Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bennington Writers – Nonfiction

Monday, February 17th  –  6pm
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia Street, between Bleecker & West 4th
Subway Stop – West 4th Street

Susan Cheever will be tonight’s featured reader. Joining her are Liz Arnold, Mary Beth Kelly, and Christine Simek.

Susan Cheever’s books include My Name Is Bill – Bill Wilson: His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous; Home Before Dark, a memoir about her father, John Cheever; Note Found in a Bottle, a memoir of her own alcoholism and recovery; Treetops: A Memoir; and five novels: Looking for Work, A Handsome Man, The Cage, Doctors and Women, and Elizabeth Cole. Her essay ‘Baby Battle,’ in which she describes immersion in early motherhood and subsequent phases of letting go of her primary identity as a mother, was included in the 2006 anthology Mommy Wars, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Cheever is the author of American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work, published in December 2006. In addition to working on her books, she teaches in the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program and at The New School.

e. e. cummings: A Life, her latest book, will be published by Pantheon on February 11, 2014.

V. Hansmann, host

$8 cover includes a drink

2 – A Jar of Pickled Eggs

A year later, I was launched, becoming collegiate myself. G forces pinned me to the back seat of the Chrysler as we climbed College Hill Road. We pulled up to the freshman dorm and unpacked the car.

“No thanks, Mom,” I blushed, “I can make the bed later.”

“Come on now, Robert. I can do it in a jiffy.”

“No, Mom, really. Thanks.”

“Here. Take a corner.”

Dad shook my hand and I pecked Mom on the cheek. Good-bye. Next thing you know, I was weightless.

Minutes after they drove away, I hitchhiked down the hill with my new roommate to a bar called The Roc. The Roc was in a crooked little house painted red with a sign outside missing the ‘k’. The door opened with a gasp. Stepping inside, the only sound to be heard was the shuffle of talk and the murmur of the jukebox; the only movement came from the shadows stirring in the cigarette smoke around the pool table. A second ago, it had been the middle of the afternoon.

A bartender stood behind the bar and a three-gallon jar of pickled eggs sat on the bar. It was hard to tell which was which.

“What are you boys having?”

1- Purple Jesus

There were hundreds of summer camps in Maine in the ’60s. It was a seasonal gulag for middle-class white kids, ages eight to sixteen. To be shipped off to the woods by my parents for eight whole weeks was a consummation devoutly to be wished. Hiking down the road, rowing a rowboat, lying in the grass staring the sky, not a parental cloud anywhere. I spent ten summers at the one camp, two rows of cabins on a hill overlooking one of Maine’s perfect lakes; eight of those years as a camper, and two as a junior counselor.

My first summer on staff, I abruptly ended up in charge of the entire swim program due to some staff shake-up I can’t recall. Though I made a fool of myself in all land-based sporting endeavors, I was a really good swimmer with a knack for helping older kids who were ashamed about their inability to swim. I had patience and a whistle and sunglasses and I got extremely tan. I wrote my mom and asked her to send me a pair of white swim trunks, the really snug, square-cut kind. I showed off on the dock in that happy, self-conscious, “I have a whistle” way.

Counselors got one day off a week: they left camp after breakfast and were expected back at midnight. I took my days off with my three greatest friends: Phil, Ned, and Jimmy. Typically, the four of us would water ski behind Jimmy’s outboard till we could hardly stand up, then go check out a movie in Portland. Towards the end of the summer, our day off got rescheduled so that we shared the day with Phil’s brother, a senior counselor. He was an upperclassman at Amherst, breathtakingly cool and a little condescending in a way that could gratefully be interpreted as intimate. That very night he was hosting a cookout across the lake. And after water skiing, we could go.

The little, gray cottage was surrounded by cars and enchantment. R&B and barbecue smoke beckoned, pushing back the gloom of the overhanging hemlocks. In a pressed, short-sleeved madras shirt, khaki shorts, and Weejuns with no socks, I took that apprehensive step into the glamorous world of people three or four years older than me: college kids. The older counselors were drinking Schlitz from bottles or a concoction of gin and grape Kool-Aid, the camp version of a Purple Jesus. There were hamburgers and hotdogs, too, but no one paid any attention. I was offered a white enameled camping cup full of the devilish purple brew. Underneath the ‘grape’ flavor and the juniper wallop of the gin, I could taste metal from the chipped rim of the cup. The Temptations spun on the portable record player and “My Girl” insinuated itself through the fun.

I got sunshine on a cloudy day…

I drank a second cup of the Kool-Aid and a third. I’m pretty sure I danced. I know I swayed. The party shut down at 12:30. All of us were going to be late back to camp. The moon was on the rise, huge and throwing shadows. A caravan of half-a-dozen cars crept stealthily, lights out, down the dirt road, past the infirmary and the maintenance shed and into the parking lot. I rolled down the car window, stuck my head out, and hollered at the top of my voice – Wavus Camps SUCKS! – slammed the door, and wobbled off to my cabin. The next day: no puking, no hangover. In the afternoon, the camp director pulled me aside. “Bob, in all the commotion last night, it was your voice I heard. This is a warning. Anything – Anything – happens again; you’ll have to leave.”  My first drunk. I got in trouble, but nothing happened.

I felt my future billow out before me – one long summer in Maine.