Simon Sobo Writing

January 18, 2018
by Simon Sobo
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CC Chapter 6: Jeremy turns to Dave about his new love

Chapter 6

Jeremy approaches Dave’s office. They’ve known each other since the fourth grade. Their relationship has been up and down since then, but being in the same graduate program over the last several years,  has turned them into pals.

Jeremy knocks on Dave’s door quickly.  Four times. David knows the knock… He puts down a paper he has been reviewing,  glad to be rid of it. The student in question is smart and sincere but he tends to overreach and Dave isn’t sure how to communicate with him gently.

“It’s open” he shouts to Jeremy

“Busy?”

“Not at all.”

David returns the loose pages  on his lap to the original paper clip.  Carefully he sets it aside.  He  sees that Jeremy is upset, which is how he usually is when he comes visiting.

“Still stuck with your thesis?” Dave asks him.  “Believe it or not, I finished mine. I handed it in yesterday.”

Jeremy offers his hand. “Congrats. We’ll have to celebrate.”

“How about now? Let’s get out of here.”

Just off campus is a coffee shop that they both like. It is a funky combination of old oak Windsor chairs grouped around tables. Part of the floor is peeling linoleum, part unfinished wood. There are two well worn leather sofas, cracking with dryness. In front of them are coffee tables, covered by today and yesterday’s newspapers. The whole thing would be bleak were it not for several nice looking student waitresses who dress the place up, that and loud Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Richie Havens, Mother Earth. A busboy puts water in their glasses. Each of them holds up his glass

“To Dr. Miller” Jeremy clicks his glass on David’s for a toast. He nods encouragingly .. “practically there.” Dave eyes say thank you:

“To Dr. Slater, who is about to get his act together starting this afternoon.”

Jeremy smiles. “I wish.”

“You wish? Enough wishing. You just have to do it.”

“Okay Mr. Get–It–Done Dave, what’s your secret?” He again clicks Dave’s glass, a bit aggressively.

“No secret. You just have to tunnel ahead. Dig your way there.”

“Through the mud.”

“Mud, hail, rain. It won’t happen where you are most of the time. Flying high.”

“You mean the pot?”

“You could use a few less “oh wows!” And more “one plus one equals two.” But even without the pot I think that’s where your head is all the time anyway.”

“Maybe.”

“So come on down. Digging. What’s the word everyone uses?… Being grounded.”

“You mean working?”

“Exactly. But real work, not the inspired kind.”

“Being inspired is real. Just because you are excited and enjoying yourself?”

“Well I mean the other kind. Work, work.”

Jeremy waxes poetically:

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

David is impressed:

“I didn’t know you were religious.”

He nods, “If I find a good line.”

“You like that part about the dust?”

Jeremy repeats it “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” Not my favorite. Doesn’t matter? I’m making enough bread.”

“I’d call it cake.”

This doesn’t get a smile from Jeremy, more like a frown. Taking note that Jeremy is upset, Dave dials back, smiles at him generously. It has little effect. Jeremy’s sadness remains.

“Okay come to mama. What’s wrong?”

“I’m in love.”

“Again?”

“When did I ever say I was in love?”

“A thousand times.”

“Not true.”

“You implied it.”

“No I didn’t. This is real.”

“Last time it was real.”

“You mean Martha? I never said that was love.”

“You said you were turned on.”

“Yeah I was, but this is different. This is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”

David is used to Jeremy’s dramatics. He accepts that whatever is getting Jeremy down is real to him. But he erupts so frequently it has made Dave not take him as seriously as Jeremy would like. Fortunately Dave is often entertained by Jeremy’s excitement, and sometimes he does take Jeremy’s whims as seriously as Jeremy would like them to be taken. That is enough.

“Go ahead. I can tell this is a big one.”

“It’s one of my students.”

“I expect nothing less. You don’t like keeping things simple. “

“No. This is something else. I think this is where I’ve been heading all my life.”

Dave smiles gratuitously.

The waitress comes to their table. She’s very attractive. Both of them, but particularly David, look at her flirtatiously. She is enjoying their attention.

“Two coffees.” David tells her.

The waitress leaves. She has a nice walk. Their eyes follow her. She knows it. She thrives on the looks she gets from the tables she serves

Jeremy begins: “When you were younger, did you think that one day you were going to find this incredible woman and that would be it?”

“You mean like our waitress?”

Jeremy looks him in the eye.

“Did you?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ve built my life around her. “

“Come on.” Dave replies playfully.

“No, I mean it. It’s true. Everywhere I’ve been, I was searching for her. Without her I wasn’t really living. More like preparing. But if I found her, then my life could begin… You’ve never felt that?”

David is detached:

“Go on.”

“If I went to the museum I would look at the paintings, but I was rarely completely absorbed. I liked a few, was bored by others, but none of them gave me what I was looking for. Perhaps in the next room I might find a painting that would grab me. But if I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a nice looking woman meandering ten, twelve feet away, that feeling disappeared. She had me.

Nothing usually happened. I didn’t, I still don’t have the boldness to proceed as I picture myself in my fantasies, but I was engaged. In the next moment, anything might happen.

When I lived in the Village I’d walk the streets. Street after street. Sometimes hour after hour. Same thing. Looking, looking. It’s why I moved to the Village, to up the chances.

Ever see a movie of a male lion, wandering. Same thing, wandering, looking everywhere, hoping to pick up a scent. They say he is guarding his territory, I think he’s looking for a mate. Or two.”

“Plenty of guys do that. They’re looking to get laid.”

“But that wasn’t it. This started when I was 12 or 13. Okay maybe my hormones pushed me. But it wasn’t that. Well it was a little, but I was looking for…” He hesitates, considering whether to continue.

“Go ahead.”

“You want me to say it?”

“The holy grail? What?”

Close to whispering Jeremy answers him

“True love!”

It is an awkward moment. Saying it openly, putting it that way is not very cool. They both know it. He’s confessing to motivations that they, that he should have overcome long ago.

“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”

“It’s not stupid but you make it so dramatic. It sounds pumped up, like you are making a big production out of it.”

“It’s real. I didn’t decide to talk about it this way for effect. It’s just always been there.”

“Always?”

“In the second grade I had this dream. Many times. I’m not talking about a fantasy. A dream. I’d wake up and remember it. I was superman, flying, looking, returning to earth for my princess. Usually she was the prettiest girl in the class. For two years it was Mindy Nussbaum. Sometimes I’d crash but sometimes I came down smoothly and swept her up into the sky.”

David’s eyes continue to wander through the room, hoping to continue his flirtation with the waitress. He watches her serve another table. Jeremy realizes where Dave is at. It’s okay. He has also done the same thing, eyed a pretty girl when Dave wanted him to pay attention. Jeremy, nevertheless, admonishes Dave.

“Can I go on?”

“It’s all yours.” David answers “

“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”

He kids: “Yeah you followed me.” They both know that isn’t true. They’re friends, good friends, but not that good.

“The real reason… You’re not going to believe it.”

“When it comes to you I believe anything. Why did you come to Buffalo?”

“Because when I came up for an interview I saw this student in the cafeteria. It was maybe a glimpse, but she was beautiful. That’s why I came here. To meet her.”

“You were already married.”

“I know, but I flipped.”

“Who was she?”

“I never saw her again.”

David’s eyes mock him, but affectionately.

“You’re serious?”

“I know it’s idiotic.”

David says nothing.

“But it’s true.”

“You’ve done that more than once?”

“It’s crazy. There’s got to be a name for it.

Sweetly Dave asks, “What does your shrink say?”

“She throws it into some big basket. Psychiatry has maybe 6 or 7 of them. She’s actually been hinting that she’s figured me out. “

“Really?”

“She’s been hinting. She doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks, along with 6 million other people, I have bipolar disorder.”

“So that explains you?”

In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues:

“According to her that explains me. She’s nailed it. I’m like 6 million other people. “

“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”

“I’m in love.”

“That’s it?”

“I’m just telling you like it is. I mean I may go overboard…”

“How’s that?”

“Everything I’ve ever done. Everything! Every award in college, every home run I hit, every basket I scored… People put together a CV trying to impress a future employer. My accomplishments, whatever they’ve been— it’s all been for that day when I would find the woman of my dreams. I’d lay it at her feet. Sweetly tell her. I’m the one. Look at what I’ve done!”

David has a shit eating grin as he speaks. Jeremy smiles along with him like he’s in on the joke.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”

“Yeah well. There’s a reason they make all those movies. I’m not alone feeling this way.”

Still noticing Dave’s reaction he complains. “You’re still laughing at me.”

“I know you’re serious. It’s just you have a knack for admitting to things that no one else even mentions. Well maybe teenage girls. But guys? Not even in passing. Sure I’ve watched those movies and gotten in to them. As much now as ever. Even at my age. I’ve been there in real life too. So have most men, but it’s usually a disaster. After their ass has been kicked, after they have been humiliated often enough, they’ve learned their lesson. They steer clear. Having a broken heart is not where most guys want to be.”

Jeremy’s attention wanders off.

“Where are you?”

“This song… Carol wrote it.”

Half mumbling half seriously he sings:

“HEY YOU WITH THE BROKEN SMILE

COME ON OVER AND STAY FOR A WHILE

HEY YOU WITH THE HUNGER IN YOUR EYES”

“Can’t remember the rest…”

Jeremy hums the tune for a moment

“Oh right:

I RECOGNIZE THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE

A SHATTERED HEART STILL SEARCHING FOR GRACE

DISAPPOINTED? I KNOW IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU PLANNED.

DARLING SAVE YOUR WORDS

BECAUSE I KNOW THAT’S THE WAY IT HAPPENS

YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST

TO BE STANDING

WITH YOUR HEART LEFT IN YOUR HANDS

Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.

“Carol wrote that?”

“She writes beautiful songs. Personal ones. She says no but that song is about me. I’ve been there. Pretty sure I inspired her lyrics.”

“I’m sure you did. But most guys after it happens once, twice…   most guys stick to sports. But you. I don’t know whether you’re incredibly stupid or fearless. It’s a stage you’re supposed to get by. You’re 28. Move on.”

“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”

Insistently Dave continues, “The girl of my dreams, of your dreams, of every guy’s dreams, is exactly that.”

His voice rises: “A fucking dream! You’re 28! Why do you have a problem with that? Why are you stuck?”

Somewhat meekly Jeremy answers him:

“You’re right.”

“Open your eyes. It isn’t just love. You make such a big deal about finding the truth. It’s right in front of you. It’s called the way things are.”

“Come on.”

Dave continues. “Your dream girl. You’ve devoted your life to finding her? She doesn’t exist.”

“You’re too chicken to think about this, aren’t you?”

“Chicken?   I’ve moved on. It’s not in the stars. I’m right here on earth digging ditches.”

Jeremy counters: “I’ve dug a thousand ditches. How do you think I got so many fellowships to come here. I‘ve worked my ass off. It doesn’t change anything.”

“It’s a strange coincidence that you’ve fallen in love exactly when your head has to be on straight, exactly when you have to get your thesis done.”

“I don’t think this has anything to do with it.”

Dave shakes his head more seriously, “You’re in never—never land. You’re fucking Peter Pan.” He chants “I won’t grow up. I won’t grow up.”

“You are the biggest cynic.”

“Cynic? I’m just telling you what you already know.”

“Flying around in never, never land. You got to dig ditches not fly around. Learn how to be satisfied. It is possible. Lana and I have made it work. Warts and all. She’s a real person. No body else gives a shit. She does. I’ll take that.”

“Look, I’ve done the same thing with Carol. And she’s terrific. I realize what I’m talking about is asinine. “

“Puer aeternus. Living your life waiting for your ship to come in.”

“I don’t need that Jungian shit. Look I know you are right. Absolutely right.”

“You’re not 14 anymore.”

“You’re right. You’re right. You are right. Believe me I know it. You’re right. It’s not like I didn’t do the same thing. I got tired of waiting. I married Carol to go forward, to get on with it instead of waiting.”

“You fuckin’ seized the day.”

“So you like Bellow?”

I read Seize the Day years ago. I had an epiphany. Only it lasted maybe 4 minutes.”

“You read too much.”

“Me? You’re the one. You need to get your thrills outside of books.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“I’m gonna’ sign us up for a polar expedition.”

“We’ll be the first Jews from Brooklyn, who grew up in an apartment house, to go to the North Pole.”

“How about Antarctica?”

David takes a breath, refocuses.

“So what are you going to do?”

“You know what I am going to do.”

With a gentle still friendly edge of superiority David eggs him on,

“I do. Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve waited all your life, everything you’ve strived to become… it’s been for—

“CC.”

“CC! Oh boy. I get it. I have her in one of my classes.” He smiles. “She’s a knockout. Remember at Penn, Davidoff’s class—how he went on about Helen of Troy?”

“The face that launched a thousand ships.”

“He left his wife and kids. CC’s even more beautiful than his girlfriend. I get it…”

“Right.”

“Which makes her all the more dangerous. Chasing Helen resulted in thousands of people dead.”

“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”

“And career.”

“I have no choice. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s strange. This is supposed to happen when your marriage is bad. I love Carol as much as I ever have.   We have a good thing going. Carol doesn’t bore me at all. I admire her. I’ve never had a friend like her.”

“That song you sang. She got inside of you. She loves you.”

An image comes into Jeremy’s mind. Carol smiling at him adoringly.

David watches Jeremy sympathetically as his eyes water. Then defying that moment, Jeremy proclaims,

“I can’t help it.”

“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”

Jeremy thinks it over.

“Not as much.” But then he quickly recants, “No it’s fine. She gets turned on and she’ll do practically anything I want to do. Wherever my head goes, it turns her on. She goes crazy. And that makes me go crazy.”

“Do you have to dream up things?”

“Not really, well sometimes but what’s wrong with that? Variety is the spice of life.”

“With CC?”

“We haven’t gotten that far. I don’t know if we ever will.”

“But do you have to dream up stuff?”

“You mean kinky? No. With CC I’m there. I’d go ape–shit for a kiss.”

“Still. You know what you have with Carol. You’re lucky. You have it all. What’s the problem?”

“It’s not complicated. CC erases everything else. I can’t take my eyes off of her. I can’t think about anything else. I’d do anything for her.”

“I understand but—“

“If you were in a room with Elizabeth Taylor you’d want to stare at her. Stare and stare. But you couldn’t. You’d look like a jerk, like a nut. So people buy magazines, or they watch her in a movie so they can get a good look. That’s what CC is for me. Only she is living and breathing. If she could be mine!”

They are both quiet for a few moments.

“Do you remember the first time you saw the Eiffel Tower. You dropped right?”

“Yeah, but what about the second and third time?”

“I can get lost in her. Every detail.   It’s new every time. Her dimples. The way her chin—”

“Jeremy I get it…”

David waits for what he is saying to register. He sees no signs. He continues:

“Beautiful is nice. Beautiful is beautiful. But a taste… That’s all you get. The last thing you need Jeremy is to fall under a spell.”

“This isn’t a spell. It’s the real thing.”

“Believe me it’s a spell.”

“That’s easy for you to say. Being outside of it you think that way. When it happens…” He counters “It could happen to you.” He takes a deep breath. “My head is spinning. I can’t just drop it and go on with other things. I can’t. Who can do that?”

“Millions of people.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

“What’s there to say? Look, the important question is whether you would leave Carol for her. Would you?”

“No.”

“You know that for sure?”

“Absolutely. I love Carol. I know I am lucky. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“So stay away from CC. She’s dangerous. You said you discussed this with your psychiatrist.”

“I’m going to.” But as he says this, Jeremy has a disgusted look on his face. He puts 2 thumbs down in front of him.

“Your shrink’s no good? Go to someone else.”

“Let’s not go there…”

They both take a breather as they think about what they have been saying.

Jeremy continues:

“Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “

“What’s that?”

“I’m feeling fantastic. I’m finally alive. I look at the trees, the sky. And I see them.”

“When I’m reading, I’m understanding what’s on the page more than I ever have. The possibility of me and CC does that.”

“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”

“You know, that isn’t what this is. You’ve given up David. I remember this guy…”

(a bit too patronizing) “It’s called growing up.”

(sarcastically) “Big shot.”

 

****

 

Dr. Weiss, Jeremy’s psychiatrist, finishes writing a prescription for Depakote. Jeremy is focused, confident. Dr. Weiss is extremely concerned as she hands it to him.

“You need to take this three times a day.”

“You’re sure I’m manic depressive? I just don’t know about that.”

“You started seeing me when you were depressed about your thesis. You couldn’t get it done.   You knew the way you felt was not normal. It was an illness. This is the polar opposite of it. It’s not unusual on the upside to feel like you do, the best you have ever felt. Bottom line is that you still aren’t taking care of business. It’s the same, no thesis.”

“What I feel has nothing to do with my thesis. I don’t see anything wrong with feeling like this. “

“Well I do. Take the medicine.”

“You’ve tried this before. You gave me meds last year. They just made me tired.”

“This is a different medication.”

“Right. It’s going to cure me, change me.”

“Mr. Slater. No medicine is perfect, but it can make a big difference. Your illness has to be treated. If you don’t comply I may ask your wife to come in for a conference.”

“You can’t do that without my permission.”

“If I have to I will.”

“Fine. I’ll take the medicine.”

Dr. Weiss scrutinizes him. He is not convincing. Jeremy doesn’t make eye contact. She lets that be. Her next patient is waiting.

As soon as Jeremy leaves Dr. Weiss’ office he tears the prescription up. He throws it into the refuse container next to the elevator.

January 13, 2018
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

A Cure for our Fixation on Metrics

In recent decades, what I call “metric fixation” has engulfed an ever-widening range of institutions: businesses, government, health care, K-12 education, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations. It comes with its own vocabulary and master terms. It affects the way that people talk and think about the world and how they act in it. And it is often profoundly wrongheaded and counterproductive.

Metric fixation consists of a set of interconnected beliefs. The first is that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment with numerical indicators of comparative performance based on standardized data. The second is that making such metrics public (transparency) assures that institutions are actually carrying out their purposes (accountability). Finally, there is the belief that people are best motivated by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance, rewards that are either monetary (pay for performance) or reputational (rankings).

But not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant. Most organizations have multiple purposes, and that which is measured and rewarded tends to become the focus of attention, at the expense of other essential goals. Similarly, many jobs have multiple facets, and measuring only a few of them creates incentives to neglect the rest. Almost inevitably, people become adept at manipulating performance indicators. They fudge the data. They deal only with cases that will improve performance indicators. In extreme cases, they fabricate the evidence.

It’s not that measurement is useless or intrinsically pernicious. The challenge is to specify when performance metrics are genuinely useful—that is, how to have metrics without the malady of metric fixation.

Should you find yourself in a position to set policy, here are some questions that you should ask, and the factors that you should keep in mind, in considering whether to use measured performance, and if so, how to use it.

A Cure for Our Fixation on Metrics
ILLUSTRATION: JAMES STEINBERG

What kind of information do you wish to measure? The more the object to be measured resembles inanimate matter, the more likely it is to be measurable: that is why measurement is indispensable in the natural sciences and in engineering. When the objects to be measured are influenced by the process of measurement, measurement becomes less reliable. Measurement becomes much less reliable the more its object is human activity, since the objects—people—are self-conscious and are capable of reacting to the process of being measured. The more rewards and punishments are involved, the more people are likely to react in a way that skews the measurement’s validity.

How useful is the information? The fact that some activity is measurable does not make it worth measuring. Indeed, the ease of measuring may be inversely proportionate to the significance of what is measured. To put it another way, ask yourself, is what you are measuring a proxy for what you really want to know? If the information is not very useful or not a good proxy for what you’re really aiming at, you’re probably better off not measuring it.

Are alternative measurements available? Are there other sources of information about performance, based on the judgment and experience of clients, patients or parents of students? In a school setting, for example, the degree to which parents request a particular teacher for their children is probably a useful indicator that the teacher is doing something right, whether or not the results show up on standardized tests. In the case of charities, it may be most useful to allow the beneficiaries to judge the results.

What is the metric for? It’s crucial to distinguish between data used for purposes of internal monitoring of performance by the practitioners themselves—say, teachers who want to know how much their students seem to absorbing—versus data to be used by external parties for reward and punishment, such as government agencies. It’s the difference between crime data used to discover where the police ought to deploy more squad cars versus data used to decide whether the precinct commander will get a promotion.

Tools of measurement are most useful for internal analysis by practitioners rather than for external evaluation by the public, which may fail to understand their limits. Such measurement can be used to inform practitioners of their performance relative to their peers, offering recognition to those who have excelled and offering assistance to those who have fallen behind. To the extent that they are used to determine continuing employment and pay, they will be subject to gaming the statistics or outright fraud.

MORE FROM REVIEW

What are the costs of getting the data?Information is never free, and often it is expensive in ways that rarely occur to those who demand more of it. Collecting, processing and analyzing data take time, and a large part of their expense lies in the opportunity costs of the time put into them. Every moment that you or your colleagues or employees devote to producing metrics is time not devoted to the activities being measured. If you’re a data analyst, of course, producing metrics is your primary activity. For everyone else, it’s a distraction. Even if the performance measurements are worth having, their worth may be less than the costs of obtaining them.

Who develops the measurement? Accountability metrics are less likely to be effective when they are imposed from above, using standardized formulas developed by those far from active engagement with the activity being measured. Measurements are more likely to be meaningful when they are developed from the bottom up, with input from teachers, nurses and the cop on the beat.

This means asking those with the tacit knowledge that comes from direct experience to provide suggestions about how to develop appropriate performance standards. Try to involve a representative group of those who will have a stake in the outcomes. In the best case, they should continue to be part of the process of evaluating the measured data. A system of measured performance will work to the extent that the people being measured believe in its worth.

Does the measurement create perverse incentives? Insofar as individuals are agents out to maximize their own interests, there are inevitable drawbacks to all schemes of measured reward. If doctors are remunerated based on the procedures they perform, it creates an incentive for them to perform too many procedures that have high costs but may produce low benefits. If doctors are paid based on the number of patients they see, they have an incentive to see as many patients as possible and to skimp on procedures that are time-consuming but potentially useful. If they are compensated based on successful patient outcomes, they are more likely to take the easiest cases, avoiding problematic patients.

Just because performance measures often have some negative outcomes doesn’t mean that they should be abandoned. They may still be worth using, despite their anticipatable problems. It’s a matter of trade-offs, and that too is a matter of judgment.

With measurement as with everything else, recognizing limits is often the beginning of wisdom. Not all problems are soluble, and even fewer are soluble by metrics. It’s not true, as too many people now believe, that everything can be improved by measurement, or that everything that can be measured can be improved.

“You seem to be the idol of only a crawling swarm of small souls, who love to glorify your most flagrant unworthiness in print or praise your vast possessions worshippingly; or sing of your unimportant private habits and sayings and doings, as if your millions gave them dignity.”

Mark Twain 1869

Wait there’s more:

Poor Vanderbilt! How I pity you: and this is honest. You are an old man, and ought to have some rest, and yet you have to struggle, and deny yourself, and rob yourself of restful sleep and peace of mind, because you need money so badly. I always feel for a man who is so poverty ridden as you… It isn’t what a man has that constitutes wealth. No–it is to be satisfied with what one has; that is wealth. As long as one sorely needs a certain additional amount, that man isn’t rich. Seventy times seventy millions can’t make him rich, as long as his poor heart is breaking for more. I am just about rich enough to buy the least valuable horse in your stable, perhaps, but I cannot sincerely and honestly take an oath that I need any more now. And so I am rich. But you, you have got  seventy millions and you need five hundred millions, and are really suffering for it. Your poverty is something appalling. I tell you truly that I do not believe I could live twenty-four hours with the awful weight of four hundred and thirty millions of abject want crushing down upon me. I should die under it. My soul is so wrought upon by your helpless pauperism that if you came to me now, I would freely put ten cents in your tin cup, if you carry one, and say, “God pity you, poor unfortunate.”

A little background.  Some historians consider the 3 most famous people of the 19th century to be Twain, Vanderbilt, and Edison.  In any case Vanderbilt was constantly in the news.  First because he loved to be in the paper, but more importantly, as a poor boy who made good he was the people’s choice.  He was one of them.  Here is what Vanderbilt says in the novel:

What a crock of shit.  What’s with this guy?  He is more involved with me than I am.  What else has he written about me?”

 “I think that’s it.”

  “Mark my words.  He cares about money a lot.  I mean a lot. Or, he wouldn’t care so much about me.”

  “Well you are in the paper all the time.  It’s hard not to react.”

“Yeah but he’s not calling me a show off.”

Vanderbilt sends a wad of phlegm and spit accurately into the spittoon.

  “One day, this Mark Twain guy is going to go broke.  People who love money, but won’t admit it, that’s what happens.  They don’t think clearly about what they’re doing.  There are more people not worrying who make fucked up money decisions just because they make believe they don’t care. 

I said I am crazy when it comes to money.  But, I’m not the only one.  I see people all the time like Twain, acting better than other people and all that.  Snobs about it. You just know it’s a big lie.  Sonia has a cousin like that.  He made the craziest decisions.  You couldn’t get him to talk about it, like it is not dinnertime talk.  But some of the things he did.  He’s a lot crazier than me.    He couldn’t  be sensible making decisions because it drove him too nuts.  Tellin’ yah. Twain is going to make crazy money decisions.”

   “You can’t know that.”

   “Mark my words.”

Clearly Twain was protesting too much.  Fact is, our Huck Finn, man of the people, lived a genteel, dandified existence in Hartford, with many servants.  He made all kinds of desperate financial decisions which brought about his ruin.  So if Vanderbilt had still been around he would have had the last laugh.

 

Commodore Kindle Link

 

December 22, 2017
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

Looking back at Berkeley, Chapter 38 of CC

    Chapter 38

Looking Back at Berkeley

         1968

 

Mark is shopping on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. It has a large parking lot, which means he can drive there. The hippy revolution has not reached Shattuck yet. It looks like the downtown main street of any small city in America circa 1940’s or 50’s. Not far from the supermarket is a Walgreen’s, a Lane Bryant, and a tall men’s shop. In spite of Marks’ political leanings, he can’t forego Twinkies and Devil Dogs, traif to those religiously opposed to processed food, but a comfortable reminder of home.   In recent years, despite the tension, bordering on animosity, between him and his father, home is still a good thing in his heart.

While, by the standards of Great Neck, Mark looks like a bum, he showers every day, and carefully brushes his teeth so that they remain pearly white. His hair is longish and scruffy. He cuts it himself with a hair-thinning scissor. He has a blonde mustache, and most days, a two-day growth. But by comparison, his unkempt appearance is hugely different from the Telegraph Avenue regulars. His Levis are worn thin and soiled, but not filthy. His wrinkled tee shirt is Tide detergent clean. He puts on a fresh one daily after a shower.   Though successful in conveying he is not from the North Shore of Long Island he cannot hide the features he shares with CC, his handsomeness, which gets him looks even in Berkeley.

At the supermarket he picks up chopped meat, hot dogs, spaghetti, Heinz ketchup, Gulden’s mustard, Best Food mayonnaise (Hellman’s California brand), and all the accouterments he is used to at home. Although at restaurants he douses his salad in oil and vinegar, in his apartment he still prefers his wedge of iceberg lettuce, topped with Russian dressing, a poor man’s simple combination of ketchup and mayonnaise in no particular ratio.

He has always been an adventurous eater. Like many college towns, Berkeley has a huge assortment of cheap, good, ethnic restaurants. Mexican, Indian, Indonesian, Spanish, Szechuan and Cantonese, Italian, Thai, Brazilian. He’s tried all of them. Fortunately he has an iron stomach. Not just for the restaurant food, without knowing what the ingredients are, a whiff of street food and he is an eager customer, afterwards licking his fingers to extract every last bit of flavor.

After putting his groceries away, Mark takes to the streets.  One of the great things about his psychiatric medical internship at Herrick Hospital is that he is done with exams.  He has a lot of on call hours but no exams.  From 7th grade through medical school, a period of 13 years, for most of the life he has known, the freedom he now has, hasn’t been part of his experience.   When he would try to have fun, contingencies snuck up and grabbed his attention, imminent exams and midterms, not to mention finals, a day of reckoning, vaguely posted in the future, which was never fully absent from his mind.  Now vast amount of free time are his.  He can kill an afternoon, an evening, a weekend, hour upon hour, waste them completely and no harm is done.

Unfortunately, the years of hard work have taken their toll. Despite the reality of his new freedom, he’s still a prisoner. All along he tried so hard for it not to possess him. Not wanting to present himself like most premeds, as a grind, he had always put on a decent show. He tried to give the impression that he didn’t study all that much.  He envied the easy style of English majors, usually off beat preppies. He was more than willing to copy their persona. There was a certain conceit to presenting himself that way. With his terrific grades, emphasizing how little he studied implied he must be very smart.  Plus, playing down his studying, served as an excuse if he did poorly on an exam.

But now, in different circumstances, nothing has changed. Persona is one thing. His premed uptight identity still controls his soul. In theory, in reality, he is free to do as he pleases.  But the truth is the truth. In college, he may have reasonably succeeded in giving the impression that taking it easy, having a leisurely afternoon was more important than wasting it on biochemistry equations. But it was bullshit. Even then, he wasn’t able to fool himself. His spirit was owned by forces beyond his control. Sticky, like summer sweat, guilt has been his constant companion. Still is. He may have tried, he may have insisted to himself, that he relax, but without noticing exactly when and where, he had so ably turned off the mindless child in him, that it was now gone.

The image he cultivated in college was exactly that, an image.  He was no different than the other pre meds, perpetually on the edge of panic, certain that one disastrous exam could ruin his life forever.  He just was careful not to show it. Among the grinds, worried that they might not get grades in the 90’s, all nighters were the usual before an exam. He worried equally the night before, but he didn’t see the point. He knew the material. Yes a professor could ask a trick question. His son of a bitch chemistry professor, Dr. Reed was known for that. But staying up all night wouldn’t help with Dr. Reed’s sadism. Actually, the other premeds knew the material plenty well, as well as he did, but they imagined doom so often, that sleeping wasn’t a choice. Occasionally Mark feared they might be on to something. They understood their situation and automatically did what was necessary. They didn’t care about their nerd reputation. It was irrelevant.

Certainly, being admitted to medical school was every bit as important to Mark as it was to them.   The desperation they so often felt, defined his existence every bit as much as it did theirs. The proof was his dreams, one vivid nightmare in particular:

An hour before an exam. He has run out of time to try to understand the material, which, so far, he hasn’t been able to get down.  The dream is frantic. It has a racing pace which grabs him up into it.. Then suddenly, the racing is gone. He is lost. He doesn’t know where he is. Immediately relevant, he doesn’t know how he will get to the classroom to take his exam. Then the room appears. He throws open its doors. He sees his empty desk. The dream is racing again. It’s now seconds before he will open the exam booklet. There is no greater feeling of helplessness than that moment. The closest comparison is the time he almost drowned. He had gotten good at snorkeling, at least he thought. His confidence allowed him to go far from the shore with out a life jacket. He breathed in a bunch of water in his snorkel. Tried to blow it out, but couldn’t get back the rhythm. He was far, far deeper than he had ever been. He tried floating on his back, tried a gentle breast stroke. The waves kept coming. He kept breathing in water He couldn’t get any air His arms were getting tired. For a moment he thought that this was it. He overcame his embarrassment, feebly screamed “Help.” Which saved his life.

Staring at the exam, it is as if he is awake. His brain is frantically tearing through solutions trying to think of what he can do.  He comes up with nothing. There is no way out.

He felt enormous relief when he awoke. He had escaped. It was only a dream. His mother used to tell him that. But then as now, he can’t snap out of his hell hole immediately. It takes him some time before he feels safe, until his emotions catch up with his awake reality.  

But here’s the issue. School’s done. Exams are forever in the past. He still has that dream!  It makes no sense. He’s been accepted at Mass General and Yale and Einstein for his residency. He was Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. He should be on top of the world.  His vaunted Permanent Record, the one his high school principal held over him and his family when he got caught smoking pot, the key to his future, has been safely put in the past.  The California sunshine is his to enjoy.

Why can’t he soak it up, absorb the warm rays, bathe in their tenderness.   Why does taking it easy still elude him? The California natives simply wake up, eat their Wheaties and they are in that groove, relaxed. Why is the idea of California, the best he can do? Living is an entirely different animal than preparing for it, judging it sweetly, expecting the rewards. He can’t will his way there.

Where did it go? Until he was 12 or 13, he enjoyed himself without effort, without thinking about enjoying himself. When he did, it was simply on to the next thing and enjoying that. Or not enjoying that, but always immersed. Why can’t he have that back?

His guilt.  His guilt.  It shouldn’t be there but it is.  Guilt about what?  He was without sin that day and the day before. And the day before that. He is perpetually busy proclaiming or proving his innocence to himself. Why does it elude him?  He can’t put his finger on it.

Jewish guilt?

Probably not.  For centuries Christians believed God had this huge book where he kept track of good deeds and sins.  He must have had billions of books, one for every person.  Or did he have an incredible memory? Catholics knew they were being watched. They felt the same way as Jews.  So it is definitely not specifically a Jewish malady.

Perhaps his guilt explains why he is so passionate about causes on the left. His compassion for those having a hard time is automatic, as is his anger at those who can be blamed, those partying, who seem to have no conscience as they enjoy themselves.   Except, he doesn’t always agree with politicos about who is to be blamed, the generalizations they make, the lies they so easily slip into their rhetoric.  Anger is only satisfying when it is righteous, and truthful.

But that is an insignificant detail.  His politics provide an outlet which he needs, at least pointing in a direction where something can be done to eliminate unfairness.  Perhaps there are so many leftist Jews because they share his psychology. His guilt is the same as theirs.

None of this rings true.  Catholics have just as much guilt.  Or do they? They can go to confession and have a total brain cleansing.  Jews don’t have that luxury.  Their remedy doesn’t work. More than once he fasted on Yom Kippur. It didn’t do a thing. It had absolutely no effect on his guilt.

He has torn through D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, quoted them to anyone who would listen.  Logically Zen is the answer.  It’s what he needs. He wants to relearn how to lose himself in the moment.     In Berkeley, as in the Village, Zen seemed to be on everyone’s mind, so it must not be just him. What was expected of them, the cherished answers of America in the 50’s. Everyone is pouncing on “stereotypes.” Trying to be free. Zen eliminates every expectation. There is just now.

Except Zen is harder to do than understanding its purpose. The moment can’t be occupied by deciding to live in it.  It takes training.

But training isn’t an option. As enamored as Mark is by the prospect of diving into and remaining in the moment, he’s never given a moment’s thought to how he could bring it about.  Going off to Japan and studying in a Zen monastery was out of the question, inconceivable. It was not even part of his fantasies.  Life, as he had planned, waited for him.  What was he going to do? Not go on to his residency, not become a psychiatrist? Living in the moment is the answer to the puzzle, to the pervasive angst that he lives in. But chucking his life, and taking off for Kyoto has never crossed his mind.   Diving into the paradise of ordinary life, Paradise Now as a Broadway show is proclaiming, will have to wait.  Besides it’s nothing more than a slogan.  He has to take what he can get.  Cherish, like jewels, his epiphanies, believe for that moment that his realization will wash over the rest of his life.

Except, it dissipates fairly quickly. As wonderful as the moment of recognition is, as hopeful as it makes him, as much as he believes that he has finally arrived, found the Holy Grail, the euphoria, that a great discovery brings him, rarely lasts more than a day. Sometimes it lasts 5 or 10 minutes. The belief and celebration that he has arrived, solved the mystery of his existence, is totally gone in two or three days. The best he can do, the closest he comes to loving the moment, and thus, love his life, comes easily, his awe when Tom Seaver is having an awesome day on the mound. His intellectual gymnastics, his Olympian effort, never got him anything close to that.

Mark has reached campus. Left, right, straight ahead, agita is everywhere. Villains have been identified. Their frustration is being mollified by their united anger. Joining them is very appealing to him. It entitles him to let loose against evil forces wherever they may be. Being angry like that brings the innocence of the accuser.

But Mark can join them when suffering is palpable. He is turned off when politicos make generalization that he knows are untrue. Yes if he can feel the pain he can join the shouting of student activists with his own mighty complaint.  More often, however, they are furious and he isn’t. Driving by he has seen the suffering in Oakland, poor black people, decrepit old men, or 50 year-old men looking old, sitting on milk crates drowning their misery in booze. Unsupervised kids trying to defeat the misery all around them, taking charge, by getting into trouble. He’s seen it. It’s allreal. He has locked his car doors when driving through rough neighborhoods.

But, it hasn’t sunk in. How could it, growing up in Great Neck and busy at school? When he was going to law school at night, his father had climbed tenement stairways in Harlem, collecting unpaid bills for a furniture store owner, a neighbor in Kew Gardens Hills. His father sometimes talked about what he saw in the apartments. He had no reason to exaggerate. Mark is convinced the injustice is not fictional and something must be done. But what?

He feels coerced by politicos with an ax to grind. In Berkeley, that happens frequently. Whether they are right or wrong, his instinct is to hold back, to doubt what they report. He no longer challenges. They can so easily identify skeptics as disguised right wingers, or being cold hearted to black people, which is not true. He actually wishes that he could join in with their anger, feel cleansed by their passion, obliterate any possibility that he is not 120% pro black people in everyone else’s mind as well as his own. He wishes he could be left wing in his heart and not just in his head.

A hundred feet away, a crowd of students has gathered. From time to time they let out a cheer. He goes over to see what’s going on. One by one, students are taking out their draft cards, lighting their Bic lighters and throwing the flaming card into the air. One of the students throws his burning card down on the sidewalk and stomps on it. This gets an even bigger cheer. In succession, several of the students go the stomping route. Without a moment’s thought he joins the group nearest to him. He has to borrow someone’s lighter to do it, but the deed is done quickly, probably to not let his doubts veto his admirable intentions.

Then someone produces an American flag and puts his Bic lighter to it. At first it stubbornly resists the flame. The lighter keeps going out. But the student is persistent and finally he has a strong flame. Once again the crowd has become one large group. The burning flag has a higher priority than the draft cards. There are cheers, swoons. Not Mark. He silently watches the flag burn.

It makes him sad. He recalls, as a little boy, helping his father put the flag up on July 4th. He remembers the look on his father’s face, not too dissimilar to the look on his grandmother’s face when she bencht licht, when she lit the Friday night candles. A sacred moment of respect and appreciation. Marks’ grandparents said it often enough. How lucky they were to be in America. It was the same sentiment Lone Ranger fans shared with the grateful recipients of his heroics, those he had rescued. Who is that masked man? Hi-ho silver he proclaimed as he rode off into the sunset.

The sentiment went far beyond the Lone Ranger’s heroics. America had rescued millions. Not just his grandparents. Millions and millions bless America. He still has some of that left. He has no rituals that he practices, no sacred beliefs that he is sure of. Moving forward into his career has an almost sacred absoluteness, but that is utilitarian. His politics bring him to a higher level than being a work horse with no higher beliefs.

Burning the flag isn’t sitting right. Okay Kennedy and Johnson made a mistake about Viet Nam. But burning the flag.

He decides burning his draft card was an empty gesture. As he walks back to his apartment it worries him. Was he seen?

In medical school he arranged the teach-ins against the war. Called the speakers. He chartered the buses to bring them all to Washington for the Pentagon march. Attended by something like 800 people, Mark made the introduction to Ben Spock, the fatherly pediatricians that a generation of mothers revered. He had come out against the war and was speaking at meetings like this one. It went extremely well.

Spock had a remarkable persona. Marcus Welby, Goyisha innocence. That smile. The kindness in his eyes. His raison d’etre was clearly to be of help. So his antiwar fervor means a lot more than a bunch of bohemians sounding off. He resembles the person Mark sometimes wishes for himself in the future. You wouldn’t, for a moment think Dr. Spock had a secret trove of Playboys. His firm, and now his righteous angry voice, somehow seemed gentle and properly concerned about what matters. Human beings. Suffering. After welcoming the audience, before Mark introduced Spock, he had an announcement. He asked the hundreds of doctors present to see him after the talk, if they were willing to do “sympathetic” draft exams. Meaning they would help potential draftees to get a 4F, be medically disqualified from fighting in the war.

Afterwards, he wanted to kick himself for his stupidity. What if the FBI were there? What if they took down his name? Although he was chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, he had steadfastly avoided SHO, the Student Health Organization, whose members he assumed were in touch with very radical organizations, the Weathermen, people like that. Most members of SHO were in their first and second year at Einstein. In contrast to Mark, they had been in college when campus activists had been radicalized, when most universities had classroom take-overs, sit-ins, when all of a sudden students were calling the shots, radical students. Mark had not seen that first hand, only seen it on the TV. He didn’t want to be a part of it

Mark isn’t a radical. Upon learning that he was on the libre-virgo cusp, Nancy, who he was crazy in love with for 4 weeks in ‘63, announced that the explanation for what he thought of as being truthful and balanced (although admittedly to an extreme) was that he was born between September 19 and the 25th. Nancy didn’t last long for precisely that reason. She was an air head.

But she got it right. Mark wasn’t a radical. Some people were proud to present themselves as radicals. Not him. He was positioned at the edge, in between. Some card carrying communists, lab workers at the medical school had originally chosen him to be chairman of MCHR. They asked him to arrange for the teach ins. They knew all the phone numbers he needed to contact speakers.

His anger at LBJ over Viet Nam was complete. But he had done nothing about it, so when he was asked to head MCHR, he was pleased to be able to actually do something. It was his chance to be a hero, a role that had been his obsession when he played baseball, but had essentially disappeared. Until now there hadn’t been a vehicle.

As a senior in medical school he had plenty of time. Having been given the position, he was obsessed with doing a great job as Chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. He started a lead poisoning project, another program that tutored kids in the ghetto, and a health careers program.

The health career program was unusually successful. He got 70 people from the medical community to be counselors, 4 kids each. Together they could choose from 300 programs, volunteer meetings with people in the medical community at work. The kids could talk to physical therapists, inhalation therapists, lab technicians, to X ray technicians, to doctors and nurses about what their career was like and how they got there. The emphasis was on seeing them in action.

It could be dramatic. One group followed an operating room nurse into the operating room, while they were doing a gall bladder. Another time a surgeon brought them in to see an appendectomy. The operating room visits were good for a front page second section New York Times story. Doors were wide open for Mark and his program even before the Times story, but after that there were no barriers. Mark had gotten the NYC school system to allow the kids in his program to take time off from school. They provided buses to bring them to the medical school. He had gotten the Commissioner of Hospitals to provide free meals for them at Jacobi Hospital when they came. When he called any city commissioners in Lindsay’s administration, he saw them that day. When he dialed Aspira, the head of the program called back immediately. He seemed to be the real thing, a student activist who could get things done.

He didn’t give himself credit for being a capable administrator. He felt compelled to do something as the chairman of MCHR, so people wouldn’t think he was enjoying the prestige without earning it. But as for the doors open to him, everyone wanted to be part of Bronx Bio Careers. Even Republicans. The plan cost zero. No one got paid, no one asked for a thing. They just wanted to give. And during that year, for some reason, his ego was gone, his motivation uncomplicated. He just wanted to give.

So Mark was anything but a radical. He was very proud of everything he had started and seen through.. There were very few exams during his senior year at medical school. So why not? But now, in Berkeley, he didn’t know why he strove so hard to be a good person. He knew part of the reason he cared deeply about being a good person. He wanted to disprove his own suspicion that he is all talk, no action. It was all part of a piece.

He took pride that he did a lot of charitable things privately, proving to himself that his desire to perform good deeds wasn’t only driven by his need for the limelight. As a child, when he had a powerful belief in God (or, at least, a desire to believe) he was inspired by one of Rabbi Kirshblum’s sermons. Giving charity was most pure when nothing was expected in return, when no one knew about it (other than God).

So he wasn’t a radical. At the time he didn’t know that he was offered the MCHR chairmanship by actual communists, but that wouldn’t have mattered. He was flattered they thought of him. Only much later did it occur to him that his good looks and bohemian but still all American persona made him useful to them. Since he wasn’t a radical, being chosen by card carrying members of party seemed irrelevant. He was proud that he kept his objectivity.

All of his heroes had exclusively become committed left wing intellectuals, but there were a lot of people on the left that he couldn’t stand. How easy it had been when he first became political, believing that people on the left cared about the unfortunate, and those on the right didn’t. The good guys and the bad guys. It was as simple as that. He wanted his basic goodness to be known–at least by the FBI. Because at this point he vaguely believed that the FBI, now kept his Permanent Record. So for them to get it right was important. Rebellious, but basically harmless. If they made a notation in his record like that he would be relieved.

But what if his draft card burning that afternoon was taken too seriously. As for his comments about draft exams, before the 800 people. it was 8 months ago. Nothing ever came of it, or he would have heard about it by now. Or would he?

In frustration, that night as he lies in bed, Mark debates the flag burning. Back and forth– he is for it, then against it. For it, against it. He wonders if his uncertainty, his consistently moderate positions, which he considers the only way an honest person can resist the exaggerations and lies on either side of a controversy– he wonders if that moderation is in reality, a veil for cowardice. He decides it’s true. He is a chicken. Why else would he think so much about how the FBI viewed him. In his calculated self image, that negated his many years of good deeds.

He’s a phony. His positions are all an act to curry favor with…with…He can’t identify who would be impressed by the serious way he pursues objectivity. Most people aren’t that way at all. They want you to side with them. And that is it. So it is not them he is trying to impress, not most people. He decides the person he wants to curry favor with is himself. The standards that rule him is-they are, he half mutters it:

“Me!”

He’s immediately embarrassed that he has sunk so low. Talked to himself out loud.

That’s what the psychotic patients at Bronx State do.

Okay he isn’t a phony. In the end his internal standards matter, which means he is “self directed,” a good quality according to many articles he has read on self esteem. But why does he feel that he’s always putting on an act. Well he is, but everyone else is. Some say what others expect to hear but privately believe the opposite. He isn’t a hypocrite like them.

Or do they not believe something different from what they say? Do they make a point of not thinking privately at all, keeping distracted, watch TV, get on the phone and talk small talk. They want nothing to do with the kind of thinking he is doing now, meandering, zigzagging, doubting, leading nowhere.

Once, one of the few times he was successfully connecting to his father, his father called what he does the same thing everyone calls it, “studying your belly button.” Charitably, on one of the few occasions that he defended his father in his mind, he accepted that his father meant well. His father   was simply giving good advice. “Move on.” But Mark can still hear the accusing tone in which his father spoke. It is his vanity.   He overvalues his importance. Who cares what you find in your belly button? Why do you think what’s there is of any importance. It’s just lint.

His father meant to mock him. To humiliate him if he could. Just so he could remain better than him.

Why? For what reason? So he can score with Mom? She wasn’t there when he said it. He wanted to score with me. Why? Why does he want to win that much? Why does he have to win.

Finally Mark is able to be easier on himself with a generalization that’s true. Guys need to win. They may deny it, try to be better than that, but it’s what their life is about. Victory. Getting over defeat. They root for the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Yankees, with far more passion, far more deeply than they let on. They make believe their interest in sports goes no further than entertainment. Which is a lie. Mark mourned for a week, more than a week when Da Bums, the Dodgers were defeated in1952 and 53. Like the whole season had been wasted. All those triumphs, all those nail biters for naught. He said “wait til next year” like all the other Dodger fans, but even when he said it, as he proclaimed his faith in the future, he only half believed next year would be different.

The damn’ Yankees-five straight championships. Jay, his older brother, rubbed it in every October. Jay didn’t deserve to be all conceited about it, the pride he took in the pinstripes maintaining their throne. Anybody could pick the best team and stick with them. What kind of fan is that? What kind of satisfaction can you get from loyalty to those who are characterized as the pinstripes? It’s like rooting for the Rockefellers.

Nothing can compare to the Dodgers victory in 1955. Da Bums put an end to Yankee pinstripes, put an end to their tyranny. Certain moments still glow in Mark’s memory, Sandy Amoros’ catch. And the way he spun around, his throw from the outfield to get a double play. Johnny Padres. Johnny Padres.

Jay and the other Yankee fans can’t come close to the joy of Dodger fans when they finally won. Joy? When the Yankees won, the most they are capable of having is their expectations confirmed.

But maybe they don’t have to get excited? They are perfectly comfortable with complacency, the security that accompanies those who side with winners. Jay has always been like that, ass kissing the teachers he needed, palling up to the powerful. He’s probably doing the same thing with his boss now. It’s his M.O.

Mark never stoops that low. Why else is he in Berkeley? The heroic is being for the underdogs. Even if you don’t win. That’s what it’s all about– beating the pinstripes. That’s why Jay is where he is, happily commuting from Forest Hills.

The only real question is why his bosses don’t see Jay as an ass kisser?

Or is he? All those political fights Mark has had with his father– Jay always sided with his father. Because he controls the goodies? It’s cowardly, taking the easy way. But is it really that? Is he ass kissing?

Jay likes their father. He respects him. Right or wrong he’s on his side. Is it ass kissing when you want to do what your boss expects, when he knows you are on his side, when he thinks of you as his trusted lieutenant, when you respect and like your boss.

But what if your boss were to lose his power, what if he is on his way down, would you stick with him? It’s not a question Jay would ask himself. The rules of the game are you respect your master because he is the master. Not if he isn’t. Suddenly, he realizes that a fantasy he has always had, is based on the difference between Jay and himself. He will be close to his father, when he is sick, when he is dying. To him it has always meant that, unlike Jay, despite the frequent battles he’s had with his father, he’s the one who really cares. Which means he loves his father more than Jay. Because he will be there when his father is down.

Suddenly a saying from Muhammad Ali pops up in his mind:

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

He opens his eyes, looks up at the ceiling, smiles.

If only he could do that. His father continued to call Ali, Cassius Clay. He was angry that he changed his name, angry he wouldn’t go to Viet Nam.

Just before his consciousness disappears into sleep, another Ali quote seizes his mind.

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Mark’s convinced Ali’s right. Whenever he’s gone in that direction he’s come to that conclusion. The problem is he hasn’t always gone in that direction. His mind, his conclusions are fickle. He wonders if it is his courage.

He finally decides that he is in favor of burning the flag. It puts him on the side of the fearless, which is what he needs in order to turn off his mind.

 

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2017
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

About me

I am 74 and still unknown as a writer of major import, but as ridiculous as it may sound, I am patient. Here and there I have had my moments, glimpses of where I might go, but they have been ephemeral, a tease.  Fortunately,  they have also given me a hint at possibilities.  So, like an adolescent, hope springs eternal, firing me up,  creating expectations, also setting me up for disappointments.  Whatever happens, the effect on my writing is nil. I am as charged and excited as day one when I couldn’t understand something  and the light went on. I found an answer. I write and write and write.

I still get excited by the joy of discovery. My head suddenly feels clear.  More than that, realizing  I have something to say, that isn’t being said elsewhere, gets me going. Even if someone else has gotten there first, I take that as confirmation.  Whether I, or someone else,  I’m thrilled when I discover  an answer to a question that is bothering me.

I suppose I go deep.  Not by choice. My questions lead me to new questions and doubts so I keep going.    Occasionally, I nail it.  Correction– more than occasionally.  Often enough. But my heroes are Wittgenstein and Socrates.  They treasured honesty above any other habit,  being able to admit when they didn’t have an answer.

In the middle of  his lectures at Cambridge, Wittgenstein often called himself an idiot when something confused him.  He’d stand in front of the class unable to go forward. Eventually, he quit Cambridge’s philosophy department.   For 10 years he worked as a gardener.  He came back when he figured his way out of logical positivism’s traps.  The answer was “ordinary language” philosophy.  His fellow gardeners were able to avoid the mazes his colleagues  at Cambridge created for themselves.

A similar story about Socrates.  Someone told him he was the wisest of all philosophers.  He had his doubts.  So he went to hear other philosophers’ teachings.  Many knew things he didn’t know, but he had one unique quality, which he decided made him wiser than any of   them. He knew when he didn’t know something.

A last, certainly sentimental and embarrassing confession. Tears come to my eyes every time I watch this one scene in Dr. Zhivago.  Zhivago is dead. His brother thinks he has found his long lost daughter, now grown up. He tells her all about her father, his greatness as a poet, his love of Lara.

“This man was your father. Why won’t you believe it? Don’t you want to believe it?”

“Not if it isn’t true.”

Zhivago brother smiles, “That’s inherited.”

I don’t know what any of that means.  How I got that way.  But it nevertheless is true, for better or worse, it is one of my obsessions. Even now, for the hundredth time, I feel the tears coming when I go there.

 Until my retirement, most of my writing  was on psychiatric subjects.  It was old school psychiatry, not science, the kind that  appeals to laymen.   The pain in our hearts, forever ready to grab a hold of  our life, the mysteries of our motivations–I was drawn there.  The brain’s chemistry may some day provide very good solutions to our troubles, but right now psychiatrists are fooling themselves, and worse, the public.  Our knowledge is thin.  Yes they should rightfully pride themselves that they adhere to  scientific method, to hard facts, to the certainty of numbers proving a point.  But all too often this provides an illusion of effectiveness and surprisingly, rigidity and an abundance of false claims.   The tip-off is the deference given to “experts.” Experts?  Huh? Who are they?  I’d much prefer “this is my best shot”  That’s all any of us can offer.

“Expert” sounds authoritative, but it represents the eternal temptation of the Wizard of Oz.   Basing their elixirs on studies, on hard numbers, on science is very appealing. We  prefer very little wiggle room about answers we need. The trap in this mindset, however,  is that waving  science as a banner,  its virtues can act like a smokescreen.  The language, the prestige, the trappings of science can be so distracting that science’s core value is overshadowed, absolute clarity about what is known and not known. The theme of many of my articles is that, considering how much we still don’t understand,  our steps forward should be tentative, investigative, not closed off by the chilling effects  of authority.

Please go to SimonSobo.com to read the praise my articles have received in my field from the likes of Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled). Lauren Slater (Prozac Diaries) and Anna Freud: “I read immediately what you have written and found it very interesting and convincing…  I have searched for the right words to describe the processes which underlie the young people’s attitudes, but I was not able to find them.  I believe that you have done much better in this respect and I find myself fascinated by your elaborations.”  She put part one of that article in the yearly Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, which was like being chosen for the all star team. Thirteen or fourteen of the best articles for that  year.  And, at that point  I had just finished my training.

Professor Bruce Charlton in England, at the time, editor of the iconoclastic journal Medical Hypothesis, had me write an editorial, attacking psychiatry’s “diagnosis” fetish,( placing patients in  one of 6 or 7 categories which presumably then explains everything.) Samuel Timimi included a contrarian chapter by me in his book Rethinking ADHD. I should also add my idol at the time, Pauline Kael “loved” a movie review I sent her.  She sent me a postcard to call her, and the next day we were shmoozing in her apartment.

IUP wanted to publish my book, The Fear of Death (derived from part 2 of the article Anna Freud liked).  A number of people were excited by it. It opened up a whole new perspective in psychoanalysis. Freud had a powerful fear of death. It was the craziest part of him.  Yet strangely, he denied it was an important motivation in our psychology.  My book presaged, in 1980, a preoccupation that had grabbed a hold of American culture, and that is still with us, a  focus on health,  on mortality of almost religious magnitude. Destruction of conventional authority, particularly religion, the elevation of me, of  personal  freedom,  left us to face alone the very worst possibility in our life. Death.

IUP, at the time, was the premier publishing house, kind of the Knopf of psychiatric literature.  They registered it with The Library of Congress.  Listed it in their upcoming publicity. It’s a long story of  what went awry but the manuscript eventually sat on my shelf for years unpublished.(I was busy writing another book).  Its fate says it all.  One day Walt Disney Productions contacted me.  They had found the title in The Library of Congress.  They were doing a comedy, What About Bob?  A character in the movie, the shrink’s son, was brooding in his father’s library, reading The Fear of Death. I told them the book didn’t exist.  “No problem” they said.  They would create a book cover (with blank pages). Sure I told them. At that point, why not.  They filmed the scene.  But then cut it from the final version of the  movie. Speaking of how fame is fleeting. In the end I had to self publish. Took me five years to write that book.  Why not get it out there.

  Anyway, as often as I have sputtered and fucked up good opportunities, the point remains that many renowned writers, especially those who admire originality, have been turned on after  reading my work. So I still expect it is going to happen. Or it won’t. Either way I still have my photography

November 27, 2017
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

CC: A chapter debating religion

 

It is 1968, a year when conventional religion seemed to dissipate.

 

Chapter 32

 

Mr. Gordon has his coat on near the door of Jay’s apartment. Jay kisses Dora and their baby after he puts on his coat. They are rushing to get out of the apartment. Jay shouts to his father.

“Do you have the tickets?”

“Mr. Gordon waves the two tickets.”

Dora fusses over Jay. “Don’t forget your gloves. It gets cold there. I made you sandwiches.”   She looks at Ira as well. “Don’t throw them out this time.”

Jay smiles guiltily. So does his father.

“We like the hot dogs there.”

Jay takes his gloves out of his coat pocket and shows them to Dora. She stares at her father—in law. Guilty as charged he waits to be sentenced.

“Well?”

“I don’t need gloves.”

She returns from the bedroom with turquoise wool mittens.

“Oh If you told me. Blue mittens. Turquoise blue!” he says with a laugh.

“Aquamarine I knitted them for Jay as a Hanukah present. He refuses to wear them.”

Ira puts them on and claps his hands like a happy nerd.

“Okay. I get the point.” Dora tells him.

“You married a good women Jay. Caring. You remind me of my mother. She made mittens.”

“She was a nag?”

He puts his hand under her chin and lifts it. “A Yidisha Moma…26 hours a day. She cared.”

She steps away.

“Dad. Did you wear your lucky socks?”

“Jay lifts his pants revealing his own wild striped socks.”

“That’s good enough for both of you.”

Mr. Gordon lifts his own pants. His socks are even wilder. Kangaroos eating lightening, and lighting up.

“The question is. Is it good enough for the Jets?”

“God likes striped socks”

“And kangaroo lightening socks.”

“Well there you have it:” Dora tells them.

As they walk down the hall, Dora shouts after them: “Go Jets. Go Namath.”

“Go Maynard”, Ira shouts. “Namath’s nothing without him to catch the ball.”

In unison they shout as they enter the elevator, “Go Maynard.”

At Shea Stadium, as predicted, Namath throws a perfect pass to Maynard who runs it in for a touchdown. The stadium crowd goes wild.   Jay and Mr. Gordon slap hands.

While breast feeding her son, Dora is watching the game on TV. The first half has ended with the Jets leading 16—7.

Dora puts her sleeping son in his crib. She goes to the phone and dials CC’s phone in her dorm. She’s told CC isn’t there, but then a Sheila comes to the phone. CC had given her Jeremy’s number. Dora dials. Jeremy answers in the bedroom. but then hands the phone to CC.

“You watching the game? Jets are beating Buffalo 16—7.”

CC signals Jeremy to give her privacy He goes to the kitchen.

“I haven’t been following the Jets. They don’t get them up here.”

“But today’s game is probably on. Buffalo. You know Buffalo beat them the first time they played, their only victory   They’re 1 and 7.

“So that means the Jets aren’t that good?”

“Are you kidding? That loss was an anomaly. This year there’s going to be another super bowl, the third one, the NFL champs playing the AFC champs. Jay’s told me, with Namath, the Jets might go all the way. It will give the AFC respectability.”

“First they have to get into the playoffs. Jay’s always an optimist.”

“So is your Dad. He’s excited.”

There is a pause. Both are silent.

“Was that your friend that answered the phone? What’s going on with you? We haven’t had a good talk in a while.”

“Well…”

“Tell me.”

Again a long delay. Then: “You can’t tell Mom or Dad what I tell you. Promise me.”

She doesn’t know why she is asking this of Dora. They already know about Jeremy. Perhaps it is to protect her parents from Dora’s judgment.

“Okay, I promise.”

“The guy who answered. Jeremy. He’s one of my teachers. I’ve been staying at his house.” She hurriedly blurts it out. “He’s married with a kid. His wife is in the hospital”

Dora responds coolly. “How did that happen?

“I don’t know but it did… Don’t tell Jay.”

“How old is his child?”

“He’s a toddler.”

“He’s going to leave his wife?”

“He says he loves her. He’s told me he will never leave her.”

“So what is it then? Sex?”

“I love him and he loves me.”

“I’m sure you know what I think.”

“I do.”

“So why did you tell me?”

“I wanted to get your perspective.”

“I blame Mark… He’s filled your head with all this crap. He’s always turning morality into this crazy universe of no right and no wrong. Like it’s up for discussion. Meaning anything is okay. CC what you got going with this guy is not okay.”

“His name is Jeremy.”

“Jeremy” Dora repeats as if named, he now exists.

“He’s a lot like Mark. He’s been arguing that ending the war, saving the planet, are far more important than the rights and wrongs we were raised on. He thinks those are nonsense.”

“It’s not just Mark,” Dora adds. “Everyone’s talking like that. I don’t know what’s going on. Jay told me his therapist was always getting on him about his guilt, like it was the main cause of his problems.”

“Is it?”

“Sure his “rigidity” comes from that but that is what I respect about him. I think therapists making fun of guilt are trying to destroy Judaism”.

“That’s a little extreme.”

“But it’s true. Everyone wants to put an end to Judaism. Remember Robin Schaff? She was a year ahead of us in school.”

“Yeah. She’s very spiritual. When you see Robin you think religion. She’s off somewhere from the bullshit world. She’s serious. She’s with God.”

“She was always that way. She came from a kosher home. But religious? How can you be religious and write songs for Shiva and Krishna and Vishnu?”

“Why not? If they’re beautiful songs, something you could sing to God, reach out to him… Maybe please him. Why isn’t that religious?”

“What you are asking is, do I think Robin has God on her mind when she sings to Shiva or Vishnu? The answer is no. The songs are for not just for Krishna, or Vishnu. There are a dozen different, … I don’t know what they call them.”

“Gods. Indian gods,” CC answers.

“What’s screwy is that’s what Jews believed before Judaism began, before God spoke to Abraham. The Shma is repeated in every service. The whole congregation sings out. “Sha- ma Yisra-el…Adoshem elohaniu… Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

One” she repeats emphatically. Who is she praying to? 12 different deities, 15? Accepting that there is one God is the cornerstone of Judaism. Never mind the rest of it, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…”

“Robin thinks of herself as spiritual. She presents herself that way. I’m sure she thinks of herself as equally holy as the most observant Jew.”

“Perhaps. Except I don’t think she believes in God.”

“Then who is Vishnu, Krishna all the gods she prays to?”

“While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the newly freed Jews started to worship the Egyptians gods, idols, all kind of mumbo jumbo, some of them got into orgiastic rituals. Naked, drugged orgies. They were enchanted by exciting food. Pleasure. Like that is what life is. Getting as much pleasure as we can, while we can… Do you remember the rest of the story?

CC does. “When Moses returned from Mount Sinai and saw it? He had been in the presence of God, given the Ten Commandments as his gift to his people.”

“And what did he do?

He threw down the tablet, smashed it to smithereens.”

“Robin’s far from stupid. She graduated from Stamford Phi bête, but I don’t know if the thought crosses her mind. That she is not having a dialogue with God, not embracing him.”

“But she is so serious. So accepting. She seems to have godly qualities, her belief in tolerance.”

“Exactly. I don’t know if it crosses her mind. Not only is she renouncing the most holy Jewish belief, that God is one, stomping it with her feet,  Tolerance?   Speaking about it in a loving way… Tolerance? She repeats. Anything. Everything is okay? Whatever floats your boat.”

“So What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s a repudiation of everything a practicing Jew believes. Forgiveness perhaps, being able to ignore other people’s sins. But tolerance worshipped as much as it is. It means every word we hold sacred is wrong, every prohibition we hold holy, all that God ordered us to do and not do. All of it is nonsense. It means the Torah is a book of stories, nothing else. God didn’t talk to us And if he did he was wrong about what he thought was wrong. Claiming that anything is okay. You don’t think that is an attack on Judaism?”

“And Catholicism…All religions. It’s not just people like Robin. Marx proclaimed, “Religion is the opium of the masses. It’s bullshit. All religions. They’re a trick, to make people satisfied with how shitty capitalism is. The Communists took Marx very seriously. The party closed down the synagogues and churches in Russia, and every country they conquered. Religion had to go underground, All because Marx called it opium.”

“Mark and Jeremy are not communists. I can’t imagine either would want synagogues closed.”

“I hope not. No I’m sure they aren’t. I know they are not communists. They love America.”

“So you’re saying it is a coincidence.”

“I think they believe it would be a better world if everyone embraced no religion or a different religion than what they were raised on. Mark has tried to teach me that, and sometimes I think he’s right. You don’t think Jewish guilt is overdone?”

“Overdone!?”

“My therapist always made fun of my guilt. According to him that’s why I’m neurotic. I can see his point.”

“I told you what I think already. Therapists are directly attacking Judaism, not just Judaism, Catholics’ guilt– they feast on their ridicule. But therapist are so slippery. They would never own own up to that’s what they’re doing.”

Spiritual? NO way Robyn is spiritual. She’s selling a Hallmark card religion. Your soul can’t get to a higher place that easily. Catholics only reach a state of grace when they’ve confessed their sins-admitted transgressions they may have kept secret for years, that they were too ashamed to tell anyone. Same for Jews when we fast on Yom Kippur and promise to try harder to be a better person. Our dialogue with God is the real thing, hoping to be returned to innocence. You can’t simply sing about peace and love and jingle a bell to get there. Or stretch your body into a yoga position.”

Dora continues. “You can’t make guilt disappear by making fun of it. Calling it neurotic is a cop out. Jay would come home from a therapy session and tell me crazy things his shrink said, just like yours.”

“Like what?

“Like how everyone has a god within them. They just have to go there. Stuff like that. It’s nonsense.”

“That’s how Jeremy talks.”

“And a thousand other people like him. You can’t be your own God, no matter how many chants you perform. I’ve seen people go there. Get glassy eyed, have this beatific smile. They look like they’re on heroine. It’s the easy way to a state of grace. It may feel the same but—

CC lashes out: “Mark thinks you are the least liberated person we know. Your kosher home. How you force Jay to not eat lobster.”

“So?”

“Lobster was Jay’s favorite food.”

“Poor Jay.”

“Jay can’t drive his car on Saturday. Even to go to the supermarket. He can’t turn on the light. All this mumbo jumbo– he can’t use a stapler, lick an envelope on Saturday. Sins, sins everywhere, about to be committed. Tell me that’s spiritual liberation.”

“Who’s talking about liberation.” Dora answers

“What is it then?”

“Devotion. Knowing what God allows and what’s okay has guided us for centuries. Guilt has been at the core of Judaism for a thousand years. It never occurred to anyone that it could be anything else… You never thought God was watching you? Judging you?”

“I guess so. Well maybe when I was 10. But now…”

“So you think there is no one there now.”

“I suppose.”         `

“So you are not Jewish. Judaism is based on this very simple, sane idea. God is there, he’s watching us, expecting us to follow what he told us to do. It’s all in the Torah. That’s the whole story. That’s the core of Judaism.”

“You mean it’s not lox and bagels?”

“I’m serious”.

“Gefilte fish?”

Dora is smiling but is intent on not being sidetracked.

“That’s why the Torah has a crown on it. That’s why we kiss it as they walk it through the congregation. His do’s and don’ts. Written down. God’s commandments! He watches every last thing we do.   Making sure we obey.”

“And…”

“And nothing. You’re big on the whole Jewish intellectual thing?”

“What about it?”

“How do you think it started? For centuries the most serious scholars studied the Torah inside out, trying to glean every hint God gave us about what he expected. The Talmud, the Mishnah, it was all to try to figure the Torah out. This hippie idea that God is this nice guy saying “Oh well” to everything. That is totally wrong. He wants to be taken seriously. He’s made these rules and it’s our job to follow them.”

CC imitates God’s voice.

“Thou shall not eat bacon and eggs… Sounds like God is not a very spiritual guy.”

“You’re exactly right. He’s not concerned with the spiritual, what ever that means.”

“It means peace and love and understanding.”.

“And repeating those sweet chants. That’s right. God is not a hippy. He has rules and he’s given them to us.”

“In the shtetl the smartest student would be rewarded with a wife from the richest family so that he could study all his life. There was no Ford Foundation. Understanding God’s will was considered the sweetest, the most meaningful way any one could spend their life. Understanding his rules. Interpreting new ones and obeying them. But never mind all that. Let’s cut to the chase. You don’t need the Mishnah or the Talmud to rule on what you are doing. Adultery. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.”

“You really think there is a God?”

“He’s right there, watching me. And you. “

“But that’s so creepy.” She remembers one of Mark’s jokes. “Does he have a calculator counting the sins, or just a great memory…”

“Very funny.”

“That’s from Mark…Seriously, how do you picture God?”

“I picture God as fair. If you go along with him he’s on your side.”

“Religious Jews never get cancer? They never die young?”

“They do. There’s a lot we can’t understand, but who am I to question him? Dora Gordon at 39 Yellowstone Blvd, Forest Hills, Queens?”

“It’s more than that. God can get pissed. He killed everyone on earth but Noah’s family. He’s definitely not a live and let live God.

“That’s true..”

“Well that’s not much of a God to me.”

“Why? Because by Sesame Street standards he doesn’t measure up? I swear, sometimes I listen to the left’s sacred beliefs. and all I hear is a child. La-la nursery school beliefs.”

“I don’t know what God’s like. No one does. But he’s not Mr. Roger’s. A God fearing person doesn’t question God’s character. I mean who are we? Us judging him? We are forbidden to give him a name, to make a graven image of him. We are little nothings compared to God. Ants scurrying around.”

“God fearing? What kind of God is one you have to fear?”

“My father would have said, “You’re 15. You’re going to say what God should be like? He was right. He still is and I’m 26. All I know is without him I’m alone, lost. With him I share in his glory. And there is much glory all around us.

On Yellowstone Blvd?

“Everywhere. Every day the sun rises”

יֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִי־א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר Yoe mer, elohainu, Ya chi-or, va yachi or.

 

 

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.
And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”

 

Night and day, sunrise and sunset were among his first miracles. I see his glory every morning when I open my eyes. You never feel that?”

“No…Sometimes in the synagogue, when I hear the choir sing. When I sing “Shma Yisrael. God is one! The proclamation means something to me”

CC takes a deep, deep breath, cherishing the Shma.

“God’s allowing you to experience his presence.”

“But what if it all is a sham. God fearing is what they talk you into?

Dora’s voice raises, “Your world is so pure? Creating these men Gods. John Lennon, Paul McCartny. CC, they are just people. Great they can sing, and create a line or two of terrific lyrics. They’re just people, like you and me. Just as lost. Get rid of God and that’s what you are left with, worshipping celebrities. I’d rather reserve my awe for God.”

CC doesn’t answer but then contritely. “I agree with most of what you are saying.”

Dora wants to pound it home further. “I listen to these leftist leaders. Where are they leading students? Away from Judaism? Away from Christ? To where?”

There is a long pause.

“To equality.”

“Marx’s state of grace.”

“You don’t think that is important?”

“Equal opportunity? Absolutely but–“

“You should teach at my school. Some students would listen.”

“I don’t think anyone would listen.”

CC knows Dora’s right. The school used to encourage students to practice their religion.

“When I was a freshman we had these convocations. They began with a prayer. Everyone was respectful.”

“Do they still have them?

“They’ve dropped them, along with having to wear a jacket and tie for dinner.”

“How come?”

“Students were complaining.”

“You mean the college wanted to be hip.”

“I think they recognized that they were old fogeyish.”

“How did they get them to agree, by occupying their offices?”

“Colleges aren’t God fearing. They’re student fearing.” Dora adds.

CC says nothing

“CC, what I like about you is that you are a student, still trying to figure things out. Some of these activists, with their don’t trust anyone over 30. They really think they have all the answers.”

“You don’t think they see a lot of what’s wrong?”

“But that fools them into thinking what they have in mind is better. They’re going to make a perfect world. They are so sure. CC the answer is Judaism….You were Bat Mitzvahed right?

“Yeah..”

“You are no longer a child. You are held accountable. Like an adult. .. By God!”

Dora gives her a moment to think it over, then continues:

“Adultery doesn’t have a question mark next to it. It doesn’t require a complicated interpretation from the Talmud. There is no maybe. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.”

“There’s no wiggle room in your world, is there?… About anything?”

“There is. I have questions about plenty of things but not about the Ten Commandments.”

“So to you I am just a sinner.”

“No. You’re still my family! We’ll be together all our lives. But you’re grasping at straws. I know everyone wants to have someone but…” Her voice raises like a rabbi delivering a sermon from a podium. “You have no reason to be desperate.”

Her voice reverberates, as if Dora wants to be heard in the heavens above, and below, seared into the heart of every believer:

“You’re having an affair with a married man, a father of a young child!”

CC remains absolutely silent, more frozen by indecision then feeling contrite.

Jeremy sticks his head in the door.

She covers the mouthpiece of the phone then whispers loud enough for him to hear.        “My sister-in-law.” CC waves for him to go away.

Dora continues “I know that sounds judgmental but you know what? It is. That’s how it should be. I don’t know how this whole thing started about not being judgmental. It began with therapists. Now it’s everyone. Tolerance. Understanding. Accepting anything and everything you do. Doing your own thing has become the sacred commandment of our times.” Like an orator, she waits for the rhythm to carry her forward.   “Says who?”

Then silence.

From the look on her face it appears CC is being won over.

Unable to be silenced, not confident that she has made her point, Dora continues to press, “It’s a crazy perspective. Not being judgmental? It’s not a Jewish perspective. What else is there? How else can we evaluate what has happened that day? What we are doing. What we are allowed to do. Even if the debate is not on a grand stage, not on an op ed page, not public at all, if it only occurs in the bedroom at night between husband and wife, as they evaluate their own and everyone else’s behavior. Even if it occurs in your own mind, trying to convince yourself that you are not the judging type. You can’t avoid it. What’s the point of trying to rise above your conscience? CC I love you, but you are lost.”

CC remains quiet.

“Are you there?”

“I’m listening.”

“You know Jay was exactly the same.”

“Why the same?”

“Because he had no connection to God. He was observant but things he did had no meaning.”

“Jay always obeyed the rules.”

“I know. But he had begun to feel he was weird for doing that. That is so strange. He doesn’t have to apologize for being the way he is… God has given him a reason why he should not break free.” Dora hesitates…“I probably sound like a Bible thumper.

CC doesn’t answer immediately but then:

“No I know it’s coming from a good place.”

“It is. It’s what I believe… Deeply. …   CC when we first met, we promised that we would tell each other what we really thought. You told me about this because you wanted to know what I thought– didn’t you? If I was okay with it, then it wasn’t so bad.”

CC answers “I didn’t think about it but—“

“I love you CC. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so hard. But it is bad. Sin is sin. God doesn’t like when we do bad things… Wait. The second half is starting.”

Dora makes the sound of a loud kiss. “I love you. Stay away from Jeremy. He’s poison. God wants more from you.”

With an apologetic voice: “Jeremy is in the other room..”

“You don’t need my permission. If you break up with him it won’t be for me. It’s what God expects.”

““I’ll think about it. Just promise me you’ll say nothing to Jay. Or Mom and Dad.”

“I said I wouldn’t.”

Again she wonders why she is asking this. They already know.

Dora hangs up and goes back to the TV. The Jets come running on to the field.

In the stadium, the Jets return to the playing field to the sound of a huge roar from their fans, Jay and Ira slap hands. Jay moves his pants up and down, comically, flashing his socks. They bump asses. Then they slap hands again.

Hearing that CC is off the phone, Jeremy reenters the bedroom.

November 21, 2017
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

What is pride? How long does love last? CC: Chapter 43

Chapter 43

“Do you remember one of the first things you asked me about was pride, what makes us proud in my family?”

She says this calmly, carefully avoiding an edge in her voice.

“I’ve been thinking about that. I may write a paper about pride for my psychology class. It’s important. Mark’s always going on about people’s egos.

“It’s a big deal for him?”

“I think he’s like most guys. How you get it by outdoing someone else. It’s about becoming king of the mountain. The best basketball player deserves to be the king, the best swimmer at the Olympics, the best scientist wins the Nobel Prize..”

Jeremy kicks in. “What about in junior high, the guy with the best putdowns.” He’s pleased by his example. “What about the best gossip at Fresh Meadow Country–” CC’s eyes warn Jeremy to veer off that example, which he does. “The best gossip in the faculty lounge.”

“Except I have this cousin Gabriel. Don’t know where he got it from, but he’s always had this aura. My mother calls him little Buddha.”

CC smiles contentedly as she pictures Gabriel.

“He has no aspirations. Some people just have it.”

“You mean the world is his oyster.”

“Something like that. I wish you could bottle it His smile…”

Jeremy takes her hand. “When I see your smile.”­­­

CC ignores him. He never lets up. She goes to her coat and takes out a piece of paper with writing on it..

“This is what I wrote so far for my paper. About my mother.”

“You and your mother.”

“What do you mean, me and my mother?

“I don’t know. You have a thing.”

“Maybe. But I’m not imagining this. There’s something… Grace…Something. It’s not put on. Almost everything she does.”

CC reads what she’s written.

“Breakfast. The way my mother eats her grapefruit.”

“Is that the title?

CC ignores him. As she reads she is picturing her mother.

“Just watching her cut the grapefruit…. Maybe it’s her fingers– they’re long and thin and elegant. Always perfectly manicured. She has this ring. Simple. Small sapphires surround her finger. The way she holds a grapefruit knife, by the tips of her fingers.”

“Boy. You got it bad.”

CC is undeterred.

“She spoons out the seeds from the flesh, carefully sprinkles sugar, sometimes honey. One by one, very patiently, she puts each piece in her mouth, quietly relishing the flavor.”

“So?”

CC continues to read.

“Her soft boiled egg is in one of these egg cups, sitting high up, like a throne. She taps on the shell gently, removes the top half. Then scoops the egg out, putting it on buttered toast, allowing the yolk to soak into the bread.”

CC speaks as if in a reverie. She salivates

When the toast and egg are ready. One at a time she cuts it into bite size pieces, places each in her mouth, as if she has found a treasure. She barely chews, savoring the taste of each piece.”

“I don’t get it. What are you saying?”

“She’s eaten breakfast like that a thousand times. Calm, unhurried.”

“Still don’t get it.”

CC tries again. “My mother has this friend who’s worked in a courthouse for years.”

Once again CC reads what she’s written.

“At the start of every court session the clerk announces: “Everyone rise.” Then the judge, in his robe, enters. The clerks voice is identical every single time. The judge’s pace, as he walks to his seat, the way he sits down and places his glasses in front of him, undoes his watch putting it at the same place over to the left. When he’s done he takes this little breath, barely audible Every detail, always exactly the same.”

“So you’re saying people’s rituals make them proud?”

“Mastery of the moment. Everything in control.

“And it’s infectious. Ever listen to Walter Cronkite?”

“No TV” he reminds her.

“You should get one.”

“My father once told me how, with certain judges, even if it’s some terrible crime, the sessions are dignified throughout. He likes that. It elevates what they’re doing. As justice should be.

She pointedly turns to Jeremy’s. “For you breaking down the old, interrupting things– you’re proud of that. You and my father are complete opposites. He thinks that’s the whole point. Elevating our experience with rituals.. Otherwise everything just flies by. It’s chaos.”

CC hesitates with what she is about to say but then goes forward.

“When he was in the air force, my father said he enjoyed marching in step with the other men in his unit. More than that. He once marched in this really big parade. All the men spiffed up in their nicest uniform standing straight and tall, marching in perfect unison. He said being part of that, thousands and thousands of men united, he described how terrific he felt, how proud. I guess that’s why they train soldiers to march like that, to be a part of this powerful machine. Soon enough, in combat, potentially feeling alone and helpless, whatever is left of their esprit de corps can see them through.

“Did he march in goosestep?” Jeremy kids. CC expected that, but, CC can see in Jeremy’s eyes that his sarcasm is only half hearted. He’s enjoying her observations. Her pride is growing as she continues.

“Then there are people who take pride to the next level. With a tad of sarcasm she adds. “People like you. People in show business.”

Jeremy tenses up. CC tries to be gentle, to not sound too challenging.

“You are who you are. If you have the talent to pull it off, why not. Did you ever see Nureyev leap and fly through the air?   Defying gravity? The audience is exhilarated, like they are soaring with him. They share his pride for pulling it off.

That’s what I felt with you, when you went off about Wittgenstein. I felt like I was going right along with you into the stratosphere. When you finished I wanted to leap up, give you a standing ovation.”

Jeremy doesn’t react. He’s waiting to see where this is going. She continues.

“It’s so strange. If a performer doesn’t get there, watch out. He pays a heavy price. An accountant might fear his boss, but that’s it. He’s expected to do his job competently. Nothing more. The last thing he wants is the spotlight.

Performers have to go beyond that– way, way beyond. Perform magic. The audience craves it. They expect it. They want to be exhilarated like I was when you got going.”

The tone of her voice changes. “It takes courage to really go for it.”

“Why courage?”

“Because you are on the edge of humiliation, Fail and the audience can turn on you. They blame you. They can’t stand you for trying. It’s not like they say, “Good try” It’s more like where does that shmuck get off acting like he is someone. Like he’s better than us. People used to throw rotten tomatoes and eggs.”

Jeremy is quietly listening, still expecting her to lower the boom if he lets his defenses down.

“Did that ever worry you before a lecture?”

“Not really. I usually feel like I am about to knock the class’ head off.”

“Knock their heads off?”

“Get them exhilarated. Even when a lecture is going so-so, or poorly. I think it’s just a matter of time ‘til I connect.”

“Which is my point about pride. You ever watch championship ice skaters? One slip and they are toast. You can see how tense they are. But when a champion falls, a real one, they get right up. On their face, you can see their determination. Their pride Like what you just said… I got a leap coming up that will amaze you. And when they pull it off. The glory at that moment.”

She continues: “Did you ever notice how entertainers need award ceremonies, one after another. Accountants don’t get that, doctors, lab technicians. They just do their job without applause. That flying trapeze. The biggest fear entertainers have is that they are like everyone else. Ordinary. You talk about what goes on in Great Neck like they are stage performers. You have that kind of contempt for them showing off.”

“For showing off when they have nothing to deliver. An Eldorado?”

“It’s not nothing. They are living their lives, yeah, showing off is a big part of it at the club but basically they are just going along with what is expected of them, what everyone does. You’re disgusted by that but there is nothing more to it.”

“Anti-semites, that’s what they can’t stand about Jews. That superior look on their face. Like they are hot shit. They want to wipe it off their face.”

“Maybe, but that look on our face. That’s why we accomplish so much. Going for it, expecting to be more–”

“I don’t know about that.” The subject is making both of them tense. He wants to call a truce. “We’re always disagreeing.”

“It’s your hot issue not mine.”

“I admit it. I can be obnoxious. I don’t like the people at you parents’ club. You don’t agree. But it doesn’t have to cause so much tension between us.”

Jeremy let’s that settle in. He takes her hand.

“Never mind the club. I like your ideas…like them a lot. What you just said was interesting. You’re really smart? Do you know that?

Whatever anger she has about his hatred of the club, dissolves. “Do you really think so?” Her tone is deferential, grateful, surprisingly like her tone when they began, student with teacher. He continues:

Your curiosity…   You want to figure things out. It leads you to terrific insights.. You come up with interesting answers to questions no one else has even thought of. Or dares to think about. I love that.”

She knows it’s true, but until now she wasn’t sure he noticed:

“Mark told me the same thing.”

“It’s true.”

“I’m his kid sister so I assumed he was doing his big brother thing, encouraging me.”

“No really. I like the way your brain works.”

She is happy. Very happy.

“Coming from the old master.”

He smiles. They’re finally back in synch, happily rolling along.

“Old master, Right. Twenty—six and I got it all figured out.”

“Twenty-six?” she says surprised.

“What about it?”

“You’re only a few years older than me. I thought you were a lot older.”

He shrugs. “I skipped some grades… The important thing is I meant what I said. You have an interesting way of seeing things.”

She unsuccessfully tries to appear not flattered. His comment is not a total surprise. Mark’s ideas drew her to him. Same thing with Jeremy. When she comes across an author who seems to have fresh insights, that person becomes one of her heroes. That she shares this very same quality, that she can generate novel ideas, and that Mark and Jeremy get turned on by them, means a lot to her. It emboldens her.

“Okay here is another theory I’ve been thinking about.”

“Go on.”

She begins:

“I was thinking about this when I was telling you about me and the communes.”

“We’re back to that?”

“Just hear me out.”

“Go ahead…

“What are you going to do with your ideals? You’re going to expect them to be fulfilled, right?”

“If you are not trying to make them happen what’s the point?”

“Exactly.”

“And if it doesn’t happen?”

“Where are you going with this?”

“I read this cool article in psych. How ideals serve an important role in our psychology. Man cannot live with bread alone. Basically they are a wish fulfillment, an expectation, which becomes a promise,.. An ideal about how things are going to be in the future– that’s what keeps us going day to day. Our dreams. Our hopes. No one could live without an idea that something better is coming.”

“Go on.”

“Used to be, no matter how shitty your life was, and I guess for billions of people who have lived on this planet, it has been shitty. The idea of heaven kept them from getting too down. Isn’t that what they say in Hollywood. You got to hold on to your dreams.

Heaven evened everything up. The good got rewarded. Hell for those who deserved it. When day to day your life sucks, you wouldn’t be able to make it through without believing that it all has a purpose. Something like that. Justice will prevail. God! Heaven! The happy ending.”

“Right. Hollywood movies True love conquering all. They have been as popular with people al over the world as religion. Jeremy is with her.

CC continues. “You need that. Otherwise what’s the point. Heaven was the central meaning in people’s lives. For centuries! It worked well. Worked amazingly. I mean there was a down side. Some people suffered about the state of their soul, whether their sins would condemn them to hell. But the main thing, that despite what is happening day to day, all is not lost. It will all even out. The universe is just.

Your daily experience may tell you life is mean and nasty. But think about how amazing Christianity has been. If suffering can be seen as a trial, the cross everyone must bear, with the end result heaven, existance is made whole You can’t beat it! People need that.”

“Go on.”

“It doesn’t always have to be religion. When people were stuck and there was no way out, having faith was crucial to keep going. But along came America. For a lot of immigrants, America took the place of heaven. Imagine what it was like for my grandparents. With the Pogroms, the Jew hating. There was a place you could go to truly start over. Where you can see your dreams come true. What’s that song in West Side Story. “There’s a place for us.”

He smiles.

This was it! America. Yes they were crowded into tenements. The streets weren’t paved with gold as they expected, but the power of their dreams kept becoming real. My grandparents lived to see my parents make it. The condos my father bought for them in Florida. When they lived in the shtetl– no way they could imagine a condo in Florida. Near the beach. With the sun. With bougainvillea.

They’d look at my parents house in Great Neck. How big it is. How beautiful. The Eldorado! in the garage. Those sporty fins. No one in the shtetl could imagine being sporty. Sporty? What’s that? It wasn’t part of their vocabulary. Word like sporty didn’t exist except to describe foolishness.

Sporty? America outdid their dreams ten times over. The Spaniards searched all over South America trying to find El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. And there it is in my parents’ garage, made in America.”

She’s on a roll, he listens happily

“Never mind pride. Their life was a miracle come true. You may think my parents culture is show-offy, total bullshit. And it is. It is. But fuck you. You and Mark have no right to be contemptuous, treat it like it is nothing. My grandparents, my parents did well. Not just them. Millions can tell the same story. They made a decent life for themselves. Better than that.” She laughs “the Miracle Mile on Northern Blvd.”

“What is your point, Miss rah-rah America?”

“I don’t see people’s current ideals working out so well in the future. If the ideals in the commune, and in the counter culture, are what has replaced the hope my parents and grandparents had for their children, if that is the future that people are living for, it’s going to come back to bite them. When their ideals aren’t fulfilled, there’s going to be a whole lot of angry people.”

“Interesting, I–”

“I’m not finished. Something more follows from that. I had this conversation with Dora. People need to be in awe of something. Life is too empty, too disappointing without it. When God represented that, it was right there. Mozart reaching for transcendence, composing a spine chilling requiem, almost touching God.

As people entered God’s cathedrals. Behold! The devout, their eyes lifting them into the sky, for that moment an intimation of heaven.

She continues. “With God dead, what is there without him? People are finding people to be in awe of. The Beatles. Worship celebrities? That’s what’s going to happen in America. Without God, we are left to worship celebrities. Which when you think about it is pathetic.

“Where did you read that?”

She laughs, “I didn’t. After I spoke to Dora. She got me thinking.”

Jeremy is enthusiastic: “You should write an article on that. It could be amazing if your predictions turned out to be on the money.”

For a moment they are peaceful, smiling at each other, the undertow of anger seems to have remitted.

“We talk too much. We should give our brains a rest, get out more.”

“And do what? We’ve been to Niagara Falls.”

“I don’t know. Get an egg cream.”

“This isn’t Brooklyn.”

“I guess you’re right. We’re back to the real problem. You don’t have a TV.”

Jeremy smiles: “Right.”

“I don’t think all our talking is so bad. You are getting to know me and my family.”

“Maybe…”

With the tension between them seemingly dissipated it is time to continue where they left off.

He reaches for her. “I want to know if you love me right this second. He unbuttons her blouse. She finishes unbuttoning it. She takes it off and then her skirt, folding them. He kisses her, but she’s not really into it. He has an erection and is soon inside her, but CC is not responding. She pushes him off of her. There are troubled looks on both of their faces. Questions…

“Was I hurting you?”

“Not really”

“Maybe if we try a different position.”

“I couldn’t shut my brain off.”

“I know how to fix that.”

“How?”

“A super—fuck.”

“You’re back to being Superman?”

“Superman can pump you a thousand times in 12 seconds. I’ll bet that would turn you on.”

“Don’t think so.”

If I were French” With a Brooklyn accent he suggests, “Soixante—neuf. I can get into that.”

She doesn’t answer. He continues,

“Did you ever hear of the 8 Chanukah sexual positions?”

She laughs.

“So that’s it. You want to learn the 8 Chanukah sexual positions.”

She smiles: “You’re a sex fiend.”

She is quiet, thoughtful.

“I want to try to answer your question. Do my parents still love each other after 30 years?” Funny it was your question but that’s been bothering me for a long time.”

“I already know the answer…” He starts to sing from Fiddler on the Roof

For thirty years I’ve washed your clothes…

She interrupts him trying to get them back to a more serious focus: “It matters to me a lot.”

“Truthfully, I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve never seen it. My father’s 3 marriages– maybe he was just being honest each time he closed the book.”

Feebly he jokes “Come here baby. We got to finish what we started.”

CC ignores him

“Three marriages”…she trails off, “always in love with someone new…Like you.”

“Why do you keep mentioning that. I’m not like that. There’s been Marlene Schneider and you. That’s it.”

“What was it like for you– each time your father fell in love?”

“It wasn’t that bad. The first time, when my mother found out he was cheating. That was upsetting. Very upsetting. It blew up our world…But after that? Every time he fell in love he was so happy. It was an upper for me. He’d buy me gifts, take me to Dodger games at Ebbets Field. In the winter, we went to Knick games.

“So it was nice.”

“He’d get great seats. Once he was so much in love that he got court side seats. It cost him a fortune, but that time he was sure he had finally found the one. Bonnie. She was beautiful.”

“What happened to Bonnie?”

“It didn’t last. That shook him up. After Bonnie he kept going over what he had done wrong. He was hard on himself. He got depressed, which was rare for him. But he put it all to rest when he became convinced that he had fixed the problem. I’m not sure what he decided, but he was back to being himself, sure that love was just around the corner. He just had to play his cards right.”

“Is that what you believe?”

“I really would like to see the real thing.”

“I thought we’ve found it.” Given how they are both feeling, especially they’re failure in bed, both know she is lying for both of them.

“I mean being together year after year and still loving each other.”

She laughs to herself. They’ve been in this maze before. It’s easy to find the entrance, easier to get lost…

“If that is love?” She drills down to a smile which stays on her face as this time she sings. She has an uncanny ability to mimic singers. She’s listened to Fiddler on the Roof often enough to sound like Goldie.

For twenty—five years I’ve lived with him

Fought him, starved with him For twenty—five years

my bed is his

Jeremy joins her. They point at each other

If that’s not love, what is?

(Tevye/Jeremy)

Then you love me?

I suppose I do. Goldie/CC

 

Together :

And I suppose I love you too

(Both)

It doesn’t change a thing

But even so

After twenty—five years

(with corny harmony they both sing out) It’s nice to know

 

For the moment they are happy with each other, particularly that last crazy harmony. Wasn’t bad. After that has sunk in CC continues:

“I know I keep going back to it. I keep asking myself whether my parents love each other.”

“And?”

She gets up. Covered by a blanket she goes to a mirror, studies herself. She looks very hard at herself.

“Like I said, he loved her when she looked great. And she loved him when he looked at her like that.

“When was that?”

She continues to study herself in the mirror, one angle after another. “When they’d go out.” she repeats. “Especially, when we were on our way to the club.”

Both Jeremy and CC are aware, that they are going through the motions, mindlessly repeating and repeating conversations they have already had, as usual, hoping that in that repetition something new will arise. Perhaps it is their recent failure to connect sexually.

His voice sounds victorious. “So once again it is pride, vanity. Liking to show off. Your mother is no different than your father’s Eldorado?”

“He loved his Eldorado. It was very powerful. If the Eldorado was a women it would feel like a million dollars. I told you when she saw him looking at her like that it just lit her up. I guess like what you told me about Carol, when you looked at her with love. Don’t you ever look at her like she’s beautiful?”

“Well…”

“You don’t?”

“Well…”

“So, it’s true. In the end what matters is your appearance.”

“No. I look at Carol with love, the real thing. Her appearance doesn’t matter.”

“But doesn’t that mean a lot to you?”

“Not when it comes to Carol. There is no wow.” He hesitates before continuing. “I feel tenderness. Sometimes that’s as intense as being overpowered by beauty.”

“Do you feel tenderness when you look at me?”

The answer is on his face. The answer is no.

“My looks. That’s it?”

But it isn’t just showing off. Maybe that is your father’s thing, but for me it happens when we are here alone. Think of a sunny autumn day. The foliage. It’s gorgeous. It just fills me up. That’s not showing off. It’s what something beautiful does to me, what you do to me.”

“Maybe.”

“Yeah there is a bonus to showing you off, but I feel it in my heart? The first time I saw you. Since then, again and again. I look at you and that’s what you do. What you still do. It breathes life into me, fires me up.

“And Carol?”

He tries hard to identify what he feels.

“It’s her eyes. Her lips. I don’t know. The way she is looking at me.”

As much as they tread again and again over the same subject, neither feels they are getting closer to an answer. More than ever they are aware that they can’t capture his feelings.

“I once saw this quote “Writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics. Maybe it’s the same for love. Poets try to capture it. They do but it’s gone so quickly. It’s elusive.”

“I suppose,” CC replies but that doesn’t stop her from continuing to look for a better answer.

Once again CC recalls that day at the club, when she first felt pretty. She’s already told Jeremy about it–not just about her mother’s pride. She could feel her father’s love for her growing. The look on his face was something entirely new. After they went shopping, his eyes sometimes lit up when she tried on a new outfit that was perfect, but at the club that day it was something different.

“It made me very happy that my father wanted to show me off, the same as he loved showing off my mother.”

“Is that how you feel when I look at you?”

“When it is the two of us I agree with you. You are not showing me off. You couldn’t even if you wanted to. I am your secret.”

“Was your mother jealous that day at the club?”

“Not at all. That day, he adored me. And she took full credit. It was her glory to claim, her good genes…, but also her preparation of me. Whatever grace I had came from her.”

“Still!”

“No. She still gets those looks from my father, far more than me.”

“I was asking because I’ve seen families where that isn’t true. At restaurants, the father loves his daughter more than his wife. She’s gotten fat or just old. Or she’s fine, but his 17 year old daughter is incredible.”

“I know. Nature has made it like that. Like June is for roses. Beauty peaks at that age. That’s when men go ape-shit, fall in love, propose.”

“So I have passed my peak?”

He laughs, “Are you kidding?”

And then. Silence. They look at each other trying to keep their smile alive. But they feel awkward as silence descends on them, surrounds them. Their unsuccessful lovemaking, the way they are repeating themselves now, talking over and over about the same thing. Have they reached that point that love eventually comes to? Has their perfection been exhausted? All that’s left is repetition, hoping memories of it can fire it up again.  That often sustains couples long after the bloom is off the rose. As their relationships age it often doesn’t satisfy couples.

But then she drops her blanket and is naked. And everything is new.

 

June 27, 2017
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

Summary of Commodore

1876. Cornelius Vanderbilt lies close to death in his New York townhouse. Outside, a carnival-like atmosphere of reporters, those who made him a household name, gather to wait for the end. Cantankerous old Vanderbilt is not done yet. He’s not ready to die. He allows a journalist, Michael Burch, inside. He’s worried about his legacy. He intends to make sure his story is told properly, the way it should be told. How a dirt-poor farm kid from Staten Island grows up to be first among America’s tycoons: admired by the public, consulted by Presidents, and feared by anyone who screwed him.

Burch and Vanderbilt go at it. Vanderbilt has more than an earful to dish out, unending amounts of piss and vinegar ready to be spewed. Also spit.  He is anything but easy, but the story is there.

Age 11. Vanderbilt quit school in the 5th grade , partly in defiance  of his beloved teacher, who regarded him as an opportunity to let out his animosity on a deserved  victim.  He was like his older brother. He didn’t do his homework and quit school young.  Both were groomed by Cornelius Sr., an illiterate man who was full of get rich schemes.  He always went for the easy way.   Little wonder that the Vanderbilts were assigned little status  in the community.  Poverty generation after generation. And their own fault.   Even after he rose to great heights, Cornelius couldn’t spell the simplest words. Burch is genuinely curious, amazed really.   How did this kid end up the richest man in the world?

The story is huge, not quite Christ like, where in the retelling  a common man becomes God, more like regular guy becomes king. Even then the regular guy is not from a Dickens story, where virtue and hard work are duly rewarded.  Vanderbilt is a ferocious competitor, a cursing, Pete Rose of a man.  Pete Rose got more hits than anyone who has ever played baseball. Legitimately. Yet he is banned from Baseball’s Hall of Fame by a committee that won’t forgive him for gambling on his team.  Didn’t matter that he never bet against his team.   He broke one of their sacred rules.  Pete Rose and Vanderbilt were kindred spirits.   Both did whatever had to be done. Both refused to lose. They  didn’t understand the word `no’. Vanderbilt  found a way. It wasn’t always zippity clean, but it aways was legal.

The Commodore was born in 1793, when New York and America were still young, at a noisy time of dire and ordinary poverty when, despite the lofty rhetoric we now memorialize, in bad times people starved to death, and most, barely got by.  No one could possibly imagine the meteoric trajectory that would materialize, not only for Cornelius Vanderbilt , but for America.

He started with a small sailboat at 16, taking passengers across the bay from Staten Island to Manhattan. At night he delivered freight. It didn’t occur to that boy that one day he might rule the financial universe.  His business plan during the fist year was inspired.  It was resolute. He was determined to pay back his mother’s loan for his boat after one year. He paid her 10 times over, just like he bragged he would.

He was very good at what he did, or if not, he made himself very good.  At 16 his focus was on being able to provide what his mother needed. When effort and determination were necessary it could be assumed.  If guile and ingenuity were required?  Also no problem.  That came to him naturally.

As a shrewd  business man he preferred being thought of as stupid.  (Not in his personal life, but that’s a different story.) His crudeness was an advantageous façade. The stupider others thought he was, the easier to outsmart them.  In the classroom he may have been a dolt, but elsewhere… He designed the engine for the fastest ship in the world.  During the insane Gold Rush years, it was Vanderbilt who dreamt up and delivered the fastest route to California.  Everyone else had frenzied travelers, rushing to get rich, climb the mountains of  Panama, passing bandits and barrooms.  Vanderbilt went through Nicaragua.  His early wealth came from that little project.  And so it went. He worked without vacation for 60 years, got into fist fights well into his 50’s.  In his 70’s, when others his age were settling into a comfortable rocking chair, he changed from ships to railroads without  a bump.  It never occurred to him  to quit.  He  followed the same business principle that  energized him from the beginning.  He loved making money.  He went where it led him.

Vanderbilt’s  story should appropriately end inside Grand Central Station.   Not even commuters hurrying along, can pass through Grand Central’s main concourse without experiencing the presence of a powerful architectural will.  The eyes are swept upward.  Our vision soars, uncontained.  The station’s vastness captures even the reluctant soul. In that sense the station most resembles a cathedral.  It was finished three years after the Brooklyn Bridge, four years after the Suez Canal, during  an era, when everywhere, men were building huge monuments to modern capability, the trans continental railroad, the  Eiffel Tower, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty. It was a time celebrating the greatness of man, a time when can-do people believed their triumphs were just beginning.

The God fearing  were offended.   To them the spirit of the age was hubris.   We were creating Towers of Babel. Perhaps now,  Grand Central Station might be spared that charge.  Or maybe not.  It wasn’t a museum for the worship of awesome man made treasures, but it was a wonder, the towering portal to what was, in its day, the Empire State. Grand Central Station was far more Vanderbilt than his other wild fantasy.

He wanted to build a giant statue in Central Park, where he, the largest employer of men in the nation, with more money than the U.S. Treasury, where he and a giant likeness of George Washington would tower over  Central Park.  Make no mistake, he was truly the king of his era.   Lesser men, generals and statesmen often were memorialized with  statues in the park.  But still, although George Washington may have been his idol from childhood on,  and many at the time,  might have agreed with  Commodore assessment of his importance, future generation would have found his pomposity laughable. Fortunately he was talked out of that project.

Grand Central Station is exactly right.  It is a place where millions upon millions  of travelers rush through, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. It is a passageway, not an end point.

Vanderbilt was the Steve Jobs, the Jeff Bezos, the Warren Buffet of his day, forever creating and reinventing projects, invariably contesting the way others did things. The public was ga-ga about him, so much so that, in an envious fit, Mark Twain lost control. He took a shot at him, ridiculing the public’s ape like fascination.  Twain couldn’t have been further off.    He presented Vanderbilt as a forever hungry man, for whom nothing would ever be enough.  He didn’t understand that’s what the public liked about him. He arose from them, and remained one of them. Hungry.  They liked the spectacular projects going up everywhere.  It excited them.  It was a different  age. Not microchips,   huge undertakings captured the public’s wonder.  Even now, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, Grand Central Station, the Brooklyn Bridge bring millions from far and wide to gaze at  what men can do. Despite his spitting and cussing, his crabbiness and bitterness,  Commodore infuses the reader with his powerful spirit.  But they will also be present when Vanderbilt experiences his biggest failure, when he does what every man must do, lose.   He dies.

 

Commodore at Amazon

August 4, 2016
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

A Plea to Black Moderates (including Oprah)

After Ferguson two New York City policeman were assassinated, then the five at Dallas and three in Baton Rouge. As could be expected from the President, and throughout the black community, the reaction has been both shock and sympathy for the fallen officers and their families. They are calling call for love, not hate, reconciliation not violence, reactions that should be expected of them and the only hope that can see us through.

 

But no matter how heartfelt their reaction has been, we can expect little improvement in the hostility towards policemen expressed by Black Lives Matter protesters and others’ fury about unarmed black men being shot by the police. What can make a great deal of difference is for moderates to straighten the misinformation that animates a good deal of the hostility.

 

From the very beginning of the narrative that the police have been shooting innocent black men, the media has played up racism as the motive. Starting with Ferguson, a shooting that the Grand Jury took the unusual step of making their deliberations public, then followed by Obama’s Justice Department which independently went over the evidence. There was no question that the policeman involved was legitimately defending himself. There was gunpowder on Michael Brown’s hands from trying to grab the officer’s gun. He did not have his hands up. He was charging the officer. These facts were available to any reporter who did a minimum of research. Yet Ferguson is cited again and again and again by the media as an example of the police targeting innocent black men.

 

Following Ferguson, Philadelphia’s police chief asked the Justice Department to study the problem there.  In Philadelphia there are six times the number of shootings by the police as in NYC.   The Justice Department studied  the pattern of OIS (officer involved shootings) when the suspect turned out to be unarmed (a great many of those shot were suspected of having arms).  Sure enough 80% of those shot owing to  “a misinterpreted threat perception” were black and their average age was 20. However the threat perception failure rate for white policemen was 6.8% with black suspects.  For black policemen it was  11.4% and for hispanic policemen it was 16.8%.  So apparently fear of the black suspects and acting on that fear was least among white policemen.  One other statistic is worth noting.  In keeping with the belief that having to patrol  dangerous places is the main factor behind  OIS, a map of Philadelphia was made which clearly shows that OIS, by far, most commonly occurred where there is the highest amount of crime and homicides, particularly districts 22 and 25. In black middle class neighborhoods no one was shot.

 

Why has the media not presented the facts about Ferguson? Why has there not been more awareness of the Philadelphia study? Most of us who watch the news know how often they amp up happenings, to capture the most viewers. This is true of hurricane coverage as much as racially charged incidents, but there is another factor operating here. The media has been afraid to appear racist by not going along with the Black Lives Matter perspective.

 

I assume similar motivations exist for someone like Oprah or Mayor Dinkins of New York and I should add President Obama. They don’t want to appear to be on white people’s side in these controversies. It is seen as a betrayal. It should be noted that when the Justice Department’s findings totally exonerated the white policeman in Ferguson, it released this information with a condemnation of the Ferguson Police Department for their racist policies.

 

Even after the two New York City policemen were executed by a man furious with what he had been told happened in Ferguson, Obama held back from cooling things down.  He was against shooting policemen he said and he was also against the rioting that followed the grand jury’s announcement of their findings. But this man, who considers himself to be the president of all the people, could not bring himself to proclaim Officer Wilson’s innocence.  He did not mention that Officer Wilson had never used his gun before. The best he could do is this.   During a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College, a historically black school he said to the crowd:

“Officer Wilson, like anybody else who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process and reasonable-doubt standards…  And if there is uncertainty about what happened, then we can’t just charge him anyway because what happened was a tragedy.”

 

So I am making a plea to black moderates. Before any more policemen are killed it is not enough to whisper platitudes. Your reluctance to speak loudly is understandable but too much is at stake here for you to hold back. Why does no one bring into the narrative the fact that during the Civil war 360,000 white men from the north lost their lives trying to free black slaves? Your courage is needed. It could save lives.

 

 

 

July 5, 2016
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

CC: 1ST chapters

 CHAPTER 1

71 year-old Mark Gordon, youthful in appearance, and his son Robert, are visiting Mark’s sister, CC, at her dark depressing Brooklyn apartment. He is a psychiatrist, his son a junior at Yale, which is apparent from his sweatshirt. 68 year-old CC, is skinny, almost anorectic. Her face is wrinkled. She looks older than her age. She lies on a bedroom pillow on her sofa with a cover over her legs.

Mark has entered the apartment with his own key, carrying a boxed new hi definition TV. His son carries a new sound system.

Mark calls from the open door, “CC?… Surprise.”

CC isn’t smiling. Her voice is unappreciative.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“Well you watch so much TV. I thought you should join the 21st century.”

“Fuck you Mr. White Knight.”

“Fuck you Miss Evil Empire.”

There are several photos on her desk. As Mark works on setting up the TV, Robert studies one of them. It shows CC as a 6 year-old on one knee, wearing a baseball cap with a big smile. Mark, 9, also with a smile, stands behind her with a baseball bat on his shoulder. They are gorgeous children.

Mark is standing behind the pictures. “Turn it around. Which one are you looking at?

Robert turns the photo towards his father.

Mark smiles, “Oh that’s when I made Little League all star.

CC snaps sarcastically, directing her comment to Robert.

“So did your Uncle Jay.”

Robert holds up another photo. Mark laughs.

The photo shows a a beautiful dame, Lauren Bacallish, sultry, around 30 in galoshes with a Kent coming out of the corner of her mouth, her fox fur coat over her nightgown.

“That’s your grandmother. Grandpa took that picture. She was a beauty wasn’t she?

“She was.”   CC answers.

Mark continues, “Could have been a movie star.”

Mark addresses CC, “Remember how we used to choose who was going to wake her up for car pool. How scared we were

FLASHBACK:

Jay, Mark and CC are in front of their mother’s door. Jay is 11, Mark 9, and CC 6. They are adorable, moving their closed fists up and down as they chant together

“One. Two. Three.”

Just before they shoot, unseen by CC, Mark catches Jay’s eye. He silently mouths “One”. They throw their clenched fists down, and shout excitedly,

“ Shoot!”

All three have chosen one. They repeat the exercise and again Mark cheats. Again unseen, he mouths “two” to Jay.

“One.  Two.    Three.    Shoot.”

Having put down one finger, CC must suffer the consequences.  She has to be the one to wake up Evelyn their Mom. She is hesitant.

Jay teases her,

“You should be good at it. You’re her boop-sala. Right Mark?”

Mark joins Jay giggling. He adds his own teasing: “Boopsi?”

Mark and Jay find that funny. They laugh happily

CC opens the door. With the curtains drawn, it is practically pitch black in her mother’s bedroom. Slowly she tip -toes towards the monster, her sleeping mother. She almost trips. Due to the noise from her stumble, protecting her sleep, her mother pulls her quilt closer to her face. CC freezes. She watches her mother closely. Then danger remitting, she moves forward a step or two, all the while keeping her eyes on the monster. Finally, she is bedside.

She whispers nervously

“Mom?”

No response.

Slightly louder.

“Mom. It’s snowing.”

Half asleep, eyes still closed, she answers in a snarling tone that used to, but even now can scare CC:

“No it’s not.”

CC holds her ground

“Mom! It’s snowing. 3 inches. It’s your turn in the car pool.”

Mrs. Gordon’s tone is angry.

“Go away.”

CC’s determination matches her mother’s nastiness

“Mom!!”

“Okay. Okay.”

Still in her nightgown and slippers, with the children following her, she ambles past Mr. Gordon, who is drinking coffee in the kitchen. Eyes half closed, she goes to the front closet, and puts a fox fur coat over her nightgown. Eyes puffy, she puts on her sunglasses. She slips her slippers into galoshes. Mr. Gordon is there with his Polaroid. He thinks the scene is goofy enough to be picture worthy. With a big smile he peels off the picture as it comes out of his Polaroid. . It’s the picture on CC’s desk.

The flash back continues. She is driving with her sunglasses on, smoking her Kent. She’s only half awake. The three children plus two other neighborhood kids are looking out the car window. One of them coughs from the smoke.

Still in a sleep besotted voice, Mrs. Gordon answers

“Okay. Okay.”

She opens her window a bit.

A new childhood photo is studied by Robert, this one of Mark and CC same age as the last photo

Mark is showing off his biceps in profile, fist tight, elbow bent (the classic “Look at my muscle” pose). CC is turned to the camera with her hand overlying the bump on Mark’s arm.

“That has a story, Mark tell his son”

FLASHBACK

Again CC is six. A neighbor boy has pushed her down to the ground. He is poking at her collar bone, telling her to get up. Mark, who is smaller than the bully, steps up and gives him a whack on the head, sending him to the ground. CC looks at her brother adoringly.

He points at the bully menacingly.

“That’s my sister.”

Addressing Robert, “I used to watch out for your aunt.”

In an unfriendly voice CC answers him. “He wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Robert studies another photo.

“Let me see that one.” CC asks.

Robert brings it to her. As she studies the picture of her mother, CC’s face softens. It is a black and white photo of their mother standing at the top of the stair landing, shot from below.

FLASHBCK

CC, again 6, is down at the bottom of the stairs with her father as they wait for Evelyn to appear. Clearly frustrated by the wait, CC looks at her father for encouragement.

In a kind voice he reassures her,

“You know Mom. Everything has to be just right.”

He picks her up. CC croons

“M-m-m–m Daddy, you smell so good.”

They hug. He puts her down. She smiles up at him. He smiles back happily. He hands her a Lifesaver.

“Cherry right?”

“The red one.”

“Don’t tell your mother.”

“She lets me have candy.”

“But not before supper.”

Beryl, their young black maid, watches cheerfully.

Studying CC’s face, her father moves his hand through her hair. She is delighted, as is he.

“You got it from your mother. One day you’re going to break a lot of hearts”

Mrs. Gordon makes her entrance on the landing. She looks amazing. CC gasps. She is thrilled.

“Mommy, Mommy. You look so beautiful!”

Beryl watches affectionately, but also with a touch of amusement at white people’s foolishness.

Still holding the photo, joyous, tearful, CC whispers to herself

“Beautiful.”

Mark and Robert finish setting up the system. Mark turns the TV on, steps back to take a look.

“Not too shabby.”

He looks to CC for approval but it is not forthcoming.

“Who said I wanted a new TV?”

“But look at that picture!”

CC moves a bit on the sofa like she is trying to get up.

“Stay where you are. What can I get you?”

Blunt and charmless CC answers him

“I’m cold. Tea. I have jasmine. Do you want some? How about you Robert?

Mark shouts from the kitchen: “Where do you keep your tea cups?”

Still crabby

“They’re there. Above the sink. Where do you think they are?”

Mark can be heard rummaging in the kitchen. Suddenly there is the sound of a dish breaking.

Furiously she admonishes him.

“All that school. Mr. Shrink. Still breaking dishes.”

“I just-“

Her voice even more nasty

“Pay attention to what you’re doing.”

“Just-“

Witchy, mean she shouts

“I don’t want to hear it.”

As Mark and his son drive home, Robert is upset

“Dad, why do you let her talk to you like that?”

“She has no one else.”

“Still.”

“I promised your grandmother. Robert, she’s my sister.”

“But-“

“You have to understand. She wasn’t always like that.”

Glowingly he adds,

“ We were very close.”

Flashback

The three of them Mark 9, Jay 11, CC 6, are excited to be in Miami during their Christmas break. They are running in every direction checking out their room at the Fontainbleu. Mark puts the TV on. CC goes to the balcony and looks out at the ocean. Jay opens the mini fridge.

“Look at all that Coca Cola. “

He opens a bottle.

“Jay, let me have a sip.”

“Open your own.”

“Come on. I’m thirsty.”

Jay passes him the bottle and he takes a drink. Mark offers CC a sip.

“You want some?”

“Hey Mark. I didn’t say you could give it to her. She’s got cooties.”

“She does not. Open another bottle.”

Mark hands the Coke to CC)

Jay goes back to the refrigerator. Mrs. Gordon enters the room. She is stunning in a bright lavender bathing suit. She admonishes the children

“You better not let your father see you took something from the fridge. It costs a fortune. Here give me your coats. I’ll put them in the closet.”

She brings their coats to the closet and hangs them. Mr. Gordon enters the room. Admiringly, he watches Mrs. Gordon in her bathing suit, with her arms lifted hanging the coats.

“God Evelyn. You are something else. I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

She smiles with a stop being silly expression. The children are hurriedly taking off their clothes and putting on bathing suits handed to them by Mrs. Gordon. Mrs. Gordon picks up the clothes. Ira is as excited as the children. He tells them they can go down alone.

“I’ll meet all of you by the water.”

As they are about to leave. Mrs. Gordon shouts to them.

“Wait.”

Jay is opening the door. She is putting lotion on CC.

“Jay, get back here. You need Coppertone.”

Jay does as ordered. Mrs. Gordon wipes it all over him. Mark doesn’t go to his mother.

“You’re not putting that stuff on me.”

“Then you’re not going swimming.”

“So. I won’t.”

Ira gives him a shove

“Get over there.”

Mark does as ordered. As she rubs the lotion on him she speaks affectionately

“Why do you always have to make trouble?”

As soon as the children close the door. Ira lowers Evelyn’s bathing suit and starts touching her breasts.

“Get going Ira. I don’t want them near the water without you.”

He jumps down the hotel stairs and beats the children to the beach exit. They have gotten off on the wrong floor but then are guided to the beach

Running through the sand Jay and Mark are racing to get to the water. Running as fast as she can, CC trails them. As they reach the turf Jay shouts:

“I won.”

“No. I won. You had to touch the water.” Mark answers

“Who said?”

They hear their father and turn towards him. He’s already in the water. They watch him ride in a wave. Jay and Mark rush forward and dive into an oncoming wave. CC enters the ocean one cautious step at a time. She holds her stance as a wave crashes in front of her. Her father watches her.

“It’s freezing!”

“Just dive under the next wave.” Her father calls out. He moves towards her

She does as directed and proceeds forward. When the water is chest high her hands are held high in the air as she bobs up and down. Once again Mr. Gordon rides a wave in. Soon all three try to imitate their father, but their timing is off.

Mr. Gordon shouts to them

“You have to find the right wave.”

Jay gets the hang of it. He’s all smiles as a wave carries him speedily to the shore. At the end of his run he stands up triumphantly and immediately reenters the water to repeat it. Waist high Mark and CC are still not having success. They watch Jay with a forlorn expression as their father and Jay grab the same wave. Their father approaches them.

Mr. Gordon approaches CC.

“Come here.”

Hand in hand he walks her a bit further into the ocean. A wave knocks both of them down She swallows some water. Mr. Gordon lifts her in the air and hits her back to clear her breathing. After gagging a bit, she’s not only okay, she’s an eager beaver. They move further in to the water.   When they have reached the proper depth, he holds her horizontally and when a wave comes he glides her in. She has a good run. She gets up excitedly, shaking her hands, races back in to the water and repeats another one. Mark, meanwhile is continuing to fail.

“Come here.” Mr. Gordon shouts to Mark.

“No I can do it myself.”

Mr. Gordon’s voice escalates. He’s a bit angry

“Come here.”

Mark is equally angry

“I can do it.”

Mrs. Gordon arrives. They all join her. She towels Jay and CC drying them. Mark takes his own towel. CC’s cold. Mrs. Gordon hands her a sweatshirt. She puts baby oil on CC legs then hands Jay the bottle. Jay puts some on his face. He offers the bottle to Mark. He waves him off.

Mr. Gordon has a Spalding. The boys immediately take the field. He throws pop ups to each of them. They are both ballplayers, relaxed and sure handed.

“Throw it over my head.” Mark shouts

Mr. Gordon does so and Mark races back, diving to make a spectacular catch. Mr. Gordon’s face lights up. He is proud to show off his athletic sons in public. Jay also takes off. Trotting, he catches a fly and throws the ball back.

Mrs. Gordon has secured two beach chairs and spread a blanket in front, not far from where they are playing. On a transistor radio, rock and roll loudly lays out a rhythm.

Imitating Vince Scully, Mark narrates his own outfield play. He shouts excitedly,

“Snider charges…”

He does a Duke Snider shoestring catch, grabbing the ball an inch from the ground and then doing Snider’s famous somersault. As he completes the somersault, landing on his feet, he triumphantly holds the ball in the air. Evelyn watches him. Smiling, she is also proud that he is so graceful, but no where near as proud as Ira, beaming as he catches other people’s reaction to Mark’s catch. One on looker does a thumbs up, which makes Ira’s day.

Mrs. Gordon shouts to the boys

“Don’t knock yourself out. We have to visit Nanny.”

 

Towards evening they are all in Nanny’s dining room seated around a large round oak table with thick glass covering it. Beneath the glass is picture after picture of grandma’s brothers, sisters, parents, children and grandchildren. They are dressed up, posed and formal trying to look distinguished for posterity. Not a smile among them. Everywhere around the apartment there are slightly yellowing crocheted doilies, pillow covers, and the large bed spread that must have taken a very long time to complete. They are presumably family heirlooms, some brought from Russia , but many crocheted by Nanny herself. None of the Gordon’s are fond of them. They give an old fashioned musty look to the condo, but they are treated with respect,

The smells of grandma’s cooking are everywhere. The silverware has been polished and formally set out next to Grandma’s best fleishig dishes. A seltzer bottle with its squirting top is placed in front of Ira for him to control the dispensing of the soda. As usual Grandma and Mrs. Gordon do the serving of course after course.

Stomachs full, Jay and Mark are busting out of their shorts. They are both bored.

“Can we be excused?” Jay asks. “The Giants are on?”

“There’s still dessert, strudel,” answers Nanny.

Mark and Jay look at their mother with pleading eyes? She addresses Ira’s mother.

“Mom. I think we are busting out of our clothes.”

“And members of the clean plate club. “ CC eagerly adds.

“Which says something about your cooking. We all love your strudel.” Evelyn tells her.

“Mom the Giants.” Ira tells her definitively.

“Go.” Nanny tells the boys.

Ira kisses her forehead. “Thanks Mom.”

He leaves with the boys. Evelyn starts to clear the table.

“Go. CC and me will take care of it. She is the best dishwasher in the family.”

Nanny washes. CC dries. As soon as they finish Nanny sits on a kitchen chair. She calls CC over, points to her lap. CC climbs on.

“You are the best dish dryer in the whole world… What’s happening in school?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you learning how to spell?”

“Yes.”

“Spell antidisestablishmentarianism.”

“A N T I..disestablich?”

“Ment.”

“A N T I D.”

“I’m teasing. That’s the longest word in the dictionary.”

“A N T I D”

“Honey. You don’t have to spell it but I want to continue where we left off Thanksgiving. Okay?”

With a studious expression CC begins

“Daddy’s father was Joseph.”

“Your grandfather. He would have been crazy over you. He was so smart. Once he was walking by your father while he was doing his math homework. “That’s’ wrong” He said. “You have to multiply not divide.” Where had he learned that? They didn’t teach math in the shtetl. How do you think your father got all hundreds on his math regents?“

She points to her head. “Brains from his father.”

She squeezes her knee . “From your grandfather… Go on.”

“Joseph was the son of Joshua.”

“What did Joshua do?”

“He made gold jewelry.”

“Beautiful gold jewelry. Look at my earrings? You can touch them.”

CC touches one of her grandmother’s gold earrings.

“Nice aren’t they?”

“I love them.”

“They are yours when I die. Okay go on.”

“Joshua was the son of Pincus…Pincus was…I don’t remember.”

Her grandmother pinches her

“Ow!”

With a strong Yiddish accent she continues:

“Pincus was the son of Samuel. He studied the Torah morning til night. He felt very close to God… Say it again.”

“Pincus was the son of Samuel.”

“And Samuel’s father?”

“I don’t know.”

She pinches CC harder than the first time. CC flinches but says nothing.

“Samuel was the son of Joseph, another Joseph. He wouldn’t be too happy that he’s disappeared so soon. Do you want to disappear forever?”

“No.”

“So respect Joseph. He was a chazan. They say he had a voice that would make the angels cry. Who did that Joseph belong to?”

“Moishe.”

“Right Moses. And his father?”

“Solomon.”

CC’s grandmother smiles and resumes dramatically:

“King of Israel.”

“He was the king of Israel?”

“No just named after the king. But he was wise like Solomon.”

Her grandmother shakes her finger at CC.

“Get it right. Every last one of them is in your blood.  Beautiful music, brilliance, wisdom, studiousness, they’re in you waiting for you to find them.   If you honor them you will inherit their abilities. They are you if you let them be you. If you dishonor them you will be alone and weak.”

Her grandmother takes out her homemade cookie bin.

“You can have one.”

CC tries to take two cookies

In a scolding voice, “Just one.”

The children are all in bed at the hotel that night

“Did grandma pinch you?” Mark asks

“So what.” CC snaps back

“I don’t like her pinching. She shouldn’t pinch.”

“You probably deserved it. What were you doing?”

“Nothing. She kept saying Zeyn Shtil. I don’t even know what that means.”

“It means quiet.”

“I didn’t want to be quiet.”

“So you deserved to be pinched.”

“I like grandma Anne more. She doesn’t pinch.”

“But her cookies aren’t that good. Graham crackers.”

“I like graham crackers” Mark claims

“No you don’t. How come you make things up?”

Jay admonishes the two of them.

“Shhh. Let me sleep.”

 

 

Eleven year-old CC is with her mother at a department store. They are examining a pair of slacks on the racks. She holds up a pair on its hangar and examines it. Looks at them at several different angles.

Mrs. Gordon supplies her oft repeated philosophy

“If in doubt do without-“

CC supplies the rest

“If you’ll regret it, get it. “

Mrs. Gordon smiles affectionately.

In the dressing room Mrs. Gordon is studying the red skirt CC has put on.

“Try the purple one again.”

CC pouts.

“I like this one. This is the hundredth skirt.”

Mrs. Gordon takes a deep breath

“It’s the sixth. I’m tired too. Just try it.”

CC returns wearing the purple skirt.

“Now the red one.”

CC returns wearing the red skirt.

“I’m pretty sure the purple. Try it again.”

CC rolls her eyes. Completely focused on her mission, her mother ignores her. But when she returns her mother’s eyes light up, pleased by the way she looks.

“Now isn’t that better?” She pulls in the waist as she speaks.

“Much better.”

CC is unhappy.

“You’re going to have to trust me.”

The two of them are having lunch at the Stern’s Department store restaurant  CC has taken on a huge slice of coconut cake.

“Honey sit up straight… Take smaller bites.”

Her voice is harsh. She is irritated by CC’s inadequacies, but she knows her daughter is teachable. At the same time Mrs. Gordon is more than happy being with her beautiful daughter and seeing the pleasure she is taking in the cake. She winks at a woman at the next table who is also enjoying CC’s ardor with her slice of cake.

Later that afternoon Mr. Gordon is watching a Yankee game with Jay. Smiling, Mrs. Gordon enters with CC. She is carrying the bags from her shopping venture. CC plops down on the sofa, exhausted.

“How did you do?” Mr. Gordon asks.

“Great. I got this really nice skirt for CC. And some blouses for me. The skirt will be perfect for barbecues at the club. CC try it on for your father.”

“Do I have to?”

“Yes you have to.”

CC takes the bag her mother offers her and leaves the room, her facial expression dramatizing her oppression. She soon returns with the purple skirt on, still irritated with what is being asked of her. Mrs. Gordon holds the skirt in at her waist. CC is standing very lazily.

“Stop looking shlumadicka. Stand up straight.”

She does as directed, but manages to make fun of her mother by standing up straight then slouching then standing up straight. Her father appreciates the humor. Her mother is indifferent.

“Do you like it CC?” Mr. Gordon asks

CC’s eyes roll.

“Well you look beautiful.” He means it. “Let me see the blouses.”

 

It is a lazy afternoon in February 1956. Outside the wind is howling. Occasionally rattling is heard from an unknown source. Mark has a bunch of friends in his room. They are rambunctious, pushing each other down on the bed, jumping on each other, laughing away. Several have pulled off their sweaters and T Shirts. The thermostat is set at 73. One of the boys notices CC at the open door watching them. He closes the door. Mark opens it.

“Come on CC. You can come in.”

She is excited to be included. They close the door. They soon are back at it. screaming and giggling away as she is tossed around. One of them suddenly pulls up CC sweater. It is seemingly not a problem. She has not started to develop. All the boys stare, to see for themselves. She pulls it back down. And within a few minutes it is ancient history as they return to tussling.   But then she is hot and she takes her sweater off..

Mrs. Gordon opens the door and sees CC bare chested.

“CC come out here.”

She does as requested. Mrs. Gordon closes the door

“Please put your sweter back on.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a girl.”

“Mo-o-om.”

“Just do it.”

She returns to the room and puts on her sweater. They keep an innocent look on their face as they return to tossing each other around. But although they are laughing, almost pointedly, the fun is gone

 

 

Mark and his father are in Mr. Gordon’s basement workshop . Mark is an eighth grader. Mr. Gordon is cutting through a two by four while Mark watches him. He notices Mark is unhappy. He is irritated.

“What’s wrong Mark?”

“It’s my science fair project and you’re doing the whole thing.”

“That’s not true. You had the idea.”

“But I wanted to make it myself.”

“You’re too young to use a table saw. It’s dangerous.”

“So teach me how to use it.”

“I don’t know. … Your mother would kill me if…”

“I’ll be careful. Show me.”

“Okay, but not a word to her.”

The table saw’s sound is loud and at first frightening. Mark is at the controls, lining up the wood for a cut. His father is watching every move. Suddenly, Mark cries out:

He is screaming hysterically.

“Ow-oooh!”

Blood is spurting out of his finger.

“Damn’ you. I knew it. How did you do that?”

His screams continue

“Quiet. It’s nothing.”

Mr. Gordon grabs a paper towel and presses it around Mark’s finger.

“Keep this towel on it.   Press hard.”

Mark removes the towel to look.

“Keep it on.” His father screams. “ Keep the pressure on it.”

Mr. Gordon opens a cabinet and brings out his first aide kit. Soon enough the bleeding reduces to oozing. Mr. Gordon dabs it with iodine. Mark screams from the burning.

More philosophical than angry, “It serves you right.” He examines the wound, bandages it tightly. “You’re lucky you don’t need stitches. That’s the last time I let you near that saw.”

A week later the family is seated in the auditorium of Lawrence Junior High.

On stage the principal makes his announcements.

“This year the winner of the science fair… For his The Air We Breath exhibit… Mark Gordon. This is the second year in a row that he has won.”

There is loud applause. Mark’s friends whoop it up. Mark maneuvers in front of CC, Jay, his mother and his father to get to the aisle. His father pats him on the tuchas as he goes by. He gets to the stage, shakes hands with the principal. Mark’s eyes go to his father as he is handed the certificate. They are both proud, but especially Mr. Gordon. He nods Mark who nods back. A picture is taken with the principal shaking his hand. Mark is less conscious of his triumph than of his father’s pride. He looks back again at his beaming father then breathes a sigh of relief.

The next morning, a Saturday, they are all together for breakfast

“How does it feel to be the science fair champ?” CC asks

“I didn’t win. He did.”

“Who is he?” Mrs. Gordon asks sharply

Meekly Mark replies, “Dad.”

Also sharply “I didn’t hear you.” Mr. Gordon continues.

Mark doesn’t answer.

“Next year don’t come to me. You are going to do your project yourself.”

Mr. Gordon looks at Mrs. Gordon for validation. He doesn’t get it . Rather her expression is that he has messed up again, a look that is familiar to him.

“Who wants more pancakes?” she asks the children

They all raise their hand. She gives the pancakes to the children but denies them to Mr. Gordon.

“You could lose 5 lbs.”

Mr. Gordon takes over the grill and pours 6 more pancakes. Disapprovingly, Mrs. Gordon stares at him.

“You can only have 1 of those”.

He puts 3 on his plate, gives CC the remaining 3.

 

 

April,1959, Marks room. Mark is 14, CC 11. The Platter’s My Prayer is playing on the radio as Mark, with his girl friend, arms tightly wrapped around each other, dance a slow dance. Once again CC is standing at the open door watching them. Why Do Fools Fall in Love comes on. Mark simply has to look at CC and they become a couple. The two of them do a fantastic Philly. As the music stops CC continues to look adoringly at Mark. Mark’s girlfriend watches enviously. She shouts over the music to CC.

“I like your moves. You’re as good as Bunny on American Bandstand.”

“What about Mark’s?”

“He’s better than Don. The two of you.”

When the music ends CC looks at her watch

“American Bandstand is on. Let’s go to the family room

While tasting the icing to a cake she is working on in the kitchen, Mrs. Gordon is listening happily to the sounds of rock coming from the family room. She does a few steps, shakes her ass as she sucks on her finger full of icing.

 

A Sunday afternoon in 1958 at the Cedarhurst Golf Club, on the other side of the huge sliding glass doors just outside the dining room, Mr. Gordon is standing in front of a long barbecue grill looking things over. He looks into the dining room. Gorgeous flowers are everywhere. An ice sculpture of a golfer teeing off has a spotlight on it. r. A resplendent assortment of cold cuts, sliced turkey, pastrami, corned beef, chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, pickles, celery and carrot sticks occupy several tables. On separate tables are cookies, pastries of every variety, a spread worthy of a fine bar mitsvah. Evelyn signals him to return to the table, which he does. Mrs. Gordon has already placed a salad in front of the children. CC and Mark are fussing with it, but Jay has made progress.

Ira, bring me two spare ribs.

How do you want them?

Doesn’t matter.

CC speaks up, “ Bring me two burnt ones like you like, Daddy.”

“Hamburgers? Hot Dogs? Lamb Chops? Steaks? Come back with me and tell them what you want.”

He returns to the barbecue grill. With the three of them Greeting Evelyn with a kiss on her cheek Anne proudly sits down next to her in the chair vacated by Mr. Gordon. She’s a vain pretty woman, with large diamonds on her fingers and rubies around her wrist. She and Evelyn go way back. The two of them were the queens of the Midwood High cafeteria in Brooklyn. They were called Betty and Veronica (from the Archie comic books) behind their backs but it didn’t matter. They defined the in crowd.

Things are somewhat more complicated now, but they still preside at the club, at least among the sizable percentage of women for whom looks matter a lot. It has been this way for so long that they take it for granted as the prerogatives of being so pretty.

“How was the wedding?” Evelyn asks Anne.

“Beautiful. Beautiful. They had it at Leonards.”

“What did you wear?”

She listens closely as Anne lays it out.

“You haven’t seen it. I bought this short black dress with a scoop neck with pearls around the collar. The waist comes in and the skirt flairs out.”

“With your legs that must have been something. Which shoes did you wear?”

“My black Yves St Laurent heels with the gold strap. You know the ones.”

“Oooh. Did Abe take pictures?”

“The wedding photographer took a picture of us. I’ll ask my niece for a copy.”

“Good. I can’t wait to see it. How did your niece look?”   “

“Stunning. She was a beautiful bride.”

Seeing that Mr, Gordon is on his way back to the table. Anne gives Evelyn a peck on the cheek and leaves. Mr. Gordon returns with a smile and a full plate of ribs. He has a heroic look on his face, like they were at the beach and parched and he has traipsed 10,000 yards to bring back soda for everyone. He gives Evelyn her spare ribs, and CC hers. The boys have gotten their own food. His heroics are short lived.

“I didn’t say I wanted them burnt like yours.”

“I’ll go back and get different ones.”

Evelyn is short with him

“Never mind. I’ll do it.”

She sashays over to the barbecue table, looking fantastic in her teal summer dress which contrasts nicely with her tan. Out of the corner of their eyes, most of the men in the room steal glimpses of her. So do the women. CC enjoys watching her walk and the attention she is getting. Her mother’s beauty brings glory to the entire family. CC is proud of her.

 

  1. Mark’s a junior in the high school. The whole family is together watching Merv Griffin. Mark is sitting next to CC. He keeps whispering to her. She is paying more attention to Mark than the program. Irritated, Mr. Gordon shoots looks at the two of them. Mark laughs loudly, sarcastically.

“What’s so funny?” Mr. Gordon asks

“Nothing.”

“Then don’t laugh so loud.”

“I just think what he said was stupid.”

“Who?”

“Merv Griffin.”

“Who asked you?”

“Just that-“

“Shh. I can’t hear.” Jay says loudly

“It was stupid.”

Mr. Gordon wants to continue, “We’re all stupid right?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“It’s written all over your face. Seventeen and you think you know more than everyone else.

“Well you’ve screwed up the world.”

“Me? All by myself? “

“You had help.”

“We’ll see how you and your friends do.”

“This is bull shit.”

“Enough with the cursing. Your sister and mother are here.”

Mark stares at his father unintimidated

“What? Bull shit?”

Mr Gordon is close to losing it

“No one’s forcing you to watch Merv Griffin.”

Mark stands and faces his father like there might be fisticuffs. As he leaves the room Mrs. Gordon Pleads with him:

“Mark. Come on. Apologize to your father.”

Mr. Gordon’s expression is also one of reconciliation, but it goes unnoticed by Mark since he has already passed him on the way out of the room. Heartbroken, Evelyn stares angrily at Ira. He looks to Jay for support, which he gets. Whenever Mark has gotten chastised, Jay has notched up his goody-goody routine. He has that look on his face. Likes it’s you and me Dad.

CC turns to her father. She is upset but her voice is sweet:

“Daddy you have to be nicer to Mark.”

Turning to her, He puts his hand on her head, reflectively

“I know. Honey.”

 

A few days after his confrontation with his father Mark is lying in bed reading The Myth of Sisyphus. He’s extremely serious, also sad. He can hear the family downstairs, laughing and having fun. CC comes to his open door.

“Come on downstairs. Dad’s not home.”

“I don’t like TV.”

“Oh come on.”

“I don’t. It’s for idiots.”

CC, in a teasing voice, smiling.

“Oh. Mr. Camus.”

He self-consciously pronounces Sartre correctly, “Sartre too.”

CC imitates his French R comically Sart r e

Smiling, Mark throws a pillow at her. She screams playfully.

 

January 1960. The Gordons have been called to the principal’s office at Lawrence High. They are dressed to a tee, she in a business dress, he in a suit Mark is sitting with them. In contrast to them he has very long messy hair and a three day growth. He is stone faced as the principal speaks.

“I know you are a good family. All three of your children have done well. Mark is respected by his teachers.” He smiles. “His grades are outstanding. Your daughter has

the highest GPA of all the cheerleaders. Mark’s math teacher thinks he is some kind of genius. And Jay. Teachers still talk about him. You should be very proud. “

“We are.”

“I’ll come right to the point. The reason I asked to see you, Mark was smoking marijuana in the boy’s room with two other students. “

Mrs Gordon is demolished, frightened, tearful. Mr. Gordon sees how upset she is, and takes her hand. Neither of them look at Mark. He is studying the ground.

“I’m going to suspend Mark for a week.” He looks at the Mark’s parents. I know he wants to go to Brown. And he wants to be a doctor. With this on his record I doubt he’s going to do any of that. If, and only if, Mark stays out of trouble, this won’t go on his permanent record.” He stares hard at Mark. “So it’s up to you.”

Evelyn looks the principal in the eye

“Thank you Mr. Lapidus. Mark is going to stay out of trouble.”

“You might want to consider a therapist. Smoking pot is no small thing. And why did he do it at school? Was he looking to get caught?”

“Could you recommend someone?”

He writes the name of two people on a slip of paper and hands it to her.

“Either one of those is good.”

 

As the three of them enter the house Mark is not remorseful in the least. Defiantly he addresses his father.

“What are you going to do? Send me to my room?”

“As a matter of fact yes. I don’t want to see your face before supper.”

Unbowed, Mark goes upstairs .After he leaves, discussion between the Gordons begins.

Angrily Ira confronts Evelyn

“There better be no repeat of this. You knew he was smoking pot didn’t you?”

“I’ve smelled it in the backyard.”

“And you did nothing about it?”

“A lot of his friends are smoking it. It isn’t a big deal. His grades are good. Didn’t you drink when you were his age?”

“Actually I didn’t. I had no time with my job after school to do anything but study.”

“Well that was you.”

“Not just me. Everyone I knew.”

“I can respect that. I guess Mark’s more like I was. I didn’t have to work. I had a lot of time to do whatever I wanted. You’ve given that freedom to the kids. I’m sure they appreciate it.”

“I doubt that. They just assume it’s coming to them.”

“You think I’ve spoiled them don’t you?”

“Sometimes I think that, but no it’s not you. They’re just lucky. They don’t have to be careful like I was about my future. Only he’s wrong. He can mess up his life real good if he tries.”

“I think he feels a lot of pressure. Too much.”

“Too much pressure? I had too much pressure. He doesn’t know half of it.”

“No. I just think he feels pushed by us. To be a doctor, to give us nachis. I’m not sure he should feel that?”

“Why not? I did. It didn’t harm me one iota.”

“But what you did wasn’t just for your parents. You wanted it for yourself. You hated being poor. He doesn’t have that.

“So I was lucky to be poor?”

“I’m not saying that, but I don’t think it’s good for Mark to be doing things just to go along with what we expect? It’s not enough of a reason. I think he smoked it in the bathroom because he wanted to get caught. I think he feels railroaded. He wants to get off this train we put him on. Talk to him. Tell him what it was like for you.

“I’ve done that several times. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

“Believe me he hears you. You’re forgetting he’s a good kid. His grades are great. “You think that is just for him. He wants your respect.”

(emphatically) “And yours.”

“Okay mine. Look I’m not saying it was your fault.”

“I’ll bet you’ll figure out some way it is.”

She ignores his challenge and speaks sweetly

“Go upstairs and talk to him.”

Marks’s bedroom immediately after. Mr. Gordon knocks on the door

“Dad I don’t want to talk.”

Mr. Gordon opens the door and enters.

“Well I do.”

Mr. Gordon takes a seat at the end of the bed. Mark waits for what is coming. He says nothing but the look he is gives him is definitive.

“Look I know what I am doing. Alan quit college and he’s doing great. He has his own apartment in the East Village. Every day he can go and do whatever he wants. He has a great record collection and reads all the time. He’s better educated than half my teachers.

“And what’s he going to do when he wants to get married and have children. How’s he going to put food on the table?”

“Growing up in Cedarhurst is not the be all and end all of having a good childhood. You seem to forget that you grew up without anything and look how you turned out.

“I didn’t enjoy it one bit. You know, when Betsy, that’s what we called our old clunker of a Dodge, when it had to get fixed, it was like someone had stuck a knife in my father’s heart. He didn’t know where he was going to come up with the money. Sometimes, he would take it out on us.   Most of the time he was grouchy. That’s the person I mainly knew. I don’t blame him. Vacations, forget it. If we got to Jones Beach once or twice in the summer, that was it.

Okay, Miami is nice in the winter. Puerto Rico. Camp is nice. But all of it is bullshit.

“Bullshit?” he answers angrily

Mark realizes he has overstepped.

“I take that back. It’s not bullshit. It’s nice. What you have given us is nice. You make it seem like that’s everything. Like I owe you my life.”

Not everything. Just certain things. I go to work everyday whether I like it or not. So does everyone else. School’s your job. Doing schoolwork is your job. “

“I do all my schoolwork. I get good grades.”

“But you also have to stay out of trouble. If I got arrested for pot. I’d lose my job.”

“No you wouldn’t.”

“Oh yes I would. They appreciate that I do my job well, but getting arrested. No way they’d allow that. Their reputation depends on us upholding it.”

“Who cares about that?”

“About being respectable? Everyone cares. I care.”

“I was just having some fun with my friends. It was exciting to do it in the school bathroom.”

“But the risk. What’s so exciting about that?”

Mark gets snooty. “Were you ever my age? You don’t know what that’s like, do you?”

“I don’t. It never even occurred to me to risk my future. It would be crazy. Your Mom’s brother… Uncle Manny. He was like that. They were well off. He’d drink himself silly every day. Great when you’re 16 but he never stopped. You see the result.”

He waiting for Mark’s reply.

There isn’t one then softly:

“He’s the one on the Bowery?”

“I never understood what he was doing. There’s fun time and work time. I don’t understand fucking up your life. The Bowery is the garbage can. That’s what happens when you don’t work. .. You just want to have fun.”

“So what do you like to do for fun?”

  1. GORDON

“I don’t know. Go out dancing with your mother. That to me is fun.”

He adds, “With or without alcohol.”

“You think I am going to become a pothead. Don’t you?”

“Are you?”

No. I enjoy it. But no… Truth is I was in the bathroom smoking before English class. We were going to discuss “A Tale of Two Cities.” I wanted to find out what I thought of the book.

“You don’t know without pot?”

“I do but it is different. I like thinking differently. Pot does that for me.”

“Okay fine Mark, but not too often okay, and not in the house, and don’t let your sister see you stoned.”

“She already has.”

“Jesus. Did you get her stoned?”

Mark’s expression answers him

“She’s a freshman in high school!”

Mr. Gordon studies Mark’s face.

“How many times?”

“A couple.”

Mr. Gordon’s stare challenges his answer.

In a guilty unconvincing manner

Three or four, but that’s it.

Shook up, disappointed Mr. Gordon gets up from the bed and goes to the door.

He speaks morosely

“We’ll talk some more about this tonight. After dinner.”

“Dad. I’m sorry. I really am.”

“I don’t want you to get stoned with CC. Ever again!”

“Okay.”

“And you’re to stay out of trouble.”

Mark is suitably contrite

“I will. Believe me. I will.”

“You better.”

Mrs. Gordon has poured herself a cup of coffee and is sitting at the counter waiting for Ira. He arrives looking gloomy

“Want some? It’s fresh.”

“I need something a lot stronger than that.”

He takes out a bottle of scotch from the cabinet. Downs two shots. Mrs Gordon watches him.

“Looks like you had a great talk.”

“No comments from the peanut gallery.”

She stares back at him. She didn’t mean it to be sarcastic

“You could try being nicer to him.”

“You could try being nicer to me.

“Oh, you can dish it out but when it comes to you.”

“Evelyn give it a rest.”

THE GORDON’S BACKYARD THE SUMMER BEFORE CC’S JUNIOR YEAR IN HIGH SCHOOL

Mr. Gordon is looking for his pruner in the shed. He’s obviously frustrated. He keeps moving things around trying to find it. He sees Jay coming out of the house.

“Is Mom inside?”

“She went to Trudy’s house.”

“Do you know when she will be back?”

“No, why?”

“I can’t find my pruners. She’s always putting things where I can’t find them.”

“She should be back soon.”

Ira once more goes over the same spots he has looked before. He throws down his gardening gloves, disgusted. He returns to the house and flips on the TV. Using the remote he jumps from channel to channel, pausing a second or two then on to another. He checks his watch frequently. Finally Evelyn walks in the door. She notices mud on the rug.

“Told you a thousand times to take off your gardening shoes when you come inside.”

“Where did you put my pruner?”

“It’s on the top shelf of the shed opposite the door”

“Why can’t you leave things where I put them.”

“I thought you’d appreciate me organizing the shed. It was a mess.”

He’s angry

“The shed is mine. Leave things where I put them.”

“No reason for you to get so pissed. What’s wrong? You didn’t sleep well last night?”

His anger multiplies

“I told you a thousand times. Leave the shed alone.”

“Most men would appreciate that I organize things.”

Ira shouts

“Leave the shed alone.”

“You know-“

Ira’s in a rage)

“Leave it alone.”

Evelyn is hurt

 

‘Fine. I’ll leave it alone.”

“That’s what you said last time. You are just words.”

She starts to cry. She accuses him

“The truth is finally out. You really don’t love me do you?”

“You’re going to start that?”

“It’s true.”

Evelyn’s tears are now flowing freely. Ira doesn’t look at her. He goes to the shed and finds his pruner where she said she put them. He begins to prune a rose bush. Gets pricked by a pricker. Sucks on his bleeding finger. He sees a pretty rose, cuts it and walks towards the house. He hands her the rose. CC is there. Mrs. Gordon throws it in the garbage.

“You’re not going to get off so easily. You know, you are not very easy to live with.”

He looks guilty, like it is all his fault.

“Mom. Dad’s sorry.”

Evelyn’s tone is nasty as she looks at CC

“Who gave you permission to pipe in?”

CC leaves the room.

“You don’t have to take it out on her.”

Ira, you don’t see it. It’s the damn’ pot. She doesn’t think things over. She says whatever comes into her head.

 

On a bright nice Spring afternoon of CC’s senior year in high school, there is happy chatter on the school bus. They arrive in front of the Gordon’s house. CC is going down the bus stairs when she trips and falls hard on the ground outside. The chatter stops. One of the boys shouts out:

“Daddy long legs.”

In junior high she used to be teased because she was taller than the boys. It has stopped since she became so pretty, and the boys have grown, but she hears her tormentor and it adds to the embarrassment of the moment.

Mrs. Gordon sees CC on the ground and comes running out. CC doesn’t immediately get up. Mrs. Gordon puts her arms around her.

“What happened?”

“I tripped. Same thing happened on Monday.”

“What do you mean? Why didn’t you say anything?”

CC gets up with difficulty. Then she falls back.

“I’m all right. Don’t push the panic button.”

“We’ll see what your father has to say about that.”

 

A week later they are in the office of Dr. Kermit Osserman, world famous neurologist. In his examining room Dr. Osserman has two fingers out in front of him which CC is grasping.

“Squeeze harder. Come on. I know you can do it…Come on”

“I can’t!”

“I know you can.”

She is not able to squeeze harder. He sees she can’t.

“Okay let go.”

She watches him as he takes a vial out of his cabinet. He loads a syringe.

“It won’t hurt. Just a little prick.”

He gives the injection. Counts to 30 silently.

“What grade are you in?”

“Senior.”

“Sixteen.Aren’t you young to be a senior.”

“I skipped a grade.”

“So you are smart and beautiful. Okay now squeeze my fingers.”

She does so.

“Can you feel the difference?”

“Yes.”

“Now you are strong…Okay. Go back to the waiting room and send in your parents.”

They enter his office.

“Your daughter has MG, myasthenia gravis. I did a Tensilon test.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a medicine that makes her stronger. It only works with MG.”

“With ordinary activity her muscles get weak, extremely tired, like she has run 25 miles.”

“Why is it called gravis?” Ira asks

At first Dr. Osserman hesitates but then plunges forward

“You can die from it. The muscles can become so weak that you can’t breathe. Only an iron lung can keep you alive.”

The Gordons become ashen faced.

Dr. Osserman continues”

“Fortunately, it rarely comes to that. We have good treatments. Now most people can lead normal lives. Occasionally you’ll have double vision. The eye muscles get fatigued. Sometimes other muscles, but she is not going to fall off a bus again. She won’t win an arm wrestle, but no one will know she has a problem.”

“Do people still die from it?” Ira asks

“I’ve lost 3 or 4 patients from it out of a couple of hundred.”

“What happened?”

Dr. Osserman shrugs his shoulders

“The medicine stopped working.”

 

In the Gordon’s bedroom that night Evelyn is in Ira’s arms crying.

Ira is gentle: “He said 3 or 4 out of hundreds. That means 1%, 2 %. One or two percent “ he repeats. “She could get hit by a car.”

“She’s 16!”

“The main thing is that she take her medicine. “

“I’ll make sure she takes it.”

“What about in the fall when she goes away to college? Maybe she should be told she can die.”

“No way. Ira. I don’t want you to tell Mark or Jay either. The doctor said it is like diabetes. It can be controlled. That’s what we should tell them. She’s a good girl. She’ll do what she is told without us scaring her.”

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

1968 The University of Buffalo in the Autumn

 

Majestic elms line the wide pathways criss-crossing the campus. The reds, yellows and oranges of the trees are spectacular. The wind is whipping up, swirling leaves with each gust. Students are hurrying in every direction.

In a classroom fresh air blows in through giant windows left open to a large maple tree turned scarlet in its autumn glory. 29 year-old teaching assistant, Jeremy Slater is on a roll.

Especially in the 60’s every campus had one, a teacher who could turn on his students with his ideas and passion, especially female students. Cynics have compared him to a rock star at a concert. So have admirers.

His green eyes are Jeremy’s best feature. They light up whenever his non-stop ideas hit their mark. Which is frequently. When he gets going, discoveries keep popping out of his head. One thought stimulates the next. Then the next. Riff after riff.

With each inspiration, he glances at CC who sits apart from the others. Away from home, how quickly a child can be transformed into a mysterious woman . To those who haven’t known her, but are seeing her for the first time, our little girl CC, is a vision. Light as a feather, gorgeous, her ginger hair, streaked blonde by the summer’s sunshine, frames her large hazel eyes. There is sadness in them, but they sparkle, becoming almost iridescent, each time Jeremy hits the right note.

Seeing her in the state she is in, the possibility that this could happen, originally led Jeremy to teaching. Normally shy, when he lectures he is transformed, a king on his throne, gazing beyond his courtesans to his empire. He’s able to look and watch others comfortably, but never as much as now, emboldened by the reaction he is getting from CC.

Her eyes dropped to the ground the first time they met Jeremy’s. But now they melt lingering for precious seconds. His heart is beating on the double. She is also done in. Every word seems like it is coming from heaven, from Jeremy who is already there. Fantasies rarely become actual, but when they do- with the class full, and his mind crystal clear, this is the closest he has come to living out his dreams.

Pointing in CC’s direction, a classmate whispers to the student next to her.

“Look at CC.”

“I know.”

“Look at Dr. Slater!”

Both of them have big knowing sarcastic grins on their faces as they watch the two of them, but it doesn’t entirely cover up the envy in their eyes.

.Jeremy writes WITTGENSTEIN on the board. Emphasizing the v pronunciation in Wittgenstein he speaks dramatically.

You have to understand that Ludwig Wittgenstein placed truth above any other human quality. He didn’t have a choice as most people do. It was automatic. Meaning, he’d be seized with doubt. An alarm would go off in his head whenever an idea seemed untrue.

Imitating Wittgentstein, as Jeremy imagines he must have been, he shouts.

“No!”

He looks around the room

“No!” he repeats dramatically.

Jeremy continues

“A conclusion, agreed upon by everyone else, including him 3 minutes before, suddenly has ignited a rebuke. Wittgentstein was particularly sensitive to the power groups of people have to capture other people’s agreement, the pressure they put on others to go along with them, not least because he was as likely as anyone else to get duped .

“But suddenly he would snap out of it. Recognize his previous truth as an illusion. Doubt would erupt from a separate part of his personality”

Jeremy faces the class. One by one his eyes move from one student to the next and continue to do so as he speaks. They rest on CC. She is enraptured by every word , by every hesitation.

“He was a professor of philosophy at Cambridge University. He never published a single article. He never wrote a book. The world eventually learned about him from the notes taken by his students, which were published later on. But without acclaim from the usual places, his reputation was remarkable. Those who listened to him lecture knew he was the real thing. Other Cambridge philosophy professors would sit at his lectures wanting to harvest his ideas. Bertrand Russell called him (savoring every word) “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius.”

Still carried away, Jeremy continues,.

“Who was this man?   Sometimes, during a lecture, he’d drop what he was talking about. He’d call himself an idiot. He moaned helplessly… It wasn’t theatrics. He felt like an idiot.”

“A monumental battle was taking place inside him. What he had intended to say, no longer made sense to him. The remarkable thing is that his misgivings didn’t issue from the challenge of a listener, but from his own thoughts which had gained the upper hand. “

Jeremy takes a deep breath, before proceeding. “Ordinarily people don’t like doubting themselves. It can be crippling. The mind is meant to function quietly. We are confident enough of our ideas so that we don’t have to go over them a second and third time. We possess them.   When challenged we can usually hold on to them, even if a bit of doubt creeps in. Perhaps it is stubbornness or laziness, or simply we may be unwilling to abandon such a nice comfortable place in our mind. We rarely venture into new territory.  We don’t want to. Challenges from others are the last thing we need. Perhaps that is why we join groups with basically the same ideas.”

“Being in a state of doubt can be fascinating. Hamlet, which many consider the greatest play ever written, is all about doubt. We empathize with his discomfort. We wait to see what he will do. But no one wants to be like Hamlet , a frenzied soul tortured by his confusion, on a pathway to self destruction. We try to end doubt at soon as we experience it.”

“It isn’t just us. When we see doubt in others it is unpleasant. Anguish is best kept private.”

“So you would think Professor Wittgenstein would lose his audience when he would lose his way…”

“Just the opposite!” Jeremy calls out happily.

He hesitates. Again he stares at one student then the next.

“The students in Wittgenstein’s classroom were mesmerized by the process. He led them wherever he was going.   He wondered how, until now, he had not seen his mistake. He had an unusual talent. He could cogently present the problem he was having without appearing too self-critical. It was a kind of courage. He was proud of his uncertainty

He’d go over what did and did not make sense as if it were a fascinating puzzle. “

Jeremy looks in CC’s direction.

“So in the end, his public self doubt was a kind of strength. It was part of what drew the professors to his lectures. They knew all too well where he was at.   They too were often stymied. Most had run out of ideas long ago, not a good thing when you are in the idea business. “

“It was the way Wittgenstein went about it. His students recollected his previous encounters with confusion. And because again and again the answer would materialize, not knowing became a fascinating place to be. Out of thin air: Magic.   Wittgenstein would come up with a new way of looking at the problem that, a moment before, had stymied him. The cavalry arrived just in time.”

Swept up by his momentum, in his excitement, Jeremy is now staring almost exclusively at CC as if he is speaking to her, and her alone. The other students are aware of this, but they did not take Jeremy’s course to be given lessons in proper professorial behavior. He has a reputation.

Nor did it seem unusual, that someone, as beautiful as CC, would pull a lecturer’s eyes towards her. Jealous certainly, but the other females in the audience are also encouraged.   Having spent considerable time before class in front of the mirror doing themselves up, and not necessarily dissatisfied by what they saw, they’re hoping professor Slater might leave CC for a moment, and look their way. If it were a modern concert they would be holding up lighters. Or screaming, hoping against the odds, that, even for a fraction of a second, they would get the eyes of John Lennon.

Jeremy still speaks dramatically

Logical positivism, when it was new, had been able to answer a lot of questions that philosophers had long been perplexed by. The name had a ring to it, like existentialism which had captivated the French and German philosophers. Logical positivism was quintessentially English.   Good English words describing philosophers’ most noble virtues. Logic. Clarity. Ever forward to the next challenge. No artsy fartsy French poetry junking up the mind.

Jeremy walks back and forth in the front of the lecture hall.

“Everyone was excited. They thought they had finally reached the promised land. One after another, paradoxes were dissolving using the power of their new tool. Does God exist? If you followed logical positivism’s logic the answer was clear.”

“Then pouf!” He hesitates for effect

“The party was over. They were back to square one. Logical positivism had its own contradiction. Once again, they had painted themselves into a corner. No one, not even the world renowned Cambridge University Philosophy Department could think their way out of the trap. Not even Wittgenstein. “

“What was Wittgenstein’s solution? He quit philosophy. He became a hospital orderly, then a gardener. He never mentioned to his coworkers that he had been a professor at Cambridge. For 10 years no one heard a word about him, or from him.”

“Then one day he reappeared. He had discovered a way out of the corner. He founded a branch of philosophy called Ordinary Language Philosophy. Basically, (pleased by the irony) he said that philosophers should study how ordinary people communicate. That was the way out of their trap.”

Smiling broadly, “In other words, the study of philosophy, all the years spent carefully defining, clarifying, refocusing, driven by a powerful need to get at the truth, is not the way to get there. Philosophers should toss it all out. The language of ordinary people, gardeners, hospital orderlies, his colleagues for the last decade, held the real answer. Cutting flowers, pushing a gurney, undoes the paradox.

“The professors loved it. “

Jeremy swings his arm as if he is swinging a scythe

“It was a coup de grace to the steel certainties that had been their bulwark against confusion, that had kept them focused, but which no longer functioned.”

His words are imbued with conviction. “Among philosophers a convincing new paradigm is as exciting as the discovery of the New World fresh, beautiful, new thoughts, unhindered by doubt.

If it were a soccer match they would have put him on their shoulders for scoring the winning goal. If he were… What’s the words to that song?” His face lights up “Rudolph!”

CC’s face lights up with him

“He would go down in history…. Which is what happened to Wittgenstein.”

He repeats his name as if it were a magical word.

“Wittgenstein!”

The bell rings. Students file out.

Surrounded by students, swarming him, at the lectern, Jeremy’s eyes have not stopped wandering to CC as she gets her books together. Books pressed against her breasts, CC attempts to seem businesslike as she approaches him. CC’s eagerness is still apparent as she joins Jeremy’s entourage at the front of the classroom. It is in her eyes. She waits patiently as one by one he answers the questions of the students. When he is finished, and they have left, he turns to CC. He also is not very successful at appearing calm and collected.

“You seemed interested in Wittgenstein.”

“My brother Mark’s talked a lot about him.”

“Really. What did he tell you?”

“How he came from one of the richest families in Europe.”

“True.”

“How he gave away all his money. Every penny.”

“He was extremely intense and impulsive. All of his brothers were. His father tried to educate the impulsivity away. He was a titan of the steel industry. He hoped to prepare at least one of his boys to step into his shoes.   But he failed. They went in the opposite direction, totally uninterested in business. They did, however, absorb one quality from him. He was incredibly exacting.”

He stops, letting what he is saying sink in.

“Imagine this. Paul, Ludwig’s brother, was practicing on one of the seven grand pianos in the Wittgenstein’s mansion, when he suddenly shouted at Ludwig in the next room: “I cannot play when you are in the house. I feel your skepticism seeping towards me from under the door!”

“Each of the brothers, continually felt scrutinized. Ludwig was lucky. As a philosophy professor, he had found a good outlet.

“But that feeling, of being scrutinized, is a sickness, paranoia. Being alone with self doubt is a plague. Three of his brothers committed suicide”

“Jesus.”

“Not Jesus. Jewish. By other people’s standards, he was enormously successful, the star professor at the finest philosophy department in the world. Yet he continually felt like he was failing, incapable of meeting his standards.”

“Geniuses frequently have that quality. Jascha Heifetz would practice his violin until his fingers felt like they were falling off. And then he would practice another 2 hours. What he heard coming from his violin just wasn’t good enough. Bits and pieces materialized that were perfect. Moments. But rarely the whole thing. He wanted the impossible. Perfection, again and again and again.”

“Fortunately, despite his shortcomings, he liked himself enough to perform in front of an audience. He was a bit of a peacock. He bathed in his audience’s adulation.”

“Vladimir Horowitz wasn’t so lucky. Despite ecstatic reviews, despite rapturous responses from his audiences, he repeatedly lost confidence in his abilities. He couldn’t perform from 1953 to 1965. It’s happening again. He’s stopped playing in public.”

“You think that is Jewish?”

“Well-“

“My brother told me Wittgenstein wasn’t Jewish.”

“He was raised a strict Catholic by his mother. But his father was Jewish and his mother’s father was Jewish. That’s where the problem came from.”

“Oh.”

Actually, I’m not just talking about a Jewish quality. People who know Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director, say that despite the masterpieces he keeps producing, he often talks about how he isn’t measuring up to what he wants to achieve. Not one of his movies has come close enough to what he expects of himself.

Partly it’s being Japanese. Only the emperor is entitled to be godly, meaning perfect…”

“But he’s got a bad case of trying to get there. The glass is always half empty. He sees it as his job to fill it. He doesn’t understand anything else.”

“Did you see Women in the Dunes?” They had it here at the festival.”

“No.”

“It’s about this guy who is trapped in a large sand pit. He must get rid of the sand that has encroached on his house from the night before, or it will be engulfed. So each day, while it is daylight, he digs the sand away. “

“It returns as he sleeps. It never ends. Eventually he becomes resigned to his fate. We’ll be reading the Myth of Sysyphus in two weeks. The same thing. He has to use every ounce of his strength, every last bit of it, to push a boulder up a hill. If he stops, it will roll back and crush him. Each time he gets to the top of the hill, the boulder returns to the bottom, and he has to start over again. The existentialists thought they had the answer. Choose to do what you must do. By making it a choice you are in charge.”

Skeptical that existentialists have found the answer, Jeremy exhibits the smile of the perennial doubting Jew.

“Eh?”

Without self consciousness, appreciating his manner, from some ancient part of herself, she smiles, touching his arm affectionately.

She imitates him.

Eh?

He laughs.

Jeremy continues

They think a mind game can get them out of it. Choosing to do what you gotta do doesn’t change that you gotta do it.

“My bother Jay does everything he’s expected to do. It never occurs to him not to do it. Yet, he feels very much in charge of his life.

“That’s one solution.”

“Wittgenstein really fascinates you doesn’t he?”

“He does. Do you have a class now?”

CC glances at her watch.

“Not til 2:30.”

“Let’s go to my office.”

She follows him out of the classroom, then through a series of corridors. As she follows, they smile at each other repeatedly. Both she and he are aware of the possibilities privacy will afford.

His office is a hole in the wall with books piled high on his desk. He clears some books off a chair for CC to sit.

“So what is it about Wittgenstein?”

“It isn’t that complicated. He was a genius.”

“You’re in to geniuses?”

“Everybody is in to geniuses.”

“That’s not true. I never thought about it until college. My idea of a stupendous human being was John Lennon. “

“My other brother Mark used to be into Tom Seaver. What a year he had.”

“The pitcher?”

“Right. He’s a big Mets fan. Before Seaver it was Duke Snider and Bill Sharman.”

“Sharman had a sweet jump shot. A perfect jump shot. Swish. It was magic.”

“Until college. Then all of a sudden Mark’s hero became Ludwig Wittgenstein. “

“Sounds like your brother and I have a lot in common. Including Duke Snider.”

“Those somersault shoe string catches. Ballet. You see him do it once and it gets fixed in your memory. No one has ever done that before. No one since. Did you ever see him do that?”

“No…” She studies him. “Does someone have to be a genius for you to be interested in them?

“You want the truth or bullshit?”

“The truth.”

The truth is, that’s what matters to me. The truth? I mostly ignore people unless they are very special. I can fake it. I do fake it, but-“

“So that eliminates me.”

“Are you serious? Did you ever look in the mirror?”

She is quiet, self conscious.

“Just take a look. “

CC is embarrassed, not just with the compliment but with Jeremy’s flirtation turning serious so quickly.

“It must be hard on your wife. You expect her to be perfect?”

“She says I’m a baby, I’m into heros like a ten year-old. She’s waiting for me to grow up.”

“Is she right?”

Jeremy shrugs: “I’m sure she is but I am who I am. Even if I could change it, I wouldn’t. Doesn’t matter. I can’t.”

“Most people find a way to be satisfied.”

“Most people live a lie.”

CC says nothing. She doesn’t know what to say.

“By the way, this Sunday. I’m having a barbecue. Several students are coming. You’re invited.”

 

CHAPTER 3

Jeremy’s Backyard Sunday Afternoon Late October

With the long grey Buffalo winter ahead of them, Jeremy and his wife Carol are thrilled. It is still warm enough to remain outside. Their home is modest, but the fall colors surrounding their yard, lit by the sunshine, are spectacular. Especially, since both of them grew up with their worlds limited to indoors, apartment houses in Brooklyn, museums the only taste of beauty. A backyard in the country, any backyard is as exciting to them as Prospect Park.

Jeremy is manning the charcoal. Carol is setting up the table. Carol is around 5’4”, slightly chunky but pretty with red hair, and large interesting green eyes. She is full of energy. She brings out a pitcher of iced tea. Then she returns to the house and comes out with napkins and paper plates. Then back into the house:

“I think I hear Alyosha crying,” she tells Jeremy. “Lately, he’s only been napping half an hour.”

“I was counting on a two hour nap.”

“He’s just fussing. I’ll be right back.”

Carol makes her way back to Alyosha. On tiptoes she arrives at his room, and watches him without being seen. He’s whimpering, though every once in a while he screams angrily. She goes to the crib and takes his hand. Very gently she sings:

“If you’re happy and you know it, (whispering) clap your hand.”

He is happy. He hardly whimpers when she leaves and makes her way back to the outside, continuing the song for her own pleasure

“If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it-“

As she returns outside her singing abruptly stops as her eyes are drawn to CC who has arrived with 3 other students, two guys and one other female. She is blown away by CC’s beauty.

Each offers their hand as their name is called:

“Carol this is CC, Deborah, Gabriel. You know my cousin Jeff.”

Jeff has brought a football. Jeremy grabs it.

“Go long Jeff.”

Jeffrey takes off. Perry, their lab, runs alongside barking. Jeremy throws a perfect spiral which Jeff catches without breaking stride. As the catch is made Jeremy glances quickly at CC, which is noticed by Carol.

“Now you Gabriel.”

Once again a perfect pass and once again Jeremy steals a look at CC, but this time he sees Carol watching him. CC also sees Carol’s reaction.

A little later, back to the grill. Jeremy hands out hot dogs and hamburgers to everyone while Carol is back and forth to her kitchen.

Later, they are sitting around on the patio. Jeremy takes out a joint. Carol isn’t too happy with him bringing out pot in front of the students, but says nothing. He hands it around. They all take a few hits. Carol takes only one, refusing a second:

“Someone’s got to function.”

She remains busy while the others space out. As the afternoon winds down CC approaches Carol shyly:

“Can I help?”

“No I got it under control.”

CC nevertheless clears the dishes from the table and follows Carol inside.

“You took the bus right? No one’s going to be driving stoned?

“Right.”

“Okay.”

Carol forces a smile

“Are you a junior?”

“Senior.”

She holds up her hand, her middle finger crossed over her index fingers for good luck: “Hopefully I’ll graduate in June.”

“Ready to take on the cold, cruel world?”

“Don’t have to. Going to social work school after this.”

“Which one?”

“Columbia.”

“That’s a good school. Are you going home? Did you grow up in the city?”

“When I was young we lived in Queens.”

“Where in Queens?”

“Kew Gardens Hills.   Actually Simon and Garfunkel grew up there. “

“Did they?”

“Art Garfunkel always made it seem like he was from Forest Hills. I think he was embarrassed. Kew Gardens Hills is on the wrong side of the tracks from Forest Hills. But all those songs about home, that was the place.

“Were you embarrassed?”

“Not really. I don’t really remember. I’m told five of us lived in 4 rooms, and we couldn’t afford much of anything. My parents slept in the living room on a Castro convertible. But my father went to law school at night and by the time I was 4 my family made it to Cedarhurst? How about you?”

“I’m from Brooklyn.”

“Don’t really know Brooklyn. My mom and dad are both from there.

“Did you ever see where they grew up?”

My Mom took me once to Fortunoffs. It looked pretty dangerous there. That’s about it.

Carol is amused

“Typical Long Island.”

“What do you know about Long Island?”

“Nothing.”

“Typical Brooklyn.”

They both smile, relaxing their guard. A bond has been made. The marijuana has loosened them further.

“Jeremy’s mentioned you a few times. I was wondering what you would look like.”

“Am I what you expected?”

“Unfortunately yes. Jeremy may seem ruled by his brain but he’s a typical guy. His hormones are in charge. He gets a certain look when he talks about certain students.”

CC is pleased she has been mentioned by Jeremy, less pleased that Carol sees her as a rival.

“You must have been his prettiest student.”

“He tells me his smartest. Don’t know about that. But if he believes it, what the hell. I’ll take it.”

“We were both undergrads at Penn. It’s funny. Even when he was a student he liked to lecture.”

Gushing a bit too much which Carol notices. “He has so many ways of looking at things. Totally unique. He gets so carried away by his ideas.

“You didn’t know him when he was your age. He wanted to be a rock star.”

“Was he any good?”

“Who knows? His band went no where.”

Inspired by the stars in CC’s eyes Carol gets into it: “When he gets going he can be a real turn on. Like his hero Wittgenstein. I assume he’s spoken about Wittgenstein?”

“He has.”

“He’s gotten that lecture down to…It’s very polished. He may have wanted to grow up to be Duke Snider when he was a kid but now he wants to grow up to be Ludwig Wittgenstein. Certified Genius. Were you wowed?

CC blushes.

It’s okay. I can remember how irresistible he was when he got all excited about some new thought. But his-“

“He doesn’t do that to you anymore?”

“I’ve heard his schpiels a thousand times. It’s pretty hard to get excited.”

“I can’t imagine it getting old. “

“Believe me, everything gets old. His thing with ideas is an addiction. He has to have them. Like food. Happy when he’s got a new one, grouchy when there is not enough. Fortunately he has other qualities.”

“Like what?”

“It’s not obvious. He enjoys seeming like a bad boy. He won’t win any awards for being a responsible adult, but he’s actually a nice guy.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s plenty. There is very little cruelty in him Insensitivity yes, but cruelty no. In a marriage that’s what counts. If he could just get his head on straight and finish his thesis, we’d be rolling along.”

“His thesis is a big problem?”

Carol swallows hard:

“Really big. The fact that Wittgenstein didn’t publish has been a perfect excuse. Jeremy can’t just get it done and get his damn’ doctorate. Anything less than a masterpiece, something that will live for centuries, anything less would be humiliating to him.”

CC smiles approvingly. “I like that he aims so high.”

I know that sound heroic, but it leads to deep fears. The professors in his department are nationally known. It’s an unusually creative department. I don’t know why they’re here, but right now U of B’s English department is hot, attracting more and more talent That’s what brought Jeremy here.”

“I’ve heard it’s one of the best.”

“That’s the problem. Ferocious competition, high expectations makes daily life uncomfortable. If he were training for the Olympics, that would be one thing. Everyone understands that kind of glory, the ups and downs of victories and defeats. But where Jeremy stands in the department isn’t really clear. It gets even more complicated when they go for tenure, but that is getting ahead of himself. He should at least get his doctorate done.

I didn’ realize there is so much pressure on him

Jeremy keeps telling me he’s as smart as any of them, which I am sure he is. Only it galls him that he is not there yet. Thinks he deserves in on the basis of all the great ideas he has. A lot of the senior faculty find his ideas exciting, whicdh is very nice but everything hinges on his thesis.   And that’s not working so well. It’s not easy to knock off a masterpiece.

“So he’s given up?”

“Are you kidding? He has the energy of ten men. He works at his thesis like a crazy man. Over a week he’ll write 20, sometimes 50 pages. Good pages. I’ve read them.   Great pages. But by midweek, he’s doesn’t like them anymore. He tears them up.

He thinks that makes him Wittgenstein because he did the same thing. I remind him Wittgenstein didn’t have a wife and kid.

“So all that talk about geniuses. Does he think he’s one?”

“He would never admit that. He knows how stupid it would sound, but I think he believes it. Or something like that. He’s already figured out the perfect defense. If not in this life, than after he’s gone, someone will discover him.”

“He’s said all that?”

No, but we were watching this movie aand the story was something like that and the tears came out like crazy. I asked him about it, and he told me it was nothing. The movie just made him sad, but to me it was obvious.”

Carol hesitates. “Boy I just had one puff of the marijuana and it’s made me like Jeremy. Motor- mouth,”

“ I don’t really think it’ s delusions of grandeur. He’s able to laugh about it with me. But, what ever that genius thing is, Jeremy’s got a bad case of it. He thinks geniuses are the only people that truly belong on earth. Everyone else is taking up space.       That’s one side of it. Then, suddenly, he’ll hate every word he’s written. He fears he is ordinary. Being like every one else scares him. . He thinks I wouldn’t love him. Which is so crazy..”

“You’re saying he is really screwed up.

“Yes, but so is everyone when you really get to know them. Jeremy is Jeremy.”

“You’re Jewish right?”

“Yes.”

“A lot of Jewish men are like him. Very ambitious. Want to, rather, have to be, on top. Nervous as hell that they’re not up to it. That they’re a nobody. It’s not easy to have incredible standards.” It’s twice as hard to be around it.”

“I think it’s exciting.”

“I’m not really complaining. He never bores me. He’s gotten more and more interesting the longer I’ve known him”

“So you’re saying having an ambitiousness husband is no fun.”

“This is way beyond ambition . The genius thing… I’ll admit it can lead to accomplishments, but over the last year- his time is running out to get his thesis done. We’re not having a good time. If we just can get through this crisis then I could put up with my genius husband.”

“Do you try to save the pages he throws away?”

“I should. If he ever gets to where he thinks he belongs they will be worth something.

She stops, listens carefully:

“I hear Alyosha. You want to meet him?”

CC smiles: “Absolutely.”

CC follows Carol into the kitchen, then beyond.

 

CC is on the pay phone in a small alcove in the 2nd floor dorm lounge. She is talking quietly trying to keep her conversation private. Fortunately there is only one other person in the lounge, CC’s friend Brittainy, who’s unlikely to gossip. Mark is in his Berkeley California apartment phone in hand spread out on the couch.

“Mark, come on.”

The last 3 times we’ve talked we’veland up talking about Jeremy.

Mark has matured into the male version of CC, unusually handsome, almost pretty, and like Brad Pitt his eyes are sensitive which is noticeable even with his gruffly unshaven face. His gestures are robust. He speaks with a deliberately aggressive edge, which took him time to cultivate, as he struggled to bury his childhood sweetness and emerge his version of a man. Despite his effort he can’t all together cancel out his still delicate persona. Country Joe and the Fish are playing in the background.

“Mark. He’s married. He has a one year old son.”

He teases, “I know you CC”

Almost swooning, “I’ll admit,) he’s the most brilliant man I’ve ever met.”

She looks Brittany’s way, fearful that she has heard something.

Mark giggles. He’s heard her swoon

“CC you’re in love. You’re in love. That’s what it is.

She grits her teeth . “It’s not so simple. His wife has lupus. I could never do that to her.

“Strange coincidence. You’ve got myasthenia and he’s flirting with you. Does he know?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Still, myasthenia is not a small thing.”

“No comparison. You can get really sick from Lupus. You can die.”

“So could you. He has a thing about sick women.”

“Let’s keep it simple. He’s married.”

“Well…”

“He talks a lot about Wittgenstein. Your hero.”

He’s pleased, “What about him?”

“How Wittgenstein demanded so much of himself. Jeremy’s got the same problem as you. Everything has to be one in a million good or he can’t go with it.

“I’m not like that.”

“Since when?”

“Give me a break.”

“Anyway. He hasn’t finished his thesis. The professors in the English department, according to his wife, love him, but they can only extend the deadline for his thesis so long. His time is running out. Carol’s worried that –“

“Carol?”

“His wife. if he doesn’t get it done by this summer they are going to cut him loose.” “He’s feeling incredible pressure.”

“She told you all that?”

“More or less. We were stoned.”

“Oh, I get it.”

Mark is pleased that CC is still smoking, happy that he turned her on to one of life’s treasures.

“He worries a lot about the upcoming deadline for his thesis. Practically every night he can’t sleep. Lately, nothing she tells him, comforts him.”

In a boasting tone:

“Me, Jeremy and Wittgenstein.”

She teases affectionately:

“Yeah. You like to make things 10 times harder than they have to be.”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

“What’s there to get? How to be crazy?”

“You think me and Jeremy are crazy?”

“And Wittgenstein!”

“You think we are crazy?”

CC doesn’t answer. She’s pleased that she has gotten under Mark’s skin. He’s pleased that she is in love with someone like himself.

 

A week later Jeremy’s class is ending. CC comfortably follows Jeremy into his office without being asked.

“I liked Carol.”

“She liked you.”

“Hopefully, we can get together again. Ever eat at Main Moon?”

“The takeout place?”

“They have incredible dumplings. They have some tables. I go there a lot.”

“Unfortunately it’s not going to happen. Carol’s not happy about my friendship with you. When she heard you came to my office, she let me have it. She doesn’t want me seeing you here.”

“Something I did?”

“No. She likes you. It’s me. She doesn’t like the look on my face when I mention you. Things heat up quickly if I even say your name.”

“She’s that jealous?”

“Not usually but I think she has good reason.”

“What do you mean?”

He moves her hair out of her eyes.

“You can’t figure that out?

He moves closer to her. Jeremy tries to kiss her. She turns her head away.

Jeremy, No. .. Carol..

But when he backs off, he can see the disappointment in her eyes. He goes to kiss her again. She backs further away, but he manages to plant a kiss. He puts his arms around her. CC is not physically strong. He holds her tightly while she resists. He can sense her ambivalence. He hopes no means yes.

Afraid, she reluctantly submits. Her fear excites her.

There’s a knock on the door. They quickly disengage, straighten their clothes. Jeremy’s erection is poking into his pants. He sticks his hand in his crotch and directs his penis down to the floor. CC finds that funny.

And exciting.

 

 

Chapter 4

Jeremy approaches his pal Dave’s office. They’ve known each other for years. They applied together for the graduate program , and were very happy when they both got in.

David is marking students’ papers. There is a knock. Jeremy enters:

“Busy?” Jeremy asks.

“I got time.”

David immediately recognizes that Jeremy is upset.

“Still stuck with your thesis? Believe it or not, I finished mine. I handed it in yesterday.”

Jeremy offers his hand

“Congrats. We’ll have to celebrate.”

“How about now? Let’s get out of here.”

Just off campus is a coffee shop that they both like. It is a funky combination of old oak Windsor chairs grouped around tables. Part of the floor is old linoleum, part unfinished wood. There are two well worn leather sofas, cracking with dryness. With coffee tables in front of them, covered by today and yesterday’s newspapers. Several nice looking student waitresses dress the place up, as well as loud Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Richie Havens, Mother Earth. A busboy puts water in their glasses. Jeremy click s his glass on David’s for a toast.

“To Dr. Maslov to be.”

“To Dr. Slater, who is about to get his act together starting this afternoon.”

“I wish.”

“You wish? Forget wishing. You just have to do it.”

“So what’s your secret?”

“No secret. You just have to tunnel ahead. Dig your way there.”

“Through the mud.”

“Mud, whatever. It won’t happen where you are most of the time. Flying high.”

“You mean the pot?”

“You could use a few less “oh wows!” And more “one plus one equals two.” But even without the pot I think that’s where your head is all the time anyway.”

“Maybe.”

“That’s the secret. Digging. What’s the word everyone uses?… Being grounded.”

“You mean working?”

“Exactly. But real work, not the inspired kind.”

“That’s real. Just because you are excited and enjoying yourself.”

“Well I mean the other kind. Work, work.”

Jeremy waxes poetically,

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

David is impressed:

“I didn’t know you were religious.”

“ You know me, a line here, a line there.”

“You’re not too good with the dust part are you?”

“Doesn’t matter? I’m making enough bread.”

“I’d call it cake.”

David notices that Jeremy is upset. He smiles at him warmly.

“Okay come to mama. What’s wrong?”

“I’m in love.”

“Again?”

“When did I ever say I was in love?”

“You implied it. A thousand times.”

“No I didn’t. This is real.”

“Last time it was real.”

“What are you talking about? You mean Martha? I never said it was love.”

“You said you were turned on.”

“Yeah I was, but this is different. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”

David is used to Jeremy’s dramatics which he understands is real to Jeremy, but too often, over the top to take very seriously.

“Go ahead.”

“It’s one of my students.”

“I would expect nothing less. You’re not big on keeping things simple. “

“No. This is something else. I think this is where I’ve been heading all my life.”

David is amused. He gives Jeremy a goofy smile

“Uh-oh.”

The waitress comes to their table. She’s very attractive. Both of them, but particularly David, look at her flirtatiously. She knows it and is enjoying their attention.

“Two coffees.” David tells her

The waitress leaves. She has a nice walk. Their eyes follow her.

Jer3emy begins: “When you were younger, did you think you were going to find this incredible woman and that would be it?”

“You mean like our waitress?”

Jeremy looks him in the eye.

“Did you?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ve built my life around her. “

Amused David replies

“Come on.”

“No I mean it. It’s true. Everywhere I’ve been, I was searching for her. It’s like I was missing this piece of me. You’ve never felt that?”

David’s face is flat:

“Go on.”

“If I went to the museum I would be looking at the paintings, but out of the corner of my eye, if a nice looking woman walked by, that was it for the painting. She had me.

When I lived in the Village I’d walk the streets. Street after street. Same thing. Looking, looking. It’s why I moved to the Village, to up the chances.”

“Plenty of guys do that. They’re looking to get laid.”

“But that wasn’t it. This started when I was 12 or 13. Okay maybe every guy has these hormone spurts. But it wasn’t that. I was looking for… “

“Go ahead.”

“You want me to say it?”

“Yes. Say it.”

“True love!”

It is an awkward moment. They both know it. He continues

“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”

David’s eyes continue to wander through the room, hoping to continue his flirtation with the waitress. He watches her serve another table. Jeremy sees that he’s not being taken seriously. He admonishes him

“Can I go on?”

“It’s all yours. “

“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?…  Yeah you, but you followed me. The real reason… You’re not going to believe it.”

“When it comes to you I believe anything. Why did you come to Buffalo?

“Because when I came up for an interview I saw this student in the cafeteria. It was maybe a glimpse, but she was beautiful. That’s why I came here. To meet her.”

“You were already married.”

“I know.”

“Who was she?”

“I never saw her again.”

“You’re serious?”

“I know it’s idiotic.”

David says nothing.

“But it’s true.”

“You’ve done that more than once?”

Although Jeremy doesn’t say anything the way he looks at him is clear .

“That is so crazy. There’s got to be a name for that. What does your shrink say?”

“He throws it into some big basket. Psychiatry has maybe 6 or 7 of them. He’s actually been hinting that he’s figured me out. “

“Really?”

He’s been hinting. He doesn’t know for sure, but he thinks, along with 6 million other people I have bipolar disorder.

“So that explains you?”

In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues

“According to him that explains me. He’s nailed it. I’m like 6 million other people. “

“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”

“I’m in love.”

“That’s it?”

“I’m just telling you like it is. I mean I may go overboard…”

“How’s that?”

“Everything I’ve ever done. EVERYTHING. Every award in college, every home run I hit, every basket I scored… People put together a CV trying to impress a future employer. My accomplishments, whatever they’ve been- it’s all been for that day when I would find the woman of my dreams. I’d lay it at her feet. Look at what I’ve done!”

David has a shit eating grin as he speaks. Jeremy notices.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”

“Yeah well. There’s a reason they make all those movies. I’m not alone feeling this way. (seeing the look on David’s face) You still are laughing at me.”

“I know you’re serious. It’s just you have a knack for admitting to things that no one else ever mentions. Well maybe teenage girls. But guys? Not even in passing. Sure I’ve watched those movies and gotten in to them. I’ve been there in real life too. So have most men, but after their ass has been kicked, after they have been humiliated a few times, they’ve learned their lesson. They steer clear. Having a broken heart is not where most guys want to be.”

Jeremy’s attention wanders off.

“Where are you?”

“This song… Carol wrote it.”

Half mumbling half seriously he sings:

“HEY YOU WITH THE BROKEN SMILE

COME ON OVER AND STAY FOR A WHILE

HEY YOU WITH THE HUNGER IN YOUR EYES”

“Can’t remember the rest…”

Jeremy hums the tune for a moment

“Oh right:

I RECOGNIZE THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE

A SHATTERED HEART STILL SEARCHING FOR GRACE

DISAPPOINTED? I KNOW IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU PLANNED.

DARLING SAVE YOUR WORDS

BECAUSE I KNOW THAT IS THE WAY IT HAPPENS

YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST

TO BE STANDING

WITH YOUR HEART LEFT IN YOUR HANDS

Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.

“Carol…”

“That’s what I am saying. I know about it. Been there. Pretty sure I inspired her song.

I’m sure you did. But most guys after it happens once, twice…   most guys stick to sports. But you. I don’t know whether you’re incredibly stupid or fearless. It’s a stage you’re supposed to get by. You’re 28. Move on.”

“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”

(insistently) “The girl of my dreams, of your dreams, of every guy’s dreams, is exactly that.”

Almost shouting: “A fucking dream!”

“You’re28! Why do you have a problem with that? Why are you stuck?”

Somewhat meekly Jeremy replies:

“You’re right.”

“Open your eyes. It isn’t just love. You make such a big deal about finding the truth. It’s right in front of you. It’s called the way things are.”

“Come on.”

“Your dream girl. You’ve devoted your life to finding her? She doesn’t exist.”

“You’re too chicken to think about this aren’t you?”

“No. I’ve just moved on. It’s not in the stars. I’m right here on earth digging ditches.”

“I’ve dug a thousand ditches. How do you think I got so many fellowships to come here. I‘ve worked my ass off. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Strange coincidence that you’ve fallen in love exactly when your head has to be on straight, exactly when you have to get your thesis done.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with it.”

“You’re in never-never land. You’re fucking Peter Pan (chanting) I won’t grow up. I won’t grow up.”

“You are the biggest cynic.”

“Cynic? I’m just telling you what you already know.”

“Never never land. You got to dig ditches not fly around. Learn how to be satisfied. It is possible. Lana and I have made it work. Warts and all. She’s a real person. No body else gives a shit. She does. I’ll take that.”

“Look, I did the same thing with Carol. And she’s terrific. I realize what I’m talking about is asinine. “

“Puer aeternus. Living your life waiting for your ship to come in. “

“I don’t need that Jungian shit. Look I know you are right. Absolutely right.

“You’re not 14 anymore.”

“You’re right. You’re right. You are right. Believe me I know it. You’re right. It’s not like I didn’t do the same thing. I got tired of waiting. I married Carol to go forward, to get on with it instead of waiting. “

“You fuckin’ seized the day.”

“So you like Bellow?”

I read Seize the Day years ago. I had an epiphany. Only it lasted maybe 4 minutes.

“You read too much. “

“Me? You’re the one. You need to get your thrills outside of books.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“I’m gonna’ sign us up for a polar expedition.”

“We’ll be the first Jews from Brooklyn who grew up in an apartment house to go to the North Pole.”

“How about Antarctica?”

David takes a breath, refocuses.

“So what are you going to do?”

“You know what I am going to do.”

With a gentle still friendly edge of superiority David answers him

I do. Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve waited all your life, everything you’ve strived to become… it’s been for-

“CC.”

“CC! Oh boy. I get it. I have her in one of my classes.” He smiles. “She’s a knockout. Remember at Penn, Davidoff’s class-how he went on about Helen of Troy?”

“The face that launched a thousand ships.”

“He left his wife and kids. CC’s even more beautiful than his girlfriend. I get it…”

“Right.”

“Which makes her all the more dangerous. Chasing Helen resulted in thousands of people dead.”

“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”

“I have no choice. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s strange. This is supposed to happen when your marriage is bad. I love Carol as much as I ever have.   We have a good thing going. Carol doesn’t bore me at all. I admire her. I’ve never had a friend like her.”

“That song you sang. She was inside of you. She loves you”

An image come into Jeremy’s mind. Carol smiling at him adoringly

David watches Jeremy as his eyes water. Then defyingly.

“I can’t help it.”

“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”

Jeremy thinks it over

“Not as much. …No it’s fine. She gets turned on and she’ll do practically anything I want to do. Wherever my head goes, it turns her on. She goes crazy.”

“So you have to dream up things?”

“What’s wrong with that? Variety is the spice of life.”

“With CC?”

“We haven’t gotten that far. I don’t know if we ever will.”

“But do you have to dream up stuff?”

“You mean kinky? No. With CC I’m there. I’d go ape-shit for a kiss.”

“Still. You know what you have with Carol. You’re lucky. You have it all. What’s the problem?”

“It’s not complicated. CC erases everything else. I can’t take my eyes off of her. I can’t think about anything else. I’d do anything for her.”

“I understand but-“

“If you were in a room with Elizabeth Taylor you’d want to stare at her. Stare and stare. But you couldn’t. You’d look like a jerk, like a nut. So people buy magazines, or they watch her in a movie so they can get a good look. That’s what CC is for me. Only she is living and breathing. If she could be mine!”

They are both quiet for a few moments.

“Do you remember the first time you saw the Eiffel Tower. You dropped right?

“Yeah, but what about the second and third time?”

“I can get lost in her. Every detail.   It’s new every time. Her dimples. The way her chin-“

“Jeremy I get it…

David waits for what he is saying to register. He sees no signs. He continues:

“Beautiful is nice. Beautiful is beautiful. But a taste… That’s all you get. The last thing you need Jeremy is to fall under a spell.”

“This isn’t a spell. It’s the real thing.”

“Believe me it’s a spell.”

“That’s easy for you to say. Being outside of it you think that way. When it happens… Believe me it could happen to you.” He takes a deep breath. “My head is spinning. I can’t just drop it and go on with other things. I can’t. Who can do that?”

“Millions of people.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

“What’s there to say? Look, the important question is whether you would leave Carol for her. Would you?”

“No.”

“You know that for sure?”

“Absolutely. I love Carol. I know I am lucky. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“So stay away from CC. She’s dangerous. You said you discussed this with your psychiatrist.”

“I’m going to.”

Jeremy has a disgusted look on his face. He puts 2 thumbs down in front of him.

“Your shrink’s no good? Go to someone else.”

“Let’s not go there…”

“Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “

“What’s that?”

“I’m feeling fantastic. I’m finally alive. I look at the trees, the sky. And I see them.”

“hen I’m reading, I’m understanding what’s on the page more than I ever have. The possibility of me and CC does that.”

“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”

“You know, that isn’t what it is. You’ve given up David. I remember this guy…”

(a bit too patronizing) “It’s called growing up.”

(sarcastically) “Big shot.”

 

 

Dr. Weiss, Jeremy’s psychiatrist, finishes writing a prescription for Jeremy. He is focused, confident. Dr. Weiss is extremely concerned as she hands it to him.

“You need to take this three times a day.”

“You’re sure I’m manic depressive? I just don’t know about that.”

“You started seeing me when you were depressed about your thesis. You couldn’t get it done.   That kind of low seems like an illness. This is the polar opposite of it. It’s not unusual on the upside to feel normal, or like you, the best you have ever felt. Bottom line is that you still aren’t taking care of business. It’s the same, no thesis.”

“What I feel has nothing to do with my thesis. I don’t see anything wrong with feeling like this. “

“Well I do. Take the medicine.”

“You’ve had this idea before. I tried meds last year. It just made me tired.”

“This is a different medication.”

“Right. It’s going to cure me, change me.”

“Mr. Slater. Your illness has to be treated. If you don’t comply I may ask your wife to come in for a conference.”

“You can’t do that without my permission.”

“If I have to I will.”

“Fine. I’ll take the medicine. “

He is not convincing. Quite concerned, Dr. Weiss scrutinizes himchPTER

him., but Jeremy doesn’t make eye contact.

As soon as Jeremy leaves Dr. Weiss’ office he tears the prescription up. He throws it into the refuse container next to the elevator.

 

CHAPTER 5

Mark chose to do his internship in Berkeley because, in his mind, it was where the action was.   And in 1968 action was everything . “You are either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem said Eldridge Cleaver. He was part of the Oakland scene, next town over from Berkeley

Mark wouldn’t deny vanity played a part.  As medical school was coming to an end, he bragged that he was heading out to Berkeley. Others may have felt they were making it to the big time with internships at Mass General, John Hopkins and the like. Berkeley, had almost mythical importance to him. He spent a summer there, in 1965. After the Free Speech Movement had put Berkeley on the map the year before. Going to Berkeley for his internship was a no brainer. Berkeley was East Village West

The original bohemian scene which grabbed his imagination and every other rebel that he knew had been the Left Bank, in the 1920’s. Gertrude Stein, Hemingway. Fitzgerald, Cocteau, sipping espresso, at an outdoor café Passionately involved in conversation. Perhaps it never existed, but that image was engraved in Mark’s mind. It was a photograph of what heaven must look like.

December 3 1968, Mark is standing with a huge crowd in Sproul Plaza, outside the student union building. The weather is crisp with a bite to it, like an early morning in Vermont, but with California’s dazzling light.

A speaker is passionately addressing the crowd.

“If we do nothing it’s no different than the Germans looking the other way while the Nazis killed the Jews. We’re dropping napalm on poor villagers in Vietnam. Napalm is a jelly that sticks to you as it burns.  Your whole body catches fire with this goo stuck on you. I’ve seen video clips of children lit up like a branding iron, screaming as they die. Whole families incinerated.   We can’t claim that we didn’t know. We have to stop it.”

Someone in the crowd shouts:

“How? By giving speeches at the student union?”

The speaker counters. “We have to educate people. If each of us talked to 10 people and they talked to 10 people.”

“ That’s all liberals ever do.   Talk. Yackety, yack yack .”

“Well…”

The person in the crowds shouts.

“If you’re tired of talk, if you want to do something NOW! Follow me.”

Thirty or forty students, Mark among them, separate themselves from the others. They cross the street. At first they merely shout wildly. Like Indian war cries in a children’s game. They have no previous experience being revolutionaries. But then a group of them stop a car and start rocking it. They seem to be getting a kick out of the fear they see in the motorist’s eyes. They let the first car go, but stop the car behind it and repeat the rocking. A businessman, wearing a suit, gets out of his car and grabs one of the protesters. He is thrown to the ground by the others, and kicked. He grabs the kicker’s leg bringing him down, but then suddenly 6 or 7 other students are kicking him.

On the sidewalk, perpendicular to the plaza on the corner of Telegraph Avenue, a protester has a lighter with him and tries to set debris on fire in a steel mesh garbage can. Several times his lighter fails to light. But finally, he succeeds. He is thrilled with the blaze. So are others. He moves it into the street, and turns it over, screaming like a wild man who has found gold. It is no longer the sound of a child playing, nor of a frat boy kicking up his heels.

Another student throws a brick through the front window of the Bank of America. It is suddenly very real, no longer students playing at demonstrating. The store window smashed, the mob screaming, then a second storefront window smashed- no one there had ever heard sounds like this before. It excited an unfamiliar energy. The crowd in the street is growing. A third car is stopped. Mark is among those ready to rock this car but then Mark sees there is a frightened child in the back seat. He tries to hold the car down.

“Stop!” He shouts. There’s a little boy! “

Furiously, the student who first drew the mob away from the main group shouts back at him:

“Children are burning in Nam. Right now!”

Despite Mark’s call to stop, Mark’s opponent, with the others, continue to rock the car. Mark walks over to his adversary and shoves him.

The police arrive. They move through the crowd, nightsticks flying. Everyone starts running in every direction. One of the policeman grabs Mark and throws him to the ground. A student nearby starts oinking, distracting the policeman. Mark takes off and is not pursued. The police roughly grab three other students, the slowest, also throwing them to the ground. They put them in handcuffs. One of the three being arrested is a female. The students, who have been chased across the street, start shouting. They are joined by several of the other students.

Not having much experience with the police, onlookers are shocked by how rough the police are being with the girl. The businessman has recovered. As he walks near the crowd several students stare at him triumphantly, like a villain has been demolished, but most of the mocking is addressed towards the police.

“Pig. Oink, Oink.” The pig sounds are relentless

There is fury in the police’s eyes. They throw the girl in handcuffs into the police car along with the others. Several of them charge the crowd on the other side of the street, including those that were watching. But then one of the females, a beauty, brazenly holds her ground, amazingly, defiantly sticking out her chest at them. The police are completely outnumbered. One among many. The crowd senses how vulnerable the police. They exult in their victory, cheering the police retreat. Several of the students have perfected their hog call

“Oink, Oink.”

The police close their car doors and drive away, sirens blazing.

Mark stares at their departure, slowly recapturing his breath.

 

Days later Mark is walking on Telegraph, with his fellow medical intern Bob, surveying the scene. They pass a store entryway where two street people, hippies with long beads around their neck, love tattoos and snake tatoos everywhere on their bodies, are lying on a flattened cardboard box. They have having camped out 2 nights there. Rock and roll blares from their boom box. Across the street is Cafe Med, the famous Cafe Med, originator of the latte. People complained about the bitterness of expresso so they added a lot of latte (milk). In front of the Med is a large number of motor cycles. 8 or 9 Hell’s Angels are hanging out at the outside tables. They too are playing music loudly, their anthem? The Rolling Stone’s Sympathy for the Devil.

“Boy, things have changed.” Marks tells Bob. When I came out here in ‘65, three years ago, the Med was the quintessential beat hang out. Totally different scene.   People would bring a bottle of wine and a baguette and ordered cheese. Guitars would be strumming. Peace and Love. It was nice.

Bob snaps at him

“That was then. You’re such an elitist. The revolution is not going to happen with pie in the sky liberals like you.”

Bob takes out his copy of Mao’s Red book. He starts reading aloud:

“Those who assert this kind of “independence” are usually wedded to the doctrine of “me first” and are generally wrong on the question of the relationship between the individual and the Party. Although in words they profess respect for the Party, in practice they put themselves first and the Party second. What are these people after? They are after fame and position and want to be in the limelight. Whenever they are put in charge of a branch of work, they assert their “independence.”

“Meaning what?”

“Mark. You’re snobbishness is being noted.”

Mark laughs. ““Being noted?” Did you see Dr. Zhivago?”

“A couple of years ago.”

“They kept saying that to Zhivago, for instance when he found patients with typhus. Officially there was no typhus. When he insisted there was, the party representative, as he told him, wrote in his notebook,. “Your attitude is being noted.”

Mark raises his voice. “Noted by whom? The Medical Committee for Human Rights? Fuck you Bob with your Mao bible.”

Bob is neither insulted nor set back by what Mark is saying. He is embarrassed by his shouting in public, embarrassed that other people might think he’s Mark’s friend. He waits for Mark to calm down…

Speaking as if he is a little league coach attending to one of his injured players. “You okay buddy? You okay?”

“Why? The Medical Committee for Human Rights can’t take a little controversy.”

“Just tone it down. Try not to be so abrasive.”

“You mean Jewish?”

They turn into a doorway and climb the stairs.

He looks at the others on the stairway. They are waspy, blonde hair blue eyes. He notices only one other Jewish appearing guy. Unlike New York, the Movement in California is blonde and blue eyed.

Bob continues: “Don’t get me wrong. I think your bluntness is refreshing.”

He pauses then continues in an authoritative way:

“Sometimes!”

“The Oakland Black Panthers are coming tonight. You don’t want to piss them off.”

“Eldridge Cleaver?” Mark asks excitedly

Bob answers in a completely cool voice

“No but maybe Huey Newtown and Bobby Seale.”

The meeting is being held in relatively small room above a store. Several people are seated on bridge chairs in something resembling a semi-circle

Bob and Mark find a seat. Not only is Bob’s Red Book conspicuous. Half the doctors there have their own copy and are reading it. After a short wait the celebrities arrive, four Black Panthers. Huey Newtown is handsome. The others are not, beginning with their menacing strut. The Movement is no longer Stokely Carmichael from Bronx High School of Science, angry in his rhetoric, but still recognizable as a human being. These guys are the kind of people that Mark and other people on a subway car, out of fear, would not dare to make eye contact with.

They take their seat. One of them lifts his fist

“You guys with your lead poisoning project are bullshit. It’s too late for that shit.”

“So how can we help?”

“Help? Where the fuck were you before? We’re hear to tell you that the time is now. The revolution is here. We ain’t bull shitting like our brothers in Detroit. We are gonna kill the pigs, not just talk about it.

Mark looks around the room. Most of the doctors, including Bob, have an adulating expression on their face. Mark catches the eye of Maury whose eyes are seeking him out. Maury silently forms a word:

Meshugy

Mark smiles.

 

CHAPTER 6

It is mid November 1968. Students are walking happily towards the Buffalo football stadium along a campus road lined with towering elm trees. Lit by the sun their leaves are aflame. Everywhere leaves are blowing in every direction. Football games are a big deal on campus, especially homecoming weekend. CC is walking alone. She stops and picks up a pretty leaf. She is quite pleased with its beauty. As she continues she seems distracted. Jeff, Jeremy’s cousin, is walking behind her. He calls out her name. She turns around and waits for him to catch up. She smiles vaguely, but she doesn’t quite know who he is.

Jeff points to himself, “Jeff”

She still doesn’t seem to recognize him. He pounds his chest like Tarzan.

“Me Jeff. You CC. …. Jeremy’s cousin. Jeff.”

Still, from the look on her face, she only half recognizes him.

“ I’m in your Russian Lit class. I read my paper to the class last week? On Alyosha?”

“Right. The Brother’s Karamazov.”

“Right. Right. I liked that paper,” she adds . “What you said about innocence. How Dostoevsky wanted there to be a glimmer of hope, a child standing out from the misery surrounding him.”

“He was good at misery. He got me.”

“Me too.”

Her face brightens, “You captured the contrast. Your Alyosha. Sweet innocent Alyosha.”

“Wow. You really gave my paper a lot of thought.”

“I liked it.”

“What did you think about his idea that without God everything is permitted?”

“Did he really say that?”

Something like that. That was the whole point of the Grand Inquisitor. The Inquisitor knew there was no God but people needed him to make believe there was one so that they would behave.”

Jeff thinks to himself for a moment

CC I had no idea you were a heavy duty student. You take classes seriously. To have given all that thought to my paper-

“I liked what you said. I listen, even when a paper is bad.”

“That must get boring.”

“Not at all. I’m curious. There’s always something.”

“I never would have taken you for that kind of person.”

“What kind?”

“The kind that likes to think a lot.”

“Well…”

“You’re not an action person.”

“What ‘s an action person. You mean do I work out?”

“Do you?”

She smiles. “Not exactly, but I wash my hair every day. You got to have some kind of ritual to keep you righteous.”

Jeff is completely wowed.

“Glad to meet you.”

They are both quiet for a moment as they walk on

“You don’t remember that I met you at my cousin Jeremy’s barbecue.

“Now I do. “

“So why were you confused about who I am?”

CC is a bit dazed

“I don’t know. Just was. New people take time to register.”

“You’re a strange dude CC.”

“And you’s a strange lady, Jeff.”

Happily, they bump fists, and jump a little.

They reach the ticket booth outside the stadium. Jeff is in front of her. He buys two tickets. Hands one to her.

“How much do I owe you?”

“My treat.”

CC takes her wallet out of her pocketbook

“No way.”

“Just this one time.”

Putting her wallet back, “Thank you.”

“Your welcome.”

Jeff hands the two tickets to a ticket taker…. Once inside he studies the tickets.

“Which way?” CC asks

“Follow me.”

He leads her. Ahead of them are steep steps, a lot of them. Because of her myasthenia CC has to stop after about 10 steps. He comes back to help her.

“I’m not in shape.”

“You should work out, jog like me.”

“Right… Did Alyosha give you hope?”

“He did. The other characters were in such agony.”

Leading her, he guides her shoulder but then walks ahead.

“It’s just up here.”

Again he has to backtrack for her as she stops on the stairway. She is bent over, slowly taking deep breaths.

“Sorry.”

“Hey. I’m in no rush,” Jeff answers with a kind voice

They get to their row. People have to stand so that they can get by them. CC almost trips on someone’s foot, but she is grabbed and regains her balance. She does a good job of not seeming upset.

The game has already started. After they are seated Jeff looks around and is pleased by the seats. At the end of their row, one section away, Jeremy and Carol are seated. CC notices. She tries to watch the game but she can’t concentrate.

“You okay?”

“I’m good. Everything okay with you?”

The ball is kicked-off. Buffalo’s receiver is tackled at the 20 yard line. Pretty quickly her eyes go to the cheerleaders, who are waving their pom-poms trying to get a cheer started. There is one cheerleader in particular who is very pretty. CC watches her. Her eyes also jump to Jeremy. Then quickly come back. A student in front of them, wearing a Davy Crockett fur hat, screams: GO BULLS!

Jeffrey notices how distracted she is.

“Are you watching the game? “

She shrugs, a bit distractedly)

“I will. I like to watch the cheerleaders.”

“But the game?”

Not very convincingly she throws her hands in front of her in a comedic half cheer

“Go Bulls.”

They are both quiet for a while. CC continues to look around.

“It’s a beautiful stadium. The grass, the whole scene… I don’t really like football. Don’t know anything about it”

“Oh. So that’s what it is?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve had this look on your face. “

“What kind of look?”

“I don’t know… Anna Karenina.”

She smiles nervously, “No, it’s nothing. I just have this paper I have to get done.”

He looks at her skeptically.

“No really. I shouldn’t be going to the game. It’s due Monday. Tonight and tomorrow night will be all-nighters.”

Carol and Jeremy notice CC and Jeff. Carol does a decent imitation of waving casually. So do CC and Jeremy, but for an instant their eyes lock. Carol notices, but says nothing. She looks towards the field.

A series of football scenes close up:

Linemen slam into each other like two locomotives crashing, subwoofer bangs and grunts

A running back does some fancy footwork, breaks free and runs in for a touchdown: The cheers are tumultuous, which in comparison to the chaos, seem almost melodious.

The quarterback throws a gorgeous long pass. Oohs and Ahs fell the soundwaves. The receiver catches the ball over his shoulder and runs in for the score.

At halftime. CC leaves her seat. Jeremy notices and gets up.

“Going for something to eat. What do you want?” he asks Carol

“Nothing. I’m good.”

CC is on line at the refreshment stand below the stadium seats. Jeremy joins her.

“Buffalo’s gonna have a winning season.” she offers

“Could be.”

Jeremy stares at her while trying to look as if he isn’t. Was their kiss simply a weak moment for her? Was her reaction real? He thinks he knows the answer but isn’t 100% sure. CC also has to know where they are at. Their last time together left her, as well, with more questions than answers.

“How are you and Carol doing?”

He shrugs. “We’re all right.”

“That’s good.”

Jeremy speaks softly into her ear so those nearby can’t hear,

“What happened in my office…”

“You don’t have to explain.”

“I’ve been thinking about what I was going to say. “

“And?”

“I wasn’t sure if it was real.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just didn’t know.”

Jeremy takes a deep breath before launching forward.

“What’s real is…. I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve gone over what happened a thousand times and I can’t decide. I have to know whether you have feelings for me.”

In a teasing tone, “You sound like Wittgenstein.”

“Don’t know what you mean.”

“Plagued by questions. Your mind not shutting down.”

“Do you know what that’s like?”

She shrugs

“Having someone on your mind like that?”

The teasing continues, “Poor you. Boopsala.”

He shrugs

She studies him

Guess that’s not fun.”

“You ever pick petals from a daisy?”

“No never did.”

“It said you love me not. But then I used another daisy and that said you do.”

“As much as you love Wittgenstein?”

Jeremy corrects her: “Vittgenstein. Vittgenstein.”

She is indifferent to his pedagogy.

“From what I’ve heard about you, your interest in me will last maybe two weeks.”

He smiles and shakes his head: “Romeo and Juliet have lasted 500 years.”

“They’re dead.”

Theatrically, he answers, ”My love will never die.”

“You and me are Romeo and Juliet?”

“Sounds nice.”

She holds up two fingers. “Two weeks. Besides, it doesn’t matter. Carol and Alyosha have first dibs on you. You’re going to have to get control of yourself.”

What matters is in her eyes. He can see that she is interested. He is relieved.

“And how do I do that?”

“It can be done. I got two brothers and one of them-“

“Mark?”

“Not Mark. The other one who doesn’t ask questions. Jay can stop himself.”

“Mark’s the one that’s like me?”

“He’s brainy like you. … And crazy like you.

“What’s Jay’s secret?”

“It doesn’t occur to him to break the rules.”

“Jay’s your boring brother?”

“Boring?”

She shrugs before continuing. “I guess so, but he never seems bored. He’s a regular guy.”

“Meaning?”

“He’s not interested in trouble. It doesn’t give him a charge. He’s a 50’s guy. Graduated Cornell in ‘63. He was a cheerleader when football was the main thing happening on campus.” She smiles. “Still puts on his saddle shoes when he goes to alumni games. Enjoys every minute of every Cornell game.”

“He works at Aetna. “

“That’s not boring?”

“But he’s not. Doesn’t talk enough to be boring. He’s from a different generation. Think Randolph Scott.

Jeremy is amused. “Randolph Scott with saddle shoes leading a cheer?”

“Laugh all you want. His life is under control. He doesn’t say much. His private business is private. He doesn’t have that much he needs to say.”

“The strong and silent type.”

“You got it.”

“As opposed to Mark and me?”

“Look. I love to talk as much as you do. Me and Mark would get stoned and talk for hours. Sometimes we don’t remember what we talked about.”

“Sounds meaningful.”

“Doesn’t matter what we say. I can be myself with him and he is with me. It’s made us very close.”

“And Jay?”

“We have a long history. I love Jay too. I respect him.”

“But he doesn’t know you.”

“He does, but not in a talky way. In a different way.”

CC and Jeremy are now at the front of the line. He buys 2 slices of pizza. The slices are red hot. CC burns her tongue. She blows on the bite inside her mouth by panting several times, rhythmically shaking her hands in the process.

“Looks like you’ve got practice doing that.”

“I eat fast. My mom says I gobble.”

“Gobble?”

“It’s not very ladylike. That’s been my mom’s mission in life, making me ladylike.”

CC’s smile leaves abruptly as she notices Carol high above at the portal exit from the seats. Jeremy soon sees her too. At which point CC and Jeremy try to act as if their meeting is coincidental. Jeremy is not much of an actor. CC moves towards the next concession booth as if she hasn’t noticed Carol. Jeremy walks towards the stairs where Carol is standing at the top. It isn’t clear how much Carol has seen, but evidently enough for her to stare at him with fire in her eyes. He knows that look well. She walks down the stairs slowly, carefully, and walks right by him proceeding to the line for food. He trails behind. She also is having difficulty catching her breath.

“You okay?”

“I’m a little dizzy. What were you talking to CC about?”

“Nothing.”

“How is she?”

He doesn’t answer

“I saw you talking. How is she?”

“We weren’t really talking.”

“Jeremy, you’re a bad liar.”

“Want a slice?”

“No I want a hot dog.”

He holds up a dollar and points to the hot dogs.

“Mustard and sauerkraut?” the vendor asks

“Nothing on it.”

The vendor hands her a hot dog. Standing close to him she speaks firmly.

“Your days of blow jobs are over.” She takes a sharp bite of the hotdog, chewing it defiantly.

“You are hereby warned.”

“Sweetie.”

“Don’t sweetie me.”

Her breathing difficulties becoming more noticeable. Jeremy is genuinely concerned.

“That’s what happens when you scold me.”

“That’s what happens when you give me something to scold you about.”

 

 

 

 

A few days later Jeremy’s class ends. From the back of the classroom CC watches Jeremy as he talks to another student. She is waiting for him to look her way. He doesn’t. She keeps watching him. Nothing. Reluctantly she leaves. As soon as she turns away his eyes are on her.

A few weeks later another of Jeremy’s classes ends. Other than a quick glance, CC doesn’t hesitate. She simply leaves the classroom. Once again, when he’s certain she won’t look back, Jeremy watches her as she leaves.

Another of Jeremy’s classes. The bell rings. The students rise from their seats. CC looks towards Jeremy but he isn’t looking her way.

“Everyone. Enjoy Thanksgiving… Remember what you have to be thankful for!”

Jeremy directs this last remark to CC. She is looking down at the floor sadly, troubled.   Is it over? Jeremy is also looking troubled that he doesn’t have her attention. Students have surrounded him. Just as she leaves the classroom he takes one last look. She isn’t looking at him.

 

CHAPTER 7

 

The Gordons are at Jay and Doreen’s apartment in Forest Hills during CCs Thanksgiving vacation Doreen is lighting the Friday night Sabbath candles. A lace doily, from Nanny, sits on her head. Her arms rotate three times, hands drawn over the flames as if to bring the light toward her. She covers her face as she chants:

Baruch ata Adonoy

Eloheinu melech Ha-loam

Asher kid-shanu bemitzvo’sav

ve tzivanu lehadlik ner shel Shabbos

As she removes her hands from her face a tear emerges. Softly she whispers, “Mom.”

Jay tells her: “She’s with us Doreen. She can hear you.”

Evelyn is thinking of her own mother. Her eyes go to the heavens. She also sheds a tear.

One by one Doreen goes around the table kissing everyone seated there chanting “Good Shabbis” to each of them. Mrs. Gordon wipes away one of her own tears.

Jay gets up when Doreen reaches him.

“Good shabbis Jay.”

They hug. A genuine hug. She kisses him on the cheek. Jay also goes around the table repeating Doreen’s Shabbis blessing as he kisses them.

After Jay’s kiss CC watches the others. For that moment she wishes she had Doreen and Jay’s connection to God

My mother used to bench licht every Friday night., Mrs. Gordon tells the others.

CC asks her in a not challenging way: “How come you didn’t Mom?”

“I don’t know. I don’t do a lot of things my mother used to do. Too much going on at the club. She turns to Doreen. I have to tell you. 7 months after childbirth. You got your figure back.

Doreen holds in her belly

“Not quite.

“Well I think you look great. The apartment too. You’ve done amazing things with what you’ve got.”

Doreen looks at Mr. Gordon

“With your help.”

Mrs. Gordon continues: “You’ve done a terrific job….And Sam is the handsomest 7 month old I’ve ever seen. He’s smart too. I can tell. His eyes study everything.

Doreen turns to CC

“When you going back?”

“Sunday night.”

“How you doing in school?” Doreen asks CC.

“Good. All A’s, except French. I may get my first C.”

“Staying out of trouble too, right?” Mrs. Gordon asks CC

Doreen jabs her mother-in-law with a gentle pinch.

“She’s got to have a little fun.”

“How often do you talk to Mark?” Mr. Gordon asks with a seriousness that wasn’t there previously. He scrutinizes CC as she answers

“Not that often?”

He looks skeptical.

Doreen tries to keep it light

“Say hello to him from me.”

Doreen notices Mr. Gordon’s continued scrutiny of CC.

“Dad. Come into the kitchen. I want you to taste the kneidelach. You said your mother’s were the best. I used her recipe.”

“I don’t know if I can taste anything. I’m kind of full from Thanksgiving turkey.”

Seizing the opportunity Mrs. Gordon rises, “I’ll come in there with you.”

As the three get up from the table, Doreen stops to examine a pendant CC is wearing on some beads around her neck. Mr. and Mrs. Gordon arrive in the kitchen before Doreen.

“Ira. I want you to leave your daughter alone about Mark. He’s her brother.”

“I’ll stop when he grows up… That’s if he grows up.”

“You’re not fair to him… Or to her!”

As Doreen arrives at the entrance, they immediately stop talking. Welcoming her to the room they both smile.

 

CC is unpacking a small suitcase, from her long weekend home in her dorm room A student knocks on CC’s door, and shouts to her

“You’ve got a call.”

CC goes to the public pay phone in the lounge. It is Mrs. Gordon

“Sam has fever?”

“ How high?”

“103. Call Doreen.”

“I will.”

CC doesn’t call Doreen. She goes back to her room. In not too long CC’s bunched up on her bed with a book studying. Once again a knock on her door.

“You’ve got another call.”

“Fearing something serious, CC hurriedly returns to the lounge and gets on the phone.”

“The hospital? Jesus.”

CC quickly puts on her coat and leaves.

 

In her room at Buffalo General, Carol has an I V attached to her arm and an oxygen tube near her nose. She is conscious, but groggy. Jeremy holds her hand.

Carol mumbles, “I need to sleep.”

Affectionately Jeremy moves his hand across her forehead

“Gai Shluffin.”

She is soon asleep. Her breathing is raspy. Furtively he looks over the paperwork at the foot of the bed for a clue. He can’t make sense of it. He checks the IV. He worries that it is coming in too fast or is too slow. All the while he keeps looking at the corridor.

A nurse is at the door. Sternly she confronts him. “You shouldn’t touch the IV.”

“I was-“

“We’re in charge of that.”

“Sorry.”

He watches Carol sleep. He’s concerned that her breathing sounds funny.

“Why’s she breathing like that?”

“She has pneumonia

He is alarmed, “She has pneumonia?”

The nurse is still irritated with Jeremy from the IV. “Doctor’s not worried.”

“It’s a mild case?”

The nurse irritation continues. Jeremy is keeping her from her chores

“Apparently,” she answers presuming Jeremy should know it is mild pneumonia.

CC arrives. The nurse looks at her suspiciously. Then she looks over Jeremy. Given CC’s beauty that is bound to be a thought. As CC tries to enter the room the nurse waves her finger.

“Only family.”

After scrutinizing CC long enough to see she will obey her the nurse moves on.

The nurse walks down the corridor to the next room. Carol is drifting in and out of sleep. Believing that she has gone far enough into sleep Jeremy leaves her and joins CC. He needs to talk. Her eyes reach out to him.

They both look down the hall at the nurse. She isn’t watching them. He hugs her. She responds as if it is a family kind of hug breaking it quickly, but unseen by the nurse, they continue to hold each others hand. They are out of Carol’s sight.

“Is she going to be all right?” CC asks Jeremy.

“She has pneumonia but apparently a mild case. The doctor told me this afternoon he thinks she is going to fully recover. Her kidneys had shut down, but now they’ve started to work again. He said she’s going to be fine. She’ll be home in less than a week.

“When did all of this happen?”

Lupus is like that. It appears and disappears. The worst part is it can come from out of the blue.   Three weeks ago she was feeling like herself, full of energy. Then last week she thought she had the flu, so she stayed in bed. Sent Alyosha to day care. Then she began to get weaker and weaker. The day of the football game she said she felt fine. So we went. Big mistake. After the first half she started getting dizzy again. It lasted a few days. Then she was better. Until tonight, When I came home she was in a daze… confused. It was scary. She’s never been like that before.

There are vague sounds from Carol’s bed.

“I think she’s waking up.”

Letting go of CC’s hand Jeremy moves into Carol’s view. He returns to the room. Carol’s eyes are open.

Barely discernible she speaks

“I heard you talking.”

“Heard what?”

Carol stares at the corridor suspiciously. She sees nothing. She looks at him quizzically, not quite “how could you?” But part of the way there. Then her eyes close and she is asleep again.

Jeremy returns to the corridor.

CC has put on her gloves.

“I’m gonna get going.”

Their eyes are locked on each other.

“Call me if you need to talk.” She tells him

After she leaves, Jeremy places a chair so he can sit next to Carol, holding her hand. She’s awake again. She looks at him with a hurt expression. He looks innocent enough except for his eyes where his guilt is easy to read.

Carol’s parents enter the room. Jeremy looks at his watch.

“You got here fast.”

Carol’s mother answers him. “We were already in Buffalo, for my niece Beverly’s wedding. You met her. Glad we left the hotel’s phone number on the answering machine.

Jeremy smiles. “Modern technology.”

Her mother looks at him expectantly.

“She’s better. Much better. She’s tired but she’s definitely better.”

Jeremy gives his seat to Carol’s mother. She takes Carol’s hand. With her other hand she feels Carol’s forehead

“Honey? I’m here.”

Carol wakes up a bit. Her mother and her talk with their eyes. Little more needs to be said.

Barely audible she tells her mother

“I want Jeremy to go.”

“What did you say?”

Carol speaks more strongly. “I want Jeremy to go.”

Carol’s mother stares at Jeremy coldly. Jeremy looks at her as innocently as he can, but Carol’s mother stare is unrelenting.

“I would like you to leave.”

Jeremy looks into her eyes.

“Mom. I don’t know what Carol told you, but nothing is going on.”

“I’m sure, but please leave.”

“There’s nothing.”

“Carol’s told me enough.”

“What?”

“Enough…Leave.”

Still unsuccessfully trying to look innocent, Jeremy keeps trying to make eye contact with Carol’s mother. She stares back coldly, her fury not fully contained. He leaves with his tail down.

In the corridor he can still see Carol’s mother at the bed. She’s speaking to Carol and Carol appears to be answering.

With tears in her eyes Carol’s mother speaks

“I’ve got you honey. I won’t let you go. You’re going to be all right.”

Carols’s mother gives her daughter’s hand a squeeze. Then, apparently relieved, Carol returns to sleep.

Walking down the corridor Jeremy looks into a room. A family is gathered around a patient, who is evidently quite sick. The patient’s a brother, hat in hand, looks upset.

Disheartened Jeremy walks to his car. He gets in, puts the key in the ignition but doesn’t start the car. For a moment he just sits there.  He stares out at the numerous cars parked in the lot, then at someone in the next car who is sobbing. He turns the ignition. He gasps. With sad eyes he turns around to back up.

At home in this bedroom, he lights a joint. He takes 3 hits. Puts it out with his fingers. He lies back in his bed, staring at the ceiling. About to tear, he gets up to go to the bathroom sink. His dog is blocking his path. He pushes on the dog with his foot.

“Perry. Move it. “

Perry holds his ground. Jeremy’s leg shoves him roughly out of the way.

He calls Alyosha’s baby-sitter:

“Do you think you can keep Alyosha overnight. Carol’s mother is here and she’ll take over tomorrow…good. Thanks

Jeremy brushes his teeth. As he returns to the bedroom, he passes a horizontal bureau.   There’s a picture of Carol. He lifts it up and stares at her. He puts the picture down. He returns to his empty bed, lying diagonally across where Carol would ordinarily be. He takes one more look at the picture of Carol. He falls asleep.

His eyes pop open.   He looks at the clock. It is 4:15 AM. He gets up and puts on his running shoes.

There is a soul to be seen on his block. Jogging, he leaps over a small snow bank that was left from last week’s snowfall. He’s pushes himself. His legs have already lost their spring.

Having made it to the campus 2 miles from home, he starts to sprint. He keeps sprinting and sprinting, breathing heavier and heavier, grimacing in pain. His chest is tightening. He comes to a hill. He pushes himself to race up it.   Faster and faster he goes then insanely faster.

Finally, he collapses.   A campus cop hurries over.

“You all right Dr. Slater?”

The cop extends his arm and lifts Jeremy to a sit up position holding him there as he gasps for air. The cop soon realizes that Jeremy needs to be lying down. Slowly Jeremy catches his breath and begins to look around   He looks at the cop.

“The way you were running. Never saw anything like it.”

The cop reaches out his hand and pulls Jeremy up. He seems to be okay.

“Punishing yourself like that. You could do damage.”

Still breathing hard Jeremy answers

“I wasn’t punishing myself. I like running like that. “

“But there are limits”

Jeremy isn’t listening.

“Each to his own Dr. Slater.”

“It’s not Dr. Slater. I’m not a doctor.”

“My son is in your class. That makes you Dr. Slater.”

When he gets back to the house Jeremy calls CC. He listens to the rings, a sleepy eyed student, doing an all-nighter, answers. He leaves to get CC.

CC is on the phone: “No I’m glad you called”

She arrives at Jeremy’s house 45 minutes later. Jeremy helps CC take off her coat.

“I was lucky. I hitched a ride.”

“You shouldn’t do that.”

“Everyone hitches.”

“At this time of the morning, weird people are out there.”

“It was a milkman going to work.”

“Is it cold out?”

“Not too bad. Weather man on the radio said 41.”

“A high of 41? Or that’s what it is now?”

“Don’t know. Wasn’t paying attention.”

 

He takes your coat and throws it across a chair. She is standing not too far away from him. With the house to himself he is not going to waste this opportunity. Holding his arms out he reaches for her. She takes his hand. He sits on the couch and pulls for her to be on his lap. She resists, ducks away, sits next to him:

He puts an arm around her in a warm not necessarily seductive way. She has a reluctant expression, but she isn’t surprised.

“Carol’s going to be okay.”

“It’s not fair. We haven’t done anything.”

Not expecting that answer CC looks at him bewildered as he repeats: “We haven’t done anything. You and me.”

CC looks into his eyes. He is elsewhere.

It’s one thing if we had… I kissed you. So what.

A long silence. He continues within his thoughts.

“It’s scary to get that sick, CC offers

“Has it ever happened to you?”

“You know about my myasthenia?”

He doesn’t answer

“Once I got double vision for a day. I needed air. I didn’t have the strength to take a good breath.”

“Were you scared?”

“The thought that I could die passed through my mind. For several hours. But I was able to reach my doctor. Something was wrong with my medicine. Hasn’t happened since.”

“You live with that?”

“That along with Elvis.”

What do you mean?

CC laughs

“Don’t worry I don’t like Elvis.”

“It has to be rough.”

I usually don’t think about it. Seeing Carol shook me up.”

He kisses her forehead, comfortingly, but then tries to move to her lips. She pulls back.   She stares at him in a rebuke. How could he think of coming on to her with his wife in the hospital?

He gets it. He stands back. Goes to his room. Returns with his fur collared army jacket.

“Put this on. I want to take you somewhere. Wait, let me get you a sweater.

He comes back with a heavy turtle neck sweater. She puts the sweater on, then zippers up his coat. The coat is 10 sizes too big, but looks great. Unconsciously she models for him in front of the mirror, looking at her left profile, then her right. She smiles at herself approvingly. So does he.

“You’re amazing.”

He means it. She looks both ridiculous and fetching. She knows it.

CC laughs, “For once I agree with you.”

“The jacket’s warm. You can keep it.”

“My coat is warm.”

“Not like this one.”

“Really I-“

“When you wear it you’ll think of me.”

“Maybe.”

She follows him to his car, a black Ford Galaxie convertible, with spoked wheels, 7 years old but polished and in good shape. Many coats of wax and elbow grease are apparent. CC walks half around it admiring it.

“I didn’t picture you having a car like this.”

“Betsy’s my baby. What did you think I’d have.”

“What did Socrates drive?”

“No seriously.”

“ don’t know. Mark has a Volkswagen. I expected something like that. Faculty-ish. This could be on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine. What did you call it? Betsy? Growing up my father had a car named Betsy.”

They get in the car. Warming it up he revs up the motor like a teenager. He settles down and starts to drive. From the look on her face, she is enjoying being by his side as he handles the road.

“I always wanted a convertible. And now I have one.”

CC’s voice is cheerful, “You’re definitely not a typical faculty member.”

Jeremy smiles, “Actually, people in my department go out of their way to break stereotypes. No Volvos. Dr. Franklin just bought a Camaro. Several professors asked where I got this. I could tell. They wanted one just like it. I seem to have started a trend.”

“It isn’t just your car. You’re not… like a faculty member. Usually professors come across as professors, kind of stuffy.”

“Including the ones from the Bronx with English accents.”

“I heard a lot of that in the Village when Mark would take me there.”

“I try to keep it real. Actually, a lot of the time I feel like a student more than a professor.”

“Meaning?”

“I’m not there yet, not where I want to be. I’m still striving. I’m hungry like a student.”

“Which is what I like. Only I’ll bet when you get there you’ll develop a nice little paunch. You’ll be as self satisfied as all the other professors.”

“Maybe, but my paunch will have to wait til I get there.”

“Which hopefully is never. I like the way you are now.”

“I promise you, I won’t have an English accent.”

“We’ll see.”

“What does that mean?”

“Truthfully, you already don’t sound like you come from Brooklyn. When you got going on Wittgenstein you sounded like you were reading from Shakespeare. You had a rhythm, like you were singing a song.”

“Okay. Occasionally I get carried away. But how I sounded when I spoke about Wittgenstein… losing my Brooklyn accent… It isn’t like I became a big shot professor. I just get carried away. Trust me my accent was there. It always will be. Brooklyn is cool.

“Good.”

“For you. I’ll definitely do it for you. No English accent.”

“Not for Carol?”

“No this is ours. Staying young. Remaining a student. She thinks I’m a baby.”

“She’s not romanced by that, is she?”

“How could she be? She knows me 10 years, when we were both babies. She’s left that behind. I haven’t. She needs me to grow up.”

“If being a baby means you will sound like Shakespeare…”

“I don’t know about Shakespeare, but-“

“Half the class went into a swoon. That wouldn’t be possible if you grew up.”

“Carol thinks I wouldn’t lose it. She thinks I could tap it anyway. Even if I became high falutin.”

“Could you?”

“I don’t know. But she’s right. I am there too much of the time.”

“Just stop calling yourself a baby. Those professors with the English accents. They did what they needed to do to come across as a professor.

“Well that’s half way to growing up, finding some kind of public personality so that you appear grown up. At a certain point you need it.

“No I understand. Kids can be irritating. Raw emotion. You can only take so much of it.”

“Exactly.”

“Except, I don’t want you to lose what happens to you when you are inspired. If that means remaining a child I am all for it.”

“Seriously?”

“When you got into Wittgenstein you were carried away. You left Brooklyn not as an act. You weren’t there.”

“He’s touched. He is rarely loved for who he is right now. Carol sees him through the lens of his future, what he will be, what they will be when he gets his act together and claims his doctorate, when Alyosha grows up and gets married and they have children

For the moment the snow has stopped and it is clearing up. Straight ahead of them, bits of light have begun to emerge on the road. Ice has formed on the telephone wires and they are brightly reflecting the sun.

They are outside the city proper. He pulls over and puts the top down. He turns up the heat as high as it will go. She’s wide eyed, excited. She’s never driven in a convertible before, top down, in the winter, and half in the dark.   He unwinds his wool scarf from his neck and puts it around her neck. They drive slowly.

“You warm enough?” he asks.

She snuggles up next to him. He puts his arm around her. They drive silently. They slow down for a red light. But then, considering the hour, he decides to drive through it, proud of his daring. She smiles, which he notices. This appears to turn something loose. Half crazy, he speeds up and hits a series of sharp turns quickly.

Alarmed she shouts: “Jeremy. Slow down.”

The nuttiness continues until the car slides off to the side of the road.

CC screams: “Black ice!”

He slams the brakes hard. They spin around 180 degrees, fortunately coming to a complete stop.

“I can’t believe you. Can you tell me what that was?”

“No I can’t. But you’re right. That was black ice.”

“Do you want to die?”

He ignores the question as frivolous. He turns the car around. His driving returns to normal. The full sunrise has arrived and is unusually beautiful The rumble of Niagara Falls can be heard in the distance. It grows ever louder as they get closer. Finally, it becomes a roar. They get out of the car.

“Close your eyes.” Jeremy asks her

Briefly she opens them as he leads her blindly forward.

“Close them.”

This time she obeys him. She smiles. He leads her through an opening in a chain link fence. They move forward thirty or forty feet.

“Okay open them.”

Her eyes shine, lit by the sunrise. Usually Jeremy pictures a scene and is often disappointed as reality can’t match up with his imagination. Not this time. What is before them is far beyond what he had hoped for. The falls are immediately in front of them, with a mighty roar, still illuminated by night time spot lights. Despite the powerful sound, they are surrounded by delicacy as the yellow-purple-orange light from the sunrise is throwing off mini-rainbows in the mist created by the pounding water.

She speaks into his ear, still shouting a bit to be heard above the roar: “It’s awesome.”

Jeremy also tries to outshout the fall’s roar

“You deserve this.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. It just seems like something you deserve.”

“Because I am so stupendous.”

“That and something else.”

“What?”

“There are no words.”

He sees she is starting to melt. He kisses her lightly. Her teeth are chattering from the cold, which ends the spell. He has brought a blanket from his trunk, which he puts around her, but she continues to chatter.        He shouts to be heard over the falls.

“I guess we gotta go.”

Cute, half serious: “No. I like it here.”

“Yeah, but when the moment passes it passes. You can’t get it back.”

“Says who?”

“D. T. Suzuki.”

“Who?”

“It’s a lecture for a different time. Zen. I’ll put the heater on in the car. I know somewhere we can drive to.”

“We talk too much.”

“I know.”

He again tries to kiss her. She refuses. “The moment has passed.”

 

Jeremy closes the top of his car. The heat is blasting away

“How’s that? You warmer?”

She embraces the blanket, and starting with her shoulders trying to warm up, she theatrically undulates down to her toes, letting out a cowboyish shout. She ends with:

“Oooh.”

Jeremy is having a good time. If Dave were here he’d be saying Oh boy! Oh boy! but in the new language, “wow.”

They arrive at another spot, a nice, only slightly less spectacular view, which they can see from the car.

“How’s that?… You okay?”

She smiles.

“You warm?”

“Yes. “

She puts her hand behind his neck. Stares into his eyes.

“You know you don’t have to impress me to get a kiss. Believe me if we had stayed at your house, and you put on Johnny Mathis, it might have done the trick. You don’t always have to be Superman. We’re past the first date.”

“That’s how I am.”

“I know. I had an uncle who was a comedian. You remind me of him. He’d deliver jokes one after another, until we were sore from laughing. Then he’d keep going past the point that we wanted to be entertained.”

“What are you saying?”

“I guess I’m thinking more about how much we talk, both of us.

We don’t know how to seize the moment.”

Clumsily he puts his arms around her. She pulls away.

“Let’s go back.”

“What happened to seizing?”

“C’mon. Let’s go.”

“So it will take magic.”

“Just timing. “

“Bullshit. You can’t move us forward can you? Is it Carol?

She doesn’t answer. They are both quiet. In a romantic daze he continues to watch her.

“You ever think about show business?”

“I would if I had talent.”

“You were in a band. You sang. Carol told me.”

“We went nowhere.”

She notices his mounting frustration. She takes a breath.

“I can’t help it.” She tells him. “How can you forget Carol?”

“Truthfully?”

“Truthfully.”

“I’m not thinking about her at all.”

He finds her eyes, “I’m excited to be here with you.”

“I don’t get it. You love Carol…”

“I do. I truly do.”

“So what is this with me?”

“I’m just telling you the truth. It’s something elemental, a force of nature. Like metal being pulled by a magnet. Ten minutes after I first saw you, the first day of class, I began picturing coming here with you. It just came into my mind. Over and over. Niagara Falls and you. Like a snapshot, no a song playing in my head. not a song. “ He rolls down the window so that the roar of the falls returns. “A symphony!”

“I’m thrilled.”

“You’re thrilled that Carol is in the hospital?”

“I’m upset about that. I’m upset that she could die from her lupus.”

“So.”

“I’ve never felt closer to anyone than Carol. She’s my soul mate. I’ve never had that with anyone. No one. I don’t know if it will ever happen again. You’re going to think this strange… something… I wish she could be here with me and share my feelings.”

“You mean a threesome?”

“I’m not into kinky.”

“That’s good. Look. I still don’t get it. How you can love her and-“

“Be blown away by you? I just am. I’ve never been so excited in my life. Watching you at the falls. It was how I pictured it. Being three feet from you, talking to you, turning you on. It doesn’t get better.”

“That’s because you want to fuck me.”

He is both taken back and thrilled by her cursing. She moves closer to him, or, at least, he sees it that way. He again tries to kiss her but she moves her head away.

Her voice is more emphatic

“I don’t want to. I don’t understand… Carol?”

“Carol, Shmarol. I think you are waiting for me to do one more trick.”

“Okay Mr. Superman. Fly to that tree and fly back.”

Again he tries to kiss her, and again she avoids him. But at least now she is smiling.

“You didn’t fly to the tree… Friends. We should be friends. That’s it.”

“But this is an opportunity. Carol in the hospital… Having the house to myself…”

“You sound like someone at a convention. Everyone going wild because they have a hotel room and their spouse is at home.”

“Carol doesn’t police me.”

“Oh no. What is this?”

He puts the car into drive. Pulls out on the road

“You want the truth?” She asks.

“What?”

“I want to visit Carol.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Not to me. I want this to be real. Whatever I’m going to do. Or not do. I have to see her.”

“I don’t think so.”

She’s determined . “I’m going to visit her.”

Later that morning Jeremy is with Carol. She is a good deal better. The IV has been disconnected. Her catheter is gone. She is woozy and keeps dozing on and off, but she is basically okay. Her mother is attending to her which puts Jeremy in the background. Soon after, CC arrives with Jeff. CC has brought flowers. He stares at CC trying to be dismissive. She is oblivious. Her attention is on Carol.

“Carol. You have visitors.”

She only half opens her eyes.

“Your cousin Jeff told me you were here. How are you feeling?”

Carol doesn’t answer. Carol’s mother insinuates herself so that Jeremy can’t get close to the bed. She looks at him coldly. Then she studies CC. Only Carol and Jeremy can hear her

“Is this your girlfriend?”

“Mom, There is no girlfriend.”

“Look Carol is not stupid.”

He doesn’t answer. He looks at the floor. Carol’s mother turns away from him. Carol opens her eyes, stares sadly at Jeremy.

Carol’s mother continues: “I see the way you look at women. You’ve always done that.”

Carol is more awake: “Mom shush.”

CC turns her attention to Jeff: “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.”

“I’ll go to the waiting room.”

CC hands Carol her bouquet of flowers.

“They’re beautiful.”

Carol’s mother takes them, “I’ll find a vase.”

CC and Carol make eye contact. What is being communicated is ambiguous. A nurse enters: “Sorry. Only two visitors at a time.”

Jeremy speaks hollowly, “I’ll go with them. I have a class in about an hour. I’ll be back.”

Carol watches him as he leaves with CC. She looks at her mother who looks at them with an irritated puss.

“Mom, I love him.”

“I know.”

“It’s not easy for him to be married to me…. My sickness.”

“It’s not easy for any man to be married to any woman. But some do better at it. Your father would never… never.”

“I’m not sure they’ve done anything.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s a baby.”

He’s a good man. He’s going to grow up. You’ll see.”

“What choice do I have?”

“None”

 

CC, Jeremy and Jeff wait for the hospital elevator.

Jeremy addresses Jeff: “Thanks for coming.”

“She looks better.” CC says to no one in particular.

“You were here before?” Jeff asks

“Briefly.”

That afternoon CC has returned to Jeremy’s house. She is drinking tea on the sofa, staring into the fire in the fireplace. Jeremy sits beneath her on the floor, close to leaning his head against her leg. Then he does. She doesn’t move him away. If she hadn’t understood the situation all along, and chose to ignore, CC has now arrived at the same place as Jeremy. Carol being away is their opportunity. She strokes his head.

“She looked better than I expected.”

“That’s what’s weird about Lupus. You go in and out of being sick.”

CC sips her tea.

“You know, when Carol had Alyosha it was a miracle. Her doctor told her if she were to get pregnant she would have to stop her medications. And that could be disastrous. I told her I didn’t care about children, which was the truth. But I knew she wanted a baby so I went along. We were supposed to wait ‘til she was in full remission. That wasn’t happening so we went ahead anyway.”

“Were you afraid?”

“I thought it was a ballsy move. She didn’t. She wanted to have a child in the worst way. When she’s determined… She has a powerful will. She was pregnant within weeks.”

He looks at CC with tenderness.

“Carol is lucky to have you.”

He moves his head off her knee and looks up. He speaks forcefully:

“I don’t want to talk about Carol. She is not on my mind. You are.”

“And what about Alyosha?”

“Him either. I haven’t connected to him yet. Maybe when he can talk.

“I can’t help it. I feel like Carol is in this room watching me.”

His eyes plead. Then become determined.

“This is such bullshit.”

CC waits for the moment to pass. She gets up, goes to the window. Looks out. He stands but doesn’t move towards her. She stares at nothing in particular:

“So the delivery went well? Alyosha was healthy?”

“Carol had toxemia but they were able to get it under control.”

“Really?”

Jeremy interrupts their flow forcefully

“What’s the point of this conversation?”

“This is just how it is. You love Carol. She’s here in the room with us.”

“This is about us. Carol isn’t here…Right now it’s you and me. I’m thrilled I’m with you.

Her heart throbs as, one phrase at a time, he is nailing his ownership of her.

“Alone…” “In my house…” “It’s our opportunity…” “I can’t help it.”

For a moment she breaks out of his spell. “It’s not as simple as that.”

“As simple as what?”

Her tone becomes nasty: “I’ve heard stories. You’ve done this before. I’m not going to be a fling.”

“Fine!”

He stands up. Hands CC her army coat. She’s surprised but puts the coat on. For a moment she’s flustered. Has he lost patience, telling her to beat it, to go home? She opens the door to leave.

“Where you going? Wait one second.”

Jeremy goes in to the bedroom. Returns with CC’s bag.

“Are you going to leave without this?”

Feeling awkward she takes it from him.

“Hold on.”

Again he returns to his bedroom but he returns with his winter coat on.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

CC stares at Jeremy, her happiness apparent. “Go where?”

“Let’s just go.”

“You have ants in your pants.”

The snow is not yet deep enough to need shoveling, but the tiny droplets are coming down in sheets, with the stiff wind, almost horizontally. Blowing against their face, it feels more like ice than snow. Each drop is like a tiny dagger. Both have been in blizzards before. The news had warned about the hazard. But in Buffalo, blizzards are so familiar that the natives, Jeremy included, have learned not to panic. Besides it is the first storm of the season which loans a certain innocence, novelty, far more than a warning of danger.

A car’s wheels can be heard spinning.

“This is crazy,” she shouts above the howling wind.

“Get in.”

“I’m not getting in unless you promise to drive safely.”

“Don’t worry. Get in.”

As a joke, he pushes the button for the top to come down.

“No way.”

“I’m kidding.”

They drive slowly with the top up. As they drive, the snow has gotten deeper.   Then suddenly it lets up and the sun is shining.

“That’s amazing.”

“What is it they say about Buffalo weather. If you don’t like the weather wait a few minutes. It will change.”

“That’s not Buffalo weather. It’s New England weather.”

Jeremy winks, “Oh well. You win some and you lose some.” In his teacher’s voice: “Where does the quote come from?”

Triumphantly CC answers: “Mark Twain”

He pulls the car over and stops. Once again he reaches for the button to put the top down.

“You’re serious this time aren’t you?”

“I’m just curious what it would be like”

“Crazy is what it would be like.”

“That wouldn’t bother me.”

“Well for us not crazy people, I don’t want to be driving around in a convertible during a blizzard.

He returns the car to the road. At the beginning of winter, people forget. The first serious snow is always a winter wonderland. Enchanted, they watch the scenery as they talk.

“I don’t understand how you can act like Carol isn’t with you.”

He shrugs

“Look. It was my idea to get out of the house. If we didn’t leave I would have jumped you.”

“Would you?” she answers flirtatiously

They drive for a while quietly while they both mull over what is happening.

“You say you love me but-“

“If it’s about Carol I don’t want to hear it.”

“Something else. How can you love me when you know absolutely nothing about me?”

“What do you know about me?”

“That you are the most honest person I have ever met.”

He laughs: “Honest? I talk about truth a lot. I’m obsessed with it, but that doesn’t mean I’m honest. You already know I’ve cheated on Carol before. Basically, I’m not honest at all.

“So why is truth so important to you?”

Jeremy smiles. He is in familiar territory

“I’ve thought about that a lot. Erich Fromm, the guy who wrote The Art of Loving. He knows every in and out. He’s obsessed with love. People quote him all the time.”

“So?”

“He’s been married five times.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

“Someone told me it was.”

“Whoever told you that is wrong.”

“Maybe. I’ll look it up, but the idea is still valid. Maybe I talk about truth so much because I am basically dishonest.(stage voice) “Me thinks Thou doth protest too much.”… I know my dishonesty is something I got to fix. So I keep carrying on about it.

“I got a better example. Did you ever watch Jimmy Swaggart?”

“The preacher? …No.”

“They have him in New York. Buffalo stations don’t carry him. When I’m home I land up watching him, practically every day. Sometimes for hours. He’s pretty amazing.”

“Your Jewish. He’s a Christian preacher.”

“I’m not interested in the Christ part. It’s him. He cries. Really cries, from the bottom of his heart. Goes on about how he must have God’s forgiveness for his sins. He means it. It’s powerful. He’s not foolin’ around. It gets to me.”

“He’s just acting.”

“I’ve never seen an actor go where he goes. It’s not an act. It’s real. Tears pour out of him. He’s reaching into the depths of his soul. Trying to free himself of his guilt.”

“Come on.”

“He takes me with him every time. Gets me repenting for everything I ever did wrong. They try to get you there on Yom Kipper, but I just think about what I am going to eat when I break my fast. Jimmy Swaggart does it for me.

“Do you have a punch line?”

“Someone told me he goes to whores every night.”

Jeremy smiles shaking his head, “What a hypocrite.”

“You’re right but the whole thing is real. He genuinely wants forgiveness.”

“And at night, whores.”

“At least he goes to his whores with a clear conscience.”

Jeremy thinks further, “So that’s why I am carrying on about honesty?”

“I don’t know. I think guilt plays a big part in everyone, you, me, Jimmy Swaggart, Erich Fromm. We protest so much because we can’t stand what guilt feels like.”

This is the first time Jeremy has listened to her in teaching mode. He’s perfectly comfortable with it. He assumed she would be intelligent when he was first captivated by her eyes, a certain depth they had, but he’s still a little surprised.

“So you think we shouldn’t do anything. The guilt would be too much”

“Carol-“

He rolls his eyes.

The snow has begun again, coming down harder. Once or twice they skid. Unintentionally. He doesn’t seem alarmed. If anything it focuses him. The wind is now wailing. Constantly. They were right. It is a blizzard. The fact that he is calm, calms her. She is actually admiring his skill driving in the snow.

“Maybe we should turn back?”

“Are you kidding?”

“I’m having difficulty seeing the road? We’ve passed 3 abandoned cars.”

“I love it. Nobody’s on the road. I hope we have 2 feet of snow.”

“ Where are we going.”

“ Don’t know. Just out.”

“Do you have snow tires?”

Jeremy’s eyes are lit up like a madman

“No. But I love this.”

“You mean a city slicker out in the wild. Having an adventure?”

“Whatever you want to call it. I love it.”

“You should have been a white water rafter.”

“Perhaps.”

“You’re a complete idiot.”

“Actually I was thinking we can drive into Canada, see Niagara Falls from the other side. It’s pretty spectacular. Forty minutes. We’ve been going for fifteen.”

“In normal weather.”

“No traffic.   The road is ours.”

“It’s probably snowing worse at the Falls.”

They drive on for awhile, neither saying a word. Finally Jeremy breaks the silence.

“It wasn’t the same with the others. I’ve never felt like this. Never! The first day of classes… I saw you and that was that.”

They drive on further. He pulls over to the side of the road. Turns towards her. Something is bothering him.

“I have a confession. Even before classes… I saw you once walking on campus. I followed you. Did you know that?”

She looks at him with a sheepish smile.

“Actually, I do. You had a strange expression on your face.”

“What kind of expression?”

“Strange, half crazy.”

“Did I scare you?”

“For a moment but no. I liked you watching me. I like your face. You’re sort of handsome.”

“Even with my nose?”

“Especially with your nose. I like it. Later, the way you looked at me kept popping into my mind. You were this mysterious stranger. Like in a novel. (Laughing) One time I pictured you blowing your nose.

“I’ve never mastered blowing my nose in public.”

“I know I’ve seen you. What a mess. But in my fantasy you were perfect….. Blowing your nose like Cary Grant would blow his nose. So suave. I tried to keep level headed. But it was exciting. I was hoping you would follow me again. I actually looked for you for weeks. But you disappeared.”

“Once or twice I saw you on campus. I wanted to know who you were.

She is thinking things over. Finally: “Okay truth time. I arranged to take your class.

Jeremy is smiling: “I didn’t know that. I thought it was sheer luck. Like I did something right and the gods were repaying me.”

“Which gods?”

“I don’t know their names. Gods!”

“Oh?”

Thinking it over some more, Jeremy continues: “You looked surprised the first day. When I came into the room.”

“I know. Even though I arranged it. I wasn’t sure if my information was correct. That you really were the person who followed me. I guess I was surprised that it was actually happening. “

The conversation is making both of them, very happy.

“We have a strange mojo… My friend’s been warning me about you. Telling me to stay away. He thinks what’s going on in me is way over the top. Besides being crazy, he thinks it’s dangerous.”

“Do you think so?”

“I think I’ve fallen in love. “

Speaking so directly brings a wave of awkward silence.   They should have already been kissing and nothing is happening. Is he all talk and no action? There is a book on the front seat. Jeremy points to it.

“Read the first paragraph.”

“Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.”

She looks confused: “What does that mean?”

“Don’t know. That’s Samuel Johnson. Don’t understand that guy. The other book. Go to the beginning.”

She sees it and does as directed.

“It is the folly of lovers?…”

“Yes, that one, the Van Gogh book. Page one. It’s underlined.”

“It is the folly of lovers that they act little differently than mad men. Van Gogh knew that folly. He lived it every day.”

“That’s why his paintings leap out of the canvas. When he’d get manic, everything he saw was on fire. He painted it that way.”

She puts down the book. They both look at each other expectantly, but Jeremy starts the car and returns to the road, driving slightly too fast.

“You know what happened to Van Gogh.”

“Yeah. He cut off his ear. “

“Before he killed himself.” Jeremy intentionally makes the car skid. “Which is what you are going to do with this car.”

Jeremy again turns the steering wheel abruptly, teasing them with danger as the car skids for a moment on the empty road.

CC scolds him: “You’re crazy.”

“Me and Van Gogh.”

“He was a nut.”

He laughs and swerves some more.

“It’s not funny.”

Suddenly they go into a serious skid, the car spins completely out of control. An 18 wheeler is heading towards them. The sound of its very loud horn is constant as it approaches them

The truck just misses them but they are on the wrong side of the road. So the danger continues because far off in the distance another truck is heading towards them, Jeremy floors the gas pedal. This digs them deeper in to the snow. They are stuck. He jumps out of the car.

With CC steering he pushes. The truck is coming closer and closer. He moves to the front of the car and pushes from there, as she puts the car in reverse, gets traction and manages to make it back to the right side of the road just as the approaching truck begins to skid. Jeremy, who is still outside the car is almost hit by the skidding truck.

He is white as a ghost when he opens the car door to get in. He pushes his head back into the car seat. Takes a deep breath.

Then, like soldiers in a trench after the shooting is over, working as a team, averting catastrophe together has brought them closer as talking hasn’t. They look at each other.

“That was scary.”

Jeremy is smiling. Nervously bluster comes out of his mouth

“I knew nothing would happen. This car brings me luck. I’m safe as long as I’m in it.

“Are you serious?”

“God told me.”

“I’d like to go back, okay?

“Okay.”

He turns the car around and they drive for a while. Having made his point, that geniuses are spared the usual cautions of others, and that he is half an idiot, chastened by reality(his near death experience has left a serious impression) the swerving stops.

They continue their previous conversation.

“Were you like this with the other students you slept with?”

“You are in an entirely different category. I never followed them.”

“Never?”

He doesn’t answer.

Never? She repeats

Still no answer.

“What about anyone else, when you were younger, in high school?”

I was a completely different person. The Jeremy I am now only came into existence when I got older. Somehow my reading, filling up my head with ideas, changed me. My father told me I discovered myself. Don’t know about that. I think when I was young I didn’t have enough ammunition. Bullies could read my defenselessness in 2 seconds. Having smart thoughts became for me, a kind of ammunition. I eventually had more than enough.

“I’d say.”

“It gave me balls. In high school if I got a wrong look, it sent me reeling. With girls I was this sensitive scared little boy.

“Those are strange years for everyone I was the same way. My father told me everyone is scared when they are in love, especially the first time.”

“And second and third.”

“How may times have you been in love?”

Jeremy doesn’t answer

He smiles fondly: “There was one person back then that I did feel the way I do about you. Marlene Schneider. Exactly the same. I fell in love with her the second I saw her. The split second. One look. She was absolutely gorgeous… Like you.”

She gives him a little shove on his leg. For a moment he accelerates then stops. They swerve a bit.

“After school I used to be a delivery boy at a dry cleaner. Every day around 3:30 she’d walk by where I worked. Starting around 3 I’d be looking at my watch every few minutes. If I had to go out on a delivery around 3:30 and I missed her, it was like a wasted day.”

“Sounds like true love.”

“I never got up the nerve to speak to her. I was scared out of my mind, paralyzed. When I saw her approaching my heart stopped. My eyes were frozen on the ground. Once, just once I looked up, into her eyes.”

He smiles, shaking his head: “I can still remember that moment. Did I see love coming from her? Did she love me?”

“Did she?”

“I’ll never know. I never met her. Not a word between us. In love for years, thinking about her all the time, and not a word.”

Laughing: “So I’m not your first.”

“No actually you’re my second chance.”

She likes the comparison.

“It’s true. Twelve years and I can still picture that moment when my eyes and Marlene Schneider’s eyes locked. I felt this rush. It was like the universe had opened. What did I do? My eyes dropped to the ground and stayed there.”

He stares at her half mad.

“Still, it was something. I’m not going to blow it this time.”

“Did you have acne or something. With your looks I can’t believe you didn’t have girls all over you.”

“I had a lot of girlfriends. And I kept hearing about girls who had crushes on me. With them I had courage, but the only one I really wanted… Marlene Schneider… scared the hell out of me.”

“So how do I know the new you isn’t going to track down Marlene Shneider?”

“I already did. She’s married and had twins.   She’s put on weight. That old feeling was gone.”

“So along comes me. Nice and thin me. Oh and those others girls you slept with.”

“The others don’t count. They threw themselves at me.”

“After one of your lectures?”

Probably. Sometimes I get very carried away. (sheepishly)

Very matter of fact: “It turns the ladies on.”

Jeremy answers shyly, proudly: “I’ll confess. I enjoy it.”

“So the bottom line is you’re a show off.”

“You don’t have to put it that way. I’ll admit before teaching I thought about going into show business. Before my band. As a comedian, an actor. I sang in my band.”

“A comedian?”

“You said I remind you of this comedian you have in your family. When I’m at a party and get high, I can be funny.”

“So your serious lectures, they could have been part of a comedy routine. You just like being on stage? Getting attention?”

“Not at all. A good comedian is totally in to his material. Otherwise he couldn’t do it. Same with my lectures. I really am inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Every time I discover something new about him I flip.”

“Well you’re good at it… Great! It’s not even close. In the three and a half years of teachers I’ve had, you’ve have the best act in town.   You can do what Wittgenstein could do. You can hypnotize your audience.”

Smiling confidently: “Really?”

“Come on. you know that’s what happens.”

“Seriously, how many groupies have you had?”

“Two. They were too hot to resist.”

“So I’d be number three. You really do put on a good show. You have people eating out of your hand.”

Jeremy shrugs.

“And girls wanting to jump into bed with you.”

“But you’re not one of them. This has been different from the beginning. It didn’t begin with my lectures. You had already seen me following you. The lecture simply confirmed the kill.”

“Is that it? You like to kill young ladies?”

“You want to make me into this Don Juan/lady killer. Why don’t you know what I feel about you?”

“Okay. I do. Well maybe I half believe it. But-“

“But what?”

“But nothing. I know something’s happening between us. Truth time? … I gasped the first day of class when you walked into the room. Did you notice?

“I-“

“My mysterious stalker was going to reveal himself. That you actually were my teacher was mind blowing…. And then your lectures…

“I was a stalker? I followed you once.”

I’m teasing…Still, I think you are a Don Juan. “

“How do I prove I’m not? What do I have to tell you?”

“Tell me?… That is not going to cut it. Don Juans tell their conquests all kinds of things. Convincingly! That’s what makes them a Don Juan.”

“Okay. Never mind what I say. Look at me. Look at me this very moment. Look at the way I’m looking at you.”

“You watch the road.”

He pulls over and stops the car, offers his face as a specimen. She takes a long hard look. His eyes are jumping around restlessly.

“You look scared.”

“I am… That means my love is true.”

(playfully) “Actually you look pathetic.”

Jeremy is not amused: “Pathetic or not, I can’t help it. What’s going on with you has been building up all my life. I’ve been waiting to meet you.”

“Come on.”

“You don’t know what that’s like do you?”

“Well everyone’s weird in some way.”

They drive on silently. She looks up at him from time to time. He sees a diner.

“You hungry?”

“No.”

He stops at the diner.

They settle in to a booth. The waitress comes over. She is looking at the weather outside “Takes a lot of courage to be driving tonight.”

“Or stupidity.”

Jeremy smiles proudly and foolishly.

“What can I get you?”

“Coffee, black. Also a hamburger and french fries.”

She looks at CC

“Do you have a chocolate chip muffin.”

“Honey. This isn’t New York. How about a blueberry muffin?”

“Fine.”

The waitress returns with the hamburger and fries for Jeremy and a huge diner size muffin for CC. CC smiles when she sees its enormity. She takes a bite, becomes gabby. The waitress pours Jeremy’s coffee

“You never were crazy about Carol? “

“No. Not crazy.”

“Not even in the beginning?”

“I loved her as I got to know her. Her soul. It’s grown and grown. I love her more than ever. “

The waitress has lingered by their table listening. They realize it. They both look at her. She leaves.

“Did you think she was beautiful?”

“She was attractive. She’s put on a little weight.”

“So why did you marry her?”

Because, at the time, I was ready to get married. I didn’t have to be ga-ga. I wanted to get started, have a family. And she seemed bright… nice. I was right. She’s even more than I imagined. I’ve never known anyone like I know her. The more I’ve known her the closer we’ve become.”

“But you didn’t love her?”

“You didn’t hear me. She is perfect. We’re buddies. We can tell each other anything.

Jeremy notices her bewilderment: “It’s completely different from what you and I have.”

“That makes no sense. You can’t be falling in love with me and love Carol like that.”

“Who made that rule?”

“No one, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

“From day one I felt Carol was in need of protection.. I wanted to give it to her. And that’s what she does for me. Protect me. We’re shelter in a storm. We have a home together which we’ve built and built.”

“That’s what everyone has. I mean if they have a good marriage.”

“But it’s more…You know all those stories they told us as kids, the prince saving the princess. That part of it, feels like love to me. Always has. I just didn’t know it could grow so strong. I’ll never leave her.”

“Can you save her?

“If I can I’m unwilling to die trying….Eight years. I’ve watched over her. And she’s watched over me. She’s my alarm system. Warns me when I am off kilter.”

“So where do I fit in? Am I just eye candy?”

“I don’t know. I have what I have with you. I love Carol but you…” He breaks into a song: “.”

CC has a give me a break tone of voice.   She moves her hands in front of each other like a referee signaling “no basket” “No singing. Song lyrics are such nonsense.”

“You’re so wrong. They come from a real place. You can’t compose a love song without having a broken heart.”

“Please.”

Jeremy begins to croon… decently. He sings loudly

You broke my heart

Coz I couldn’t dance

(sadly)You didn’t even want me around

But now I’m back

To let you know that I can really shake ’em down.  

He stands and starts dancing.

Do you love me (I can really move)

Now do you love me (I’m in the groove)

Ah do you love me (do you really love me)

Now that I can dance

He’s giving a fantastic performance. She smiles which encourages him still more. He repeats the chorus.

Do you love me (I can really move)

Now do you love me (I’m in the groove)

Ah do you love me (do you really love me)

Now that I can dance

CC grabs his hand happily. They start to dance. When they stop they both turn serious. Despite his clown act, his eyes are imploring like Robin Williams, not there yet, not quite finished with his act, never finished. Suddenly this quality hits her.

“I want to get back now. Okay?”

Standing he finishes his coffee. Takes a last bite oh his hamburger, grabs a few french fires, gobbles it down. Wipes his lips with the back of his hand rather than a napkin. Some ketchup drops on his coat. Takes his finger and wipes it off. Sucks his finger dry.

She puts on her coat and takes the muffin with her. The waitress has not brought a check. As they walk towards the door, the waitress is beaming. CC shows the muffin to the waitress.

“No charge but you have to come back and finish your dance.”

CC has already passed the waitress. Unheard by CC she leans forward and whispers happily to Jeremy: “Good luck.”

The snow is coming down harder. The wind is whistling. Engulfed by the storm surrounding them, they both settle in for a determined drive. He starts the car.

“Can I have a bite?”

She breaks a piece of the muffin and hands it to him.

“What did the waitress say to you?”

“She wished me good luck.”

CC is, at first, still amused but that soon fades as they get back on the road. She turns to him, unexpectedly serious.

“You think you can just invent rules for yourself as you go along. Don’t you? Whatever mood strikes you. That’s you.”

“And who are you? Miss consistently?… Jay? “

“Zen rules. Follow your bliss.”

“You sound like Charley Chan (imitating him) Son number 2 say-

“Where do rules come from?   We’re here to be ourselves and enjoy what we are doing. That’s why we are alive.”

Dripping with sarcasm: “Being spontaneous? My mother warned me. Spontaneity turns you into a fat person. You can’t eat whenever you feel like it. Same for sex.”

“So you really like rules?”

“I don’t like them any more than you do, but you gotta have them.”

“Rules, rules rules-there’s too many of them. Particularly if there’s no God. What’s the point?”

“I thought you said God made this car magical?”

“That’s the car god. Not the big guy in the sky god. The big guy-no way he’s gonna tell me how to live. He doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. I’m the only one who can make the rules that I live by.”

“What about the car god? Doesn’t he have rules?”

“Yeah. Change the oil every 3000 miles.”

“You left out one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“God expects you to drive safely.”

They make it home. He parks in the garage. Alert to ice on the unshovelled walkway from the garage, she puts her arm through his. He starts out completely sensitive, protective. Jeremy helps CC over a snow drift. But then, ahead, he sees a patch of ice. He’s off. He runs forward and slides on it like a child. As usual, he looks back expecting her appreciation. He gets it. They enter the house. He goes immediately to the bookcase and opens a book, reads to her:

“Helplessly his mind sang. He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young man on the flying trapeze.”

“Who wrote that?”

“The daring young man on the flying trapeze? Saroyan. It made him famous.”

She smiles.

 

Chapter 8

May 1969

Unarmed Berkeley police are standing guard at the newly created and then disassembled People’s Park on Telegraph Avenue. There is a loud roar as they are quickly overpowered by the crowd surging forward. The newly installed fence is pushed down and the vacant lot is theirs. Someone finds the car tire that had been cut down and hangs it once again from a tree to serve as a swing. They are heady with power, their newly accomplished contradiction of the powers that be. But once the rubber tire is again happily swinging, there is nothing left to do. The police have left the area. A good number of the crowd head down Telegraph Avenue where they are soon met by more police. There is pushing and shoving.

Shortly after, at the Herrick Hospital emergency room entrance a police car comes screeching to a stop. Only a few pieces of jagged glass are left where the windshield and windows once were. . With his arms around his partner, a policeman staggers towards the entrance. A nurse rushes forward with a wheelchair. The injured policeman is quickly seated.

Mark and his supervisor, a resident one year older, greet the policeman and his partner as he is wheeled into the treatment area. The p policeman’s shirt has blood stains. He is sweating profusely.

“What happened,” the medical resident asks him?

His partner answers, “It’s World War III out there.”

They help the policeman on to a gurney and close the curtains. He moves carefully, fearful that he may further injure himself. Mark and his buddy have practiced this many times and are efficient. Mark cuts open the injured policeman’s shirt with a scissor. The resident examines the wound on his chest:

“Is this your only injury?” the resident asks the policemen.

“That’s it.”

His partner adds a a bit of detail, “When he tried to stop the crowd. This prick threw a knife at him.”

“He’s lucky. They threw that knife hard but it bounced off his breast bone.     A couple of inches over… We just have to clean it and maybe a stitch or two. “

Two more policemen arrive, also with their windshields gone. Worried, they eagerly question a nurse. She points them towards the location of the injured policeman. They peek in the curtain. One of them addresses the injured policeman’s partner.

“Is Jerry okay? I heard he has a knife wound in his chest.”

“He’s okay. They say the wound is superficial.”

“I see they destroyed your car like mine. The fucks know we are unarmed.

“We were just driving along when the rocks came showering down. We were stupid enough to stop. They surrounded the car. Kept throwing rocks. They pulled me out. Got me down on the ground. One of them was kicking me. When Jimmy got out of the car, someone threw the knife. I guess they weren’t total animals. When he started to bleed that stopped everyone. Like all of a sudden their game wasn’t a game any more. My son could have been one of them.

“Maybe but they own the street. There are instigators among them, cool as a cucumber. Too bad we can’t pick them out. “

“The chief wants us to stay away from Telegraph. He’s calling in the Alameda County sheriff.”

Not long after, in full riot gear, guns drawn, some with shotguns, the Alameda county sheriff’s men have regained control of the streets. Here and there a brave (or stupid) student pops up and screams “pig” at the officers. Or oinks. But most of the students and street people have gone to the roofs to watch the action. They cheer when one of the policemen gets hit by a rock thrown from the roof as if it is a sports contest. A few of them have perfected their oinks. A rock comes flying down and destroys the windshield of a car. In a rage, one of the county sheriff men shoots up at the roof with his rifle. Then several others start shooting.

Shortly after there is bedlam at the emergency room entrance of Herrick

.Doctors are shouting orders to the nurses.

“Start a line. Contact Dr. Nusra to get his ass to the O.R. pronto.

Mark, call the operating room to get ready.”

A gurney with a wounded street person is raced down the hall to the elevator. Nurses run alongside. One of them is pumping air into his lungs, the other is applying pressure to his wound.

A senior ER physician watches them leave the ER. Quietly, angrily he is perplexed, amazed that this is happening: “That guy was shot with a double aught shotgun. They use them to bring down deer. The sheriffs wants to kill people.

Mark speaks to his partner: “When people are angry enough they really go crazy.”

Mark is on rounds the next day. They come to James Rector’s bed. He is conscious but clearly weak.Mark has the chart in his hands. There are several other interns in the group. They talk in front of their patient as if he is not there.

“What’s his BUN?”

“85” Mark answers

“Creatinine?”

“9.”

“Hematocrit?” the chief resident continues.

“22.”

“Probably he’s still bleeding. He may have to go back to the O.R.”

“With that kidney function?”

“What choice is there?”

The chief resident looks up at the heart monitor.

“Plus he’s got atrial fib. “

They leave his bedside. The resident addresses Mark.

“He’s alert enough to sign the papers. Get his signature.”

Mark returns James Rector’s s bed side. He is holding a clipboard vertically so the patient can sign the papers.

“How did this happen?”

Weakly the patient answers,

“I was standing on the roof watching.   A guy near me threw a rock down at them. All of a sudden there was gunfire. Before I could get down behind this wall on the edge, a bullet knocked me down. Don’t remember after that.”

“It wasn’t a bullet.” Mark tells him. “They downed you with a shotgun pellet bigger than a bullet, double aught.”

One of the other interns comes back to the bedside. He pipes in

“They were shooting double aught pellets. They wanted to kill people.”

James Rector speaks: “Gunshots were flying in every direction.”

Angrily Mark adds: “They don’t give a shit. I can’t believe there’s nothing in the news about this.”

The other intern answers: “No surprise for me. The establishment controls the press.”

James Rector adds,

“Amen.”

The next day, outside the office of president of the hospital, Mark is sitting . He is called in.

The president stands holding up a copy of the Oakland Tribune which has a huge headline: STUDENT SHOT BY POLICE.

“Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”

“What’s the problem? It’s true.”

“The problem is we have someone who is in charge of news from the hospital. They quoted you about the double aught shotgun that hit James Rector.”

Defiantly Mark answers him: “And what’s the problem? It’s true.”

“You don’t decide. We decide what the public should and should not know?”

“How is this hurting the hospital?”

“This isn’t your business. I don’t want you talking to the press. Do it again and you’ll be out of here.”

A few days later, after James Rector has died, The Berkely Barb’s Tari summarizes the demonstration:

They thought they could get away with firing guns at their own unarmed children—they did. They thought they could get away with strafing the college campus with blister gas.

 

And they thought they could get away with murder if they dressed it up in official rhetoric., if they call the victim “a rioter”, if they made it look as if the president of the UC student body at the UC student body responsible for it by inciting to riot.

 

Will the people of Berkeley let them get away with that? I really doubt it. The officials talk about they deplore violence while they murder persons all over the world now even in Berkeley. They don’t have a special lease on violence. It can be turned against them

 

They tell us they are only protecting ”liberty” when they mean simply the liberty to kill and imprison us. That kind of liberty will be taken away from them.

 

The people of Berkeley know who the murderers are and know what the term justice means. We know who is responsible for the death of James Rector:

 

Gov. Reagan who said in t press conference this week, that is perfectly all right to gun down students in the streets.

 

 

Chancellor Roger Hynes, who started a war over square block of land then left town turning Berkeley over to his assassins…

 

 

It started innocently enough. April 18th 1969 the Barb on April 18 1969, ran an article entitled ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye’  It informed readers about a guerilla pop-up park. “A park will be built this Sunday between Dwight and Haste…

 

“The land is owned by the university which tore down a lot of beautiful houses in order to build a swamp.” 

 

In a year the university will build a cement type expensive parking lot which will fiercely compete with the other lots for the allegiance of Berkeley’s Buicks. 

“On Sunday we will stop this shit. Bring shovels, hoses, chains, grass, paints, flowers, trees, bull dozers, top soil, colorful smiles, laughter and lots of sweat … we want the park to be a cultural, political freak out and rap center for the Western world.”

 

Hear ye. Hear Ye

 

CHAPTER 9

CC and Jeremy enter the house freezing their tails off after their abortive trip.

Jeremy heads for the kitchen: “I’ll make coffee.”

“Do you have hot chocolate. I don’t drink coffee.”

“Really?”

“Never learned to.”

He rummages a little on the shelves.

“Here it is. Swiss Miss. Do you like English muffins?”

“Do you have cookies?”

“No. No chocolate muffins either. What about an English muffin?”

“Don’t like them.”

Shortly after they are sitting opposite each other in the kitchen, he with his coffee, she with her hot chocolate. She is still wearing Jeremy’s army jacket. She is picking at the ends of Jeremy’s English muffin.

“I thought you don’t like English muffins.”

“It looks good on your plate.”

She continues to pick at his muffin.

“I’ll make you your own.”

Stubbornly CC maintains her position

“I don’t want one. I don’t like them.

“Coffee, English muffins…What’s with all that?”

“I like what I like.”

With a sarcastic expression on his face, Jeremy watches her drink her hot chocolate

“Hot chocolate. I keep forgetting you’re half child. How old were you 6,7 years ago?”

“13!”

“Exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing” he still has a sarcastic superior expression.

“6 years is a long time.”

“A third of your life.”

“I just don’t like coffee. Big deal…”

His accusing eyes remain.

“Mark tried to get me to drink it.”

“When was that?”

“I don’t know, when I was 11 or 12. He wants me to like everything he likes. Especially if he’s just discovered it. He’s just like you.”

She picks up his cup and takes a sip. She makes a face.

You don’t think that’s bitter? I don’t understand it. Why isn’t everyone drinking hot chocolate? What’s with coffee?”

“You know, you’re not alone. Practically no one in your class likes coffee. I couldn’t wait to try it. It’s something my parents did and children didn’t. So I couldn’t wait to start drinking it.”

“Yeah we are different. No one wants to do what their parents did.”

“So why does Mark like coffee?”

“Good question… Actually I do know. When my parents were in the kitchen he snuck a sip after a big dinner. Did the same thing with wine. He was 8 or 9, just like he used to light up my mother’s butts rthart he found in the ashtray. He doesn’t drink coffee now, but when I was 11 or so he loved coffee and wanted a partner in sin. He had me try it. It just tasted lousy. Bitter.”

“You don’t like to give in to Mark do you?”

“I want to be myself.”

“Which is who?”

Emphatic, angry she shouts

“Me!”

Jeremy is taken back by the depth of her feeling. She is as well. He stares at her expecting an explanation.

“It’s not just him. My mother… She acts like I am still five. I’m tired of being her project. She wants me to be a junior version of her.”

“Your mother-“

“She assumes that is who I want to be. Like she is so great. I can see it in her eyes. Stop fighting and be me.”

“Really?”

“The last few years she’s realized how stupid that is. But she still slips into it. Just assumes I see things like she sees things.”

“Like what?”

“Anything. If she sees a lamp she loves. If I tell her I don’t like it, she doesn’t really believe I don’t like it. She assumes I’m being difficult, or stubborn.”

“She never cut the cord.”

“Not just me. In certain ways she’s like that with my father. She always has to be right. She’ll hear something on TV which supports something she said 6 months ago to my father when they disagreed. She’ll let him have it. Like in your face. She has to win every argument.”

“About what?”

“Anything… nothing. Like you can’t eat English muffins without marmalade. If my father doesn’t enjoy it like she does, God help him.” She walks towards the window. “I don’t know what that’s about.”

Jeremy says nothing. CC regathers her focus.

“It’s not just her. Too many people push on me.”

“It’ll let up when you get older. Believe me at 45 the guys aren’t going to give a shit what you put on your English muffin.”

“My dad’s over 45. It means everything to my mother. Like how could he not want marmalade on his English muffin?”

In a very snotty tone: “Your mother’s something.”

She’s uncomfortable with his animosity towards her mother

“You’re mean.”

“Come on. You-“

“When I put her down it’s okay. I hate her for that moment.   But I love her… But you…”

“Sorry. I really do dislike your mother, but it’s unfair.”

“Exactly, how could you? You haven’t met her.”

“I got it from you. Stuff you told me. I just assumed. This is the first time you said you loved her”

“Are you kidding? I love my mother. She is real big in me. Real big.   She just pisses me off most of the time.”

“Let’s drop it. If you like your mother I like your mother.”

“Is that possible? You hate bossy people.”

“It doesn’t matter. If you love her I do. It’s not complicated. I feel what you feel.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Well maybe not yet, but I can feel it happening.”

“Boy you are big on sap. Be honest.”

“Okay If I met her and she pushed.” He thinks better of continuing… “Let’s go back to where we stared. Whatever Mark was doing, and other guys, trust me, when you get older you’re going to see a lot less pushing. You know how guys want to sleep with a virgin. Especially a pretty virgin. It isn’t just sex they want you to become addicted to. They’re that way about everything.”

“Who said I’m not a virgin?”

“Really?”

“There was a guy in high school. And three so far in college. Sorry. I’m not little Miss Innocent.”

“They may have fucked you, but you don’t seem like you’ve been fucked.”

“Believe me I was.”

“What once each?”

“Well-“

“You’re still a child. Your vagina and your brain are not connected yet. I can tell.”

“It has nothing to do with sex.”

“What about your clitoris?”

“I never had a conversation with it. You have a weird mind.”

“Mark, the battle you are in with him… it’s not unusual. Guys want to change women. Make them the same as them. They don’t like being alone.”

“But I’m his sister not his girlfriend.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter. “

“I’ve been his virgin for everything. Still am.”

“That’s why you don’t want to kiss me.”

CCis incredulous.

“Wo. Let me hear this one.”

“Mark. He’s always pushing you. You have to push back. So when I-“

CC throws her arms around him and kisses him passionately. He’s right there. He unzips her army jacket, pulls up the sweater he gave her, baring her breasts. He lifts her and carries her to the bedroom. The stored up frustration of all these months, all of their conversations, powers him. Her beauty now to be his.