, be a football star and leader of his class like his father and brother before him, and join the family law firm, which of course is one of the most venerable in Boston (money worries would not seem to be a huge problem in these books; however you must bear in mind that all of this fortune is controlled by a handful of old people who would diagnosed as sadists by modern psychology, so all the young people have to do exactly what the old people tell them to or they will be cut off, and this being the 1940s, and everybody having numerous children to play off against each other, those are not empty threats). This laid out course to guaranteed success and social status would sound like paradise to everyone above the lower middle class today, but Murray would have been happy to pass on Harvard and football and study botany at a state university out west. That is not an option however, so off to Cambridge he goes, where he has a non-descript career and is best known as the younger brother of the dynamic Windy, who was paralyzed in an accident maybe even before beginning college, but was still the life and soul of the place during his years there, as he is in every place he inhabits.

One place where Murray feels somewhat at home is Camp Tamarack, which looks to be located in central Maine, on one of the "ponds" that are really small lakes that are common in that part of the world. Although Windy is a higher god at Camp Tamarack as well, Murray is generally well-regarded by the headmaster, or whatever the administrators of summer camps for rich boys are called, and he continues to go back every summer as a counselor all through his college years. The summer before his last year at Harvard, the headmaster gives him, on account of his perceived sensitivity, the assignment of befriending an unpopular new counselor who is socially inept and suffers from some kind of asthma-like physical frailty. The object is still to man the new boy up as much as possible, of course, but preferably in some context of friendship and brotherhood. One day Murray and the weakling are out rowing on the lake when a storm blows up and they are hurled from their boat. Desperately they cling to what remains of the boat for what seems an eternity, Murray having to support the weaker boy, who however, Murray eventually determines, has not been able to hold, at which he lets him go and manages, near death himself, to crawl onto the shore, where he drags himself up a small bluff and finds a soft spot hidden by brush where he goes to sleep for what seems like days.

When he wakes up, he is weak and starving, but eventually he manages to pull himself up and walk, though he has lost the sense of where he is relative to the camp and wanders for several days through the woods, the description of which resonated with me as I have spent a fair amount of time in the same general type of woods. Two or three days afterwards he comes upon a small house in the woods. The inhabitants, a couple in late middle-age, mistake him for a member of the search party looking for the bodies of the two boys who died in the storm. Murray realizes that he cannot appear at the camp, or at Harvard or anywhere else where he might be known, and provide an acceptable solution for why he is alive and the boy intrusted to him is dead. So he flees the vicinity--I forget what he does for money--he evidently had enough in his pocket to get on a bus and grab a couple of diner meals. He takes the bus to Millinocket, several hours north, in the vicinity of Mt Katahdin and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It was fairly remote in the 1930s and 40s. After getting into the woods again, I forget how, he gets picked up by a sputtering jalopy and taken to a hunting camp, where, adopting the proletarian-sounding name of Joe Jones, he pleads to be allowed to stay and work at the camp, soon making himself into a trusted guide to the hunters.

Now he is well out of the way of mainstream society, and everyone he knows thinks he is dead, and a hero for not abandoning the drowning boy even though it cost him his own life. He takes field notes and makes drawings of the plant and animal life of the woods and has made his cabin in spite of himself the most civilized place for three hundred miles around--breeding will always out--but surely this life cannot go on indefinitely. Maybe it could, but, in any event, it doesn't. Because of course Nora comes to the camp every summer with her uncouth and mildly dissolute businessman father. Nora is tomboyish and not completely refined, though she does live in New York City. Still, she is a girl, with an attractive curve to her neck, a sporty wardrobe that she wears well, soft features, and a crackerjack spirit. Also she is about the only girl Murray sees over a period of two or three full years, including five month Maine winters passed mainly sitting by the fire in the cabin reading, which sounds pleasant to a certain extent, but would also probably drive one mad in the end. At the end of one year's stay Murray is semi-conscious for some reason which I forget, and Nora, believing him unconscious, lightly touches his arm and kisses him on the forehead, though not out of love for him, she says, but to deceive another person. Murray has a beautiful but confused memory of this occasion, and it is only when Nora wears the same hat the next summer that he recognizes its texture. This romance only develops over several years, but eventually Nora comes to the realization that Murray is hiding something. He confesses his story. She loves him now and wants to protect him. World War II breaks out and Murray enlists in the Navy. While he awaits deployment his mother and various of his brothers and sisters who are en route to some hunting ground in Canada are forced to land their private airplane near the camp. Murray is discovered (due to various prior discoveries, his mother knew he was likely alive somewhere, though she did not know where). Nora wins over his mother with her plucky spirit. They marry. Nora has a baby and becomes a perfect enthusiastic and supportive 1940s wife and mother. Murray goes to war and redeems himself by rescuing a bunch of men who had been tossed overboard during a sea-battle and demonstrating his true heroism. Also his notes and drawings on Maine wildlife are collected and published.

This is a rather lengthy report for a book that is not great, though it was not bad up to the ending, where all of the problems of the problems are resolved too neatly and implausibly. The romantic element appealed to me, I guess. The remote location, the girl with subtle but extremely pleasing charms (who due to a lack of other options is obliged to spend a considerable amount of time with you whether she wants to or not), the 'discovery' in the face of all surface appearances by said charming girl that you are not uneducated and from the lower portion of society. I don't know, I've lost the thread here. Sometimes you come to the end and you just don't remember what you really wanted to say...

This is the alternative cover for the book, which I did not have. I did not imagine Nora as quite this boiling, or their stolen kisses between sips from the canteen while sitting on a flannel blanket to take the character depicted in this illustration, but I have to say I am taken with it. Here is a larger picture.