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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

May 4, 2020
by Simon Sobo

About Me

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.

I am a very lucky guy.

August 6, 2018
by Simon Sobo

CC’s Parent’s Marriage, The play


A play in 2 Acts Simon Sobo



  19 year old CC is
  extraordinarily beautiful with
  long straight dirty blonde hair
  with streaks bleached by the
  sun.  She is a student in
  Jeremy’s class


  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
  somewhat downtrodden
  CC’s MOTHER (Evelyn)
   Still in her 50’s beautiful

CAROL (Jeremy’s wife) Attractive, 25 intelligent,

caring to a fault.

  Matronly, approaching 60


   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
   wife’s robe.


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.
                         JEREMY (CONT'D)
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
intentions are.
                           CC is silent, eagerly absorbing
                           every word
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
attracts me.


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
to you?
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
                           to go.
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.
                     (suddenly worried)
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.

That’s good.

                     (thinking further)
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
  his gavel.
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?



Oscar Wilde…


   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
be herself.
 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
                     light heartedly)
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.
Like what?
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
                     (speaking sharply,
                     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.
       Jeremy chuckles
       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?
                           Jeremy laughs.
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,
everyone quibbles.”...
                           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?


Probably is.
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.


Explains what?
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

so much.

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

he likes.




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.


Is he?

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

about you.

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.


(speaking definitively,
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
tells me.
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
like him?
All of that goes on in front of you?
I think they view me as old enough to take it.
                     (smiling ironically)
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
like angels.
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.
                     (ignoring Jeremy)
 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
       his head.
(Amused, emphatic,



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
                           allow it.
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
gone forever.
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
hate that.
Fine. But...


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

my home.

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?
For eternity!
(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.
                     (Still enthralled)
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.


 Jesus! Enough!
Ive never seen anyone like you. No one.  Which counts for
something. I still look around.
You do?  You searching for someone better?
                     (Smiling happily)
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.


Like what?

The cellulite under your ass.

CC (alarmed)


The mirrors right here.  Take a look.
I don’t see it.
Don’t know how to say it?
Ill bet you do.
 Your breasts.


  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.
                     (Sounding superior)
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
six times.
                           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.
Jeremy Jeremy.
        He sucks on her nipple.
  Then moves his lips to her lips.
  Very soon, her body is crying
  for him.
  Lights go out



                           Lying next to him in the
                           bedroom, she watches Jeremy
                           sleep peacefully, but then her
                           agitation returns.
                            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.
You’re disgusting.
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.
                     (smiling uncomfortably)
 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.

Who’s 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
regular person.
Come on.


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
into academia.




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
was lazy.
                     (Stung, trying not to let
                     her see she’s gotten to
 That how you saw him?
                     (gaining momentum)
 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
                           his face
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.
By far!
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?
Card carrying.
(laughing )


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.


In you?

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.
                     (smiling sadly)
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,
  studies it.



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?


Call him.
It’ll show up on your telephone bill.
Don’t worry. I’ll get it first.  Call him.


Is something wrong?
No I just wanted to call.





Aren’t you the rich one?  Are you spending enough money for
I just wanted to talk.
                         CC’S FATHER
Wait I’ll get your mother.
I wanted to talk to you.
                         CC’S FATHER
Now I know something’s wrong...Have you been crying?


A little.
About what?
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
You didn’t have to call to tell me that. I know you do.
I wanted to tell you again.
                         CC’S FATHER
Do you know something I don’t know?  Do I have 30 days to



20 days.


Are you all right?
I’m fine.
  Evelyn gets on the extension.


(smiling sadly)
                         CC’S FATHER
You’re sure you’re all right? Listen I’ll put on your
                         CC’S MOTHER
Listen I was going to call you anyway.  Call Dora.  There’s
something going on with the baby.


                         CC’S MOTHER
I don’t think anything serious, but call her.
                         CC’S MOTHER
(said in a tone she usually uses before getting off.)

Love ya.

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.

Very little.



                           They are both silent, moving
                           cautiously ahead.
                           Evelyn refuses to beat around
                           the bush.
                         CC’S MOTHER
You don’t want to break up a family.
I’m not.  He loves his wife and would never leave her.
                         CC’S MOTHER
So what are you?  An afternoon delight?
                           For a tense moment they are both
                         CC’S MOTHER
You deserve better than that.
 Not just afternoon.  Morning and night delight.


I don’t think you can understand.
                         CC’S MOTHER
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.
                         CC’S MOTHER
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.
Love ya.
It’s your funeral.
Love ya.
Anything wrong?


(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.
Her loss.



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
she’s doing?
You. Never.


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.


Just girls?

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
their thirties.
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

a negative.

                           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
your face.
                           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
                           feeds herself.
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
  her cheek.


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
  Carol laughs.
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.”

Oh Carol.


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
mother right?


Her cancer?

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
different person.


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

of down.

Haven’t seen anything even close to that.
                     (choking up)
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.



                         CAROL (CONT'D)
Beginnings are wonderful.  He loves them.  Who wouldn’t?
But he’s addicted.  He craves it.  He can’t get enough.


I know.

I couldn’t do anything about it. I can’t give him what he
wants. I can’t reinvent myself every few weeks.

I’ve tried.

(New tears)
             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
                           then smiles
Which he is. And deserves to hear.
                     (smiling affectionately)
 He is such a jerk. But I think he is, he might be

A genius

(again sobbing)
       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?
                     (hesitant, stalling)
 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,


Scene 4

   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.
                         CAROL’S MOTHER
That’s good.  Just one more spoonful.
      Carol immediately looks
away allowing CC to not have to
keep acting.


I’m not hungry.  I’m nauseous.
                         CAROL’S MOTHER
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’s upset.
   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
buying them?
My weight.
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.
My hero.
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


shutting down.
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.

About what?

Oh Jesus!


  He reads the look on her face.
You said you’ve been thinking about it. Promise me you will
submit your thesis.


(begging him)
        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.

You have?

Oh Jeremy

Jeremy, Jeremy


(Her voice sounds a hundred
years lighter)
         Her crying continues but with
       tears of joy, relief.


         She pulls him down to her and
       embraces him.



                           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
                         CC’S 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.
                         CC’S FATHER
 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!
                         CC’S FATHER
One more week ‘til you start school.  You ready?
Are you kidding?  ‘Specially with the clothes Mom gave me?
The retro look is in.
                         CC’S FATHER
Have you heard from that guy?


Him, yeah


(conspicuously unfeeling)
His wife died.  He was very upset.  He wanted to see me.
                         CC’S FATHER
Are you going to see him? You were pretty gone when it came

to him.

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
told me.
                     (fighting back tears)
I’ve spent hours talking to Dr. Weiss about it.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
                     (half amused)
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
It’s hard for you to understand.
                     (smiling ironically)
I’m trying. Believe me I’m trying.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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
certain qualities...


Like what?

                         CC’S FATHER
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
                         CC’S FATHER
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



                         CC’S FATHER
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.




                         CC’S FATHER
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.
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
That’ll never happen.  We have moments. They will always be
That’s all you get at our age.  Moments.


I don’t understand.


                         CC’S FATHER
I’m grateful to have that.  Some people... they lose it


                             He takes her hand and looks in
                           her eyes
                         CC’S FATHER
We still have it.  Not the fake kind.  The real thing.
I never see it anymore...  How often?
                         CC’S FATHER
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—
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
We have our moments...
Your moments?
                         CC’S FATHER
It could be twice in a day, then not for weeks.
And that’s enough?



It’s plenty.


You often seem hurt.  Really often.
                         CC’S FATHER
I am but as long as I get–


Your moments.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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


                         CC’S FATHER
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
Enough to love her and then some.  Ten times over.
Ten times over?


(Answering with a smile)
Well maybe two or three.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
It is.
Fine it is.  But it isn’t.
                           They are both quiet, thinking
                         CC’S FATHER
Sometimes... Well it was actually once.  Your mother

About what?

                         CC’S FATHER
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
Yes. It’s plenty. Don’t be too greedy.
 What’s that mean?


                                 He takes a deep breath
                         CC’S FATHER
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
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?



                         CC’S FATHER
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
very real.


                         CC’S FATHER
Where? In camp?...  We’ve had it, a couple of our vacations
in Florida.  They were perfect.
So the secret is Florida?
                         CC’S FATHER
                 where the sky meets the sea.  Your mother


                                 He shrugs his shoulders.
I thought fathers are supposed to keep their kids’ dreams


                         CC’S FATHER
That’s the advice they give fathers in magazines.  Sorry to
disappoint you.
I think you are wrong.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.

You don’t?




                         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.
                         CC’S FATHER
                     (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
mole removed.
But what about things you can’t change?
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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...
                         CC’S FATHER
True. But you don’t think Mark knows what Grandma thought
of him.  And she never said anything.
Grandma didn’t like Mark?


                         CC’S FATHER
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...
                         CC’S FATHER
She never gave up. You do that for family. She kept on
hoping that Mark would come around...
                         CC’S FATHER
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
looks beautiful.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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?
                         CC’S FATHER
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.


                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.
                         CC’S FATHER
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.




July 12, 2018
by Simon Sobo

On the Downside of Idealism: Chapters from Recollections of a Troubled Soul of the 60’s

Chapter 12



“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 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.”
“That’s enlightened?”
“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.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“He’s going to be a shrink so…”
Jeremy goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and studies its contents. He’s hungry. 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.
“Want some?”
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.”
“No, really.”
“Sometimes my mother would be all over us, lecture us about respect, particularly when Mark went after my father. But that really wasn’t how we learned about it. 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.”
“She’s dead.”
“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.”
“Meaning what.”
“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”
“Like what?”
“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.”
“You’re right.”
“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.
“Go on.”
“As far as the nasty behavior going on, I’m sure in the beginning the average Nazi thought like the Communists. It was temporary. The usual rationalization¬–you can’t make an omelet without breaking the shell. Ya de da, de da.
“That fantastic feeling you were describing, what you felt, at first, in the commune, being part of an ennobled group…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.




March 3, 2018
by Simon Sobo

Mimi Moscowitz’s Shopping, Chapter from Recollections of a Troubled Soul of the 60’s


Chapter 21

Mimi Moscowitz’s Shopping



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.

January 18, 2018
by Simon Sobo

Recollections of a Troubled Soul of the 60’s Chapter 6: Jeremy turns to Dave about his new love


Chapter 6

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

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

“It’s open” he shouts to Jeremy


“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.”

“Not true.”

“You implied it.”

“No I didn’t. This is real.”

“Last time it was real.”

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

“You said you were turned on.”

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

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

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

“It’s one of my students.”

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

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

Dave smiles gratuitously.

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

“Two coffees.” David tells her.

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

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

“You mean like our waitress?”

Jeremy looks him in the eye.

“Did you?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ve built my life around her. “

“Come on.” Dave replies playfully.

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

David is detached:

“Go on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ahead.”

“You want me to say it?”

“The holy grail? What?”

Close to whispering Jeremy answers him

“True love!”

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

“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”

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

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


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

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

“Can I go on?”

“It’s all yours.” David answers “

“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”

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

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

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

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

“You were already married.”

“I know, but I flipped.”

“Who was she?”

“I never saw her again.”

David’s eyes mock him, but affectionately.

“You’re serious?”

“I know it’s idiotic.”

David says nothing.

“But it’s true.”

“You’ve done that more than once?”

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

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

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


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

“So that explains you?”

In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues:

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

“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”

“I’m in love.”

“That’s it?”

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

“How’s that?”

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

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

“What’s so funny?”

“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”

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

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

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

Jeremy’s attention wanders off.

“Where are you?”

“This song… Carol wrote it.”

Half mumbling half seriously he sings:




“Can’t remember the rest…”

Jeremy hums the tune for a moment

“Oh right:









Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.

“Carol wrote that?”

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

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

“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”

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

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

Somewhat meekly Jeremy answers him:

“You’re right.”

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

“Come on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are the biggest cynic.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re not 14 anymore.”

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

“You fuckin’ seized the day.”

“So you like Bellow?”

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

“You read too much.”

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

“Look who’s talking.”

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

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

“How about Antarctica?”

David takes a breath, refocuses.

“So what are you going to do?”

“You know what I am going to do.”

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

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


“CC! 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.”

“And career.”

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

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

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

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

“I can’t help it.”

“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”

Jeremy thinks it over.

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

“Do you have to dream up things?”

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

“With CC?”

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

“But do you have to dream up stuff?”

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

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

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

“I understand but—“

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

They are both quiet for a few moments.

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

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

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

“Jeremy I get it…”

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

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

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

“Believe me it’s a spell.”

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

“Millions of people.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

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


“You know that for sure?”

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

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

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

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

“Let’s not go there…”

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

Jeremy continues:

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

“What’s that?”

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

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

“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”

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

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

(sarcastically) “Big shot.”




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

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

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

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

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

“Well I do. Take the medicine.”

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

“This is a different medication.”

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

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

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

“If I have to I will.”

“Fine. I’ll take the medicine.”

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

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

January 13, 2018
by Simon Sobo

A Cure for our Fixation on Metrics

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

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

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

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

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

A Cure for Our Fixation on Metrics

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Twain 1869

Wait there’s more:

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

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

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

 “I think that’s it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “You can’t know that.”

   “Mark my words.”

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


Commodore Kindle Link



December 22, 2017
by Simon Sobo

Looking back at Berkeley, Chapter 8 from Recollections of a Troubled Soul of the 60’s

    Chapter 8

Looking Back at Berkeley



Mark is shopping on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. It has a large parking lot, which means he can drive there. The hippy revolution has not reached Shattuck yet. It looks like the downtown main street of any small city in America circa 1940’s or 50’s. Not far from the supermarket is a Walgreen’s, a Lane Bryant, and a tall men’s shop. In spite of Marks’ political leanings, he can’t forego Twinkies and Devil Dogs, traif to those religiously opposed to supermarket food, but a comfortable reminder of home. In recent years, despite the tension, bordering on animosity between him and his father, home is still a good thing in his heart.
While Mark looks like a bum by the standards of Great Neck he showers every day and carefully brushes his teeth so that they remain pearly white. His hair is longish and scruffy. He cuts it himself with a hair-thinning scissor. He has a blonde mustache, and most days, a two-day growth. But by comparison, his unkempt appearance is hugely different from the Telegraph Avenue regulars. His Levis are worn thin and soiled, but not filthy. His wrinkled tee shirt is Tide detergent clean. He puts on a fresh one daily after a shower. Though successful in conveying he is not from the North Shore of Long Island, he cannot hide the features he shares with CC, his handsomeness, which gets him looks even in Berkeley.
At the supermarket he picks up chopped meat, hot dogs, spaghetti, Heinz ketchup, Gulden’s mustard, Best Food mayonnaise (Hellman’s California brand), and all the accouterments he is used to at home. Although at restaurants he douses his salad in oil and vinegar, in his apartment he still prefers his wedge of iceberg lettuce, topped with Russian dressing, a poor man’s simple combination of ketchup and mayonnaise in no particular ratio.

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

After putting his groceries away, Mark takes to the streets. One of the great things about his psychiatric medical internship at Herrick Hospital is that he is done with exams. He has a lot of on-call hours but no exams. From 7th grade through medical school, a period of 13 years, most of his life, the freedom he now has was not part of his experience. When he would try to have fun, contingencies snuck up and grabbed his attention, imminent exams and midterms, not to mention finals, a day of reckoning, vaguely posted in the future, which was never fully absent from his mind. Now vast amount of free time are his. He can kill an afternoon, an evening, a weekend, hour upon hour, waste them completely and no harm is done.
Unfortunately, the years of hard work have taken their toll. Despite the reality of his new freedom, he’s still a prisoner. All along he tried hard for it not to possess him. Not wanting to present himself like most premeds, as a grind, he had always put on a decent show. He tried to give the impression that he didn’t study all that much. He envied the easy style of English majors, usually offbeat preppies. He was more than willing to copy their persona. There was a certain conceit to presenting himself that way. With his terrific grades, emphasizing how little he studied implied he must be very smart. Plus, playing down his studying served as an excuse if he did poorly on an exam.

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

The image he cultivated in college was an act. He was no different than the other pre meds, perpetually on the edge of panic, certain that one disastrous exam could ruin his life forever. He just was careful not to show it. Among the grinds, worried that they might not get grades in the 90’s, all–nighters were the norm before an exam. He worried the night before as much as they did, but he didn’t see the pointof staying up all night. He knew the material. Yes, a professor could ask a trick question on an exam. His son of a bitch chemistry professor, Dr. Reed was known for that. But staying up all night wouldn’t help with Dr. Reed’s sadism. Actually, the other premeds knew the material plenty well, as well as he did, but they imagined doom so often that sleeping wasn’t a choice for them. Occasionally Mark feared they might be on to something. They understood their situation and automatically did what was necessary. They didn’t care about their nerd reputation on campus. It was irrelevant.
Certainly, being admitted to medical school was every bit as important to Mark as it was to them. The desperation they didn’t bother to hide, defined his existence every bit as much as it did theirs. The proof was his dreams, one vivid nightmare in particular which has remained with him:

An hour before an exam. He has run out of time to try to understand the material, which, so far, he hasn’t been able to get down. He’s frantic. Then suddenly, he’s no longer racing to get it down. The anxiety is still there but it’s like he is in slow motion.
He’s lost. He looks around. He doesn’t know where he is. More importantly, he doesn’t know how he will get to where he needs to be, the classroom, where the exam will be administered.
Then he sees doors, a lot of doors. Which one is it? Then the room where he needs to be is before him. The doors are gone. He sees his empty desk.
Things seem to be racing more than ever. It’s now seconds before he will open the exam booklet. There is no greater feeling of helplessness than that moment. The closest comparison is the time he almost drowned. He had gotten good at snorkeling, or so he thought. His confidence allowed him to go far from the shore without a life jacket. He breathed in a bunch of water in his snorkel. Tried to blow it out, but couldn’t get back the rhythm. He was far deeper than he had ever been. He tried floating on his back. Still couldn’t get air. Then tried a gentle breast stroke. The waves kept coming. He kept breathing in water Still no air. His arms were getting tired. For a moment he thought this was it. He overcame his embarrassment, feebly screamed “Help.” That saved his life.

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

He felt enormous relief when he woke. He has escaped. It was only a dream. As a small child his mother used to tell him that. But now as then, he can’t immediately snap out of the hell he was in. It takes him time before he feels safe, until his emotions catch up with the reality that the dream was only a dream, his mind playing tricks on him. Fully awake, relief replacing fear, it’s still as if he’d been roughed up
It shouldn’t be like that. School’s done. Exams are forever in the past. He can’t think of any danger facing him and that is true even when he tries to picture something. He gets a blank. Yet again and again the dream returns. It makes no sense. He was a top student, 5th in his class. He’s been accepted at top places for his residency. He should be on top of the world. His vaunted Permanent Record, the one his high school principal held over him and his family, the key to his future, has been safely put in the past. The California sunshine is his to enjoy.
Why can’t he soak it up, absorb the warm rays, bathe in their tenderness? Why does it feel prickly? Why does taking it easy still elude him? The California natives simply wake up, eat their Wheaties and they are in that groove, relaxed. Why is the idea of California, the best he can do?

His shrink explained it to him a hundred times. He has to learn to live now, Stop expecting rewards to eventually appear. Stop going nuts, trying to make that happen. All it does is bring on the exams in his dreams. Over and over. Now, Now, Now. The answer lies not in the future. It’s now.

“Easily said,” Mark thought to himself in silence, as his shrink continued.
“Be careful, or you may live your whole life waiting for your future to become real. Especially the reward part. Stop expecting to get to your rewards. Give them up, then you don’t have to face exams. You’re already there
Now, now, now- not what is to come. Say it twelve times!”
“Now, now, now–“
“Wait. I didn’t mean now.”
“Then when?”
“When is when.”
“For that, my parents pay you a zillion dollars an hour?
“When is whenever you think about this.”

Until he was 12 or 13, Mark enjoyed himself without effort, without thinking about enjoying himself. When he did, it was simply on to the next thing and enjoying that. Or not enjoying himself but either way, immersed. Swimming in the stream of life. Where did that stream go? Why can’t he have it back?
His guilt. His guilt. Guilt about what? It shouldn’t be there but it is. He has not sinned today and the day before. And the day before that. He is perpetually busy proclaiming or proving his innocence to himself. His beliefs are pure, noble. Why does innocence elude him? He can’t put his finger on it.
Jewish guilt?

Probably not. For centuries Christians believed God had this huge book where he kept track of good deeds and sins. He must have had billions of books, one for every person. Or did God have an incredible memory? Catholics knew they were being watched. They felt the same way as Jews. So it is definitely not specifically a Jewish malady.
Perhaps his guilt explains why he is so passionate about causes on the left. His compassion for those having a hard time is automatic, as is his anger at those who can be blamed, those partying who seem to have no conscience as they enjoy themselves. Except, he often disagrees with politicos about who is to be blamed, the generalizations they make, the lies they so easily slip into to justify their rhetoric. He has never understood the faithful, whether it was the complacent conservative people at the club in Great Neck, or now, left wingers who buy into the nonsense they are fed. Anger is only satisfying when it is righteous, and truthful.

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

None of this rings true. Catholics have just as much guilt. Or do they? They can go to confession and have a total brain cleansing. Jews don’t have that luxury. Their remedy doesn’t work. He used to fast on Yom Kippur. It didn’t do a thing. It had absolutely no effect on his guilt. And he was hungry as hell. “Never again.” he promised himself.
He has torn through D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, quoted them to anyone who would listen. Logically, Zen is the answer. It’s what he needs, relearning how to lose himself in the moment. In Berkeley, as in the Village, Zen seems to be on everyone’s mind, so it must not be just him.

What was expected of them, the cherished answers of America in the 50’s. Everyone is pouncing on “stereotypes.” Trying to be free of them Zen eliminates expectations. There is just now.
Except Zen is harder to do than understanding its purpose. The moment can’t be occupied by deciding to live in it. It takes training.
But training isn’t an option. As enamored as Mark is by the prospect of diving into, and remaining in the moment, he’s never given a moment’s thought to how he could bring it about. Going off to Japan and studying in a Zen monastery is out of the question, totally inconceivable. It has not even been part of his fantasies. Life, as he had planned, waits for him. What is he going to do? Not go on to his residency, not become a psychiatrist? Living in the moment is the answer to the puzzle, to the pervasive angst that he lives in. But chucking his life, and taking off for Kyoto has never crossed his mind. Diving into the paradise of ordinary life, Paradise Now, as a Broadway show is proclaiming, will have to wait. Besides it’s nothing more than a slogan. He has to take what he can get. Cherish, like jewels, his epiphanies, believe for that moment, that his realizations will wash over the rest of his life.
If only wisdom didn’t dissipate so quickly. It’s an illusion. The celebration that he has arrived, solved the mystery of his existence, finally has the understanding he needs. It’s there. It’s real. But as wonderful as that moment of recognition is, as hopeful as it makes him, as much as he believes that he has finally arrived, the euphoria that a great discovery brings him rarely lasts more than a day. Sometimes it lasts 5 or 10 minutes. And increasingly less.

That’s the best he can do, the closest he comes to loving the moment. Well it isn’t just insight. His awe when Tom Seaver is having an awesome day on the mound gives far more pleasure than Mark’s intellectual gymnastics. His Olympian effort, has never gotten him close to that.

Mark has reached campus. Left, right, straight ahead, passion is everywhere, villains identified. In the united anger of activists, frustrations have been pooled, refined, become pure. Joining them is very appealing to him. It entitles him to let loose against evil forces wherever they may be. Being angry like that brings innocence to yourself and allowable hatred to emerge, focused on the enemy.

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

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

There are too many politicos with an ax to grind. especially in Berkeley. Whether they are right or wrong, his instinct is to hold back, to doubt what they claim. He no longer challenges them. He doesn’t have the courage. They so easily accuse skeptics of being disguised right wingers, or claim it reveals that he is cold hearted to black people. Which is not true. He wishes that he could join in with their anger, feel cleansed by their passion, obliterate in everyone else’s mind, any possibility that he is not 120% pro black people, Not to mention his own mind. He wishes he could be truly left wing. But he can’t do what he can’t do. Whether they can is a different issue, but certainly they must have doubts, or they wouldn’t be so easily nasty.
A hundred feet away, a crowd of students has gathered. From time to time they let out a cheer. He goes over to see what’s going on. One by one, students are taking out their draft cards, lighting their Bic lighters, and throwing the flaming card into the air. One of the students throws his burning card down on the sidewalk and stomps on it. That gets an even bigger cheer. In succession, several of the students go the stomping route. Without a moment’s thought he joins the group nearest to him. He has to borrow someone’s lighter to do it, but the deed is done quickly.

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

It makes him sad. He recalls, as a little boy, helping his father put the flag up on July 4th. He remembers the look on his father’s face, not too dissimilar to the look on his grandmother’s face when she bencht licht, when she lit the Friday night candles–a sacred moment of respect and appreciation. Marks’ grandparents said it often enough. How lucky they were to be in America.
He’s heard it so often that it seems inane. People in Berkeley are not wrong. Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Still he can’t rid himself of his belief that America is great.
Moving forward into his career has an almost sacred absoluteness, but that is utilitarian. His politics should bring him to a higher level than being a work horse with no higher beliefs. He has no rituals that he practices, no sacred beliefs that he is sure of. He wishes he did.

As he walks on Telegraph Avenue aback to his apartment his thoughts continue. Burning the flag isn’t sitting right. Okay Kennedy and Johnson made a mistake about Viet Nam. But burning the flag?

He decides burning his draft card was an empty gesture. As he turns the corner on Dwight Way it worries him. Was he seen?
In medical school he arranged the teach-ins against the war. He called the speakers. He chartered the buses to bring demonstrators to Washington for the Pentagon march. Attended by something like 800 people, Mark made the introduction to Ben Spock, the fatherly pediatricians that a generation of mothers revered. He had come out against the war and was speaking at meetings like the one he arranged. It went extremely well.

Spock had a remarkable persona. Marcus Welby, Father Knows Best. Robert Young’s innocent, wise smile. Mark had once read a description of George Washington. There was something about him that almost everyone recognized. He wasn’t the smartest or richest guy, but he had an aura, that allowed him to shine in whatever room he was in. It was never forced. He seemed comfortable and natural. It wasn’t. He had worked on his public presentation over many years. As a boy he laboriously copied the 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation and followed them to a T.

There was a bit of a maverick in Spock, friendly complicity being among the naughty boys but the kindness in his eyes, fatherly kindness is the main impression he conveys. One look at him and your instincts told you he was the real thing, his raison d’etre is to take care of everyone. So his antiwar fervor means a lot more than a bunch of snotty bohemians sounding off. He resembles the person Mark sometimes wishes for himself in the future. You wouldn’t for a moment think Dr. Spock had a secret trove of Playboys. His firm, and now his righteous angry voice, somehow seemed gentle and properly concerned about what matters. Human beings. Suffering.

After welcoming the audience at Einstein, before Mark introduced Spock, he had an announcement. He asked the hundreds of doctors present to see him after the talk, if they were willing to do “sympathetic” draft exams. Meaning they would help potential draftees to get a 4F, be medically disqualified from fighting in the war.

Afterwards, he wanted to kick himself for his stupidity. What if the FBI were there? What if they took down his name? Although he was chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, he had steadfastly avoided SHO, the Student Health Organization, whose members he assumed were in touch with very radical organizations, the Weathermen, people like that. Most members of SHO were in their first and second year at Einstein. In contrast to Mark, they had been in college when campus activists had been radicalized, when most universities had classroom take-overs, sit-ins, when, all of a sudden, students were calling the shots, radical students. Mark had not seen that first hand, only seen it on the TV. He didn’t want to be a part of it
Mark isn’t a radical. Upon learning that he was on the libre-virgo cusp, Nancy, who he was crazy in love with for 4 weeks in ‘63, announced that the explanation for what he thought of as being truthful and balanced (although admittedly to an extreme) was that he was born between September 19 and the 25th. He was a libre. Nancy didn’t last long for precisely that reason. She was an air head.

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

His anger at LBJ over Viet Nam was complete. But he had done nothing about it, so when he was asked to head MCHR, he was pleased to be able to act. It was his chance to be a hero, a role that had been his obsession when he played baseball, but had essentially disappeared. Until now there hadn’t been a vehicle.
As a senior in medical school he had plenty of time. Having been given the position, he was obsessed with doing a great job as Chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. He started a lead poisoning project, another program that tutored kids in the ghetto, and a health careers program, Bronx Bio Careers.
The health career program was unusually successful. He got 70 people from the medical community to be counselors, 4 kids each. Together they could choose from 300 programs, volunteer meetings with people in the medical community at work. The kids could talk to physical therapists, inhalation therapists, lab technicians, to X ray technicians, to doctors and nurses about what their career was like and how they got there. The emphasis was on seeing them in action.

It could be dramatic. One group followed an operating room nurse into the operating room, while they were doing a gall bladder. Another time a surgeon brought them in to see an appendectomy. The operating room visits were good for a front page second section New York Times story with a big headline and picture. Doors were wide open for Mark and his program even before the Times story, but after that there were no barriers. Mark had gotten the NYC school system to allow the kids in his program to take time off from school. They provided buses to bring them to the medical school. He had gotten the Commissioner of Hospitals to provide free meals for them at Jacobi Hospital when they came. When he called any city commissioners in Lindsay’s administration, he saw them that day. When he dialed Aspira, the head of the program called back immediately. He seemed to be the real thing, a student activist who could get things done.
He didn’t give himself credit for being a capable administrator. He felt compelled to do something as the chairman of MCHR, so people wouldn’t think he was enjoying the prestige without earning it. But as for the doors open to him, everyone wanted to be part of Bronx Bio Careers. Even Republicans. The plan cost zero. No one got paid, no one asked for a thing. They just wanted to give. And during that year, for some reason, his ego was gone, his motivation uncomplicated. He truly wanted to give.

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

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

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

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

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

That night as he lies in bed, Mark debates the flag burning. Back and forth– he is for it, then against it. For it, against it. He wonders if his uncertainty, his consistently moderate positions, which he considers the only way an honest person can resist the exaggerations and lies on either side of a controversy– he wonders if that moderation is in reality, a veil for cowardice. He decides it’s true. He is a chicken. Why else would he think so much about how the FBI viewed him. In his calculated self image, that negated his many years of good deeds.
He’s a phony. His positions are all an act to curry favor with…with…He can’t identify who would be impressed by the serious way he pursues objectivity. Most people aren’t that way at all. They want you to side with them. And that is it. So, it is not them he is trying to impress, not most people. He decides the person he wants to curry favor with is himself. The standard that rule him is-he half mutters it:


He’s immediately embarrassed that he has sunk so low. Talked to himself out loud. That’s what the psychotic patients at Bronx State do.

Okay he isn’t a phony. In the end his internal standards matter, which means he is “self directed,” a good quality according to many articles he has read on self esteem. But why does he feel that he’s always putting on an act. Well he is, but so is everyone else. Or maybe it isn’t an act. By force of habit they keep their true beliefs to themselves, say what others expect them to say. It started out as a necessity to get along with their parents. It eventually became the price of belonging with other people. They want nothing to do with the kind of thinking Mark does. Nor does Mark understand why he instinctively rebels against group think. But he does and did even before it was group think.

As a treat his uncle and Aunt took him to Asbury Park, or so they told him. His aunt giggled every time she told the story. He kept repeating “This isn’t Raspberry Park. This isn’t Raspberry Park.” That perception meant more than the rides and even the ice cream he was offered. The Truth.

Once, one of the few times he was successfully connecting to his father, his father called what he does what everyone calls it, “studying your belly button.” Charitably, on one of the few occasions that he defended his father in his mind, he accepted that his father meant well. His father was simply giving good advice. “Move on.” But it wasn’t that simple. Mark can still hear the accusing tone in which his father spoke. His father is not wrong. He overvalues the importance of his thoughts, what he finds in his belly button. His vanity elevates its importance.

Still, his father meant to mock him. To humiliate him? Probably not. But he clearly was indicating to Mark that he is better than him.
Why? For what reason? So he can score with Mom? She wasn’t there when he said it. He wanted to score with me. Why? Why does he want to win that much? Why does he have to win.
Finally, Mark is able to be easier on himself with a generalization that’s true. Guys need to win. They may deny it, try to be better than that, but it’s what their life is about. Victory. Getting over defeat. They root for the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Yankees, with far more passion, far more deeply than they let on. They make believe their interest in sports goes no further than entertainment. But that is a lie. Mark mourned for a week, more than a week when Da Bums, the Dodgers were defeated in1952 and 53. Like the whole season had been wasted. All those triumphs, all those nail biters for naught. Mark’s response, like other Dodger fans was “Wait ‘til next year”, but even when he said it, his proclamation of faith in the future, he only half believed next year would be different.

The damn’ Yankees-five straight championships. Jay rubbed it in every October. It was ridiculous, the pride he took in the pinstripes maintaining their throne. Anybody could pick the best team and stick with them. What kind of fan is that? What kind of satisfaction can you get from loyalty to those who are characterized as the pinstripes? It’s like rooting for the Rockefellers. Good people sided with those who needed it, underdogs.

Nothing can compare to the Dodgers victory in 1955. Da Bums put an end to Yankee pinstripes, put an end to their tyranny. Certain moments still glow in Mark’s memory, Sandy Amoros’ catch in left field The way he spun around, and threw to first base to get a double play. Johnny Padres! Johnny Padres!

Jay and the other Yankee fans can’t come close to the joy of Dodger fans when they finally won. Joy? The most the Yankee fans are capable of is the satisfaction of having their expectations confirmed. How much fun is that?

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

Mark never stoops that low. Why else is he in Berkeley? It’s a natural alliance, the desire to rebel and the glorification of underdogs. Putting the People on the throne. Even if it’s impossible. That’s what it’s all about– beating the pinstripes. That’s why Jay is where he is, happily commuting from Forest Hills.
The only real question is why his bosses don’t see Jay as an ass kisser?
Or is he? All those political fights Mark has had with his father– Jay always sided with his father. Because he controls the goodies? It’s cowardly, taking the easy way. But is it really that? Is he ass kissing?

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

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

Suddenly a saying from Muhammad Ali pops up in his mind: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
He opens his eyes, looks up at the ceiling, smiles.

If only he could do that. His father continued to call Ali, Cassius Clay. He was angry that he changed his name, angry he wouldn’t go to Viet Nam. Ali was so unfazed by all the criticism.
Just before his consciousness disappears into sleep, another Ali quote seizes his mind.

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

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

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






November 27, 2017
by Simon Sobo

Recollections of a Troubled Soul of the 60’s: Dora explains to CC what Judaism is all about


Chapter 1 2nd book


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

“Do you have the tickets?”

“Mr. Gordon waves the two tickets.”

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

Jay smiles guiltily. So does his father.

“We like the hot dogs there.”

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


“I don’t need gloves.”

She returns from the bedroom with turquoise wool mittens.

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

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

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

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

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

“She was a nag?”

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

She steps away.

“Dad. Did you wear your lucky socks?”

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

“That’s good enough for both of you.”

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

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

“God likes striped socks”

“And kangaroo lightening socks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So is your Dad. He’s excited.”

There is a pause. Both are silent.

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


“Tell me.”

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

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

“Okay, I promise.”

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

Dora responds coolly. “How did that happen?

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

“How old is his child?”

“He’s a toddler.”

“He’s going to leave his wife?”

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

“So what is it then? Sex?”

“I love him and he loves me.”

“I’m sure you know what I think.”

“I do.”

“So why did you tell me?”

“I wanted to get your perspective.”

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

“His name is Jeremy.”

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

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

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

“Is it?”

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

“That’s a little extreme.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Gods. Indian gods,” CC answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what did he do?

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

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

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

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

“So What’s wrong with that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Like what?

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

“That’s how Jeremy talks.”

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

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


“Lobster was Jay’s favorite food.”

“Poor Jay.”

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

“Who’s talking about liberation.” Dora answers

“What is it then?”

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

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

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

“I suppose.”         `

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

“You mean it’s not lox and bagels?”

“I’m serious”.

“Gefilte fish?”

Dora is smiling but is intent on not being sidetracked.

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


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

“What about it?”

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

CC imitates God’s voice.

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

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

“It means peace and love and understanding.”.

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

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

“You really think there is a God?”

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

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

“Very funny.”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s true..”

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

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

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

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

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

On Yellowstone Blvd?

“Everywhere. Every day the sun rises”

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a long pause.

“To equality.”

“Marx’s state of grace.”

“You don’t think that is important?”

“Equal opportunity? Absolutely but–“

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

“I don’t think anyone would listen.”

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

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

“Do they still have them?

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

“How come?”

“Students were complaining.”

“You mean the college wanted to be hip.”

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

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

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

CC says nothing

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“So to you I am just a sinner.”

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

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

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

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

Jeremy sticks his head in the door.

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

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

Then silence.

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

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

CC remains quiet.

“Are you there?”

“I’m listening.”

“You know Jay was exactly the same.”

“Why the same?”

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

“Jay always obeyed the rules.”

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

CC doesn’t answer immediately but then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I said I wouldn’t.”

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

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

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

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

June 27, 2017
by Simon Sobo

Summary of Commodore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Commodore at Amazon