The Third Table

01: TURK

Chapter I

WE ARE THE STARS:   by  Turk Whipple


Turk Old Father Whipple

In 1947, shortly before my younger sister was born, my Mother, my older sister and I came down with Polio. The baby did not survive, and I suffered some paralysis in my right arm. My Father, untouched either by disease or by  duty, left Mother to fend for my sister and me.  After she divorced him she moved us to Florida and worked to support us for ten years, until she remarried.  Mom did very well, rising in eight years from a salesclerk in resort wear to the manager and buyer of five shops in Florida and Massachusetts.


"Imagine the second Mrs. DeWinter arriving at Manderlay with two snotty brats, and you have the flavor."

Mom married  Hugh Sanford, jr. in 1957.  Foster was 12 and I was 11.  We moved to Knoxville in July, Buddy driving Mom’s Plymouth wagon through torrents of rain, to be welcomed at the pillared Greek Revival house by his cook,  butler, and tenant farmer waiting under the porte-cochère.  Imagine the second Mrs. DeWinter arriving at Manderley with two snotty brats,  and you have the flavor. Buddy believed in weaning children early, so after three years in Tennessee Foster (kicking and screaming), and I, (dutiful), were shipped off to the



northern schools of our choice–Madeira and Hotchkiss respectively.    Staying in Knoxville was not an option. We used to say at Riggs that everyone there had either been subjected to a Catholic school, a boarding school, or a Summer camp.  For me, boarding school was quite enough on its own.  As a cripple, I was the butt of three years of baiting, at first nearly unceasing.  I survived by out-baiting the baiters.   Being by nature a loner, and terrified of competition or sports,  I established a defense perimeter within which I was able to function, if not exactly flourish.  I attempted satire, became an accomplished practical joker,  organized and directed a school play. Awareness of lifelong loves came to me — Mozart, Haydn,  and men.  My early attempts at seduction of my fellows were a riot of masochism,  consisting primarily in pretending sleep and hoping for  — what? I certainly didn’t know.



My Father and Grandfather died in the same week of April,  1963.  It was my Senior year, and the week college acceptances were received.  I had chosen Yale,  Buddy’s alma mater,  over Princeton,  my Father’s  and Grandfather’s.

From the Spring of 1963 through my short year at Yale all ethical sense was lost to me. It was a very short time before I was caught in a shameless and conclusive felony,  having charged items of furniture, records and food to my roommate’s account.  Always the soul of generosity, I had bestowed these on our rooms.   Despite the noble efforts of my roommate and victim, my crimes came to court. The inevitable denouement sufficed to bring me home. My Stepfather, who as always saw me through, never forgave the dishonor.  Buddy was a Yale man with appropriate chivalry and scruples,  and did not enjoy shepherding  me safely out of New Haven.

Before the house of cards at Yale collapsed, I’d taken a couple of friends in my ’57 Volkswagen to visit my Grandmother. I had a crush one one of the guys and he caught me one night fondling him as he slept. The shame and embarassment were too much, so I drank a couple of bottles of iodine and went to bed. Someone found the bottles and called an ambulance. I woke up the next day in the all-white hospital, my stomach pumped and my eyes dazzled by the night.  I did tell the doctor I was a homosexual and that is why I’d taken the iodine. He made me promise to see a psychiatrist when I got back to Yale, and in return he wouldn’t tell my parents. I agreed, and we both kept the bargain. So I met Dr. Arnstein at Yale, but told him nothing of my impending legal doom until it had happened. He suggested I go to Austen Riggs.

I went to Riggs as I had gone away before,  quite willing to do as anyone suggested. There was a strong professional bond between Yale and Riggs , as if Yale had been a Riggs “feeder.” It seemed a logical progression,  a career move. If there is any clue to my illness at that time, it lies in this  fantasy that I could resume my prior progress. Yet on some deeper level I did realize, even at 19,  that the manner of my jumping-off had put me beyond the world of elite expectations forever. My


It is likely that in March of 1965 the MOB waiting room was festooned with sketches of Medical Directors and luminaries, Austen Riggs, Eric Erikson and others. of

It’s likely that in March of 1965 the M.O.B. waiting room was festooned with sketches of Medical Directors and luminaries,  Dr. Austen Riggs, Eric Erickson and others.  But I was usually late for therapy,  so rarely waited there and don’t remember the portraits — certainly didn’t notice them my day of arrival. It was Mary who reminded me years later, and we joked about hanging a still photo, in a quiet corner of the room,  of Claude Rains as Now, Voyager’s Dr. Jacqueth — to see if anyone noticed.


"Less well received were movies like 'The Snake Pit', which portrayed hopeless psychopaths on a rampage.'"

Of course all this awareness of archetype came later.  In the sixties, the best movies, the oldies,  were only on late night New York TV, so most of us hadn’t seen Now, Voyager or The Cobweb, both from novels written by people who were involved with Riggs, one  as a patient, the other by the husband of  Doctor Margaret Brenman.  But when one of these was shown on TV,  it was guaranteed a  groaning,  cheering audience, who sought to identify Riggs, themselves, and each other in the movie settings.  How we hooted at the primitive Hollywood psycho-jargon of the fifties! Less well-received were movies like The Snake Pit , which portrayed hopeless psychopaths on a rampage.   The dressier, more genteel films about booby-hatches were more to our taste,  and such scenes as the Empress Carlotta’s mad scene in Juarez (Bette Davis, again) were our psychic junk food. Bea identified with Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed;  it amused and thrilled her to think of herself as the calculating child,  born to be bad.  My  own screen icons were Ray Milland in So Evil, My Love ( playing the part of a bounder like my Father, who looked a lot like him)  and Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager (who resembled my matriarchal Grandmother physically, though Garmie was both nicer and poorer than Mrs. Vale).  I didn’t see myself as evil or victimized, but considered my upbringing  exemplary. The self-destructive acts, the crimes and miscues which had so changed my well-charted life as to bring me to the door of Riggs,  were a  world apart.


"Linda seemed pleasant if languid, rather like Loretta Young with the flu."

All new patients had ‘Sponsors,’ to show us the ropes and, in theory, to acquaint us with the community structure. Many of the Sponsors (as I later observed with virtuous jealousy) sought opportunities for craven seduction of ingenuous and impressionable new patients–there was a certain competition to be first at the kill.  Thank the stars, Linda Conrad was not one of these. She and Audie Van Dyke, a cute, round milkmaid of a girl, held a small cocktail party for me in Audie’s third floor room, with little canapées–quite clubby. They invited Ron Auerbacher to meet me, because we had both been to Yale–a quaint and bizarre idea. Ron and I became friends, but not that evening. Having always adopted my sister’s friends as my own there was no discomfort around girls and nothing disconcerting about this first experience of ‘coeducation’. Audie kept going into the bathroom, as it turned out to wash her hands.  Barbara was full of chat and answers to my questions, which must have been many.   Linda seemed pleasant if languid, rather like Loretta Young with the flu. Only later did I join our coterie in shunning her cloying social theatrics and general air of hysteria. Barbara used to swathe herself in chintz  and offer after-dinner piano renditions of ” Softly, As I Leave You” played in crashing chords, with an impassioned segué into “More” (the theme from Mondo Cane).  Only the bridge players could sit through it.

Day Two. There was no difficulty identifying the Smart Set. They sat at the third table for lunch and dinner. (Breakfast, you might say, was Open Seating).


"Bea stood out at once, her shaved eyebrows replaced by disdainful arches of mascara, her lips blood red, her blond hair swept up in a bun-a sort of Slavic Simone Signoret."

Bea stood out at once, sheathed in what seemed a dark blue sharkskin dress with big buttons, her shaved eyebrows replaced by disdainful arches of mascara, her lips blood red, her blond hair swept up in a bun–a sort of Slavic Simone Signoret  (Bea’s parentage was a mixture of Hungarian, in which she cursed fluently, and Welsh, from which came her name, Bronwyn). With unerring instinct I headed for her, sat down next to her, and said something I thought witty. She beamed at me, then let the smile die on her face. “May all of your teeth fall out but one,” she said, “and may that one ache.” Being no stranger to embarrassment,  I was able to weather it. I kept after her, and after a few days of resistance there was a perceptible thaw.  No doubt the defensive skills developed at boarding school,  the arts of mimicry and ridicule,  came in handy that week. I courted Bea, and loved her as if she had been my lost sister, and through her I found most of my friends.


"Mary was shyer than Bea, impossibly beautiful and unexpectedly sharp, graceful, impassioned and illogical. Merle Oberon comes to mind."

Mary was shyer than Bea, impossibly beautiful and unexpectedly sharp, graceful, impassioned and illogical. Merle Oberon comes to mind. I think she was then chairing the Community Meeting (one of us was always running the committees) and I know it took longer to get close to her. She and Bea shared a bathroom, between 12 and 12A. (Bea said Riggs didn’t have a room 13 because no one would want it, but I think the opposite was the case).

The  third table. The  in- crowd. Our coterie.  There were of course patients who tried and failed to make it in, and many who didn’t care.    Some were unsuited because of age, or ‘class,’ or lack of good humor, or worst an unmistakable symptom of neurosis (stuttering was bearable but slobbering was not). This was not a group completely committed to therapeutic values, and many patients, more sober or more sane, found our behavior inappropriate, even threatening or damaging.


"The third table. The in-crowd. Our coterie. There were of course patients who tired and failed to make it in, and many who didn't care."

There was always an eager rivalry among us as to diagnosis–who was sicker, who had what. Being diagnosed schizophrenic had its own cachet, personality disorders seemed mysterious but somehow prosaic, and my own lot, “borderline psychotic,” was rather a comedown. (Better to be manic-depressive at least, something you could sink your teeth into). Through all the large meetings and subgroups, the concern both real and manufactured with the pain and acting-out of others gave us a glib vocabulary of disorder. But we tried to deal with each other’s problems privately if possible; public referrals were an embarrassment. We honed the skills of reaching out, and learned insincerity along with compassion. We took therapeutic values–openness of feeling, willingness to confront the behavior of ourselves and others, acceptance of the wisdom of our therapists, and obedience to their rare direction–we took these seriously in that they were the language of patient power. We cared about power, perhaps to protect ourselves, so power accrued to us. We rotated the elected offices in the Community–CC Chair, CM Chair, the SPC, Movie Committee, Room Committee, Decorating Committee, et al–between ourselves, picking our candidates in caucus and voting as a bloc.

The psychobabble in which we became fluent was as useful for avoiding reality as for confronting it.  Summing up after two weeks of interim therapy (a sort of methadone provided to therapy addicts when their own therapist was on vacation), Dr. Seil once called me “therapeutically dazzling.” This struck me as a high compliment, especially when it infuriated Seil’s regular patients to whom I was quick to repeat the comment. Marti, for one, was envious of the label, and we never stopped to consider what it really meant, that I was not getting through. I wanted to be good at therapy, and to be liked by my therapists,  but at the same time I wanted to be “popular”, to fit in. The two were not always compatible. It felt as if the societal values of the Inn were making inroads on Freud, not vice-versa. There were always “underground” goals competing with “therapeutic” goals; I wanted to be cured, but I wanted to dazzle, too. I lived my life as if nothing were wrong, to the extent I could, and sometimes this architecture of delusion became a viable shelter.

larger image of gladys cooper

"I might have had Mrs. Vale (Gladys Cooper) in mind, when she tells Charlotte, 'You must remember that we are hardly commercial travelers."'

The community structure, the groups, committees, common work, and the Lavender Door,  provided an apparent framework of normal life. Within this I could examine my own and my friends’ behavior at leisure, and could begin to try to reconcile my past life with my therapeutic insights (such as they were). For some, the Inn may have seemed a grotesque parody of life outside; for me it was the only life I had. Its values, structure and society were as important to me as a good reputation to a Rotarian. I had been bred, reared, groomed and schooled to be in a percentile of society commensurate with my test scores. I took that place for granted and even at the bottom of the barrel I thought that I hung tasteful decor and gave chic parties. I might have had Mrs. Vale (Gladys Cooper in Now Voyager) in mind, when she tells Charlotte, “You must remember that we are hardly commercial travelers”. It was a little like a cruise ship, though without a known itinerary or precise destination, rather like the liner in Outward Bound. There were comfortable, well-proportioned, occasionally elegant public rooms,  plenty of structured daytime activities,  much evening socializing,  and accommodation in two distinct classes. First-class rooms were in the old building of the Inn and in the West Wing,  added probably during the “Cascade” or “Foundation” days.

east wing titanic 2-500


Tourist Class was in the East wing,  which it was said had been built to house servants in the old days.  These rooms were pleasant enough and many elected to stay in them throughout their treatment. Otherwise, they served until the process of attrition advanced your name to the top of the Room Change List

I made the switch in only about six months because room 25, over the library, was also across the hall from the Nurses’ Room and therefore less desirable. It was a huge room with commensurate (outside) bath, working fireplace, double bed and a couple of chaises longues.Having one of the rooms on the second or third floor of the Inn or in the West Wing was a badge of seniority if not privilege.


"Having one of the rooms on the second or third floor of the Inn or the West Wing was a badge of seniority if not of privilege."

Night after night the Patients’ Kitchen in the basement echoed with roars of laughter as we played the ‘Judy Burke’ game, named for the former patient, unknown to any of us, who had introduced it. The game involved picking someone known to us all who must be identified (by the person who leaves the room) from abstract clues: for example, “If this person were a magazine, what would they be?”; an answer such as “Readers’ Digest” would point to a stodgy, older patient; a made-up answer like “Psychology Yesterday,” a stodgy older Doctor. Through this game a lot of our snobbery found expression, and there were of course favorite “subjects,” done over and over until they were too easy to get. But wealth played almost no part in it; it was an egalitarian group because we were close in intelligence and were certainly in the same boat.

Like many people I found alcohol useful in unleashing my latent charm and imagined wit. At the time of my first Conference, I worried about being allowed to stay, not because of misbehavior but because I wasn’t ‘sick’ enough. So at cocktail time, on my way to join friends, I took to walking from the East wing past the Nurses’ room carrying a half-gallon bottle of Black & White. Even so I was stunned and a bit annoyed to be told I had a ‘drinking problem’ after my first conference. Surely there must be better reasons for keeping me on, I thought, with a blithe disregard for cause and effect.

My case was unusual only in its flamboyance: even acknowledged alcoholics of long standing would haunt the PK nightly ’til the wee hours with discreet drinks, and there were often bottles on the kitchen table. Many of us gave cocktail parties in our rooms which often went way beyond dinner. It was easy to conclude that what was required by the Staff was not abstinence but greater discretion. So we all became discreet, and the problem went away. This was 1965, remember, and drinking was still sophisticated. One night we had a party at the Lavender Door to preview Griffith’s Intolerance, for which I had laboriously prepared a taped mèlange of classical pieces as a score. I made brandy stingers as my Uncle Dick used to do, with Remy Martin and white Menthe, and none of us saw the end of the movie. In matters social I aped the manners and habits of my parents. Alcoholism was never discussed as a genetic or physiological disorder, especially by Freudians, and hardly anyone was required to leave because of it.


"This same latitude extended to heterosexual liaisons, but not to homosexual acts or drug use. These were taboo."

This same latitude extended to heterosexual liaisons, but not to homosexual acts or drug use. These were taboo. Fred was a case in point. I once made a pass at him,crude and painfully verbose when a good grope would probably have worked, and he told e that his doctor had forbidden him to have sex with men; that would be acting out, and he would have to leave.


"Now Fred, unlike the rest of us, couldn't pass; he was simply too nelly."

But in another sense Fred and later Roger were responsible, in disparate ways, for airing the closet, or at least prying open the door. Now Fred, unlike the rest of us, couldn’t pass; he was simply too nelly. And the mere sight of a real queer thawed several latent libidos, and managed to make the subject at least topical if lurid and underground. Fred, after a brief matinee with Dennis P, developed a crush on him, and wouldn’t leave him alone. He wailed outside Dennis’s door, he howled in the steel stairwell, he flailed himself in the Community Meeting with metaphors of rust, refuse and decay. His was the love that dare not speak its name quietly or tersely. Chuck, besieged in his room, simply had to talk about it, and by degrees–if only to make Fred less loathsome to himself–we began to admit a certain sympathy, in private and in public. Some of us certainly were gay, or were afraid we were, or would graduate to it later. But as this was one of the great taboos at Riggs, most of us passed for straight, with only occasional hints at our true nature.

When not crippled by shyness or sadness, I could hold my own in what was a pretty theatrical bunch of patients. There was keen appreciation for the gesture, the insult, for a great raconteur like Chuck. Nearly everyone played some form of game, volleyball, croquet, bridge, and we all liked to win. Volleyball was very popular, and even I enjoyed it; the game became noticeably kinder and less competitive when the weaker players or the older ones joined in, which was nice. When we kept to the sidelines, it became ferocious. There were always a couple of tables of bridge, and several of us played in the duplicate game in the M.O.B., which pitted us against the likes of Dr. Knight or Eric Ericson. No one ever played for money.

In one of my perennial redecorating fits, I decided to paint the bricks around my hearth and proceeded to Electrolux the warm embers in the grate. The result was a kind of faux-leopard-skin carpet, which Edith Breed said I must pay for, to the tune of $200. Fortunately, Miss Breed never lost her sense of humor or proportion, so she agreed to let me pay off the damage by giving bridge lessons, which were eagerly subscribed. At one time I had 10 in the class, a quarter of the Inn population. Of course, many already played; there was a regular foursome made up of the older patients, led by Pat Perkins (the doyenne of the Inn), Bill Scoville (the runner-up), and two Canadians, John Allcock and Allison (“Mummy’s frightfully rich!”) Scott. They seemed entirely indifferent to antics around them;  if they could play through Bedlam they could probably play through–and beyond–perdition.


"Bridge was usually fairly civilized, unlike Hearst or Risk..."

Bridge was usually fairly civilized, unlike Hearts or Risk, which always made for at least temporary enemies and occasional hysteria. When Marti first arrived in July of 1965, her first sight was of three of us trading insults across the Hearts table, colorful, heartfelt, and vicious. Bea’s specialty was Hungarian: one unpronounceable three-word curse she translated “May the pestilences of the ages infest thy Mother’s genitalia!”


"They had another trait in common, the ability to mask their feelings, to seem completely in charge when in fact they were going bonkers inside."

When Marti arrived a few months after me, we soon became friends. She and later Judy were my best bridge partners, and both were killers at hearts. They had another trait in common, the ability to mask their feelings, to seem completely in charge when in fact they were going bonkers inside. It was this appearance of sang-froid, a purely public pose our friends saw through but others did not, that infuriated the Freudian Tories.

Most of my friends were presented to me by Bea. I say presented because she was the  maîtresse d’hôtel of the third table, as well as the final authority on who was out and who was in. She was quite a lot like my sister Foster — a tough girl, a hoyden with a healthy sexual appetite which she confided to me without ever beaming it my way. Bea was full of allusions to the Capone mob — she used to tell people she was from Cicero (not Oak Park), just for the juicy association. “Just one phone call!” she’d warn, and ‘call’ came out cawl. Or she’d threaten to give you “a mouthful of bloody chicklets with my Chicawgo piano!”  “Ayacksent?” she once said. “I don’t have an ayacksent!


"It was Elizabeth I without her wig."

Of course I didn’t believe any of it. Bea was obviously loving and lonely, like everyone else — but she was so good at the tough front, and so funny at it, too. And like the rest of us, she could cry; when she did there was another person there, sobbing convulsively, tears bleeding the mascara, the eyeshadow, the crimson lipstick. It was like Elizabeth I without her wig. We  would hug hard for a minute or two and then she’d light up a Kool and the mask would magically be back on.

The Whitebone affair was a classic in its way. Tom had become a popular figure in his short stay at the Inn: Cagneyesque and swaggering, a sort of psychotic Yosemite Sam, full of colorful aphorisms and caveats (“Never play cards with a guy called Doc or eat in a place called Mom’s”). A furor erupted when he was accused of supplying Bea and Tim, among others, with drugs.  It soon reached the ears of the staff, and Tom, who protested his entire innocence, was to be shipped out.

A kind of revolt ensued. Even Margie, a model of Back Bay decorum, took to the S.S. Pierce sherry and, in her trademark tartan kilt and green sweater, rallied the troops to Tom’s side. She raised a question few of us had dared ask: did the patients have any power to undo such a blatant wrong by the staff? Shall we submit? Are we but slaves?

marx_bros dr. Knight

"the Staff, once thought genial and paternalistic but now revealed as feckless stooges of an unjust and uncaring medicocracy."

Heroic or pathetic, episodes such as this unified us in protecting Tom Whitebone from the Staff, once thought genial and paternalistic but now revealed as feckless stooges of an unjust and uncaring medicocracy. We swarmed into Monday’s Community Meeting with all the passion of a Bastille mob, only to be met by Mary, who had just returned from California, with the news that indeed, Tom not only used drugs but had tried to get her to bring him back some heroin. After that, Tom did go gently.

I knew, of course, that patients often did leave and not always for a better place, sometimes because the Community found itself unable to deal further with disruptive or “unhealthy” behavior, but more often as a result of a staff decision in which patients had taken no apparent part. Facing these events made me feel a little less self-reliant and a little more caged. Some cases, some people, made me sit up and shake. When Audie, who couldn’t stop washing her hands, was led away to a “closed” hospital I felt jeopardy in my own future for the first time. Not any more that I wasn’t sick enough to stay, but might not be well enough. I didn’t understand why Audie couldn’t stop, but I was becoming aware of compulsions of my own, and peripherally glimpsed the iron bars of the playpen. The power of the Doctors was not always, it seemed, benevolent  .


"A project of this sort -- like the Game Room project later in the year --engaged most of the athletic, artistic, and histrionic talents of the Inn."

Riggs had a long tradition of a Fourth of July picnic or cookout to welcome the new class of Fellows, held  on the grounds behind the Inn and the MOB. In the Summer of 1966 some of the patients, feeling bold and a bit zany, issued a challenge to the staff to compete at volleyball and the Summer Games were on. A project of this sort — like the Game Room project later in the year –engaged most of the athletic, artistic, and histrionic talents of the Inn. Several contributed stanzas to the Anthem, which was to be played by a small but untalented amateur orchestra to open the festivities. Margie held down stage left on the dais with her cello, there was a flute (Tina), recorder (Jay), Beth and Jane on violins, and, if memory serves, three soloists, Chuck, Sue, and of course Bea.

I muscled myself onto the podium with a baton, fulfilling a long-held ambition to conduct (though I didn’t read music).  Following the Anthem Peter came racing across the lawn, clad in a leopard skin loincloth and bearing a flaming torch . The volleyball match followed, and of course  we had packed the team with ringers. The Inn didn’t have any jocks per se but some of the patients were vastly better than others) including JoAnn,  Tom, and  Peter, the best spiker we had. He  captained the team, resplendent in his curly bronze hair and fetching loincloth. And pigs did fly that day.

Beth as Clara Bow

"She was small, apparently frail, and rather mousy. "

Beth and I became guarded friends fairly quickly.  She was small, apparently frail, and rather mousy. But I recognized in her many familiar cues — accent, references to this or that New York event or tradition, things we had in common.  It helped that I liked her boyfriend Roderick who used to visit her from New York. Beth and I had an easy relationship, not very searching and free of neurotic involvement (rare for both of us). But she had a way of cutting through my bullshit, and coming from her corner it usually brought me up short.

JoAnn was, by contrast, direct and lean, physically and intellectually. Her commitment was intimidating but she had her own agenda and artistic ambitions which always set her apart as more modern, and less hidebound, than we were. I once made a trip to Chicago and stayed at her house near the University. She took me around to see the Robie house. It was only there, in her parents’ house, that I appreciated the intellectual traditions she represented and which she strove to reflect. The third table crowd and JoAnn were often at odds over acting-out and our attitudes toward a therapeutic community.


"Dr. Edelson" Image by Turk

There were plenty of patients who echoed Dr. Edelson’s belief in the virtue of sharing the truth with the group, of public confession of your emotions. But we, at first, we not among them. There was only one occasion in my two years when homosexuality was openly discussed in a Community Meeting, and very few–notably the gonorrhea epidemic and the Whitebone affair–when sexual mores or drug use came up. These episodes were brought into the open only because the social fabric of the Inn was being shredded by them. Otherwise there was very little enthusiasm for bringing sex or drugs into the open. Faute de mieux a bystander in the gonorrhea business, I could stand back and track the course of revelation and accusation, occasionally ducking when one flew too close. At the height of the Terror, I entered the dining room one lunchtime to see Marti eating at the Nurses’ (first) table. Surprised, I said, “How are you?” She gave me a withering look. “I’m clean!,” she shot back. But among the younger patients, it seemed we were the exception. Day after day gossip added new names to the list of the unclean, even as the search narrowed for the culprit. And there was, then, a lot of discussion of sexual–and medical–subjects in those Community Meetings, which were unusually well-attended.


"Pearce was a big man, ruddy and blond, not fat, rather serene and often forgetful, with a pleasant bovine air."

Therapy was sometimes a drag, sometimes a revelation. More often a drag. Pearce seemed (like me) somewhat lazy, and we achieved our insights rather gently. There were plenty of missed appointments, and few dazzling ones. But we liked each other, and liking each other is a great help. Pearce was a big man, ruddy and blond, not fat,  rather serene and often forgetful, with a pleasant bovine air.


"We were completely at odds, in language, interpretation, and nuance. "

My sessions with Ian Storey were totally opposite.  We were completely at odds, in language, interpretation, and nuance.  Storey only saw me for testing, twice in two years, and both times it was a disaster of communication, which puzzled me greatly.  He was a welterweight, slender and dark,  handsome in an angular way, and careful with his gestures (he had beautiful hands). He seemed not to believe anything I said.I found out years later that Storey was gay. Reading his almost vitriolic assessments of my character (he was apparently the only staffer who recommended that I not be treated at Riggs) suggests that the chemistry between us, denial on his part, desire on mine,  had skewed  the results.  Storey conducted the Rorshach and Thematic Apperception Tests, and I remember them as hostile encounters. His reports to the staff conference describe me as an unrepentant con-man, a smoothie.  He fell for the wrong veneer, and either failed to see or refused to acknowledge the extent to which my sexuality, or repression of it, had made me swerve.

The conference reports are remarkable in that they say, “He thinks he is a homosexual.”  Because, of course, homosexuality to a Freudian was but a condition, to be cured.  Mind you, I had with great honesty and strain — the letting-off of years of steam — told Doctors Knight, Pearce, Storey et alia that I was homosexual. I’d never told anyone else about it, and it was a great liberation, the signal to myself and to the staff that I was serious about being treated. I was being honest.

To his credit, Pearce, who may have been more modern in his psychiatry than  his mentors, was not judgmental and never suggested that a cure of my sexual orientation was either possible or advisable. He was largely mute, or posed the sort of abstract questions which keep you talking — when you’re talking.

There were many sessions of nearly complete silence. Pearce seemed  to understand that some of these were grandstanding and others involved real conflict. One stands out in memory. After a long silence, following a recollection long forgotten, he said to me, “Perhaps you wanted to be held.” The chair sank beneath me, as I ascended toward the ceiling of the room; a great humming in my head occurred (a sensation which has by now become commonplace, a component of grief). We live … after the fall, after many deaths…yet the grief was as old as I, only compounded by the future. What has made me so deathly sad, so long as I can remember?

After more than a year of therapy such incidents  became more common. One weekend of acting-out (and sometimes in that process you don’t know you’re acting out) I burned most of my mementos, including my only photograph of my Father (embossed Proof — not for sale) in my fireplace — despite the catcalls and importunities of my friends. I said I was leaving Riggs.  Maybe I would have.  But Marti, or Bea, or Mary prevailed upon me to call Pearce first, and Alan Cooley was nice enough to put the call through. So I stayed, a while longer.

I was constantly testing Pearce, doing things to make myself bad to court his rejection. After he repeatedly suggested to me that I was getting myself into trouble because I liked it, his words slowly began to sink in. I could certainly understand that I was used to rejection, had developed fine antennae to anticipate it, was apparently terrified of abandonment; what was news was that this was a chosen path, perhaps merely a  well-rutted road or a record stylus repeating a passage, but my chosen road, my chosen passage.

This little kernel of awareness grew eventually into a form of self-cynicism, even objectivity. It took seven years, but finally someone put the notion into words that fell into place like printing blocks on a compositor’s tray: beyond a certain point a man may be assumed to have intended the consequences of his acts. The speaker, in 1973, was Senator Sam Irvin, and the fact that he was talking about Richard Nixon only made the realization more delicious. I had always chosen the best role models.

When his residency at Riggs was finished, in June of 1966,  Pearce left me in the care of his roommate Marcus, disregarding a  long list of other names, headed by Ess White’s, which I had given him. Marcus was unknown to me.  Marcus was directive and unsubtle. Some of the hors d’oeuvres served at my elegant cocktail parties had been shoplifted from Nejaime’s.   He, seeming to me to take my conference recommendations much too literally, insisted that I  take them back. This made me treat him like a parent, where Pearce had been more disinterested, like the brother I’d never had. Marcus was judgmental and superior, patriarchal and severe.

He was also a particular Freudian. There were some expressions, used by my parents and friends all my life — perhaps they were WASPy, but they were lingua franca to me — which he seized upon.  I once said that I’d “tried to get a rise out of [him]” in mentioning some action of the week. He was quite insistent that I meant, give him an erection,  which was then as now a fairly repugnant idea.

Although we plainly didn’t like each other much, there was some mutual respect and there was some progress. Pearce’s leaving had made me vulnerable, and so I became less coy. But the impression, clearly held by Storey,  that I was only skimming the surface of Riggs, must have stuck to Marcus too.

Labor Day weekend in 1966 was gray, windy and very rainy.  A lot of people had fled the Inn for the holiday but there were a few of us left.  It seemed a good day for Mahler, so when Marti came into my room I put on George Szell’s recording of the Mahler fourth symphony.

It’s like most of his work, with wild mood swings, only in the fourth they’re rather contained, with bucolic movements surrounding an elegaeic and searingly sad andante in the middle.  It was (and is) hard for me to hear dry-eyed, and to pass the time and  hide the pain I  led  Marti through the movement, preparing her for the great dissonant chords that Mahler labelled Death Strikes Out. It is a titanic noise, expressing  equally catastrophe and affirmation.

At Hotchkiss I’d actually witnessed a pure example of ESP at work: my friend Roger Liddell was badly injured in a soccer game, and I went with him direct from the field to the infirmary.  When we got there, his Mother was on the phone. She knew something was wrong with Roger,  and being practical had called the right place.  If I had any skepticism about this, it was dispelled on meeting her later.  She was the kind of person in whom you confided everything. She said to me, with no prompting at all,  “You are in trouble, aren’t you?”  long before I knew it was true.

That Sunday before Labor day was the second example. There have been only three.  How long after we heard the Mahler did it take the news to reach us?  For years I wondered if  my little concert and the crash of the car into the tree were, as Hardy puts it,  a

…sign that they were bent on paths coincident,

on being anon twin halves of one august event.

Well, they were as close in time as I care to know. Death struck out, indeed.

Bea was dead, and Molly too.

The week of Bea’s death raced by in a blur. There was a memorial service in Stockbridge, but three of us –JoAnn, Ron and I — went to Chicago instead for the funeral.

Back at the Inn, I was deputized to debrief the CM about the funeral. It was  a Catholic service but being ignorant of such matters, and crazy and distracted to boot, made me a poor witness. But there had certainly been much panoply and liturgy, enough that I told the meeting, “I expected Bea to rise up our of her coffin and proclaim, ‘That’s the most dis- Gust -ing thing I ever heard!'”

Fran, JoAnn’s current boyfriend,  jumped in to accuse us, her old friends, of egging Bea on, of pushing her to her death, of being “superficial,” callous and debonair . Bea had taken Fran under her wing, as was her custom, because she was always interested in new flesh and Fran’s –to judge from JoAnn’s lurid and much-shown portrait of him — was prodigious. No doubt Bea scandalized him with tales of Balkan betrayals by her erstwhile friends, of backstabbings and cabals. Fran had bought into it and now was spewing it back at us.

I could see this was too much for Marti,  who was going to lose it, big-time, and burst into sobs. So I leaned toward her across the coffee table and quickly pulled out a handkerchief  flourishing it toward her like a courtier. Perhaps I managed a little (seated) bow, too.

That was too much for Fran.  Damning us as heartless as superficial, he stormed from the living room. I suppose if Ian Storey thought I was a smoothie it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Fran did too. But I didn’t really care that he couldn’t see the beating heart, the rising tears. I, like Marti, was afraid of losing control. But back in my room, alone with the first of my Riggs ghosts, rise they did.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: