Mark and CC Go at It
In her room at home, CC calls Mark.
“What’s up?” she asks, readying herself for whatever tsaurus Mark will hit her with.
“It’s insane here. I’ve had it with everyone, with the Left, with Reagan. Everyone.”
“Why? What’s happening?”
“Everyone hates everyone. You’re lucky to be going to school in Buffalo. Berkeley’s unreal. They’re finding villains everywhere. Everyone’s angry.”
“I thought that Berkeley’s going to be the future of America. Is that what we have to look forward to?”
“Could be. It’s not too pretty here.”
“Are you serious? I thought you went there because that’s where the good people are.”
“It is. People are here for the right reasons. It’s not like they are fraternity guys just out to get drunk and have a good time. Most of the people here are hoping to do something meaningful with their lives. Having a good time just isn’t it.”
“So how come all that goodness has stirred up so much hatred?”
“Right, love.” She answers sarcastically.
“CC. Can we stop? You haven’t even gotten here and we’re going at it.”
“You’re right. I’m seeing the same thing in Buffalo. The counterculture’s everywhere. I saw John Cage at the Albright- Knox.”
“The Albright-Knox. That’s supposed to be very cool. And John Cage. He’s something else.”
“He was something all right.”
“You didn’t like him?”
“There was nothing to like. They played something called 4-33. It was brilliant. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of total silence.”
CC can hear Mark’s smile on the phone 3000 miles away. She is not smiling with him.
“That’s so cool,” he says, half knowing that will get CC going. “I know it’s hard for you. Just keep an open mind, okay?”
CC’s first thought is how nice it would be to cancel the flight to Berkeley. She’s already had more than enough from Jeremy.
“I know you like them but artsy people make me feel like a jerk around them. There were these people at the concert who looked at me like I was a cockroach. Just because I didn’t know what was going on. I hate that. It was like I used to feel in Great Neck when I wasn’t up on the latest style.”
“They’re just people. Yeah some people get off on being snobbish. But you’ll find that everywhere. People find a shtick they can grab onto mainly to make everyone else feel like losers. Otherwise they’d be the target.”
“Well I felt stupid.”
“You just have to learn how to fake it. Make like you are in the know.”
“I thought you said you were breaking away from all the phoniness.”
“Sorry for what happened to you at the concert.”
“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have cared. I gave Jeremy a hard time but when I was with him I wanted to fit in. No way that was going to happen.”
“I’m sure Jeremy knows who you are.”
“Doubt that. He liked how I looked and that was it. He assumed he could shape me into the person he wanted.”
“Sounds like you had a great time with him.”
“You stayed around. Didn’t you?”
“Not really. It was over pretty quickly.”
“CC. What you have to learn is how to let things happen.”
“I know that.”
Just allow it to happen.”
“What do you mean happen?”
“Happen!” He says a little too exuberantly.
That word has a history. She can’t resist countering him. “As in happening?”
“I can’t believe last summer at three a.m. you were crawling in the mud at that Long Island estate. You had a great time, right?”
“I did. Thomas Hoving was there.”
“He’s head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was crawling in the mud like everyone else.”
“I thought you promised not to name-drop.”
“Fine, he wasn’t there.”
She’s silent. Both can see where her visit’s going to go, especially Mark. He’s come to expect CC looking for a fight.
“Look, I’m sorry I carried on about that happening.”
But he isn’t.
“CC, you could try to be a little more open-minded.”
“Thomas Hoving was there for a reason. And John Cage? He’s an important part of the avant-garde.” He says this as if he expects CC to drop all resistance and make way for royalty.
“Oh the avant guard. You’re worried I might miss out on the magic? That will break my heart.”
“Seriously. Happenings are interesting.”
“Crawling in the mud must have been fascinating.”
“It wasn’t really mud. It was more like wet dirt.”
She laughs. “I stand corrected. You were crawling in wet dirt. Doesn’t matter. You wanted me to know you’re hanging out with cool people, people who know Thomas Hoving.”
“You’re missing the point. Happenings are about being part of the act of creation. Sharing the moment of conception, experiencing the creativity. That’s what counts, not the art that’s produced. That’s for merchants to buy and sell at Christie’s. Happenings are complete in themselves.”
Unseen by Mark, CC mimics his facial expressions. Across the room in the mirror she can see how good her imitation of his ‘I am great mentality’ is. She wonders if her visit with Mark may be Jeremy times ten.
“Did you make mud pies?”
He doesn’t answer.
“When you were crawling on the ground it was raining, right?”
He doesn’t answer her.
“Did you make mud pies?”
As she continues to bait him, Mark is only half provoked. Perhaps, she’s not altogether wrong. He was showing off when he told her about it, particularly the part about Thomas Hoving. But why can’t she let that go? That’s how she’s become lately, even before Jeremy. He still recalls how, long ago, their dad teased her when she was maybe six, calling her a “doubting Thomas.” Said she will make a fine lawyer. From then on, Mark’s pinned that on her whenever she was like this, when she wasn’t going along with where he was trying to bring her.
But this is worse than usual. He’s prepared to ignore it. He’s expected what happened with Jeremy to affect how she is with him. But only so much. He assumes their history is long enough to not to be undone by stupid disagreements. Or, his vanity. For so many years they were solid. He assumes, despite the current brittleness of their conversations, they are still good. As her big brother, being able to introduce her to new cool things has been ongoing and satisfying. When she was a little girl, she fell in love with black raspberry ice cream, his favorite and soon hers, after he had her taste it. He remembers her smile and the happy way she looked at him. His mentorship bonded them. It became even more substantial two summers ago, when he brought her to a Bergman festival at the Bleeker Street Cinema. That was a peak of sorts in his ability to introduce her to great new things. They saw in succession The Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly and Wild Strawberries. Mark brought their mother to see Wild Strawberries but she was totally unimpressed. “I don’t need a movie to show me how depressing life is. I just have to look around,” she told him.
Mark was disappointed. His need for others to confirm his enthusiasms began with his mother. As a young child, she was the first to acknowledge and celebrate his nicest qualities. Not just his triumphs and medals but his dimples, his hair, his smile, any enthusiasm he showed for a new discovery. As he has moved away from the identity his family had, trying to become a new person, his need has grown more not less. He’s wanted his mother on board and assumed she’d go there if he led the way. She is still turned on when he seems enthusiastic, but the rest is far from a sure thing. Nevertheless, he’s sure Bergman’s a genius. He tells himself his mother is too old to see things with new eyes.
More the reason that CC has been Mark’s god sent as he has taken on his grand new identity. CC’s reaction to Bergman gave him what he most craves, gratefulness, adulation, confidence that he’s going in the right direction and might just get there. She left each movie in stunned silence, eagerly drinking in what Mark had to say.
Bergman required his help. His movies don’t deliver the satisfied feeling good movies give when the story, for better or worse, works out. Happy or unhappy, a good ending wraps things up, leaves a moviegoer satisfied with where they have been taken.
Bergman’s movies don’t do that. You don’t watch them hoping it will turn out well for a character that you have identified with. There is no story. You live inside his characters, absorbed into their world. And there you stay. Instead of an ending, Bergman provides meaning, discussion after the movie, which Mark loves.
Bergman’s father was a minister, like his parishioners he endured Sweden’s dark never ending winters. It is close to zero night after night. Partying la dolce vita style would be ridiculous. Righteous determination sustains the Swedish. It isn’t easy. His parishioners’ lonely efforts to stay on the godly path couldn’t always be righted by praying together and being enjoined by his sermons. Moral fiber hardens the soul, makes life bearable. It provides hope. Give God what he deserves and you will be rewarded. Sometimes a huge silence followed his father’s sermon.
A light makes it Through a ‘Glass Darkly. As they walked from the theatre to the car, in a hushed excited voice Mark whispered to CC Bergman’s glorious revelation.
“God is love.”
It wasn’t only for CC’s benefit. Those words illuminated every fold in Mark’s brain. It put to rest thousands of thoughts and doubts he had cultivated after he stopped believing in God. Bergman had nailed it resoundingly with the answer, a lightning bolt, not a burning bush. Love is the miracle we need. Mark overheard CC’s animated voice as she told a friend about Through a Glass Darkly. She used Mark’s exact words when he proudly intoned his revelation. He shared the glory he heard in her voice. He scored again with 8½. No profundities there, but unravelling what was going on in the movie and explaining it to her was quite enough. It reinforced what he wanted her to believe, that in his new identity he was part of a mighty movement bringing clarity. Remarkable insights flow from his mouth. Mark thrived on that thought.
Like tens of million young men just like him Mark’s ideas of the person he is going to be is based on the wonderful fantasy he has of who he wants to be. In Mark’s case not a rock star– An idea star. He was wowed by what Dwight McDonald had to say about several movies he loved. For a while McDonald replaced what Duke Snider had been, the person Mark was determined to become. Soon there were others, intellectuals who delighted him by cutting through the fog of his existence with sparkling insights.
Along with his terrific ideas, McDonald also was preoccupied with the dummies. When he put them down it delighted Mark. He had found someone who spoke for him about the mindlessness he found everywhere. McDonald warned that mass culture was crowding out finer things, culture that mattered. ‘I piss on it all from a considerable height.’ was Henry Miller clarion call. America had invented Wonder white bread and Hollywood endings, Chevrolet and ball games, Dinah Shore and apple pie. Beguiled by the abundance in their homes and in the stores, Americans delighted in the details of their life. Viet Nam was the inevitable outcome, destruction, if anything made worse by our innocence, our eyes blinded by plenty. Only the U.S. had dropped an atom bomb. No one else. That speaks volumes about who we are. Being clear about good and evil was assumption number one in those drawn to Berkeley. Having the good and bad clearly enumerated gave Mark a heady rush as he drank up McDonald’s braggadocio. He belonged to McDonald’s world, sat on the highbrow throne of clear sightedness.
In med school, Mark’s favorite book Herzog, lashes out on the man his wife left him for. He is a middle brow, clearly beneath Herzog’s status as an intellectual. When Mark read it he considered Herzog and himself as one and the same person. So absorbed was Mark by his new identity that for a middle brow, someone without the finer sentiments of a high brow actually winning Herzog’s wife seemed like a miscarriage of reality, a quirk. It made no sense. Mark’s understanding of how society should be arranged was that definite.
Unfortunately, McDonald introduced a dark possibility alongside the comfort of what Mark aspired to become. Those on the throne of enlightenment are surrounded by poseurs, people pretending to be high brows but not the genuine article. The possibility that Mark was a middle brow cast a huge shadow.
Nothing ever changes. In the 30’s left wingers had to prove their bona fides. Intellectuals took great pride in accusing others of not being the genuine article, someone who really cared about the suffering of the poor. Occupying a radical political stance determined whether one was part of the elite. McDonald had once been a politico, but now, being a high brow versus a middle brow became his badge of legitimacy.
The sky’s the limit when one constructs the person one wants to be, especially for the young. Fortunately, during up times Mark’s fantasy of who he is vying to become successfully colors his view of who he already is. It is his most effective balm for any doubts that might arise. He is proud when he goes there. But, more often than he prefers, his vision of the greatness he expects to achieve, is full of holes. When he is down Mark can’t always eliminate his fear of being exposed as a charlatan. Yeah, he has done a lot of reading, passionate reading. Compared to the people in Great Neck, he is a very heady fellow, but compared to the smartest people, The New York Jewish intellectuals holding forth in the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere, he is a lightweight. If he is lucky he has heard of the geniuses they quote so easily, coming out of their brain like the person they are quoting is their next door neighbor. While he has heard of most of the brilliant people that they mention, Mark has never read them. There is the real thing, and there is Mark’s thing. He is an imitator, a middle brow with a me-too sensibility.
So Mark’s image of himself can go up or down, depending on how he sees himself. Fortunately, there is CC. Having a younger sister has been a blessing. Sis being impressed by her big brother is what every young boy should have and often does. Even if it is half imagined, CC’s adulation of her genius brother bathes his ego. He needs it. His doubts are as huge as the self image he sometimes manages to project. Yes, he was a jerk name dropping Hoving but CC knows he is better than that. She must! It isn’t just Mark’s terrific Bergman insights. He’s sure she remembers all the other times he triumphantly explained things to her
Mark is shaped by the times. Dream the impossible dream is his credo the inevitable outcome of America in the 60’s. It isn’t just a catchy phrase. Anything a young person wants to be can be done without fearing tomorrow. America is booming. There are jobs for everyone now and forever, no matter how crazy they have been. Whatever craziness has been pursued, it can be placed in the past. A fresh start, a new beginning belongs to everyone. Their immigrant grandparents bleak reality is long gone. No one knows hunger. Very few children go to bed on an empty stomach.
So pursuing an impossible dream takes little risk. It is cool, the pathway to fulfillment. Again and again Oscar winners thanked their family for believing that their fantasies of greatness could actually materialize. Again and again CC’s being won over by Mark, has nurtured the same hopes in Mark, to fulfill who he wants to be.
Gurus appeared in Berkeley and elsewhere and were taken seriously in the 60’s. Enlightened men in their twenties and thirties returned from India with the answer. They didn’t seem stagey at all. Contrasting with the noise surrounding everyone else, their gentle aura seemed to emanate from their souls. They were much like who Mark becomes when he is stoned. Gurus were able to get there without drugs.
Ram Das was the greatest of them all. Born to Gertude Levin, and George Alpert, Richard Alpert’s answers lit the way. Become nobody! Stop living in the world of your fathers. Stop pushing, pushing, pushing. Be nobody, offered a way out of Mark’s flaming ego.
Richard Albert originally got there using powerful drugs. After returning from a year as a visiting professor in Berkeley, he joined Timothy Leary in Harvard’s Psilicybin Project. They could not have gotten to Harvard as nobodies. Being someone, hard work and dedication were necessary to be accepted at the highest level. Leary and Alpert took every psychedelic they could get their hands on. They made quite a to do of what they were accomplishing “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
It got them kicked out of Harvard. Which, as it happens was a good thing. It led to Richard Alpert going to India and coming back as the Ram Das. The greatest Guru of them all. Holiness without drugs. Crucial insights flowing from who he had become. “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
Other gurus’ messages were similar. Divinity exists in everyone. You are born with it, but it only appears during those moments when you let your ego go. The pathway can be cultivated, so that it permanently occupies the psyche. You don’t have to hit a homerun. Nor is divine inspiration needed. God can be found where he lives, inside of us, if we know how to find him Spiritual exercises can be taught. Learning how to meditate will get you there.
There are all kinds of ways to get there. Everyday on campus there is a circle of young people dressed as monks, singing as sweetly as they can, singing as one. Hari Krishna, Krihna, Krishna. Again and again and again. Mark’s seen them at Grand Central Station, La Guardia airport, places where people are rushing to go elsewhere. They sat on the ground in a circle unperturbed, singing again and again the identical words, transcending the busy universe surrounding them.
Mark’s first take was that they were a bunch of nuts. From another planet. But now with what they are hoping to achieve explained, the Hare Krishnas are given a second chance. He’s heard Trappist monks doing the same thing, singing soft melodies to God, Gregorian chants, hour after hour. Without crescendos, without virtuosos, without difficult thrilling high notes, as sweet as sugar, the Monks sing, offering to God the devotion God would want from his angels. Seemingly emotionless, hour after hour they cherish being connected to God, singing an endless love song to him.
When the chants are completed the Trappists become silent. Speaking distracts them from the presence of God. It stimulates the meaningless concerns of the ego instead of being caressed by God’s calm.
Mark gets it, at least in theory. Be nobody. But sitting on the ground in a circle, making no eye contact with anyone, still strikes him as strange. As a very talkative New York Jew with ego gushing out of every pore nothing could be more foreign to him. He’s surprised they’re not bored. Highs and lows are a given part of the journey he is undertaking. It’s what it is all about. He didn’t make the world that way. It is just how things are. He likes their goal. But to him tranquility is possible only afterwards, after you win.
He once saw the mother of one of the Krishnas, thrilled at that moment that she had finally found her lost son. One would expect her son to take a break, leave the circle for a few minutes and say hello. It didn’t happen. After a furtive glance, he did not look again. His chanting continued as if nothing had happened.
It didn’t take long for Mark to find a way to discredit gurus. Okay the Beatles made the Maharishi their spiritual advisor. That is not nothing. They know a secret or two. How could Transcendental Meditation not possess qualities that are worthwhile if the Beatles could be entranced.
But Mark soon finds a phony baloney aspect. An entry fee entitles each initiate of Transcendental Meditation to a secret mantra. Being led to Nirvana by a very profitable business is not what Mark had in mind.
Still, Mark can’t dismiss all of them out of hand. Not every Guru is in it for the money. He, nevertheless, finds another factor that clinches his rejection of them. As much as he might see himself as a rebel, an innovator finding and valuing the truth from wherever it comes from, despite his noisy proofs of his independence, his insistent displays that he hasn’t been engulfed by group think, an independence that is fundamental to the pride he takes in his individualism, on important matters he is ruled by his deepest values. They are anything but independent. At his core, he holds to the creed of the grandchildren of Jewish immigrants.
Anything of worth can only come to those who have earned it– from sweat and tears, from a long process of discovery and effort. Easy ways bring easy answers. Hard work is the only way to get to where he wants to be. This perspective is not written in stone, but it might as well be. It resonates deeply. He has never questioned it.
Hard work. As much as he blames it for creating the tense pathway which still imprisons him, the belief that only sacrifice can steer him accurately along the golden pathway loudly rings true. As much as he has hated the hard work he’s been forced to do, its premise is sacrosanct. Hard work is the only true path. It is the only way to get where he wants to go, nothing less.
With that as his yardstick, the superiority of his values lead him to the obvious. The difference between him and the newly proclaimed gurus is that he has put in the time, and is willing to do more. Whatever it will take. Taking shortcuts is cheating. His is the hero’s way. Some of the Gurus spent 10 weeks in an Ashram. What could they possibly have learned? Easily won wisdom can be paraded but how deep is it? How can it compare to the answers he expects to find. He may not have yet tasted the fruits of his effort, but he is confident it will materialize if he keeps going. His high school studiousness, his nail-bitten premed A’s, four tough years in medical school, his medical internship, the three years he will soon spend in his psychiatry residency, and the five to ten years after that to become a psychoanalyst–how could that fail to bring him the secrets he craves? In his view of things, this is how it should be.
The sacred can only come from work, from trial after trial, from his unswerving virtue. Dr. Reed’s sadistic organic chemistry finals, his essays in philosophy for Dr. Kurtz, certainly a man who could smell out derivative thinking– the list is long of the challenges he has met and conquered. Every triumph defines his legitimacy. Perhaps he hadn’t taken on the impossible, climbed mountains, crossed deserts like Moses, barely surviving. But the obstacles he has overcome, and will overcome are not a walk in the park. He has no doubt that whatever still stands in his way, will be met by his will.
Mark didn’t decide to be that way. It is the way he is made. The stress Mark has undergone so far and what lies ahead are necessary evils. Purification requires suffering to cleanse the soul. Not a day of fasting on Yom Kippur. Years and years and years of sacrifice. Keeping partying to a minimum, sticking to his books guarantees Mark that true enlightenment will be his. All so that, once there he can bring others there. It will be his gift to them. This perspective makes Mark proud to be Mark. Filled with the glorious expectation that he will share it with the one he finally loves. CC is a warmup for that day. She is lucky to be given what he has given her, but it is preparation for the eventual coronation of his dreams.
We are still left with a question? Why is Mark certain that he will find the answers that will bring an end to his questions? The answer isn’t complicated. Part of being young is having confidence that a happy ending awaits him. Again and his mother read to him story books. ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ Deep down he believes that. All is not in vain. There will be a payoff. Certainly, he hasn’t learned from firsthand experience that his ambitions are reasonable. Mark has never come across anyone who remotely resembles a person who had gotten to where he intends to go. Gurus have a tempting aura, especially Ram Das. He can’t totally dismiss them, but his gut tells him that they are dishonest. You can’t go from X to Y by the shortest route and expect salvation. Siddhartha spent a lifetime searching. The fact that he has never come across someone like Siddhartha doesn’t mean such people don’t exist. Of that he is sure. He’s met them in books, Siddhartha convinced him that it is not a fantasy. It never once crosses his mind that Siddhartha is the product of a fiction writer’s imagination. No more real than Santa Klaus.
The likelihood that Mark’s trials may be for naught, that he is chasing an imaginary treasure doesn’t mean at that age that he is aware of it. Like most of us, his motivations are bundled with others that operate silently. Dealing day to day demands that his attentions be there rather than deep philosophical questions. He may not think about the assumptions he operates by but they are firmly in place. Mark’s sincerity, his yearnings to become the saintly, wise person he imagines he can become, remains unshaken by the tsaurus he has encountered along the way Whatever doubts may cross his mind matter little. It is who Mark is, an explorer determined to be virtuous. Truth, justice and the Berkeley way define him. He believes that all of his striving will bring him the answer, the meaning of life.
The same cannot be said of his sanctity. Busting his chops to reach sainthood legitimizes him but Mark is no innocent. His initial success in hatching CC to a higher state of awareness, encourages him to repeat the experience with those that matter. His repertoire of restaurant conversation, starting on the first date, has almost entirely been formed out of his early successes with CC. He isn’t a Don Juan, a sly seducer of resistant women. He doesn’t want as much pussy as he can get. God is one. She will be the one. His teachings are not meant for everyone. Like Jeremy, his lofty discoveries, his great insights are to win over the someone who might become the woman he has been searching for. So, in his mind, what he is doing, is innocent and pure. By far the most important quality that pushes the button, however, that brings the possibility of finding his heroine has nothing to do with her intelligence or soul. It is how beautiful she is. He is like most guys, driven by the strange laws nature has created that makes men attracted to beauty.
When looking for a mate, the male red-capped manakin snaps his wings and dances on a branch to catch a female’s eye. Birds of paradise spend hours cleaning up where they will do their rituals. Their good looks, which they display exuberantly, are part of a dance that they do to a silent song. At the same time they sing to their mating partner, to human ears a not very pleasing sound, but its incessance sometimes leads to a successful courtship.
Mark’s behavior is of that ilk. His search for enlightenment is real. It is not tied up with his vanity or impressing his true love, but when it comes to courting the woman of his dreams, his presentation of himself is intertwined with it. The heart is a lonely hunter. More than one future true love he has sometimes successfully, sometimes not, displayed his medals, meaning in his case his rich cabinet of insights. His epiphanies are honestly gained and mean something besides their use by Mark to try to dazzle a girl, but what most impresses him he assumes will impress her. He shamelessly repeats not only his epiphanies but the tone of voice and the rhythm that captured his experience.
Some of the particulars he uses to impress a girl that he wants might seem comical to an outsider. Years later that is clear. But in Mark’s mind, he is innocent of chicanery. Why shouldn’t he take a date to a movie he’s seen five times? It doesn’t matter if he repeats himself. He is sharing the truth, bringing the person he already half loves to a higher level of understanding in the universe. And in actual fact, when he watches Through a Glass Darkly or Wild Strawberries the fifth time, invariably there is something he hadn’t noticed before. His enjoyment of the movie is deepened by sharing his love–to–be’s absorption in the movie. If his prospective new girlfriend has her own interesting reaction to the movie, it deepens his own appreciation of it. That makes the experience new.
The music he plays when he is trying to win over a woman he is attracted to runs along the same lines. He may have played a song he felt wild about a dozen times for his own pleasure, but he is even more moved by it when playing it for someone he hopes to connect to and love. It is a generous feeling. He is enabling someone else to get to the wonderful place he has been and enjoy it as he had. A cynic might note that he made his move at exactly the same point in a song, originally his emotional crescendo. But even though repeated at the exact same moment, it brings him fresh excitement. It is easy to dismiss his behavior as the manipulations of a rakish young man. But, given his mind set, he is completely comfortable with his sincerity. More than comfortable–– Mark wants it to be a holy act. He is pursuing a higher purpose, as part of his mission to elevate her deepest self. It isn’t just an excuse to get somewhere sexually. The sincerity of his intentions erases other motives, maintains his innocence.
Receiving true love from Mark, the eventual guru, is a gift to her. Offering her his heart and soul, and the universe surrounding them he seeks rapture for her. When he touches a woman’s breast. When he inserts his penis, if he didn’t truly believe that his desire to elevate her will bring both of them to an elevated plane, he might have seen his lovemaking differently—as simply fucking driven by his relentless hormones, no different than most guys in their twenties. If there are ten thousand men there are ten thousand strategies young men develop to get where they need to go. All are driven by the same thing—animal desire, animal will. Mark’s ability to dress up his motivations in elevated thoughts allows him to be a step up from other guys his age. He is not only fucking. He has successfully convinced himself that his lovemaking fulfills an exalted mission.
Not surprisingly, just as every once in a while he fears he is a middle brow, he sometimes sees himself as full of shit. Fortunately, he is able to talk himself out of that harsh perspective by assigning it to his low self esteem. With that explanation he can leave his shtick intact.
Not that he has always been successful with women. His good looks helps, but he has had as many near misses or outright failures as the next guy. His choices have reached too high as well as too low. Some of them were indiscriminate. Some of them were no different than the stories other boys in their 20’s might tell–– certainly, very far from the rarefied plane he strives for. For instance, he had this friend, Leila. She didn’t turn him on at all. She was too unattractive to be anything other than a friend. One evening she called. Leila’s girlfriend had died in a car accident. As Leila told him what had happened she cried and cried. Mark told her he would be right over. Holding her, trying to comfort her, before he knew it he was fucking her. His body had taken over. Such occurrences are not rare. What was different was that Mark then went with Leila for 3 months. It lasted that long not because love had grown between them. He remained as indifferent to her as he had been when they were friends. Our 60’s libertine operated by the code of honor he had been raised on. If you go all the way with a woman, you must marry her. So he was stuck– well, for 3 months.
The cure was simple. Barbara. A glimpse of Barbara and Leila disappeared. He was nice about his goodbye. They were still going to be friends and so forth. But it took a split second to determine her fate. The moment Barbara smiled back. Those two to maybe five seconds meant his search for Miss Right could continue.
There were other major chapters in Mark’s search to define himself. One of the most important was Mark’s discovery of the importance of spontaneity. As can be guessed, his reverence for it was in exact proportion to his inability to achieve it. This is not surprising. It is often the case that people revere what they can’t do or be. In Mark’s case it meant he philosophized about it an awful lot. Unlike Zorba, unlike Alan Watts, he couldn’t own a moment and move on to the next and the next. He craved being able to do that. But rather than being defeated by his inability, he was enamored by its truth. His shrink had said it long ago. His realization that it is true–– the importance of spontaneity elevated him. While he didn’t know how to get there the holiness of Now was another discovery he wanted to share. It was part of his virtue, one he could teach. And in truth, even when he wasn’t getting that far sexually, if she was turned on by what he was teaching her, he was more than satisfied.
Of course, something else was going on. He would not admit it to himself at the time but on some level he knew her interest in him might be due to the fact that he was as handsome as ever, even with his scraggly mustache and self cut hair. Some of his success was due to that, but in the 60’s, unlike the 50’s that was a quality officially ignored. Although he was attracted by beauty as much as ever, he did not recognize it in himself as a virtue he possessed.
AS we have seen, Mark began presenting himself as serious about his desire to grow when he was in high school. His desire to be new could have gotten old, but he was rescued whenever a terrific new movie arrived at the theater. Bergman’s nailing another masterpiece lifted him out of the same old, same old, returning him to sanctified consciousness—that and his latest fine insights about the movie.
“Yes,” he throws back at CC. “Crawling in the mud. If that’s who we really are, creatures in the mud, that’s where we have to learn it and teach it. To connect to an artist’s work, you have to go to where the artist is.”
“So what did you learn being in the mud at three a.m.?”
“You didn’t read that book on Zen I sent you. Did you?
“I started it.”
“And . . .”
She lets out a most unladylike call of the wild, straight from a Tarzan movie. Hearing it in the next room, Evelyn shakes her head, but Mark, in California, is amused.
“You got it down. Tarzan swinging on his vine—exactly—Rousseau, the noble savage,” Mark tells her.
She answers with an “Aren’t you fancy” tone of voice, which he ignores.
“Everyone needs true freedom. Mom and Dad tried to eradicate our natural selves.”
“You mean they toilet-trained us?”
Ignoring her, he barrels ahead.
“It’s all about returning to the true, where we were before we were put in chains. The noble savage is there in every one of us, buried by repression. Mom and Dad probably thought they were doing a favor for us, teaching us how to suppress our wildness, but they were wrong.”
“Oh, come on.”
He is undeterred. “When it happens, it’s mind-blowing. Suzuki says it well. You can’t grab satori. It just happens. The trick is to learn to go along for the ride. Like music, you just know that you are there.”
“And what do you do, sing along?”
She is having a good time, but Mark will not be sidetracked, He continues as if CC weren’t throwing barbs. “Satori is slippery. If you try to make it yours, if you try to possess enlightenment, you chase it away. You can’t give it a name. You can’t describe it.”
“‘If you meet the Buddha on the way to enlightenment, kill him.’” She says this in a disrespectful tone, but he ignores that.
“So, you did read it.”
“I read the first forty pages seriously. After that, I skimmed. I just remember that line.”
“Did you understand it?”
Exasperated, CC sighs. “What’s to understand?”
Her exasperation flies right past Mark. Like Jeremy, Mark’s so swept up by his desire to teach, by his desire to move people he cares about into his orbit, that he ignores the other person’s reaction. He assumes she’s an empty vessel, believing that she is offering temporary resistance that he will eventually overcome.
“When you discover something important, you have to not give in to the temptation to turn it into talk. I mean, it’s natural to want to milk it. But that’s the quickest way to kill it.”
She laughs to herself. He’s made this point ten thousand times! Mark the talker preaching no talk. Enough already she wants to say but doesn’t.
“Every truth becomes a lie,” he tells her.
“Mark. Why do you keep repeating that?”
Feeling awkward, he is silent.
“I still don’t get why you had to crawl in the mud at three a.m.”
“Because what you are looking for doesn’t happen in a suit and tie. It’s in the moment. The moment. The moment.”
“You mean the mud!” From earlier discussions, CC already knows what’s coming. She attempts to cut him off before he can get started.
“I know you look down on Norman Rockwell. The Abstract Expressionists call him an illustrator, meaning commercial not an artist. But if moments are sacred, that’s what he captures. Perfectly! That eleven-year-old girl in her attic in front of the mirror, trying on grown-up jewelry, with her mother’s makeup applied, studying herself, dreaming, imagining the woman she will become, her childhood doll discarded to the side. Rockwell got it exactly right. That moment. Great artists capture them.”
“Typical you—Norman Rockwell.” He says with his most finely developed contempt. They’re right. He’s not an artist. He does magazine covers.”
She smiles. His opinions are so predictable.
She jabs back at him. “He’s the real thing. I’ll take his magazine covers over ninety-nine percent of the modern art I’ve seen. Besides, his magazine covers are paintings. He does one a week. He’s incredibly prolific. Once he’s decided what he wants to show, he just paints it, like you signing your name.”
“Which is why everyone makes fun of him.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. Great artists always have to put up with ridicule.”
“He’s got it all wrong. He decides what he’s going to paint. It doesn’t come naturally.”
“Who made that rule? Let me guess. The avant-garde. Thank God he doesn’t roll in the mud for inspiration.”
“He is so Life magazine-so Hollywood.”
“You mean The Saturday Evening Post.”
“Whatever . . .”
“I like what he said about his art.”
“That if a painting has to be explained, if it can’t speak for itself, he’s failed. It is his first rule every time he starts a new painting. Make it accessible to everyone who looks at it
“Jackson Pollock, De Kooning, it’s exactly what they were trying to get away from.”
“They should have been worshipping at Norman Rockwell’s feet. That whole gang, especially the snooty art critics. I remember you took me to this showing. It was exactly the opposite. There were these proclamations, long long explanations about the paintings. I heard that Rockwell and Wyeth both get upset with the criticism they receive from the elite critics. Our two greatest artists getting nothing but ridicule. Half the reason is that the public, not the snobs, love them.”
Her resistance is not new, but CC’s John Cage experience has made her even more vehement with Mark.
They are both silent for a while until the tension dissolves.
CC speaks first. “Did Mom ask you to call Dora? What’s going on?”
“Probably nothing. Mom freaks out all the time.”
“Because she cares. She worries about us.”
“I never call Dora,” Mark replies. “She treats me like I’m some kind of evil person.”
“I thought you like being bad. It’s so cool.”
“Dora’s just doesn’t get it. She can’t understand me at all
“You mean that she doesn’t think being bad is cool,”
“She’s humorless. She’s so judgmental.”
“What do you expect. She went to a Yeshiva. That’s how they are taught to live, to obey God’s rules.”
“She’s actually interesting. You should have a good talk with her. It wouldn’t hurt to listen to the way she sees things.”
“Right. Just what I need– the wisdom of Dora. She reminds me of Grandma. Grandma the pincher.”
“You probably deserved her pinches. You do now.”
“Pinching? Grandma would have to buy a submachine pinching gun to stop me now.”
CC’s voice becomes even more sarcastic. “Oh, you are so, so naughty, naughty Mark. . . .” She smiles happily. Mark doesn’t answer.
“So you are not going to call Dora?”
Mark laughs, “Don’t think so.”
“I’m going to.”
CC in Berkeley
A few days later, CC’s plane lands in the Oakland airport. As Mark carries CC’s bag, he keeps looking happily at her. This is the first time she has visited him in California. The two of them walk together through the arrival portal, out to Mark’s car. The unfamiliarity of the scene fires off familiar emotions. Other than Florida, neither of them has traveled very much. This feels similar to what they felt when they were allowed to go by themselves to the waxworks in London while their parents rested at the hotel. He was fifteen, she twelve. Jay didn’t go to England with them. He had begun college.
By the 1950’s the Dutch no longer wore wooden shoes, nor the Japanese. kimonos, but the English dressed sufficiently differently for CC and Mark to know they were in a foreign country. Not Tahiti, but certainly not Great Neck. They spotted a man wearing a bowler hat, then another. The man sitting opposite them had on a double breasted jacket completely unlike any they had seen back home. When he had arrived at his seat he handled his umbrella like it was a gentleman’s cane. To his right was a woman looking equally different to them. Again, her clothes looked unfamiliar, but it was also some of the expressions on her face and his. They weren’t American. Nor were the candy machines on the post. The signs at each station were very British, a red circle with a horizontal blue bar, the color of the flag, a proper British red, white and blue. Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd, Lancaster Gate, Russell Square Marble Arch, Bethinal Green, Piccadily Circus, CC called out the station names to Mark, not numbers like they were used to in New York. Each name sounded like the station was for a quaint village. Subliminally both of them noticed that somehow the man opposite them and the woman to his right, not only had unfamiliar facial expressions, their movements, like everyone on the train didn’t flow in an American way They sat differently. They slouched differently. They even sneezed differently. Subdued, not American. Mark had once pointed out to CC that in British movies during fight scenes they didn’t throw a punch like American actors. They were restrained, stiff. The fights looked stupid.
Trying to fit in, Mark and CC kept a straight face, but they couldn’t contain their excitement. Their eyes met each time they noticed another British difference. They, in turn, were attracting second looks, not just because they both were so good looking, but because they were clearly American. They were aware that they were coming across appealingly. So the whole trip on the underground was very fun.
Oakland is not London, and they are no longer twelve and fifteen, but there is some of the same thing as they walk in the airport. The parking lot at Oakland airport is not one of the seven wonders of the world, but Mark’s face is flushed with excitement. Being elsewhere together thrilled them in England, and it excites both of them now. It is midmorning. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. California sunshine exuberantly bathes the parking lot. A perfect day in New York, a typical day in California.
Since the beginning of Mark’s attempt to reshape his identity away from the rest of the family, practically the entirety of their connection had taken place in each other’s rooms, being inside each other’s heads. Mark has so much to show her. He has no intention of driving into San Francisco to tour his favorites, Lombard Street, the cable cars, Muir Woods or along Route 1 to Stinson Beach. The family had done the sights in San Francisco and Northern California years before. No. It is Berkeley he wants her to see. That and, as always, still more visiting inside each other’s minds. They will be able to have hours and hours of it—each finding out where the other one is at.
As soon as they get to his apartment, Mark puts on “Here Comes the Sun.” He had prearranged the cassette to its exact location. As she listens, he takes her suitcase to his bedroom and returns. She is sitting on the arm of his sofa, not moving a muscle. It isn’t danceable, but when he returns, she offers her hand. After a few tries to find a rhythm, they quit. The important thing to Mark is that she is listening as intensely as he hoped. And smiling! Her calmness as she takes it in thrills Mark, especially when the song finishes and she asks to hear it again. It’s the usual. Her pleasure doubles his own. This is by far his favorite Beatles song. That and the next song on his cassette, which is soon playing, its harmony smooth smooth, smooth.
I’d love to tu-u-u-r-n you on
Woke up, fell out of bed
“Listen to the lyrics.”
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
“They’re amazing, aren’t they?”
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream . . .
So they are off to a decent start. Their interaction resembles being on a date. No sex or kissing, but in certain respects there is something going on between them like that, her resistance, and his, as usual persistence. They walk on Telegraph Avenue, two blocks from his apartment on Dwight, drinking it all in. Nothing spectacular to see but nevertheless they are rich in the newness of it all. It is no wonder CC landed up with someone who loves to teach. Mark loves to teach as much, or more than Jeremy. It is baked into both of them.
They enter Moe’s bookstore.
He could not have planned it any better. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is giving a reading. Standing among the shelves of books, soaking up his words, Mark keeps stealing glimpses in CC’s direction to see if she is into it. She isn’t, which disappoints him. Sensing this she does what she can
“I’m glad I’m here,” she whispers. “I needed to get away.”
“I sent you A Coney Island of the Mind. That’s him. Have you read it?”
“One or two poems.”
“He didn’t interest you?”
“So-so. I liked that other book you sent me. Charles Reznikoff.”
“I thought he was depressing.”
“So what. I liked him.”
“Have you heard from Jeremy?”
“It’s three weeks. He’s not going to call. It’s over.” Her pronouncement doesn’t seem all that upsetting to her, but it does irritate the person next to her. The persistence of their whispering is getting them looks. Fortunately, they are near the door of the bookstore. He slips away to the outside. She follows.
“It’s good. It’s good,” CC tells him. I’m happy for his wife. . . I was so taken by Jeremy that I never thought about her. It was wrong.”
His disappointment that she didn’t like Ferlinghetti is preoccupying him but he is able to hear her.
When I’m in love with a woman, when we’ve connected, it makes everything else disappear. They could drop an atom bomb on me and I wouldn’t notice. You get a pass on his wife. It’s wasn’t under your control.”
“I’m not so sure. Maybe the first time, the first few times, but after that I was plenty aware of her…Anyway, it feels good being without him. I didn’t notice it before, not enough to bug me but now… He got to be a burden. I got tired of having to react to him. I feel so much lighter. Even my myasthenia is better. I’m not dragging myself around.”
She turns toward Mark, points her finger at him somewhat comedically. “Don’t have an affair with someone married.”
“Glad I have a sister. I can learn from your mistakes.”
A bit morosely, she replies, “I’m glad I’m good for something.” She isn’t looking for reassurance. At that moment she means it. She doesn’t like herself. For no reason she can fathom.
Mark makes a funny face. He doesn’t get back the smile from her he hoped for. He’s been used to CC making an effort, even if she didn’t find his remark cute. Out of generosity or at least politeness, she would give him a flicker of acknowledgement. It isn’t happening. It hasn’t for a while but this is worse than usual. He isn’t used to her being so elsewhere that she isn’t interested in giving him any reaction whatsoever. He knew she would be sad about Jeremy but he didn’t expect her to be this unavailable to him. Even when their arguments seemed to never end, she was never as oblivious of Mark as she now seems to be.
“How has your breakup gotten to you?” he asks.
“I don’t want to talk about it okay?”
“It’s too bad. To me, Jeremy sounded like the perfect person. He was on the right side on every issue.”
“You mean your side?”
Mark noticeably sighs in frustration, mostly for her benefit. She ignores him.
“You don’t take Viet Nam seriously enough. The kids there–”
CC cuts him off. “In the two or three months I was with Jeremy I had twenty years’ worth of it from him. A lifetime’s worth. He took up right where you left off.”
“I’ll bet you gave it back to him.”
She smiles, satisfied by the way it ended. “The more I heard his shpiel the more I disagreed with him.”
With difficulty Mark smiles. The way CC has been with him over the last year has not been easy for him. The never ending arguments got on both of their nerves. What’s worse they no longer can simply hang– listen to music, watch TV, show each other pictures in magazines, share thoughts of no particular importance, contentedly take their relationship for granted. Mark’s politics, along with his continual proclamations of his ever-improving identity, now threatens to override any other connection they might have had. The person he was turning himself into was once fine, in the beginning even exciting. But now he invariably irritates CC, precisely because he makes such a big deal about who he is. Still, behind all of his talk, his loneliness stirs her. But when they are together he makes so much noise it is difficult to see beyond that.
The contentiousness between them on specific issues started their alienation. In her bones she knows he is very very wrong, far off from what should be obvious to him. She wants to look beyond that. But unfortunately, she cares a lot about the issues they argue about, as does he. They both realize it shouldn’t affect them so much. They have known each other forever, been as much a part of each other’s life, as cereal in the morning. That should count a lot more than their disagreements. They should be able to do what others do, agree to disagree. Move on. Except that hasn’t worked. Agreeing to disagree sounds nice in theory. It occasionally has stopped an argument. But even when it is successful in suppressing their animosity, very much like a truce between combatants, it doesn’t last long. For hours afterwards they both feel bitter, going over something the other one said, and come up with a better rejoinder they plan to use the next time. Still along with their bitterness each has a vague longing for that bitterness to go away. The endless hours they’ve tried finding common ground, often makes things worse. Still tied into the debate they have silenced, invariably they find new things to be angry about, which has more than once multiplied into a silent rage.
Mark thinks that out of pride CC is being difficult. If only she will put that away. Like her he assumes that it is still possible to find the person he has lost. The real CC will return, the real Mark, will throw aside the layers of masks each has accumulated over the last few years and simply be themselves.
Their deep talks were the first time CC came out of the shell most of us usually live in as we play out our practical minute to minute lives. Where they went together has been unlike any other experience CC had had. It was thrilling. Yes pot enhanced, but it seemed far more real than her sober experiences, which too often passed unnoticeably. They are the same people they were. With all the time they will be together on this visit it seems so close. What they had should come back.
Mark was encouraged by her smile when he played Here Comes the Sun. For a moment he thought they were connecting. But it didn’t last. After, when they couldn’t find a rhythm to dance to, instead of sharing their amusement with their clumsiness on the dance floor they froze a bit. It was another example of the clumsiness they felt being around each other. Perhaps they both want it too much. That’s getting in the way.
They head toward the campus.
The smell of honey dew melon once saturated the air on Yom Kippur when first Ira and Evelyn and later Jay, CC and Dora came home from synagogue to end their fast. Neither CC nor Mark are particularly sensitive to smells. But that honeydew smell was a powerful, wonderful aroma. In Sproul Plaza the smell of marijuana is everywhere, which makes Mark happy to be sharing it with CC. Mark and CC took a quick toke or two in the apartment before they left the apartment. The fear of being busted made them close all the windows. But here cautiousness seems to be unnecessary. Nearby, two students are strolling, openly smoking. A campus cop walks by, hardly noticing. Another student lights a joint directly in front of the cop. He blows smoke in the cop’s face. Smiling, the student offers the cop a hit. Good naturedly he refuses, but then has second thoughts and takes a drag.
Mark takes out his half-used joint and lights it, fearlessly Out of habit she looks around cautiously when he hands the joint to her but soon realizes it is safe. As they pass the joint back and forth, she begins to feel what Mark wanted. to show her. Their nervousness at his apartment when they had taken a hit or two before leaving was very much how it was back home in their backyard when they snuck a drag or two. Being forbidden made it seem a little crazy . But now, without fear of being caught he is happily giving her a sample of what will be the future They are part of a great nation that is being born. This is better than talking about it. It is better than the happening he tried to tell her about. That came out of an invitations to be at the estate at a specified time. This is here, any time, all the time. That CC is part of it makes it twice as good, particularly because his pot is excellent. Acapulco Gold, bought for her visit From the expression on her face, he sees that she is going for a grand trip, taken over by a force not in her control, to a flight very very high. And she is in to it.
A speaker is addressing a small gathering. From the periphery, Mark and CC listen for a moment. Like Jeremy, Mark is fond of teachable moment that he can elaborate on. This isn’t it. What the speaker is preaching is old hat, his passion feigned. He mindlessly repeats what everyone else is saying. So Mark moves them on. It isn’t the Berkeley moment Mark wants to show CC.
He looks around to see who else is holding forth. Disappointment–he’s heard all of them before. None have grabbed him. When he stopped and listened he’s been turned off. And not just by them. By the scene. The preachers are bad enough but their worst sin is that they are boring. The crowd that gathers around is a turn off. It doesn’t matter what the guy says, whether it’s true or not, fact or fiction, doing a bit of shouting, or using tight logic. The audience bothers Mark even more than what they are saying. Listening to someone preach about evil that must be rectified is going to elicit many raised voices, but the listeners have apparently released their rage so often that their shouting hardly seems like anger, more like a congregational response.
The righteousness of their hatred should have a sweet aroma. Anger is usually ugly. But righteousness dresses it up. This is just ugly. It should be a community song of justice to be won, voices on the side of angels, pride strengthened by the certainty that they care about moral things, the poor children in Viet Nam , the plight of black people in America. Shouting publicly can do remarkable things for the conscience. Being united with others is a way to reach beyond the murmuring their hearts hear when they are alone with their outrage. But this isn’t any of that. It is hollow words, hatred barely camouflaged.
“Ike warned us about the Military-Indusrial complex. Capitalists so in love with money they are willing to get people killed so they can have more of it, Vietnamese peasants, American boys. Innocent lives don’t matter to them. As long as they can line their pockets.”
“Yeah.” someone shouts
“Those mother fuckers!” another adds, louder than the first.”
In synagogue, if nothing else respectfulness overwhelms any other emotions. Voices raised in a melody, rhythmic dovening to God who is presumably listening. It once or twice worked for Mark. He was won over by the virtues the rabbi extolled in his sermon. When he told the congregation that anonymous charity is best it stuck with Mark. The idea that God can see the good you have done and that is what counts. He was not adverse to holding precious what everyone else in the congregation shared, being so influenced by the sermon to be convinced that he is a good person. True they have to leave the synagogue and return to everyday life, to an identity that is far less morally pure. But the memory of their goodness when the rabbi reached them could sometimes carry for days. unite them in innocense. Believing that God exists is necessary for the whole phenomenon to take place. So one would think that Mark can no longer participate in it, but like the Marxists in the 30’s Mark belief that he is part of a culture that will determine the future is apparently just as powerful as a belief in God. So why should the crowd of listeners bug him so much, even more with CC there? He doesn’t know.
CC and Mark walk on quietly, each absorbed in their own thoughts.
Mark breaks the silence
“You didn’t really see it.”
“The real thing. Berkeley as it can be.”
She grimaces. She snaps at him
“Well better than today. The speakers weren’t very terrific and the students listening weren’t that inspired.”
“I got a pretty good idea.” She answers.
“What’s going on here is is a pivotal moment in history. I don’t think you could see that.”
“See what?” She shouts. Although she fears that what he is saying may be true, every time she has heard it before stiffens her resistance
“History??!!..They are going to have a chapter about Berkeley in American History 101?”
Her sarcasm lands nowhere, weaker than she had hoped. It flies right by Mark. Her ineffectuality eggs him on.
“History is a lot more than what professors spoon feed you. There’s a lot more to the past. They are hiding it. Shameful laws, discrimination against black people that is unbelievable, not just in the South.”
Again the same chorus. “The future of America is playing out here. We’re going to change what’s wrong. Berkeley is the nexus of a new age.”
“The age of Aquarius” she answers sarcastically. But then she is more respectful. “Yeah, a lot sucks. Not just blacks, discrimination against Jews and the Irish and Italians, all the ethnics. The people that have run this country, the Wasps. A lot has been wrong….Agreed. No one is what they should be… Or ever will be” she adds “But we live in a fantastic country. The best country there has ever existed in the history of the world. I don’t understand why you can’t see that.”
“I see it. Yeah. We are great. Great. But it is the rest…Don’t dare criticize great America.”
“No one’s saying that.”
“Well in school how come they didn’t teach what we’ve done wrong. They want to hide it. My friend John told me that it’s even worse in Catholic school. You can get away with that only so long.”
Mark continues, “I’ll predict it now. When the truth comes out we will rethink what we think of this country. Someday the president of the United States will be from Berkeley.”
“Right,” she answers sarcastically. “A child nurtured on the sweetness of the revolution to come.” Her tone changes. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
“Moses was alone in the desert, barely surviving. Out of his misery he brought a new world, full of beliefs that are now the basis of billions of people’s belief. Judaism. Christianity. He was God’s spokesman. It’s beginning right here, in Berkeley.” He laughs triumphantly. “But without the God part.”
“Right! People in Berkeley have been through so much misery? Your childhood on Long Island. Give me a break.”
“Well, no, but we see what’s wrong in the country and we want to fix it. We’re demanding it…As we should!”
“Prophet Gordon. May I speak?”
He ignores her. “The truth is the truth. You got to be blind not to see it.”
“You mean what you have in Berkeley. What truth are you for. No rules? Anything goes? How about what you said on the phone, everyone’s fighting every one here. Can’t wait to see the future.”
He doesn’t answer her.
“Here’s another truth.” She grabs his hands with both of hers. “You have your internship to finish. This bullshit gotta stop.”
He takes her hands off of his.
“Listen miss. I’m the older brother. I’m the one who gives advice.”
Neither of them had intended for it to get this heated up. Not in the first hour they are together. Remorsefully, they walk silently for a hundred yards moving deeper into the campus.
She grabs his hand again and makes a silly face. It is a signal. They croon in a baby voice, heavy with Brooklyn intonation.
They are half faking their playfulness but then some passing students look at them like they are weird. No one is going to look at the Gordons like that! It’s the incentive they need to quit faking their playfulness, to really get into it. CC gives him a goofy friendly smile. He smiles back. Appearing like a weirdo to others has united them far better than the good intentions they tried to elicit with their serious talking.
“Those were the best. The best ever . . .” CC croons.
“Camp Pinewood. Remember the strawberry punch?”
“Three o’ clock every day,” she replies.
“‘Mrs. Resnick would ring her cowbell.” He has a big smile. “She loved that cowbell.”
“Did you ever figure out what was in her punch?” he asks CC.
“Probably saltpeter. That’s what I heard. They didn’t want us climbing on top of each other. Saltpeter is the first requirement for a harmonious camp experience.”
“Especially after Judy got pregnant.”
Mark laughs, “She was a junior counselor, right?”
“I don’t know. She was fourteen. I remember the way Mrs. Resnick looked at her. Her famous punch had failed to deliver. She was probably thinking about what else she could add to it?”
“I actually got to like it.”
“What do you think it was?”
“Probably Kool-Aid. Cherry or strawberry.”
“You remember her cockamamie meatballs?”
“Every Tuesday night.”
Mark imitates Mrs. Resnick as she sashayed through the dining hall, half stylish, half mamma-mia.
She called out to Myron so that she could be heard throughout the room.” “‘Eat! Eat! It’ll make you strong.’”
“Myron was such a lousy eater.”
“I know. Myron was legendary.”
“What was his last name again.”
“No it was Lipinsky.”
“Oh right. You’re right.”
They walk on happily, and find a bench.
“It seems like a hundred years ago,” Mark says to her. “Those color wars.”
She can’t resist the opening, “One day, that’s how you’ll remember Berkeley.”
“What’s going on here is not fun and games. It’s important.”
“Are you going to lead us out of the wilderness?”
That stops him long enough for CC to hammer home her message.
“What’s important is your internship. That’s why you are in Berkeley, to do your internship.”
“You heard about Ritchie, your favorite cousin Ritchie?”
“Not mine, Mom’s…What happened to him?”
“Three years in jail. Drugs. Dad got him a good lawyer. It could have been five. Aunt Ruth is devastated. He’ll never get his life back. You don’t think Mom and Dad would be wrecked if you screwed up like that? They’ve put so much into you.” He looks at her, signaling he’s heard enough, but she continues. “All their hopes––”
“So I am supposed to supply the happy ending to their movie?”
“Why not? It’s the same for all of us. Our lives aren’t completely our own. We belong to them as much as to us.”
“So my life means nothing. Only theirs counts.”
“C’mon. That’s such bullshit. Ninety percent of your life is your own. You must have noticed that? For their ten percent they’re just asking that you don’t fall flat on your face. They’ve had a basic plan all along that they take absolutely seriously. Getting you ready so that you can support a family.”
Yeah, meaning not embarrassing them at the club.”
“Well. You’ve been pretty good at that…Look, at this point what they want is you finishing up, become a doctor. That’s it.”
“I could’ve been a carpenter and taken care of a family.”
“But not as well as being a doctor. They want the best for you.. They’re hoping that the best happens. What’s so wrong about that?”
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong is I don’t want to provide nachas for them at the club.”
“It’s not for the club. Okay, they love that stuff. But believe me they’d love you just as much if you were a carpenter.”
“Right the first Jewish carpenter on Long Island.”
“You’re not wrong.. They would rather be bragging about you than making excuses, but that’s a small part of what they want from you They genuinely want you to have a comfortable life, for you to be satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. That’s for you not them.”
“So, there hasn’t been constant pressure?”
“So what. You got a bad deal being a Gordon? Having parents like them? Granted the nachas thing is real, but what is wrong with being proud of you? Proud of me. Proud of our family.”
“It’s just creepy.”
“Oh. It’s not cool to be proud of your family., not like being at a happening with Thomas Hoving?”
Her scoring causes both to retreat. They both silently regather themselves. It doesn’t last long.
“You know how much they’ve given us?” CC adds.
“What about what I put in?”
“Oh right,” she says sarcastically.
“You forget. Not just becoming a doctor. I used to go to those cello lessons. I practiced for hours and hours. Believe me, it wasn’t fun. I hated the cello.”
“So how come you made the Long Island Youth Orchestra?”
“Not because I loved it! I was afraid of my cello teacher. If I didn’t play well, he would tell Dad that I was goofing off.”
Half admiringly, she asks Mark, “So you practiced enough to get into the Long Island Youth Orchestra?”
“Dad’s a tough person to please.”
“You were that afraid of him?”
“Then what was it?
He hesitates for a moment then answers. “Disappointing him. I was afraid of that. I don’t know why? Just like with tennis.”
“He was beaming when you won that tournament at tennis camp. But he didn’t expect you to be a champ. That was your doing.”
“My doing? Right! My doing.”
“Is that why you quit the tennis team?” CC asks.
“The pressure–you have no idea how it got to me. I began to hate tennis.”
“The pressure was coming from you, not him. It’s not like he couldn’t get over it. He just moved on.”
“Maybe, but I haven’t picked up the cello since I left high school. I don’t even know where it is at home.”
“Mom put it in the attic. Do you play tennis?”
“Actually, no. I don’t enjoy that, either. Well actually that’s not true. I’ve tried teaching it to Lisa, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t fun. That’s on Dad.”
“How come you never mentioned her?”
“It’s been only two weeks, so––”
“Can I meet her?”
“She’s got a paper due.”
He continues. “You think I just glided through college and medical school. I make a lot of noise about what a rebel I am, like I don’t care about those things but–”
“Yeah, I rattle their jar, but in the end I’ve done everything they expected me to do. And more. Trust me. Being a premed and then going to medical school was no fun. It’s eaten a huge chunk of my life. My best years, when I could have been young.” You don’t think I noticed how carefree the preppies were in college. I couldn’t let loose like them, like I wanted to.>
“So that’s Mom and Dad’s fault?”
“I decided on being a psychiatrist. Not them. They never mentioned becoming a doctor. So, I guess not.” He thinks it over a bit more. “Still–bottom line? What they think counts. Anytime I thought about just chucking it all—and believe me, there were times, still are—the first thing that came into my head is how I could explain it to them. I didn’t know what I would say. Especially to Mom, but to Dad, too. They would have been devastated.”
He thinks over what he wants to say before proceeding.
“I have this one friend whose parents pushed him around all the way through school. Would punish him if he missed a curfew in high school. If he goofed off and got bad grades. He was afraid of his father, like he could still take out the belt if he had to.
What Mom and Dad did was worse. They hung on to us succeeding, like if we didn’t their life would be wasted. Like it would kill them.”
“I don’t know what parents you had, but they aren’t mine. So what,” she says bravely. “They’d lose a few feathers in their hat. Trust me, they would find new feathers.”
“You make it sound so simple. I thought you were admitting that those feathers are important to them.”
“Sure. They don’t have as many feathers as they’d like. I guess no one ever does, but I remember certain times when they were the king and queen of the club. After you graduated medical school…”
“Maybe. Along with ten other parents whose kid graduated med school.”
“There were only two others last year at the club.”
“Still. It’s such bullshit.”
“Maybe,” she answers. thinking further. “Do you think nachas is as important to Christians as it is to Jews?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m sure it is for a lot of immigrant families. Any kind. I knew this Korean kid in school. It was identical. He felt incredible pressure. His parents had something to prove.”
“You mean they had their dreams.” CC answers him.
CC and Mark arrive back at Mark’ apartment with a baguette and some brie. Mark has been breaking off pieces of the bread, and nibbling so it is half eaten. As they enter the kitchen, she pulls off a chunk of the bread.
“Wait ’til I put it on the table,” he tells her.
“Looks who’s talking. You ate half of it.”
She sits down at the table. He brings out a container of milk and two glasses.
“We haven’t talked about your new internship. Is that going all right?”
Mark expected they would be talking about Jeremy throughout their walk, CC is much more narrowly focused on Mark. She has been anticipating a heavy duty confrontation with Mark, a continuation of her battles with Jeremy. So far, there has been plenty of disagreement, but not as much Jeremy as she expected.
“It’s not just nachas about us. What really bugs me is the way Dad puffs up his chest when he drives into the club with his Eldorado.”
“So what. He was ashamed as a kid. They didn’t have a car. Having an Eldorado means a lot to him.”
“His Eldorado is something—the fins!”
“You are so predictable. You and Jeremy. Same exact thing.”
“If I was here at Berkeley, I would drive a pink Eldorado convertible.” Savoring her defiance, she watches Mark for his reaction. There isn’t one. He’s been won over by her argument. CC raises her voice.
“You can’t toss Mom and Dad away just because you don’t need them anymore.”
“Who’s tossing them away?”
“You’ve been doing it for years.”
“I’ll admit it. I needed them to pay for school. They just had a lot of things wrong with their thinking.”
“And you were going to set them straight. I don’t understand it, especially with Mom.”
“I haven’t tossed her away.”
She stares at him accusingly. “Oh no. Mom has loved you with everything she has. Everything. She still does.”
“That doesn’t mean she gets to say who I am.”
“It’s the opposite. Whatever you touch, whatever you say is golden. She tries to get into your shtick. She talks about you all the time.”
“Which is what I was saying about Berkeley. I’m telling you . . .”
“You’re still thinking about that?”
“I just want to be sure you understand what is going on here.”
“I don’t care about that. I’m talking about you and mom…Lately, she worries about you a lot.”
“It’s my life.”
“She’d do anything for you.”
He rolls his eyes. CC sees that. Evidently, he didn’t accept what she said before.
“Your life?” she shouts at him.
“Your life!” She repeats. “I thought we are family. What happens to one of us happens to all of us.”
“Oh God,” he mutters to himself. “You sound like Dad. Mr. enmeshment.”
“What the hell is enmeshment.”
“They used that word a lot in my psych rotation. It’s not a good thing to be enmeshed.”
“You mean the professors put it down a lot?”
“It’s their favorite way to pinpoint what is wrong in a patient’s life.”
“They spoke about it like it was the black plague. Clinging to your family, being ruled by their expectations. I agree. I’ll say it again. It’s my life to fuck up or not to fuck up.
“Can’t you see what’s replacing it? Me Me Me.”
“Come on I care a lot about other people. What was my bio career program. Those kids need help and I care.”
Yeah, you care about these strangers. Oh, your politics. Your principles. You care. You care. You care. But not about the people who matter… Us. Me. Mom Dad. Jay. Dora. Those are the people that matter.”
Mark doesn’t answer her. He is only half listening.
“I had a long conversation with Dora. She was telling me that psychiatrists are anti-Jewish. But it is not the religion. It’s our whole culture. I’ll bet not one of them has an Eldorado.”
“Oh, you like Eldorados?”
“Mark. You are missing the point. We own a piece of each other’s souls.”
“Correct. I want for them not to own a piece of mine. I want my freedom.”
“Forget it. What they own is a given. Since the day you were born.”
Mark smiles. “Exactly, when I was in diapers they were already dreaming up what they expected of me.”
“Maybe, but you haven’t exactly been shy about asking for things from them. Like that Nikon you had your eyes on last Hanukkah. You knew you’d get it.”
“See, it is the money. I remember the bribing. They’d tell us that we would get what we wanted at Hanukkah if we were ‘good.’”
She sings, “He knows if you’ve been bad or good.”
Mark joins her: “So be good for goodness sake.”
“That’s what parents do. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Teach us what’s right and wrong.”
“Not like Mom and Dad,” Mark replies. “They lay it on too thick.”
CC answers angrily “Bullshit. How is it too thick?”
“I don’t know, but it has to be coming from somewhere. Now I have my own money, so they can’t pull that anymore.”
Her voice rises disdainfully. “You mean you really think it’s the money!” She lets her disdain sink in. “You have to know it has nothing to do with money. Maybe for you, but not for them. Dad belonged to his parents and they didn’t have a dime. Same thing. They gave him what they had… Everything! Like Dad did—still does! Everything. That’s a lot more than money. Even when he doesn’t like you—and plenty of times he doesn’t—he’d cut off his arm if you needed him to.”
“This is getting ridiculous. I gave them what they expected. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“You’d really quit being a psychiatrist if it was up to you?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Sometimes I see these hippies, even the ones sleeping on the street. They’re not owned by their future. I’d like to know what that feels like. Living for today not tomorrow. Not thinking about it so much. Just day to day. I’d love the weight to be lifted. I’ve never had that.”
“That’s what that zen stuff is about?”
“You don’t want to be a shrink?
He doesn’t answer her.
“You just admitted it. Mom and Dad never said that’s what they wanted you to be.”
“Like I said before. In medical school, I was this close to quitting. I got in touch with that philosophy professor, Dr. Kurtz, the one who thought I was so brilliant. He offered to call Sidney Hook, get me a Fulbright.”
“Why didn’t you do it?”
Mark thinks it over for a moment. “Truth is, it wasn’t all Mom and Dad. I guess figuring out people’s psychology appeals to me more than philosophy.”
“I think you’ll be good at it.”
“Hope so. I’m just saying it hasn’t been fun. It started so young. Since I was ten or eleven, since I decided to be a psychiatrist. You ever notice I hardly ever laugh? I used to be able to laugh, laugh a lot. Now I have to try to laugh. Did you ever have to do that?
CC shakes a bit, chilled. She turns her arms in holding it beneath her as she always has when she is cold. “Brrrr.”
“If you put on some meat, you wouldn’t be cold all the time.”
“Yeah . . . I remember the last time I gained some weight. You weren’t too happy.”
“I’ll make tea.” Mark puts water in a teapot and puts it on the stove.
. “What I want to know is this– why you’re talking to me like I’m some kind of fuckup. I’ve made it to my internship. Yeah, I almost blew it, but that was a big nothing. Next year, training in psychiatry begins.”
“I’m not saying you’re a fuckup. I’m just worried that you want to be one.”
“You’re just like Dad. I’ll say it again. Everything they’ve asked for I’ve given them. And more.”
“Granted, but we all sense what you said, how much you’d like to blow up the whole thing.”
“I haven’t so far. If I do I do. I don’t need everyone expectations.”
“Well tough. Mark, we love you. It’ll matter to us if you fuck up your life.”
“You mean be a shrink, make enough money to live in Great Neck and get an Eldorado.”
“Not an Eldorado. It’s too Jewey for you. You’re 3rd generation. You’ll want a Volvo.”
“So I am supposed to get a Volvo?”
“Oi God. We are back to that. No one said you have to live in Great Neck.. You don’t like it there, fine. You don’t want a Volvo? Fine. Just don’t be a bum.”
“A bum? That’s ridiculous!”
“Yeah, well, cousin Manny, who lives on the streets, down on the Bowery, was Phi Beta Kappa.”
“Maybe he is happy. He’d rather drink then do anything else. How do you know he’s so miserable. Maybe he doesn’t care what everyone thinks.”
“I actually spoke to him once. I was walking near the Bowery. Usually, he tries to hide if he sees someone he knows, but I caught up with him.”
“And is he happy?”
“I don’t know. He kept apologizing. For what, I don’t know. But it wasn’t for being happy.”
“I’m not going to become Manny.”
They are both at a point where they want the conversation to end. They have exhausted the subject tenfold but neither can give in, allow the other the last word.
“When I saw what was going on at the campus, I kept thinking how easy it would be for you to get swept up in it. I know you. You love that stuff. Being a rebel. It scares me, Mark. You’ve worked so hard. You’re so close.”
Mark puts tea bags in their cups and pours steaming water from the teapot.
CC stares at the water as he fills her teacup. “Diving into some high- principled, crazy shit . . . It would be a perfect excuse for you to destroy your life.”
“”Ira!” he says sarcastically…. “You’re a broken record.”
“When you came back from the March on the Pentagon, you were so proud. Like you’d finally done something important. I remember that.”
“Well, I had. Truth is, I was too chicken to go to Mississippi with the Medical Committee for Human Rights. It was dangerous. So at least I did something. I arranged for the chartered buses. Organized the whole thing at medical school. I also introduced Dr. Spock at this teach-in we had there. The auditorium was packed, eight, nine hundred people. I’ve thought about that a lot. I asked for volunteers to do sympathetic draft examinations.”
She immediately picks up on his stupidity.
“Do you think the FBI took down your name?”
“Maybe, but I’m safe. I mean, I think so. I wasn’t into anything else. There were students at Einstein who were really radical.”
“The SHO. They were younger. They came straight out of SDS from college. I left college before the SDS existed. I would read books about Castro and supported him when I talked about him with other students, but that was the whole of my politics. By the time of the teach ins I got much more involved.
“What was the SHO doing? ”
“Don’t know. Didn’t go to their meetings, but they considered themselves radicals. People like them thought up all kinds of nasty stuff. Dad would be happy to hear how cautious I’ve been.”
“How cautious?” she asks in a challenging voice.
“I’ve thought about it. And worried. Does that make you happy?”
“Did you read about that explosion in the Village? The Weather Underground was making a bomb. Jeremy’s cousin knows Kathy Boudin. She was one of the injured students. They were planning to set it off at a dance at Fort Dix for officers and their dates. They blew up their parents’ zillion-dollar brownstone in the Village. People in the Weather Underground are crazy. I hope you keep that in mind.”
“You’re not listening to me. I stayed away from the SHO.”
“Just don’t lose your bullshit filter. It’s so easy to go off the deep end. Once you’ve come to the conclusion that America is evil, it’s logical. It justifies going to war, and if you are at war, killing American soldiers at a dance is fair enough. They’re going to kill Vietnamese children, so they are fair game.”
“You’re talking like I don’t agree. I read all about that bomb. The part that gets me is the nails they stuffed in the bomb. And why a dance? To kill the soldiers’ girlfriends? I can’t imagine that kind of hatred. Nails flying out like bullets to puncture their eyes, their necks, tearing through their party dresses to get at their bowels.”
Mark continues sarcastically: “Oh well, it’s war. Collateral damage? That whole omelet analogy—you can’t make an omelet without cracking the eggshell. You know how many times I’ve heard that in Berkeley? People talk like that all the time here. You think I’m with them?”
“Not when you put it that way. But I know you. You can get carried away. I doubt that those guys putting the nails in the bomb pictured their targets being torn to shreds. They were just excited that they could successfully make a bomb that could strike at the enemy.”
After a minute, she says, “I know you would never kill anyone. Just make sure you don’t get kicked out of this internship.”
“CC. It’s not going to happen. I used to believe that there were good guys, who really cared about their impact on the world. People like me. People in Berkeley.”
“The make love, not war people.”
“Right. The people in the Yellow Submarine. We’re for love. They’re for hate.”
“Are you being sarcastic?” CC asks
“But I still think you believe that Jay and Dad are for hate. And you’re for love.”
“Jay and Dad have been co-opted by the system. They’re collaborators.”
“Collaborators. Like me.” She’s smiling derisively, still not sure she is getting through to him.
“Okay. They aren’t collaborators. That’s how I thought about it before.”
“I know they’re not evil, but they’re dupes.”
CC mocks him. “Ah. Dupes. Collaborators? Where do you come up with these words?”
“People talk that way in Berkeley. But it’s true. That’s what they are.”
“Dupes? Basically, I don’t think Jay or Dad even has an opinion on half the things that matter to you. Well, maybe Dad. He’s on the side of soldiers no matter what. He told me that if he came back from the war and he was treated like soldiers are being treated now . . . I heard this one demonstrator spit in a soldier’s face.”
“What’d he do?”
“They’re trained not to lose it.”
“What would Dad do?”
“I’m sure nothing. I’ve never seen him get in a fight.”
CC opens the refrigerator. Her back is to Mark.
“So if people like Dad and Jay were to get attacked, it’s okay, right?”
He hesitates just long enough to catch her attention. “Well . . .”
She turns on him angrily. “First of all, I don’t think America is evil.”
“Are you serious? Our wealth is based on slavery? Should I go on?”
She raises her voice. “Right! Dad and Jay had a lot to do with slavery. Grandpa wasn’t even in America ’til the 1890s; all four of our grandparents came long after slavery was abolished.”
“What went on in the South is unforgivable.”
“Agreed, but you seem to be forgetting that three hundred and sixty thousand Union soldiers lost their lives trying to end slavery. And what do New York City Jews have to do with what went on in the South? It wasn’t just blacks. Didn’t Dad tell you what was happening when he went to Florida with the army? There was a sign: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’ Mom and Dad are not complicit, or whatever your word is. What could we do in the South? Other than Miami, our family has never left New York.”
“That’s not the only reason.”
“Basically, it is. Maybe I should blame WASPs for what the Cossacks did to the Jews in Russia. And how that affected us. You know how Grandma used to say Oy gevalt. You know what it means? “Oh violence!” We’re heir to hundreds of years of mistreatment. It became part of our ordinary reaction to anything upsetting. There was no such thing as a proud Jewish persona. Oy gevalt was it. You can’t dump on Jews what was done to black people. We have our own history of being dumped on.
“Okay. You’re right. I already said it. I no longer trust people in Berkeley. Not like I did. Sometimes I distrust people on the Left more than I distrust the Right. I’m no longer sure who are the good guys. I don’t think there is any such thing. Individuals are what metters. There are good and bad people on the Left and the Right.”
“Mom and Dad are good guys. They’re not dupes.”
“They’re not!” CC shouts angrily
That silences him. She gets up from the table, moves to the living room with her tea. He remains in the kitchen.
She continues talking to him. “Just stay out of trouble. Don’t get kicked out of your internship. That’s all that matters to me.” She yells back at him Your politics are such a turnoff. I still remember this one thing you told me about the radicals. . ..”
Mark joins her in the living room. “What’s that?
“How on the bus on the way home from the March on the Pentagon some of them were planning to escalate. They wanted to even things up. You thought it was because they had been too scared to continue when they were ordered not to move closer to the Pentagon. You told me one of the guys on the bus got hit on the head and was bleeding.”
“He wasn’t the one talking violence. He was a hero. The girls were fighting with one another over who was going to take care of his wound. Actually, the one who was talking the most crazy, I saw him back off even before other people when they stopped the marchers. As soon as he saw the soldiers, he turned white as a sheet.”
“He was right to be scared.”
“Maybe. But he’s a guy. Guys are not supposed to be scared. It means you’re not a real man.”
“Why, because Ritchie called you a faggot when you wouldn’t shoplift with him?”
“You remember that?”
“I remember the other time you were called a faggot. At Coney Island, when you were too afraid to get on the Cyclone. You were really upset when Jerry said that.”
“Okay. I’m a chicken. So I am like that guy. I have the M O of a bomb maker.”
“I’m chickenshit. Too chicken to go to Mississippi. Chickenshit at the Pentagon. I stayed back when they stopped the march.”
“You think you should have charged it? No one charged it. Those soldiers had guns. Live ammunition. You guys with your proving you’re a man thing. I’m glad you were scared. It’s called sanity.”
“Maybe, but women are partly to blame. They are not exactly falling all over weak men.”
She is reminded of something she learned in a course. “Don’t blame women. Most male lions play at killing each other when they are cubs. Then later they try to kill each other to claim the females. The winner gets the girls. The loser is driven off, or else he can string along with the group, but no pussy for him.”
He smiles. “I see your vocabulary has expanded. Way to go, Jeremy. . .. So what about the chickens?” he asks.
“They’re exactly the ones who become radicalized.”
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
Despite his complaint, she keeps staring at him.
“You think by that logic I should be trying to prove I’m the real thing. I should become a radical?”
“No. You should have spent more time with Grandma. One of our forebears was a Talmudic scholar. He did what you do and I do.”
“Which is what?”
“Argue a lot. Argue the world. Talmudic students used to grab each other by their lapels to make a point. A lot was at stake. Their morality—how they and everyone else should behave. What God demands of us hinged on whether they were right or wrong about what the Torah said.”
“So how is that arguing the world?”
“Because back then, the Torah was the world. This whole political thing– what you’re describing as America’s evil. The Yeshiva students didn’t turn to politics. They didn’t hate people who disagreed with them. They argued about what should be considered morally right and what was wrong. They took it very seriously. Just like we do. Right and wrong was determined by their arguments. I mean, why should we care so much about the things we argue about? Why should we mock and ridicule people for their politics? They would have looked at it like it was a crazy preoccupation. What counts is your loyalty to the Torah.”
“Yeah, right. Religion is the answer. No way. In England, tens of thousands of people died in religious wars. Again, and again. Because it mattered. The Weather Underground bombers—they did it because they were sure they were right.”
“So that is what mattered for Jews. Being right.”
“You’re saying that Great-Grandpa . . .”
“Pincus. He was a Talmudic scholar. He devoted his life to arguing the world. That’s where we get it from. That’s where you come from.
“Grandma told me we have the blood of our ancestors in us. We got Pincus’s blood. That’s why deciding what’s right and wrong, arguing about it the way we do, is important to us. Most people see it as nonsense. Especially at the club. But it isn’t nonsense. That’s Pincus. Caring an incredible amounts about what is right and what is wrong. It’s baked into our chromosomes.”
He looks at her like she is half crazy to not be knowledgeable about genetics. “That’s ridiculous. I’ve taken courses in genetics. No way we got it from him.”
“You got any better explanations?”
“Yeah. It is 1968. If it were 1950, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
That breaks the tension. They can walk away, start over, find a new beginning for their get together.
I know grandma is right. I got Pincus in me and so do you.
Sitting on the couch, for the first time they feel entertained and amused by their debate.
“At Sproul Plaza—”
“That big open space in front of the Student Union. That’s where I took you. When I first got here, there was a giant rally there, thousands of people, one speech after another about the war, a teach–in kind of thing. For about twenty minutes the speaker was talking, and suddenly someone started yelling that the only thing that liberals know how to do is talk.”
“See—we got it from Pincus. Go on.”
“Seriously. One of them started screaming that people who really cared about Vietnamese children should stop talking and do something. About fifty people followed him across the street, cheering wildly, like at last they were going to get something done.”
“So what did they do?”
“They threw big rocks through the Bank of America window, shook people’s cars.”
“You don’t have the hatred in you to do any of that.”
“Actually, I was one of the fifty who left the meeting. It’s true. He had a point. What good does all that talking do? But then I got scared when I heard the glass shattering, and especially when they started shaking the cars.”
“That is so fucked up. Pincus never hated the people he argued with.”
“Wrong! From what I heard, they used to grab each other by the lapels, shout furiously at each other.”
“That’s because it mattered—mattered a lot. But they didn’t break windows or pick on innocent people in cars.”
“Okay, I’ll grant you. It never occurred to Pincus to kill his opponent. And no one knocked him off.”
“Exactly,” she repeats.
“Fine, I get it.”
He thinks for a while before continuing. “You really think I could be violent, don’t you?”
“No. But just don’t get crazy to prove a point. Mark, promise me.”
“I don’t have to promise. You got the wrong person. I could never kill anyone. Period. I was at a meeting our group had with the Black Panthers from Oakland. That was their main message. That they had moved past talk. You had to see the pride they had when they talked about killing people. They were bragging. Like they were better than the people who wouldn’t kill.”
“What did they say?”
“That they aren’t like the Detroit Panthers. They kept saying that. They weren’t going to just talk about killing. They were going to kill some cops. You should have seen these guys.”
“What did they look like?”
“They were seething with hatred. Daring anyone to look at them the wrong way. It was scary.”
“Why? Did they threaten you?”
“Not directly, no, although all my instincts were flashing warning signals. I was warned before they arrived to keep my fat mouth shut. No one would dare contradict them.”
He adds, “It’s not just the Black Panthers. When I did my surgery rotation at Lincoln Hospital, the only way for these guys to deal with their fear was to look menacing. To be menacing. You had to kill other people to stay safe. You remember how in the old movies people would get insulted and, for their honor, had to challenge the offender to a duel?”
“That was the South Bronx. They’d feel disrespected, and to restore their honor, they’d have to kill the person who did it to them. Otherwise, they’d be shamed. They’d be seen as weak and people would pick on them. They’d be like nerdy Jews.”
“You don’t have to throw in that bit about the Jews.”
“What do you think got us killed everywhere? Predators attack the weak first. It’s a law of nature. Germans saw our fear, and that increased their desire to squash us.”
“Blame the victim.”
“The Japanese never went after Jews, but weakness drove them crazy, too. They venerated the laws of nature. They didn’t just make beautiful gardens. In their minds, they were simply acting as we were meant to act. If they saw someone weak, they hated that person. It was the duty of weak people to kill themselves. That’s what Japanese soldiers did if they’d been dishonored. That’s what they did to the Chinese who begged for mercy. The more they begged, the quicker they were slaughtered. It wasn’t just a sadist here and there. It was a cultural norm.”
“And that’s what went on in the South Bronx?”
“Not much suicide. But the same principle. If their enemies saw them as weak, it became dangerous for them.”
“It’s not just going on in the South Bronx,” he adds. “Someone looks at someone the wrong way. Bam! An argument and one of them is dead. Violence like that is going on across the country, in ghettos everywhere. They’d bring school kids to the ER. Nine-, ten-, eleven-year–olds who had had their faces smashed in by their mother’s druggy boyfriend. Sometimes by another eleven-year–old with a lead pipe. Sometimes by their mother. That hospital was something. I got to see all of it. If they could bottle the fury, we’d have another atom bomb. Burn, baby, burn. Watts was the tip of the iceberg. Detroit, Newark—after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, a hundred and twenty cities burned.”
“Just make sure you don’t describe it like that to anyone else. They’ll think you’re a racist,” CC tells him.
“I’m not. I root for them. Still, that’s what’s been going on. People are totally silent about that because they think it would be thought of as racist.”
“I guess there’s nothing to say. Everyone knows it,” says CC. “That’s why whole neighborhoods are disappearing in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The supermarkets, the bakery, shuttered. Where Jeremy grew up—gone. Mom and Dad’s old neighborhood in Brooklyn—the same. In Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, they have triple locks on their doors. Car alarms are constantly going off. No one says anything. They are loud about how they are friends of black people but they are sending their kids to private schools, to protect them Not just in New York. Most big cities are clearing out. Everywhere. Downtowns are being abandoned. Whole blocks of abandoned buildings. People are scared.”
“Do you know how that sounds?” he says. “Like there really is all this racism. People don’t want to live near them because they are prejudiced. It’s such a tricky issue. Aunt Stella has always loved black people. She’s worked with them for twenty years. She’s always been close to her friend Viola. She’s the godmother of Viola’s oldest child.”
“What’s your point?”
“Stella left Brooklyn and moved to Queens as quickly as everyone else. So did Viola. They didn’t want to live afraid they were going to be mugged. I mean, news travels fast. One or two muggings in a neighborhood and that neighborhood is done. That’s not prejudice. It’s fear. It’s common sense.”
“Okay, the crime frightened them. But you’d better be careful talking about it,” CC warns.
“Are you kidding? I am in Berkeley. Believe me, I’m careful. I haven’t mentioned anything to anyone about what I saw at Lincoln Hospital.”
“Was Eldridge Cleaver at the meeting?”
“Yeah, I got him to sign his book.”
“Really? Did you see Tom Wolfe’s article about Leonard Bernstein’s party for the Panthers?”
Mark has contempt in his voice “Yeah. Radical chic. Did you read Soul on Ice?”
“I did. I actually had a conversation with Dad about it. We were both upset about the same thing.”
“What’s that?” CC asks.
“Cleaver admitted to raping black girls as a ‘practice run’ before seeking white women as prey. He thought it was justice.”
“How many did he rape?” CC asks.
“I don’t know, but plenty, I guess.”
Mark continues: “He renounced his behavior in the book, but it’s so interesting how not only was he forgiven; he became a hero and a best seller. fashionable. Just for eventually seeing things from a white perspective. Are we that hungry for a kind word, that guilty?”
“I feel better. As I’m listening to you I’m realizing you are no longer purely on the left. Some of what you are saying could have been said by a conservative.”
“I don’t care how you categorize me left, right–I call it like I see it. Blacks have a right to be as angry as they are. They’ve been dealt a rotten hand in America. And it wasn’t just in the south. It’s unbelievable. Blacks couldn’t play baseball with whites until Jackie Robinson. Everyone is so proud that he broke the color line, like that says something about us. But how could it go on for that long? In the North!
I suppose their anger is justified. Plus we are no angels. Mom told me her grandmother used to spit when she passed a church. On the other hand, I’m not too thrilled about what is going on in our cities.”
Thinking further, he adds, “Anyway, it’s not just a black/white thing. Sartre wrote a book, Saint Genet, about Genet’s The Thief’s Journal. Genet wrote about the beauty of evil. Norman Mailer—everyone loves him. He stabbed his wife at the party where he announced that he was running for mayor of New York. The next day, he was on the Mike Wallace show, where he spoke of the knife as a symbol of manhood and continued to plug his mayoral bid.”
CC can’t waste the opportunity to slap at Mark. “I can’t believe Mailer was one of your heroes. You had me read The Naked and the Dead.”
“Yeah, I got pretty carried away with Mailer for a while. He described things you heard about, but didn’t read. More than that. He dared to say publicly what others were saying in private conversations. That took courage. I liked that. But Mushugy! Too into power.
I thought Mailer stabbed his wife because he was very drunk, I’m sure that played a part but then someone showed me his article “The White Negro.” It was wild. He argued that two teenage hoods murdering a candy-store owner demonstrated a kind of existential courage. He equated violence with virility, creativity, and moral courage.”
“You’re lucky Dad doesn’t know about this. It would have clinched his case against you.”
“Dad and Nixon. You know Nixon’s law-and-order campaign was not just about black people. It was about people in Berkeley. . . . The silent majority has seen enough of us.”
“Proves what I’m always trying to say. The Left can get pretty crazy.”
“I agree.” Mark says sadly. “You know, Mailer’s father was a bookkeeper. Me thinks he protests too much, his Jewish macho thing. He had a boxing ring built on his estate, arm wrestled Mohammed Ali. Same thing as those guys on the bus. Being frightened, being too Jewish, has to be smashed. The only way to be a hero is to be a radical. There is evil in Berkeley. In me. In everyone.”
CC is relieved to hear that Mark is turning in her direction. She wants to give him a big kiss, but just in case she still wants to hammer home the point.
“When we were walking on campus, what I saw there scared me. And what scared me the most was that you were so proud of that scene. I can’t get the thought out of my mind. Okay you can see some bad things about the left but eventually, you are going to get carried away by it. You had this look on your face. You were showing off crazy people to me like you thought they were so, so cool.”
“Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t think the speakers there were cool at all. Not what they had to say. Mainly clichés.”
“Still, you seemed proud.”
Mark smiles sheepishly. It’s admission enough for CC, but he attempts to answer her.
“I was trying to impress you. But it wasn’t what they were preaching. I didn’t listen to most of what they had to say. I just thought they looked real Berkeley, sincerely working for the betterment of mankind. I meant what I said before. Someday the president is going to come from Berkeley. Everyone is going to want to be part of this scene. Journalists, Hollywood people. They know what’s here is cool.”
You know Dad was right about you at the seder.”
“I’m a bad dude,” he says half proudly. “I admit it.”
Perturbed, she doesn’t answer him. He goes further on the offensive.
“The one thing you don’t understand is that being bad can feel great. Maybe not like in that Folsom Prison song I played for you, murdering someone, but it feels good. Freedom is a big deal. That’s what Mailer was saying. Most people, including me . . . I make a big show of being a rebel, but I’m the same as everyone else. I live my life exactly as I am supposed to. The alarm goes off in the morning, and it’s off to work, where all day long I do what’s expected. I come home, eat supper, and go to bed, then wake up the next morning and repeat the whole thing. Oh yeah, you get two or three weeks to go somewhere for a vacation. That’s how you live until you retire. So to feel free of that—you gotta bust things up.”
“Why bust it up? Why not just a vacation?”
“A vacation? That’s not enough.”
“No one is entitled to the Garden of Eden. Your thing about being free. Going back to our true nature–without civilization’s constraints. Yeah that feels great, but paradise is lost for a reason. You have to know that.”
“I’ll admit it. Fear drives me to not rebel too loudly. So, I’m like everyone else. But I pay a price.”
“So what. That’s why we have the movies. There we can love bad boys. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. We may not be able to do it in real life, but throwing off our yoke for a couple of hours in a movie helps. We need to see people breaking out of their chains, experience it with them. We need to be part of that. We need to see people having affairs, or doing something they wouldn’t dare do. We need to rattle our chains. But what is going on in Berkeley is way more than that. It’s over the top.”
“Look, I partly agree. Mailer is dangerous because he made heroes of evil people. Seeing it in the movies is one thing, but actually murdering people? Mailer almost succeeded in killing his wife. His knife penetrated her cardiac sac. As she was lying on the floor, I read, he yelled at the guests at his party, ‘Don’t touch her. Let the bitch die.’”
“Exactly. Berkeley is a chance to enjoy naughtiness. Dressing it up with high moral principles, but it bothers me. You really want to be bad?”
“What I really want is to be free. Mom and Dad ruled us. I can’t put up with that any longer.”
“Fine but it is not just Mom and Dad? They’re like every other parent. They’re teaching us what’s expected out in the world. That’s their job.”
“What Great Neck expects.” His voice is sarcastic. “Great Neck is over the top.”
“Oh God. I had these same arguments with Jeremy. Great Neck is not worse than anywhere else.”
“Could be. Everywhere is Great Neck. That’s why I wanted you to walk through the campus. To see the future.”
“The place could use a McDonald’s, but otherwise I understand what you like about it. I just ask one thing of you. Stay away from the really evil stuff. You want to carry on about being free–have fun. All I ask is that you stay away from people ready to bomb someone.”
“Jesus. How many times are you going to say that?”
The toaster pops up.
“Didn’t know you put bread in the toaster. We have the baguette.”
“Mom sent me rye bread from Zabar’s.”
“With the black seeds?”
Mark grabs the two pieces of toast and starts to butter them.
“You know, Grandma liked the exact same rye bread,” CC reminds him.
CC takes a bite of Mark’s toast. She tears off a bigger piece of the bread.
“Hey, get your own. There’s more.”
“I just wanted a bite.”
“Long Island is so old people.”
“Maybe, but what I don’t understand is why you and Jeremy have so much contempt for where you came from. He’s from Brooklyn. He liked it there. You were happy growing up in Great Neck. It was your home. Mr. Deutch . . . down the block. Every time you saw each other, you both lit up. You’d throw him the ball, and he’d throw it back so you had to make a spectacular catch. And you would. He’d cheer for you. You had each other laughing. The same with Mr. Levine and Dad’s friend Saul. They liked you. They wanted the best for you. You liked them. That’s Great Neck.”
“It’s not that. It’s the Jewish thing.”
She rolls her eyes.
“I understand what you said about wanting to free yourself. But who are you to throw away what Grandpa Joseph took so seriously—what all our cousins and their grandparents took so seriously? It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to just toss hundreds of years of belief away, turn everything that people believed before into nonsense.”
“Are you going to pinch me now or later?”
Mark goes into another room and returns with a soapbox. He has a smile on his face.
“Here. Stand on this. It’s from Union Square.”
“The Marxists used to use it when they sounded off in Union Square.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Someone gave it to me.”
They both have a smile on their face.
“Okay, I’m ready to call a truce,” he offers. “Can we just have a relaxing afternoon? Do you think the Mets are going to be good this year?”
“I’ve been having a nice afternoon,” she replies, lying.
“Okay, I’m not as in love with the left as I used to be but I don’t know, CC. You are going in the opposite direction from everyone else. Are you going to become kosher? Mom and Dad aren’t.”
“No, I’m not going to become kosher, but I don’t understand how you, me, my classmates became experts on righteousness, on remaking the world. Experts on everything.”
“Because Grandpa Joseph was an old fart.”
“And you’re cool?”
Mark goes to the sink and pours out the tea from his cup. He takes a glass and turns on the tap, waits for it to be cold. He slowly drinks the water, like he is settling in for a long conversation, as if they are just warming up.
“You thirsty?” Mark asks her.
“I know we disagree about everything, but I’ve missed this,” he tells her.
“Same with me,” she says. She’s half-conscious that she is not being completely truthful. “I can’t stand the political talk. I’m talked out, but there is hope for us. I like the way we can switch it off, not take it so seriously that we land up angry with each other.”
Mark agrees: “I wish talking long-distance wasn’t so expensive. Maybe there is a chance we could hash things out.”
Mark smiles at her in a deliberate way.
“What?” she asks half affectionately.
“Jeremy should have made you a guest lecturer. You’ve gotten good at debating.”
“You look amazed.”
“No. I always knew you had it in you. Believe me. I can remember. But your mind has grown. Exploded. Is that the influence of Jeremy?”
“Probably. But I’ll give credit to the master.
“Anyway, I think you should forget social work school. You should be a lawyer, like Dad.”
“Jeremy said the same thing.”
While their long conversation has seemingly ended affectionately, their truce in place, that night, despite the moments when they seemed to be on the same page, despite what CC told him, she feels far more alienated from Mark than she ever has. No reason. They seemed to be making nice in the end. Perhaps her frustration with Jeremy. Mark was saying a lot of the right things, but as she thinks it over Mark seems worse than ever, too preoccupied with politics. Sadly it’s sinking in. He’s changed a little. She’s changed a lot. They actually agree on some things but it doesn’t matter. They will never be close again.
That night, as Mark lies in bed, despite all the yacking he did, the rush of ideas and distinctions, which would have made Pincus proud, he focuses on the bottom line. The niece of Israel Zwerling, a psychiatry professor at Einstein, was the one in the news who blew up her family’s brownstone in the Village. He could never condone that. But Zwerling’s son, right after graduating from college in 1964, drove down to Mississippi with a family friend, Andrew Goodman. After Goodman was killed, along with Schwerner and Chaney, his son stayed in Mississippi until the summer was over.
Mark knows he would never have the courage to do that. He was too chicken to go down there with MCHR in the first place. He certainly would not have remained after a friend was murdered. He torments himself for being a bullshitter. And chicken! The radicals are right. Talk, talk, talk
And then for the first time he thinks about his father’s courage during World War II and how they say going to war makes a man out of you. He has a fantasy about how he will quit his internship, join the marines, and go fight in Vietnam, but he falls asleep before he can seriously consider the ramifications.