Monday, August 15, 2016

Rhinebeck NY

    I was shooting a film no one's ever seen in a mansion half a mile above the Hudson. A view one literally would kill for.
    The house belonged to a man named Sam. He'd made a fortune writing soap operas. He was tall, strong, well- fed. He looked like Rodin's Balzac. Not a handsome man but striking: one people gathered round, with the forehead of a Russian chess player, eyes that either undressed you or kept your secrets. Or both.
    Sam took me to a party. We parked by the gate of a place you couldn't see from the gate. Halfway across the lawn we met another man, wearing the most beautiful shirt I'd ever seen, untucked, flowing around him, blue grey like a canvas.
    "Hello Sam".
     The man's face didn't change when he glanced at me.
    "David, I want you to meet Jasper."
    Later that afternoon at the party in Jasper John's house I listened to a thin, cigarette sodden man talk about the Christ child's cock. When, in the portraits of the baby diety did you see it, Jesus's penis, or not. And what that told us about the times in which the painters lived.
   Women I would have killed for sat around him, listening in poses out of a seraglio.
   I asked him, is it true oil paintings take a century to dry?
    He said of course, isn't it erotic? The scent, the stench of what you make, of what you love most, isn't that what we all want in life, all around us, smeared on us?
   The women smiled. Yes.
   As in Ulysses yes? when Bloom takes a shit in chapter four and reads the paper and thinks about his wife fucking another man and his daughter also come to maturity, the ink of the paper and his own stink rising, the meal he'd just made the Kippers fried come to their natural end, and then he takes the "paper" yes, like the language we've been listening to and wipes his ass. Genius, no?
    I nodded. Sam laughed till he coughed. You're so full of shit Victor. Victor inhaled- Exactly!
    Johns asked me to hand out some snacks. His cocktail napkins were a bright Caribbean blue, I remember. Half the guests thought I was the help. Or one of his Johns. The art historian turned out to be one of the world's foremost art critics. The women, his students for the summer.
   Sam told me later, on his wide porch, the Hudson laying out below us, that he was thinking about marrying the woman who lived in the mansion behind him, which one couldn't see from his yard. I said I didn't know 80 year olds got married again, or had affairs, or sex.
   Of course David, what the fuck else is there? This ? and he pointed to the house and the grounds that I would have killed for ..."but I'm afraid our rigidities don't match. A shame. She's lovely. Paints all the time down in her place by the water. Doesn't chatter."
   She has another house?
   Yes, a boat house. Says the light's better there than in the manse.
   Sam, aren't you gay?
   Have been. Mostly. After awhile it doesn't matter as much, where, you know, how. Just who. I do have a son, remember, so I ....remember.
    Doesn't speak to me much, but there you are. Strangest thing - they don't tell you-  your children stop being your children and become anyone else. It's as much their fault as yours, eventually. Odd.  But a relief.
    The film never came out. The Director and the Producer refused to use a two page version of the final 10 page scene that we had to shoot and had no time for, because the actors, not they, had cobbled it together. Half way thru the 10 page sprawl the other Producer shut down the set and sent everyone home. We were blamed.
    The Director came back months later and tried to film a patch work scene- some Hail Mary, Frankenstein piece of writing to make saleble sense out of his mess-  on Sam's property, and Sam met him at the gate with a shotgun.
   I have rarely loved a man more. I keep that image of him in my head to this day. Grand Colonial estate, grass flowing down to the trees along the great river, the abandoned docks, the rail line, the Adirondacks grey in the distance, a tall man in impeccable dress. A shotgun.
   He died a few years later. I came back to see him just once. I was doing a play at a workshop in Poughkeepsie -which sounds like the opening of a stand up routine but there you are- I came by and we had a drink on his porch. He hadn't married his neighbor. The house was in decent shape and though his son was writing more often he didn't want to leave it to him.
    For some reason, I can't remember the segue, he started talking about WWII.
    For some reason it hadn't clicked in my head. Of course, he was the right age, he must have, and he did, serve.
    Combat, somewhere in Europe. I don't remember the facts, the name, the places which would give this story some non fiction gravitas. But he landed close to D Day and saw terrible shit. Boys died next to him. He wasn't a clerk.
    I said oh you should read Paul Fussell's book on his..."I know Paul, he's an ass." And Private Ryan had just come out so I said "They say the sound effects in the beginning are exactly like- " And why would I want to hear that again David?
    He had a stillness about him, I remember. He didn't move more than he needed to, and even less. His eyes didn't give much away. He smiled rarely. When he did laugh it was usually at someone's expense and he could stop a conversation completely with it. He had you, more often than not. He was the one you watched in a group. If he'd had a favorite hat, if it had blown off he would have stood there and watched it tumble down the street. What do they say, with a bemused air.
  If I've ever been in a bemused air, it was with him.
  Letters. That was the segue. It was something about letters, the texture of them, the feel of an actual letter, not the new fangled emails his son was trying to get him to open.
   He said the stationery the army gave you was completely singular, he'd never felt anything like it since: light but raspy to the touch, a militant onion skin, a material one couldn't imagine could give any pleasure at all but that nothing in his life had ever been so important as opening a letter from home at the front. The stench and the brutality surrounding him, sitting in a killing zone, and then his mother's voice or a close friend's coming up off the page.
  I think that's why I became a writer, yes, that's what I was trying to do, he told me.
  The light was just right, it was near sunset -he probably knew that- and he knew exactly which way to lean to catch the glow, but his eyes when he spoke about the war changed completely. Like my best friend's, getting out of the car he'd just driven into the side of a truck and lived, staring at me. My brother's when he told me his remission wasn't gonna last. My mother's when my brother stopped breathing. Even these are weak approximations. War. The deepest crime. And the one we send all our sons to commit.
  Sam. My war hero. Was 20 years ago this week I met you. Godspeed. And a shotgun.


  1. the actor will write you well thank you davidcontinues

  2. πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ“±πŸ’»πŸ–Š

  3. Thanks for the beautiful writing. I love reading all of them and I can't wait to read more. Congratulations on your new job writing for Pittsburgh Magazine.

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  5. Impressive and very touching. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Always enjoy reading ur blogs, love ur writing. Congrats on ur new job writing for Pittsburgh magazine

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  8. It is great to see you back. I always find it interesting how you wax lyrical about places I have never been to and the people you meet.

  9. wow, this story took me all sorts of places! lol:) Rhinebeck is such a quaint pretty place. Love upstate NY!!. Never been there, but ordered info from the chamber of commerce, just to see the pictures and read about it. ha.. Love the writing!

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  11. Happy birthay david conradπŸŽ‚πŸΎπŸŽΌπŸ’–

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  13. Yet again, you write with amazing detail! you are truly gifted! Thanks for speaking of remembering Sam's 'war stories' brought me back to listening to my kids' dad's time in the Army (not in war, though). I could listen to his 'tales' all day long, he told them so well. This brought a tear to my eye (but not all bad) as I remembered those who are missing in my life.
    Your writing is AMAZING, don't ever quit!...
    and Happy Birthday!'s a good thing you don't know I'd be tempted to prank the Birthday Boy..hehehehe ;-) nothing negative..just

  14. Happy Birthday David and good luck on your new job

  15. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVID!! Sorry I forgot, been packing, heading to the mountains to move!. Hope it was Special!! :)

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  17. Both my grandfathers served in WWII, all my uncles served in Vietnam I have cousins who've been to Iraq and Afghanistan, I washed out of Navy basic and my little tiny niece is US National Guard. The entire experience is different for everyone, most don't like to talk about it and the only voice I ever loved hearing speak on the subject is Kurt Vonnegut, I never heard him in person but to this day I still feel his words. Sometimes the truth can only be told in tales, and he tells the best tales... almost, my dad did a pretty good job at spinning a yarn as well. I miss them both. I'm glad you're talking again.

  18. Ah, images of Rhinebeck & Poughkeepsie (faves), the mighty Hudson, and lovely prose...thank you for all of these. What you notice in people imbedded in a place & time, and your capacity to communicate the quirks & story you see, are appreciated!

  19. Ah, images of Rhinebeck & Poughkeepsie (faves), the mighty Hudson, and lovely prose...thank you for all of these. What you notice in people imbedded in a place & time, and your capacity to communicate the quirks & story you see, are appreciated!

  20. I, too, consider myself a writer -- only able to express myself through a personal blog -- Only 40 more chapters to go (give or take a few). Looks like you got a magazine writing job -- congrats!

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  22. Awesome sweet story about the veteran. I'm sure he liked your visit. I'm a veteran, the little things are the ones that count the most

  23. I live in Rhinebeck. I was here when you wrote this, and I am totally intrigued by where that mansion is--can you tell us? I found this blog by chance today. Until watching again some Ghost Whisperer episodes recently, I had no idea of your real background. Your writing speaks volumes.

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