On May 21 Peter Lamborn Wilson died in his sleep, his home in Saugerties NY, at the age of 72. His work appeared in 96, and In Memoriam we reprint this tale from his book Night Market Noodles. The tales in this book adress lightly but insightfully many of the subjects that interested him in his last two decades, and portray his tastes and personal style in a way which is tantamount to a visit with him.
Sometimes here in Upstate-Land a certain condition creates what I call a Temporary Washington Irving Zone. When it’s rainy and misty and spooky and dark, it may happen that obscure little back roads (the kind with no number) get caught in some kind of 4th dimensional spacetime warp. They stretch out and fold in on themselves in moebius-like goedelian loops. No matter how long you drive and drive they just keep winding and going up and down through heavy louring rain-sodden woods wreathed in fog. Heaven forbid one might ever have to get out of the car and walk— because that’s when the Headless Horseman would appear.
I told you how I was having trouble working on the new novel at home in Kingston (and I know you’re getting antsy and beginning to believe I’ll never
finish it) — so you won’t be surprised to hear that I was driving around today looking randomly for some sort of writers’ retreat, out in deep Ulster County, when Late Afternoon Fog overtook me somewhere in the debatable lands between Hardenburgh and the Pepacton Reservoir, in the midst of sheer backroad Catskill nowhereness — and I got lost. Whatever road I was on lacked all signage. It was pitted and rutted and graveled and muddy in places, there were no houses, the way was steep and scary and dark. My County Atlas had failed me, and I was simply hoping to come to the end of the road before the old VW conked out and left me alone with the wolves, or Rip Van Winkle’s Dwarves.
On and on and on into the gathering dusk.
Just as the gray light was about to fade to black in a tangle of tall trees that looked like virgin hemlock (their heads invisible in a low cloud) I turned a
sharp corner and came suddenly upon — a sign.
Signs are signs of civilization. This one said Camp Wyltmeet — Vacation Cabins. The painted letters were made of corny faux-adirondack sticks. On the left was the crude bust of an Indian brave in a feather headdress. On the right was an appended small sign that said “vacancy.” The colors were fading and the sign was old and shabby. Perhaps the cabins were inhabited only by ghosts. Perhaps (I thought dizzily) I could steal the sign, which I liked very much. I peered into the murk behind the sign and saw a single light. What ho.
In the mist-shrouded beams of my headlights I made out a driveway. I pulled in and parked. The light was emanating from a window in a small frame
house, two storeys, the upper one with eyebrow windows under a sagging roof; it looked quite old, but done over in aluminum siding with peeling white paint. In the background I could make out (amidst the pines) five small cabins, also painted white, typical Catskill style. I knocked.
The proprietor, who said his name was Harry Cutter, about 60, toothless and genial, dressed in long-johns and vest and jeans and slippers, told me yes, he had a free cabin (he had five free cabins, as I later realized) and I could rent it for $25 the night. A very attractive figure.
He didn’t invite me in, but emerged with a key (linked to a rustic minilog) and led me through wet grass to cabin Number One.
“By the way,” I said, “I’m kind of lost. Where am I?”
“Gore Hollow Road, just up-wind of Antioch,” he said. I only learned later he meant “Antioch” — what he actually said was “Anti-Oak.” As you know, if
it is possible to mispronounce a town’s name, here in Upstate, then it will be mispronounced. I suppose it’s a symptom of creativity. Isn’t it remarkable how many “classical” and Biblical place-names we boast around here? Phoenicia. Delhi (pronounced “Del-high”). Arabia. Troy. Cairo (pronounced “Kay-ro”).
The tiny cabin was built of those wooden planks which are uneven because the bark is left on either edge — what do you call them? Very picturesque. There was a wee porch sagging in front of the screen door, which creaked. A bare light bulb illuminated a room painted (peeling) white, a worn linoleum floor (plaid), a sagging double bed with sickly green quilt (rayon), a plywood dresser, a single wooden chair and little table. A ghastly bathroom behind a door in the back. A smell of mildew and damp sheets. I loved it.
As I walked back out to the car to get my necessities it suddenly occurred to me I might actually have found my writer’s retreat. (I unpacked my old
portable Hermes typewriter just in case.) I asked for weekly rates. Mr Cutter said $100!
Luckily I’d brought along a couple of sandwiches and bags of chips and a bottle of “local” “artisanal” applejack. After supper I rolled a joint and poured a water glass of liquor, sat down at the table and began to write this letter to you. I guess I’ll continue it tomorrow, and eventually mail it. The table functions well as a writing surface. Maybe I can get back to work on the Magnum Ope. Meanwhile, dismissing all thoughts of Psycho and Motel Hell (— “Mr Cutter,” indeed!) I shall turn down my clammy sheets and retire with my used copy of Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese ghost stories.
This morning I got out my phone and tried to make a few calls. “No Service.” Hallelujah. A nice feeling. The fog was so thick I couldn’t even see Mr
Cutter’s house out my window. Still lost in the Ichabod Crane Zone! Mr C told me I could get breakfast down the road in Antioch at “The Store.” I pre-paid him for another night (to his obvious surprise) and then drove about a mile. The fog was lifting a bit but as I came into Antioch I could barely
see the town, shrouded in mysterious mist. First there appeared a couple of farms on either side of the road. The farmhouses were decayed, unpainted, gabled Victorian vernacular wooden structures with big porches, surrounded by dead cars, pieces of rusted tractors, rain-soaked broke-back couches and miscellaneous junk, ancient weeping willows and mud. The barns were faded red, rotting, broken-windowed, and utterly aesthetically perfect. A few cows and even a horse were lurking around doing nothing except crop the scrappy grass. Behind the barns I saw actual fields of corn, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Behind the fields — the Forest Primeval, whispering pines and hemlocks.
A little farther along the road I came to a cluster of doublewide trailers raised and rusting on cement blocks, tired-looking amidst lawns of weeds.
Nondescript cars were parked, and chimneys were puffing out spumes that looked and smelled like woodsmoke. No humans in sight. Then I arrived in “downtown” Antioch.
I crossed a one-lane bridge over a burbling creek; I later learned that it is called Gore Hollow Kill. At a crossroad I found on one side a little old wooden church, not very distinguished-looking except for its large arched plain-glass windows and vestigial steeple. Like all buildings in Antioch it seems distressed. A church-sign in front read “St Nicholas of Antioch, Scottish Episcopal Church in America (Non-Juring). 1915. Sunday 11 AM.” A rather overgrown little graveyard behind the church. Weeds. Next door another double-wide, perhaps the vicarage?
On the opposite corner I found “the store,” no name, but an old red Coca-Cola sign in the window and a single gas pump in front. Across the street was a large log cabin with cedar shingle roof, in very bad repair, and a sign that identified it as the “Antioch Rod and Gun Club.” Here and there along the four streets were scattered a handful of old frame houses, I’d guess about the same age as the church, all dull-colored and creaky, but actually in their humble way quite nice. And that was it.
The fog had turned to rain. I parked and hurried into the shop (the door set off a bell). Inside I found myself back in about 1957. The shelves were
thinly stocked with off-brand cans and packages, and the glass-fronted cooler revealed potato salad and what looked like a real ham. Flypaper and a rotary fan hung from the ceiling. Sporting goods (rods, rubber boots, trout flies, etc.) appeared behind the counter which boasted a big old ornate gilt cash register. In response to the bell a middle-to-late-aged lady appeared from a back room and gave me a wan smile and good morning. “Mr Cutter down at the cabins told me I could get breakfast here.”
“You can indeed. Pancakes, or ham and eggs with homefries — and coffee.”
“Is that a real Smithfield ham there?”
“Give me a double portion, and three eggs over easy, please.”
While she bustled and banged around in the back kitchen, I sat down at one of three formica tables and studied my County Atlas, which I’d brought in with me. At last I found Gore Hollow and Antioch and figured out where I was — about halfway between Margaretville on Route 28, and Lew’s Beach just across the border in Sullivan County. The road turned into a dotted line and ended deep in the high mountains, and there were no other towns for miles in any direction. State forest hemmed in the road on all sides and I realized that “gore” must refer not to blood but to an old surveyor’s error that had left this triangle of land unorganized and unclaimed until a few desperate farmers had colonized it around the time the church was built.
Breakfast arrived with orange juice (real) and toast made from homebaked white bread. The food was perfect. As Nietzsche says somewhere, it’s the big things in life that let you down and betray you, but the little pleasures remain — and a decent breakfast is a philosophical truth. Even the coffee tasted like coffee.
The lady loosened up considerably when I told her all this, and we had a nice chat. She informed me she did supper too and I vowed to return. I learned her name: Hilda Van Donk. I found that my guess about the “gore” was correct. I heard that the nearest post office is in Margaretville, about 15 miles away (so this letter may grow quite large before I manage to mail it).
As Mrs Van Donk rang up my bill, a measly $4.85, I discovered that the cash register (ka-chink!) was not digitalized, and I commented on this with
“Dear me,” she said, “I couldn’t use one of those computers, I’m just too old and slow for that.”
“Good. I hate them, actually. I have to use them to make my living, but I resent them.”
“Well, we don’t really have that kind of service out here. Couldn’t run ’em even if we wanted to. None of that cellphone stuff either.”
“Mrs Van Donk, this village is heaven on earth, I suspect.”
“Oh no, just poor and backward, I reckon.”
On the way out of the store I noticed a bulletin board beside the door and paused to study it for possible sociological insights. A couple of cars and some bits of esoteric used farm equipment were offered for sale. A Church Ladies’ Auxiliary was to meet that Sunday afternoon. The Rod and Gun club promised a fund-raising barbecue (burgers and ’dogs) a week hence. A Miss Eugenia Brink announced home-made jams and pickles. And real estate was advertised — a farm-house with 6 acres and barn for $159,000 and a doublewide (with stream frontage) for $50,000.
I drove back to the cabins and decided I needed no lunch after such a caloric breakfast — I would devote the day to the novel. I smoked a joint and
set myself to the task.
At a quarter to five I gave up in disgust, having managed only to delete half a chapter, and headed back to the store for supper at “five sharp.”
This time I was not alone. An incredibly elderly couple in their shabby Sunday best were about to occupy one of the tables. Mrs Van Donk was busy
in the kitchen and sent out her daughter to take everyone’s orders.
The girl appeared to be a slightly frail adolescent, with dark ringlets and a very pretty face. She reminded me of the old Celtic cliché — hair like a raven’s wing, skin like snow, lips like blood. When her mother called her I learned her name was Katie. At the other table sat a boy, I guessed about eleven, trying to do his homework and scowling. I caught his name too — Ned — and assumed he was Katie’s brother, since he looked just like her. Katie shyly told me the special tonight was chicken ‘n’ dumplings, or I could have a burger and fries. I went for the special, naturally. With a glass of milk and a slice of homemade peach pie.
The girl was feast for the eyes — and the special was a gastronomic revelation. Really. Nero Wolfe couldn’t have complained. The dumplings floated celestially in giblet gravy, the chicken was moist and fragrant, the peaches were worthy of Charles Fourier the utopian “gastrosophist” or his cousin Brillat-Savarin. Unbelievable. Once again I heaped praise on a blushing Mrs Van D and tipped generously. (The whole thing came to $7.50!) I even elicited a little smile from the angelic Katie.
I finished the Lafcadio Hearn and started the Loeb Library volume of Macrobius’s Saturnalia. It was fascinating but I passed out at about 9 o’clock
and slept dreamlessly till dawn.
I went outside and took a little walk in the woods behind the cabin. The weather had cleared up. I heard a warbler. I saw a fox. I knocked on Mr Cutter’s door and gave him a hundred dollars.
Today was Sunday — so, realizing by 9 o’clock or so that the Novel was not going to be successfully attacked, I decided instead to go to church. After pancakes at the store I strolled over to St Nicholas’s at 11 and filed in along with a drift of villagers.
The interior … well, it was not what I expected. Yes it’s poor and shabby, but rather than the bareness of Protestant vacuum I’d anticipated I found a
great busyness. The first thing I noticed was a large plaster statue of blue-painted Mary and infant Jesus, standing on a half-moon like Isis, set in a clamshell niche to the left of the altar. More statues gave the place a vaguely Hindu atmosphere. The altar itself revealed a lot to me, being as I am an agnostic amateur of liturgy and church symbolism. There were seven candles! Very “High Church”! and masses of beautiful flowers, arrayed in simple porcelain pots but with quiet good taste. Silk (or imitation silk) altar cloth. Full set of chalice, pyx, ewer, etc. — plain but dignified. A simple silver cross, not a crucifix, held the center position. On the wall to the right, a reproduction of a Russian icon of the Three Magi and the Star, framed in ornate “silver.” The air smelled strongly of flowers and (amazingly) of stale frankincense (masking the universal Upstate mildew and churchly funk of socks and beeswax). All very Anglo-Catholic!
I took a modest pew at the back of the nave and studied the parishioners. I quickly realized why I felt something uncanny about them: — they all looked alike. They all had black curly hair; the youth were handsome, like the Van Donk children, although none so beautiful as Katie. They all appeared to be cousins. Very little of the obesity one has come to expect of the American populace in general. The oldsters in fact were lean, grizzled and worn, as poor people used to be, but I could discern in most of them the same basic family features. Very odd.
A little after eleven a small pipe organ struck up a processional, and the officiants processed in from a vestry in the rear: the priest, decked out in full regalia, including lace surplice and biretta; in front of him a boy in choir robes holding a big wooden cross; behind him a choir: two women, two men, two girls, and a small boy, all robed; and last, two acolytes: Katie and Ned, looking very decorative. Ned was thurifer, enthusiastically swinging the incense burner with great billows. The priest, I noted, did not seem to be a typical Antiochite but a middle-aged sandy blond with the rosy nose of a hearty drinker. The choir was singing, and I realized with a shock and frisson that they were using the archaic Sarum Rite Anglican plainchant mode, which I knew only from recordings.
I don’t want to bore you with liturgical niceties, but I can assure you that for the next hour I was in pig heaven, as an afficianado of the aesthetics of ritual; even in India and Europe I’d never attended such an uncompromisingly UnReformed ceremony, not even at the Tantrik Temple of Kali in Calcutta, or the Vatican! It was “poor” of course — the choir was amateurish — the organist inadequate (although I was touched to discover it was Mrs Van Donk!) —but the intention was pure. The Bible they used was the unrevised King James, and the edition of The Book of Common Prayer would’ve met with the approval of Archbishop Laud himself. I was moved nearly to tears. Childhood nostalgism, I suppose.
The minister’s name, as I’d learned from an “Order of Service” leaflet, was Rev. Paul Ryan, and when it came time for his sermon I received yet another surprise. He announced that he’d found a beautiful prayer in a book on the Iroquois Confederacy, and “although they are a different Nation,” he thought the congregation would love it. Nature was deified and thanked for all the bounty of the material and spiritual worlds, for wild geese and the Three Sisters, corn, beans, and squash, for Consolation in sorrow, and for “the White Roots of Peace” of the great Pine-Tree of the World Axis, or words to that effect. The Congregation sighed with pleasure and murmured “amen” and “hallelujah!” Frankly, I was stunned. The priest ended by proclaiming that an “incarnational religion” which also believed in the unity of being must necessarily adhere to the doctrine of “hylozoism” — that all things are alive, even rocks — that the universe is a living being. “Amen!” Holy cow!
As the officiants recessed, I caught Katie’s eye. She didn’t smile, but she also didn’t frown.
On my way out I noticed a number of pictures hanging on the back wall on either side of the door; I’d missed them on the way in. Among the religious oleographs and old fashioned saints’ cards, one framed reproduction stood out: a color repro of a stained-glass window labeled, “St Simon Magus.” I recalled (as you will) from Acts of the Apostles that Simon Magus was a Samaritan disciple of Jesus who’d been 86’d from the early church by Peter and Paul for the sins of “simony,” magic, gnosticism, and fornication. What was he doing here, labeled as a “saint”?
Outside the church I greeted Mr Cutter and the Van Donks. The Rev. Ryan was shaking hands with his parishioners. I introduced myself and waxed
enthusiastic about the service; for some reason I wanted to impress him, and used such terms as “Anglo-Catholic” and “Old Sarum Rite” — and I could see that he was impressed, and pleased to be recognized by an actual fellow liturgiophile. Of course my appreciation was purely aesthetic, but nevertheless we sort of bonded, and I invited him to come out to the Cabins and join me in a drink. He excused himself for the day — Sunday — “Ladies’ Auxiliary and what-not” — but promised to visit me on Monday afternoon.
Before getting in my car I strolled through the graveyard. All the stones were dated 1915 or later, but already the place had acquired an antique and haunted look — wild weeds, stones akimbo, a row of dark cypresses…. A few family names were repeated again and again: Davis, Van Donk, Mann, Dubois, Springwater. I hypothesized a degree of intermarriage — which would account for the peculiar similarity of the congregants. No doubt there must exist a certain number of six-toed morons hidden away in attic rooms hereabouts, I joked to myself.
Supper at the Store — an excellent meatloaf with mashed potatoes and real gravy, followed by chocolate cake. Mrs Van D is a Living National Treasure.
And so to bed, with Macrobius.
I couldn’t add anything to this letter yesterday because I passed out dead drunk around midnight. As I suspected, Rev. Ryan sure can (and does) drink. Not only did we polish off both my quarts of applejack, we also killed two bottles of California Shiraz the Rev had looted (chuckle chuckle) from his Communion cellar. It’s now Tuesday morning, and I’m badly hung over, but a pot of instant coffee and a fat joint have given me the strength to record yesterday’s events. You’re going to find them hard to believe.
Ryan walked out to the cabin at about four, bringing with him a basket of sandwiches and bottles, and we settled down for a nice long chat, me on the bed, him on the chair, each of us equipped with one of the two water glasses provided by Mr Cutter for the cabin. (No water, however, was consumed.)
The priest showed no interest in small chat, so we launched at once into dense thickets of theology and church history, where he seemed most at home. I asked him to explain Scottish Episcopal Non-Juring, and how it had found a niche in rural Ulster County.
I poured, we clinked glasses, and I sat back to listen while he talked —and talked.
“From the earliest 17th century settlement of North America to the Revolution, the Anglican Church had refused to create any bishops in America. Worried about possible schism, I suppose. Insisted that all priests be ordained in England. After the Revolution the Anglicans of Connecticut chose one Samuel Seabury (a Tory loyalist who’d spent time in jail) to sail to London to demand consecration. To his disgust, he was refused. The Archbishop of Canterbury claimed that since America was no longer a colony of England, he had no jurisdiction.
“Someone told Seabury about the Jacobite Church in Scotland, which had refused to give up allegiance to the Stuart Pretender (who was a Catholic Cardinal living in Rome) and had gone underground. Seabury travelled up to Scotland, located three Non-Juring Bishops, and explained his plight. Needless to say, they were overjoyed to lay hands on him, and he soon returned to New Haven, blithely claiming a bishopric. Half the locals accepted him, half declared him a schismatic heretic.
“In 1788 the last Pretender died without an heir, and the Scottish Church finally gave up the Cause, reconciled itself with Canterbury, and took the oath of loyalty to the Hanoverian Whig Monarchy. The American Church decided it too was now in communion with Canterbury but NOT loyal to the King, and this situation was tacitly accepted by the English Church and continues to this day. However, Seabury had by then created a number of American Bishops, and one of them, Mathews of Maryland, refused to give up his Non-Juring idealism. He in turn created priests and bishops, and the Scottish Episcopal Non-Juring Church has survived till today, albeit on a very small scale. In 1915 a Missionary was sent here to Antioch to proselytize and convert the locals and build a church. He succeeded. I am the fifth and present incumbent.”
“Well, that’s clear enough.” I said. “Let me top off your drink…. Cheers. Well, now I understand the lovely old ritual — but I’m also curious about your
theology. Your sermon struck me as most extraordinary. I was raised Episcopalian, and I certainly cannot recall ever hearing anything so blatantly pantheistic — if you’ll pardon my timerity.”
“Of course. Well, that’s the end of your lovely applejack. Shall we tackle these roast beef sandwiches, and I’ll open a bottle of holy plonk?”
“I have another quart of ’jack, we’ll save it till after our snack. Your health! Ah, delicious.”
We tucked into the sandwiches and slugged down the vino, while Rev. Ryan continued his lectio religionis.
“ I take it that you are no longer an active communicant of the so-called Protestant Episcopal Church of America? Ah… then I trust I shall not scandalize you by revealing that, although we remain uncompromisingly authentic as to ritual and usage, we have, uh, diverged in some respects from what some might consider an entirely traditional Reformation theology.”
“I confess to being what I jokingly call an Anglo-Agnostic; in effect, I left the Church or the Church left me, decades ago, and I retain only a vestige of
aesthetic appreciation and fond nostalgia for the vagaries of Anglicanism. Here, let me pour you another.”
“Well,” said the minister, “it was Nietzsche who declared that paganism did what had to be done, while Christianity was the biggest disaster in human history, due to its hatred of the body. And yet when Nietzsche proclaimed the Death of God he also left the way open for a re-birth of the gods — such as Dionysus, let’s drink to Him! — and even for a new Christian Theology based, as it were, on the re-paganization of monotheism. Christ AS Dionysus, you might say. And given the secret teachings of the Greek Mysteries, this step would appear quite logical and inevitable.”
“I always wondered,” I offered, “how a religion that preaches that God is flesh could end up so corroded by ‘moralic acid.’ I presume you’re familiar with T.J.J. Altizer’s ‘Death of God’ theology….”
“Yes, and his valorization of William Blake’s Satan. I’d be happy to offer Altizer a bishopric, if it were in my power to do so.”
“A toast to him!” I proposed.
That signaled the end of the first bottle of wine, and I staggered over to my suitcase to find the second quart of applejack.
“But tell me,” I asked as I filled our glasses to the brim, “who was St Nicholas of Antioch and why is there an icon of Simon Magus hanging in your church?”
“Ah, very perspicacious of you, sir. You cut to the chase. I presume you’re familiar with Revelation? Of course. Do you recall St John’s mention of the
Sect of Nicolaitans?”
“Oh! You mean the heretics he accuses of… something or other? I forget exactly….”
“Nicholas was one of the first deacons of the Church, appointed directly by the Apostles. According to our teachings, he later became the fourth Bishop of Rome — the Pope — but has been edited out of Catholic history by jealous censors. He was the direct mystical successor of Simon Magus, whom we consider to have been a true follower of Jesus — perhaps the only true follower.”
“But… it’s coming back to me now…. He had a consort named Helen, a former prostitute… didn’t Simon fight a magical duel with St Peter in Rome? Yes, Simon actually levitated and flew… Peter cursed him… he fell from the air and crashed — died in disgrace… ?”
“So say the Apocrypha. We however maintain that Simon flew and proved his divine powers. Driven out of Rome by the Peter-Paul faction, he escaped and made his way to Ireland. There he converted the Druids to Christianity, including the great Moigh Ruadh.”
“As it happens, I know about Moigh Ruadh, the Master of the Snake Stone. Chief of the Druids of Munster, yes? He’s supposed to have traveled to
the Holy Land and acted as executioner of John the Baptist! Cut off his head, like a true Celtic head-hunter!”
“Sheer slander. Simon and Moigh Ruadh venerated the Baptist as co-messiah with Jesus. They buried the Holy Head in Jerusalem, where it was later discovered by the Templars and worshipped as ‘Baphomet’. The High Druids of Fermoy and Cashel bestowed the cloak of Ravens’ Feathers on Simon when he flew to Ireland. He… he…”
The good reverend suddenly clammed up as if he realized he’d gone too far. Suavely I poured him another full glass. In silence he gulped down half of it. He was clearly gone with the wind. So was I. But adroitly I changed the subject and asked:
“Tell me, what exactly was the supposed sin of the Nicolaitans?”
He looked at me with goggle eyes. He swayed in his chair. He opened his mouth and whispered, “Sexual immorality.”
My head was spinning. I poured myself another and tried to think of the right question.
“Ah… tell me about your parishioners. Why is it they all appear to be related?”
“Again, very perp… prep… perspicacious,” the Reverend replied. “You have guessed that ours is an Antinomian Way. The chains of the Law have been broken. Our relation with the outside world is adversarial: we are, so to speak, natural anarchists, although we never say so openly. We dodge all drafts. We hate modern technology. We never vote. We won’t ‘work’. (Although a lot of us are on SSI.) And we don’t give a damn for conventional morality.”
“I myself am an admirer of Max Stirner; I even think the Unabomber had a few good points. But… what does all that have to do with the fact that everyone in Antioch seems to be… oh!”
The priest smiled owlishly and nodded.
“You… you mean,” I stuttered, “… ?”
“It happens,” he said calmly.
“But… but who…?”
“Well — strictly entre nous… our dear friends the Van Donks…. He’s dead now, but they were brother and sister. They were never legally married, of
course, but I wedded them in Church. Why not?”
“Then Katie and Ned….”
“Are their children.”
Well, that’s about all. After swearing me to secrecy the good minister lurched up and crashed through the screen door, and set out under a mad full
moon to wend or weave his way back to town. I hoped he’d make it without falling in a ditch or being abducted by UFOs. I went out back and threw up.
Feeling better, I managed to crawl into bed before losing consciousness.
This morning I woke up late and sick. I made coffee on my little camp stove, and spent the morning drinking it. Now I’ve brought the letter to you
up to date and am going back to bed with a splitting headache.
An hour before dawn I woke suddenly and bolted upright. I’d had a flash — a thought about the names in the graveyard in Antioch. I jumped out of
bed and dressed and ran out to the VW. It wouldn’t start — out of gas! Pfui! At once I set out striding down Gore Hollow Road toward town. It was raining softly. By the time I got to the church I was almost running, and unpleasantly damp. In the first opalescent light of dawn I started dashing up and down through wet weeds between cracked headstones, making a list of names.
I snuck away without rousing Rev. Ryan in his doublewide, and walked over to the Store, which was already open. Mrs Van D’s eggs and coffee revived me, and I asked her a few sneaky questions about local history. Then I bought a canister of gas and carried it back to the Cabins. I told Mr Cutter to hold my reservation and gave him another $50. In an hour and a half I was back in Kingston in my apartment on the Roundout. It took some time to find the books I wanted in the mess and confusion, and even longer to locate the photocopies I’d made in Albany, maybe ten years ago. By then it was lunchtime, and I made the mistake of going out to eat in the most expensive restaurant on Abeel St.
On the way there, everywhere I looked, I saw people yammering into hand-held brain-prostheses or thumbing them mindlessly. TVs and radios
blared out panic-stricken gibberish here and there, or loud thumping sinister Muzak. Cars and trucks roared and exploded and spewed poisons. Crude vicious advertisements littered the viewscape, along with badly-dressed frantic-looking pedestrians.
The restaurant was full of pretentious foodies who looked like artists or real estate developers, talking loudly about upper-middle-brow Kultur and
shopping. The chef was a bobo from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA!) in Poughkeepsie and the food proved to be neo-post-nouvelle — aesthetic portions that looked like advertisements for food and tasted like expensive cinders. I should’ve gone to a diner. I missed Mrs Van Donk… and I missed Antioch!…
O, The Horror, to quote Conrad.
Back in my Kingston flat I spread out the books and papers and began correlating the names from the graveyard with the names in the xeroxed papers. The books were relatively useless because the names had all been changed to “protect the innocent” — but the xeroxes were copied from old yellowing typescripts made in turn from the original fieldnotes. I’d located those papers after years of search in the library of SUNY Albany, where they had only been catalogued a few years previously, after decades of neglect. The subject matter — eugenics — had been deservedly unfashionable and politically incorrect. I’d wanted to write a book on the subject but in the end found it all too depressing. One by one I identified the names from the fieldnotes of Davenport and Estabrook, and checked them against the data given in the two books: The Jukes: A Study in Degeneracy, Rev. T. McCulough (1876), and The Jukes in 1915 by Estabrook.
Everything checked out. I had been correct. The good people of Antioch are… the Jukes.
So who were the Jukes, you may ask. First of all the name is made-up, there was never one family called the Jukes. The good Rev. McCullough had
noticed that the same family names kept turning up in prison and poorhouse records in Ulster County. He identified the names as inter-related families of paupers and seasonal workers originating in the hills above Kingston around the Five Binnewaters (lakes), an area still remote and inaccessible in the late 19th century. They lived in shacks and old rotting canal boats around the abandoned cement mines in the woods. They stole, they poached, they begged, they committed (yes) incest, they ended up in institutions, they were rural lumpen proletarians, troublemakers, prostitutes… degenerates. They looked different. They had their own dialect. They were racially mixed — Black, Indian, Dutch and Irish dropouts, maybe Hessian soldiers and Maroons, who knew? They were, as Colin Wilson might’ve said, Outsiders.
By the early 20th century the Eugenics Movement had taken off and was experiencing great success. Based on Galton and Spencer’s “Survival of the Fittest” neo-Darwinian pseudo-science, Eugenics had organized itself to eliminate the threat to White Supremacy of all mixed-race pollution and crime Mass sterilization was the plan, and great strides were made. But before the Unfit could all be rounded up and institutionalized they had to be scientifically identified. Davenport and Estabrook worked for the Cold Spring Harbor Institute, and were pioneers in Eugenics fieldwork. They targeted the Jukes for
If this sounds like Nazism, you’re right. It was. Hitler loved this shit. But America came first.
According to The Jukes in 1915, the degenerates were all either rounded up and locked away in “hospitals,” or else fled the County and disappeared. This was a lie. In fact the Jukes had miscegenated with Ulster County gentry (young bucks impregnating Juke girls who then gave their bastard children their fathers’ surnames). Thus the family names — the real family names —were the same names as those of local aristocracy. The scandal had to be suppressed. Hence the myth of the disappearance of the Jukes.
But the Jukes hadn’t disappeared at all. I’d found them; they are living in Antioch.
At this point, if this were a story being written by H.P. Lovecraft, the protagonist would now return to Antioch and meet a hideous fate at the hands of the devotees of Cthulhu.
What was I going to do?
What am I going to do?
Well, first I’ll mail this letter to you at last and then I’ll sleep on it.
This longish tale will be continued in the next issue of 96, or you could just buy the book here.