So having begun clearing off my desk in an attempt to sort out this last adventure, I find the history of a madness I must have been madder than usual to take on. Looking up the synonyms for 'adventure', as having described too many that actually were as simply that, not wanting to be repetitious as well as seeming foolhardy, which I really don't mind as long as I live through it, I come across escapade, lark, ploy; act, action, deed, doing,feat; episode, occasion; baptism, ordeal, test, trial,tribulation; enterprise, risk, venture; expedition, exploration,mission, performance, quest, stunt.
Of all these, I would have to choose 'escapade,' though it was closer to 'ordeal' as it turned out, and only turned out as I got out in time. And that was my Nazi summer, I think was the season.
I find pictures of the trees, tall pines rising high, a dangling Swastika hanging between their trunks, barely perceptible, as I was, of course, photographing in secret, frightened of being discovered, though not frightened enough not to go to the Aryan Nations Congress. No kidding. In Hayden Park, Idaho, where they had their colony. Encampment, more accurately. This was particularly resonant for me, an extremely non-observant Jew, because I had gone to Cherry Lawn School in Darien, Connecticut, the signature anti-Semitic colony in the USA, where most of the students were Jews, and the townspeople closed their blinds when we walked in to the village on Brookside Road to see a movie.
Icing on the tasteless cake, 'Gentlemen's Agreement,' was filmed there while I was a student, eleven or twelve years old. And as Gregory Peck was reportedly filming a scene in town, a lot of the students went into town to watch. But by the time they get there, the train had pulled in, the scene been shot, and they all went back to school except me, so avid a movie fan that I sat on the bench sobbing at having missed it. As it turned out, the train had pulled in too far, the star had gone back to Stanford to get on it and come in again, and I was the only one left in the station. He signed my paper, leaning it against my front left-almost breast, and I never washed that flannel shirt again. Many years later, the universe being orchestrated, I met him in Hollywood and became friendish, and when he came to Paris, where I was freelancing for the Wall Street Journal Europe at the time, he invited me to be his date for a dinner at the American Embassy in his honor. Live long enough and everything works out in some literary way, God being a compulsive storyteller.
Then when Mr. Peck, which I still think of him as, 'Gregory' seeming too intimate with Veronique, his wife, very eagle-eyed, recorded the memorial poem I wrote for my Yorkie, Happy's, memory, my dog had greater honor than most people. The book would have sold millions, except that Oprah didn't show it, still another semi-disappointing saga. You are always lucky when you have a saga at all, even one that semi-disappoints, because that at least means you have lived through it.
Such was the case with the Nazis of Idaho. I tried to write a novel about it and them. But for those who still are unbelievers in a beneficent universe, it rained through my roof on the (still then) typewriter I was writing the book on, and the manuscript was destroyed. A journalist who had attended the same conference and planned to write a book about it was found hanging from his office window in Chicago.
I don't believe I will live long enough to describe in indescribable detail that dark adventure, except to relate that Joe Wershba of Sixty Minutes was tracking me in case they found out that I was a Jew, and for what I was doing, a man was strung up from the burning cross there when a microphone fell out of his sleeve, raised in the Nazi salute that was called for from the assemblage I skipped because I had developed hives, and Tommie, the masseuse who had joined me because she lived near, said "I don't know how you can stand it, and I'm not even Jewish." I'm sorry I never wrote the book but it would not have been uplifting anyway, and I'm glad to be alive. And the Aryan Nations conference in Hayden Lake has been dissolved as its crackpot leader is dead, but you would be sadly surprised to find out how many colonies there are in America. Maybe not. I still have the pictures though, and they are very glossy and pretty except for the swastikas perceptible through the tree trunks.
And maybe not if you watch this morning's Sixty Minutes, or look at the front of The New York Times. There were certain advantages to living in Holland and not being able to, or have any wish to understand Dutch.