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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

Chapter 27: Mark attempts to define himself (Berkeley in the 60’s)

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Chapter 27

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?”

“And love.”

“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.

“Thats 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.”

“Right.”

“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?”

“Well…”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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.”

“To what?”

“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. He’s always needed others to confirm his enthusiasms and it 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. 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 means 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 a appeared in Berkeley and elsewhere and were taken seriously. 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. Dvinity 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 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, 4 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.  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.  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 was always successful with women. His good looks helps, but he has had as many near misses or outright failures as the next guy.  His choices 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 realization about 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 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.

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.”

“Which is?”

“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.”

“Oh great.”

“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.”

* * *

Dora is surprised to hear from CC. “Mom asked you to call me?”

“Something about the baby . . . Croup?”

“That was finished a week ago.”

“That’s the second time Mom has asked me to call you about the baby and nothing was wrong.”

“Still, I’m glad you called. You should call Jay sometimes. He’d like that.”

“I don’t think so.  He isn’t much of a talker.”

“True. But just to say hello. Do it. Either way, you could call me more often. Did you get the message that I called last week?”

“No.  I would have liked to speak to you.  I’ve given a lot of thought to what you told me about Judaism.  It put a lot of things together for me.”

“Like what?”

“Returning God into your life.  Instead of running around in circles, trying to figure things out, realizing God’s right there to guide you.”

“You believe in God? ”

“I don’t know if I believe.  It seems far fetched. Worse, I don’t like the idea that we become children.”

“We are children, all of us I don’t care how smart you are. How much reading you do. How many glimpses you’ve had of what it all means. Bottom line–we are idiots. We can’t make sense of anything. No one ever has and no one ever will.  There isn’t anything we need to make sense of. We are sheep and He’s the shepherd. Our job is to graze peacefully. Letting God into your life explains everything you need to know. You should think about it.”

“I will.”

“While you are home, call Jay. It’s a local call.”

“Actually not. Nassau County to Queens is as expensive as calling from Buffalo.”

“Dad won’t mind. Mom calls here all the time”

“So I will.”

“I’ll tell Jay you called.”

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