The Year Everything Important Happened

Thank You

Self-Portrait in the window of F.W. Sweny & Co. Ltd, Dispensing Chemists, 1 Lincoln Place, Merrion Square, Bloomsday, June 16, 2018, Dublin

My deepest thanks to all you faithful followers of 1904, The Year Everything Important Happened. And also to the many occasional drop-ins and anonymous visitors over the years, since 2007. It’s been a while since I have posted but please know I’ve not been idle. I traveled to Dublin for Bloomsday this year. I traced the steps of our hero Leopold Bloom, walked the streets of a city I’ve only ever known from the pages of Ulysses and Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners; I visited Sweny’s where Bloom bought lemon verbena soap for Molly,  and I walked Nassau Street and stood outside Finn’s Hotel where Nora Barnacle worked as a chambermaid and finally said yes to the young James Joyce, to go out for a walk with him, on June 16th 1904.

I have been busy editing the latest draft of “Time Fall, 1904” and so I have neglected this blog space longer than is fair or decent. A representative of the hosting site called yesterday to ask if I would like to save some money and consolidate the domain site georgesnyder.org with this one, or eliminate one or the other. Or both. I have some time to decide, until February, before they expire. To be fair, the average blog only lives for five years, and I’m way past that.

In the meantime, I’ve been archiving entries. Some will reappear in altered form in the novel. Some have been deservedly deleted, relegated to the dustbin of idle thoughts fleetingly expressed, and the rest will be packed away in a trunk with other writing efforts. I had a teacher who said a writer needs a trunk full of writing that never sees the light of day and no one but the author ever reads; not everything, he said, is worth sharing with the world.

But oh, this has been fun, writing this blog, sharing it with you, keeping me focused and thoughtful and feeling connected with life and the world. Such fun, the whole process.  I hope it has been a little entertaining for you, Gentle Reader. You’ve been very kind.

I’ll let you know what happens with the novel. And meanwhile, say yes whenever you can, say yes to the world, say yes to Love and Life.

Love Life.

Thank you.


Time Fall. 18

High School Play, 1970

Where to begin? It’s a story without a beginning but I want a narrative with a beginning and a middle and an end.  I like being a narrator, most people do, according to Robert Musil (The Man without Qualities): “What they like is the orderly sequence of facts, because it has the look of a necessity, and by means of the impression that their life has a ‘course’ they manage to feel some how sheltered in the midst of chaos.”

I want to be sheltered, yes. But where to begin? Begin at the very end of 1970, the first few hours of the very last day, New Year’s Eve Day, when I turned 18. When I turned 18 I had to register for the draft, there was a war, the county seat in the county where we lived in Ohio was Ashtabula. My father had taken us to Ohio when I was ten, the same age William Macauley was when his father took them from County Antrim, Northern Ireland to Troy New York, America. My mother never cared for Ohio and when my father died, 6 months after I turned 18, she moved away and for years we never talked about Ohio; Ohio became a secret. I grew up with secrets, as I have mentioned. I was drawn to the theater, which is another story, not quite a secret but code for a crime in other times and places. Ashtabula was the county seat. You went to the county seat to register for the draft, for the crime of being 18. If I had been drafted my older brothers told my mother they would send me to Canada.

One hundred years earlier, May 16, 1870, William John Macauley is born, in Finvoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, another boy drawn to the theater. One hundred and eighteen years separate us; one hundred and eight would be nicer, 108 is a sacred number, but one hundred years between his birth and the year I became an adult, according to the records of County Ashtabula, Ohio, situated in Ashtabula the city, and why all this redundancy, the repetitive overlay of names we give to the land, the over-determination of geography? Finvoy, a hamlet and also a civil parish, also historic barony of Kilconway, a part of Ireland called the Glens of Antrim, look at an aerial view, misshapen patches of fields, dividing up the land, parceling it out, this is mine, this is not mine.  Ashtabula, Ohio in the County of Ashtabula, is an important destination in the middle of the 19th century on the Underground Railroad for slaves escaping to Canada.

The summer of the year I turned 18 I worked in an antique shop in an old stagecoach stop with a secret tunnel running from the basement to the garden. The Underground Railroad was sometimes literally underground, a tunnel to escape the bounty hunters searching for runaway slaves, I would take tourists down in the cellar with a flashlight to show them the tunnels, sometimes other things happened in the cellar, other secrets.

April 28, 1870, 18 days before William Macauley was born and one hundred years before I turned 18, two young men in London, Frederick Park and Ernest Bolton, part-time actresses and part-time prostitutes better known as Fanny and Stella, are arrested, and their subsequent trial scandalizes Victorian England and the world, revealing secrets, secret lives, reaching so far as to ruin the diplomatic career and ambitions of a handsome young American, John Safford Fiske, United States Consul to Leith, Scotland.

Fiske had worked as a clerk for the New York State Senate in Albany, across the river from Troy, New York, where William would be brought to live with his family from Ireland as a boy. Fiske was appointed by President Andrew Johnson in the 1860s as consul to Leith, a brilliant future lay ahead of him but he was also a boy drawn to the theater, the theatrical, a young man with secrets and he’d fallen in love with Stella on a visit she/he made to Scotland, where a beautiful boy dressed as a girl was bound to draw attention, and with his/her arrest, their relationship was exposed to the world; Fiske was arrested and charged with “conspiracy to commit buggery” when his love letters to Stella were discovered, thus putting an end to the great expectations of the poor handsome young American, born on the 18th of January, 18 days after my own birthday in another year, his on the 18th of January, 1838 in Ashtabula, Ohio, county seat of Ashtabula County, Ohio where I turn 18 and report to be counted, to be registered.

18 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letter, Chai, meaning Life; 18 is the age of consent in 11 states in the United States; there are 18 chapters in the Bhagavad Gita; the war between Rama and the demons told in the Ramayana lasts 18 days; 18 days, 18 years. Love at 18 will ruin a life as much as fix it, mend it, make it bearable. Love at 18 or any age, love in any amount of time, how long do you need, 18 days or 18 years or 18 minutes, love will force you to flee, inspire you to stay long after you should have gone or said goodbye. Love makes us cowards, makes us heroes.

Love is everything.

Love is All There Is.

Time Fall. Excerpt. Annie and Helen

Helen Keller, Radcliffe College graduation photograph, 1904 [Source]

I meet a Stranger who speaks to me and what I remember I write down on a matchbook and it’s a number.  Which makes no sense so I turn it into a joke that I tell no one, reduce what happened to a funny story I only tell myself in order to diminish the confusion and fear I can’t afford to feel back then, in New York, in the early 80s. Remarkably, it isn’t hard to do. “Oh look,” I say, whenever 1904 shows up, as it does, frequently in the form of a year, although occasionally as part of something else, an address or serial number, a license plate. Look for anything long enough and you’ll find it. Oh look, my lucky charm, my lucky number. This much I could share, with Skip, with friends. “George collects them, you know, he’s the Franklin Mint of numbers, collect them all, the more obscure the better.” Cary Grant born in 1904. Cecil Beaton, Christopher Isherwood, Nancy Mitford. Madame Butterfly premieres in 1904, Peter Pan, The Cherry Orchard. A game is born.

An easier solution might have been to stop drinking, but instead I drank more, now to protect myself from these ‘fits’ or ‘spells’ of losing time and talking to mysterious strangers who disappear, and the nightmares in which I am falling and have to force myself to wake up to find I am still falling. I didn’t stop drinking; I went into therapy. And at least I began to pay attention to what was happening, from a distance. From someone else’s point of view.  I started to keep a journal. I began composing a narrative.

“You saw horses on Christopher Street,” Dr. Sullivan asks tentatively, the active listener, rephrasing, redirecting my words back to me. Arnold Sullivan. Fireplug short and bow-legged like a wrestler or an action figure doll. Arnie, I decide, his friends must call him. But Annie to me.  Annie Sullivan and I am his Helen, his blind child, his little deaf and blind girl trying to spell water, Annie at the pump, helping me connect words to my experience, Little Arnie’s Orphan. This is the first time I’ve done therapy if I don’t count college and high school counselors and free clinic clinicians, which I don’t; they had no idea what they were doing then because neither did I.

“I didn’t see them, I smelled them,” I explain to Annie. Dr. Sullivan.

“You smelled horse shit.”

“Okay, yes, I think so, yes. Also what might have been a Model T.”

“A what?”

“An old Ford.”

“You smelled it, or you saw it?”

“Not exactly. I mean, both?”

“I’m trying to understand.  You didn’t see an antique car on – ”

“I felt it. No, that’s not what I mean, I mean I could see it but not see it. I mean – sorry.”

We play at this some more and then Dr. Sullivan sends me to a psychiatrist who gives me prescriptions of increasingly colorful complexity and side-effects and I am on my way, oh boy am I ever, off I go.  I don’t remember his name but at the time I called him Dr. Kansas because we already had a medical doctor, Dr Montana (it’s true, you can’t make up something like that) and I told Skip Dr Kansas was going to put me in a different state of mind, pun intended, not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.  And what Dr Kansas did was prescribe something to calm my nerves, then to help with the depression and the lethargy and then the crying jags and the memory loss and then the inability to stay awake and then the inability to fall asleep, and then the panic attacks and yes, I probably should have mentioned I was polishing off a fifth of scotch a day, but like I said, some things are nobody’s business and better kept private.  Like writing messages in code to myself on matchbooks, in bars.

“What do you mean, you fall.”

“I don’t really.”

“You mean you feel like you are falling?”

“You feel like you are falling.” I repeat his words.  I didn’t actually know I was doing this until afterward, after the drugs, after the … after a lot of what I’m telling you here now so I don’t want to get ahead of myself except to say it was around this time I began echoing.  “You echoed,” my friend Rose told me, years later.


“Yes, as in, ‘How are you?’ and you would whisper ‘How are you,’ and then you would say, ‘oh, I’m fine.’”


“Yes. You would quietly repeat what was said to you. It was vaguely dramatic and quite weird.”

“It was a dark time.”

“It was a dark weird time indeed,” observes Rose, agreeing.

It was a dark and weird and low time. Literally. The drugs lowered the ceiling on the world. I started having to duck to get through doors, stooped over when I stood up, turning on lights in the middle of the day because it was dark at noon, dark so early, all the time.

The falling got worse.  Not yet Falling, as in an actual state, a phenomenon, but something messier. Nightmares, and sleepwalking.  One especially bad night I had to wake up Skip by knocking on the apartment door. I didn’t have my key and I was outside in the hall and I was naked.  “You need help,” he observed, once I was back inside and wrapped in a blanket and feeling remorseful and stooped and being scolded, sitting on the couch in the dark because it was the middle of the night and actually supposed to be dark and I couldn’t turn on a light and understandably Skip was unwilling to put up with this sort of behavior.  You need help, I thought, whispered, echoed, repeated.  I said I was getting help by seeing Arnie Sullivan.

“More help,” he advised.  “Better help, I don’t know what or where or from whom but  not me. I can’t do this anymore.”

I could hear the distress and something like panic in his voice. I could feel the distress and panic in myself. I remember noticing then how thin he had gotten, how much weight he’d lost and I knew he knew I’d noticed and was daring me, threatening me with his eyes not to say so. It was the early 80s, have I mentioned that? I don’t remember the early 80s very well but I remember this, I remember Dr Montana saying, in that very room, “We don’t know what it is, we don’t know even know what to call it, what, Gay Cancer? GRID? What the fuck does that even mean and even if we knew we have nothing to treat it with.” There aren’t any drugs that will help you forget that, no drugs that will help you un-see and un-know. I had tried. We weren’t in Kansas anymore. Skip was right. I did need help. We all did.


Yesterday, now, here, far away from that time and technically speaking, into the future as it were, a friend calls, someone still left who knew me in those days, and knew Skip. Someone who remembers what it was like.  “What it was like,” he says long distance, driving somewhere in the snow (it is always snowing back East) and me at the kitchen window, watching the burgundy bougainvillea wave at the bright sun, “with you and Skip – because you knew all these references, you’d read all those books, you were collecting something – ”

“1904 references,” I explain. “It’s a long story.”

“Right, and I had no fucking clue what you were talking about. Honey, I felt so stupid, trying to keep up. All these books I hadn’t read and people and… I felt like I was Helen Keller with Annie Sullivan, trying to spell water.”

“I know the feeling.”

“But now here we are, and finding you on Facebook, and all these years later.”

“All these years later,” I echo.

Time Fall. Excerpt. Memory Game

When I saw the Medium in Lily Dale my mother and her sister came through; I was not expecting them.  “I’m aware of someone on your mother’s side of the family stepping forward,” the Medium told me. “Your mother is the intermediary but this is someone – not your mother but related to her, older than your mother…”

I knew without being told it was my Aunty Fran, my mother’s older sister, a woman I had adored growing up because she did everything my mother disapproved of: she smoked, she drank, she traveled abroad, she engaged in glamorous and mysterious affairs with men who gave her presents but didn’t marry her, she lived in Miami and would arrive to visit us up north in the winter wrapped in a fur coat. I was glad she and my mother were together. Surprised they were showing up at all, but I was willing to be open.

“She’s someone you identified with, do you understand that?”

Yes, with reference to the drinking and the smoking and the affairs and some of the rest of it, but I wasn’t going to explain that to the Medium so I just nodded.

“She’s telling me,” the woman continued, “she felt very close to you, the two of you shared a similar point of view, do you understand that? She’s saying she accepted you, your lifestyle, and your mother – your mother is the intermediary here and, well, she’s getting quite an education in the process, (she chuckles and even I share in the joke, smiling apologetically across the divide between this world and the beyond). “Oh yes, quite an education, but please understand (and here the Medium shifts gears, leaning forward while still listening to an inner voice and directing her gaze to the side) “she is telling me, she is acknowledging, who you are in this world is not a mistake or a coincidence, you are here intentionally to be who you are and by the grace of God and many good people in your life you have been encouraged to live it and by so doing you are educating people here and in the hereafter who otherwise could not progress had you not chosen to be who you are, and your mom is acknowledging that. She is the neutral intermediary here, taking it in, there was much she was not aware of while she was living, although she’s not surprised, okay?”

I nod and try to be okay, because it sounds like something my mother might say, or something I hope she might say. I sit across from this woman as so many other people have done before me, people who have come to speak to the dead and be healed, to be reassured, to be consoled, but I am not naïve, and really, how hard would it be to look at me and see a single man, no wedding ring, a sensitive thoughtful gentleman of a certain age, how difficult would it be to guess that this is a man who was close to his mother, maybe had a favorite doting aunt?  And yet, there you are.  There I am. I have the CD recording and I can listen to it later, as I do now, and I’m not making any of this up and I can tell you whatever else this Medium was doing, she was sincere, a true believer. Also a filter, of course, processing and translating whatever she thought she was hearing or seeing through her own ideas, her own perceptions, her own language.  She calls my mother Mom, for example, and none of us called her that, she was not a Mom, she was always Mother but I don’t know, I can quibble with the language, I can scoff at the easy guesses, the intuitive hunches. so I try to be patient and polite and wait for what comes next.

“I’m hearing a song,” the woman says. “’Down by the Boardwalk…’ I’m seeing through this lady’s eyes, I’m seeing a beach scene, and you’re a young boy right before you came of age… the freedom was so priceless, and the lady here, she’s standing on the beach, she had a place there, and she’s remembering you then, she’s acknowledging that she knew you might abuse the trust they gave you, that she and your mother gave you, that you might be reckless… she knew that, but she also knew you and who you were, and – who you were was not an issue with the people who cared about you, love is love, she just wanted you to be happy, and … all kids drink beer, she’s saying, we all go through rites of passage and trials and tribulations and she helped you with that, she’s happy you survived… that she knew you were going to be okay, she knew who you were, and no one else knew that, you signed up for that, Spirit was there.”

I don’t know what to say to all of this. I smile.  She’s busy concentrating.

“And ping pong.”


“Ping pong.  A game.”

I shake my head. Suddenly something so out of left field, so unexpected, I’m pulled out of the moment. Either she’s gone off track or she’s tipped her hand that she’s grasping at thin air. Literally. Or maybe she’s picking up someone else’s life. Or it’s a rather bad Auntie Mame joke, she’s channeling an old movie, Gloria or Muriel stepping on the ping pong ball, ghastly. I feel a little tricked or deceived, and I’m shocked and frankly disappointed, and skeptical.

“She’s insistent,” the Medium says of my aunt, and she even says so rather insistently, but I’m not buying it.  She shrugs. “Leave it there then,” she says.  I’m taken aback she doesn’t try to retract or redirect or admit she’s made a mistake but she doesn’t.  It’s odd. It’s awkward. But we continue.

Then, over the holidays, a few days ago, I visit my older brothers and their families in Texas. Nowhere near where we grew up or spent our respective childhoods, but that is how life works, sometimes we can end up a long way from where we started.  I too am a long way from home. I arrive from the airport and my oldest brother shows me to the guest room where I’ll be staying.  I am not making this up.  We are making polite conversation, the weather, the plans for the day ahead.  On the stairs going down he is ahead of me.  “In Boca Raton,” he says, “when we were living there, do you remember?”

“Remember what?” I have not been listening.

“Ping pong,” he says.

I feel a little dizzy.

“That Christmas you came and we set up the table and we made you play.  We all played.  Even Mother and Aunty Fran.”

I understand how easy it is to lose pieces of the past. How it is not at all hard to forget a time, a long time ago, when I was young and so uncomfortable and out of my element and lost and trying to grow up and trying to be a part of and not knowing how to. What I wonder, though, is how the past can come back to us. How a stranger can find those pieces of memory for us, and how, like a ripple in Time, that finding is recalled later, somewhere else, by someone else.

And then I do remember.

And in the remembering, the past itself is changed.

Time Fall. One More Excerpt. Back Again.

Just because my life is in peril and I’m being threatened by secret forces of darkness doesn’t mean I can’t have a good time. Our return to Troy proved to be just that. We stopped in Jamestown to visit the delightful and informative Lucy and Desi Arnaz Museum, in Salamanca for one of the best antique shopping malls in the state and possibly on the East Coast, Corning for an afternoon snack and shopping and then on to Binghamton where to our surprise Commencement Weekend was in full swing and we were able to share vicariously in the celebratory mood of the young graduates out in the streets and in the bars and pubs and carousing into the night before their parents arrived the next day, some of the newly emancipated and athletic types shirtless and stumbling about oblivious, full of life and happiness and perhaps a little too much joy for their own good but harmless and appealing in their own fashion, and thus we spent the night without incident.

The next day we left I-86 and proceeded through a number of picturesque small towns with names like Trout Creek, Walton, Delhi, and Andes, New York, in the latter where we had a lovely lunch at Two Old Tarts, a bakery and tea shop run by a pair of kindred souls, one of whom had once lived in Los Angeles and expressed his fondness for the town and the good times he’d had there before finding true love and moving to a remote rural outpost to enjoy his good fortune, and then we wended our way to Margaretville, Shandaken and the buccolic Phoenicia and eventually back by back roads to Troy where we celebrated our return with a feast from De Fazio’s Pizzeria on 4th Street, home to the best “White Pizza” I’ve tasted ever in my life and I am possibly only exaggerating a little for the sake of underscoring my point that I can indeed occasionally set aside psychic pain and drama and be good company, having learned the hard way that ‘Fun to Be With,’ is virtually the only job requirement for employment and advancement in Hollywood, along with a willingness to be sexually available, of course, which didn’t count in the current situation unless the utterly adorable pizza delivery boy had been even remotely interested instead of just polite, but no one’s perfect.

At this point I had only another day and a half before I needed to return to my life in Los Angeles and in the time left I was determined to be as much fun to be with as was humanly possible. As these occasions demand, there was also the need to reflect and review.

“A remarkable adventure,” Rose announced over coffee the next morning. “Better than I would have imagined. We covered a lot of ground.”

“We certainly did.”

“I enjoyed myself thoroughly.”

“Me too.”


“Yes, really.”

“And William?”

“I think he’s good, Rose. I do.”

“And this reading you’ve been doing. These ‘books,’ this research. Your plan…”

“Oh that.”

“Yes. That.”

“Okay, perhaps I overreacted.  I mean, you can go online and look up ‘remote viewing’ and you’ll probably find a lot of nonsense and – ”

“I know,” Rose answered shortly.

“You do?”

“I went on line.  Last night. After you went to bed. I learned there’s a former government employee used remote viewing to find the Ark of the Covenant.”

“Yes,” I replied. “He was in the book I was – yes.”

“He visited Mars too.”


“His wife didn’t like it.”

“Well, you can hardly blame her for being upset.”

“The government tried to court martial him for going public about his work.”

“You know how the government can be when it gets pissed off.”

“And so this is what you’ve been doing? This remote viewing?”

“Not exactly but I thought it might be – I mean, I call it something else but there seem to be some similarities, Rose, with what happens when I – ”

“You can’t stop now.”


“You heard me. You’re keeping good notes, right? I assume you are. You must publish them. You’ll probably never get on Oprah, of course, but that’s not the end of the world, then again you never know, stranger things have happened.  In any event, you have to keep going.  I’m certain William feels the same way.”

“You do? I mean, he probably does. I think he likes being remembered. It’s kind of a status thing on the other side, being remembered. Or, so I’ve read.”

“I’m not surprised. According to Sarah, my family is deeply grateful for my work on Ancestry.com.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Rose.”

“Yes, well, we all do what we can. Soldier on, my darling. As for this business about forgetting everything, however, I think that’s a big mistake. Or a misdirect by those who would try and divert you from your task.”


“There’s nothing wrong with being scared. People who say they have no fear are either liars or fools.  But you don’t dodge fear by forgetting. Set it to one side, perhaps, but you keep going. That’s what courage is: Life gives you something scary and you do it anyway. I had to remember that every time I walked out on stage.  If there’s any value to forgetting, it’s in forgetting words like ‘Shouldn’t’ or ‘Can’t’ because all they do is get in the way and keep you stuck.”

“But what if you don’t know what to do?”

“Except you do know, my darling. In your heart. You’re over 21, you’re not a child. There’s no turning back. Ignorance is not knowing. Stupidity is choosing not to know.”

It all sounded so clear and obvious when I listened to Rose.

Time Fall. Excerpt. Help Me Forget

The next morning, I came down early, set my bags by the car and waited until the host poked her head out the kitchen door to tell me my friend was waiting on the porch around the other side of the house. I had missed her coming downstairs.  I left my bags and went to find her.

“Rose,” I called to her.

“Oh, there you are,” she said and rose from the white wicker ‘country style’ arm chair with its cheerful print cushion. Nothing cheerful about her demeanor, however; she was all business.  I reached for her suitcase.

“Don’t bother, I can manage.”

“Don’t be silly, I insist.”

She reluctantly released her grip on the handle and I returned to the Subaru with the bag where I then waited for her to open the trunk. Loaded up, without discussion we got in and crunched out on the gravel drive and proceeded to make our way south. The original plan was to take the Southern Tier Expressway I-86 back east toward Troy but we hadn’t traveled very far before I asked Rose to pull over.


“Please. Just stop. Pull over.”

“There’s nowhere to pull over.”

“Yes there is. Please.”

“Are you sick? Are you going to – oh good grief not in the car, hang on.”

We scraped the gravel shoulder and bumped to a stop in a dirt tractor path headed into a vineyard.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Don’t be mad at me, Rose,” I said.

“I’m not mad. Breathe.”

I made an effort to demonstrate calm breathing. When she was satisfied I was not going to vomit or pass out, she relaxed.

“I’m not angry,” she began and reconsidered, “well, maybe I was a little annoyed I admit but I think I was not entirely unjustified, and maybe it was a touch of low blood sugar and a long day but really, I was – I really am trying to help. I’m trying to understand.”

“I know that,” I said. “I’m sorry, I have put you through a lot, it isn’t fair.”

“Oh honey, it’s not about being fair,” she said, and then without missing a bit continued, “I’m just concerned.”

“I’m so sorry about – there are some things I haven’t told you.”

“I’m sorry too and what do you mean, what things?”

I wondered how best to begin. Ever since waking up that morning I had begun to see what I needed to do, I had just not quite sorted out how. Funny, sitting there I could see everything unfold, like a play I was busily staging in my mind, although that might suggest my imagination was running away with itself again. I had done that already, hadn’t I?

So without getting into too much detail, I proceeded to explain how I’d been reading some books and had discovered what the real problem was. That it wasn’t William, and I wasn’t possessed and there was no one after me, no government agency trying to come and arrest me or punish me, it was just my overly active imagination running away with itself, and so all I needed to do was to enlist Rose’s help in forgetting any of this had ever happened.  And then – and this is the part I didn’t explain, along with the business with Dick wanting to pop my head like a boil – then, with the coast clear, I could Fall in Time and do whatever it was I was supposed to do that somebody, maybe Dick, maybe some secret government agency or who knows who but somebody out there or back there or in there didn’t want me to do. The point was, I had no doubt there was something that had to be done that only I could do, and once I’d accomplished whatever it was I would be free.

Maybe it had never been about William, maybe William was a false lead. I could accept that it didn’t matter now.  As the stranger had said to me all those years ago, there were things you had to do in Life, things you’d come here to do and you could do them now or you could do them later, either willingly or you could try and stall but it wouldn’t get any easier by waiting  or procrastinating, you weren’t going to get out of here until you did them.

Except I couldn’t tell Rose any of that.

So we sat in the front seat of the Subaru, looking out at the rows of someone’s vineyard, ringed by woods, like the view from a stage out toward an empty theater, and I told her as much as I dared about my plan.  First of all, however, I apologized for not being more grateful for everything she’d already done, and for the trip to Lily Dale and for all her support and encouragement.

“Well, thank you,” she replied. “And as for the other evening, I don’t – I wasn’t mad at you. We’re all trying to find our way, it’s not up to me to tell you which way to go or lead you to the light when half the time I’m stumbling in the dark myself. I’m just trying to be helpful – ”

“You have been very helpful, Rose.”

“ – and I’m trying to understand.”

“Yes, I know that and I really do appreciate everything you’ve done.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you, Rose.”

“And so, hang on a minute, so you’re saying William is fine, he’s happy. According to Sarah.”

“Yes, it certainly sounds so, yes.”

“So the problem isn’t William now, is it?”

“Well, I mean I don’t suppose you could call William a problem anyway, he’s never been a problem…”

“Really? Okay, fine, whatever. So now you say the problem is memory, is that it? Along with analysis and imagination.  The three ‘Impediments’ as you call them which oh, only every creative individual since the beginning of Time hopes to possess in good supply, works to develop to the fullest, as a writer, as an actress, a musician, a dancer – but no, you’ve decided that memory and the ability to analyse and imagine, that these critical talents just get in the way. Get in the way of what, exactly?”

“Of my being free?”

“Is that a question?”

“No. Yes, free.”

“I see.  I don’t actually but okay, just trying to follow along here. And your plan, then, is to forget everything. And you want me to help you do that. Forget.”

“Well, when you put it like that…”

“How else should I put it?  You want me to pretend we never did any of this?  Never came to Lily Dale, never found a travel diary of an actor named William Macauley, never met his family, we never drove the length of the state of New York – and you got this plan of yours from where?”

“I read it in a book.”

“Oh well then a book,” she said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  “Quite a plan.”

It had in fact seemed like a very good plan, until I tried telling it to Rose.

“Don’t you think it’s possible,” Rose began, and turned and leaned in so closely and intently I tried to shrink back against the passenger window. “Look at me,” she commanded, and when I did her face and voice softened.  “Don’t you think you’ve already tried that?”

“Tried what?”

“Tried forgetting.  Honey, don’t you see that?  You must. You’ve been trying to forget for a long time now.”

“I have?”

At this she sat back again in her seat and sighed and closed her eyes and leaned her head against the Subaru headrest. We sat in silence.  It was quiet out here, on a late morning in May in the middle of nowhere, in the rural obscurity of upstate New York.  Not a sound rising above the level of the rustling in leaves and grass of the invisible world around us.

“I’ve been in therapy on and off for years,” she said at last. “I know a lot about what it means to not want to remember. Even to feel as if I’m remembering wrong. ‘You’re tired,’ my mother used to say. ‘You’ve been playing too hard and you’re tired and you need to lie down.’ Years later a therapist says to me, ‘I’m hearing a lot of anger,’ and I say, ‘Oh no, I’m just tired.’ I could not even remember how I was feeling or what I was feeling or what it was called and then I realized I hadn’t been tired, not then and not now, I wasn’t tired at all. I was fucking angry, but I didn’t know that, wasn’t allowed to know that as a child and is any of this making sense to you?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

“Fair enough,” Rose replied.  “What do I know?” Then after another pause, she said, “I’ll make a deal with you.”

“What? You will? Okay.”

“Here’s the deal. We continue our little journey, and we agree that we’re not going to worry about any of this until we get back where we started from, how’s that? Just enjoy the ride, enjoy the scenery, have a nice time, enjoy our road trip, our excellent adventure, how does that sound?”





“Seriously.” I didn’t want to argue with Rose. Speaking of tired, I was. Tired of trying to explain. In the moment it no longer seemed important. I could proceed with my plan, with or without Rose. I just hoped, no matter what happened, that Rose would remember. I hoped that she would remember, at any rate, even if I didn’t, afterward.

“Good,” she said firmly. “Shall we?”

“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Time Fall. Excerpt. Leaving Lily Dale

The Empty Chair, photograph by Bianca Dorso

Sarah could not have been a more unlikely medium.  She reminded me of one of those brave ladies you passed in the aisles of thrift stores, the kind of woman who shopped for her grandkids, who picked over the picked-over after-Christmas sales and didn’t spend money on herself and believed in comfortable shoes and easy-to-care-for hairstyles, who volunteered at the local animal rescue shelter, who helped with the setup and cleanup at the Firemen’s Pancake Breakfast, who looked you in the eye and refused to be judged or pitied, who looked for the good in all folks and situations, who carried the burdens Life gave her with a proud determined grasp, whatever the occasion, whether newborn kittens or a stack of dirty dishes or a toddler in one arm with the other hand free to stir Sunday supper. Small but not delicate or dainty, tough without being unkind, in her fifties, I guessed, but it was hard to tell and I felt younger in her presence, the way you sometimes do around nuns or teachers of small children, as though her ‘profession’ gave her authority, an air of unassuming seniority aged her.  We shook hands.  “You’ve come a long way,” she observed when Rose explained we’d driven that day from Rochester.  “A real long way,” she added when Rose told her I lived in L.A. Conscious not to give away any more information that could skew my reading, I smiled and nodded.  We agreed that Rose would go first and I said I’d take a walk down by the Lake to wait for my turn.

Would you understand Dick?” Sarah asks and gets my attention.  “Dick – someone in or around you, He is mentioning Dick. Dick is helping you, Dick is a part of this. You’re the one who’s being more serious, the other one is having more fun, he’s mentioning Dick he’s seeing Dick, Dick is getting a lot more …”

I need her to stop saying Dick. It feels like a cruel trick on more than one level.  On the CD listening later it is even more pronounced, like a hiccup on the recording every time she says the name, the word Dick jumping out of the sound track out of sync with the rest.  Suddenly a ringing in my ears drowns out the rest, static interference but in real time, and on the CD too, later, a gap, a skipping –

I am fascinated and ashamed at the same time, like a prank played on another child, getting her to say a dirty word without knowing it, that kind of shame.

“… train tracks, I’m seeing a train track, but neither of you is on the right track…

“So you’re free now,” said Rose with an obvious tone of relief as we walked to the car. Dusk in Lily Dale, the early summer light angled through the trees, turning the bright green to a fuzzy deep violet in the shadows.

“I don’t know, Rose,” I replied.

“But that was the point of coming here.”

“It was?”

“Perhaps not the whole point,” she continued, “I did have a lovely reading with Sarah, thank you for asking” (I had not asked) “and I’ve always been curious about this place, but I did think you’d be able to exorcise a ghost or two if I managed to get you here.”

“If you what?”

We were standing on opposite sides of the Subaru, facing each other across the top and I watched as she froze at my question. Then slowly, carefully, methodically taking her time, fingering the keys in her hand without looking at them, without taking her eyes off mine she let herself appear to hesitate between an expression that said, “Have I forgotten my line, is that my cue?” and “Oh my, you’re an imbecile, I see that now, I must try and be kind but it won’t be easy.”

“Get in,” she replied instead, unlocking the doors.

We left Lily Dale and drove back to our B&B on Lake Erie in silence, even missing a turn or two for lack of GPS reception or possibly our mutual refusal to consult the mapping apps on our phones, Rose’s hands gripping the wheel as if willing the car forward as we wound up and down empty country roads lit by nothing but our headlights, the darkness looming up on either side of the vehicle, black sky, black fields and blacker woods.

No one around to greet us, we let ourselves in the farmhouse turned country bed and breakfast, a plate of home-made cookies on the battered farm table in the country kitchen – every bit of décor in fact suitably described by the prefix ‘country’ or ‘country-style’ – and after a mumbled exchange of courtesies we retired to our separate rooms for the night.

“That was well done,” observed Dick when I turned on the light. He looked less substantial than usual, a James Franco with no motivation.

“Get out,” I ordered.  A paperback book on remote viewing (“Psyops Warrior for the CIA”) was lying on the bed where I’d left it earlier.

“That’s because of me, isn’t it,” he observed, meaning the book.

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“That’s only part of the story, you know,” he said dismissively. “We didn’t all sit around in the desert staring at goats. We don’t all look like George Clooney.”

“No kidding,” I said, and almost immediately a stabbing pain pierced my ears and buckled my knees. I sank to the floor gasping.

“Enough of the light and pleasant banter,” Dick hissed inside my head. The throbbing passed over me like a wave and I slowly sat up, my legs tucked under me, my arms crossed against my chest.

“Better?” he asked.  I nodded mutely. “You see,” he continued, “we don’t waste our time inducing heart attacks in dumb animals and we don’t waste our time talking to dead people. I thought that was clear by now.  So what did you think you were doing, making that poor woman talk about Dick? Were you trying to be funny?”

“I thought that was you,” I said, and felt the pressure, like a vice, begin to tighten on either side of my head. “Don’t, please,” I whispered.  The grip released.

“Me? Why would you say that? Have you not been paying any attention?  We. Don’t. Talk. To the Dead.”

“But you said, the Lady on Long Island, the – ”

“We fuck with them, ok? I told you. And we fuck with the people who think they’re communicating with ‘The Beyond’ and with ‘Spirit’ and throw a little gasoline on the whole exorcism/possession fire once in a while and for god’s sake get with the program, man. We locate hostages in cellars in Islamabad and plutonium enrichment facilities in the Gobi Desert, we get terrorists in Abu Ghraib to think they’re talking to the ghosts of their mothers, I’m talking to you and sitting in a breakroom in Langley waiting for my burrito to warm up in the microwave, trust me, I don’t have time to waste dicking around with mediums in fucking Lily Dale, so I need to know how the fuck did you do it?  It was clever, don’t get me wrong, but don’t try to play games with me, I am not the patient or forgiving type and I will make you feel from the inside out what happens when I crush your skull like a watermelon.”

“I put it there,” I said and gulped air as the clamp on my temples released.

“Put what?”

“The word,” I replied.  “Just the word. Dick.  Put it there, so you’d hear it.  To see if you’d hear. I wasn’t sure you would but I thought she might so I held it in my mind and she picked it up, I thought she might and she did, it was just to see, just a test.”

I could feel my interrogator relax.

“A test.”



“Like the book says – ” I waved at the book on remote viewing on the bed. I was seriously improvising at this point but it felt inspired and it was all I could think of and so not exactly like I had much choice but to run with it.  “I mean, you know, how he says things get in the way, that memory and analysis and imagination get in the way – ”

“Guy is such an amateur,” Dick interrupted. “I hope you know that. But continue.”

“So okay, so I thought if, what if I just focused on one word, what would happen, you know, forget everything else, let everything else go, and if I could do that, concentrate on you know, one thing, one word, then maybe I could…”

“Then maybe you could what?” Dick asked. “Find a way to block interference?”

I thought of my Dad, have I mentioned him? That he was a ham radio amateur of the old times, taught Morse Code to Boy Scouts, his father, my grandfather having been an AT&T telegraph operator, runs in the family, before the Internet, before the telephone, fascinated with communicating with the world as a disembodied entity, clicks and dashes on wires, then wireless, Dad had a whole operation set up in the barn we weren’t allowed to touch, his private place where he could go and signal and sign and reach out to other lonely men in the middle of the night on the CB radio bandwidth, truckers, farmers, small town guys in the prosperous post WWII years, fine tuning, dialing in clarity, oh I was rolling with this now, interference indeed. I shrug. Maybe?

I feel/see Dick being thoughtful. It’s a strange sensation.

“So it was a test?” he asks.

“Not a test,” I begin and wince. “Okay, maybe a test. To see what would happen.”

Dick sighs. “You could have asked me, you know.” The tone is almost petulant, disappointed. “I’ve been trying to work with you.”

“I didn’t realize,” I said.  “It didn’t feel like that.”

“Agency training,” Dick scoffed in a dismissive tone. “We can come off a little heavy-handed, I admit. But then most of our subjects aren’t worth the time we spend on them, as you can imagine.”

I felt it wise to refrain from saying what I might or might not imagine.

“But I’m not sure,” he continued, “what you thought would happen.  That you’d be able to throw me off? Or was it to get my attention? Was that the point?”

“I didn’t have a point, I was just experimenting.”

“Maybe,” he replied, more inside my head than outside of it, muffled, and then outside again, shifting the way sound does when you hold your breath and your ears pop in a descent from high altitude. This thoughtful mood sensation was new and not pleasant but preferable to the physical pain he could inflict. “Whatever you were trying to do, though,” he went on, “you won’t find it in books. Or from your new little friend Sarah either.”

“Please don’t hurt her, she didn’t know, she didn’t do anything.”

“Relax, we’re not interested in folks like Sarah.”

“She had no idea what I was trying to do.”


“I mean it, she’s just a sweet – ”

“Hello? I said we’re not interested. Lily Dale does us a favor, provides effective cover when we need it, draws out potential candidates, helps weed out the jokers and the amateurs. Like Halloween all year long, and trust me, it beats monitoring Lilith festivals and Wiccan groups. Patchouli gives me a headache.”

An aroma so pungent and earthy it took me back to my tie-dyed t-shirt and Jethro Tull days suddenly filled my nostrils. I sneezed.

“See?” he said and a sound like a laugh, muffled with a cotton swab, swirled in my ears.

“May I ask you something?” I was feeling bold.

“My name is not Rumpelstiltskin,” he answered. Another soft laugh.

“Is anything in the books I’m reading true?”

“Ah yes,” he said as if he’d won a bet. “I thought that’s what you wanted to know. Sure. It’s all true.”


“Really. And also misleading.”

“Misleading how?”

“In the words used.  Words are woefully inadequate, you know. Language is misleading by definition. Language defines what you can see and experience in the three dimensions, but there’s the problem.  You are defined by what you know, by those dimensions.  Then you define what you know with the words you know.  Because you can’t define something you don’t know. You can’t see what you don’t know so how can you define it? And round and round you go.”

“Memory, analysis, imagination – ”

“– are words, man. Just words. Memory of what? The Past? But you know yourself, memory is notoriously unreliable and subject to whim, mood, the weather, whatever. And analysis – what’s that? Talking your way out of the illogical so you don’t scare yourself with your imagination and voila! What does that get you? Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Nicht. Zilch. Rrrrrrrrien,” he added, rolling his ‘r’ for an unnaturally long echoing effect, as if we were sitting together on the dirt ground in a dark cave instead of on a colorful ‘country style’ rag rug on a painted farm house floor within a thousand feet of a rocky beach where I once played as a small child. On a rocky beach on Lake Erie in the middle of an early summer night.

Talking to an empty chair.

Time Fall. Excerpt. Dick.

Farmhouse outside Fremont, Ohio, circa 1966 (now demolished). Where I first met Dick.

I have not told Rose about Dick.

I am falling all the time now.  All I have to do is turn my head and the present collapses like a punctured balloon, shrivels up and whistles away to a corner of my mind, like an application collapsing to its icon on the task bar at the bottom of the screen; suddenly the past beneath reveals itself.  Or not the past but some other place, not in Time and not even a place in the ordinary sense. Eventually I call it Time Out, the corner of the classroom where you send the unruly child.  I think this and on my next visit a shelf of toys has appeared and I am sitting in the center of a braided rug on confetti-speckled linoleum.  The Interrogator appears, a faceless female in a housedress covered in pink cabbage roses against a black background. I stare at the pale green Bakelite buttons going up the front until they disappear in clouds at her waist.  “The Lilies of the Valley is a nice touch,” I remark, referencing the eau de toilette.  “I want to speak to my Case Manager,” I say.  “Let me talk to Dick.”  Which is not his name because I don’t know his name but it’s the name I’ve given him. He is always someone familiar just as in a dream the people I meet are friends or family members even if they look like strangers. This time Dick is the high school assistant principal who was also basketball coach, the one who spent our senior year fucking one of the cheerleaders. He never liked me and arrives with the look of a big swinging dick on a mission, hence the name.  He enjoyed his authority.  He enjoyed being the one who came to take me out of French Class the day my mother called the school to tell me my father had died and to come home.  He smiled when he told me, then clapped me on the shoulder hard enough to hurt and marched me down the hall.

“Did you ever tell your wife you were fucking the cheerleading squad?” I ask cheerfully and double over in the pain that stabs knitting needles in my ears.

“Did you ever really think you could get away with this?” he asks, mimicking my tone. I can’t breathe.  Sometimes I black out and come to in the real world and gasp for breath before going back under, back in.  I know this doesn’t happen because I’m possessed.  He knows I know.

“Do you have any idea how much pain we can cause you?” he asks without expecting a reply.

The mind is a marvelous manipulator; almost against my will I find myself trying to accommodate the unacceptable; I try to adapt to the absurd. A chair appears and I sit facing him, motionless, unable to move but also racing, dancing in my mind to keep up with my heart and manage my terror and fix what’s happening. I know Dick shouldn’t be here but he looks familiar, not just the coach in high school but like people I know and not resembling anyone physically as much as he seems to be inhabiting them, wearing a psychic costume, a dress of convenience.  He reminds me of recent acquaintances: the albino Canadian Mounty, the check-out clerk at Rite-Aid from the day before, the one with the extraordinary painted-on eyebrows and Monica on her name tag who looks at me across the conveyor belt as she hands me my receipt and says

“You’re not special.”

Then why is he in my head, I think.  Why am I dreaming him up, dredging him up, a bad dream, not even falling into it.

“Why am I here?” he repeats the question with baffled wonder, as if he can’t believe I need to ask. “Because your government that pays too much for toilet seats and boondoggle bridges to nowhere and anti-ballistic missile systems that don’t work is also the government that pays for traffic control between worlds, and sure, call it wasteful, go ahead and call your representative and demand an end to a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars but there’s an actual line item buried so deep in paperwork no one ever sees that allocates funds to monitor time travel, yes indeed, don’t scoff, the United States Government employs an entire office of dedicated psychic patriots like me to oversee the comings and goings of walk-ins, shifters, travelers, border-crossing violators, illegal tourists in the space-time continuum, dimensional displaced persons and folks like you.”

“Nonsense,” I say.

“I agree,” says Dick. “With the current regime eliminating regulatory agencies and oversight committees, shutting down investigations and slashing budgets right and left you’d think I’d be out of job and yet here I am. Personally I like flying under the radar, don’t get me started on that old ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ charade; still, there’s nothing like a few charlatans to discredit an entire discipline, right? I’ve worked with a few of the Reality TV mediums and ghost hunters, the legitimate ones that is, and gotta give it to them, I don’t know how they keep up. That little feisty blonde on Long Island? The British one with the wacky hair? I like ’em. You need sassy gals like them out there. You don’t discredit the truth by suppressing it.  But you need to manage it.  The truth doesn’t set you free, my friend; most people, it just makes them crazy. Look at you: how happy are you? So you need to control access, right? How much folks know, what they believe, what they require to know and believe to get through the day, and seriously, who’s going to do it if we don’t? The Church? Used to be their job. Now they’re too busy bailing out pedophile priests. Then it was Science’s turn and they’re all running around rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, arguing over climate change, tipping points, sea level and temperature rise, extinction of the species. Meanwhile the tech crowd are totally throwing in the towel, they’re focused on AI and robots and off-world colonies, there’s no one in Silicon Valley under 30 who doesn’t expect to be living on another planet sooner than later and to hell with the doomed ignorant masses left behind, shocking but trust me, these kids today truly do not give a fuck, they want out and I can’t say I blame them. There’s modern morality for you.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

He sighs. “Why bother, you mean? That’s what you mean. Why am I here with you? It’s a good question.  I mean, it’s not like it’s the first time.”

He says these words and it is as if scenes from my life have been waiting queued up to suddenly fly past my eyes, YouTube videos made of scraps of home movies, one right after the other, so fast, like upcoming attractions but on high speed except nobody took any super 8 or 16mm films or videos of my childhood, nothing more than a few snap shots and those obligatory school pictures, that’s all you got in the world I came from, these are not my memories, they are not from my eyes but somebody else’s. I am seeing memories of me outside of me.

“You won’t remember,” I hear Dick say.  “Nobody does.  Nobody ever remembers.”

I suffered black outs as a child, mostly in early adolescence; chunks of my life in junior high are blank to me, I see the outside of the school but not the inside, I am waiting for the school bus but have no memory of riding it, I remember a gym bag but not the gym class, not the locker room. I have always attributed these lacunae, these missing pieces to the trauma of puberty.  But these are films of those times, those places, those missing pieces of the past.

“I will,” I say.  ‘I will remember.”

He pretends not to hear me.  “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” he continues. “but you were one of the ones we thought showed promise.” With that he melts into my 6th grade teacher who tried to help me, who morphs into my high school French teacher who gave me books on medieval French art and encouraged me in directions I never went, or only half-heartedly pursued, and then it is as if I’m flipping through a book of mug shot memories, which becomes a shoebox of photos, Polaroids, candid Kodachromes and Instamatic snaps of instructors and employers and friends and would-be lovers who each look back at me sadly. We thought you had promise. We thought you had potential. The words bubble over with the foam of disappointment.

“I don’t believe you,” I say.

“It doesn’t matter,” he replies with a dismissive wave at the air. “You’ve already forgotten the times before – what? You think this all just started happening now? In your old age?”  He tips his head quizzically, as if assessing the answer to his own question, amused.

“I have not forgotten.”

“You’re a terrible liar. And to think you had such promise.” He sighs.

Time Fall, an Excerpt. Lily Dale. Criminals

[In which I meet “Sarah” the medium]

On our road trip Rose and I talked in ways we hadn’t always been able to over the years; the driving expanded the space around us, made us expansive as we moved along, eyes mostly on the road ahead, as if we spoke to the future about the past. And, since Rose was never one to pass up an antique shop, we found plenty of opportunities along the way to feel nostalgic. Rose had a house to fill, after all, and an eye for bargains; consequently we included a few detours to sift through vintage debris and conjure the past in the process. On the road our soundtrack was an impromptu mix tape of public radio stations as they rose and fell away out of range and CDs of off-Broadway musicals from a time when Rose was still working on her stage career, back in New York, back when we first met, back when we were so much younger and hopeful and life had not yet spun out of control. “Just when it seemed as if we were getting somewhere,” Rose mused. “Changing the world, creating a better place, somewhere you’d be able to love the people you loved without it being a crime.  Without being a criminal.”

“You were never a criminal, Rose.”

“Don’t be so sure. And technically speaking you still are, in certain states.”

“You make it sound like we were out robbing banks or – okay Patty Hearst robbed a bank but that doesn’t count, it wasn’t her idea.”

We were only gently, lightly touching the past in a shop crowded with stuff, a mix of junk and forgotten treasures, dark and musty on a bright day, the two of us side by side inspecting a jewelry case jumbled full of odds and ends, a red flannel ball shaped like a tomato bristling with fancy faux jewel-headed hatpins next to a handful of cloudy cherry and lime green colored dice of various sizes, tobacco and bubble gum trading cards of long dead baseball and basketball players, cufflinks, china thimbles, charms for bracelets, political buttons, watch fobs, tiny Made in Occupied Japan figurines.

“I admit,” I continued, “I might have dated a felon once or twice but – what?”

Rose is pointing  and I lean in for a better look.  A tarnished brass Roosevelt – Fairbanks 1904 watch fob tag. Next to it, a scuffed metal button, black with a pink triangle emblazoned on it and the words Silence = Death.  Rose was one of the first people I knew to join ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), one of the first to demonstrate, to get arrested. Actress to Activist, activist to lawyer.

There is this part of our lives, in the 1980s in New York, symbolized in a button, when death was everywhere, in the noise and in the silence, in visits to friends dying in St. Vincent’s, and at funerals at St. Luke’s, St. John the Divine, Holy Rest, in the anecdotes we’d share of surreal engagements with the relatives of the dead and dying, in cocktail party conversation of half-serious hypotheticals about what we’d do when they did round us up and put us in quarantine camps as William F. Buckley had suggested, and where we’d go, and what to tell our families if/when it happened to us, and whether we would really want balloons released at our memorials (And get stuck in the tree branches and power lines? Please, no), and where the next demonstration was going to be, and at the end of the decade and the beginning of a new one did ACT UP really put a giant condom on Jesse Helms’ house (They did, yes).

For me and Rose, the occasional silence between us now may equal death, but only ironically, on this journey to a town where everyone who lives there talks to the dead and the dead are everywhere even if the word is never used, (the dead have “passed over”) but for us it is death remembered, death seen and lived through and survived, and only referenced obliquely as in, “after Skip got tested, before Bill got sick, after Eddie’s memorial, the summer before Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the year after Tomas met Elizabeth Taylor, before Rock Hudson, after Larry Kramer, before Queer Nation…”

“Is William here?” Rose asks in the antique shop, looking about us as if she could see him if he were.  I don’t answer.  “Well, he has a sense of humor, doesn’t he,” she observes. “You should get that Roosevelt 1904 thing for your collection.”

I do.

“You know, William could tell you a thing or two about criminals,” Rose says in the car as we resume our drive.


“My dear,” Rose explains in her Stella Adler voice, “he was a young man when Oscar Wilde went to prison. And he still chose to be an actor. Back when sodomy laws really meant something.”

“Back when life was really dangerous.”

“Oh, Life is always dangerous. Not what meant.  I worked in the theater, darling. It’s not a reputable business.”

“Maybe he felt safer there.”

“Oh yes,” Rose replies, “I imagine he did.”

“I’m aware,” says Sarah (not her real name), a medium in Lily Dale, “of someone – I’m getting a connection with someone coming forward who was, well, he was a criminal, I’m sorry, but that’s – what was the name?  May I hear the name? William? Yes, but he went by another as well, a nickname, another – or something about his name, a middle name, he used a middle name sometimes…”

I don’t know what she means about the name but it doesn’t matter.  Our paths are crossing.

“He says you will understand – he has the character of a criminal – he is showing himself in a bar – he liked to drink, he had personal power, he wasn’t controlled – self-will run riot, and he could care less about other people, he has a reddish tint to his hair, worn longish, sometimes a mustache – he had the most beautiful eyes – he had a lot of charisma, he’s showing me – in fact the crimes he committed – people voluntarily gave him what he wanted.  He didn’t even have to ask, do you understand that? It’s like someone else goes and robs the bank for him, he didn’t even have to ask…. I’m feeling like – he’s whistling, doing a what, a sort of Charlie Chaplin walk?”

A pause.

We are speaking in code, I tihnk.  Or, William is, and Sarah doesn’t know it. She’s just the channel, after all. The conduit.

“… train tracks, I’m seeing a train track, but you and the friend who’s helping you, neither of you is on the right track… New York is important… but there’s another town, also important. A town with an ancient name. Not Rome, not Athens. Cairo? No…

“Bazooka bubble gum, he’s showing me – you know how they used to collect bazooka bubble gum cards?  He’s showing me that…he’s throwing the wrapper down by the train tracks. He says you’re looking for all kinds of evidence but the people who would actually know he’s showing me in and around these train tracks, he’s showing me trash, things you throw away, you’re giving him too much credit: many of the important things in life happen in places you fear to go – would be afraid to go, everyday things, you’re looking in the wrong places. Where the people who really know are, they’re the common folk, the ‘uncommon common folk’ he’s saying, they’re the ones who know the truth, is what he’s saying, and again what I’m seeing, this would be back in the day when there’d be hobos, or what today we’d call homeless people down on the tracks, you know, the people you’d talk to, they’re the people who aren’t going to judge you. These people are going to let you be yourself.

“He’s also showing me a gravestone, as being significant to you – you found his mother’s gravestone? But you can’t find the others, the family wasn’t buried together… Olive, Mount Olive, there was another cemetery.  … He’s showing me a card, a notebook, a journal? – you’re taking notes? Item 3 is no.  It’s a redirect …

“Bank robbery is what he keeps telling me.” She shrugs. Her eyes have been focused to the left, to the right, up and down, not in my direction.  Now in a rare instance Sarah looks at me.

What must it be like, speaking through someone like Sarah? I try to imagine.  Being translated, having to use images she will understand to let me know what he’s trying to tell me. Speaking through an interpreter.  Bank robbery indeed.  Criminals, talking to each other through a go-between who has no idea. She is recording our session; later, when I am home again, I will listen to the CD, and I will think, I am listening to a translator interpreting someone speaking a language I can’t hear. The silence when she pauses.  The silence equals…

Does he know I met his family? I ask.

“He’s showing me a woman in the living. He’s saying you met his mom and his sister but they have passed so -”

“I found their graves,” I explain.

“Yes, and then you met a woman in the living, related to them? Yes, it was good for them to think about him.  And likewise for him.  The family can be in peace now.  They were worried about him in a number of ways.  And now he’s lighting a cigarette or a – oh, maybe it’s a joint? One for him and one for you.  Come visit him any time, he’s saying.”

Another pause as she listens.

“He’s saying say hello to his dad.  Did you trace him? My sense is – he seems to think you have more knowledge of his father than he does, although he’s saying in the spirit world he’s there as well, and there’s still distance between them.”

I wonder if I understand what he’s saying. I think I do. I think we had the same father, is what he’s saying. The same kind of man and the same kind of relationship. Except his father did end up with more sons, sons who worked with him in the mills, sons who saw the world the way their father did, who understood the world the way their father did.

“Thank you.  He says he’ll light a candle for you.  Reformation is always available to us, here and in the hereafter, those we pray for, he’s saying let the healing begin, he wasn’t someone who would champion himself, he’s thanking you for that, he’s showing me, ‘call me,’ indicating spirit communication.”

I leave Sarah and go to find Rose, at the Healing Temple, a nondescript  cinder block edifice like a small town VFW Hall.  It is a short walk.  The service is already in progress.  The congregation is standing and they are singing a hymn. I find my place next to Rose, I look at the page of the open book she is holding, that she is offering to share.  “GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU,” is the title, words by Civilla Martin, music by W. Stillman Martin, 1904. They are on the second verse.

Oh, I wonder.  I wonder who is taking care of you.

It takes two of us, I realize. The thought comes like that: simple and clear in the silence. That I am not doing this on my own. I am here with Rose, I am here to listen, to speak to someone else, to be present for someone else.  I am not alone.  It takes two.

An interviewer and subject, a transmitter and receiver, a healer and patient; a connection established, believed in, an exchange of energy. The believing is critical, of course, and probably why studies of this sort of thing don’t work, a proper scientific investigation would uncover contamination, prejudice, a cross-over effect, the observer influencing the subject.  Which is exactly the point.  If you don’t believe, it won’t work.

What is art if not communication, the beholder and the work, the reader and the story teller, the musician and the listener.  Why am I surprised by that? Because I don’t want to believe? No, I believe, but I want to believe I will be better off on my own. I don’t want to connect. Because I don’t want to be reminded. Leave me alone, I think. Leave me alone, let me go.

But the Healing Temple service doesn’t leave me alone or let me go.  Members of the congregation are called and come to the front of the chapel to demonstrate the power of Spirit. “May I come to you?” they ask, each of them, to various members of the seated audience. Please let it not be me each time I think, not me, please.

And then it is. “A woman not your mother, to the side of your mother,” says a short one, a Ruth Gordon type shaking from side to side as if practicing a half-hearted epileptic fit for a stage production, not really having one but practicing, trying it out.  “A woman, older, an aunt?” she asks me, wringing her hands, wagging her head in rhythm. “She is coming down a staircase, she’s descending, she’s – de-boarding a plane, she’s waving, she’s wearing a hat and a fur coat and she says buy new luggage, you are going on a trip, you are free now, you can travel, I see a lot of books, shelves and shelves of books.”

Rose chuckles.

“Do you understand?” the medium asks, turning her attention to Rose, wringing her hands hopefully.

“I sure do,” says Rose with a tip of her head in my direction. “He’s got a lot of books.”

“Your friend understands,” says the medium to me, swaying from foot to foot.

I admit that I have a large library.

“You will be traveling soon,” says the medium.

“I’m traveling now,” I say.

“There’s more.  She’s telling me there’s more. I see a suitcase. She’s holding – it’s what we used to call a train case.” The medium holds up an invisible piece of luggage.  “She says, get ready. You’re free now.”

Free of what? I wonder.  I’m a criminal.

How do I get free of  that?

Lily Dale

Collection of the author

We arrive in Lily Dale in the afternoon, a week before Memorial Day which marks the beginning of the season, so we are early.  Having seen the films Rose sent me links to, of the crowds at the height of the season, I am glad.  We would have had a very different experience had we visited even a week later.  We would have been caught up in the midst of the tourists and what happened would have been muddied and muddled.  More muddled and less – how shall I say it? Less convincing.  In the off-season the rows of cottages, most dating from the turn of the last century or earlier, are empty, few residents have returned for the summer; the day is overcast, the air still heavy with spring, with lilacs, with a quiet damp greenness, the gravel and dirt streets with patches of asphalt settled and still, not about to rise up in summer dust underfoot. Lily Dale is a stage set before the show, before the audience arrives; it is a place undiscovered. Lily Dale, when Rose and I finally get there, out of season, reminds me of the stories I read as a child about a lakeside community that went away and was found again by children, a real but almost magical place that was lost and forgotten and rediscovered. Gone-Away Lake (1957) and Return to Gone-Away Lake (1961), a Victorian summer resort lost and forgotten when the lake receded and turned to swamp, and nature grew up and hid the gingerbread cottages from the outside world.

Lily Dale has a lake, not overtaken by cattails, empty of boats but gently agitated by the breeze. A duck family cruises the grassy shoreline; a gazebo sits poised for the view of a not so distant shoreline under an overcast sky. A couple clapboard hotels with broad porches (closed at the moment) wait for the season to begin.

Today the air in Los Angeles, gray from the morning marine layer, carries the same expectation, the same waiting.

Have I been here before? I wonder as we pull through the gate.  We are not far from another 19th century town on another lake – Chatauqua – where Mother and I did visit a number of times when I was young.  A religious community that gave its name to traveling religious revival gatherings in the early days of the last century.  Did she ever say, we’re so close, let’s go to Lily Dale? The memory grows slowly.  To go to Chatauqua means going to Mayville and Mayville is to Chatauqua as Cassadaga is to Lily Dale – they are the towns before the communities, the places you go to in order to reach the place you are going.  The Venn Diagrams of Village, Town and Township within the larger jurisdictions of counties in upstate New York are complicated. Change obscures original intent.  Cassadaga – the Seneca Indian word for “water under rocks” was founded at the headwaters of the Cassadaga Creek, originally navigable but no longer, thanks to beavers.  That said, a place becomes a place out of proximity.  Here we will settle at the headwaters, or, here we will be with our fine view of the water beyond, the vista below.  And then – perhaps long enough after for everyone to settle and unpack – some errant outlier, some adventurous member of the party says, let’s get closer, and moves to the water’s edge.  It is always this way with people when it comes to water: one group goes for distance, for view, and one group goes close.  Going close, of course, comes with risks: the water rises and you are gone beneath; the water recedes and you are forgotten. The lake is gone-away and so are you.

The village of Mayville, founded in 1804, is more impressive than Cassadaga, truth be told, and commands a picturesque view of the lake beyond. The broad avenue descends majestically to the lake below and was laid out with ambition, the older homes set back dramatically in anticipation of some imagined grand boulevard that never materialized, the rolling lawns now embracing spindly sidewalks and a street that seems to have been allotted much more room than it needs.  The effect suggests a distortion in Time: are we looking at Before or After? Is this open space a sign to archaeologists, like a change in vegetation in a satellite photograph, of all that remains of a once-thriving, ancient metropolis, the thoroughfare an enticing shadow in the landscape, a path cut by Man and reclaimed by Nature, a long-ago piece of Roman road built by soldiers and slaves and crowded with chariots and carts and horses and wagons and thieves and armies and a Lost Tribe? Or the reverse: a bold vision of city planners of a future that never happened?

Everywhere we go on this trip, we are confronted with the matter of scale. The reverse of Hollywood, where everyone is so much shorter and smaller than you imagine, here everything seems bigger than the pictures, bigger than necessary.  Signs for town limits appear in open countryside, miles before any evidence of civilization or a crossroads with a gas station even.  Broad streets for no reason.  Massive Masonic temples (for sale, cheap). Imposing mansions behind the gas station when you do find one.  Scale too big for today, for us, partly because we are traveling by Subaru instead of horse or train or on foot.  Mode of transportation changes everything.  Technology and Time alter the relationship between us and the world, between man and landscape: we are moving faster and riding lower to the ground than anyone did in 1804. Or in 1879 when Lily Dale was incorporated as Cassadaga Lake Free Association, a camp and meeting place for Spiritualists and Freethinkers. Or in 1903 when the name was changed to The City of Light and finally to Lily Dale Assembly in 1906.

Or in 1904.

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