Excerpt from Spectacular Happiness by Peter D. Kramer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Spectacular Happiness

by Peter D. Kramer

Spectacular Happiness
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2001, 320 pages
    Jun 2002, 320 pages

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But I am at home here. In the Vietnam days, boys I grew up with went AWOL from basic training because they missed the sea. I always felt a bit like them, lost away from this bay. If the cottage has its shortcomings, I overlook them as we should overlook the failings of those who sustain us. I do not know how I would endure prison; I fear that I would find myself unable even to do what I am doing now, put my thoughts in writing. But I am comfortable for the moment, with my view of the small boats at anchor.

There is a spot at the crest of the bank where reporters like to be videotaped. From that angle, the cottage looks ramshackle. In truth it is sturdy. Whatever his shortcomings, my father knew the ways of buildings. This one will last until the land beneath it is worn away. The television image is political, meant to make a visual comparison to Theodore Kaczynski's cabin or Randy Weaver's -- though I believe I am no more like those men than Sesuit, Massachusetts, is like Lincoln, Montana, or Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

You can see from the same shot how much the bay has encroached. They say we lose a foot a year, but the losses are so irregular that they have the power to surprise and dishearten. Some seasons beach builds at the foot of the bank. This past March a no-name storm -- the same storm we took advantage of toward the start of our campaign, when we breached the seawalls on Quivet Cove -- took a bite ten feet deep and fifteen wide, to the far side of the path. A chance event, perhaps, though nowadays people connect bad weather with the cataclysms we humans have brought upon ourselves, the rash of tornadoes and floods and mudslides that plague the planet as it warms.

On the sandbank, I did the tasks you used to help with. Replaced storm fencing, planted plugs of American beach grass, strewed seeds of weeping love grass. I fear the trampling of the press corps -- human erosion -- has undone my work. And to think that your mother used to scold you for running down the bank with your kite! I have never been one to feel outrage. All work is Sisyphean. We make our fruitless contribution, playing at shaping chaos. At the shoreline, planting grass, like planting explosives, is mostly symbolic. Wind and waves do what they will.

Despite the isolation, my life has assumed the breathless pace the media imposes on its chosen subject. Revelations intrude hourly. I learn on the news that hairs believed to be mine (and so few are in evidence on my scalp!) have turned up in the Altschuler house. I learn that in my college years I worked on the fringe of a radical clique. That I have reason to be bitter over the circumstances of my divorce. That I am a local boy with community ties and no history of mental illness. That I fit no profile. Half of what is said is false, and the rest is not quite right. Having seen your face, I feel a need for time. Time to write the story as I know it -- so different from the public version, moralized by television.

Last week, Wendy Moro presented me with the leather-bound blank book in which I am writing. She wanted me to use it as a place to gather memories that might help in my defense. Fill it with thoughts, she said. The form of the recollections did not matter, so long as I set them down while they were fresh. If I was reluctant to share the memoir with her now, I might want to do so later. (By later, I suspect she meant in the "sentencing phase," after I am convicted.) All would be confidential, protected by attorney-client privilege.

I wanted to oblige but found I could not. Any account of my activities would reveal past crimes and -- surely these Wendy would not want to read about -- preparations for future ones. I understood that certain details might prove useful. Evidence that I was here when a witness claims I was there. Sukey says that the right wing has made the public so mistrustful of the government that the state cannot win any prominent case where there is room for doubt. I could, perhaps, generate doubt. But the work should do that on its own. Crafting installations, Sukey and I took care to introduce red herrings, to cast suspicion away from me.

Copyright © 2001 by Peter D. Kramer

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