Philip Weiss,

Philip Weiss,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 1 1998 3:30 AM

Philip Weiss,

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       I woke up in New York in dread. Daylight. I realized I'd slept through my 6 o'clock flight. Still, I got out here. I'm in Ely, one of my favorite places. It's at the edge of the Boundary Waters wilderness in northern Minnesota and is filled with outfitters and the air of expedition. A sinewy, wordless man with a blond mustache turns to a wooden rack of maps and gently pulls the right one out for me. Echo Trail and Nina Moose Lake: no roads.
       The map's coated so you can take it in the canoe. Indian paintings are marked with an "I." Taking it, I feel I'm about to escape the information age, which isn't an age but a tyranny, ruled by Monica Lewinsky and Mark McGwire.
       I come here every summer about the time of my birthday (yeah, it's true--I'm a Leo, like Clinton, D'Amato, and Lewinsky), and here I experience a different sort of dread. On the black water, without my wallet or wife, my annual clock chiming (43 this year), I face all I haven't become. My work's a botch, undermined by neurotic diffidence and too many editors. Then I see a black wolf pup flashing into the woods off the trail and wonder why it's so goddamn hard to be the primitive being I was supposed to be. I'm forced to recall that the strongest sense of self I ever had was at 8, before socialization.
       Last night, two friends and I wandered around Ely looking for a whorehouse, convinced that in this two-storied town--whose logging and mining past has not been completely erased by outfitters--there'd still be a bar where you could slink upstairs while society turned its head. The painter LeRoy Neiman once told me he lost his virginity here to an Indian woman, many moons ago. His father, on a railroad crew, paid for it. My urbanized father never did me that turn. I think my father is more neurotic than I am, probably smarter than me too. The smarter you are the more neurotic, right? (In Mensa, they have trouble making chairs work.) Now Neiman is a successful artist in the instinctual middle American mold, while I am a diffident botch.
       No whorehouse, but we did find a ranger who knows wolves. He said wolves never gave up the territory around Ely. Even when they were exterminated everywhere else in the lower 48, packs still ran here. A wolf is lucky to make it to 6 years old, and another wolf is his likely doer-in. By then he is losing his howl, the ranger said, it gets strained, used up. Would you trade 43 for 6 if you could only use your howl?
       The answer to this and other questions on my return after the weekend.