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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

On the Downside of Idealism: chapter from: 1968 Changed Everything: A Novel

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A few words about where this chapter occurs in the story:  It is 1968. CC, a college senior  has fallen for a charismatic teacher, a young man with his head in the clouds, in love with ideas. Half the girls in his class are also taken with him. CC is the most beautiful of them.  Jeremy’s  eyes keep lingering on CC  as he  smashes out insight after insight.  The performer in him is at his peak.  They eventually become romantically entwined.  She’s thrilled . A girl from Great Neck with a man like him!

She goes to his home, stays there.  Their relationship  soon gets complicated. He says he is in love with her.  He seems to be. That opens up her spigots. That and pot.  In the hope that she has finally found the one,  she soon wants Jeremy to know everything about her family, hoping that if he can accept them, he really might  be in love with her.   She gushes with the details. He asks questions.

He isn’t always kind. Jeremy has a thing about Great Neck. It is the 60’s. There are a lot of people who think like he does, hate the rich people in places like Great Neck . Their  60’s put downs  reinforces his own perspective .  Perhaps he hates Great Neck even  more  than it deserves.

CC has no choice but to defend her family. That comes natural to her. She is the daughter of a lawyer. In the previous chapter,  Jeremy has had a lot to say about what’s wrong with Great Neck . By this chapter she’s ready to come back strong. Fortunately they are both turned on by the same subject.  Idealism’s  peculiar nature.  How turning to it leads people to unexpectedly bad places. 

Chapter 12

Ideals and Consequences

 

“It’s still bothering me that your parents never wanted to break away.”

CC eyes roll. “I thought we went over that. My grandmother’s kugel?”

“Her kugel sounds nice, but the rest of it.” Jeremy answers.

“The rest of what?”

“The way your family is so involved with each other.”

“It never occurred to my parents that they needed to break away.”

“Amazing,” Jeremy replies.

“Amazing? For hundreds of years, that’s what people did. One generation after the next. Then along came the sixties.”

“But to buy into all that bullshit . . . You can be gobbled up by it.”

“You’re not getting it.  My parents got upset with my grandparents plenty Really upset. But it never occurred to them that their parents wouldn’t be part of their lives.  A big part.  The families of most of their friends are no different. Their families are what their lives are about.”

Jeremy shakes his head in disbelief, with a smile that is too smug for CC’s taste. By now the pattern of their conversations has become clear. Debate.

“My mother had a cousin who could only find a job in Michigan.  His family had to move there. Everyone put the best spin they could on it.  It was only a few hours by plane. They could get together for the holidays. But the fact is, they landed up seeing each other maybe once or twice a year. No one said anything, but it was like losing them. Their children didn’t know their cousins.”

She isn’t sure she is getting through to him, which makes her more determined.

“There was another family that lived away for no good reason.  The assumption everyone had was that Dory, the father, had this thing about his job.  Everyone cares about their job, worries as they should, or has some big hopes. But that is all Dory thought about.  His family hardly mattered.  Not just cousins, his own kids. His job was all that mattered to him.  Everyone knew there was something off about him, but worse he was poisoning his family. He moved the family Chicago without a second thought.”

“Plenty of people do that.  They have to.  Their job forces them.”

“Point is my parents aren’t like that.  Nor are their friends. I don’t think my parents could imagine living away from their parents.”

“They remind me of the Amish, living in the past.”

“The Amish? You’re serious?”

“Okay.  I’m exaggerating.  But seriously, what century are they living in.”

“What’s remarkable is that you’re mystified by all of this.  Wasn’t it the same in Brooklyn?”

“That’s how it used to be.  Times are changing.”

She can hear it in his voice, his impatience, which if anything, makes her more determined.

“The real mystery is what’s happening with my classmates,” CC says.

“It’s not a mystery.  When they’re around their parents, they can’t be themselves.  Students have complained to me.”

“You mean the new person they’ve invented. Okay. I told you about my mom and me.  It’s true.  She has a hard time with me being a separate person.  But at this point, Mark’s mocking everything my father says.  Everything. I don’t know what he’s trying to do! He has to know my father is reeling.”

“He’s reeling?”

“He gets angry, but if you look closer, it’s obvious how much he’s hurting.  I’m sure he’s trying to figure out what he did wrong.”

“You can’t expect Mark to deny who he is.”

“When we were younger, my parents understood.  He was a teenager!  Like me. We had to see everything the same way as our friends. We had no choice. So, my parents were able to ignore all our crazy beliefs.  But now it’s more than that. This isn’t teenager stuff.  My classmates intend to be this person they are inventing. It’s not a phase.  This is it.  This is them.”

“Exactly.  Finally, they see the truth. They can be themselves, not some fantasy their parents had of who they were expected to be. They’re enlightened.”

“That’s enlightened?”

“Yes, people don’t have to act like they are expected to act. They can shatter all these stereotypes.”

She mocks him. “Freedom, freedom. Freedom! Tearing apart everything?  That’s freedom?”

“No. What everyone wants is progress. Moving forward, making the world better.”

“Yeah, right-better.”

“Yes, better!”

“Let’s go back to what you were saying about my parents. They’re weird because they never broke away.  What else were you saying?”

“They are weird. They—”

She doesn’t allow him to continue. Her voice is raised “You’re so off.  It’s not like that at all. When my parents didn’t see things like my grandparents, they learned to swallow.  That, according to what I’m told, my grandfather said is the answer to everything.  Learning how to swallow.  I think he was right.”

“They were scared of their parents.”

CC’s exasperation is reaching the brim. She can’t believe that all of this is foreign to Jeremy.

“Not scared! They didn’t want to hurt their feelings.  That’s what mattered.  It took my mother twenty years to tell her father that she ate ham. And that was only after he got suspicious and started questioning her.  I mean, she felt free enough to eat ham, but it wasn’t important for her to let her parents know.”

She thinks further. “Actually, I didn’t realize until my grandmother died that my mother never had ham or shrimp in the refrigerator—in case my grandmother opened the fridge and saw it.  My mother ate it and fed it to us, but she got rid of the evidence.  She never told her mother that she loved bacon. Bacon!  It’s practically her favorite food.

“But it isn’t just food. Whether my parents agreed or disagreed with what their parents believed, they granted legitimacy to it. It didn’t matter if it made sense.  If something was important to my grandparents, it was important to them.  Period.  It deserved respect.”

“Well—”

“Respect!”

She can see to him that word is hollow.

“Mark’s in my father’s face . . . with a hatchet.  I just don’t get it.  It’s almost as if he hates my father. What did my father ever do to him?”

“Freud thought sons want to kill their fathers.”

“Freud’s ideas are wild. . . . You’re into him?”

“Not really.  I’ve read some of his books, but—”

“My therapist is a Freudian. Mark talks about Freud a lot.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“He’s going to be a shrink, so . . .”

Jeremy goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, and studies its contents.  He’s hungry. Shuffling behind him, CC follows. He takes out his half-eaten yogurt, offers it to her. She waves it off. He finishes it. She opens the refrigerator. Stares. Nothing appeals to her.

“So, there wasn’t much fighting that went on between your parents and your grandparents?

“Maybe I’m giving the wrong impression.  They disagreed plenty. I’m not talking about the Waltons. Plenty of times they were irritated with each other, a couple of times a day.  Sometimes they’d be angry for more than a day. So, they kept away from each other to cool down. But they always got back to one another.

“There was this line and you didn’t cross it. When it came to what you could eat, kosher rules were clear.  But beyond that, everyone understood you could only go so far.   You didn’t cross that line. It wasn’t exactly defined, but you had a damn’ good idea about it, what would be a serious transgression.”

“How did you know where that was?”

She looks at him like he’s an idiot.  “Not everything’s put into words.  You just know.”

“No, really.”

“Sometimes my mother would be all over us, lecture us about respect, particularly when Mark went after my father. But that really wasn’t how we learned about it. We knew each other.  Knew what really mattered to my parents. Knew it would be serious if we crossed that line. It wasn’t spelled out, but you knew.”

“And Mark crossed that line?”

She speaks with a trace of bitterness.  “Again and again.   He doesn’t give a damn.  He stomps on it. He enjoys doing that. Like that makes him a better person.  Bigger!  To him the fact that he upsets my father proves he’s right about just about everything.  He’s not going to allow anyone to dictate what he thinks!  Particularly my father. I swear he thinks my father is an idiot…

“I don’t know when it happened,” she says with sadness.  “But that line meant nothing to him.  Never did.”

“That hasn’t happened to you?”

“No! . . . Yeah, sometimes I go too far, but when I see my parents are upset, that bothers me a lot. I’m not talking about being in trouble. It’s something else.  Sure, they aren’t always tuned into what’s cool and what isn’t.  But upsetting them bothers me.  I think about it.  So do they. Sometimes they change.  We both do. My classmates are shedding any part of themselves that resembles their parents.  They think the way they were raised is total bullshit.”

“That’s because it is.  We are winning.”

“Winning?”  She thinks about that for a moment then continues: “You probably are, which, frankly, is depressing. It’s no fun being one of the few students who think like me. I mean, plenty of students are exactly like their parents. Watch the same TV shows. That’s a whole different thing. But that’s not me. What bothers me is that every bright person I know thinks like you. They want to toss out everything they were taught. I don’t mean disagreeing. Destroy it. Start from scratch. I don’t get it. How do you do that—make up a new you?”

“Why not?  Why shouldn’t you decide who you are, who you want to be?  If it’s bullshit, why can’t you get rid of it?  You gotta admit there is a lot of bullshit. Ninety percent of it.  Bullshit on top of bullshit.”

“My grandmother would turn over in her grave if she heard you call it bullshit.”

“She’s dead.”

“Not to me.”

“You think she’s up there watching you?”

“No, but that doesn’t matter.” She ignores him as she proceeds. “My grandmother is still with me, alive. I belong to her. Part of me is her, a good part.”

“Meaning what?”

“I can hear with her ears, speak with her voice.  Her soul is alive. Sometimes I have an expression on my face. It feels familiar. Then I realize it’s hers. When that happens it makes me happy. Very happy.”

“Give me a break” is once again written across Jeremy’s face. She ignores him.

“My grandpa Joseph was the son of Joshua. Joshua made gold jewelry. Beautiful gold jewelry.”  She fingers an earring. “Look at my earrings.”

She takes them off, hands them to Jeremy. She points to an arc in the earring, which curves into a scroll. He studies them.

“Delicate,” she whispers nostalgically.

“My grandmother gave them to me. She got them from Joshua.”

Sounding like Nanny, almost in a spell, she drifts into a recital, “Joshua was the son of Samuel. Samuel was a jeweler. He taught Joshua everything he knew about making jewelry. Then Joshua began his own journey, making better and better jewelry.”

CC puts her earrings back on. “My grandmother never met Joshua.  But she heard stories about him.  Every time she put on those earrings he was there. Real or imagined he was there.”

Jeremy says nothing.

“Samuel was the son of Pincus, who spent his life studying the Torah.  He was a rabbi.  People came from the surrounding towns to hear Rabbi Pincus’s opinion of what the Torah had to say about their behavior. It wasn’t curiosity. They needed to know where they stood with God.

“My grandmother explained to me that a rabbi who understood the Torah was very important to everyone.  Every week they read a new portion of the Torah. At the academies, they focused on that, picking it apart, looking for clues about what God wanted. . .  A new story from God. His adventures!”

She doesn’t know where that came from. It wasn’t funny.  It undermines the seriousness of what she has been trying to say. But she couldn’t help herself. She doesn’t want Jeremy to think she’s taking herself too seriously.

“Is that how your grandmother put it?”

“Sorry for that one!  My grandmother explained it to me.  We don’t get to hear what God wants from us.  His silence can be unbearable. Rabbi Pincus let everyone know what God wanted. Explained what was in the Torah, the book God gave to us.”

“That was a jazzy message.”

She ignores his irreverence. She blames herself for encouraging it.

“They asked Pincus to speak at all the surrounding shuls.  You asked me about pride. My grandmother’s eyes lit up when she told me that.”

“So did yours.”

“They did?”

“Just now. When you mentioned how congregations from other towns wanted him to speak at their services, you were glowing.”

“Pincus was my grandmother’s favorite.  He was always examining things, thinking, trying to understand. Like you and Mark.”

She’s pleased to have found the parallel.  He’s also pleased she has compared him to Pincus.

“He was the son of Joseph, another Joseph, who was a chazan. They say Joseph had a voice that could make the angels cry. Joseph belonged to Moishe.”

With a lilt identical to her grandmother’s voice, with a Yiddish sing song inflection, she continues to recite the family history.

Jeremy interrupts her. “I get it.”

CC ignores him.

“Moishe means Moses, and Moses was the son of Solomon.” Proudly, she proclaims, “Solomon. King of Israel.”

“He was the king?” Jeremy asks.

“His mother thought so.” CC eyes light up as she repeats Nanny’s pun.

“That pot is strong stuff!”

CC smiles back.

Like they are an established couple Jeremy kisses CC on her forehead.    “Where’s all of that coming from?”

“My grandmother.  My grandmother, who you say is dead. My grandmother’s grandmother told her these stories. That makes four generations that are still alive in me.”

Not completely in jest, he gives her another  peck on her forehead, not unlike the way Jeremy’s mother once kissed him.

“I’m kissing your grandmother,” he tells her.  Then he kisses her a third time. “And your great grandmother.”

“For their recipes?”  she asks him.

“Their wisdom.” he says gently without a trace of sarcasm.

She’s pleased.  He’s been so determined to get his point across. Apparently, she is also registering. The prospect that Jeremy isn’t as closed as he has seemed encourages her.

CC goes to the window staring for the thousandth time at the winter outside.  Whiteness everywhere. At this moment it doesn’t appear as bleak as it did a second ago. She feels like she is getting somewhere. Encouraged, she turns around.

“When I was a freshman, Ellen my roommate told me my grandmother and me were connected at the hip.  It wasn’t just me. That was her thing, finding the eccentricities of everyone on the floor.  Practically everyone had one. She liked putting them down, but most of the time she was teasing them, laughing at them in a nice way. She was good at it.  Sometimes she was doing more than teasing. She nailed cultivated eccentricities. affectations. I mean everyone did it. Tried not to be the same as everyone else. For some reason she thought my thing with my Nanny was an act I was trying to get across, totally unbelievable.

I tried to explain to her what Nanny was like. Nothing I said registered. I could tell. She thought of my grandmother as an old Jewish woman in a nursing home, smelly, barely speaking English, like her grandmother. She couldn’t picture a grandparent any other way Yes, my grandmother spoke with an accent, probably the same as Ellen’s grandmother.  She was very sing song. To me it was music.  Ellen warned me that being like my grandmother would make me less of a person. That’s so crazy.  I told her it made me more of one.”

Jeremy is smiling. He’s enjoying listening to CC, getting into her shpiel.

“Ellen was ahead of everyone else. She realized at 18 years old everyone’s trying out one mask after another. Trying to fit in.”

“Or standout.”

As she puts CC Jeremy’s hand in both hers hands and squeezes it affectionately.  “Or standout,” she repeats.

“Too bad you couldn’t meet my Nanny. She understood a lot. Nanny  was as good as Ellen identifying our masks. She considered it children’s noise, necessary but silly. She tried to see though them, ignore our latest version. She could see what was underneath.”

“Could she really do that?”

“Sometimes. But not very often with Mark.  She had no patience for him. Several times I tried to defend him, but I doubt that I changed anything. In fact, she never said it directly but I could tell she wasn’t happy about my closeness to Mark.  Thought he was leading me to bad places. There was nothing she could say or I could say.”

Jeremy is listening to CC without opposition.

“Any way too bad Ellen didn’t get to know her grandmother better.  No one’s fault.  She probably was just too old. It’s a shame that she didn’t know  the real person that her grandmother was. When I tried to explain it to her how much I value the time that I had with my Nanny went right past her. She repeated the party line,  how I’d been assigned an identity that kept me from finding out who the real me is.”

CC shakes her head and speaks forcefully.

“It’s the opposite. What I got from my grandmother is the only part of me that seems like me.  The rest swirls around like the wind.  This way. That way.”

“I can understand about your grandmother.” He hesitates. “Sort of, but what your roommate was saying isn’t wrong.  What students are doing now,  replacing all these dos and don’ts, a thousand years of dos and don’ts, is important if you are going to grow up and become a person.  No one remembers why the rules were ever there.  They weigh a ton!”

“They don’t weigh a ton if you respect them.”

“They’re  ridiculous. Where did they come from, who made them? How did they get to be sacred?  Why is the conscience you’re given so special? Why can’t you replace it with a better conscience?  Something that makes more sense, that corresponds to what you believe is important.”

“You just invent a new conscience?” she says in a deadpan way.

“A conscience formed around beliefs that mean something, what we really believe in and value, deep, deep down.”

“Like what?”

“What? . . .All of it.  That the rich should share what they have with the poor, that we should be helping black people get out of their hole, that we should not destroy the planet, that women should be in charge of their own bodies. Society shouldn’t tell them what they can and can’t do if they decide they don’t want to be pregnant.  Who put the government in charge of their uterus? Are you against any of that?”

“Well—”

“The core of your conscience should come from what you believe.  What kind of rules did your parents, your grandmother give you?   That you should fast on Yom Kippur?  That Mark and Jay should wear a yarmulke in shul?  You can’t do this.  You can’t do that. How does that make you a better person? Growing up consists of deciding what’s important.  That’s what I am talking about. What everyone is talking about. Creating our own conscience. One that means something.

She smiles. “Do your own thing.”

“Why not?”

“You just like the sex part,” she says in a silly voice. “You can do anything you want and it’s okay.”

“You mean I can wear my mother’s bra? . . . Who knows.  Maybe one day the movement will bring us there. You never know.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you?”

“Exactly.” he says sarcastically.  “That’s what I really want.”

“Well, why not?” she answers trying to best his sarcasm.

His voice becomes serious. “Sex is a small part of this. It’s the best part.  I mean I love it, but…” His voice becomes dark and serious.  His face becomes serious.

“What counts is something like…  The March on Washington.  Hundreds of thousands of people, holding hands, singing, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ That came from the bottom of our hearts.”

“Jesus, I had this conversation with Mark. He used the same example.

Sure enough Jeremy continues down the identical path.

“It was life-changing. Feelings like that don’t have to exist for just one day.  The potential is always there for us to be our best selves.

Why should you only have occasional moments like that? It doesn’t have to be that way. Why not surround yourself with people who have your ideals, who’ll keep you devoted to them.  It’s the best you. Why not give it the place it deserves?”

“Jesus.  Are you and Mark talking to each other.  I’ve had this conversation.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. Can you try to listen?”

CC stops. It’s not worth arguing.  She speaks with a note of irony.

“Communes!” she says.

She would like to scream but instead she readies herself for Jeremy’s assault staring at him like he is a fool.

“Exactly.  Why not surround yourself with people who share your ideals.  Live together. Live your ideals.”

“Been there, done that.”

Jeremy is surprised. He’s thought about it many times. If he weren’t married, he might be in one.

“When were you in a commune?” he asked her

“Last year. I’ve been over the whole thing, bought into your notion that ideals represent the real us, the best us. All it did was make everyone a vigilant nut.  I mean it was great in the beginning, finally surrounded by people who seemed great.  But then it became the opposite. You catch the slightest hint of racism, or lack of seriousness about the environment. Or whatever. The you that you have created, this unbelievably good person, is at stake.  One of my room-mates in the commune actually was a vigilante. She started all these rumors about me.  She would have sent people to the Gulags.”

“You know about the Gulags?”

“We read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

Even though he is now rapidly backtracking about communes, mentioning the Gulags is an opportunity for Jeremy to go into lecturing mode, which he grabs.  Lovers or not, he is still her teacher. And this is one of his favorite lectures. He settles into a familiar role.

“If you think about how many people died, millions and millions. The Gulags were as bad as concentration camps. The interesting thing is that people did that in the Soviet Union when they were trying to make communism work.  To make a better world. They passionately believed that inequality was unacceptable.  They thought they could create a Utopia. Really thought it was going to happen.  Whatever existed in the past, bad ideas good ideas, good-bad intentions thrown together. It had been a garbage dumpA mess, rotting away.  They thought Marxism was scientifically valid. The manifesto was a work of genius. Socialism was an historical inevitability. They were sure of it.

“Here’s the important point. People were turned in for impure attitudes not by cynics, but by true believers.”

“Like my room-mate at the commune.”

“Exactly. You hear stories about the Communists and none of it makes sense. Sure, there were some sadists, people grabbing power and enjoying the suffering they caused. But there were an awful lot of idealists, people who embraced the revolution because they wanted to make the world better.  They were so carried away by their beliefs, by their goodness, convinced they were bringing forth a wonderful future, that every other consideration faded away. How could Sartre continue to support Stalin after the purges? Not just him. How could all kinds of intellectuals in the Soviet Union and the United States, people who felt passionately about inequality— yeah workers were at the mercy of their bosses, probably their fathers had the shit kicked out of them by their bosses–– still, how could they ignore the Gulags when they started to occur?  People were getting killed for their beliefs.

The obvious explanation was that Marxist ideals were so ennobling that they overrode their perception of reality. They so much wanted what they believed was going to happen that they ignored what was actually happening.  It isn’t coincidence. The goodness embraced by passionate idealists perpetuates that kind of blindness.”

Having given this very lecture many times before, Jeremy glides forward.

“In the beginning of the Revolution someone you knew might have been arrested and disappeared.  Maybe you had had misgivings about his loyalty to the cause. So, you half understood that he should be ‘reeducated.’ Perhaps the rumors were true. As an enemy of the state, that person might be mistreated. Things like that can happen. But intentionally?  Compared to the evils of capitalism? No way there is a comparison.”

“Those millions of people were turned in by neighbors who doubted them.  Millions! Even after rumors persisted that prisoners were being abused, members of the Party insisted otherwise, and they were believed.  They probably believed it themselves.

“There is no other explanation for these strange public trials that started to take place. They were essential.  The accused made public confessions. It didn’t matter that the prisoner had been tortured.  What mattered was that the unity of the public, the purity of their ideals, was maintained by those confessions.

“Year after year, members of the Party, true believers, continued to insist their motives were for the highest purpose. Here and there a guard may have misbehaved, but the ideals represented by Marxism were sacrosanct.  Moreover, scientific! Progressive! Moving towards an inevitable future that Marx had managed to figure out.

Counterrevolutionaries were sent away so they could be ‘reeducated.’  Shown the truth. That is all. They stuck to that rationale long after the reality had become clear. The ‘reeducated’ people who returned seemed like they were shell-shocked.  They were afraid to complain.  It might get them arrested again. Worse, many more didn’t return—millions of them.

“Eventually, out of fear, no one said anything critical of the revolution.  No one asked questions.  I’m not just talking about inside the Soviet Union, because there it was obviously dangerous to openly doubt some aspect of Marxism. You might not have been from the privileged classes, but if your questions were persistent, the truth became clear.  You had sold out. You were a traitor.”

“But I’m talking about outside the Soviet Union. Next semester, we’re going to read The God That Failed. It’s a collection of six essays by former Communists. That book sort of broke the ice but until then, the amazing thing was that as the facts began to emerge, in Paris, in Rome, Milan, intellectuals couldn’t admit they had been wrong.  Not just Sartre. Those who reported details of what was going on were accused of being liars. Even when the evidence became overwhelming, they still held on.  There was a lot at stake. Not just their ideals. They were afraid of losing friends, of being outcasts, afraid of being labeled fascists.”

Enthusiastically, CC adds.  “That’s what went on the commune. Belonging. It was so treasured, being united with others with superior ideals, that it overrode common sense.”.

Jeremy’s not done. “It was the same in Nazi Germany.  I heard this lecturer who had studied a city in Germany of close to a million people. Can’t remember the name. Hollywood always makes it seem like the Gestapo was everywhere—spying on everyone. There were maybe twenty or thirty SS in the entire city!  That was it. But tens of thousands of Bolsheviks, homosexuals, Jews were arrested and sent away.  The spies were their neighbors!

“And the same thing happened there, not just because they themselves were afraid of being turned in to the SS. We like to think it was that, but that wasn’t the case.  It was their idealism, their belief in a future in which the greatness of the German people would, at last, be fulfilled.  That was more than enough to counter any pangs of conscience they developed about turning their neighbors in. Plus, they went wild about how  Nazism was scientific. They were fulfilling the way nature actually was, the survival of the fittest.

“In their minds, the magnificence of Germany was just as wonderful as the Utopia Communists dreamed of, a future in which Germany would finally assume its rightful role in the world.  I mean, if you were German, what could be more important than having that pride, believing you were the master race? And by the way, they’d send their kids to camps that demanded that they bust their asses like crazy, learn self discipline, self sacrifice in order to be the master race They killed the retarded as nature would have had it if it weren’t for the softies who took care of  parasites. But they could do that because of their own idealism, the way they were willing to sacrifice for Gemany.

Arrogant, yes. Germans went there naturally, even without Nazism. But never mind the German factor. Doesn’t everyone secretly harbor a belief that their group is superior?  I do as a Jew.  I’ll bet you do.”

“Go on.”

“As far as the nasty behavior going on, I’m sure in the beginning the average Nazi thought like the Communists.  It was temporary.  The usual rationalization­—you can’t make an omelet without breaking the shell. Ya de da de da.

“That fantastic feeling you were describing, what you felt, at first, in the commune, being part of an ennobled group.  That was them! . . . There’s this movie, Triumph of the Will. It shows the Nuremberg rallies. Hundreds of thousands of people—ecstatic!  Hundreds of thousands! Maybe millions. Carried away that they are seeing Hitler in the flesh. Then when he speaks, as they listen to his ideas, they really go ape shit.  Not long before he came along, Germans were on their knees, disdained by the rest of the world after World War One.  It was infuriating.

“Finally! The greatness of the German people was to be realized! At last! When they shouted at the top of their lungs ‘Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!’ their voices became part of this amazing huge sound, hundreds of thousands of Germans in unison. Again and again. The drums, the bugles. The might of the united German people, about to take ownership of the future.. How about hundreds of thousands of them lost in an ocean of Germans? I mean, if you were German, and you felt that Germans had been mistreated throughout history but especially after World War I. Now united  They were ecstatic. Hundreds of thousands of people were in Washington, led by Joan Baez, singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’  It was the same.  Feeling part of something really big, important, hopeful, determined. I loved being there.  I treasured the experience. I was not one lousy feeble person, living my life alone without purpose.  I was part of a huge moment in history.  A movement! The Nazi rallies were bigger than the March on Washington.”

Encouraged by where Jeremy has gone CC grabs the moment to attack him.

“Those antiwar marches–how come the antiwar movement never mentions the fifty thousand unarmed civilians killed by Ho Chi Minh? He was inspired by the Chinese and Russians who did the exact same thing—land reform. Ho Chi Minh was proud to match their moment in the revolution with his own. To do what had to be done.  And these were peasants, no different from their selfish capitalist enemies, peasants who had managed to buy and own land.  Taking their land for the people was the right thing.

“You’d think the peace movement, if it was decent, would look back in horror at what happened. But it’s the opposite.  First the Russians did the killing, then the Chinese. True Communists, inspired by income inequality, each respecting revolutionaries who had done it before, going ahead with their plan, doing something, not just talking about it. Somehow the ‘make love not war’ people never mention Ho Chi Minh’s killings. It was the greatest atrocity in the history of Vietnam.”

“It’s not the same thing.”

CC knows she is winning this time. She can see submission on Jeremy’s face. She charges forward.

“The peace movement locks in on the good stuff­—the Vietcong not being Communists.   Being an independent movement of peasants.  Their ports may be clogged with Soviet ships bringing war supplies.  Khrushchev might have banged his shoe in the UN, bragged that the Communist would win, rule the world, bury us. The Chinese were calling us paper tigers. But what can you expect? Peaceniks ridiculed American policy as based on a ridiculous domino theory.  How the fighting is really about nationalism, ending Western imperialism. No one challenged their dismissal of the domino theory like our strategist were playing  a foolish child’s game. It’s wild. When we bomb the ports in North Vietnam, where supplies are pouring in peaceniks accuse us of wanting to expand the war.”

Laughing she takes off her boots and bangs it on table as she shouts

“Fifty thousand slaughtered by Ho Chi Minh on the altar of Marxism.”

“Where did you hear about that?” Jeremy asks calmly.

“Jeffrey Satini.  He’s head of the Young Conservative Club.”

“And you believe him? It’s amazing how people can make up lies.”

“I checked on it. It’s true.”

Jeremy’s disbelieving expression remains.

“While you belonged to the commune, you did feel calmed by it?”

“In the beginning. It was wonderful, belonging. My loneliness disappeared.”

“Like the first kiss when you have been in love.”

“Exactly.”

They are quiet for a moment absorbing that comparison especially because they have just been there. But Jeremy wants to know more about communes. He’s thought about them a lot, wondered what it would be like.

“Did it last for a couple of hours. For a day?”

“It was great for a couple of days, but it was over pretty quickly.  I suppose for some people it does last –what you were saying about the intellectuals in Europe holding on to their communism.

“It’s funny,” Jeremy adds, “with everything bad we are saying about that, what I have said about that I can’t close the book.  All these good-hearted people. Together. That means something. People need it bad, something good to believe in. To feel together.

“All I got to say is that if these sixties ideals catch on, watch out.  It will tear the country apart.  It already is,” CC counters.

‘But while you were part of it . . . It just seems like you were in heaven.”

She doesn’t understand where he is going, what he is trying to hold onto.  But she does.

“Mark and I used to talk about heaven all the time, what it would be like. Angels playing harps. Forget the harp part.   Nonstop euphoria—imagine that!”

Jeremy can.

“Never mind nonstop—even if it lasted ten minutes. Hell. Zen Buddhists are satisfied with an instant of satori. Ten minutes has got to be an eternity.”

She still doesn’t get where his head is, where he is trying to get to.

On the other hand Jeremy’s delighted with where they have just gone to, thinking together.  Agreeing!  As a kid, he thought a lot about heaven, not particularly since then. Their conversation has flown  in every direction, but it’s a turn-on for Jeremy–– knowing CC cares about all of this, the heavenly. When he was falling in love with her, he had no idea about this side of her. His attraction was instantaneous, but this is something more.

 

 



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