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1969 — Welcome to the Laughing Academy

Welcome To the Laughing Academy

1969 – 1970

      In the fall of my senior year of college, after a summer of turbulent confusion and failure, I sank into a vortex of anxiety and depression that eventually landed me in a mental hospital. It was in the nature of my predicament that I didn’t really know what it was about. The more afflicted I got — which is to say, the more preoccupied I grew with my symptoms — the more divorced I became from the particulars of my own history that propelled me into an emotional storm. I shall discuss those real world circumstances and family dynamics at the end of this chapter, but at the time they were inaccessible to me, which, of course, accounts for what happened.

      I returned from Cape Cod in August of 1969 to a seemingly stable situation back in my college town, Brockport, New York. Indeed, for a couple of weeks before the fall semester started, I enjoyed a sort of golden respite from the grinding anxiety that had taken over my consciousness. I had a swell place to live, an old barn turned into a hippie party shack in a little crossroads hamlet called Adam’s Basin about four miles from campus. I had a room-mate and extremely close friend, Billy Grant, who was kind, sympathetic, and generous. I had standing as a senior theater major in a vibrant, growing department (during the Nelson Rockefeller years, money poured into the SUNY system). I had plenty of other friends, including some girlfriends. But despite all this, I was filled that fall with a sense of overwhelming doom.
     When school finally did start, my anxiety grew worse again. I developed a whole set of phobias that launched me into panic attacks all day long. It disturbed me horribly to be a passenger in a car, getting rides to campus and back. The speed seemed fantastic and dangerous — we probably never drove faster than 40 on the back roads to campus. I couldn’t sit still in a classroom. My concentration was terrible. Walking across the broad quads between classes freaked me out, as though I was lost in space. I often felt a weird sensation of the ground or the floor shifting under my feet, like being seasick on dry land. I couldn’t bear to look at the moon in the night sky, thinking I couldn’t trust it not to fall out of its orbit and crash into the earth.
      I began to visit the school shrink. He was a calm and reassuring character in his 40s named Dr. Sandt from Rochester, who came to campus once a week. He oozed a kind of wise compassion that one did not readily find, for instance, in my own family. I always felt better after seeing him. But the glow always wore off in a few hours and I slipped back into my whirl of panic and despair. He did manage to implant one useful idea in my head that fall: the notion that whatever way I felt these days, was a temporary condition, implying there would be other days ahead when I wouldn’t feel so bad. But at the time, it just wasn’t enough consolation.
      As the fall wore on, I had so much trouble being in cars that I stopped going out to the barn at night and instead crashed on a convertible sofa at a friend’s apartment across the street from the campus. I stopped going to classes. Somehow during those weeks, though my social skills were deteriorating, I’d gotten involved with a girl named Kathy who was a sophomore theater student. She was, in fact, a quite incredibly creamy blonde small town girl from the Finger Lakes, intelligent and kind, too, and I think she was determinedly trying to help me through my hard time, perhaps even to rescue me, but I was moving beyond that kind of help, like a swimmer caught in riptide being dragged out to the open ocean. Kathy would sleep with me many nights, but I was too anxious to engage in sex, and it was a strange chaste relationship that just seemed another instance of failure to me.
      By late October, I was spending many nights in the campus infirmary on medication. I was so whacked out from the remorseless waves of panic and sleeplessness, that it was the only way I could get any rest. Finally, Dr. Sandt made the decision that I ought to be taken out of circulation and hospitalized for a while. The college sent me down to New York on an airplane to LaGuardia, accompanied by a young assistant dean. For someone who was uncomfortable in a Volvo on a back road at 40 mph, the plane ride was a stupendous fright. This was back in the days when everybody smoked cigarettes practically everywhere, including on airplanes, and I must have gone through half a pack of Larks on the 40-minute flight.
      My mother and step-father met us at LaGuardia. They seemed pretty baffled by the situation, and I wasn’t able to illuminate them much. In any case, they were merely following instructions from Dr. Sandt, who had given them the names of some hospitals in my hometown (New York City) and told them to chose one. If I’d been from Buffalo or Glens Falls, I would have been hospitalized there, I suppose.
      The place they picked was the Payne Whitney Clinic of Cornell’s Downstate Medical Center, also known as New York Hospital. As chance would have it, Payne Whitney was two blocks from my parent’s apartment building on East 68th Street. The clinic occupied a ten-story, neo-gothic wing of the sprawling complex with views over the East River on one side of the building. It was renowned as a place where celebrities in extremis were taken. Marilyn Monroe had put some time in at Payne Whitney before she killed herself. It was also expensive as hell, but that problem was solved right away in the admission process where I was declared an indigent emanicpated adult — because I had turned 21 a few weeks earluer — and put on medicaid.
      I remember little about the admission. A doctor interviewed me in a wainscoted darkish room. I felt a strange little lift from being the object of so much serious attention. I said goodbye to Mom and my step-father, Bernard, and then I went upstairs. A strapping male aide took me through the entry procedures. We called all such personnel “Mister.” Payne Whitney was very old-fashioned that way, almost club-like. I had to take a shower — mainly so it could be ascertained that I had no dangerous objects on my person such as razors, knives, illicit drugs. He recorded my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. I was shown my room, which was a double, with no room-mate in evidence. The rules were explained to me. Mainly, I was not supposed to leave the place. That was not especially an issue for me. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just wanted to feel safe — and I felt pretty safe there. And then he left me alone.
      Many of the other patients on my floor were college age. A big blowsy girl named Carol came over right away from her room — a single –across the hall and introduced herself. She didn’t seem crazy as far as I could tell. The walls of her room were covered from floor to ceiling with exuberant paintings she’d done in the eight weeks that she had been there and was otherwise crammed with stuff — as if she’d moved her dorm room lock, stock, and barrel from Boston U. I’d been informed, by the way, that sex was forbidden on the ward, but Carol seemed very warm, perhaps even avid, within a normal range of behavior.
      The next person I met was Linda, a slender dark haired, fox-faced beauty with a sticky Long Guyland accent. She’d been attending Queens College and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her either, but she had also been in there for more than a month. It turned out that she had attempted suicide several times. Her closest friend on the ward was another college girl, from Hunter, named Sandy, a petite, gentle, soft-voiced, brown-haired girl with a ready laugh that did not conceal a broader sadness within, aboutwhat I never learned.
      My room-mate eventually materialized. His name was David and he came from Harvard — I was very impressed. He was short, slight, sandy-haired with transluscent skin, and crept around in a kind of hunched manner like an old person. He told me that he had suffered some catastrophic disease of the lower intestine that required an iliostomy, and that now at age 21 he had to empty his bowels into a plastic bag. So his suffering was doubled, because it was presumed that some grave emotional difficulty had caused his intestine to disintegrate in the first place, and now he was understandably in despair about having been surgically mutilated.
       These four were in the foreground during my first weeks in the hospital. A kid named Randy was in the background. There definitely was something wrong with Randy. He didn’t walk so much as glide. He was his early twenties, with bristly reddish hair and a strong horsey face, kind of like Vincent Van Gogh. But his body was strangely rigid and he did not seem able to focus his eyes as he glided around the ward, usually with assistance, going to therapy or evaluation of one sort or another. His physical rigidity was a probably result of huge doses of anti-psychotic drugs like Haldol, which have some wicked side effects. Unlike the others, you could never have a conversation with Randy. He was really out of it. The nurses would not tell you anything about his case if you asked, but somehow the story developed that Randy had overdosed on LSD, gone on a trip that he never returned from. He scared the hell out of me, because I imagined myself ending up that way.
       I soon fell into the routine of the place. We ate rather formally in a nicely appointed dining room on round tables that sat six each, set with linen and silver tableware. Each patient had a silver napkin ring with his or her name embossed on it with a tab from one of those plastic label-makers. Meals came up on a dumbwaiter from some central kitchen many stories below. The chow was good. Wine was not served.
      Mornings, we went up to a gym on the top floor. There was an observation deck on the outside — well screened and fenced in so nobody would jump off — and you could see all the way down the East River to Roosevelt Island and the 59th Street Bridge. But it was November when I checked in, and we mostly stayed inside. In the gym, we mixed with people from other floors, many of them older, some with noticable tics or strange behaviors. Usually, a volley ball game would form, and I began to exhibit some observable aggression — I enjoyed spiking the ball off the heads of the opposition, many of them slowed down by their medications. The aides who accompanied us everywhere as monitors soon banned me from the vollyball court.
     Mid-afternoon we usually went to some other activity — say occupational therapy, which meant painting or crafts, or a group therapy session. My first one, I made a painting of a pack of wolves slavering over their downed pray, with blood dripping from their muzzles. I was a little shocked to see what kind of emotions were lurking inside me. The therapist in charge made a point of scolding me in front of the group for depicting such a morbid scene. I suppose this might have been an early example of political correctness, an attitude which, after all, has its origins in therapy. I was expected, apparently, to make pictures of happy, hopeful things.
       In between these activities not much happened. There was — of course ! — a TV lounge at one end of the ward, and in my memory there was nothing ever on the black-and-white set except Star Trek around the clock. In those days there were three networks and a handful of local stations in New York, and that was it. I had no interest in or patience with TV. I’d hardly seen a single show during my four years of college, except perhaps a World Series game here and there. 
       We visited with our psychiatrists three times a week, no more. Mine was a 28-year-old resident named Daniel Grodin. He was smart and sympathetic and I liked him, but we didn’tbond in any deep emotional way. I don’t think it was that difficult for him to read me, to get the narrative of my life straight. I was lucid. My anxiety level had gone way down the first couple of weeks. I was on medication, too, of course: Thorazine. Nothing massive, but enough to slow me down and chill me out. It’s hardly used anymore. It’s not a very effective medication for what was going on with me.
      The treatment of mental illness in 1969 was still surprisingly primative, despite the fact that our culture was so advanced as to land men on the moon. The drugs weren’t very good. Mostly it was expected that you would eventually talk yourself out of whatever difficulty you got into. Electro-shock was in disrepute at the time. A few of the depressed patients and manic-depressives (they weren’t called bi-polar then) were on lithium, a tricky drug that required close management — the effective dose is close to the toxic level — and it helped some of them a lot. When I checked into Payne Whitney, there still wasn’t any diagnostic category as “anxiety disorder” or “panic disorder.” These psychological states were poorly understood, and only recently have truly effective drugs been developed to treat the symptoms, the SSRI’s like Prozac and Paxil, etc. Frankly, I don’t know how I was diagnosed and classified.
       Every patient had a list of people who were allowed or forbidden to visit. Strange to relate, my parents were on the forbidden list. I didn’t put them there; I presume Dr. Grodin did. I didn’t miss them much. This was a time in my life when my relations with my mother and father were so poor that I often didn’t come home from college for holidays. I got on somewhat better with my step-father, Bernard, a witty and cultivated man who worked for Bill Safire’s public relations company, and then did publicity for the New York office of a movie distributor when Safire went to work for Nixon in the White House. Bernie was permitted to visit me, and did, regularly, but I think he was spooked by the hospital, and characters like Randy gliding around the ward, and by the fact that I was in there. And if he was curious about what lay behind my being there, I sensed that he didn’t want to ask me about it, especially insofar as it had anything to do with his wife, my mother. But I was always glad to see Bernie because he was a genuinely kind and sympathetic soul, and if he hadn’t been in my life for ten years as a buffer against my mother, I might have been in a penitentiary for murder instead of the Laughing Academy, as some of the patients refered to the Payne Whitney Clinic.
      I was content to be there, though, the first month. I was happy to be out of circulation, away from classes and even the most modest responsibilities. I had no idea what would happen to me or how long I would have to stay, or whether there was a “cure” for my problem, whatever it was. But I could put off thinking about that. My college room-mate, Billy Grant, came down all the way from Brockport to visit me, along with Kathy and another friend from the theater department. They brought my Smith-Corona typewriter and my guitar. I was embarrassed to be visited in that setting, and I was frustrated by my inability to give them a clear notion of what was wrong with me or when I would be let out of the joint.
      Patients came and went. Sandy went home. George came on the scene. George came in at two in the morning one night strapped to a gurney, raving, and they took him immediately to the Quiet Room, which is what they called the padded cell. He remained in there for all the following day, and then they put him in a single, in bed, on IV drips of some kind, with an aide posted to him on one-to-one observation. A couple of days later George was up and walking around. He was a football player-sized college kid from St Johns, dark-haired and handsome, but goofy and loud in a way that completely undermined any sense of seriousness. He was a remarkably ebullient joker, once he completed his withdrawal from the narcotic Seconal, a sleeping medication called “reds” in street slang. They were renowned for producing an especially wicked withdrawal, which explained why George was raving in the padded cell. As soon as he got off the IVs and on his feet among us, George became an instant hit with the ladies. But he was so utterly unserious about anything that I quickly became bored with him.
      Another new arrival, shortly after George, was Jose, a Brazilian playboy, about thirty, no college kid, who had gone on a manic rampage of spending and partying, and then collapsed into a crater of depression — with the usual suicide attempt to punctuate the episode. Jose came from an immensely wealthy family and didn’t have any occupation besides chasing skirts and spending money. Once he was on the ward, and they got him settled on a course of lithium carbonate, he began to pep up. From then on, he was always a little bit more manic than depressed, but in a social way rather than a pathological way, and he was interesting to talk to because Brazil was so far away and exotic. He also had a glass eye which he would take out and shock people with. Jose and George became boon companions.
        I stayed on the margins. David, my roomie, was beyond the margins in his own distant orbit of despair. I was not able to connect with him. You could tell that he had given up on his short life and had no sense of a meaningful future, and he didn’t want to talk about it or anything else. In fact, I learned very little about the inner lives of any fellow patients at Payne Whitney. There was very little group therapy as such, besides a few painting sessions, and we were not encouraged to share our experiences in any formal way. I suppose it had to do with the medical model of the day. It was like we were a bunch of broken automobiles that had come to a very ritzy shop for repair, and when the mechanics weren’t working on us, we were just supposed to sit around and wait.
      Perhaps because of the frustration and anomie this entailed, the other patients spent a lot of energy hatching plots against the nurses and the aides who controlled everything, complaining about the procedures on the ward, and starting protest movements against various rules and policies. It was in tune with the general loss of respect for all authority raging across the nation in connection with the Vietnam War. I was never one for group protests movements, though. I had my own way.
     A couple of times that fall we went for outings. The first was a trip to the Central Park Zoo. Even Randy came along, to my embarrassment, since he was an obvious psychotic, and I dreaded running into somebody I had gone to high school with while on a group excursion with a bunch of whackos. Somehow I got loose from the group for a little while and went into the cafeteria with David and bought us a couple of beers. The aides caught up with us shortly on the little terrace that used to be there overlooking the seal pond, and they reamed me out for breaking the rules on drinking. But I wasn’t kicked out or punished otherwise. And I hadn’t done it as a protest against anything. It was just that the beer worked much better on my anxiety than the thorazine did.
      They also took us to the movies one night in fleet of taxies to the Sutton Theater on 57th and Second Avenue to see the new smash hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I became very anxious in the course of it and couldn’t stay in my seat, and one of the aides who accompanied us followed me out to the lounge, where the concession stand was, while I paced around and tried to keep from hyperventilating. I don’t know what got into me. The crowd probably. But I was having a hard time. The aide was pretty nice about it, though, and didn’t make me feel bad about taking him away from the movie.
      That incident marked the beginning of a downward spiral for me that lasted about six weeks. Thanksgiving had come and gone. The hospital organized some Christmas activities for those of us not spending ithe holiday with family, but the little tree-trimmings and hall-deckings and egg nogg drinkings only made everybody feel worse about being stuck in the Laughing Academy for Christmas. New Years came and we entered a new decade, the 1970s. It seemed so futuristic and sinister. My life was slipping away from me. I began to worry desperately that I wasn’t getting any better, and I had heard rumors that if your medicaid “ran out” you could be shifted to some hellhole of a public mental hospital like Pilgrim State out on Long Island, where half the patients wore football helmets they were so fucked up, and you might end up lost in a back ward there for thirty years!
      One day in the middle of January, David disappeared from our room, along with all his belongings. We were only told that he had gone to some other ward in the hospital. I never heard about him again. I soon got a new room-mate, Charlie. Charlie was almost as spooky as Randy. He was physically very strong, but not big. He wore his hair in a very close buzz-cut, which was a real oddity among the young in those days when long hair was popular, and gave him a patently crazy look. He was also rigid physically and unfocused, like Randy, also probably a result of anti-psychotic drugs. Unlike Randy, Charlie was able to talk, but you didn’t learn much from him. He was 22, from Huntington, West Virginia. He had been shot in the head, he said, but not in the Army in Vietnam. Rather in some incident back home. That’s all he would say about it. I didn’t understand how anyone could be shot in the head and survive.
      His first night there, I woke up in the dark hearing weird grunting sounds from down on the floor between our beds. I switched on the light and discovered Charlie down there doing situps in the dark. When I asked him why he was doing that, he said, “It relieves anxiety.” It seemed reasonable to me. After that, I didn’t take Charlie for being insane so much as just being short on social skills.
      During that very dark time at the heart of my stay in Payne Whitney, I started to get beligerant with the nurses and the aides, not about any procedural rigamarole like the other patients, but just expressing a lot of anger that I had previously supressed. I dimly recall that it had to do with my fear that I would be shipped off to the state hospital, and suddenly a lot of rage was coming out of me. I mouthed off a lot and several times I was invited involuntarily to the Quiet Room to chill out for an hour or so. It was punishment, actually, for bad behavior, not therapy.
     Around that time, too, the hospital had arranged for my mother to come in and have some joint sessions with me and Dr. Grodin. My father was contacted, too, but declined to come. I could only guess that he felt the whole issue of me being in a mental hospital too disgraceful to even deal with. Anyway, the sessions with Muriel, my mother, had a salubrious effect. It was the one time in my life that we were together with a reliable and fair mediator. I was able to unload a lot of emotional dreck in that setting, for instance about my mother’s narcissistic and insane sexual exhibitionism — an allegation that so humiliated her that she flew into a rage of denial, and only Dr. Grodin’s skilled entreaties kept her from storming out. We had, perhaps, two of the sessions. Sometime after that, I started to mysteriously get better.
      I can’t really account for it, except to say that maybe psychotherapy works. But in late January my anxiety ebbed and I began to take a lively interest in the future and in the world outside Payne Whitney. Dr. Grodin took me off medication. In occupational therapy, I started painting pictures of Adams Basin and the barn that I’d lived in the past several years, and I started calling my friends back at college to find out what was going on. The staff started letting me out of the hospital on day passes, and I discovered that I could go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and places like that without having panic attacks. I took myself to the movies one of those days (Robert Altman’s MASH) and felt no impulse to leave my seat. This began to restore my confidence that I would be able to function in the real world and resume some kind of normal life.
      Another strange cognitive thing happened around that time. I developed an intense interest in what other people were saying to me, as though I were connecting with other people’s sensibilities for the first time (or after a long hiatus) and I couldn’t get enough of listening to what they had to say. I had emerged from some dark interior space within my own personality to discover, with much delight, that I was hardly alone in this world, and that I could understand what other people were going through.
      Rather swiftly then, I was informed one day in early February that I would be discharged at the end of the week. I called Billy Grant and told him that I was coming back upstate. A lot of the same characters who had been on the ward when I arrived back in November were still there the week I left, including Carol and Linda. They had never acted peculiar or mad or crazy the whole time we’d been together, and whatever demons they were battling within themselves remained a mystery to me.
     The night before my discharge, I went out on a pass for dinner with my mother and Bernie. We met at one of those busy bistros on First Avenue where young career people gathered after work to drink beer and eat hamburgers. It felt great to be back in the real world. Bernie and Muriel still seemed utterly bewildered by the whole Payne Whitney episode, or perhaps it was just too sordid to talk about. So we avoided the subject and chatted about Nixon, and mother’s friends, and their kids, and other trivialities instead, and I enjoyed a couple of beers, and munched on the roasted garbanzo beans that the bistro set out on each table, and gawked at all the pretty career girls gathered around the bar. I didn’t have any desire to torment Muriel and Bernie with recriminations. I was just deliriously happy knowing that I would be on a Grayhound bus the next day headed upstate, which for years had seemed much more like my real home than New York City ever did.
      I enjoyed the long bus ride enormously as the city and all of my connections with it receded into the far distance, and the roadside got snowier and the little rural towns went by in the weak winter light. It was a joy to see real life happening all around me, a world without therapy, without medication, without supervision, uncrazy people just going about their business. Billy picked me up at the grayhound depot in Rochester, a great friend as always. His grandmother (who raised him) had gotten him a new red Volkswagen Beetle while I was away. I remember being amazed at how cold it was when we got out of the car at Adams Basin. It was like being at the North Pole. Billy had invited a bunch of friends from around the campus out to the Barn that night and there was a little celebration when we got there, wine, beer, pot, cake and ice cream. My room was just the way I left it. Later, I lay in the big brass bed in the deep provincial upstate silence feeling tremendous gratitude that the long mysterious ordeal was over.
       I’d come back too late to register for the spring semester, but I worked on some theater department productions through the months ahead, and reintegrated myself back into the college world. Some people regarded me a little standoffishly, as though I’d returned maimed from the war, or had become freakish. But within a few months I felt perfectly normal again in away I hadn’t known for more than a year. In June, I enrolled in the summer theater program, which meant acting in two main stage productions (A Scent of Flowers and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail). In the fall I started my senior year of college for the second time. I made the dean’s list those two semesters, and played in a jug band, and worked as an editor on the college paper, and had a perfectly swell year, and the Payne Whitney Clinic came to seem like someplace that another person who was not me had been to.
       
Postscript

       The mental strife that propelled me into a hospital ward was largely about my irresponsible behavior with a car my father bought me the previous year. Considering that he had refused to even pay for my college, his gift of an automobile was supernaturally strange, but I was happy to accept it. He had been induced to reward me, I suppose, when I’d gotten myself elected Student Government President as a sophomore — a strange story in its own right. 
      Anyway, some months later, I’d crashed the car three times in one single night of spectacular drunkeness, and caused my father a lot of trouble with his insurance, and when the car was finally repaired, he took it away from me — which entailed a humiliating trip to deliver it to his house on Long Island. He went to considerable lengths afterward to reinforce the idea that I was a hopeless fuck-up, and my attempts to even apologize were disdainfully dismissed. All that had pretty much set me off on a course of anxiety, remorse, depression, buried rage, and helplessness that landed me in the Laughing Academy for a season. 
     My adolescence was very rocky and protracted. During those years I sought out paternal surrogates, but never really found one who could fullfil that role in the sense of offering wise pracitcal guidance that might have prepared me for adulthood. Anyway, it was a time in our culture when authority had lost legitimacy, and widespread relativism undermined the very idea of good judgment, and not much was expected of young people. I wish had taken better control of my own life in ways that were available to me. I didn’t know how.
     A residue of that ordeal remains with me. I’ve had some episodes of anxiety on and off for the rest of my life, but it is something I understand now and I have found many ways to manage my fears — most effectively by attending to the real situational problems in my life as they present themselves, making sure that I accomplish what I must. I have acquired a deep suspicion of the abstract and an equivalent respect for the actual. There are much better drugs, too, nowadaysthough I have only been on SSRIs twice for a few months each time, notably during the last years of my mother’s life, when circumstances brought us together again, and I was unavoidably subject to her despotic narcissism. I have had to fly in airplanes a lot the past ten years. At first I was terrified. Xanax helped me desensitize myself, and now I’m able to fly comfortably without any drugs.
     My being in a mental hospital in 1969 -70 would have surely kept me out of the military draft when my student deferment expired. But 1970 was the year the government started the draft lottery and my birthday drew an exceedingly high number — 353 — meaning I would not have been drafted anyway.
     Some years later, at age 27, while writing one of my first novels, I spent a year working as an aide in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital here in Saratoga. It was an engrossing job. By the time I got there I had done a lot of growing up. I think I was able to help a few people, especially the young lost ones.
     The main difference between the person I was before and the one I became after is that I came to understand how much I was responsible for what happened to me in all aspects of my life, and responsible too for how I felt about what happened to me. In fact, I learned that mostly things don’t just happen to us. We make choices to act, or to not act, and that makes all the difference in the world. Here you are in the world. What will you do?

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

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