The biggest mistake an analyst can make is to overestimate the importance of reason in their analysis of why people do crazy things, or have crazy thoughts . Certainly reason plays a part, sometimes an important part. But fear is often overlooked or played down as an ingredient. And fear explains most of it
We are living in strange times. People are having crazy crazy thoughts, coming to conclusions that make no sense. Most of those having stupid thoughts are not necessarily stupid, or ill informed. They may even have wonderful ideals towering in their minds, and to others seem kind, and well intentioned. Their fine sound beliefs aren’t necessarily virtue signaling to make an impression on others. They believe their ideals. Having fine intentions is how they know they are good people. But there is no rational way to explain the craziness of their conclusions. My daughter, who we were told when she was a child has a high IQ, doesn’t believe in vaccines. You should hear her reasoning. I suppose it justifies her expensive education. One of my sons thinks it is peachy that he is receiving a Covid check from Washington when he already has a very nice income. I don’t want to elaborate on his politics.
We live in a frightening time. Not long ago a Covid world of sirens and horrifying news stories surrounded us. People fled the cities. True there weren’t long caravans of people on dusty roads, carrying their possessions in a cart pulled by a donkey. We live in an advanced society. But the desperation was real. People went to real estate agents and bid up the prices of houses to levels that didn’t make sense. They weren’t fleeing Hitler, but apparently to them it was very real, a life or death situation.
But even before Covid, fear has played, and still plays, an enormous role in why people believe in causes and find explanations that don’t make sense. Some assume the problem is Wall Street, others The Virus. Then there is Crazy Trump, old man Biden, the ranting of guests on Fox, CNN or MSNBC. The fear is real. The internet blasts a constant refrain. The end of the world is near. CO2 will wipe out the planet. We must put an end to gas guzzling cars. (just as the technology has become amazingly reliable) For the first time in decades we have become energy independent. We no longer have to depend on the crazies ruling the Middle East. The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer tells us, to the cheers of progressives, that she will stop lines carrying our fuel. A former bartender from the Bronx and her friends in Congress tell us it is the only way to save us from the ravaging fires of California and Australia , the droughts, the hurricanes. We must trust the science even thought the science is not there. We mustn’t dare to point this out. Billionaires agree with. it, CEOs. They are virtue signaling as never before. Is it because they are true believers? Probably not. It doesn’t matter. They rationally understand the power of the masses when they share beliefs. Moreover, not just corporate big wigs, but anyone with a reputation to safeguard can witness the fate of those who are not true believers. They will lose their Twitter account, be banned from universities, scalded by commentators guarding the virtuous from heretics. We saw something like this before, during the McCarthy era. It is dangerous to not join the mob.
Are the crazy ideas new? Many of them very much so. But are they really different? Intelligent people once believed Christ walked on water, and Moses parted the Red Sea. In addition to the unlikeliness of their beliefs, people have always grouped themselves into true believers with good purposes. It is an important part of the package They find an answer to their fear by belonging and believing what everyone else in the group believes, no matter how nuts. It beats being frightened and alone. The phenomenon is so powerful and widespread that very few people can avoid belonging to a group with shared beliefs. The alternative is not very gratifying. Being alone with out of control fantasies and explanations that others might deem insane
Experience is too confusing without the comfort of being one of many who have reached the same conclusions. With conventional religion abandoned by a majority of Americans, it was inevitable that the old wild sacred tales would be replaced by new equally strange ideas.
Should we be so afraid? Probably not but I don’t really know. Maybe we should. We are all going to eventually disappear, be turned into dust, obliterated forever. At 77 my future is clear. I just want to remind analysts to not waste their time. Even if they could reason their way against the ridiculous thoughts they attack. It is not thought that needs to be addressed, or facts corrected. It is fear. Without salvation demarcated hard times are ripe for saviors, for leaders of historic dimension . Castro, Mao, Mussolini, FDR, Churchill came forward to set things right. Or are these larger than life heroes only seen that way in retrospect, in a documentary on TV after the horror has been eliminated.
I don’t wish to be a nihilist. I wish we weren’t so afraid and that stupid thoughts will evolve into decent moderate conclusions, as they so often have in the past, at least when things seemed to be going smoothly. I have four children and six grandchildren and hope a nice future awaits them, with comfortable thoughts and assumptions to guide them. There are the best of times, and the worst, and all the times in between. We are somewhere in that continuum. But unless we are very lucky fear will occupy our psyches and demand some form of explanation. I hope we will come up with good ones. Then we don’t have to waste so many words fighting off nonsense.
Much has been made of the left’s attempt to shut down those who disagree with them. It is widespread enough to remind us of a similar recent frightening chapter in America’s intellectual history, the McCarthyism of the 50’s. The right wing had those with leftist leanings shaking in their boots. We are not quite there yet, but perhaps not far from it . People are being asked to resign, or making pathetic apologies about their presumed crimes. I am as troubled as the next person by the possible consequences that may be ahead of us.
On the other hand, I have a new perspective that may place it in a different light, possibly a more positive way of looking at what is going on. I thought of it following an advertisement I saw on TV for Progressive Insurance. The ad shows an older self satisfied fool mentoring young adults, Then the voice of an omniscient commentator can be heard: “It takes constant practice…Progressive can’t save you from becoming your parents…”. Funny, but could what is joked about in that ad be the explanation for our current McCarthyism, nothing more complicated than the generation gap. So much of what progressives are taking seriously makes no sense at all. Yet they will not tolerate discussion. Nothing at all. They are so confident that they have righteousness on their side that in their eyes people like me are opinionated dinosaurs So, from their vantage point there isn’t a discussion worth having
I am not surprised. There was a time when tensions in my house got very uncomfortable– whenever politics became the subject. My wife implored me to cut it out. She is always worried that they might stop calling and visiting. Besides, she argued, the changes they are demanding from our country will not effect either of us. It is their world now. If they are wrong they will suffer the consequences, not us. So, for family harmony I cut it out. I was treated as if I was now behaving myself. I yelled at newscasters rather than them until that became unbearable and I stopped watching the news altogether. I agreed with my wife that it was the way to go. Now I get along with my kids much better. We mainly talk about their children, which I suppose is what should be my concern. We get constant videos and photos on our phones and it’s true. My grandchildren are glorious. But I am a stubborn old fool. I can’t help but fight back with this article (hoping they don’t read it which will start off another round)
So let’s start with their children. They are indeed wonderful, but even before Covid the time and energy my kids devoted to them amazed me. Their friends did the same thing with their children All of them were so devoted, so interested in their little ones that for awhile I questioned my own parenting efforts when they were young. Mind you I was not a slacker as a parent. I loved them and played with them when I got the chance, played ball with them, taught them how to ride a bike, and in the early computer days played Kaboom and other games with them. I didn’t do it out of duty but because I enjoyed playing with them. The 4 of them left college without debt which meant years of frugal spending on my part when it came to luxuries I might have enjoyed. Nevertheless, my efforts were minuscule compared to what tis now being done with their children. Since I was typical for my generation I am given a kind of pass for not being more of a father. I, and millions of fathers like me, didn’t know any better. On the other hand, secretly I hold the view that the enormous energy my kids are consuming trying to be great parents is robbing them of other interests. I envied their devotion enough to have second and third thoughts about my parenting, but I still can’t help thinking what they are doing is weird.
And , although I am now silenced, their political beliefs drive me wild. They are foolish beyond discussion, particularly because no discussion is allowed. I will refrain from the particulars of my political arguments and focus on the point of this article. It may seem simplistic but the essence of the problem may be found in that progressive ad. It expresses the way teenagers ordinarily think. They need to defy authority. From being children one day, clearly in need of my guidance, they become know it alls. To do so authorities are turned in to comical figures, like in the ad. They may or may not belong to groups that reinforce their beliefs like become vegetarians, or scientologist or nowadays any thing else to be found on the internet. Usually, in time, adolescents i come around. Except my children are not adolescents. My youngest is approaching forty. My oldest is going on fifty. They are still at it. It isn’t just the Progressive ad that got me going. I’ve noticed in the media an enormous number of heroes and heroines who break the rules. I mean we started it. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize. Communist heroes and heroine aboudn like Angela Davis feted on public TV. I liked Bob Dylan when he was young. But a Nobel Prize winner? People who stand up for themselves against the mainstream are today’s heroes. Except, the rebels are the mainstream. Being respectful of traditions and older values is a quality the villains often possess., people in their eyes who supported racism and thought gay people were not quite normal.The term progressive says it all. In their hearts they believe they are for progress and people like me are opposed to it.
The tip off to what is going on is that there are too many particulars about which the new generation disagrees with my generation. It is not about a specific issue or two, or three. It is an entire culture of refutation, not only about political issues but surprisingly small details. Let’s start with the expectation that I will take my shoes off at the door. My wife tells me they feel the germs being brought in could bring disease. I now wear shoes that are easily slipped on and off. But still, how did that one get started? Or diluting juice they give to their children by a half. When I was growing up juice was one of the healthy foods I was given by my parents. I don’t disagree about the sugar content, but then why do my kids add honey or maple syrup to their children’s organic yogurt? That is another one, organic. Because organic food is so costly and poorer parents can’t afford them, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually stepped up to the plate on this one “ there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.”
Guess what? Beliefs about the goodness of organic foods correlates with the age group of consumers. One survey claims 18- to 34-year-olds represents about 52% of the nation’s organic buyers. In contrast, Generation X parents born between 1965 and 1980 made up about 35% of organic buyers and Baby Boomers represented 14% of organic buyers. Similar issues center on the use coconut oil which it is claimed is healthy. Analysts have been struck with the amazing ability of coconut marketers particularly because their claims are nonsense. Coconut oil is one of the most deleterious cooking oils. It increases risk for cardiovascular disease. Because of it popularity, the American Heart Association warned of its unhealthy effects. That mattered little. Consumptions went up in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The issue is even more dramatic about fats in the diet versus sugar. Younger consumers now tend to avoid any product that has added sugar (or normal amounts like fruit juice. They believe it is the chief cause of obesity as opposed to fats. Marketers have taken note. Companies are releasing products catering to that demand. These include General Mills’ Oui brand, which is launching a crème fraîche product, and Love Good Fats, which recently closed a $10.7 million funding round to expand its reach. Old-fashioned butter has also seen a surge in demand.
They may be correct that increased type 2 diabetes is related to high sugar diets, and some of that may be due to lowering fat intake as my generation tended to do. But they are claiming that sugar is far more unhealthy than saturated fats . They are wrong. It is not a trivial issue. When I was a child two of my friends’ fathers died of heart attacks in their 40’s . It was that common. With statins and lowered numbers of people smoking, and avoiding saturated fats young fathers dying of heart attacks essentially disappeared. (the down trend began before statins.) No longer–According to Ron Blankstein, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Harvard “It used to be incredibly rare to see anyone under age 40 come in with a heart attack.” Now we are seeing it more and more. How is it possible that my kids can be so far off on this one, particularly because they are so careful about eating healthy foods. From my perspective, ridiculously so. As I walk through the supermarket there are astonishing fears being propagated about nonsense. Item after item reassures buyers they don’t contain GMO, as if GMOs are poisonous. (There has never been a single instance where GMOs were harmful. Never!) Same goes for milk coming from hormone fed cows. The hormone is not in the milk. The same goes for gluten which is only significant in those who have celiac disease.
Perhaps, I’m undermining my argument by placing so much emphasis on issues as trivial as food, although two of my children have told me “you are what you eat,” and what they feed their children is chosen with enormous care. I should also admit that I love many of the foods my children now cook. And that includes my sons. The foody phenomenon has done great things for the gourmet in me. But my purpose in bringing up seemingly trivial issues such as the change in their diets, or wearing or not wearing shoes in their homes serves my main point because it puts our disagreements about politics in a perspective that may be the fundamental issue. It isn’t just politics that they won’t tolerate discussion. It is all of it. It is fruitless to argue, to disagree, to make even a peep about my shoes or their children’s juice. They have a pulled off a fait accompli. They are young. They have most of the energy. They have driven the old guys out of power at the New York Times and other institutions. There is no going back. They will prevail. If for no other reason than we will be gone before they turn old.
I suppose, as mature adults we should be thankful for small blessings. I don’t know about others from their generation , but my kids are nice and mean well. And if I am being fair my generation has reaped what we sowed. In the 60’s I had a similar contempt for my parents old fashion beliefs. At the time I was certain young people had a truer view of what the world is all about and how to change it for the better. I don’t believe that anymore. I now see it wasn’t true then and certainly isn’t true now. Still, we have gotten back what we gave.
Lance Morrow recently hit the nail on its head. America’s history can be viewed as a continuous process of reinvention. It is how we move forward. And back. Some of it is good, some bad. He worried about the bad and so do I. But I cannot ignore the goodness in my children’s heart. It is wonderful they are so focused and loving to the helpless, their own children, but also the disadvantaged of every type, the retarded, fat people, transexual people, poor blacks and Hispanics ,criminals that never had a chance, people getting screwed, or simply unable to compete.
It is nice nice nice. I understand why they are convinced they are so much nicer than those from previous generations. Not just mine, but going all the way back. But especially me and my coconspirators. I guess that is what disturbs me. Their commitment to kindness easily turns into blame, as if our struggles to stay afloat (and perhaps get to the top) were somehow at the expense of everyone else. It is true that in sports, winners make the losers losers. And undoubtedly there are cheaters, racists, body–shamers, snobs that seem to be winners. Too many complacent members of my generation deserve their contempt. But not me, and not most of us. Most of us are not angels but we are nice enough. Just like our kids.
Must there be a generation gap? I suppose so. Must there be so much resentment, the kind that leads to change for its own sake. Can’t we replace the old without smashing and obliterating the old. Which brings me to my final point. Despite their best intentions a worst case scenario is s possible. In Lord of the Flies William Golding described the dangerousness of children once authority is removed. The same thing applies to adults. The seeming privacy of the internet, the ability to avoid authority for hours on end has unleashed a new, perhaps unprecedented culture. The torrent of hate, and what used to be called perversity among the general public has escaped its usual place, locked away, beneath the rest of the mind. Freud believed a wild beast lives in us which is always there, ready to pop out. It is usually contained by our conscience, which in turn is supported by the strength of community standards. A key question is whether the internet turns all of that off. That is my greatest fear. In the age of the internet, the usual attempt to replace the old with the new now favors anarchy.
During the Covid crisis experts have been quoted again and again and again as a central part of the discussion. Their advice and predictions have often been inconsistent or wrong but that has not stopped them from being an essential part of any commentary by journalists and politicians. It’s made me wonder exactly what we mean by an expert.
I never gave much thought to the term until it began to repeatedly appear in the 80’s and 90’s in my field, psychiatry. Suddenly, practitioners were besieged by treatment strategies that were called Expert Consensus Protocols. In theory, I suppose, there was no harm in getting together well-known academicians and having them vote on the best way to treat various psychiatric disorders. Except there was a problem. Many of the strategies were devised by people who had little experience giving treatment, experience I had from spending thousands of hours trying to help my patients. Some of the protocols were very far off from what I had learned from administering care. There also was another downside to these protocols. They became the standard of care. If something went wrong, practitioners could face grave legal consequences from not adhering to the group think strategies devised by the experts.
A short detour will be helpful here to understand what was going on in psychiatry. For decades Freudian orthodoxies ruled the field. Group think was as prevalent then as it was later to become when “scientists” began to demand correct thinking. The desire for scientific thinking was understandable. Psychiatrists had long been considered the step children of medicine. It got worse during the 60’s and 70’s. Psychotherapy had gained a new foothold in popular culture. Many more people were seeing psychotherapists. And there were more therapists than ever before, some with excellent training, but others with little training beyond catchy slogans for change. Much of the rhetoric of the new practitioners had nothing to do with Freud. Many of them tended to use touchy feely psychobabble. Even if they were wrong about a lot of treatment strategies, at least Freudians demanded a certain rigor. The new practitioners were flying in every direction with their claims and methods.
It was embarrassing. Psychiatrists wanted out. They wanted the prestige other doctors had gained by adhering to the dictates of science. The only problem was there was little incontestable scientific knowledge about how the mind functions. It was no one’s fault. It wasn’t from lack of trying. We can only know what we know.
Then along came Prozac. The first time I used it on patients I was amazed. I had tried a variety of medications before which sometimes brought improvement, but I had never seen anything quite like what happened with Prozac. Patients who were absolutely miserable weeks before suddenly were feeling terrific, better than they had ever felt in their lives, as author Peter Kramer put it, “better than well.” It alleviated millions of people’s suffering.
Prozac increased the serotonin in nerve junctions of the brain. It was hailed as a scientific miracle. Except it wasn’t. Before the drug was discovered, few if any scientists believed serotonin had much to do with depression, anxiety, or the variety of psychiatric disturbances it was later used to treat. Eli Lilly first tried it out as a treatment for high blood pressure, then as an anti-obesity drug, then for serious depression. It was a complete failure until it was tried on people with milder depression. It worked spectacularly for them.
Prozac was a home run, but those who discovered it were swinging half-blindly. It was a bit of luck. Its developers had no problem admitting that was the case. Here is a statement accompanying the Discoverers Award given to Drs. Molloy, Fuller, and Wong, for their work with Prozac. “Human science still falls far short of fully understanding how the brain works. It is the most complex organ in the known universe, and though progress has been made in deciphering some of its secrets, much remains to be discovered.” However, despite their realism about the science, the remarkable efficacy of SSRIs had a halo effect on the reputation of psychiatry.
The general impression of the public was that amazing things were happening in scientific psychiatry, twenty first century discoveries. It was exciting. Psychiatry was finally thought to have answers to questions that needed answering. People were willing to pay fortunes for 15 minutes of a psychopharmacologist’s expertise.
The dominant paradigm became that chemical imbalances were the explanation for a myriad of conditions. Not that these imbalances could be demonstrated in our patients but it was only a matter of time. So great was the power of science that it would be coming tomorrow or before that. In actual fact the chemical imbalance perspective has now been discredited, but at the time it was put forward as certainty, scientific certainty.
Psychiatric literature had long contained rich deeply detailed case histories for us to ponder the complexities and mysteries of human behavior. Analysts did their best to tackle these cases one individual at a time. The process was long and slow and sometimes fruitful. Sometimes not. Suddenly all of the mystery, all of the details necessary to describe patients, became passé. In the literature long case reports were dismissed as anecdotal, of no scientific interest. What mattered came from grouping patients, categorizing them with a specific diagnosis, then gathering accurate statistics about these groups. Numbers not nuance mattered. As part of this new confidence experts stepped forward waving the banner of science.
Let me state clearly that I am not an anti-science, anti-technology person who wants “holistic” or alternative care for patients because science is inherently anti human. Quite the opposite, I would be thrilled if the treatment of psychiatric patients could be reduced to the application of well researched and confirmed scientific findings, which in turn would lead to logical and well thought out treatment. I would relish writing prescriptions that are as effective, as antibiotics are for strep throat, or penicillin is for syphilis. When scientific method leads to an understanding of a phenomenon there is nothing like it in getting the job done. Not only are antibiotics miraculous, so is the polio vaccine, cholesterol reducing agents, and many other lifesaving medicines.
Let me go further. We rightly appreciate firemen as heroes because they put their own life on the line. But, if we want to talk about heroes who have literally saved ten, perhaps hundreds of millions of lives, we cannot ignore scientists as our true miracle workers. Indeed, all reported miracles performed on earth by Jehovah or Jesus pale when compared to what our scientists have been able to accomplish. Never mind walking on water. Scientists have allowed human beings to fly from here to Texas. They have flown some of us to the moon. I don’t want to go too far with the obvious, but as the religious sometimes say as they view a mountain, or a rainbow, or the oceans “this is God’s work,” we should take a look at the miracles made possible by scientists. Before the 20th century there were no refrigerators, no cherries in the winter, no steel and glass skyscrapers, no computers, no internet, no automobiles and TV’s and most pointedly now, no vaccine for Covid 19. We should have a ticker tape parade for the scientists (as opposed to businessmen) working at drug companies. As an old guy self-quarantined for the past year at home, their genius may not only have returned normalcy to me. They may have saved my life.
Science is and should be the modern deity. Best of all, unlike previous deities, the makers of our miracles are not hidden in the clouds or the heavens. They bring forth answers that are pristine and unambiguous. Modern science depends on the clarity of numbers. There are no shades of grey blurring the truth. Numbers pinpoint irrefutable facts. Good or bad, science is clearly the most effective way to understand reality and effect change.
That is, when we have the knowledge. When we don’t we have experts.
In psychiatry “science” was used by the experts to bludgeon doubters into silence. It turned out that many of the experts were hucksters, paid academicians seeking to foster drug treatments which meant billions of dollars for their drug company patrons. Harvard’s Joseph Biederman, Chief of the Clinical and Research Programs in Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD at the Massachusetts General Hospital was considered the nation’s leading expert on ADHD. He wrote over 294 articles on ADHD. I don’t know when he had time to see patients but in any case he received the American Psychiatric Association’s Blanche Ittelson Award for Excellence in Child Psychiatric Research, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Charlotte Norbert Rieger Award for Scientific Achievement. He kept the fact that he had received $1.6 million dollars from the pharmaceutical industry secret.
I knew of this man. He was a persistent salesman. Sometimes several times a week over many years I received mailings from the renowned scholars at Harvard Medical School’s psychiatry department. The mailings basically said the same thing. I might be missing adult ADHD among my patients. They were in need of amphetamines and amphetamine-like meds to be fixed. On the streets this fix is called speed.
When experts insist that they know the truth it can be very persuasive. Most doctors (including some very nice, well-meaning psychiatrists, family doctors and pediatricians) follow guidelines from experts because given that they are written by professors who hold prestigious positions in many of the finest universities in the United States, they are likely to represent what is known. Medical practitioners, like everyone else, are very busy and must go on faith for many of their decisions. Even if that weren’t true most psychiatrists are like people in other fields. Group think prevails. They go along with what everyone else is doing. Particularly during the last 50 years, not doing what is accepted as the standard of care will lead to lawsuits if the results are not as expected.
Instead, of wrestling with the many uncertainties facing doctors as they make decisions that derive from the complexity of actual people, instead of turning to their best judgement it is tempting to turn to numbers. There is good reason why numbers are so appealing. Instead of being lost in the mystery of the unknown, when numbers are applied the answers can seem exact, scientific, soothingly accurate. They are the product of experts. However, besides the potential corruption that results from those who harness the power of expert opinion, there are also inherent mental traps. So eager are experts to present needed answers based on statistics that they use them when what they are presenting is irrelevant. As Einstein put it “Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.” Or as Dr. Jerry Muller put it “not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant.”
Psychiatry is plagued by a nomenclature that is perpetually being changed. During the scientific era in psychiatry we have we have had a DSM III, IV, and V, each diagnostic manual carefully defining and redefining what an illness is and is not The main problem is that these diagnoses don’t necessarily correspond to actual illnesses. They refer to symptoms that can be clustered and then labeled. Accurately defining clusters of patients with specified symptoms, is done in the spirit of science, but spirit is not enough. It is window dressing. As hard as experts try, without having the knowledge that comes from scientific understanding, the experts making up the committees cannot get it right. With their votes they can dictate what an illness is or isn’t. But experts love affair with numbers often makes the use of these diagnoses border on the silly. In particular, the statistics that result from med trials using these diagnosis may be accurate, but the use of them to determine what is, and is not, “evidence based treatment” is not scientific at all. It only appears that way.
Penicillin kills Treponema pallidum 99% of the time. It cures syphilis just as we expect it to do for reasons that are well understood. No one speaks of it as evidence based medicine. We reserve that term for treatments where the results are completely unclear. No psychiatric medicine works 99% of the time. How could they? Unlike syphilis we don’t have an understanding of what is happening. Most psychiatric meds work 60-70% of the time. That is better than placebo which sometimes works 40% of the time. 60% is not meaningless. Something useful has happened more often than it would have with a sugar pill. But for all the specificity implied by citing statistics, what is actually happening and why is unknown. Precisely defining diagnoses and carefully collecting data is not enough to claim treatments are evidence based. This is extremely important because using a phrase like evidence based medicine defines the standard of care, which most doctors don’t dare stray from. It implies science has determined the treatment, when, in actuality, science plays no part. It is the shell of science, the language of science. But not science itself. It allows practitioners to convince themselves that they reside in its hallowed halls using methods that have brought miracles. Its main function is to maintain the cache
It gets worse. Some diagnosis such as “conduct disorder”, don’t even resemble a real disease. Committees can accurately define the clusters of symptoms that define it but when experts try to harvest numbers that quantify treatment for misbehaving youngsters the process has become ridiculous. With “diseases” such as these clinicians are often practical. Far better to diagnose someone with ADHD which drug companies have spent a fortune trying to convince everyone that we are dealing with a real biological problem, behavior resulting from the body’s chemicals misfunctioning. It then seems logical to use chemicals to fix it.
The ugly tactics resorted to by drug companies to get everyone thinking that way is particularly clear in the case of Dr. William Pelham, director of the Center for Children and Families at State University of New York at Buffalo In 2002, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the world’s largest ADHD patient advocacy group, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Pelham did a study which involved giving meds as usual but also providing training to parents, and establishing simple behavioral programs in the children’s regular school classrooms. When his paper was in the galley proof stage at the medical journal Pediatrics, Pelham says he joined a conference call with a number of senior people from the corporation he worked for and they lobbied him to change what he had written in the paper. “The people at Alza (Pharmaceuticals) clearly pushed me to delete a paragraph in the article where I was saying it was important to do combined treatments (medication and behavioral) “It was intimidating to be one researcher and have all these people pushing me to change the text.”
McNeil Pharmaceuticals (which copromoted stimulants with Alza) didn’t stop there. The company commissioned a follow-up study on the conversion study mentioned above. This time McNeil did the data analysis and coordinated the paper writing. “I insisted on seeing the analyses and having major inputs into the manuscript and it was like pulling teeth to get wording and analyses changed,” he says. “It was like a whitewash, a praise to Concerta.” Pelham says the company submitted the paper twice to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Drafts were sent to Pelham several times but he says he never returned anything with his signature. In the end, however, he says the paper was accepted without his knowledge and published with his name on it.
It isn’t only researchers who are affected by the push to see things “scientifically”. It is not uncommon for doctors to change their patients’ diagnosis again and again hoping the numbers cited in the treatment protocols will deliver a cure. In other words, if the patient has bipolar disorder evidence-based medicine tells them to use this drug or that. If that doesn’t work they might choose a different diagnosis and then follow what the numbers tell them to do about that disorder. Their focus isn’t on the patient they are seeing, but on symptoms enumerated in the diagnostic manual. They’ve never really tried to figure out how the drug they are prescribing affects the psychological difficulties their patient is having. How could they? Their patient only appears once a month for fifteen minutes. Their job is to apply a diagnosis and then follow the protocol, guided by the numbers promised for that diagnosis.
Waving the banner of science, citing numbers derived from studies, reassures practitioners that they are being guided by its certainty. The virtues of science, its prestige, can act as a smokescreen. The language, the methods, the trappings of science can be so distracting that science’s core value is overshadowed, absolute clarity about what is known and not known. In psychiatry, considering how much we still don’t understand, our steps forward should be exploratory, investigative, not closed off by the chilling effects of authority. Meaning “science” should not become an authority. Doing this is the very essence of what science is not. Real scientists operate in an environment of doubt. We continually challenge the given and try to prove another version of the truth will prevail. Only by tearing down and reconstructing knowledge with adequate proof do we move forward.
Which brings me to a very hot topic, global warming. Like 99.9% of Americans I am not able to scientifically judge evidence for, or against, global warming. I am not a climatologist. But having seen what has happened when psychiatry has presented itself as scientific I quickly recognized signs that something is wrong with the climate discussion. Those words, science and consensus keep popping up. As weapons! I did a little reading. That 97% of scientists agreeing, the scientific consensus everyone keeps quoting turns out to be nonsense. More importantly, the most striking aspect of the controversy is the deliberate silencing of those who disagree. If anything, there has been even more dishonesty than what has occurred among psychiatrists.
When global warming was first brought to the public’s attention advocates warned that in a hundred years terrible things were going to happen if the problem was not addressed. That brought a yawn. Something had to be done. 2004 was a terrible year for hurricanes. Lives were lost. Billions of dollars of destruction occurred. It was a game changer. Climate change advocates finally had what they needed.
Only they didn’t. The campaign was a lie. Not a mistake, a lie. Chris Landsea, the UN’s IPCC’s authority on hurricanes wrote a public letter of resignation in 2005 after Harvard’s Dr. Kevin Trenberth participated in a press conference organized by scientists at Harvard on the topic: “Experts to warn global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense hurricane activity”. The result of this media interaction was widespread coverage that connected the very busy 2004 Atlantic hurricane season with global warming. Landsea was at first confused by the press conference. To his knowledge none of the participants in that press conference had performed any research on hurricane variability, nor were they reporting on any new work in the field.”
Dr. Landsea complained to the IPCC that there was no scientific basis for their claim. The IPCC leadership said that Dr. Trenberth was speaking as an individual even though he was introduced in the press conference as an IPCC lead author. “I was told that the media was exaggerating or misrepresenting his words, even though the audio from the press conference” clearly showed he had said what they reported. Landsea continued. “It is certainly true that “individual scientists can do what they wish in their own rights”, as one of the folks in the IPCC leadership suggested. He agreed. “Differing conclusions and robust debates are certainly crucial to progress in climate science. However, this case is not an honest scientific discussion conducted at a meeting of climate researchers… It “is of more than passing interest to note that Dr. Trenberth, while eager to share his views on global warming and hurricanes with the media, declined to do so at the Climate Variability and Change Conference in January where he made several presentations. Perhaps he was concerned that such speculation—though worthy in his mind of public pronouncements—would not stand up to the scrutiny of fellow climate scientists.” Dr. Landsea continued in his resignation letter “I personally cannot in good faith continue to contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by pre-conceived agendas and being scientifically unsound.”
Far worse tactics than misrepresentation followed in the case of Roger Pielke. He wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic.” In it he described the harassment he received for his research, which led him to a conclusion that many climate campaigners found unacceptable. It was the same issue. He thought global warming was real but there was scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or droughts have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally. Pielke thought it was possible he could be wrong but it was a topic he’d studied and published on as much as anyone over two decades. In 2015 he was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paige St. John, making the rather obvious point that politicians use the weather-of-the-moment to make the case for action on climate change, even if the scientific basis is thin or contested. Ms. St. John was pilloried by her peers in the media. Shortly thereafter, she emailed him what she had learned: “You should come with a warning label: Quoting Roger Pielke will bring a hailstorm down on your work.”
John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman wanted to drive him out of the climate-change discussion. His papers were no longer accepted by publishers where he had no difficulty before. An investigation of him was begun by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. Representative Gridjalva wanted blood. He was investigating whether Pielke, like Richard Lindzen, (a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an atmospheric physicist and Alfred P Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and 5 other climate skeptics were being funded by Exxon Mobil. He demanded that their universities investigate their financial support. There were also scientists of lesser renown that he targeted and in some of them Gridjalva’s inquiry created difficulties in their careers. Pielke posted a picture of Joseph McCarthy when he wrote about Gridjalva’s attack on Wei-Hock Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Fortunately, for Pielke personally, the investigation was not catastrophic. Pielke cheerfully wrote in his article that, “Studying and engaging on climate change had become decidedly less fun. So, I started researching and teaching other topics and have found the change in direction refreshing. Don’t worry about me: I have tenure… No one is trying to get me fired for my new scholarly pursuits.” His current pursuit has been described as a study of sports in society. He is now drawing his tenured pay at the university of Colorado as the director of the Sports Governance Center within the Department of Athletics.
Who can blame him for fleeing the climate discussion? Being a heretic is not the path to a pleasant life. But at least society has made progress. In the Massachusetts witch hunts, 20 witches were burned at the stake (actually they were hung). Still, we cannot be totally optimistic. Writing in the New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman took condemnation of climate deniers to a new level, “And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason, treason against the planet. To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.”
Treason? Huh? This from those who go wild about the terrible people who deny science. And this from someone who is even more esteemed than an expert, a Nobel Prize winner.
I’m glad Dr.Pielke has been able to gain a measure of equanimity by fleeing the topic of global warming. But the importance of the issue is not lessened by the fact that he’s personally okay. Scientific issues should not lead to persecution, to fear about expressing contrary opinion. The irony is overwhelming. Science whose very essence depends on doubt being used as a tool to further knowledge, is being used to suppress free thought.
My personal experience illustrates that this issue doesn’t only occur when it falls into the overheated frying pan of political debate. During the period in psychiatry that I described above, I wrote many articles that contained my criticism and suggested alternatives. I couldn’t get them published in main stream journals that would have allowed me to reach the audience that was crucial to how psychiatry was being practiced. Some academicians found me anyway, either on the internet or in smaller publications that were willing to publish what I had to say. Their reaction says it all. Several told me they admired my courage. Courage? It didn’t take courage at all. After a few years in academia I realized it wasn’t for me and that was during the Freudian era when I expressed some out of the mainstream arguments. The point is that since I was not a part of academia I had nothing to fear. It was different for them. That was dramatized by a communication I received from one of those who expressed his admiration. He cautioned me to not use his university email address with my views but to send all correspondence to his personal email.
At the time I hadn’t realized the campaign to keep experts’ opinions pure was that bad. I thought this kind of intrigue was mainly found in the Soviet Union. America is the home of the free, especially in the universities, which is the home of the smart people. This was long before horror stories began to emerge about how political correctness now ruled at even the finest universities.
When I was a child, I mostly thought that book worm kids were kind of nerdy. What many of them landed up doing with their careers made sense. Universities are filled with people who have sought the cloister of ivy walls. They had no taste for slugging it out in a world of Clint Eastwoods, businessmen, and bullies, the tough real-world of people beyond their walls. It seems entirely logical that they are for the most part pacifists, and they favor those at the bottom of society’s esteem. After all, as children, they most likely had been the recipients of abuse by rowdy not book loving kids.
After college my opinion of professors was the opposite of what it was as a child. They now seemed to be our most important body of citizens, rising above the squalor that sometimes characterizes dirty capitalistic competitiveness. I thought it was wrong that corporations usually turned to captains of college football team rather than Phi Beta Kappa members. Intelligence, more than any other quality matters. I still believe that intelligence should be rewarded, that intellectual pursuits should be hallowed but my views have changed about academia.
It is clearly not the home of the free, and certainly not the home of the brave. Political correctness is perhaps worse there than it is among the media and politicians. At least they have an excuse. The media needs horror stories to get the clicks. Politicians’ thinking must go wherever their constituents expect. But why are universities worse than elsewhere? It is because they provide the experts.
I don’t know if universities and professors will ever regain the respect they had until recently. JFK brought in his Harvard geniuses to fix the country. Before that the public didn’t turn to them very often when they wanted leadership. They were more likely to turn to Will Rogers for answers. They chose Ike over Stevenson, precisely because he was from the real world and not an egghead. Meaningful smarts far outweighed book smarts. But after Kennedy that changed. It became automatic to turn to the universities to guide us.
Although I did not fear terrible consequences if I continued to publish my criticisms of the paradigms that ruled academic psychiatry, the effect was the same. Like Pielke I was silenced, not because I was afraid. I got tired of knocking my head against the wall. Like him I have turned my writing energies in another direction. I have tried my hand as a novelist. Like Pielke, I very much enjoy my new focus but that doesn’t mean what I did and Pielke did and undoubtedly many others have done, and are now doing, is a good thing.
Lately, there have been very few articles taking on the media and the experts on climate change. We will be spending untold trillions of dollars to combat it. We will be shutting down coal companies, oil companies, ending gas powered automobiles all trying to save the planet. Great. I am for saving the planet. But before radically changing our economy, are we not entitled to a lively discussion about the science, one that truly has its virtues, relentless questioning until we get to where we need to be, with scientific answers? Especially because the latest IPCC studies are nothing like what our politicians and the media are screaming about. More than ever it has described significant uncertainly about global warming’s effects on drought, hurricanes, and floods.
Apparently, we are not going to get that discussion. The nerds in academia have run true to form. Not many will speak up. I am not talking about those who disagree with critics of global warming. I am talking about the many who have been silenced by fear and don’t dare speak out. I am talking about the truest sign of uncertainty, repetitive virtue signaling. It’s reminds me of what must have been going on in the minds of Hitler’s supporters, their repetitious Sieg heils as they threw out their arms in a salute. That reassured others and themselves that they were true believers. So, does virtue signaling.
It is unfortunate that Trumpians expressed their disdain for experts to the point of insanity. They thumbed their noses at them by refusing to wear masks. What concerns me more is that the distrust of experts will move beyond that fringe to the general public as more and more people notice that what is being told to them by experts is not true.
Mind you I am not unsympathetic to the diversity of opinions that experts express. The more ideas we have the better. Someone is going to guess right. I just want them to not call themselves experts. Simply tell us that this or that is their opinion, their best guess, their judgement. Stop throwing numbers around like they know something that they don’t.
Nor am I unsympathetic to people’s need for experts. We have heard from them ad nauseum during the Covid crisis. But what else could we do? We have been rightfully afraid, in need of explanations that might carry us. Although we didn’t get what we needed, we got what we wanted, what seemed to be trustworthy answers.
Throughout the millennia, alone with their fate, people have turned to faith. Now the experts are our priests. As much as my mind tells me to, I can’t laugh at the universal need for faith in the answers we are given. What choice is there? Lost in the wilderness of Oz, Dorothy believed there was a wizard that could give her what she desperately needed. When Covid 19 took over the world, when things got very desperate, when we didn’t have a clue, we all wished we could visit the Wizard of Oz. That’s when experts appeared from every corner of knowledge land.
I am 76 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 disappointment. Whatever happens, the effect on my writing is the same as always. 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. He was never able to publish anything. Had his never ending doubts. Notes taken by his students were eventually published. Bertrand Russell used to sit in on his classes, as did several of the other Cambridge professors. For good reason–they were hearing thoughts that they had never read or thought of. Russell called him “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius.”
Where did it get him? Eventually, Wittgenstein quit Cambridge’s philosophy department when he realized he didn’t have the answers he needed. Philosophy at the highest level was a waste of time. For 10 years he worked as a gardener, never telling his fellow workers that he had been a professor at Cambridge. He came back to the university when he figured his way out of the traps logical positivism had led him to. The answer was “ordinary language” philosophy. His fellow gardeners were able to avoid the mazes his colleagues at Cambridge created for themselves. They should recapture their original uncorrupted intelligence to find answers.
A similar story about Socrates. When 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 Zhivago’s 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. Why it makes me cry? 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 write about that scene.
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 happiness and end it, the mysteries of our motivations–I was drawn there.
That is not where psychiatry has gone. I have great difficulties with that. The chutzpah of the profession is mind blowing, claiming they know a thousand times more than they do. The brain’s chemistry may some day provide very good solutions to our troubles, but right now psychiatrists are fooling themselves (to be generous), and more to the point, the public. Our knowledge is thin. Yes they should rightfully pride themselves that unlike dinosaurs from the last generation (meaning me) they adhere to scientific method, to hard facts, to the certainty of numbers proving the point. But all too often this kind of thinking 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, the voice of one who has studied, is very smart, is an EXPERT!
It is comforting to realize such people exist. They walk on the sacred pathways of science. We prefer very little wiggle room about answers we need. Basing their elixirs on studies, on hard numbers, on tight logic is very appealing. They do not rely on opinion but fact. You have doubts? Look at the numbers? Proof positive.
Unfortunately, real progress isn’t usually found in precise answers. In helping so many miserable people feel better, the success of Prozac gave people the impression that fantastic advances had been, and were, continuing to be made in neuroscience. Untrue. When research began on Prozac no one was interested in serotonin, the secret of Prozac’s effectiveness. Other neurotransmitters were believed to be at the root of depression. Eli Lilly, the company behind Prozac, originally saw an entirely different future for its new drug. It was first tested as a treatment for high blood pressure, which worked in some animals but not in humans. Plan B was as an anti-obesity agent, but this didn’t hold up either. When tested on psychotic patients and those hospitalized with depression, LY110141 – by now named Fluoxetine – had no obvious benefit, with a number of patients getting worse. Finally, Eli Lilly tested it on mild depressives. Five recruits tried it; all five cheered up. That’s the real story. There are some very fine neuroscientists laboring away to find new knowledge that may someday benefit us, but the field is hardly on the verge of “expertise.”
Science deserves the respect we all have for it. The trap in the recent mindset about psychiatry is that waving science as a banner, its virtues can act like a smokescreen. The language, the prestige, the seeming logic 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.
On the other hand somehow I guess I somehow do believe that expertise. (My wife laughed out loud when she read what follows) Please go to SimonSobo.com to read the praise my articles have received. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) called one of my articles the best thing he had ever read in psychiatry. Regarding that article, Lauren Slater (Prozac Diaries) told me that she had everyone read it at the clinic where she worked. She talked about doing an interview of me, but didn’t follow through, a not infrequent occurrence for her. At least she liked the article.
Right after I finished my residency I sent a different article to Anna Freud. She wrote back “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 the first part of that article in the yearly hard cover Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, which in those days was like being chosen for the all star team. Thirteen or fourteen of the best articles in a year appear there. Still young, and with an unlimited imagination I thought big things were in store for me. I just had to continue doing what I was doing.
After reading one of my articles on the subject 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 immediately. The next evening we were shmoozing in her apartment on Central Park West, arguing about every movie we had liked and not liked.
She was going to get my article in the Atlantic. Don’t ask how I fucked that up but she asked for it to be lengthened. In her inimitable style she hated the revision. Love or hate was the entirety of her emotional vocabulary. I didn’t understand that at the time and sensitive creep that I was, instead of sending a third draft I thought I had been found out (as a fraud). I didn’t contact her again for ten years. At that point I wrote to her because I vehemently disagreed with one of her reviews. Somehow she found my phone number in Croton on Hudson and we were on the phone for an hour once again talking movies. She didn’t understand what had happened, why I had disappeared. Later I read David Denby’s book on Pauline Kael. She was mentor to a bunch of young talented people, which David Denby called the Paulettes. He was one of them before he eventually became the critic for the New Yorker. Repeatedly she told him he was an idiot and should not plan on being a critic. He persisted.
If I only had that kind of confidence. Except I do. Well, sort of. Given my track record I would have given up writing long ago if I lacked grandiosity (or my wife would add, stubbornness).
International University Press 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. Really powerful! It was the craziest part of him. Yet strangely, he denied it was an important motivation in our psychology.
That made no sense to me, and I assume to almost anyone who is interested in what makes us tick. I spent 5 years on the book, getting it right, wrestling as best as I could with my uncertainties. I had no doubt our fear of death had a lot to teach us. The book is full of my thoughts about it. I expected others to follow in that direction. There was a lot to learn.
IUP, at the time, was the premier publishing house, kind of the Knopf of psychiatric literature. All of a sudden journal editors were asking me to write something for them, a new experience for me. But they wanted me to write about what they wanted me to write. I had my own ideas.
IUP registered the book with The Library of Congress. The publishing house listed it in their upcoming publicity campaign. It’s a long story of what went awry, but it includes two years fighting with their editor, about changes he wanted. I knew I was correct (at least at the time I was certain) so I didn’t budge. They hired an arbiter who supported me. They would be fine. IUP, as a scholarly publisher, simply needed an introduction that explained that the book had a lot to say, but it was more speculative than their usual. A new editor was assigned. He introduced himself with a letter stating that he agreed with the first editor. That did it. I didn’t write back. Not surprisingly, eventually the manuscript sat on my shelf for years unpublished. (I was busy writing another book). About nine years later, out of the blue, I got a letter from IUP giving me 6 month to agree to their changes. I couldn’t even remember what was in the book so I ignored their letter.
That fiasco was very important to me. In the last few years I have put the meaning of the book’s fate in perspective. 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. I told them it doesn’t exist. “No problem,” they said. They would create a book cover (with blank pages). Sure I told them. At that point, why not. The five years I labored writing the book may have been wasted but glory hungry person that I am, at least it got to go Hollywood. They filmed the scene. It was cut from the final version of the movie.
Just shows you just how fleeting fame can be. Even the blank pages of my masterpiece didn’t make it to the big time.
In the end I self published. Five years of writing and revising were at least worth that. It wasn’t read by more than a dozen people. And was reviewed nowhere.
What keeps me writing like a mad man at 76? It is the story of William Kennedy. In Albany, New York he toiled in obscurity for decades . Then he met Saul Bellow who read one of his novels. Bellow went ape shit, let everyone know about his discovery. After being turned down by 14 publishers, suddenly all doors were open, rave reviews of Ironweed, fame, long interviews in the NY Times, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In his interview Kennedy compared himself to Camus, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. A genius had been discovered, a new measure of a man, including his own self image.
Of course I am 76 not 50 so there is a difference. Also there is another side to that story. Apparently Kennedy’s 20 minutes of fame quickly faded. Subsequently, he wrote novel after novel which I certainly, like most people, haven’t read. It was not very good. Or it was. Never having read a word of Kennedy I have no idea if he is a great or even good writer.. So the point of the story is not just that fame is fleeting, but genius is according to the beholder. Nobel Prize winning Bellow dictated the opinion of dozens of subservient critics, Pulitzer Prize winning committees, and most other official proclaimers of taste and opinion. Group think is as powerful at the top as it is at the bottom.
Cornell made him a visiting professor the year he won the Pulitzer. But after that there were no more Ivy League appointments. No nothing. The party ended. Kennedy returned to Albany and to obscurity. Not completely. He was honored by a parade and a three day weekend. A day was named after the home town boy. With enormous pride someone noted in his Wikipedia article that teaching at Albany, he joined the ranks of the SUNY Distinguished Academy as a board-appointed Distinguished Professor.
On still another hand, (I have 3) he was one of the writers of Cotton Club, a movie I liked a lot, particularly the script. Apparently during those few years when he was still hot, Hollywood found him and he did a great job. Only, Cotton Club didn’t do very well, so his life as a screen writer was short.
Last comment. My wife, after listening to my tale of woe for the twentieth time tells me I should concentrate on the pleasure writing gives me rather than pitying myself for my lack of acclaim. Yes some very smart, thoughtful people have recognized I have what it takes. Take what you can get. So what if I didn’t get there. No one really does. Well they do but… I’ve come to agree with her perspective. It matters little whether I’ve had a lot of good insights to share or few of them. Someone else has mastered the art of selling used cars. Another person is great at leveraged buyouts. Within two generations anything I am or did, or said, everything she is, or everyone else is– all of it will be forgotten. Ashes to ashes. So have a nice day.
If only I could believe that–not just want to believe it. Really, truly be philosophical and wise. And calm. Well, at the very least, I have my photography and gardening with many glorious days here at the lake, amazingly a still beautiful wife who, with all of my shortcomings, loves me, 4 cool children, and 6 amazing grandchildren, two good friends, and enough pleasant acquaintances. And a mind that lately has trouble remembering certain names and words, but still works most of the time. No one is sick.
19 year old CC is
extraordinarily beautiful with
long straight dirty blonde hair
with streaks bleached by the
sun. She is a student in
26 year old teaching assistant,
with only his completed thesis
remaining before he gets his
PhD. Caught up in 60’s remake
the world beliefs.
In his late 50’s. Sweet, but
CC’s MOTHER (Evelyn)
Still in her 50’s beautiful
CAROL (Jeremy’s wife) Attractive, 25 intelligent,
caring to a fault.
Matronly, approaching 60
ACT I SCENE 1
Setting: 1968 Buffalo, New York
Total Darkness in the theatre
and stage. The sound of a man
and woman reaching an orgasm
(miked loudly). Heavy
breathing as they slowly
Bright lights flip on... Stage
left Jeremy and CC are in
Jeremy’s bed. The bedroom leads
through a hall to his kitchen. A
room on the right (CC’s parents
bedroom in Great Neck) remains
CC, is naked Jeremy, watches
her as she puts on Jeremy’s
You’re Carol’s size.
Would you rather I not wear it?
No it’s fine.
When is she getting out of the hospital?
Could be a week. Could be three weeks. Lupus is funny that way.
Are you worried
Not really. This happens every once in awhile. Then she is
good as new.
I still don’t get what we have.
Told you. I love Carol.
(speaking more forcefully)
She’s the best friend I’ve ever had... My soulmate.
CC listens quietly
We’ve been through a lot together. We will always be
So how can you say you love me?
Because I do. The moment I saw you. You’re drop dead
beautiful. I’ve wanted to be with someone like you all my
life... You and Carol are two different things.
What choice do we have? I tried. We both tried. Last
semester. The way we looked at each other in the
classroom. When our eyes met... It was fire.
We both had to look away. You blushed. Several times. I
couldn’t think about anything else the entire day.
A couple of students teased me about the way you looked at
Sometimes there are forces in nature. No matter what your
CC is silent, eagerly absorbing
These last few days. It’s like I’m alive again. When I
read something I’ve read a thousand times, I find passages
I never noticed. New insights. Everywhere I look. The
trees, the sky... Eating Cheerios. I can taste them.
I was walking through my life asleep. It’s like I’ve
finally woke up.
So why are you saying you love Carol?
Because I do. We’re married. We have our son. I can’t
imagine my life without her.
CC bites at a cuticle on her
Maybe we should just not talk about Carol.
I still don’t understand how you can say you love me? And
me being beautiful? There are dozens of students on campus
Not true. I can’t believe you’re saying that. Do you ever
look in the mirror?
She holds up her handbag and a
This is half of why you love me. Fred Braun.
Please what? First day of class I saw you noticing my
sandals. My sandals and this bag.
Okay. I noticed your sandals and your bag.
Exactly. That’s the point. You know about Fred Braun?
When I lived in the Village, I used to pass the store all
the time. Sometimes I’d walk a block out of my way. I liked
the things in the window. Soft, hand made leather. The
color it was dyed, dark woody like walnut. It was a neat
place. Thee place in the Village.
Exactly. A lot of very cool people shopped there, right
Fashionable bohemian women–admit it.
Admit what. I noticed your bag and your sandals. I know
where they are from. I like that about you. Your look.
I have this very nice herring bone skirt. I like it but I
never wore it to class. My brother Mark bought that stuff
for me. I never heard of Fred Braun until he brought me
there. Maybe you and Mark should get together?
It was once painful. This thing Mark has for girls with
long straight hair. He wouldn’t let me cut it.
He wouldn’t let you?
I wouldn’t dare. My mother showed me a lot of cute styles
in magazines. This year she is a Mia Farrow look alike. No
way Mark was going to give in on this one.
He’s right. Your hair is wonderful.
But it’s an image. A look. The villagy look, jeans, long straight hair. Fred Braun sandals. Mark’s version of me. He took me to the store and insisted on the pocketbook and sandals .It meant a lot to him. I thought they were nice but… It was part of his statement against the way Great Neck girls dress.
Looking bohemian is no different than any other look. It’s still Great Neck.
How is it Great Neck?
The importance of a cool image. That’s Great Neck. Paying
incredible attention to that.
Look. Everything you’re saying is more important to you
than me. I don’t care about any of it. It’s you that
You hardly know me.
But I want to. To know everything. The last two days we’ve
spent hours talking about your family. Mark and Jay– your
brothers, your parents, your grandmother. I’m beginning to
know them. And what you were telling met yesterday, how
upset you are about whether your parents still love each
You seemed annoyed.
I’m not crazy about the way you want to look at it, like
whose fault it is, but other than that–
It’s the only way I can think about it. Going over the
evidence–do they or don’t they love each other?
But whose fault it is? What’s that going to decide?
She doesn’t answer. In his
underwear, he goes to the
kitchen. Opens the fridge.
Stares at the contents.
Can I get you something?
She doesn’t answer. He Isn’t
tempted by anything.
When he returns to the bedroom
one look and her vulnerability
is clear to him.
This means a lot to you?
Not just that. Why did I get the impression it means a lot
It does. My father was married three times–probably had 10
girlfriends. Your parents interest me. All those years
together. What’s that like. But this “whose fault it is.”
For you it’s simple. To me it’s complicated. I can’t stop
thinking about it that way. It’s not just me. Many of the
girls in the dorm talk about the same thing, trying to make
sense of their parents’ marriage. Who to blame. Maybe what
I’m doing is what everyone does at my age–try to figure
out what’s been going on as I’m ready to leave.
Shrinks are making a good living off of that.
Sorting out who’s right and who’s wrong is not supposed to
be the main focus of therapy, but it’s what everyone does,
try to get their therapist to side with them.
He waits for where she is going
What they have is just a marriage like a million other
marriages. It will continue with or without my verdict.
So leave it at that.
She now goes to the kitchen. He
follows her there.
CC doesn’t answer. She looks at
him appreciatively before
She opens a cabinet. Closes it
and moves on to the next
cabinet. She finds a glass.
Turns on the cold water. Sticks
her finger under the stream,
waiting for it to get colder.
Satisfied, she fills up her
glass and takes a sip. Then a
another sip. All the while her
ideas play like an endless loop
in her mind.
I just can’t make sense of it, whether anything remains...
Growing up, knowing they love each other was at the core of
who I was. Everything else was added to that. Maybe it’s
less important now but–
You’re not 3. It shouldn’t matter so much.
CC ignores him. She is intensely
working over her cuticle.
I know they love each other.
Maybe I’m lying to myself. I wonder if my parents ask that
She looks at him, wondering if
he is losing patience.
I know this is hard to listen to, but it helps me. In
therapy when I hear my thoughts spoken out loud I can
evaluate them more clearly. Also once I get going, I go
further than when I think about them to myself.
That will be $25 dollars an hour.
I’m sorry, but–
It’s fine. It’s fine. I told you. I want to know if they love each other.
CC looks at him skeptically
No. I really do.
CC speaks forcefully, as if a
judge has demanded silence with
When my mother looks smashing you can see it in my father’s
eyes. And hers. They are wildly in love. Both of them.
Beauty trumps everything else. Which is what love is.
Your version of love, Jeremy. Your version. There are
other ways to love.
Not for me. Beauty goes straight from my eyes to my heart.
There is nothing more certain than what I feel when I look
at you. Everything else disappears. You’re saying exactly
that about your parents.
Jeremy’s voice becomes
“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the
Who said that?
His lecturing continues
Love’s there when it’s there. It’s not when it’s not.
Period. A moral yardstick is irrelevant. You’re bringing
that into the picture, but it’s a lot simpler than that.
Well love’s there. When they are going out. It’s there.
True love, as you are defining it. She’s gorgeous. But it
only happens when they’re going out. It’s when they’re
staying home. Their day to day life–she’s a different
person. So is he. She can be a bitch. She’s mean... Really
What does your father do with that?
He hates it. (smiling ironically) My mother tells him it’s
a compliment. She says she can act that way because she
loves him. He’s the only person with whom she can totally
Is that what’s been going on with us?
What do you mean?
You’ve got a nasty side.
You haven’t seen nothing yet.
So that means you don’t love me enough?
I’m getting there.
(thinking it over, speaks
Maybe you got your meanness from your mother. She taught
It’s just such a contrast. In public she’ll grab his head,
plant a lot of kisses, like the love she has for him is
bursting out of her. It’s cute. Convincing. My dad
pretends that she is just being silly, but he’s thrilled.
I mean the prettiest woman around is showing all this love
for him. And my mother means it. It’s so strange. She
means it...It’s confusing. Do they have to be on stage for
it to take place? Something’s not right about how they are
the rest of the time.
Small things, but they add up.
Like what. Give me a for instance.
It’s about nonsense Fights when she puts his things away.
He puts his pruner exactly where he wants it, so he can
find it easily. She moves it to where she thinks it
belongs. That’s important to her. So he can’t find it.
That’s diddily shit. Every relationship has that. I mean,
if you live together–
But it happens again and again. (Imitating her parents)
“Honey”... “Dear”. They used to talk like that.
A thousand things.
Give me a for instance.
Now it escalates very quickly. Yes it’s about diddily
shit, but when they get going, they spit venom in every
imitating first her father
than her mother)
I put it there for a reason.
Where I told you not to put it.
Where I can find it.
It’s not funny.
His smile is wiped off his face.
He salutes her like a private
with a drill sergeant. She
ignores his theatrics.
(her voice is calm)
Sometimes I think my parents hate each other.
Hate! I can hear it in their voices.
That’s part of love.
That is so glib. I’m talking about hate! There’s a
wellspring of hatred between my parents, decades of hate.
And it keeps growing and growing. Every year a little bit
more. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. One day it’s
going to pop.
Come on, You’re being too dramatic.
Sometimes I hear on the news that a woman has killed her
husband. Or vice-versa. The neighbors are shocked.
Everyone thought they were a happy couple.
(low key but firm)
I understand that. Hate builds up. The murderer snapped.
For just that second. Something like that. If my dad had
a gun... Or mom... No I don’t think they could do it. But–
You know the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s
That is such therapist bullshit. My therapist told me that
four times. Four times! Each time he forgot he told me it
before. Four times! The same brilliant insight. What book
did you get that from?
My therapist....You know, the more you tell me, the more it
sounds like– did you read Games People Play?
Except it’s not a game. She is not playing with him. My
mother is hurt. Really hurt And so is my father. Yeah,
CC takes a breath, comes back
Not with their vehemence!
Who’s in charge. It’s about that. Every close relationship.
Not just between people in love.
Wrong! It’s not that important in friendships. I mean it’s
there but no one gets that hurt...
Right, which is my point. There’s got to be love for them
to be able to hurt each other like that...
It gets pretty nasty. When my father takes her on, she
sees that as proof that he doesn’t love her, which gets her
even more upset. One time, when he was holding his ground,
she cursed him for his cold eyes. It wasn’t an act. She
was crying, heartbroken as she looked at him.
He didn’t care.
She stops for a moment,
considers that, then continues.
Your mother told you that?
I was there. It’s true. His eyes were cold but I thought he
was doing what he needed to do.
They’ve always fought in front of you?
Not when we were kids. After Mark left for school. No-
after he started attacking my father. Their fights
So, it’s all Mark’s fault?
Boy, speaking of the blame game.
But it’s true. Mark’s brought a lot of this on...What really
bothers me is a lot of times I don’t think they are talking
to each other. They are trying to score points with me.
Get me to side with them.
I guess that explains it.
The reason you need to talk about this.
Maybe. I can’t stand when my parents do that. It puts me
right in the middle. What’s worse I take sides. As much as
I tell myself to stay out of it, I can’t help it.
So then why do you do it?
How can I not do it? People say I should be a lawyer
because I can make a good argument, but Im being trained to
be a judge... Lawyers can argue for either side. Depends
who hires them. They just have to do it well. That is not
what is going on here. I want to decide who is really
right. And who’s wrong. That matters a lot to me.
I can see that. Is it that important?
It is. If I can settle that I wont have to think about it
But maybe you don’t have to think about it at all. Just
(Laughing to herself)
Between my mother and father? I wish it were that simple.
She’s quiet again,
thinking some more.
If it were only their fights. But it isn’t. What goes on
every day... He’s no angel. Its not like he brings
flowers and chocolates for her on a whim, because he is
thinking about her. He doesn’t forget Valentines Day or
her birthday. Ill say that for him. But caring about her,
thinking about what’s happening with her. He isn’t that
interested in how her day has gone. Occasionally he asks,
but it is pro forma. And when she is upset. If she starts
going over a story over and over, he stops listening. Falls
a sleep when they are in bed. She’s repeating it because it
matters a lot. She’s told me about how he falls asleep.
Its proof he really doesn’t care...I can see it. He’s
stopped hugging her, which he used to do. Years ago, he
used to just go over to her and give her a hug. Sometimes
several times in a day. Thats gone. And there is
practically nothing like that from her. Never was. She gets
irritated by him very easily. Is always correcting him.
She’s gone a lot, out with her girlfriends having lunch or
shopping. That’s because she doesn’t want to hang out with
him. Most of the time she would rather be with someone
else. I hear her on the phone, joking with her friends,
talking nice and easy, relaxed. I never see that with my
So I guess she doesn’t love him.
She never thinks to buy what he likes at the supermarket.
Well maybe for his birthday. But otherwise what he likes
doesn’t mean anything to her. He likes ginger snaps. She
never remembers to buy them. So he has to make a separate
trip for them. Other things too... this kind of bacon that
he likes. Canadian bacon. No he loves. A lot of things.
Funny. I remember what he likes. I get his stuff if Im at
Waldbaums. He really appreciates it. How come she doesn’t?
(Weighing what she is
It goes beyond not being thoughtful, not remembering what
Its more complicated, because she remembers that stuff for
me, and Jay. And Mark! Sometimes I think its a way of
telling my father that she won’t be his servant. Ive heard
her say something like that when he asked about the bacon,
like he is a slave master.
No more than anyone else in a relationship. That’s big in
the magazines now. Men as oppressors. It’s the opposite
with my parents. She expects him to be her servant,
thoughtful about what she wants 100% of the time.
That’s what most women want. It’s my way or the highway.
So why does everyone say thats what men are like.
They’re the dictators, not men.
Thats the bullshit in the magazines. Have you noticed how
many magazines now have women editors?
But I think it is true. Men do control most marriages.
Im talking about a Jewish marriage. Im sure you’ve heard
the putdowns of JAPs, Jewish American Princesses?
Its true. My grandparents raised my mother to be a
princess. People at school are amazed by how different
Jewish girls are, especially from Long Island. Well my
mother is what happens when they get married. I don’t think
my grandparents realized the consequences. Like nothing
else mattered other than what my mother wants.
My father reaped the benefit.
Its the opposite with Jewish men. They make the best
husbands. I’ve heard that.
Whoever told you that, I guarantee they weren’t talking
Jeremy absorbs that putdown
without much reaction.
After hesitating CC
I don’t get it. To me its simple. My mother has the
time. He’s got to work 50-60 hours a week. Sometimes 70.
Why shouldn’t she remember his ginger snaps at Waldbaum’s.
Anyway that says it all.
Im lucky with Carol. She enjoys taking care of me. When
she shops for me it makes her day. I don’t have to ask for
anything. She knows what I like... sometimes before I do.
She feels great giving to me. It excites her. It thrills
her. Seeing my enthusiasm when she brings home the
groceries when I help her bring the bags in, I am dying to
see whats in them. When I get to take things out of the
bag she says I’m like a kid on Christmas morning attacking
the presents. When Ive gotten exactly what I wanted, the
look on my face–that gives her a big smile. (Half to
himself he murmurs) Although she slaps my hand if I stick
my finger in the chicken salad she’s bought home.
Even if I am not enthusiastic. She knows she’s getting
something I need or that Im going to want. She gives me a
lot of thought. She’s usually right. She really knows me.
She loves doing all of that. She loves loving.
She’s that way with everyone?
Not really. Just Alyosha and me.
CC’s mood turns morose. She
goes to a display shelf, picks
up one of several primitive
PreColumbian figurines. Rubs her
finger on it.
We got those in Mexico. They’re not the real thing. Cost
six bucks. Carol likes them
He notices her mood shift.
What’s wrong?...Carol?... We agreed to not talk about
Carol. Continue about your mother
My mother is nothing like Carol. The opposite. When my
father comes home from work, I can see if he’s had a bad
day. I mean sometimes my heart aches for him. To start
with he’s not crazy about being a lawyer. He’s like me.
He likes to debate but he doesn’t have that edge, the
pleasure his colleagues take when they’ve trounced their
adversary. They’re at it constantly. Not just their
adversaries. They do it to each other. In the office.
Every chance they get. My fathers not like that. He’s
gentle. It upsets him when he loses his temper.
He sounds nice.
The reason he goes on being a lawyer is my mother. And
us. He’s our servant. Sometimes the office politics really
tear him up. They’re barracudas. I mean an office full of
lawyers? He’ll defend himself if he has to, but being
surrounded by it! And then there are the times when they
gang up on one of their esteemed colleagues. Really go at
it. Certain mornings I can see how reluctant he is to go
in. Like he might face the firing squad....Didn’t matter.
He’d grab that coffee cup, stand up, and hold his hand with
the cup straight out before taking a last ceremonial sip.
It was his version of “charge!”
She seems pleased by that last
Most of the time, I’m unaware of what’s going on around
me. I guess like everyone else. Like my father’s last sip
of coffee. It’s part of his morning rituals and it doesn’t
really register. But it turns out it was registering.
CC gently looks into Jeremy’s
eyes. She takes his hand.
I felt this wave of love for my father as I pictured him
taking that final sip of coffee.
like he has solved the
mystery of human suffering,
now and forever.)
Capitalism? For you, everything reduces to politics.
Capitalism? You really believe that don’t you?
It certainly would help. You don’t think you can change
He’s surrounded by lawyers. Capitalism? You’re a one
trick pony. For a smart person you are so stupid...
You don’t know what its like to be among lawyers do you?.
They cant stop themselves. Some people squash beetles.
They save it for humans. At least that’s what my father
And your father is not like that?
Told you– he isn’t. If anything he’s usually on the
receiving end...Ill say this. My fathers never missed a
day of work. Im sure there were days when he did face the
firing squad. And they fired off a round. He gets over
it. He hangs in there, no matter what.
That means a lot.
Being able to withstand it. When people pop off. This ugly
side comes out. Some people think. Oh thats their true
feelings when it comes out like that. And it is. But a
five second burst means nothing. Its like a fart. So
what. Yeah there is bad stuff inside of everyone, smelly
rot. It passes. What’s important is how you take it, how
you are day after day. How you hold up.
Jeremy is smiling.
What’s so funny?
Your fart metaphor.
I learned it from the master.
As long as you give credit when it’s due.
When my fathers upset its obvious. When I don’t know whats
bothering him I ask. And, the last few years, he talks to
me about it.
My mother notices nothing! Actually, its worse when
she does. When he’s insecure she hates him for showing it.
She makes a whole production out of it. Just so he knows
that she’s noticed. And what she’s thinking is pretty
obvious. Like how did she ever get stuck with a person
All of that goes on in front of you?
I think they view me as old enough to take it.
Proof they love me. No secrets.
(sounding like a little
Look what I missed. I got none of that kind of love after
my parents split up. Compared to your parents they seem
Whats pathetic is they cant help it. They’re not happy
being that way. It makes them miserable. But they cant
control it. Since Mark stirred things up, its a hundred
times worse. Maybe it never would have gotten started, if
Mark hadn’t been Mark. He’s where he belongs. In Berkeley.
I mean, no one ever got too emotional in my family before
he started his attacks. After, all this animosity
appeared. My father would get pissed at Mark and she’d go
ape shit. Like he should be above losing it with Mark.
Like he stops being a father if he descends to Mark’s
level. She loves magazine advice.
Your family is really fucked up.
My father has to put on an act for my mother. Be this very
steady cheerful “father”. Not that it does any good. She
sees right through it. She complains that his moods are
difficult to live with. Meanwhile the moods she’s
complaining about, are not really observable to anyone
else. She totally dismisses the no sweat attitude he’s
trying so hard to convey.
Your mother is something. They both are.
If my father describes an incident with someone at work,
she’s invariably on the other persons side. He must have
done this to set the other guy off. He must have done that.
Or... Why did you let him get away with saying that?
So he never gets it right?
No he does. Most of the time. Im exaggerating. If he
didn’t get it right, he’d be out on disability from my
mothers attacks. But when it happens, when he’s stumbling,
whether he caused it or not Theres no mercy.Imagine
Alexander the Great returning home after he’s lost a
battle. Yes he will have to face intrigue at court-
perhaps a coup. But what he really fears is facing his
(imitating a Jewish woman
from the Bronx calling her
husband to task)
Suddenly feeling self-conscious
and exposed CC moves close to
Jeremy, leans against him.
Jeremy strokes CCs hair. He
goes to tickle her. She shoves
him playfully. Laughing, they
grab each other in a mini
wrestle. He takes off her robe.
They stop and stare at each
other with a smile, with lust
once again coming alive.
She sees a towel on the floor
and tries to cover herself, but
he grabs if off of her.
Smiling devilishly like a clown,
ecstatically, he drops to the
ground before her. He kisses her
toes, then the ground
surrounding them with the
foolishness that is becoming his
M.O. with CC.
What are you doing?
What do you think I’m doing?
Kissing the ground?
Not in the least embarrassed.
He continues to kiss the ground.
She grabs his shoulder and lifts
CC rolls her eyes
You really don’t understand what I am looking at. Do you?
Oy God. I can’t believe this.
No. Not enough! You are one of the seven wonders of the
world. Anyone seeing what I am looking at right now, would
be blown away. It’s not just me. Anyone!
She tries to pull up the towel
to cover herself, but he won’t
You’re astonishing. A perfect flower. There’s nothing in
the Albright Knox, hell the Met that compares to you. No
artist is genius enough to create pure beauty? But what I
want to know is why they don’t they paint pure beauty? Why
aren’t museums bursting with it? It’s ephemeral. So why not
try to paint it again and again?
Thinking over the question he is
People would make fun of them? Call them garish? They’re
wrong.. It’s half the reason we are alive. To find it.
Are manic depressives sex crazy?
They’ve been known to want sex continuously. Why?
I’ve spoken to Mark about you. He thinks you are manic
That’s what you think?
The thought keeps crossing my mind.
Why can’t you hear it, accept it. It’s not me and my
thoughts! I’ll bet that 100 guys, if they were looking at
you right now, a thousand, if they were seeing you like
this, they would act just like me. You don’t understand
how rare you are. Beauty just doesn’t come along like
(trying to be blasé)
Even if it were true, what you keep saying is true. It’s
fleeting. My father’s dahlias last a day or two, maybe
three. They are extraordinary, then caput. The flower is
You have years and years that you are going to look like
this...Years and years.
And then I can get a facelift. Right?
My mother got one.
She watches his reaction, how
quickly disgusted he is.
That is so Great Neck. Rich Jews, wives with face-lifts? I
Are you kidding?
(Smiling in disbelief)
They are both quiet as they
think things over
The degree of his disgust
disturbs her. She raises her
Why? There’s all kinds of people in the world doing
terrible things. Why Jews in Great Neck? You’re not
laughing at their silliness. You’re disgusted. Jewish self
hatred. I’m not Great Neck. I’m me. In 30 years if I get a
face lift I’ll still be me.
She shakes her head, saddened by
the intensity of his emotion.
Great Neck is not such a bad place.
Right. What is good about Great Neck?
How about that Great Neck made me? It was my home. It is
You’re not one of them.
Hate’s poisonous Jeremy...You’re so proud of your mind.
Hate wipes it away.
Okay I hate some things, but it’s not like I’m a mean
I’m not so sure about that. I wonder if you were in charge
of the Pearly Gates and the fate of a man whose wife had
plastic surgery came before you. Would you send him and
her to hell?
(raising her voice)
She watches his reaction, which
is no reaction.
My Great Neck guy that’s facing you at the Gates! What if
he was very nice, very kind? What if he gave more than he
could afford to Jerry’s Kids, and the American Cancer
Society, the Red Cross, trees for Israel, one charity after
another? What if he were a Big Brother to some kid from
the ghetto? And a great Dad.
Jeremy’s face doesn’t soften.
You would send them to hell, wouldn’t you? Because all you
would see is rich Jew, plastic surgery.
Naked, without self-
consciousness, naked, she walks
over to the front of the full
length mirror in the bedroom.
She looks herself over.
I can’t help it. You’re so beautiful.
You’re like a broken record.
She coldly studies herself.
I don’t know. I could have longer legs and a bigger toosh.
But I guess I’m lucky. In locker rooms I’ve seen other
women’s bodies. Most of them look deformed
She examines her teeth for
stains. He is soon behind her.
His arms drape over her
shoulders. The way he’s looking
at CC in the mirror captivates
I really can’t help it. You’re beautiful.
Ive never seen anyone like you. No one. Which counts for
something. I still look around.
You do? You searching for someone better?
None of them compare. Not even close. When I look at them
I think of you.
You’re not big on loyalty are you?
I’ve no choice. Its instinctual. Beauty grabs my eyes,
like it does with every other guy.
That’s bull. My brother Jay. I never see him look at
anyone other than his wife.
She must pussy whip him into submission. Carols father is
like that, scared of her mother.
Thats not Jay, but yes, he’s actually ruled by what’s
allowed and not allowed. So his eyes don’t roam. Why do
you keep looking?
I’m discovering new things.
The cellulite under your ass.
The mirrors right here. Take a look.
I don’t see it.
Don’t know how to say it?
Ill bet you do.
His better half is warning him
to tone it down before leaping,
but he can’t contain himself. He
touches her nipples.
She looks over her shoulder
examining herself closely.
He laughs, enjoying his ability
to tease her. He runs his hand
over her ass and down her leg.
There are stars in his eyes yet
Your nipples are perfect. Small and tight. They’re exactly
like I hoped they’d be before I ever met you.
Really? You imagined my nipples? Compared to what?
Playboy, Penthouse. I must have looked at the breasts of a
hundred women. Only one of them had nipples that drove me
wild. Like yours. I just had this idea of a perfect woman.
Yeah. Formed from pictures in Playboy?
One picture in particular. I was 15 or 16. I saw this
woman’s nipples and I whacked off to them. Maybe five or
She looks at him skeptically.
Okay 10 times.
Do you still have that picture?
Carol found my stash. She threw away all my Playboys and
The woman in that picture wasn’t that pretty.
Well... pretty, but her looks didn’t do anything to me.
Her nipples... I cant believe you have the same nipples,
how lucky I am. Im telling you. We were foreordained.
He sucks on her nipple.
Then moves his lips to her lips.
Very soon, her body is crying
Lights go out
Lying next to him in the
bedroom, she watches Jeremy
sleep peacefully, but then her
She’s not finished. When she
gets going about her parents she
is never finished. His eyes soon
open. He’s only half awake but
it is enough for CC. She
continues as if he is wide
Its so strange. I guess its the contrast. In public my
father’s like a trophy husband. She’s been lucky. He
reflects well on her. He makes a nice living. He is soft
spoken and polite. Their marriage is a reward for how hard
they have both worked...
Its just privately.
Jeremy stops her before she can
begin a new round.
(in a groggy voice)
Are you going to repeat all of it?
If I had my druthers I would tell you the same stories,
make the same point 10 times and continue to the 11th
hoping that this telling might shed new light.
So why does he put up with it?
I don’t know. In his mind I don’t think there is a choice.
Whats he going to do? Get divorced and hang out at bars
trying to pick someone up? Or go on a love cruise to find
that someone? Besides he has a friend who’s told him the
same thing is going on in his marriage. Another friend the
same thing. He’s sort of decided, that after enough years,
this is just the way marriage is.
He told you that?
Basically. They’ve even discussed it with each other, my
mom and him, several times. They agreed. That’s how they
make up. Agreeing there is no real problem. That every
marriage is like that. But I don’t think they are
convinced. I don’t know if it’s true. I really don’t know
why they stick together.
Maybe he loves the way she moans when he’s inside her. I
love that about Carol.
But its true. I love it. I mean love it. Em. Hm. Its the
sweetest sound. It erases everything disappointing in the
marriage. That sound.
Your stupid male ego.
Those groans don’t get put in love poems. But that sound
is real. Powerful. It should be the crescendo of every
poem. Of every symphony. It should be part of the
introduction. Its why Alexander was willing to go off to
battle. For that sweet sound.
He’s smiling away joyfully,
like Lenny Bruce after he has
once again shocked his audience.
Jeremy hesitates before going
on, but then plunges forward.
The way you moaned... I could get off on it right this
Disgusted, CC gets dressed,
begins to gather her things.
Jeremy tries to grab her stuff
Wait. Wait... Look I’m sorry. I can get carried away.
It’s not just that. It’s the whole thing.
What whole thing?
The way you look down on me. I still am processing that
John Cage concert.
That really got to you didn’t it?
Me. The problem was me? I still can recall every detail...
Lukas Foss, the conductor entered to rapturous applause. He tapped his baton several times. He points to the first violinist who stood up to polite applause. Foss looked to the left, then to the right, making eye contact with several members of the orchestra. He raised his baton preparing them to launch. Then he didn’t move it. He put it on the stand and quietly took off his watch. Put it over his baton. There was complete silence. The silence continued and continued. I didn’t know how to react. There was even less coughing than usual at a concert. People, many from Buffalo faculty, quietly sat looking like they were in the know. Including you! I looked around bewildered. People started to laugh in this superior way. Identifying that I was uncomfortable, the person in the next seat looked at me like I was a bimbo.
You raised your eyebrows to me like that was a comforting
gesture. You pointed to the program. 4’33. The
conductor looks at his watch. Exactly at the end of 4
minutes and 33 seconds he raised his baton and faced the
audience. They applauded.
So cool, you whispered to me.
I just remember the smile on peoples’ face as they
clapped. You looked at me like we were lucky to be there,
lucky to be a part of a momentous event. The look on the
face of many in the audience when Lukas Foss returned to
the stage with John Cage, the excitement. They were
thrilled to be in the same room with John Cage. And
afterwards during the intermission. You had the stupidest
look on your face You kept looking at me, like you were one
in the know. You couldn’t wait to explain
You still get that look. Like you are going to rescue me
from my ignorance. I should have known, when I heard how
excited Mark was that I was going to a John Cage concert.
And then when I started going on about the concert, when
some of the faculty wanted to get away from me, you acted
like I wasn’t with you.
Then when we returned to the Museum I pointed at a
Rothko, a black blob with a slightly darker blob
surrounding it. When I told you that paining fits the
music. It showed nothing. The way you answered( imitating
Jeremy) “Some people consider it a masterpiece.” You
weren’t talking to me. You were aiming it at a professor
It isn’t just me. It’s all of us.
Me and people from Long Island. No, not just Long Island,
all of us.
Who is us?
Us is my family, most of the students, everyone that’s a
It isn’t just you. All the professors. Like here on
campus you’re royalty. You walk on a cloud of ideas. You
got Socrates, Aristotle. Archimedes, Einstein, Hemingway,
on your team. Oh and Wittgenstein. I got Carol Burnett, Ed
Sullivan. My family? My parents read two or three books a
year. Best sellers, page turners like a good TV program.
That’s not how I think about you. I’ve read some of your
That was me trying to get an A. Look. It’s not just you.
From the first day I got here. The Dean’s welcoming speech. (imitating the Dean) Welcome to U. B. Blah blah blah. Let us be your guide to the wonders of Western Civilization.CC
Meaning books... Books.
(continuing to imiate the
Books can liberate your minds. Reading can answer the
mysteries of the universe. Books, books, books.
We’re not looking down. We’re just trying to get you to
see the light.
Listen Mr. Culture Critic. Maybe you got it all wrong.
Maybe what professors do is weird. I had a cousin that went
Most of my family considered him a little strange, like he
was a dropout from the real world. He had all these
quirks, his stamp collection, his butterfly collection.
More to the point, they thought that he lacked ambition. He
(Stung, trying not to let
her see she’s gotten to
That how you saw him?
You kidnap all these people when they come here. Force
them to love the life of the mind. It doesn’t take long
after students graduate, and no longer are forced by your
stupid exams to think your way, no time at all for their
true preference to come out. It isn’t the life of the mind
they want. It’s shopping.
Jeremy has a superior look on
You just don’t get it. I remember this time at the club.
My mother was the queen there, the best looking most
stylish. We were all proud of her. We shared her glory.
You don’t know what that’s like. But at the Fresh Meadow
Country Club it’s everything....
But occasionally... this one time. She couldn’t tell by
the way people looked at her or didn’t look at her. She
kept going over it. Asked me. Asked my father. What was
wrong with her outfit? Didn’t it fit? Was it too tight
around her hips. At home she put it on again. Studied
herself in her mirror. She couldn’t pinpoint the problem.
But she never wore anything by that designer again.
And sometimes she’d put on weight. After a Bar Mitzvah
when she may have pigged out. Ate the baked potato instead
of skipping it. Had two spoonfuls of dessert. Maybe three.
She wouldn’t eat for days.
You don’t think that is nuts?
What are you doing that’s so different from other people?
Reading books? My mother would say you’re wasting your
You mean I could be shopping at Loehmanns?
It’s not the books, it’s thinking about your life that
makes it meaningful. An unexamined life—
Is what? I’m telling you. You don’t get away enough. You
think the university is the world. Ideas are what counts.
They aren’t. How we looked, how my father looked, my
mother, every one of us. That was far more important than
what we thought. Back then when I pictured someone who
does a lot of thinking, it was some twerp with pimples, a
bookworm. The people I grew up with aren’t like you. They
don’t have your curiosity. They only care about what they
see in front of them.
Yes how you look. What have you been saying to me? Over and
over. Looks, looks, looks.
This one dress my mother tried on. I can still remember it
from ten years ago.–Red with navy stitching. The image
lights up in my memory.I can still seemy mother coming out
from the curtains at the store and modeling that dress. It
wasn’t just the dress that was stunning. The look of
triumph on my mother’s face. I can recall it so clearly.
That dress is more important than any thought in your head.
Fine. But why are you telling me this?
Because to you my family is nonsense. But–
I haven’t said that.
Oh no...That one dress...I’ll never forget how she looked.
I can’t remember half of what’s been said to me. Most of
what you’ve told me. But I can see that dress like it was
Jeremy face remains defiant.
You think shopping your life away is a mediocre form of
existence. Immigrants come from all over the world... They
have waited for years to get here. You know what excites
them? What is amazing to them?... After the Statue of
Our stores! They enter our supermarkets and it’s like they
have come upon a miracle. They are astounded. Our department stores. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, hell, Alexander’s. They look in every direction. Everywhere. Things, they can buy. Things they can afford. As far as their eyes can see. Like when Europeans first discovered America. Unoccupied land going on and on. As far as their eyes could see. There for the taking. That’s what is in our stores.
Jeremy doesn’t have the will to
They are wide eyed at the cosmetic counters, beautiful
ladies doing a beauty makeover on them. For free! No
matter how nonchalant they try to project themselves as
they walk the aisles, as they examine the merchandise, Can
you imagine someone from Madagascar in Macy’s?
I hear they are beginning to copy our supermarkets in
Europe, in Hong Kong, in the French suburbs. Never mind
the New York Philharmonic bringing American culture all
over the world. It’s our stores, our shopping that is mind
boggling. Not just that. They love our TV programs!..
What we think is ordinary is actually astounding to every
one else. You should have seen my mother in that red dress.
With navy stitching.
Jeremy is looking at her
erotically. He reaches for her.
She ignores him.
Jeremy smiles indulgently.
You won’t grant that some of it is nonsense?
“All of it is nonsense. In university land-shopping for
ideas is stupid. Everything is stupid when you stop and
think about it. But you can’t treat beauty like it doesn’t
matter to you. I know what it means to you. Mr. Slater. I
It’s not the same.
Who are you trying to kid? It’s not how you imagine
priorities? This is how it plays out in the real world.
She watches his reaction, which
is no reaction.
JEREMY Did you see A Star is Born?
Yes. You think that’s what’s going on with us?
No. I was thinking. Your parents sound like them.
That movie upset me. After I saw it I made a resolution to
be less aggressive. It hasn’t worked. Judy Garland made
chopped liver out of James Mason
Her mood drops rapidly. CC eyes
water a bit.
Your father?... James Mason?
It’s not that bad. He puts up a brave front.
Since your mother’s menopause?
I didn’t think of that.
It occurred to me when you were talking about them.
I thought it was this feminist thing she was picking up
on. She’s become so full of vim and vigor.
She’s a feminist?
CC JEREMY CC
She would never wear the uniform, but she’s been going to
war long before it became trendy. All of her friends are
giving their husbands a hard time. It may be the feminist
thing catching on. But I read women get like that when
they get older.
CC looks out the window, staring
at a Japanese maple.
That split leaf maple is nice in the snow.
Carol insisted we buy that tree. I agree it’s nice.
Do you garden a lot?
Not really. We haven’t planted that much. When we do,
Carol points and I dig.
That’s what my mom and dad do....Or use to...
(continuing to look out the
Does my father love my mother? I’m sure he believes one
marriage is all you get...So he better love her... That’s
how Jay would see it...My father... There’s a good chance he
loves her. (With further thought) I know he loves her.
It’s not his love... Or their love. It’s their hatred.
She wipes a tear.
There’s a tissue box over there.
She takes one. The tears don’t
He’s disappointed... Not just her. In all of us.
Less so. I think I am his favorite person, but certainly
Mark. My mom? It’s like the promise she gave to him when
they got married, has been revoked.
She used to always talk about how great love and marriage
is. She hasn’t given that speech in years.
The tears are now coming out
freely. Jeremy puts his arms
around her. She’s momentarily
comforted by his gesture, but
only momentarily. She steps
The doctor told him he had a silent heart attack. Some time
in the past. It scares me. I can’t imagine not having him.
My father, when he was on top of his game. He was
Your mother’s that tough on him?
It’s not only her. Mark with his anti-war shit. It isn’t
just the war. He’s slammed everything my father holds dear.
My father thinks America is the greatest place on earth.
He’s lucky to have been born here, and grow up here. He’s
proud that he enlisted to fight Hitler. The whole
thing...It’s at the core of who he is. Losing that belief is
like losing an arm. Mark’s taken away half his arm and is
going for the rest of it. Can’t be fun that my mom is
always on Mark’s side. Especially, since she’s become so
competitive with him. She wasn’t always like that. Not with
Is that your mother?
Jeremy goes over to the bureau,
lifts an age black and white
picture of a young woman,
She died when I was 13, breast cancer. Was sick for three
He returns the picture to the
You know what?... I think you should call your father.
Now? It’s 9:30. He could be asleep?
It’ll show up on your telephone bill.
Don’t worry. I’ll get it first. Call him.
END OF SCENE 2
Is something wrong?
No I just wanted to call.
THE PHONE RINGS
AND THE LIGHT
GOES ON IN CC’S
Aren’t you the rich one? Are you spending enough money for
I just wanted to talk.
Wait I’ll get your mother.
I wanted to talk to you.
Now I know something’s wrong...Have you been crying?
Nothing. Well I was worrying about your health.
And that made you cry? Listen. I was at the doctor last
week. He said I am doing great. My heart has practically
returned to normal.
I wanted to tell you I love you.
You didn’t have to call to tell me that. I know you do.
I wanted to tell you again.
Do you know something I don’t know? Do I have 30 days to
Are you all right?
Evelyn gets on the extension.
CC’S MOTHER (EVELYN)
You’re sure you’re all right? Listen I’ll put on your
Listen I was going to call you anyway. Call Dora. There’s
something going on with the baby.
I don’t think anything serious, but call her.
(said in a tone she usually uses before getting off.)
What else is going on?
But she doesn’t get off the
phone. Like Ira, Evelyn also
doesn’t like the way CC is
Nothing. I’m with Jeremy. I told you about him.
They are both silent, moving
Evelyn refuses to beat around
You don’t want to break up a family.
I’m not. He loves his wife and would never leave her.
So what are you? An afternoon delight?
For a tense moment they are both
You deserve better than that.
Not just afternoon. Morning and night delight.
I don’t think you can understand.
You think what you’re doing is so unusual. Men do that all
the time. Italian men... French. Take off the leash and
men go wild. His wife is in the hospital?... And–
This isn’t like that.
Fine. You know what you are doing. Everything is hunky-
dory. All I ask is one thing.... You’re old enough... Smart
enough. Try using your brain a little, instead of your—
Mom, I love him for his brain.
I mean your brain.
It’s your funeral.
(in her goodbye voice)
CC hangs up but keeps her hand
on the phone as she digests the
I didn’t know you told your parents about me. You sound
like you are connected to your Mom.
She says what’s on her mind.
I could tell.
That’s not the problem. Understanding? No way she gets
where I’m at.
Ten minutes after CC’s phone call Ira and Evelyn are both
in bed. Ira is watching the Knicks on TV.
What do you make of her phone call?
What is it?
He is not paying attention. The
Knicks are ahead 98-92 in the
4th quarter. Evelyn takes the
remote control out of his hand
and turns off the TV.
(Irritated by the
You don’t care, do you?
I do. I can tell she’s upset, and that bothers me, but not
that much. She’s not a kid any more. She’s got her life.
I know that.
She’s going to do what she’s going to do.
She’s sleeping with her teacher. And he’s married. With a
She’s young. We were both just like her when we were her
age. That’s what you do. You love. You live. You don’t
think about where it’s going.
We never did anything like that.
Still, did you know what you were doing at that age? I just
knew I had to hustle to support you and me, and the family
we were going to have. At least Jay’s got his head on
I never even thought of a married man.
We met when you were 16. You didn’t have time to fool
“You really think if I wasn’t with you I could do what
I learned something interesting in the Sunday’s men group.
In the Lithuanian shtetl girls used to marry at 14 or 15.
They worried that any longer and she would get in trouble.
The boys too. A lot of times they married and lived with
the girl’s family. They didn’t have ideas like we have
about adolescence, where you’re supposed to explore, find
out who you are. They thought “finding out” meant sure
It certainly applies to your sister. Becky was like a teen-
ager throughout her 20’s. Thought it was all about
adventure. She had a lot of friends like that. In their
20’s! They met at bars. One night stands.
I wouldn’t call it that. You really have this thing with
my sister. At least she eventually settled down. She’s got
a good marriage.
And one son without a father.
Seth has been like a father to Billy.
Maybe. I just hope we don’t have a daughter that’s going to
repeat all that.
It seems to be what’s happening on campuses.
Everything’s so different now. Jay and Dora got engaged in
college. They couldn’t wait to get their life started. It
wasn’t that many years ago, but it’s like they are from a
different generation. Turns out, your sister was ahead of
the times. Now women want to look around, go around the
block a couple of times before getting tied down. Just
like Becky. Except now they’re not having babies until
Your twenties are when you are supposed to live. So later
you have no regrets that you didn’t have a life. It’s like
adolescence has been extended into the twenties.
Soon it will be the thirties. Being responsible is almost
He takes back the remote
control. He puts the Knicks back
on. That bugs Evelyn.
You really don’t care. Do you? All that matters is if the
Knicks are winning?
I care but it’s the way things are now. Nothing we can do
to change it.
It’s all about the Knicks isn’t it?
There are 3 minutes left in the game. The Knicks have to
win this one.
So that’s what matters, The
Carol is home. The
hospitalization lasted over a
month. In her own clothes, and
usual hair style her puffiness
from the steroids is noticeable,
but otherwise she seems
reasonably okay. Except she is
weak. She sits at the kitchen
counter. Jeremy is making
It’s almost unreal. You just sitting there. You’ve been
gone for a month.
They wanted to keep me another 3 weeks but I promised I
would take my medicine religiously.
Three or four for you?
You have no appetite?
No. I hate your pancakes.”
They both smile. But Jeremy
doesn’t buy it. He is visibly
worried about her lack of
He also takes only one pancake. He puts a pile on Alyosha’s plate. Pours maple syrup over them.
How come you are only taking one? Trying to lose weight?
I’m not stupid you know. The first time you mentioned CC.
I could tell the way you said her name.
I don’t have a girlfriend. Nothing is going on with CC.
Jeremy, the quality I love most about you is your
directness. You always tell it like it is. So why this?
If you have feelings for CC I can deal with it. Look I
know you do. It gives us a place to start. Maybe we can
figure out what’s wrong and fix it.
She studies his face. Not very
successfully he tries to seem
natural as he puts the frying
pan in the sink.
Or is it worse than that? Are we finished?
It wouldn’t hurt.
For your girlfriend?
There is no girlfriend.
That’ll never happen. There’s nothing wrong between us. We
made a vow..You’re stuck with me.
Too bad you can’t make a vow about being in love.”
He doesn’t answer. His
face is unreadable. She keeps
studying him closely for a
You think you are so clever. That’s how I know. Your face
is blank. That’s not you. Your secrets are written all over
The phone rings. Carol goes to
the next room. We can hear her.
I’m good. Mom you don’t have to worry.”
Silence as she listens
Dr. Weinstein said what??..I asked him not to tell you.
It’s not definite. It’s a possibility.
Jeremy has been listening
to Carol. She returns to the
What was that all about?
Not to worry. I’m taking care of it myself.”
She looks into his eyes as
convincingly as she can:
Everything okay with your Mom?
She said to send you her love...You were telling me last
night about Gurjeif. You had a new thought from him.
Yes. There is a cosmic law which says that every
satisfaction must be paid for with a dissatisfaction. I
As the stage darkens Spot on
Jeremy’s face. He’s very upset
about what he overheard.
Jeremy is ladling out soup from
a pot on the stove for Carol.
Carol is seated at the table
with a blanket over her
shoulders. He brings the soup
bowl to her.
Jesus it’s April 14th and its 23 degrees out there. I don’t
like that you’re still feeling sick. How cold are you?
A little. I like your idea, chicken soup for breakfast.
Nice and hot. The weather is crazy. I’ve had enough of this
winter. I hate Buffalo.”
He feeds a spoonful of
soup to Carol. Then a second.
She takes the spoon from him and
It’s good. I think it will help.
It was in the freezer. I made it while you were gone.
You’re very resourceful.
He brings his own soup
bowl to the table.
(His voice is gentle)
I did it like you like it. Mashed the vegetables and added
it back into the soup.
That’s how your mother taught you to make it?
Right?...After she got sick and was stuck in bed, I made
soup for my mother practically every day. She was always
cold. It made her feel so much better. That and tea.
You have a headache?
A little one.
Are you scared?
Lupus isn’t cancer.
Carol puts down the soup
spoon. She puts her thumb and
index finger on each side of her
nose pressing in on her eyelids.
They are both quiet for a
Tenderly he moves his hand down
I know. Really. I’m feeling stronger. Much better than
C’mon, have the soup...
Don’t you like it
She is reluctant.
Carol sees a tear. She
reaches for it on his face. She
takes his hand.
I like that you made it for me.”
I like to cook. I don’t know
about vacuuming, but cooking—
“You don’t have to vacuum.
His tears continue
I promise I will. This afternoon when I come back.”
6 weeks later. Carol’s in bed.
She’s meeting with CC in her
I’m sure you were surprised to hear from me, but I had to
talk to you.
They are both feeling awkward.
I’ll come right out with it. Jeremy hasn’t been the same
since he stopped seeing you. He’s very down. All month
long. He’s walking around like his life is over.
CC takes a deep breath.
He still loves you. I can’t change that. He can’t either.
He’s tried. The reason I called is my doctor’s told me my
medicine has stopped working. He’s said I’m going to die
if they can’t come up with something.”
I don’t want you to tell Jeremy. He suspects something, but
he doesn’t know.
You don’t want to tell him.
I don’t. First of all, I might pull through. I have in the
past. But if I die I want you to know you have my
blessing. The son of a bitch doesn’t deserve it. I want my
mother to raise Alyosha, but you and Jeremy...
CC begins to sob. Carol
takes her hand. She waits until
CC is in better control.
Please. Say nothing now. He’s got his thesis to finish.
He’s down to the wire. So don’t call him, but later, if I’m
not here you can tell him I gave my blessing. Not that I am
not cursing the two of you, but... You know about his
Watching your mother die does strange things to you? I’m
glad Alyosha is so young.
CC tears up
I’d like to call Jeremy.
No. Please don’t. I know him. He’ll do the same thing he
did when I was in the hospital.
You know about that?
I found your lipstick under the bed. I remember. He was
really whacko. He kept saying crazy things. He was a
I’m sorry, I–
You don’t have to say anything. I know how convincing
Jeremy can be when he wants something. I wasn’t surprised.
Jeremy doesn’t know how to be alone. It frightens him.
You don’t know about his dark moods, do you?
I’ve seen him act sort of crazy. Silly, but never down.
It’s all an act. He can get very, very down. Suicidal kind
Haven’t seen anything even close to that.
That’s because you make him happy. I knew something was up
when he would visit me in the hospital.
It would be nice if you could make him happy like that and
it would last. Not just in the beginning. Discovering
someone new is so thrilling. I still like romantic movies.
Beginnings are wonderful. He loves them. Who wouldn’t?
But he’s addicted. He craves it. He can’t get enough.
I couldn’t do anything about it. I can’t give him what he
wants. I can’t reinvent myself every few weeks.
There is a long silence
as she tries to regain control.
I never told him what I really think. I gave him the
impression that he’s a meshugenah.
She starts sobbing again and
Which he is. And deserves to hear.
He is such a jerk. But I think he is, he might be
This brings more sobbing.
His craving for discovery. I’m hoping he gets there,
people recognize that he’s got it. He’s able to thrill
people with it.
Everyone who takes his class has been there with him.”
(crying more sanguinely,
I know, but he wants more and deserves more. You probably
can’t understand, but I want him to have that. He’s been
good to me. I want him to have you... I want him to be happy.
Carol notices that CC has what
may be a skeptical expression on
her face. It shatters the spell
she had assumed with her plan.
Do you still love him?
I don’t know. When he broke up with me. I was sort of
I love Jeremy.
Then CC, noticing how
Carol is hanging on her answer,,
as sincerely as she can muster,
August, Carol’s hospital room,
Carol is very weak. She is not
completely alert Her kidneys
have been shut down for two
weeks. There are dark circles
around her eyes. Her mother is
with her feeding her soup.
That’s good. Just one more spoonful.
Carol immediately looks
away allowing CC to not have to
I’m not hungry. I’m nauseous.
Come on. Wait let me get you a carrot. You like carrots.
Mom. No. No more.
At that moment Jeremy appears.
Mom, hand me my pocketbook.
Her mother moves the soup away
and hands her the pocketbook.
Carol finds a mirror and tries
to give her hair a bit of style.
Don’t do that. You look wonderful.
I’ll be right outside.
If looks could kill?
She gets up from her chair
As her mother leaves she can’t
help giving Jeremy a nasty look.
She closes the door behind her.
I’ve brought you a big box of Raisinets, movie size He hands them to her
I remembered how much you like them. How come you stopped
Well eat up.
She pours a handful and
starts to eat them with relish.
She hands him the box. He
brings it to his mouth and pours
some straight in.
Whoa, Save some for me.
Only the best for you.
I’ll do it.
He takes out another box of Raisinets from the bag of goodies he has brought. She smiles when she sees them.
She grimaces. Her calf has
tightened into a cramp. She
pulls off her blanket and tries
to rub it in order to loosen it.
He squeezes and rubs her calf
very hard. There is no
You have to stand on it. Push down on your toes.
He puts his arms under her
to lift her out of the bed. As
he does so he begins to sob.
Jeremy. Come on. Come on. Lift me. Come on. You’re
What else have they told you?
He successfully places her
on her feet. She presses down
on her toes to straighten them
and as quickly as it appeared,
the cramp is gone.
She continues standing,
holding him, hugging him as he
Come on. You’re going to make me cry.
I can’t help it.
You can Jeremy. You will...Help me get back in bed.
He returns her to her bed. She
is out of breath.
Why are you breathing like that?
They said I have congestive heart failure. From my kidneys
I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about you.
He reads the look on her face.
You said you’ve been thinking about it. Promise me you will
submit your thesis.
She starts to cry.
It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. If you don’t submit it
by next week you’re out of the program. That can’t happen.
You’re a great teacher. Do it for your students.
I’ve done it.
(Her voice sounds a hundred
Her crying continues but with
tears of joy, relief.
She pulls him down to her and
Then she is quiet, at peace as
he straightens up.
She notices that he looks
Did you hear from them?
(Continuing before he can
I don’t have to ask. They are going to think it is
He says nothing. From the
expression on his face we sense
that it has been rejected. But
Carol isn’t studying him
She is unaccustomed to the
relief she is feeling. For the
first time in years the junction
between her upper and lower jaw
relaxes. That little headache in
her forehead, that she has
learned to ignore. Now it is
You are going to be so happy.
Again, he starts to cry.
I mean after, in a month or two. Alyosha will be very
proud of you Dr. Slater.
Early September. In his bedroom,
CC’s father is in his easy chair
under a lamp, reading the paper.
We hear a knock on the door. He
puts the paper down
Come in CC.
How did you know it was me?
CC moves to the front of the
stage modeling for her father
You look stunning. I remember when your mother found that
dress. It looked great on her too.
I know. I was shopping in her closet. She gave me a whole
bunch of stuff.
It took her weeks to find it. She showed me a picture of
it in Vogue and then you know your mother. Nothing can
stop her–the British navy, the Amazon jungle–nothing can
stop her when she’s out to find something she wants. I
wonder what she will come home with today.
I remember when she used to drag me along with her. Shop
‘til you drop. And I would drop. Didn’t matter. She was
determined. I’d be done 2 hours before we stopped. She’d
bribe me with ice cream, then make promises, but she’d find
what she was looking for. Always!
One more week ‘til you start school. You ready?
Are you kidding? ‘Specially with the clothes Mom gave me?
The retro look is in.
Have you heard from that guy?
His wife died. He was very upset. He wanted to see me.
Are you going to see him? You were pretty gone when it came
I’m lucky I’m over him. I was very upset when I heard about
his wife, although I knew it was coming.(becoming sad) She
(fighting back tears)
I’ve spent hours talking to Dr. Weiss about it.
What does he say?
Not that much. We talked about me going up there for the
funeral. He convinced me it was a bad idea. I would
probably jump into bed with him all over again.
Sounds like you’re doing the right thing.
Can I ask you about you and Mom?
What about us?
Do you love her?
What are you and mom like when I’m back at school?
Sometimes, not always.
He takes her hand
Do you still love her?
Yes and she loves me.
How do you know that?
It’s hard for you to understand.
I’m trying. Believe me I’m trying.
In the early years we were crazy about each other. 100% of
the time. Do you remember that?
Those were great years. We were all happy.
That was before we knew each other. I mean really knew.
I’m not saying your mother is so bad. Or that I am. But
It doesn’t matter. If it hadn’t been one thing it would
have been another. That’s what happens to everyone. You
can’t love someone like you loved them in the beginning.
CC’S FATHER (CONT'D)
That kind of love is built on your imagination. No actual
person can match that.
He closes the newspaper, folds it carefully
Let me tell you something. Your mother has capabilities I
never even thought about. I hear your fellow students
making fun of homemakers like it takes a bimbo to run a
home. You know that stuff about how a man’s home is his
She’s made a castle for us to live in, all of us. It’s
beautiful, the ways the colors coordinate, the rugs, the
chairs, the sofa. And comfortable! We all take that for
granted. Your mother chose everything in the house. She
repainted the dining room three times before she was
satisfied with the color. And when we started and had no
money she did the painting herself. She wouldn’t let me
touch a paint brush. (laughing to himself) She didn’t like
the quality of my work. And later, when she hired a
painter, she made sure he was doing a good job. She’d fire
people that weren’t performing to her standards.
Your mother knows how to get the best work out of everyone.
Whether it is flirting, or charm, or being a pain in the
ass–whatever it is. It gets done right. That’s not a
small talent. She is a strong woman, very determined.
I’ll bet professors at your school don’t have a clue about
how to get good work done on their house.
I agree the house is beautiful.
Again he laughs to himself.
And comfortable... well.
That white rug in the hall. She wouldn’t let me come in
the front door. I could see my room straight ahead, but I
had to use the back door.
She lets you walk there now. When you were young you
didn’t wipe your feet. So yeah there is crazy perfect love
in the beginning, but eventually the real person spoils
that. After maybe 10, 15 years we had that love feeling
40, 50% of the time.
No. It was higher than that.
That’ how you remember it? Maybe. Maybe it looked that
way. But, by that time, a lot of the time we were faking
it. For you kids. And I guess each other. Then we stopped
faking it. And the love percentage took a real dive. I
don’t think it was a sudden thing. It was a gradual
Until it goes to zero?
That’ll never happen. We have moments. They will always be
That’s all you get at our age. Moments.
I don’t understand.
I’m grateful to have that. Some people... they lose it
He takes her hand and looks in
We still have it. Not the fake kind. The real thing.
I never see it anymore... How often?
We’re different when you kids are around. We don’t see you
that often, so when you come home we want the visit to be
I know. It’s nice but it is kind of phony, everyone—
Mark makes sure it doesn’t get too phony.
I suppose so.
(becoming very serious)
How often do you and mom connect? I mean really connect.
We have our moments...
It could be twice in a day, then not for weeks.
And that’s enough?
You often seem hurt. Really often.
I am but as long as I get–
You know, when we’ve had a blow up, we both want to make
up. Sometimes it takes a few hours. Once or twice it was
days, but we want to make up. That isn’t fake! It’s coming
from our hearts. Sure it’s fear. No one wants to be alone.
And that’s a big part of it. Before we met each other we
were alone. Part of that great feeling when you fall in
love is that your loneliness disappears.
CC says nothing. Her
father has never been blunt
like this before.
Not everyone is miserable being alone, but I am. Back then,
when I didn’t have someone, I’d see other couples with
each other. It would tear me up. So if you have been
there and experienced that...often. Not feeling that any
more... I think it was the same for Mom.
I thought you got together in high school.
We did but we both remember what that was like. Even back
then. So when we have a fight, for a while, we try harder
to be nice. At your age you probably have make up sex.
He smiles, strokes her
hair back across her head
That’s the best. Now making up means acting nice, very
nice to each other for days. And that is not bad at all...
It’s very nice. And it isn’t all because we are afraid of
being alone. That’s certainly a part of it, maybe a big
part of it. But after my anger dies down, I take a good
look at your mother, and I like what I see.
You mean she looks pretty?
No. More than that. Like what I just told you about her
talents as a homemaker. I never thought about that. For
better or worse, you take each other for granted, and yeah,
both of us can get pretty selfish and oblivious of each
other. A lot of times we argue because we are stubborn and
both of us don’t want the other one to win, but sometimes
when we are pissed and thinking about whether the marriage
is worth it, you realize certain things about each other,
good things. Your mother has a lot of good qualities.
Enough to love her?
Enough to love her and then some. Ten times over.
Ten times over?
(Answering with a smile)
Well maybe two or three.
Anyway. Talking about love. It’s stupid to think about
it. I can’t love or not love your mother. She’s a part of
me, like my hand. I don’t think about whether I love my
hand or don’t love it. It’s just me.
That’s a cop out.
It really isn’t.
Fine it is. But it isn’t.
They are both quiet, thinking
Sometimes... Well it was actually once. Your mother
It doesn’t matter. I knew she meant it. It came from deep
within her. That means everything to me.
CC gives him a hug while
he sits there. He looks at her,
takes her hand then releases it.
Looks again with an expression
that usually means, we’re done.
She heads for the door, but then
she turns around.
An apology? That makes up for everything?
Yes. It’s plenty. Don’t be too greedy.
What’s that mean?
He takes a deep breath
Sometimes I’ve overheard you and Mark talking about other
people, judging them. Your idea of how people are supposed
to be! It’s very young. Naive. The standards you expect
people to measure up to ... I mean it’s nice when you
believe people can be like that. And sure sometimes they
are. When it happens everyone relishes it...But
eventually, as you get older, after you are disappointed
enough, after you carry on like you and Mark carry on about
how everyone doesn’t measure up... That begins to get old.
You realize people just aren’t like the way you expect them
to be. Love isn’t that way and people aren’t. People like
that don’t exist. Well they do, here and there. It’s right
out of what they teach you in nursery school, love and hugs
and lots of kisses. For a while you’re there, but it’s not
ongoing. It doesn’t continue. When you’re young you assume
great experiences like that are ahead of you. You’ll
eventually meet the right people and connect. You’ll learn
how to cultivate it. You think you just haven’t had good
enough luck so far. Magazines and books are full of that
kind of living, describing it again and again. Like it is
all around, waiting for you.
You’ve never come across it?
No I have. Your mom and I have met some lovely people.
Many lovely people. There are times I have been with
people and I am aching with envy. Why can’t I have that?
What is their secret?
Once I get to know them better it isn’t there anymore.
But don’t some people have it? They’re lucky. Or they
have figured it out. I have come across that, and it seems
Where? In camp?... We’ve had it, a couple of our vacations
in Florida. They were perfect.
So the secret is Florida?
where the sky meets the sea. Your mother
He shrugs his shoulders.
I thought fathers are supposed to keep their kids’ dreams
That’s the advice they give fathers in magazines. Sorry to
I think you are wrong.
I hope so. I envy your faith. I remember when I was
young. I had your kind of hope, but I also remember how
much it hurt to be disappointed so often.
Maybe you just have had bad luck with people.
Maybe, but I don’t think so. Look. It’s great that you
expect such nice things from people.. I wish I could have
some of that back.
Do you? You make trust sound silly.
Fortunately, I’ve lost it a bit at a time. And in the end
there’s actually something great that happens.
Hawaii Bali Hai, loves that song.
CC’S FATHER (CONT'D)
When those expectations are gone, you can accept people
for who they are. Your mom is who she is. So am I. So
are you. We’re not going to change.
(Waiting for her to catch
Do you understand that? You shouldn’t expect too much.
People are just people. What you have seen so far. That’s
about it. That’s what people are like. That’s where you
should be starting from...Your mom apologized. That means
everything. You used to make fun of how Mom saw it as a
compliment to me, that she could show her mean side to me.
But you know what? She’s right. She can’t stand a lot of
qualities I have– let me put it more bluntly, a lot of
things about me she simply hates...
She can’t stand a lot of things about herself, as much as,
or more than I hate them. She hated this mole she had on
her thigh. Hated it. You know what she did?...She had the
But what about things you can’t change?
You keep hating them. That goes for things she doesn’t
like about me, and things she can’t stand about herself.
And maybe you learn to shut up about it. Your mother
sometimes is able to do that. Most of the time. Sometimes
she can’t or won’t. Same as me. Maybe it doesn’t matter
because eventually, it all comes out anyway.
I know a lot of people who aren’t that vocal, who don’t
talk as much as we do. Grandma always used to say, “If you
don’t have anything nice to say...
True. But you don’t think Mark knows what Grandma thought
of him. And she never said anything.
Grandma didn’t like Mark?
Are you kidding? As much as he didn’t like her.
Ira sees CC’s shock and
disappointment. She assumed her
grandmother couldn’t have been
fond of Mark, but putting it in
words, that her grandmother had
anything but loving feelings
towards any of them...
She never gave up. You do that for family. She kept on
hoping that Mark would come around...
Your Mom... I still love her. And that includes how
critical she can of me and of herself. I know, we all
know, how she can disapprove of us, of herself. But that’s
how she gets to be so beautiful, by keeping at it.
Your love for her? In my mind, it’s mainly there when she
I’m thrilled when she looks beautiful. Thrilled. But that
is not love.
The way you look at her. The way she looks at you.
Being thrilled isn’t love. It’s like seeing a shooting
star. You’re amazed but it isn’t love.
Come on. Isn’t that why you married her?
It is. And I am still thrilled by her beauty, but it’s
more like a bonus now. You have to give your mother
credit. She works so hard to remain young.
Yeah but she was born with it.
Like you were. But ninety percent of what you see comes
from her, from her standards, her self criticism, her
shopping. Yeah we hate that she finds so many things
wrong, how it makes us miserable trying to keep her happy.
How much hate there is in her.
Yeah of a bad haircut.
Okay she hates that. But you can’t have the good without
the bad. Your mother has this grace. Maybe she was born
with that, like her heroes Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant.
Some people just have it. You can’t put your finger on
what it is they do. But everyone knows when it is there.
She loves Johnny Carson. So do I. He has it.
So which is it? You’re born with these qualities that
everyone loves, or self criticism gets you there.
I don’t know. Both. The right amount of each. I just know
I still love your mother. And she loves me. We can’t
stand each other half of the time. Sometimes it’s closer
to three quarters of the time. But there are moments.
Your Mom and I still have moments. Not everyone gets that.
Moments? That’s it?
They are quiet as she
rolls that over in her mind.
A few words about where this chapter occurs in the story: Every university had one in the 60’s, a charismatic teacher, his head in the clouds, in love with ideas. Half the girls in his class are in love with Jeremy. CC is the most beautiful student. By the middle of the semester, she, and most of the students, are aware of where Jeremy’s starry eyes keep lingering. He is smashing out insight after insight impressing CC more and more. They suffer insecurities about each other but eventually sleep together and become romantically entwined. At first she is very happy with what has happened, a girl from Great Neck with a man like him! But things soon get complicated. As has been her habit, she soon wants Jeremy to know everything about her family. He asks questions She gushes with the details, as if he holds the key to her families problems. He isn’t too kind. Jeremy has a thing about Great Neck, about bourgeois existence in general. It is the 60’s. There are a lot of people who think like he does. They are part of a new wave of original thinkers, promising a better society, which reinforces his perspective. She has no choice but to defend her family. It comes natural to her. She is the daughter of a lawyer. This chapter follows the previous chapter, where he has had a lot to say about them.
“It’s still bothering me that your parents never wanted to break away.”
CC rolls her eyes. “I thought we went over this. My grandmother’s kugel?”
“The rest of it.” Jeremy answers, “The way they are so connected.”
“The rest of what? It never occurred to my parents that they needed to break away.”
“Amazing,” he says a little too complacently.
“Amazing? she answers loudly. “For hundreds of years, that’s what people did. One generation after the next. Then along came the 60’s.”
“But to buy into all the conservative propaganda…You can be gobbled up by it.”
“You’re not getting it. My parents got upset with their parents plenty. Really upset. But they couldn’t imagine their parents not being in their life. It never occurred to them. They aren’t unusual. The families of most of their friends are no different. What’s happening in the family is what their life is all about.”
“Give me a break.”
“My mother had a cousin who could only find a job in Michigan. His family had to move there. It was upsetting. Everyone put the best spin they could on it. It was only a few hours by plane. They could get together for the holidays. But the fact is they could see each other maybe once or twice a year. No one said anything but it was like losing them. Their children wouldn’t know their cousins…
“There was another family that lived away for no good reason. The assumption everyone had was Dory, the father had this thing about business, so much so that his family didn’t matter. Not just cousins, his kids. His ambition was all that mattered to him. Everyone knew there was something off about him. There was something wrong in their family.”
She sees she isn’t reaching him. “What I find remarkable is that you’re mystified by all of this. Wasn’t it the same in Brooklyn?”
“That’s how it used to be. Times are changing.”
“Yeah for the worse.”
She can see he is getting impatient, but undeterred she pushes on.
“The real mystery is what’s happening with my classmates,” CC says.
“That’s no mystery. When they’re around their parents they can’t be themselves. Students have complained to me.”
“You mean the new person they’ve invented. Okay. I told you about my mom and me. It’s true. She has a hard time with me being different. But at this point, Mark’s mocking everything my father says. Everything. I don’t know what he’s trying to do! He has to know my father is reeling.”
“He’s mainly angry, but you just have to look closer. He’s hurting. He’s really disappointed. Trying to figure out what he did wrong.”
“You can’t expect Mark to deny who he is.”
“When we were younger my parents understood. He was a teenager! Like me. We had to see everything the same way as our friends. We had no choice. So, my parents were able to ignore it. But now it’s more than that. This isn’t teenager stuff. My class mates intend to be who they want to be. Not a phase. This is it–them.”
“Exactly. They are enlightened. Finally seeing the truth. They can be themselves, not some fantasy their parents had of who they were expected to be.”
“Yes, people don’t have to act like they are expected to act.”
She mocks him, “Freedom, Freedom. You expect me to be in love with destroying everything I know? Excited by freedom?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Right. You just said my parents were weird because they never broke away. What else were you saying?…
Her voice is raised “You are so off. It wasn’t like that at all. When my parents didn’t see things like my grandparents they stuffed it. Actually they hid it. They kept quiet.”
“They were scared of them?”
CC’s exasperation is reaching the brim. She can’t believe that all of this is foreign to Jeremy.
“Not scared! They didn’t want to hurt their feelings. That’s what mattered. It took my mother 20 years to tell her father that she ate ham. And that was only after he got suspicious and started questioning her. I mean she felt free enough to eat the ham, but it wasn’t important for her to let her parents know.”
She thinks further. “Actually, I didn’t realize until my grandmother died that my mother never had ham or shrimp in the refrigerator– in case my grandmother came over and saw it. My mother ate it and fed it to us but she got rid of the evidence. She never told her mother that she loved bacon. Bacon! It’s practically her favorite food.
“But it isn’t just food. Whether my parents agreed or disagreed with things their parents believed, they granted legitimacy to it. It didn’t matter if it made sense. If something was important to my grandparents it was important to them. Period. It deserved respect.”
“Mark’s in my father’s face…With a hatchet. I just don’t get it. It’s almost as if he hates my father. What did my father ever do to him?”
“Freud thought sons want to kill their fathers.”
“Freud’s ideas are wild… Are you into him?”
“Not really. I’ve read some of his books but–”
“My therapist is a Freudian. Mark talks about Freud a lot.”
“He’s going to be a shrink so…”
Jeremy goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and studies its contents. He’s hungry. CC soon follows him there, shuffling behind him face down. Nothing in the refrigerator appeals to him, so he takes out a small container of Dannon yogurt, his occasional homage to healthy eating.
She waves him off. He scoops up the blueberries in it, bringing them to the top of the container. He takes a spoonful of the jellied fruit, then puts the top back on and returns it to the refrigerator.
“So there wasn’t much fighting that went on between your parents and your grandparents?”
“Maybe I’m giving the wrong impression. They disagreed plenty. I’m not talking about the Waltons. Plenty of times they were irritated with each other… for more than a minute, a couple of times a day. Sometimes a day or two. But they always got back to each other.
“There was this line and you didn’t cross it. When it came to what you could eat, it was God’s laws. But beyond that. Everyone knew you could only go so far. It wasn’t exactly defined but you had a good idea about it, what would be a serious transgression.”
“How did you know where that was?”
She looks at him like he’s an idiot. “Not everything’s put into words. You just know.”
“Sometimes my mother would be all over us, lecture us about respect, particularly when Mark went after my father. But that really wasn’t how we learned about it. It just was always there. Like something horrible would happen if you crossed the line. It wasn’t spelled out, but you knew it would be terrible.”
“And Mark crossed that line?”
“Again and again. He didn’t give a damn. He enjoyed stomping on it, getting my father upset. Like the fact that my father is upset proves Mark is really right about things. He’s not going to allow anyone to dictate what he thinks! Particularly my father.”
Her voice turns sad.
“I don’t know when it happened. But all of it was gone! The uncross able line, everything. Like it meant nothing. Never did.”
“That’s happened to you?”
“Not me–But it’s where my classmates are at… They’re shedding any part of themselves that resembles their parents and the way they were raised.”
“That’s because we are winning.”
“I’ll tell you this. It’s no fun being one of the only ones who think like me. I just don’t get it. “How do you do that? You can’t make up a new you.”
“Why not? Why shouldn’t you decide who you are, who you want to be? Why can’t you be liberated from the old bullshit?”
“My grandmother would turn over in her grave if she heard you say that.”
“That’s not how I see it.”
“ You think she’s up there watching you?”
“No but that doesn’t matter. I would know…” She watches him as she proceeds: “My grandmother is still with me, alive.”
“She’s part of who I am. I can hear with her ears, speak with her voice. And that makes me happy. Very happy.”
Give me a break is one again written across Jeremy’s face. She ignores him.
“My grandpa Joseph was the son of Joshua. Joshua made gold jewelry. Beautiful gold jewelry.” She fingers an earring. “Look at my earrings.” She takes them off, hands them to Jeremy. Her expression is insistent. They are beautiful, delicate, yet strong. “My grandmother gave these to me. She got them from Joshua”
Sounding like her grandmother she intones. “Joshua was the son of Samuel. He also was a jeweler. He taught Joshua how to make jewelry.”
CC puts her earrings back on.
“And Samuel was the son of Pincus, who spent his life studying the Torah. He was a rabbi. People came from the surrounding towns to hear Rabbi Pincus’ opinion of what the Torah had to say about their behavior. It wasn’t curiosity. They needed to know where they stood with God.
“My grandmother explained to me that a rabbi who understands the Torah, was very important to everyone. And reading a new portion of the Torah every week? They were fascinated. It was like the adventures of God.”
She doesn’t know why she tried to make that a joke. It wasn’t funny. It also undermines the seriousness of what she has been trying to say. But in the back of her mind she’s worried that Jeremy will begin to think of her as taking herself too seriously.
“Is that how your grandmother put it?”
“Sorry for that one! My grandmother laid it all out for me. We don’t get to hear what God wants from us. People complain about his silence. Rabbi Pincus explained what God wanted. It was all in the Torah, the book God gave to us.”
“That was a jazzy message.”
She ignores his irreverence. “They asked Pincus to speak at all the surrounding Shuls. You asked me about pride–my grandmother’s eyes lit up when she told me that.”
Despite seeming to give the impression that he is not taking CC seriously, he notices the way CC lit up when she spoke of Pincus.
“When you mentioned how synagogues from other towns wanted him to speak at their services you were proud.”
She’s pleased he noticed.
“Pincus was my grandmother’s favorite. He was always examining things, thinking about everything. He was the son of Joseph, another Joseph, who was a chazzan. They say Joseph had a voice that would make the angels cry. Joseph belonged to Moishe.”
She continues to have an identical lilt to her grandmother’s as she recited the family history.
“I get it.”
Ignoring him, CC continues.
“Moishe, means Moses, and Moses was the son of Solomon”
Proudly she proclaims, “Solomon. King of Israel.”
“He was the king?” Jeremy asks
Once again CC lights up. “His mother thought so.”
Calmly, Jeremy asks her “Have you been to Israel?” .
“Where’s this coming from?”
“My grandmother. My grandmother, who you say is dead. Better yet, her grandmother told her these stories. So now we are talking about 4 generations,
Temporarily won over, Jeremy kisses CC tenderly on her forehead.
Not completely in jest he tells her “I am kissing your grandmother.” She smiles, pleased that he’s beginning to understand. He so often seems closed. Her smile suddenly become brighter. CC goes to the window and looks out again. Then turns around.
“My room-mate thinks my grandmother and me are connected at the hip. She can’t believe things I’ve told her. It’s funny. She thinks being beholden to my grandmother makes me less of a person. It makes me more. My room-mate thinks I’ve been assigned an identity which keeps me from finding out who the real me is.
“It’s the opposite. What I got from my grandmother is the only part of me that’s substantial, that seems like me. The rest is swirling around like the wind.”
“I can understand about your grandmother, but can’t you see your room-mate’s point? What students are doing now is replacing all these do’s and don’ts that are a thousand years old. Nobody knows where the rules came from, or why they still exist. Why can’t you replace them with a better conscience. Something that makes sense, that corresponds to what you believe is important.”
“You just invent a new conscience?” she says in a dead pan way.
“A conscience formed from your ideals.”
“Ideals are pie in the sky.”
“Our ideals are the best part of us, what we believe in and value, deep, deep down”
“What? …That the rich should share what they have with the poor, that we should be helping black people get out of their hole, that we should not destroy the planet, that women should be in charge of their own bodies? Are you against any of that?”
“The core of your conscience should come from that, what you believe. What kind of morality did your parents, your grandmother give you? That you should fast on Yom Kippur? That Mark and Jay should wear a yarmulke in shul? You can’t do this. You can’t do that. How does that make you a better person? Growing up means you decide what’s important. Creating your own conscience.”
She smiles, “Do your own thing. You just like the sex part. she proclaims in a silly voice. “You can do anything you want and it’s okay.”
“You mean I can wear my mother’s bra?…Who knows. Maybe one day the movement will bring us there. You never know…Just kidding,” he quickly adds. His voice becomes serious. “Sex is a small part of this. The March on Washington. Hundreds of thousands of people, holding hands, singing We Shall Overcome. That came from the bottom of our hearts.”
“You were there?”
“It was life changing.”
“Mark says the same thing.”
“The point is that those feelings don’t have to exist for just one day. I was at a friend’s wedding. In the church people were singing this hymn. Singing it sweetly. You could see it on their face. They were singing to God. They were sure he was listening. Everyone in that chapel was connected to everyone else, and to God!”
CC is picturing it as Jeremy speaks.
“Why should you only have occasional moments like that? Why not surround yourself with people who have your ideals, who’ll keep you devoted to them. It’s the best you. Why not give it the place it deserves?
“Communes,” she says with a note of irony.
“Exactly. Why not surround yourself with people who share your ideals. Live together. Live your ideals.”
“Been there, done that.”
Jeremy is surprised. “When was that?”
“Last year. My friend, Leila. She graduated last June. For years she had been miserable. Well, not miserable. She had friends. She went to parties. She had a few boyfriends. Some of her relationships were nice. But she began to feel that she was never going to find the person she was looking for. She even tried a lesbian relationship. That wasn’t it. Most of the time she felt lonely. The hours, the days just passed. She had no purpose. She said she had felt that way for so long she didn’t think it could ever be different.” CC hesitates for effect. “Everything changed after she joined a commune.”
“I’m not surprised. Feeling united with other people that share your ideals. It’s like what I described in the church. Bonding the best part of you, with the best part of them.”
“It’s true. It transformed her. All of a sudden, she had confidence. Before she had always seemed to be adrift… worrying. Her eagerness to be liked–she said that really messed her up. No matter how well a relationship was going, she feared that it was only a matter of time. One misstep and she was finished. Or other people would see who she really was. And that would be that. Or they were ‘friends,’ but she didn’t feel connected. There are so many students at school just like her.
“After she joined the commune: poof. It was gone. Completely! Now, her relationships seemed solid. You could feel the difference Her tranquility. Being in the same room with her calmed me.
“I wanted that. To be part of something bigger. To belong. I haven’t felt that since I was a little girl. With my family. I knew I had them. Never thought about being without them. Oh once, when I was four, at the beach, I got lost. But the rest of the time? I belonged. We belonged to each other.
“Mark convinced me to go ahead and do it. I joined her commune. After I did it Mark bragged to all his friends about me.”
Jeremy listens quietly.
“Everyone talks about alienation, the modern condition. We read some essays in sociology.” She looks at him with the enthusiasm of one who has made a great discovery. “My alienation was gone.” She hesitates thoughtfully. “But then…Take that shit eating grin off your face. You know where I am going?”
Jeremy answers “We believe this. We believe that.” His sarcasm deepens. “Like an old married couple. We liked that movie. We didn’t like that one.”
“Exactly… I only stayed two weeks. I mean it started out great. I moved my stuff into Leila’s huge room with 2 others. We were strangers— but there was this warmth. You could feel it almost immediately. To finally belong somewhere. It was like what I had with my family. It felt great…
“People just wandered in and out of each other’s rooms. Drifting. Like everything belonged to everyone. I’d seen it in the movies–people at church finishing the last hymn. As the service ended, turning to each other. Hugging. Speaking softly, caressing every word that was said to them, like their words were like honey, like they were in heaven… I’ve seen it in the synagogue At a Bar Mitzvah. When the service ends, everyone hugs each other. ‘Good Shabbos.’ ‘Good Shabbos.’ The smiles. The warmth. It’s the real deal. That’s what I expected the commune would be. You’re right about it. Not just that moment. 24 hours a day.”
“Wow. You really got into it.”
“That’s how it was in the beginning. It felt so nice, so different, being part of that.
“I really loved the commune. For the first week!”
Her voice becomes deeper “My earrings disappearing didn’t feel so good. Leila told me that they were ‘borrowed’.”
CC touches one. “These, the ones I showed you from my grandmother. Leila– actually all three of my roommates thought I should be flattered that something I loved was loved by someone else.
“I got them back. Saw this girl brazen enough to wear them to dinner.” CC hesitates for a moment.
“She was shocked when I confronted her. She accused me of being possessive. Her friends agreed.”
Jeremy has a nasty smile. He’s heard similar stories before.
“It didn’t take long for everything else to change. I bought some Mallomars. My roommates went ape shit. Not Leila. I snuck one to her, but then she was worried people would find out. One of them turned me in. At this big meeting they brought up the Mallomars. Everyone was offended. Or pretended to be. No, I think they were offended. I don’t know where their head was at. They were conducting a war on processed foods. On corporate agribusiness. They reasoned with me in the deepest most sincere voices. Said I was being poisoned at the supermarket. They were disappointed in me…
“I said nothing. That night, at dinner, I ate plenty of brown rice and alfalfa sprouts. I wanted to prove my loyalty, to belong again. If that meant brown rice…” She sticks a finger down her throat with a false gag.
Jeremy laughingly joins her. “I can do without that ideal.”
“I actually called Mark to check the food thing out. He surprised me. He told me the only case of malnutrition that he had ever seen at the hospital was this patient who belonged to a commune that only ate macrobiotic food. I guess that sort of did it.
“I didn’t give up the commune. Not immediately. Well in a way I did. Once Mark stuck a pin in my balloon the magic disappeared. I started thinking things over. The togetherness I had felt was gone … I began to realize how weird it was that I had to hide my Mallomars… I felt policed. In my own home.
“When I brought Oreos to breakfast a week later, that got everyone all excited. I can’t claim innocence. I knew they wouldn’t like it. But the degree of anger at the meeting… They called me a subversive. It was worse than my grandmother with her kosher kitchen–like I had bought ham and intentionally put it on one of her kosher plates.”
Jeremy remains amused.
“They had no sense of humor. I don’t think I heard anyone laugh the entire time I was there. That’s the down side of ideals. When they are taken seriously like that, they have to be enforced. People were watching me, watching each other, watching themselves! It was a police state.”
“What! You agree?.”
“Not exactly, but…I know what you are talking about.”
She’s relieved she won’t have to argue with Jeremy about this one.
“After I quit I thought about them a lot. I couldn’t get over the anger I saw. The hatred. I knew some of them. They weren’t bad people. But the intensity of their reaction really bugged me. Later I heard gossip about me coming from them. Not Leila, but one of my room-mates. Ugly stuff. Really vicious lies. I know I should have ignored it. The things they made up were ridiculous, but it hurt my feelings. That’s when I really began to question communes.”
“And what have you decided?”
“The hatred for me-that’s a whole other thing -why there was so much of it. I heard the Jehovah Witnesses do that. Excommunicate people who drop out. Refuse to talk to them.”
“But what about the idea of communes?”
“I suppose the idea is good-the goal. If it happens naturally, when along with other people your ideals uplift all of you, connect you, it’s precious. But it’s a moment. Yeah, what you presented to me–wouldn’t it be great if you could remain there by surrounding yourself with like–minded people? It sounds so nice. But there is a lot more to it. The price is very high.
“When you listen to an inspiring rabbi’s sermon, for a while your intentions may be lofty. Unfortunately, it won’t be long until the real you comes out eventually–good, bad, sometimes mean, whatever. Your idealism might have been sincere, but claiming that those intentions are who you really are is nonsense. Okay. Maybe it is who you want to be and you deserve credit for that. You may be very determined to try to be a much better person, to fulfill those ideals, but an hour after the sermon, if you think about it, you realize it is a wish you’ve had to be that way. But it’s not who you are. When you try to define yourself as that person that’s when the trouble begins.
“Believing your wonderful ideals represent the real you makes you sanctimonious. You become a vigilant nut. You catch the slightest hint of racism, or lack of seriousness about the environment. Or whatever. Your identity as an unbelievably good person is at stake. This girl down the hall actually was a vigilante. She started all these rumors about me. She would have sent people to the Gulags.”
“You know about the Gulags?”
“We read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”
It is an opportunity for Jeremy to go into lecturing mode, which he grabs. That they are lovers is irrelevant. He is still her teacher: “If you think about how many people died, the Gulags were as bad as concentration camps. The important point is people did that in Russia when they were trying to make communism work. They believed in it. They were trying to create a Utopia… They thought socialism was an historical inevitability.
“Here’s the important point. People were turned in for impure attitudes not by cynics, but by true believers. You hear stories about the Communists and none of it makes sense. Sure, there were sadists, people grabbing power and enjoying the suffering they caused. But there were an awful lot of idealists who were so carried away by their beliefs, convinced they were bringing forth a wonderful future that every other consideration faded away. How could Sartre continue to support Stalin after the purges? How could all kinds of intellectuals in Russia and elsewhere, people who felt passionately about inequality, party members who wanted to do good–how could they ignore the gulags? People were getting killed for their beliefs. The obvious explanation was that Marxists’ ideals were so ennobling that they overrode any other perception of reality. They so much wanted what they believed was going to happen, that they ignored what was actually happening. It isn’t coincidence. The goodness claimed by passionate idealism perpetuates that kind of blindness.
“At the beginning of the revolution someone you knew might have been arrested and disappeared. Maybe you had had misgivings about his loyalty to the cause. So you half understood that he should be reeducated. Perhaps the rumors were true. As an enemy of the revolution that person might be mistreated. It is a necessary evil. But intentionally? Compared to the evils of capitalism? No way there is a comparison.”
Jeremy once gave a lecture on this subject. He continues.
“Millions of people were turned in by neighbors who doubted them. Millions. Even after rumors persisted that prisoners were being abused, members of the Party insisted otherwise and they were believed. They probably believed it themselves.
“There is no other explanations for these strange public trials. They were essential. The accused made public confessions. It didn’t matter that the prisoner had been tortured. What mattered was that the unity of the public, the purity of their ideals, was maintained by those confessions.
“Year after year members of the Party, true believers continued to insist their motives were for the highest purpose. Here and there a guard may have misbehaved, but the ideals represented by Marxism were sacrosanct. They continue to insist counter revolutionaries were sent away so they could be “reeducated.” They stuck to that rationale long after the reality had become clear. The “reeducated” people who returned seemed like they were shell shocked. They were afraid to complain. It might get them arrested again. Worse, many more didn’t return–millions of them.
“Eventually, out of fear, no one said anything critical of the revolution. No one asked questions. I’m not just talking about inside Russia, because there it was obviously dangerous to openly doubt some aspect of Marxism. You might not have been from the privileged classes but clearly if your questions were persistent you had sold out. You were a traitor. Next semester we’re going to read Koesler’s The God that Failed. It’s six essays by former communists. That book sort of broke the ice outside of Russia, but until then the amazing thing was that as the facts began to emerge, in Paris, in Rome, Milan, intellectuals couldn’t admit they had been wrong. Those who reported details of what was going on were accused of being liars. Even when the evidence became overwhelming, they still held on. There was a lot at stake. Not just their ideals. They were afraid of losing friends, of being an outcast, afraid of being labeled a Fascist. The two components of what was so treasured in the commune, being united with others with superior ideals, meant more than common sense.”
Jeremy’s not done: “It was the same in Nazi Germany. I heard this lecturer who had studied a city in Germany of close to a million people. Can’t remember the name. Hollywood always makes it seem like the Gestapo was everywhere– spying on everyone. There were maybe 20 or 30 SS in the entire city! That was it. But tens of thousands of Bolsheviks, homosexuals, Jews were arrested and sent away. The spies were their neighbors!
And the same thing happened there, not just because they themselves were afraid of being turned in to the SS. We like to think it was that, but that wasn’t the case. It was their idealism, their belief in a future in which the greatness of the German people would, at last, be fulfilled. That was more than enough to counter any pangs of conscience they developed about turning their neighbors in.
“In their minds the magnificence of Germany was just as wonderful as the Utopia Communists dreamt of, a future in which Germany would finally assume its rightful role in the world. I mean if you are German what could be more important than having this pride, believing you are the master race? Arrogant yes. Germans go there naturally, even without Nazism. But never mind the German factor. Doesn’t everyone secretly harbor a belief that their group is superior. I do as a Jew. I’ll bet you do.
“As far as the nasty behavior going on, I’m sure in the beginning the average Nazi thought like the Communists. It was temporary. The usual rationalization¬–you can’t make an omelet without breaking the shell. Ya de da, de da.
“That fantastic feeling you were describing, what you felt, at first, in the commune, being part of an ennobled group…There’s this movie Triumph of the Will. It shows the Nuremberg rallies. Hundreds of thousands of people– ecstatic! Carried away that they are seeing Hitler in the flesh. Then when he speaks, as they listen to his ideas, they really go ape shit. Not long before he came along, Germans were on their knees, disdained by the rest of the world after World War I. It was infuriating.
“Finally! The greatness of the German people was to be realized! At last!!! When they shouted at the top of their lungs Sieg hiels, Sieg Hiels, their voice became part of this amazing huge sound, hundreds of thousands of Germans in unison. Again and again. The drums, the bugles. The might of the united German people, about to take ownership of the future. That confidence you felt in the commune about being connected. How about hundreds of thousands of them lost in an ocean of German people. I mean if you are German, and you feel that you have been mistreated…”
Jeremy raises his voice into a shout:
“Sieg hiels! Sieg Hiels! Victory! In movies with Nazis that greeting always seems obligatory. But it wasn’t. They were ecstatic. Hundreds of thousands of people were in Washington led by Joan Baez, singing We shall overcome. It was the same. Feeling part of something really big, important, hopeful, determined. I loved being there. I treasured the experience. I was not one lousy feeble person, living my life alone without purpose. I was part of a huge moment in history. The Nazi rallies were bigger than the March on Washington.”
They are both quiet for a moment. Encouraged that Jeremy is equally critical of the communes, CC escalates. She grabs the moment to attack him:
“How come the antiwar movement never mentions the 50,000 unarmed civilians killed by Ho Chi Minh. He was inspired by the Chinese and Russians who did the exact same thing, land reform. Ho Chi Minh was proud to match that moment in the revolution. To do what had to be done. Killing the peasants that had managed to buy and own land, taking their land for the “people.”
You’d think the peace movement, if it was decent, would look back in horror at what happened. But the opposite. First the Russians did the killing, then the Chinese. True communists, inspired by income inequality, each respecting revolutionaries who did it before, for going ahead with their plan, doing something, not just talking about it. Somehow the make-love-not war people never mention those killings. It was the greatest atrocity in the history of Viet Nam. The peace movement locks in on the good stuff¬– the Viet Cong not being Communists. Their ports might be clogged with Russian ships bringing war supplies. Khrushchev might have banged his shoe in the UN, bragged that the Communist would bury us, but what can you expect? Peaceniks explaining American policy was based on a ridiculous domino theory. How the fighting is really about nationalism, ending Western imperialism. Fifty thousand slaughtered on the altar of Marxism.”
“Where did you hear about that?” Jeremy asks with skepticism in his voice.
“Jeffrey Satini. He’s head of the Young Conservative Club.”
“And you believe him? It’s amazing how people can make up lies.”
“I checked on it. It’s true.”
Jeremy’s expression is disbelieving. “Fine. Continue what you started to say about communes.”
Jeremy’s disagreement about what she was told about Ho Chi Minh causes her to hesitate. But not for long. She’s built up so much venom on the topic. Plus his agreement with her about the down side of ideals encourages her
“I told you how at first I felt like I had found family.” She shakes her head. “Some family that was. My crime –Oreos. Jay used to hide donuts. And he didn’t even buy them. My mother bought ‘em… Difference is, for us it wasn’t the principle of the thing. We just wanted to know where he was hiding them so we could get at them. He was pretty good at finding new hiding places.
“It would never occur to us that it was because he was rotten. I mean he was, but so are we. We’re all family. It’s simple. If you take your ideals too seriously, you fall into that trap. I mentioned Jay lording over Mark what a goody-goody he was. What went on in the commune was a thousand times worse. Your ideals may be all about love, but you despise anyone who is an obstacle to the purity of your ideals. You think of yourself as full of love, but what you feel is the opposite, hatred for anyone challenging the spell you are in.”
She takes a breath then continues.
“It’s one thing to be disappointed by people. But when you buy into a commune mentality you’re not disappointed. You feel betrayed. Your cause is so righteous. Anyone not going along with you-you see them as evil. You hate them…Here’s the important part. They’re a threat to your community.”
“Jews used to stone people caught eating bacon.”
“Really?” CC asks..
“I’m kidding. But Muslims stone daughters to death who don’t go along with their parents’ choice for their husband. If they run away and marry another man. Muslims don’t fool around. A family can murder a wayward daughter and not be prosecuted. They don’t feel guilty. Honor killings. They are doing the right thing. It isn’t only that they married the wrong person. Left unpunished, that rebellious daughter is a threat to the entire community.”
“It’s true. My Oreos were treated like they were treasonous. ‘It’s just a cookie,’ I argued. They knew I was mocking them. Having sacred beliefs makes you hate people that challenge you.”
Jeremy is smiling, enjoying her story. She continues.
“You have to live up to this idea you have of yourself that you are holy.
“All the time! That’s the rub. It’s one thing if you’re a Trappist Monk. They make vows of silence. They’re gently listening for God’s will. Quieting their own noise is the only way to find him. And guess what? They find him. As they softly chant, they can feel God’s presence.
“People in a commune try to live love. Some of their smiles seem like serenity, like they are there. I suppose they are. It’s alluring. It isn’t platitudes. They really are there. You can feel it. It makes you want to be like them. When they convert someone new–it’s like nectar to them. Can you imagine how missionaries used to feel? Saving savages from hell.”
They are on a roll, but Jeremy’s curiosity is not a 100% satisfied.
“While you belonged to the commune, that calm you felt? Did it last for a couple of hours. For a day? What you saw, how Leila became–did it happen to you?”
“I told you. It did, but it didn’t last. I suppose for some people it does, true believers, but I’ll bet they are the most ferocious in denouncing the impure.”
“It’s funny,” Jeremy adds, “with everything bad we are saying about them, I can’t close the book. I picture all these good-hearted people. Together. You can’t beat that.”
“All I got to say is that if these 60’s ideals catch on, watch out. It will tear the country apart. It already is,” CC adds
‘Still to me, while you were part of it… It just seems like you were in heaven.”
“Maybe for ten minutes.” She smiles. Their discussion is setting off reverberations of previous thoughts she has had. “Mark and I used to talk about heaven all the time, what it would be like. Angels playing harps.”
“Well, that’s easy to dismiss. No one plays harps. But non-stop euphoria–imagine that!” Jeremy can. “Non-stop– even if it lasted 10 minutes. Hell. Zen Buddhists are satisfied with an instant of Satori. 10 minutes has got to be an eternity.”
Like CC, Jeremy’s is delighted with where they have gone. As a kid, he thought a lot about heaven, but even now. Their conversation is flying in every direction, but it’s a turn-on for Jeremy–– knowing CC cares about all of this. When he was falling in love with her he had no idea.
When her daughter Evelyn was born in 1927, Mimi Moscowitz expected that her daughter would grow up to be a princess. However, becoming royalty didn’t mean sitting on a soft pillow. When it came to Evelyn, Mimi was a strict taskmaster.
It’s worked very well. On the one hand, throughout her life Evelyn has been cushioned by her self-confidence. On the other, she’s never been conceited, or snobbish. With good reason– Mimi didn’t indulge her imagination. Her head was never in the clouds. She assumed Evelyn would be the queen of their small domain on and around Flatbush Avenue and that was more than enough. Her idea of reality was what she could see, what she knew, where she walked–her neighborhood. There wasn’t TV to stretch her boundaries. The world outside of Brooklyn was far, far, away.
Later, for Evelyn, after she married Ira, it was Great Neck. The driving force was the same. The key element in her ambition, which worked so well, was what she learned from her mother. At no time did her duchy lie beyond her reach. To be sure, effort was required, compared to her schoolmates, a lot of effort. But Evelyn’s expectations were always within what she knew, which is the secret of a comfortable life, familiar boundaries, that seem just about right.
Towards the beginning of World War II, during training, Ira was stationed in the middle of nowhere, Fort Blanding, Florida. It was the deep south. Off base, more than once, they encountered a sign posted outside lavatories. No dogs, no Negros, and no Jews. Evelyn assumed the sign didn’t apply to her. It was some crazy thing, part of the wacky encounters they were having, at what, for them, was an extended honeymoon. The hicks that lived in Florida were like the natives one encountered in the Caribbean. They and their habits were a fascinating part of a travel adventure.
She looked at their time in Florida like a tourist on vacation collecting vignettes, collecting interesting sights and sounds. The sign forbidding Jews entrance to the toilet wasn’t so much an insult as it was a curiosity– an interesting detail, part of a good story she could tell her friends in Brooklyn about the natives, when she got home. She had Ira pose with her in front of one of the signs, smiling even more than her usual photo-smile. She was tickled by the dirty looks she got from the locals when one of them took that picture, even more when she used the bathroom. Not that anyone staring at them had the nerve to say anything. They rightly imagined she could crush them with a glare. Beauty has that advantage.
In school, she always had similar power over her classmates, from 5th grade on. In the stores, with other customers already there, some longer than her, the shopkeepers always turned their attention to Evelyn. If they asked who was next she would always defer. Fair is fair. But when they would turn to her soon after she entered the store, eager to be of service, even with others around, she considered herself lucky to have come across a nice merchant. Nothing more. She wasn’t aware, more accurately she was oblivious to the fact that she had privileges. When Ira pointed it out to her 10 years into their marriage it wasn’t a surprise. She had noticed, but she saw it as no big deal. It was simply part of her package, like being a brunette or having big green eyes.
Her beauty and confidence were so much a given that it never occurred to her that she was anything other than a usual person. She knew she possessed power. She wanted to maintain it. And that she was prettier than others. But she assumed other people had different powers that worked for them. She had the advantage that while her mother sometimes made mistakes, she couldn’t go too far off in her shopping decisions. Evelyn was that pretty.
That didn’t mean that Mrs. Moscowitz treated shopping for clothes casually. She was just luckier than other mothers. It still took effort. Major effort. But she had a higher baseline. Since everything looked good on Evelyn. the challenge offered Mimi was, could she find something smashing? She was able to aim higher, for Evelyn’s appearance to be spectacular. But the hours it took to reach her goals, were not less than others.
Hour after hour, they performed the proverbial ritual. They shopped until they dropped. Like all of her classmates and their mothers, Mimi and Evelyn labored hard looking for the exact right thing. There were times when Evelyn was ready to cry, times that she did cry. But always her mother was capable of rallying the troops. Evelyn’s tired legs, and exhausted curiosity about what might await them, were handled with military discipline. She had to stuff her discomfort, turn off her whining. All complaints would be ignored until they found their prize.
It was rarely for naught. Although sometimes Mimi bought something that even she wasn’t sure about, bringing it home and hearing her husband Herman’s judgment, could sometimes turn the tide. When he liked it, whatever uncertainty she might have had, completely disappeared.
That wasn’t always necessary. For the predominance of her purchases, Mrs. Moscowitz knew when she had found what she was looking for, a skirt, a blouse, a cute hat, 2 skirts. From the grapevine, she knew which stores had had a fresh delivery, which had been shopped out. They were also able to get in to Mimi’s cousin’s factory and get skirts wholesale. They invariably found something that made the afternoon worthwhile.
When Mimi and Evelyn got home all other activities ceased. Mr. Moscowitz might have been reading the newspaper, or doing paperwork for his business. But the task at hand was far more important. And pleasurable. She had Evelyn run to her room with the shopping bags, and try each thing on. She, along with Herman, waited eagerly for her return.
“Ta-da,” Evelyn cried out as she entered. The cream silk blouse was as perfect as it was in the store, the dark green skirt the same. The moment Evelyn entered the room, she knew what she sought. Her father’s delighted eyes were reward enough for their efforts.
On a great day, if they had discovered one item after another that was just right, as Evelyn modeled each garment their pleasure was multiplied several fold by Mr. Moscowitz’ reaction. They usually knew beforehand. Both anticipated he would celebrate their successful undertaking with them and he invariably did. But you never know until you know. Detail by detail, the tailoring, the fabric, the color– he reinforced his wife’s judgment. “Stunning” was the word he used a lot. He almost never used that word in any other context. Hearing it from his lips, Mrs. Moscowitz looked over to her daughter as if to say “see”. “I told you.” –erasing any doubt one of them may have had at the store.
Sometimes, Mimi would step forward, and pull in a waist here, the shoulders there. Herman had great confidence in his wife’s seamstress abilities. She had once worked for him. So the result was a sure thing. When Evelyn joined them for breakfast before school, the altered garment was part of the joy both of them derived from adoring Evelyn. They knew she was beautiful, but now, with this outfit, they were reminded of how beautiful. The day, brand new, God seemed to have given his blessing. It was part of the explanation for the spirited way Mr. Moscowitz applied Mimi’s marmalade on his toast. They praised Evelyn effusively, unhesitatingly, but they both knew it would be sacrilegious to say out loud their secret conviction, to openly proclaim that God was the reason for their good fortune.
All was, of course, not perfect. Success would have been meaningless if it hadn’t been won battling their handicaps. She had to operate within her price range. Herman would have a conniption if he found out they paid too handsomely for an item they brought home –even if it were a treasure. It would immediately not be a treasure, on price alone. There was a soft boundary. Respecting the extreme effort she and Evelyn had just made, Mimi sometimes felt justified fibbing about the cost. Just a little. Frequent practice perfected that ability. Herman may have occasionally suspected that he wasn’t getting the facts, but he never challenged her.
For those living in the country, the first warm day in the spring is glorious. The sun is bright. The birds are tweeting. It was no different for Mimi and Evelyn in Brooklyn. Certain days were wonderful. Mimi never bought anything just because it was on sale. But if she found something she loved and it was on sale–that made the day wonderful.
It helped that Evelyn’s parents shared the same perspective about shopping. They came from the same background. They grew up a block away from each other. Shared values made it easy for them. Unlike modern marriage with its emphasis on tolerance of each other’s differences, there was nothing to explain, nothing each of them had to learn about the other’s expectations. At least when it came to shopping, no changes were expected of either of them. That was true of a good proportion of other characteristics they brought to their marriage. The marriages went smoothly because their families had so much in common, same rules, same rituals, same habits. Perhaps Mimi’s mother used more onions when she made a pot roast, and her Friday night soup was saltier than Mr. Moscowitz’ mother’s beloved chicken soup that he treasured growing up. But these were specifics of no great importance. Of course, the newly married had to make many adjustments to the stranger they now lived with, and sometimes those adjustments were impossible for either or both of them, but, at least when it came to shopping, Herman’s family’s ideas were identical to Mimi’s family’s ideas.
When she truly found a bargain and it was beautiful, when Evelyn tried it on for Mr. Moscowitz, and he was similarly happy, Mimi took enormous satisfaction, not only because it looked great, but because it cost so little. She knew how much pleasure he derived from that detail. So did she. It was little different than the excitement a fisherman feels when he has caught a giant trout and happily poses for a photograph with his catch.
“A dollar fourteen for that blouse. A dollar fourteen! Can you believe it?” They both looked in wonderment, like a miracle had occurred. After Evelyn took that blouse off and put on something else, Mr. Moscowitz examined every detail of the bargain, expecting to find some defect in the stitching, a small tear, something that would explain its price. When he could not find anything wrong, Mimi also examined it closely. She realized how lucky she had been, which reflected well on her. They both knew her luck derived from her hard work, her tireless devotion to finding this and similarly perfect clothes. Yes, she had been lucky, but it was a deserved reward.
Evelyn wasn’t any different than the other girls in the neighborhood. Their mothers took them shopping with the same determination and expectations. Sometimes they found a nicer outfit than Evelyn’s. When confronted at school Evelyn could comfortably acknowledge it as a fact, but it spurred her and her mother on. Someone else’s success set a new standard. It guided Evelyn and her mother as they tried to find, at the very least, a blouse with equal pizazz. Victory was never beyond their grasp. They might find something nicer. Much nicer.
Fortunately her competitors never threatened her throne, at least not for long. Even when she couldn’t replicate or surpass their victory, the image her classmates had of Evelyn could not be altered . She was a certainty for prom queen. Her place at the top could not be removed by the temporary success of a nicer purchase.
The importance of fashion in Evelyn’s Brooklyn was not unique. Jewish neighborhoods all over the city were similar. Today it is hard to imagine that the Bronx could inspire the young Ralph Lipshitz, (eventually named Ralph Lauren). But the Bronx was very different during Lipshitz’s youth. The Grand Concourse, one hundred and eighty foot wide, with a line of trees separating the roadways was built to echo the Champ Elyse. In the thirties and forties, and still in the fifties, the Grand Concourse was considered the Jewish Park Avenue, an elegant destination for the successful.
The fierce standards of Jewish expectations effected every facet of a young person’s life, their character and especially their accomplishments. As adults we might be amused by the self- consciousness of a teenager getting ready to go out, but there was a basis in reality. A stroll on the Grand Concourse served as a crucible for their persona. Shame or praise were the cauldron that shaped their tastes. You didn’t stroll on the Concourse unless you were dressed to kill.. Every detail mattered. You might as well be dead if you were not up on this season’s look.
Particularly now, fifty years after the Jews fled, when drugs, muggings and violence replaced its fancy aura, if you weren’t from the neighborhood, few would believe its former existence. It is hard to imagine a milieu in high school, where a handsome guy like Ralph Lipshitz, dressed to the nines was as admired as a quarterback at a Texas high school. He was the son of an immigrant house painter. After school he worked at Alexanders, not to save money for college. He needed the money to dress right.
The arc of Ralph Lauren’s life is an interesting study of the transformation that was taking place in America. Jewish families are said to honor learning and intellectual pursuits. Ralph Lauren began high school at Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy. Limudei Kodesh classes are taught in Jewish(Talmud), Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Halkha studies including Gemara (Jewish law). These classes comprised the morning session of the day. In the afternoon the school was secular. After 2 years he switched to DeWitt Clinton High School.
Before they arrived there, De Witt Clinton students were infused with the high expectations that their immigrant parents imagined for them. Their dreams meant everything to them. It didn’t have to be said. Their children understood that for a good many of them, whether their parents considered their lives successful or not, had much to do their accomplishments
The high school took it from there. Its Latin Department was legendary. Its campus was adjacent to the Bronx High School of Science. Standing out from the noise and chaos of the city, together they were sometimes compared by admirers to the Sorbonne. Sounds silly now, but then? It wasn’t just Ralph Lauren that brought a little class to Dewitt Clinton. Fashion photographer Richard Avedon went to De Witt Clinton. The New York Times said that Avedon’s “fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”
Spawned in a cultural pressure cooker, De Witt Clinton High’s graduates shot out of their background to fame and glory. Neil Simon went to De Witt Clinton. So did Richard Rogers. Bruce Jay Friedman, , William Kunstler, (the attorney of 60’s radicals) and Robert Altman (the 60’s photographer). Judd Hirsh, Irving Howe, Lionel Trilling, Avery Fischer, George Cukor. All were children of that culture. And not just among the Jews. Burt Lancaster went to De Witt Clinton. So did James Baldwin and Sugar Ray Robinson. The outsized hunger of Jeremy, CC’s boyfriend, and his compatriots in Brooklyn and the Bronx drove him on as it did them. Ralph Lauren was not understated about where he planned to soar. In his yearbook he described his ambition as becoming a millionaire. He imagined a better world in the Hamptons, a world of Wasps and designed accordingly. As much as his designs don’t look like Jewish clothes, he could not have existed if he came from a different background than Mimi Moscowitz. They shared the same assumptions. Same for Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, and the myriad of Jewish designers. Clothes make the man. And the woman. Ralph Lauren would not have existed if he wasn’t part of this world.
Young Lifshitz’s passion for fashion was part of a secular transformation happening all over the city. At sermons everywhere, the rabbis railed against the allure of tinsel town, but they couldn’t hold back the tide. In subsequent Jewish neighborhoods like Great Neck, the antenna for style continued to remain high. It was a repeating cultural given. It must have seemed an eternal reality.
At the Fresh Meadow Country Club in Great Neck, Mrs. Rivers was the final arbiter of good taste. She sat at a table, at the entrance to the dining room, always in the same seat. No one can remember anyone else sitting there. The Aztecs, the Romans, the Greeks all had their legendary entries, as did the Palace of Versailles. As each woman entered they were scrutinized by Mrs. Rivers. Her reaction was more important than the meal they came for, than the table hopping, gossiping, and kibitzing that would follow. In the moment that women entered, nothing else in their life mattered as much. This was what all the shopping, and preparation was for.
The judgment was finished in a flash. A smile, Mrs. Rivers’ eyes sparkling and you’re there. Her lips turned down and you’re in hell. Who originally set her up as the supreme arbiter is unknown. She had the talent. She had a sharp eye for what is right and wrong with the outfits women wore. She had a sharp tongue and a quick wit, but perhaps the best explanation for her 20 year reign was the look on her face when she didn’t like what someone was wearing. It overpowered anything else that might be going on in the room. That look could be devastating. Or her approval could be a reason for celebration. When she liked an outfit, everyone agreed.
To an outsider it might seem like a parade of high fashion. Most of the women, however, got neither high praise nor ridicule. They were satisfied if what they wore was simply acceptable. It was good enough for the family to relax and enjoy their afternoon. But when Mrs. Rivers was aroused, positively or negatively, she was incapable of being silent about what she thought. Sometimes her voice could be heard throughout the dining room. It wasn’t that she was so loud. Everyone recognized her voice from out of the din. They wanted to hear her verdict right away. She usually hit the nail on the head about what is right and what wrong.
When a new outfit was wrong, she could cut you in half. When something like that happens, by the end of the day, everyone has scrutinized the unfortunate victim again and again, confirming the original verdict.
And it’s not just for that afternoon. For years after, people talked about Mrs. Herman’s hat, which Mrs. Rivers described as a fruit bowl. It made Mrs. Herman a laughing stock. Another evening, everyone remembered what she said about Mrs. Silverstein. “Her pupik’s bursting out of her midriff.” For years what jumped into people’s minds when they saw Mrs. Silverstein were those words. That is, until she had a heart attack and died.”
Without pausing for a moment, out of respect for Mrs. Silverstein, they all plowed forward. No one blamed Mrs. Rivers. Death came years after her comment. But when she died everyone remembered Mrs. Rivers’ indictment and wondered if it could have contributed to her death. The verdict was no, but the fact that it was the first thing everyone thought of when they talked about Mrs. Silverstein confirmed the ferocity of Mrs. Rivers power, and the accuracy of her judgment.”
What qualified Ashkenazi Jews to be experts in finding and selecting beauty is a mystery. There was no history of it being a particular emphasis in the Schtetl. Well not quite. Maimonides referred to a section of the Talmud (Brakhot 57 b) “Three things increase a man’s self esteem, a beautiful dwelling, a beautiful wife, and beautiful clothes.” Two industries were created in America, enormous industries, as a consequence of the seriousness of Schtetl Jews’ love of beauty.
That they came to dominate fashion should be a surprise, but not completely. Jews were tailors in the old country so making clothes came naturally. But what qualified them to create Hollywood, selecting extraordinarily beautiful women and handsome men and making a fortune off of it. Was it the advice of Maimonides? Doubt it. It’s a mystery. Whatever the explanation, the passion of American Jews for beauty, brought them industrial might not only in America. But all over the world.
The narrative for success doesn’t change over the years. Fierce determination. The mother of Diane Furstenberg, (nee Halfin) gave birth to her 18 months after she survived a concentration camp. Furstenberg has spoken broadly about her mother’s influence in her life, crediting her with teaching her that “fear is not an option.” Victory is the best revenge. Her friend Lauren Bacall, from the Bronx had the same attitude. “You just learn to cope with whatever you have to cope with. I spent my childhood in New York, riding on subways and buses. And you know what you learn if you’re a New Yorker? The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.”
One year after marrying a German prince and becoming a German princess, Diane Furstenberg decided that having a German title was not enough. Not nearly enough. Besides she needed her own money. She entered the fashion world. She was not going to fail.
CC’s grandfather, Herman Moscowitz’ resemblance to Sammy Glick is unflattering but not unfair. Mimi always denied it. She thought he was a mensch. He was the president of the Shul, meaning during good years he gave a lot of money, and raised a lot of money, for others to study the Torah, which placed his intentions close to God’s. And indeed, outside of business, especially on the Sabbath, he was a different man. He didn’t obey all the rules for the Sabbath. He didn’t know half of them. But on that day, on Flatbush Avenue he was said to walk in fields of clover. That’s how he described Shabbos to cousins. His voice was soft, cushioned, wise, especially to Evelyn. He had no idea why he had been so lucky to have a daughter that looked like Evelyn, but he enjoyed every moment of it. His face lit up when, on Saturday, she’d come down for breakfast, groomed to perfection, and sometimes better than that, in her Shabbos outfit.
Sammy Glick would have never enjoyed the Shabbos composure of Herman. Still it was true that he had many things in common with Sammy Glick. Herman had to beg, borrow and steal and, not rarely, lie his way to success. Jews could not get loans from banks. They had to turn to brothers, sisters, cousins, congregants at the schul, anyone who claimed to be their friend, in order to remain one step ahead of their debts, invariably coming due. The sweater business was not as dependent on staying ahead of fashion as manufacturers of dresses and blouses. Sweater styles didn’t change as quickly, but still, unfortunately, it was possible in a given season to guess wrong, to manufacture a line of knits that was out of step with customers’ tastes. If this was repeated too many time it meant disaster. Herman was up one year and down the next, and at one point, after two straight bad seasons, he was barely holding on.
But even during the good years it was tense. Daily there were new crises–dozens and dozens of them. Twenty times a day his panic button went off. The zippers were no good. The wrong buttons came. He’d scream and yell. There were unending problems that required him to come up with solutions quickly. And sometimes there were no solutions. That’s when his shouting got intolerably loud. Besides his own ulcer, he gave one to his secretary and to Mimi. She used to kid him that he kept Alka Seltzer in business.
But when there were good years, of which there were many, and occasionally great years, he did the lending. His top dresser drawer was full of I O U’s given to him, scratched out on any paper available, including napkins. He was an easy touch, sentimental to a fault when it involved other people’s troubles. He died broke, but he had been planning his comeback, as he had many times before. Three years before his death, after a good season, he was on top of the world. After he died, Mimi opened his dresser drawer, as Herman had instructed her to do, the top one on the left. It was full of IOUs. Mimi wondered, since it was a bad year, why he didn’t try harder to collect on his loans.
She knew the answer. He was too interested in wanting people to like him. Like a woman. Herman made a show of seeming tough, but he was basically a softy, like his mother. Mimi blamed her for being so close to him, her need not his. For years after his death that was the conclusion of everyone who thought about his family’s financial difficulties. They were suffering the consequences of Herman’s mother’s indulgence.
The Moscowitzs had made clothes for four generations, first with needle and thread, then on a family sewing machine in the old country. In America Herman had been one of the many American miracles, owner of a factory with 40 knitting machines and 60 employees. Unfortunately, when he died at 59, broke, before he could get his new plan up and running, when Evelyn was 17, during her final year in high school, the future seemed frightening. Mimi did not know how many of the IOUs would lead her to cash.
Ira and Evelyn met that year at a dance. Evelyn liked to tell her daughter CC the story. He noticed her from across the gymnasium, as did half the guys entering the room. She didn’t really notice him. He was nice looking, but nothing special. His hair was already beginning to thin in front and he did not particularly project strength if you watched him walk. Not at all. But he had the courage to ask Evelyn to dance and that was all he needed to do. As she later told the story, she couldn’t really explain it but it had something to do with the way he held her, not too strong, not too gentle– just right. Subsequently, I’ll Be Seeing You became her favorite song. And his. Because that is what they danced to. He hummed it into her ear, exactly on tune, as they slowly moved over the floor.
That did it. She felt so calm, so safe in his arms. She had never felt quite like that before. She knew Ira was the man she wanted to marry.
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
“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.”
“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.”
“When did I ever say I was in love?”
“A thousand times.”
“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.
“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:
“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.
“You want me to say it?”
“The holy grail? What?”
Close to whispering Jeremy answers him
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.”
“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.
“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. “
“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.”
“I’m just telling you like it is. I mean I may go overboard…”
“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
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:
“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.”
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! 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…”
“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 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.”
“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?”
“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.
“Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “
“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.
This is an article that appeared in the WSJ on January 12, 2018. It is very relevant to the way psychiatry is being practiced (eg Evidence based medicine) Our poorly understood psyche has yielded to the temptation of numbers, offering experts claiming scientific certainty about subjects they have delineated, but which don’t address valuable information required to make judicial decisions. Instead of a rich literature where clinicians could share their observations, the term “anecdotal” is often used pejoratively, making knowledge of the particular seem worthless. As the article puts it, “not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant.” The allure of metrics is apparently offering similar certainties in many fields.
A Cure for our Fixation on Metrics
By Jerry Z. Muller
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.
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.
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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.
—Dr. Muller is a professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. This essay is adapted from his new book, “The Tyranny of Metrics,” published by Princeton University Press.