It’s ironic that as of now Wuhan is the only safe place to be￼. The epidemic did it’s horrendous damage but now with most people having been exposed there is widespread immunity￼. This is the usual way that epidemics come to a close￼. It will take us longer because of our decision to spread it out so that the hospitals are not overwhelmed but eventually we will get there.￼
Everyone is pissed at those millennials who are living it up. They will pay the price. But if they are careful, not spreading it to the older generation, most of them will have a relatively easy time of it and might actually do something that is positive for society. They will get infected, a few will get very sick but most won’t and they will be able to go back to work far sooner than those who have not yet had it. I don’t mean this to be a compliment for them but it is nevertheless true that some good may come out of it.
The above consideration points in a direction that is not being raised. It has become politically correct on both the left and the right to spare nothing to try to delay the disease. The explanation is we are trying to avoid the horrible situation in Italy where the medical system was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. If we can delay the spread it gives us a fighting chance. There is also the possibility that with enough time better ways of treating the virus may emerge.
On the other hand, some are predicting that eventually 70% of the population will be infected. So, with the exception of the pluses gained from stalling the epidemic, most people are going to get sick and close to the same number will die.
Many people in Wuhan are safely going back to work. This is after 1-2 months of shutdown. It looks like we won’t be in this position for 3,4, 5 months. Our strategy is compassionate. The hell with our economy is, at first blush, the only option. It may set us back years, put many companies out of business that were labors of love, or at least very hard work, but it is the right thing.
There is one other perspective that isn’t being considered. Nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44. Given these numbers why are we comparably frightened? Corona has so far killed 12,955 people world wide, 4825 in Italy. If we double that, or quadruple it, or estimate that there will be 10 times that amount before we are finished, we are still looking at a comparatively small number compared to deaths from automobiles. I feel for the grief felt by families of those who have lost their life. I can understand the fear we all feel, but if we are adding another few months to the devastation being done to our economy, and the number of people that will be saved as a result of the delay turns out not to be the monumental number we are all hoping for, is our current policy the wisest? Would we be better off protecting the old and vulnerable with the trillions of dollars being thrown around, but let the worse happen quickly to get it over and done with so that we can return to work and normalize the country?
19 year old CC is
extraordinarily beautiful with
long straight dirty blonde hair
with streaks bleached by the
sun. She is a student in
26 year old teaching assistant,
with only his completed thesis
remaining before he gets his
PhD. Caught up in 60’s remake
the world beliefs.
In his late 50’s. Sweet, but
CC’s MOTHER (Evelyn)
Still in her 50’s beautiful
CAROL (Jeremy’s wife) Attractive, 25 intelligent,
caring to a fault.
Matronly, approaching 60
ACT I SCENE 1
Setting: 1968 Buffalo, New York
Total Darkness in the theatre
and stage. The sound of a man
and woman reaching an orgasm
(miked loudly). Heavy
breathing as they slowly
Bright lights flip on... Stage
left Jeremy and CC are in
Jeremy’s bed. The bedroom leads
through a hall to his kitchen. A
room on the right (CC’s parents
bedroom in Great Neck) remains
CC, is naked Jeremy, watches
her as she puts on Jeremy’s
You’re Carol’s size.
Would you rather I not wear it?
No it’s fine.
When is she getting out of the hospital?
Could be a week. Could be three weeks. Lupus is funny that way.
Are you worried
Not really. This happens every once in awhile. Then she is
good as new.
I still don’t get what we have.
Told you. I love Carol.
(speaking more forcefully)
She’s the best friend I’ve ever had... My soulmate.
CC listens quietly
We’ve been through a lot together. We will always be
So how can you say you love me?
Because I do. The moment I saw you. You’re drop dead
beautiful. I’ve wanted to be with someone like you all my
life... You and Carol are two different things.
What choice do we have? I tried. We both tried. Last
semester. The way we looked at each other in the
classroom. When our eyes met... It was fire.
We both had to look away. You blushed. Several times. I
couldn’t think about anything else the entire day.
A couple of students teased me about the way you looked at
Sometimes there are forces in nature. No matter what your
CC is silent, eagerly absorbing
These last few days. It’s like I’m alive again. When I
read something I’ve read a thousand times, I find passages
I never noticed. New insights. Everywhere I look. The
trees, the sky... Eating Cheerios. I can taste them.
I was walking through my life asleep. It’s like I’ve
finally woke up.
So why are you saying you love Carol?
Because I do. We’re married. We have our son. I can’t
imagine my life without her.
CC bites at a cuticle on her
Maybe we should just not talk about Carol.
I still don’t understand how you can say you love me? And
me being beautiful? There are dozens of students on campus
Not true. I can’t believe you’re saying that. Do you ever
look in the mirror?
She holds up her handbag and a
This is half of why you love me. Fred Braun.
Please what? First day of class I saw you noticing my
sandals. My sandals and this bag.
Okay. I noticed your sandals and your bag.
Exactly. That’s the point. You know about Fred Braun?
When I lived in the Village, I used to pass the store all
the time. Sometimes I’d walk a block out of my way. I liked
the things in the window. Soft, hand made leather. The
color it was dyed, dark woody like walnut. It was a neat
place. Thee place in the Village.
Exactly. A lot of very cool people shopped there, right
Fashionable bohemian women–admit it.
Admit what. I noticed your bag and your sandals. I know
where they are from. I like that about you. Your look.
I have this very nice herring bone skirt. I like it but I
never wore it to class. My brother Mark bought that stuff
for me. I never heard of Fred Braun until he brought me
there. Maybe you and Mark should get together?
It was once painful. This thing Mark has for girls with
long straight hair. He wouldn’t let me cut it.
He wouldn’t let you?
I wouldn’t dare. My mother showed me a lot of cute styles
in magazines. This year she is a Mia Farrow look alike. No
way Mark was going to give in on this one.
He’s right. Your hair is wonderful.
But it’s an image. A look. The villagy look, jeans, long straight hair. Fred Braun sandals. Mark’s version of me. He took me to the store and insisted on the pocketbook and sandals .It meant a lot to him. I thought they were nice but… It was part of his statement against the way Great Neck girls dress.
Looking bohemian is no different than any other look. It’s still Great Neck.
How is it Great Neck?
The importance of a cool image. That’s Great Neck. Paying
incredible attention to that.
Look. Everything you’re saying is more important to you
than me. I don’t care about any of it. It’s you that
You hardly know me.
But I want to. To know everything. The last two days we’ve
spent hours talking about your family. Mark and Jay– your
brothers, your parents, your grandmother. I’m beginning to
know them. And what you were telling met yesterday, how
upset you are about whether your parents still love each
You seemed annoyed.
I’m not crazy about the way you want to look at it, like
whose fault it is, but other than that–
It’s the only way I can think about it. Going over the
evidence–do they or don’t they love each other?
But whose fault it is? What’s that going to decide?
She doesn’t answer. In his
underwear, he goes to the
kitchen. Opens the fridge.
Stares at the contents.
Can I get you something?
She doesn’t answer. He Isn’t
tempted by anything.
When he returns to the bedroom
one look and her vulnerability
is clear to him.
This means a lot to you?
Not just that. Why did I get the impression it means a lot
It does. My father was married three times–probably had 10
girlfriends. Your parents interest me. All those years
together. What’s that like. But this “whose fault it is.”
For you it’s simple. To me it’s complicated. I can’t stop
thinking about it that way. It’s not just me. Many of the
girls in the dorm talk about the same thing, trying to make
sense of their parents’ marriage. Who to blame. Maybe what
I’m doing is what everyone does at my age–try to figure
out what’s been going on as I’m ready to leave.
Shrinks are making a good living off of that.
Sorting out who’s right and who’s wrong is not supposed to
be the main focus of therapy, but it’s what everyone does,
try to get their therapist to side with them.
He waits for where she is going
What they have is just a marriage like a million other
marriages. It will continue with or without my verdict.
So leave it at that.
She now goes to the kitchen. He
follows her there.
CC doesn’t answer. She looks at
him appreciatively before
She opens a cabinet. Closes it
and moves on to the next
cabinet. She finds a glass.
Turns on the cold water. Sticks
her finger under the stream,
waiting for it to get colder.
Satisfied, she fills up her
glass and takes a sip. Then a
another sip. All the while her
ideas play like an endless loop
in her mind.
I just can’t make sense of it, whether anything remains...
Growing up, knowing they love each other was at the core of
who I was. Everything else was added to that. Maybe it’s
less important now but–
You’re not 3. It shouldn’t matter so much.
CC ignores him. She is intensely
working over her cuticle.
I know they love each other.
Maybe I’m lying to myself. I wonder if my parents ask that
She looks at him, wondering if
he is losing patience.
I know this is hard to listen to, but it helps me. In
therapy when I hear my thoughts spoken out loud I can
evaluate them more clearly. Also once I get going, I go
further than when I think about them to myself.
That will be $25 dollars an hour.
I’m sorry, but–
It’s fine. It’s fine. I told you. I want to know if they love each other.
CC looks at him skeptically
No. I really do.
CC speaks forcefully, as if a
judge has demanded silence with
When my mother looks smashing you can see it in my father’s
eyes. And hers. They are wildly in love. Both of them.
Beauty trumps everything else. Which is what love is.
Your version of love, Jeremy. Your version. There are
other ways to love.
Not for me. Beauty goes straight from my eyes to my heart.
There is nothing more certain than what I feel when I look
at you. Everything else disappears. You’re saying exactly
that about your parents.
Jeremy’s voice becomes
“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the
Who said that?
His lecturing continues
Love’s there when it’s there. It’s not when it’s not.
Period. A moral yardstick is irrelevant. You’re bringing
that into the picture, but it’s a lot simpler than that.
Well love’s there. When they are going out. It’s there.
True love, as you are defining it. She’s gorgeous. But it
only happens when they’re going out. It’s when they’re
staying home. Their day to day life–she’s a different
person. So is he. She can be a bitch. She’s mean... Really
What does your father do with that?
He hates it. (smiling ironically) My mother tells him it’s
a compliment. She says she can act that way because she
loves him. He’s the only person with whom she can totally
Is that what’s been going on with us?
What do you mean?
You’ve got a nasty side.
You haven’t seen nothing yet.
So that means you don’t love me enough?
I’m getting there.
(thinking it over, speaks
Maybe you got your meanness from your mother. She taught
It’s just such a contrast. In public she’ll grab his head,
plant a lot of kisses, like the love she has for him is
bursting out of her. It’s cute. Convincing. My dad
pretends that she is just being silly, but he’s thrilled.
I mean the prettiest woman around is showing all this love
for him. And my mother means it. It’s so strange. She
means it...It’s confusing. Do they have to be on stage for
it to take place? Something’s not right about how they are
the rest of the time.
Small things, but they add up.
Like what. Give me a for instance.
It’s about nonsense Fights when she puts his things away.
He puts his pruner exactly where he wants it, so he can
find it easily. She moves it to where she thinks it
belongs. That’s important to her. So he can’t find it.
That’s diddily shit. Every relationship has that. I mean,
if you live together–
But it happens again and again. (Imitating her parents)
“Honey”... “Dear”. They used to talk like that.
A thousand things.
Give me a for instance.
Now it escalates very quickly. Yes it’s about diddily
shit, but when they get going, they spit venom in every
imitating first her father
than her mother)
I put it there for a reason.
Where I told you not to put it.
Where I can find it.
It’s not funny.
His smile is wiped off his face.
He salutes her like a private
with a drill sergeant. She
ignores his theatrics.
(her voice is calm)
Sometimes I think my parents hate each other.
Hate! I can hear it in their voices.
That’s part of love.
That is so glib. I’m talking about hate! There’s a
wellspring of hatred between my parents, decades of hate.
And it keeps growing and growing. Every year a little bit
more. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. One day it’s
going to pop.
Come on, You’re being too dramatic.
Sometimes I hear on the news that a woman has killed her
husband. Or vice-versa. The neighbors are shocked.
Everyone thought they were a happy couple.
(low key but firm)
I understand that. Hate builds up. The murderer snapped.
For just that second. Something like that. If my dad had
a gun... Or mom... No I don’t think they could do it. But–
You know the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s
That is such therapist bullshit. My therapist told me that
four times. Four times! Each time he forgot he told me it
before. Four times! The same brilliant insight. What book
did you get that from?
My therapist....You know, the more you tell me, the more it
sounds like– did you read Games People Play?
Except it’s not a game. She is not playing with him. My
mother is hurt. Really hurt And so is my father. Yeah,
CC takes a breath, comes back
Not with their vehemence!
Who’s in charge. It’s about that. Every close relationship.
Not just between people in love.
Wrong! It’s not that important in friendships. I mean it’s
there but no one gets that hurt...
Right, which is my point. There’s got to be love for them
to be able to hurt each other like that...
It gets pretty nasty. When my father takes her on, she
sees that as proof that he doesn’t love her, which gets her
even more upset. One time, when he was holding his ground,
she cursed him for his cold eyes. It wasn’t an act. She
was crying, heartbroken as she looked at him.
He didn’t care.
She stops for a moment,
considers that, then continues.
Your mother told you that?
I was there. It’s true. His eyes were cold but I thought he
was doing what he needed to do.
They’ve always fought in front of you?
Not when we were kids. After Mark left for school. No-
after he started attacking my father. Their fights
So, it’s all Mark’s fault?
Boy, speaking of the blame game.
But it’s true. Mark’s brought a lot of this on...What really
bothers me is a lot of times I don’t think they are talking
to each other. They are trying to score points with me.
Get me to side with them.
I guess that explains it.
The reason you need to talk about this.
Maybe. I can’t stand when my parents do that. It puts me
right in the middle. What’s worse I take sides. As much as
I tell myself to stay out of it, I can’t help it.
So then why do you do it?
How can I not do it? People say I should be a lawyer
because I can make a good argument, but Im being trained to
be a judge... Lawyers can argue for either side. Depends
who hires them. They just have to do it well. That is not
what is going on here. I want to decide who is really
right. And who’s wrong. That matters a lot to me.
I can see that. Is it that important?
It is. If I can settle that I wont have to think about it
But maybe you don’t have to think about it at all. Just
(Laughing to herself)
Between my mother and father? I wish it were that simple.
She’s quiet again,
thinking some more.
If it were only their fights. But it isn’t. What goes on
every day... He’s no angel. Its not like he brings
flowers and chocolates for her on a whim, because he is
thinking about her. He doesn’t forget Valentines Day or
her birthday. Ill say that for him. But caring about her,
thinking about what’s happening with her. He isn’t that
interested in how her day has gone. Occasionally he asks,
but it is pro forma. And when she is upset. If she starts
going over a story over and over, he stops listening. Falls
a sleep when they are in bed. She’s repeating it because it
matters a lot. She’s told me about how he falls asleep.
Its proof he really doesn’t care...I can see it. He’s
stopped hugging her, which he used to do. Years ago, he
used to just go over to her and give her a hug. Sometimes
several times in a day. Thats gone. And there is
practically nothing like that from her. Never was. She gets
irritated by him very easily. Is always correcting him.
She’s gone a lot, out with her girlfriends having lunch or
shopping. That’s because she doesn’t want to hang out with
him. Most of the time she would rather be with someone
else. I hear her on the phone, joking with her friends,
talking nice and easy, relaxed. I never see that with my
So I guess she doesn’t love him.
She never thinks to buy what he likes at the supermarket.
Well maybe for his birthday. But otherwise what he likes
doesn’t mean anything to her. He likes ginger snaps. She
never remembers to buy them. So he has to make a separate
trip for them. Other things too... this kind of bacon that
he likes. Canadian bacon. No he loves. A lot of things.
Funny. I remember what he likes. I get his stuff if Im at
Waldbaums. He really appreciates it. How come she doesn’t?
(Weighing what she is
It goes beyond not being thoughtful, not remembering what
Its more complicated, because she remembers that stuff for
me, and Jay. And Mark! Sometimes I think its a way of
telling my father that she won’t be his servant. Ive heard
her say something like that when he asked about the bacon,
like he is a slave master.
No more than anyone else in a relationship. That’s big in
the magazines now. Men as oppressors. It’s the opposite
with my parents. She expects him to be her servant,
thoughtful about what she wants 100% of the time.
That’s what most women want. It’s my way or the highway.
So why does everyone say thats what men are like.
They’re the dictators, not men.
Thats the bullshit in the magazines. Have you noticed how
many magazines now have women editors?
But I think it is true. Men do control most marriages.
Im talking about a Jewish marriage. Im sure you’ve heard
the putdowns of JAPs, Jewish American Princesses?
Its true. My grandparents raised my mother to be a
princess. People at school are amazed by how different
Jewish girls are, especially from Long Island. Well my
mother is what happens when they get married. I don’t think
my grandparents realized the consequences. Like nothing
else mattered other than what my mother wants.
My father reaped the benefit.
Its the opposite with Jewish men. They make the best
husbands. I’ve heard that.
Whoever told you that, I guarantee they weren’t talking
Jeremy absorbs that putdown
without much reaction.
After hesitating CC
I don’t get it. To me its simple. My mother has the
time. He’s got to work 50-60 hours a week. Sometimes 70.
Why shouldn’t she remember his ginger snaps at Waldbaum’s.
Anyway that says it all.
Im lucky with Carol. She enjoys taking care of me. When
she shops for me it makes her day. I don’t have to ask for
anything. She knows what I like... sometimes before I do.
She feels great giving to me. It excites her. It thrills
her. Seeing my enthusiasm when she brings home the
groceries when I help her bring the bags in, I am dying to
see whats in them. When I get to take things out of the
bag she says I’m like a kid on Christmas morning attacking
the presents. When Ive gotten exactly what I wanted, the
look on my face–that gives her a big smile. (Half to
himself he murmurs) Although she slaps my hand if I stick
my finger in the chicken salad she’s bought home.
Even if I am not enthusiastic. She knows she’s getting
something I need or that Im going to want. She gives me a
lot of thought. She’s usually right. She really knows me.
She loves doing all of that. She loves loving.
She’s that way with everyone?
Not really. Just Alyosha and me.
CC’s mood turns morose. She
goes to a display shelf, picks
up one of several primitive
PreColumbian figurines. Rubs her
finger on it.
We got those in Mexico. They’re not the real thing. Cost
six bucks. Carol likes them
He notices her mood shift.
What’s wrong?...Carol?... We agreed to not talk about
Carol. Continue about your mother
My mother is nothing like Carol. The opposite. When my
father comes home from work, I can see if he’s had a bad
day. I mean sometimes my heart aches for him. To start
with he’s not crazy about being a lawyer. He’s like me.
He likes to debate but he doesn’t have that edge, the
pleasure his colleagues take when they’ve trounced their
adversary. They’re at it constantly. Not just their
adversaries. They do it to each other. In the office.
Every chance they get. My fathers not like that. He’s
gentle. It upsets him when he loses his temper.
He sounds nice.
The reason he goes on being a lawyer is my mother. And
us. He’s our servant. Sometimes the office politics really
tear him up. They’re barracudas. I mean an office full of
lawyers? He’ll defend himself if he has to, but being
surrounded by it! And then there are the times when they
gang up on one of their esteemed colleagues. Really go at
it. Certain mornings I can see how reluctant he is to go
in. Like he might face the firing squad....Didn’t matter.
He’d grab that coffee cup, stand up, and hold his hand with
the cup straight out before taking a last ceremonial sip.
It was his version of “charge!”
She seems pleased by that last
Most of the time, I’m unaware of what’s going on around
me. I guess like everyone else. Like my father’s last sip
of coffee. It’s part of his morning rituals and it doesn’t
really register. But it turns out it was registering.
CC gently looks into Jeremy’s
eyes. She takes his hand.
I felt this wave of love for my father as I pictured him
taking that final sip of coffee.
like he has solved the
mystery of human suffering,
now and forever.)
Capitalism? For you, everything reduces to politics.
Capitalism? You really believe that don’t you?
It certainly would help. You don’t think you can change
He’s surrounded by lawyers. Capitalism? You’re a one
trick pony. For a smart person you are so stupid...
You don’t know what its like to be among lawyers do you?.
They cant stop themselves. Some people squash beetles.
They save it for humans. At least that’s what my father
And your father is not like that?
Told you– he isn’t. If anything he’s usually on the
receiving end...Ill say this. My fathers never missed a
day of work. Im sure there were days when he did face the
firing squad. And they fired off a round. He gets over
it. He hangs in there, no matter what.
That means a lot.
Being able to withstand it. When people pop off. This ugly
side comes out. Some people think. Oh thats their true
feelings when it comes out like that. And it is. But a
five second burst means nothing. Its like a fart. So
what. Yeah there is bad stuff inside of everyone, smelly
rot. It passes. What’s important is how you take it, how
you are day after day. How you hold up.
Jeremy is smiling.
What’s so funny?
Your fart metaphor.
I learned it from the master.
As long as you give credit when it’s due.
When my fathers upset its obvious. When I don’t know whats
bothering him I ask. And, the last few years, he talks to
me about it.
My mother notices nothing! Actually, its worse when
she does. When he’s insecure she hates him for showing it.
She makes a whole production out of it. Just so he knows
that she’s noticed. And what she’s thinking is pretty
obvious. Like how did she ever get stuck with a person
All of that goes on in front of you?
I think they view me as old enough to take it.
Proof they love me. No secrets.
(sounding like a little
Look what I missed. I got none of that kind of love after
my parents split up. Compared to your parents they seem
Whats pathetic is they cant help it. They’re not happy
being that way. It makes them miserable. But they cant
control it. Since Mark stirred things up, its a hundred
times worse. Maybe it never would have gotten started, if
Mark hadn’t been Mark. He’s where he belongs. In Berkeley.
I mean, no one ever got too emotional in my family before
he started his attacks. After, all this animosity
appeared. My father would get pissed at Mark and she’d go
ape shit. Like he should be above losing it with Mark.
Like he stops being a father if he descends to Mark’s
level. She loves magazine advice.
Your family is really fucked up.
My father has to put on an act for my mother. Be this very
steady cheerful “father”. Not that it does any good. She
sees right through it. She complains that his moods are
difficult to live with. Meanwhile the moods she’s
complaining about, are not really observable to anyone
else. She totally dismisses the no sweat attitude he’s
trying so hard to convey.
Your mother is something. They both are.
If my father describes an incident with someone at work,
she’s invariably on the other persons side. He must have
done this to set the other guy off. He must have done that.
Or... Why did you let him get away with saying that?
So he never gets it right?
No he does. Most of the time. Im exaggerating. If he
didn’t get it right, he’d be out on disability from my
mothers attacks. But when it happens, when he’s stumbling,
whether he caused it or not Theres no mercy.Imagine
Alexander the Great returning home after he’s lost a
battle. Yes he will have to face intrigue at court-
perhaps a coup. But what he really fears is facing his
(imitating a Jewish woman
from the Bronx calling her
husband to task)
Suddenly feeling self-conscious
and exposed CC moves close to
Jeremy, leans against him.
Jeremy strokes CCs hair. He
goes to tickle her. She shoves
him playfully. Laughing, they
grab each other in a mini
wrestle. He takes off her robe.
They stop and stare at each
other with a smile, with lust
once again coming alive.
She sees a towel on the floor
and tries to cover herself, but
he grabs if off of her.
Smiling devilishly like a clown,
ecstatically, he drops to the
ground before her. He kisses her
toes, then the ground
surrounding them with the
foolishness that is becoming his
M.O. with CC.
What are you doing?
What do you think I’m doing?
Kissing the ground?
Not in the least embarrassed.
He continues to kiss the ground.
She grabs his shoulder and lifts
CC rolls her eyes
You really don’t understand what I am looking at. Do you?
Oy God. I can’t believe this.
No. Not enough! You are one of the seven wonders of the
world. Anyone seeing what I am looking at right now, would
be blown away. It’s not just me. Anyone!
She tries to pull up the towel
to cover herself, but he won’t
You’re astonishing. A perfect flower. There’s nothing in
the Albright Knox, hell the Met that compares to you. No
artist is genius enough to create pure beauty? But what I
want to know is why they don’t they paint pure beauty? Why
aren’t museums bursting with it? It’s ephemeral. So why not
try to paint it again and again?
Thinking over the question he is
People would make fun of them? Call them garish? They’re
wrong.. It’s half the reason we are alive. To find it.
Are manic depressives sex crazy?
They’ve been known to want sex continuously. Why?
I’ve spoken to Mark about you. He thinks you are manic
That’s what you think?
The thought keeps crossing my mind.
Why can’t you hear it, accept it. It’s not me and my
thoughts! I’ll bet that 100 guys, if they were looking at
you right now, a thousand, if they were seeing you like
this, they would act just like me. You don’t understand
how rare you are. Beauty just doesn’t come along like
(trying to be blasé)
Even if it were true, what you keep saying is true. It’s
fleeting. My father’s dahlias last a day or two, maybe
three. They are extraordinary, then caput. The flower is
You have years and years that you are going to look like
this...Years and years.
And then I can get a facelift. Right?
My mother got one.
She watches his reaction, how
quickly disgusted he is.
That is so Great Neck. Rich Jews, wives with face-lifts? I
Are you kidding?
(Smiling in disbelief)
They are both quiet as they
think things over
The degree of his disgust
disturbs her. She raises her
Why? There’s all kinds of people in the world doing
terrible things. Why Jews in Great Neck? You’re not
laughing at their silliness. You’re disgusted. Jewish self
hatred. I’m not Great Neck. I’m me. In 30 years if I get a
face lift I’ll still be me.
She shakes her head, saddened by
the intensity of his emotion.
Great Neck is not such a bad place.
Right. What is good about Great Neck?
How about that Great Neck made me? It was my home. It is
You’re not one of them.
Hate’s poisonous Jeremy...You’re so proud of your mind.
Hate wipes it away.
Okay I hate some things, but it’s not like I’m a mean
I’m not so sure about that. I wonder if you were in charge
of the Pearly Gates and the fate of a man whose wife had
plastic surgery came before you. Would you send him and
her to hell?
(raising her voice)
She watches his reaction, which
is no reaction.
My Great Neck guy that’s facing you at the Gates! What if
he was very nice, very kind? What if he gave more than he
could afford to Jerry’s Kids, and the American Cancer
Society, the Red Cross, trees for Israel, one charity after
another? What if he were a Big Brother to some kid from
the ghetto? And a great Dad.
Jeremy’s face doesn’t soften.
You would send them to hell, wouldn’t you? Because all you
would see is rich Jew, plastic surgery.
Naked, without self-
consciousness, naked, she walks
over to the front of the full
length mirror in the bedroom.
She looks herself over.
I can’t help it. You’re so beautiful.
You’re like a broken record.
She coldly studies herself.
I don’t know. I could have longer legs and a bigger toosh.
But I guess I’m lucky. In locker rooms I’ve seen other
women’s bodies. Most of them look deformed
She examines her teeth for
stains. He is soon behind her.
His arms drape over her
shoulders. The way he’s looking
at CC in the mirror captivates
I really can’t help it. You’re beautiful.
Ive never seen anyone like you. No one. Which counts for
something. I still look around.
You do? You searching for someone better?
None of them compare. Not even close. When I look at them
I think of you.
You’re not big on loyalty are you?
I’ve no choice. Its instinctual. Beauty grabs my eyes,
like it does with every other guy.
That’s bull. My brother Jay. I never see him look at
anyone other than his wife.
She must pussy whip him into submission. Carols father is
like that, scared of her mother.
Thats not Jay, but yes, he’s actually ruled by what’s
allowed and not allowed. So his eyes don’t roam. Why do
you keep looking?
I’m discovering new things.
The cellulite under your ass.
The mirrors right here. Take a look.
I don’t see it.
Don’t know how to say it?
Ill bet you do.
His better half is warning him
to tone it down before leaping,
but he can’t contain himself. He
touches her nipples.
She looks over her shoulder
examining herself closely.
He laughs, enjoying his ability
to tease her. He runs his hand
over her ass and down her leg.
There are stars in his eyes yet
Your nipples are perfect. Small and tight. They’re exactly
like I hoped they’d be before I ever met you.
Really? You imagined my nipples? Compared to what?
Playboy, Penthouse. I must have looked at the breasts of a
hundred women. Only one of them had nipples that drove me
wild. Like yours. I just had this idea of a perfect woman.
Yeah. Formed from pictures in Playboy?
One picture in particular. I was 15 or 16. I saw this
woman’s nipples and I whacked off to them. Maybe five or
She looks at him skeptically.
Okay 10 times.
Do you still have that picture?
Carol found my stash. She threw away all my Playboys and
The woman in that picture wasn’t that pretty.
Well... pretty, but her looks didn’t do anything to me.
Her nipples... I cant believe you have the same nipples,
how lucky I am. Im telling you. We were foreordained.
He sucks on her nipple.
Then moves his lips to her lips.
Very soon, her body is crying
Lights go out
Lying next to him in the
bedroom, she watches Jeremy
sleep peacefully, but then her
She’s not finished. When she
gets going about her parents she
is never finished. His eyes soon
open. He’s only half awake but
it is enough for CC. She
continues as if he is wide
Its so strange. I guess its the contrast. In public my
father’s like a trophy husband. She’s been lucky. He
reflects well on her. He makes a nice living. He is soft
spoken and polite. Their marriage is a reward for how hard
they have both worked...
Its just privately.
Jeremy stops her before she can
begin a new round.
(in a groggy voice)
Are you going to repeat all of it?
If I had my druthers I would tell you the same stories,
make the same point 10 times and continue to the 11th
hoping that this telling might shed new light.
So why does he put up with it?
I don’t know. In his mind I don’t think there is a choice.
Whats he going to do? Get divorced and hang out at bars
trying to pick someone up? Or go on a love cruise to find
that someone? Besides he has a friend who’s told him the
same thing is going on in his marriage. Another friend the
same thing. He’s sort of decided, that after enough years,
this is just the way marriage is.
He told you that?
Basically. They’ve even discussed it with each other, my
mom and him, several times. They agreed. That’s how they
make up. Agreeing there is no real problem. That every
marriage is like that. But I don’t think they are
convinced. I don’t know if it’s true. I really don’t know
why they stick together.
Maybe he loves the way she moans when he’s inside her. I
love that about Carol.
But its true. I love it. I mean love it. Em. Hm. Its the
sweetest sound. It erases everything disappointing in the
marriage. That sound.
Your stupid male ego.
Those groans don’t get put in love poems. But that sound
is real. Powerful. It should be the crescendo of every
poem. Of every symphony. It should be part of the
introduction. Its why Alexander was willing to go off to
battle. For that sweet sound.
He’s smiling away joyfully,
like Lenny Bruce after he has
once again shocked his audience.
Jeremy hesitates before going
on, but then plunges forward.
The way you moaned... I could get off on it right this
Disgusted, CC gets dressed,
begins to gather her things.
Jeremy tries to grab her stuff
Wait. Wait... Look I’m sorry. I can get carried away.
It’s not just that. It’s the whole thing.
What whole thing?
The way you look down on me. I still am processing that
John Cage concert.
That really got to you didn’t it?
Me. The problem was me? I still can recall every detail...
Lukas Foss, the conductor entered to rapturous applause. He tapped his baton several times. He points to the first violinist who stood up to polite applause. Foss looked to the left, then to the right, making eye contact with several members of the orchestra. He raised his baton preparing them to launch. Then he didn’t move it. He put it on the stand and quietly took off his watch. Put it over his baton. There was complete silence. The silence continued and continued. I didn’t know how to react. There was even less coughing than usual at a concert. People, many from Buffalo faculty, quietly sat looking like they were in the know. Including you! I looked around bewildered. People started to laugh in this superior way. Identifying that I was uncomfortable, the person in the next seat looked at me like I was a bimbo.
You raised your eyebrows to me like that was a comforting
gesture. You pointed to the program. 4’33. The
conductor looks at his watch. Exactly at the end of 4
minutes and 33 seconds he raised his baton and faced the
audience. They applauded.
So cool, you whispered to me.
I just remember the smile on peoples’ face as they
clapped. You looked at me like we were lucky to be there,
lucky to be a part of a momentous event. The look on the
face of many in the audience when Lukas Foss returned to
the stage with John Cage, the excitement. They were
thrilled to be in the same room with John Cage. And
afterwards during the intermission. You had the stupidest
look on your face You kept looking at me, like you were one
in the know. You couldn’t wait to explain
You still get that look. Like you are going to rescue me
from my ignorance. I should have known, when I heard how
excited Mark was that I was going to a John Cage concert.
And then when I started going on about the concert, when
some of the faculty wanted to get away from me, you acted
like I wasn’t with you.
Then when we returned to the Museum I pointed at a
Rothko, a black blob with a slightly darker blob
surrounding it. When I told you that paining fits the
music. It showed nothing. The way you answered( imitating
Jeremy) “Some people consider it a masterpiece.” You
weren’t talking to me. You were aiming it at a professor
It isn’t just me. It’s all of us.
Me and people from Long Island. No, not just Long Island,
all of us.
Who is us?
Us is my family, most of the students, everyone that’s a
It isn’t just you. All the professors. Like here on
campus you’re royalty. You walk on a cloud of ideas. You
got Socrates, Aristotle. Archimedes, Einstein, Hemingway,
on your team. Oh and Wittgenstein. I got Carol Burnett, Ed
Sullivan. My family? My parents read two or three books a
year. Best sellers, page turners like a good TV program.
That’s not how I think about you. I’ve read some of your
That was me trying to get an A. Look. It’s not just you.
From the first day I got here. The Dean’s welcoming speech. (imitating the Dean) Welcome to U. B. Blah blah blah. Let us be your guide to the wonders of Western Civilization.CC
Meaning books... Books.
(continuing to imiate the
Books can liberate your minds. Reading can answer the
mysteries of the universe. Books, books, books.
We’re not looking down. We’re just trying to get you to
see the light.
Listen Mr. Culture Critic. Maybe you got it all wrong.
Maybe what professors do is weird. I had a cousin that went
Most of my family considered him a little strange, like he
was a dropout from the real world. He had all these
quirks, his stamp collection, his butterfly collection.
More to the point, they thought that he lacked ambition. He
(Stung, trying not to let
her see she’s gotten to
That how you saw him?
You kidnap all these people when they come here. Force
them to love the life of the mind. It doesn’t take long
after students graduate, and no longer are forced by your
stupid exams to think your way, no time at all for their
true preference to come out. It isn’t the life of the mind
they want. It’s shopping.
Jeremy has a superior look on
You just don’t get it. I remember this time at the club.
My mother was the queen there, the best looking most
stylish. We were all proud of her. We shared her glory.
You don’t know what that’s like. But at the Fresh Meadow
Country Club it’s everything....
But occasionally... this one time. She couldn’t tell by
the way people looked at her or didn’t look at her. She
kept going over it. Asked me. Asked my father. What was
wrong with her outfit? Didn’t it fit? Was it too tight
around her hips. At home she put it on again. Studied
herself in her mirror. She couldn’t pinpoint the problem.
But she never wore anything by that designer again.
And sometimes she’d put on weight. After a Bar Mitzvah
when she may have pigged out. Ate the baked potato instead
of skipping it. Had two spoonfuls of dessert. Maybe three.
She wouldn’t eat for days.
You don’t think that is nuts?
What are you doing that’s so different from other people?
Reading books? My mother would say you’re wasting your
You mean I could be shopping at Loehmanns?
It’s not the books, it’s thinking about your life that
makes it meaningful. An unexamined life—
Is what? I’m telling you. You don’t get away enough. You
think the university is the world. Ideas are what counts.
They aren’t. How we looked, how my father looked, my
mother, every one of us. That was far more important than
what we thought. Back then when I pictured someone who
does a lot of thinking, it was some twerp with pimples, a
bookworm. The people I grew up with aren’t like you. They
don’t have your curiosity. They only care about what they
see in front of them.
Yes how you look. What have you been saying to me? Over and
over. Looks, looks, looks.
This one dress my mother tried on. I can still remember it
from ten years ago.–Red with navy stitching. The image
lights up in my memory.I can still seemy mother coming out
from the curtains at the store and modeling that dress. It
wasn’t just the dress that was stunning. The look of
triumph on my mother’s face. I can recall it so clearly.
That dress is more important than any thought in your head.
Fine. But why are you telling me this?
Because to you my family is nonsense. But–
I haven’t said that.
Oh no...That one dress...I’ll never forget how she looked.
I can’t remember half of what’s been said to me. Most of
what you’ve told me. But I can see that dress like it was
Jeremy face remains defiant.
You think shopping your life away is a mediocre form of
existence. Immigrants come from all over the world... They
have waited for years to get here. You know what excites
them? What is amazing to them?... After the Statue of
Our stores! They enter our supermarkets and it’s like they
have come upon a miracle. They are astounded. Our department stores. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, hell, Alexander’s. They look in every direction. Everywhere. Things, they can buy. Things they can afford. As far as their eyes can see. Like when Europeans first discovered America. Unoccupied land going on and on. As far as their eyes could see. There for the taking. That’s what is in our stores.
Jeremy doesn’t have the will to
They are wide eyed at the cosmetic counters, beautiful
ladies doing a beauty makeover on them. For free! No
matter how nonchalant they try to project themselves as
they walk the aisles, as they examine the merchandise, Can
you imagine someone from Madagascar in Macy’s?
I hear they are beginning to copy our supermarkets in
Europe, in Hong Kong, in the French suburbs. Never mind
the New York Philharmonic bringing American culture all
over the world. It’s our stores, our shopping that is mind
boggling. Not just that. They love our TV programs!..
What we think is ordinary is actually astounding to every
one else. You should have seen my mother in that red dress.
With navy stitching.
Jeremy is looking at her
erotically. He reaches for her.
She ignores him.
Jeremy smiles indulgently.
You won’t grant that some of it is nonsense?
“All of it is nonsense. In university land-shopping for
ideas is stupid. Everything is stupid when you stop and
think about it. But you can’t treat beauty like it doesn’t
matter to you. I know what it means to you. Mr. Slater. I
It’s not the same.
Who are you trying to kid? It’s not how you imagine
priorities? This is how it plays out in the real world.
She watches his reaction, which
is no reaction.
JEREMY Did you see A Star is Born?
Yes. You think that’s what’s going on with us?
No. I was thinking. Your parents sound like them.
That movie upset me. After I saw it I made a resolution to
be less aggressive. It hasn’t worked. Judy Garland made
chopped liver out of James Mason
Her mood drops rapidly. CC eyes
water a bit.
Your father?... James Mason?
It’s not that bad. He puts up a brave front.
Since your mother’s menopause?
I didn’t think of that.
It occurred to me when you were talking about them.
I thought it was this feminist thing she was picking up
on. She’s become so full of vim and vigor.
She’s a feminist?
CC JEREMY CC
She would never wear the uniform, but she’s been going to
war long before it became trendy. All of her friends are
giving their husbands a hard time. It may be the feminist
thing catching on. But I read women get like that when
they get older.
CC looks out the window, staring
at a Japanese maple.
That split leaf maple is nice in the snow.
Carol insisted we buy that tree. I agree it’s nice.
Do you garden a lot?
Not really. We haven’t planted that much. When we do,
Carol points and I dig.
That’s what my mom and dad do....Or use to...
(continuing to look out the
Does my father love my mother? I’m sure he believes one
marriage is all you get...So he better love her... That’s
how Jay would see it...My father... There’s a good chance he
loves her. (With further thought) I know he loves her.
It’s not his love... Or their love. It’s their hatred.
She wipes a tear.
There’s a tissue box over there.
She takes one. The tears don’t
He’s disappointed... Not just her. In all of us.
Less so. I think I am his favorite person, but certainly
Mark. My mom? It’s like the promise she gave to him when
they got married, has been revoked.
She used to always talk about how great love and marriage
is. She hasn’t given that speech in years.
The tears are now coming out
freely. Jeremy puts his arms
around her. She’s momentarily
comforted by his gesture, but
only momentarily. She steps
The doctor told him he had a silent heart attack. Some time
in the past. It scares me. I can’t imagine not having him.
My father, when he was on top of his game. He was
Your mother’s that tough on him?
It’s not only her. Mark with his anti-war shit. It isn’t
just the war. He’s slammed everything my father holds dear.
My father thinks America is the greatest place on earth.
He’s lucky to have been born here, and grow up here. He’s
proud that he enlisted to fight Hitler. The whole
thing...It’s at the core of who he is. Losing that belief is
like losing an arm. Mark’s taken away half his arm and is
going for the rest of it. Can’t be fun that my mom is
always on Mark’s side. Especially, since she’s become so
competitive with him. She wasn’t always like that. Not with
Is that your mother?
Jeremy goes over to the bureau,
lifts an age black and white
picture of a young woman,
She died when I was 13, breast cancer. Was sick for three
He returns the picture to the
You know what?... I think you should call your father.
Now? It’s 9:30. He could be asleep?
It’ll show up on your telephone bill.
Don’t worry. I’ll get it first. Call him.
END OF SCENE 2
Is something wrong?
No I just wanted to call.
THE PHONE RINGS
AND THE LIGHT
GOES ON IN CC’S
Aren’t you the rich one? Are you spending enough money for
I just wanted to talk.
Wait I’ll get your mother.
I wanted to talk to you.
Now I know something’s wrong...Have you been crying?
Nothing. Well I was worrying about your health.
And that made you cry? Listen. I was at the doctor last
week. He said I am doing great. My heart has practically
returned to normal.
I wanted to tell you I love you.
You didn’t have to call to tell me that. I know you do.
I wanted to tell you again.
Do you know something I don’t know? Do I have 30 days to
Are you all right?
Evelyn gets on the extension.
CC’S MOTHER (EVELYN)
You’re sure you’re all right? Listen I’ll put on your
Listen I was going to call you anyway. Call Dora. There’s
something going on with the baby.
I don’t think anything serious, but call her.
(said in a tone she usually uses before getting off.)
What else is going on?
But she doesn’t get off the
phone. Like Ira, Evelyn also
doesn’t like the way CC is
Nothing. I’m with Jeremy. I told you about him.
They are both silent, moving
Evelyn refuses to beat around
You don’t want to break up a family.
I’m not. He loves his wife and would never leave her.
So what are you? An afternoon delight?
For a tense moment they are both
You deserve better than that.
Not just afternoon. Morning and night delight.
I don’t think you can understand.
You think what you’re doing is so unusual. Men do that all
the time. Italian men... French. Take off the leash and
men go wild. His wife is in the hospital?... And–
This isn’t like that.
Fine. You know what you are doing. Everything is hunky-
dory. All I ask is one thing.... You’re old enough... Smart
enough. Try using your brain a little, instead of your—
Mom, I love him for his brain.
I mean your brain.
It’s your funeral.
(in her goodbye voice)
CC hangs up but keeps her hand
on the phone as she digests the
I didn’t know you told your parents about me. You sound
like you are connected to your Mom.
She says what’s on her mind.
I could tell.
That’s not the problem. Understanding? No way she gets
where I’m at.
Ten minutes after CC’s phone call Ira and Evelyn are both
in bed. Ira is watching the Knicks on TV.
What do you make of her phone call?
What is it?
He is not paying attention. The
Knicks are ahead 98-92 in the
4th quarter. Evelyn takes the
remote control out of his hand
and turns off the TV.
(Irritated by the
You don’t care, do you?
I do. I can tell she’s upset, and that bothers me, but not
that much. She’s not a kid any more. She’s got her life.
I know that.
She’s going to do what she’s going to do.
She’s sleeping with her teacher. And he’s married. With a
She’s young. We were both just like her when we were her
age. That’s what you do. You love. You live. You don’t
think about where it’s going.
We never did anything like that.
Still, did you know what you were doing at that age? I just
knew I had to hustle to support you and me, and the family
we were going to have. At least Jay’s got his head on
I never even thought of a married man.
We met when you were 16. You didn’t have time to fool
“You really think if I wasn’t with you I could do what
I learned something interesting in the Sunday’s men group.
In the Lithuanian shtetl girls used to marry at 14 or 15.
They worried that any longer and she would get in trouble.
The boys too. A lot of times they married and lived with
the girl’s family. They didn’t have ideas like we have
about adolescence, where you’re supposed to explore, find
out who you are. They thought “finding out” meant sure
It certainly applies to your sister. Becky was like a teen-
ager throughout her 20’s. Thought it was all about
adventure. She had a lot of friends like that. In their
20’s! They met at bars. One night stands.
I wouldn’t call it that. You really have this thing with
my sister. At least she eventually settled down. She’s got
a good marriage.
And one son without a father.
Seth has been like a father to Billy.
Maybe. I just hope we don’t have a daughter that’s going to
repeat all that.
It seems to be what’s happening on campuses.
Everything’s so different now. Jay and Dora got engaged in
college. They couldn’t wait to get their life started. It
wasn’t that many years ago, but it’s like they are from a
different generation. Turns out, your sister was ahead of
the times. Now women want to look around, go around the
block a couple of times before getting tied down. Just
like Becky. Except now they’re not having babies until
Your twenties are when you are supposed to live. So later
you have no regrets that you didn’t have a life. It’s like
adolescence has been extended into the twenties.
Soon it will be the thirties. Being responsible is almost
He takes back the remote
control. He puts the Knicks back
on. That bugs Evelyn.
You really don’t care. Do you? All that matters is if the
Knicks are winning?
I care but it’s the way things are now. Nothing we can do
to change it.
It’s all about the Knicks isn’t it?
There are 3 minutes left in the game. The Knicks have to
win this one.
So that’s what matters, The
Carol is home. The
hospitalization lasted over a
month. In her own clothes, and
usual hair style her puffiness
from the steroids is noticeable,
but otherwise she seems
reasonably okay. Except she is
weak. She sits at the kitchen
counter. Jeremy is making
It’s almost unreal. You just sitting there. You’ve been
gone for a month.
They wanted to keep me another 3 weeks but I promised I
would take my medicine religiously.
Three or four for you?
You have no appetite?
No. I hate your pancakes.”
They both smile. But Jeremy
doesn’t buy it. He is visibly
worried about her lack of
He also takes only one pancake. He puts a pile on Alyosha’s plate. Pours maple syrup over them.
How come you are only taking one? Trying to lose weight?
I’m not stupid you know. The first time you mentioned CC.
I could tell the way you said her name.
I don’t have a girlfriend. Nothing is going on with CC.
Jeremy, the quality I love most about you is your
directness. You always tell it like it is. So why this?
If you have feelings for CC I can deal with it. Look I
know you do. It gives us a place to start. Maybe we can
figure out what’s wrong and fix it.
She studies his face. Not very
successfully he tries to seem
natural as he puts the frying
pan in the sink.
Or is it worse than that? Are we finished?
It wouldn’t hurt.
For your girlfriend?
There is no girlfriend.
That’ll never happen. There’s nothing wrong between us. We
made a vow..You’re stuck with me.
Too bad you can’t make a vow about being in love.”
He doesn’t answer. His
face is unreadable. She keeps
studying him closely for a
You think you are so clever. That’s how I know. Your face
is blank. That’s not you. Your secrets are written all over
The phone rings. Carol goes to
the next room. We can hear her.
I’m good. Mom you don’t have to worry.”
Silence as she listens
Dr. Weinstein said what??..I asked him not to tell you.
It’s not definite. It’s a possibility.
Jeremy has been listening
to Carol. She returns to the
What was that all about?
Not to worry. I’m taking care of it myself.”
She looks into his eyes as
convincingly as she can:
Everything okay with your Mom?
She said to send you her love...You were telling me last
night about Gurjeif. You had a new thought from him.
Yes. There is a cosmic law which says that every
satisfaction must be paid for with a dissatisfaction. I
As the stage darkens Spot on
Jeremy’s face. He’s very upset
about what he overheard.
Jeremy is ladling out soup from
a pot on the stove for Carol.
Carol is seated at the table
with a blanket over her
shoulders. He brings the soup
bowl to her.
Jesus it’s April 14th and its 23 degrees out there. I don’t
like that you’re still feeling sick. How cold are you?
A little. I like your idea, chicken soup for breakfast.
Nice and hot. The weather is crazy. I’ve had enough of this
winter. I hate Buffalo.”
He feeds a spoonful of
soup to Carol. Then a second.
She takes the spoon from him and
It’s good. I think it will help.
It was in the freezer. I made it while you were gone.
You’re very resourceful.
He brings his own soup
bowl to the table.
(His voice is gentle)
I did it like you like it. Mashed the vegetables and added
it back into the soup.
That’s how your mother taught you to make it?
Right?...After she got sick and was stuck in bed, I made
soup for my mother practically every day. She was always
cold. It made her feel so much better. That and tea.
You have a headache?
A little one.
Are you scared?
Lupus isn’t cancer.
Carol puts down the soup
spoon. She puts her thumb and
index finger on each side of her
nose pressing in on her eyelids.
They are both quiet for a
Tenderly he moves his hand down
I know. Really. I’m feeling stronger. Much better than
C’mon, have the soup...
Don’t you like it
She is reluctant.
Carol sees a tear. She
reaches for it on his face. She
takes his hand.
I like that you made it for me.”
I like to cook. I don’t know
about vacuuming, but cooking—
“You don’t have to vacuum.
His tears continue
I promise I will. This afternoon when I come back.”
6 weeks later. Carol’s in bed.
She’s meeting with CC in her
I’m sure you were surprised to hear from me, but I had to
talk to you.
They are both feeling awkward.
I’ll come right out with it. Jeremy hasn’t been the same
since he stopped seeing you. He’s very down. All month
long. He’s walking around like his life is over.
CC takes a deep breath.
He still loves you. I can’t change that. He can’t either.
He’s tried. The reason I called is my doctor’s told me my
medicine has stopped working. He’s said I’m going to die
if they can’t come up with something.”
I don’t want you to tell Jeremy. He suspects something, but
he doesn’t know.
You don’t want to tell him.
I don’t. First of all, I might pull through. I have in the
past. But if I die I want you to know you have my
blessing. The son of a bitch doesn’t deserve it. I want my
mother to raise Alyosha, but you and Jeremy...
CC begins to sob. Carol
takes her hand. She waits until
CC is in better control.
Please. Say nothing now. He’s got his thesis to finish.
He’s down to the wire. So don’t call him, but later, if I’m
not here you can tell him I gave my blessing. Not that I am
not cursing the two of you, but... You know about his
Watching your mother die does strange things to you? I’m
glad Alyosha is so young.
CC tears up
I’d like to call Jeremy.
No. Please don’t. I know him. He’ll do the same thing he
did when I was in the hospital.
You know about that?
I found your lipstick under the bed. I remember. He was
really whacko. He kept saying crazy things. He was a
I’m sorry, I–
You don’t have to say anything. I know how convincing
Jeremy can be when he wants something. I wasn’t surprised.
Jeremy doesn’t know how to be alone. It frightens him.
You don’t know about his dark moods, do you?
I’ve seen him act sort of crazy. Silly, but never down.
It’s all an act. He can get very, very down. Suicidal kind
Haven’t seen anything even close to that.
That’s because you make him happy. I knew something was up
when he would visit me in the hospital.
It would be nice if you could make him happy like that and
it would last. Not just in the beginning. Discovering
someone new is so thrilling. I still like romantic movies.
Beginnings are wonderful. He loves them. Who wouldn’t?
But he’s addicted. He craves it. He can’t get enough.
I couldn’t do anything about it. I can’t give him what he
wants. I can’t reinvent myself every few weeks.
There is a long silence
as she tries to regain control.
I never told him what I really think. I gave him the
impression that he’s a meshugenah.
She starts sobbing again and
Which he is. And deserves to hear.
He is such a jerk. But I think he is, he might be
This brings more sobbing.
His craving for discovery. I’m hoping he gets there,
people recognize that he’s got it. He’s able to thrill
people with it.
Everyone who takes his class has been there with him.”
(crying more sanguinely,
I know, but he wants more and deserves more. You probably
can’t understand, but I want him to have that. He’s been
good to me. I want him to have you... I want him to be happy.
Carol notices that CC has what
may be a skeptical expression on
her face. It shatters the spell
she had assumed with her plan.
Do you still love him?
I don’t know. When he broke up with me. I was sort of
I love Jeremy.
Then CC, noticing how
Carol is hanging on her answer,,
as sincerely as she can muster,
August, Carol’s hospital room,
Carol is very weak. She is not
completely alert Her kidneys
have been shut down for two
weeks. There are dark circles
around her eyes. Her mother is
with her feeding her soup.
That’s good. Just one more spoonful.
Carol immediately looks
away allowing CC to not have to
I’m not hungry. I’m nauseous.
Come on. Wait let me get you a carrot. You like carrots.
Mom. No. No more.
At that moment Jeremy appears.
Mom, hand me my pocketbook.
Her mother moves the soup away
and hands her the pocketbook.
Carol finds a mirror and tries
to give her hair a bit of style.
Don’t do that. You look wonderful.
I’ll be right outside.
If looks could kill?
She gets up from her chair
As her mother leaves she can’t
help giving Jeremy a nasty look.
She closes the door behind her.
I’ve brought you a big box of Raisinets, movie size He hands them to her
I remembered how much you like them. How come you stopped
Well eat up.
She pours a handful and
starts to eat them with relish.
She hands him the box. He
brings it to his mouth and pours
some straight in.
Whoa, Save some for me.
Only the best for you.
I’ll do it.
He takes out another box of Raisinets from the bag of goodies he has brought. She smiles when she sees them.
She grimaces. Her calf has
tightened into a cramp. She
pulls off her blanket and tries
to rub it in order to loosen it.
He squeezes and rubs her calf
very hard. There is no
You have to stand on it. Push down on your toes.
He puts his arms under her
to lift her out of the bed. As
he does so he begins to sob.
Jeremy. Come on. Come on. Lift me. Come on. You’re
What else have they told you?
He successfully places her
on her feet. She presses down
on her toes to straighten them
and as quickly as it appeared,
the cramp is gone.
She continues standing,
holding him, hugging him as he
Come on. You’re going to make me cry.
I can’t help it.
You can Jeremy. You will...Help me get back in bed.
He returns her to her bed. She
is out of breath.
Why are you breathing like that?
They said I have congestive heart failure. From my kidneys
I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about you.
He reads the look on her face.
You said you’ve been thinking about it. Promise me you will
submit your thesis.
She starts to cry.
It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. If you don’t submit it
by next week you’re out of the program. That can’t happen.
You’re a great teacher. Do it for your students.
I’ve done it.
(Her voice sounds a hundred
Her crying continues but with
tears of joy, relief.
She pulls him down to her and
Then she is quiet, at peace as
he straightens up.
She notices that he looks
Did you hear from them?
(Continuing before he can
I don’t have to ask. They are going to think it is
He says nothing. From the
expression on his face we sense
that it has been rejected. But
Carol isn’t studying him
She is unaccustomed to the
relief she is feeling. For the
first time in years the junction
between her upper and lower jaw
relaxes. That little headache in
her forehead, that she has
learned to ignore. Now it is
You are going to be so happy.
Again, he starts to cry.
I mean after, in a month or two. Alyosha will be very
proud of you Dr. Slater.
Early September. In his bedroom,
CC’s father is in his easy chair
under a lamp, reading the paper.
We hear a knock on the door. He
puts the paper down
Come in CC.
How did you know it was me?
CC moves to the front of the
stage modeling for her father
You look stunning. I remember when your mother found that
dress. It looked great on her too.
I know. I was shopping in her closet. She gave me a whole
bunch of stuff.
It took her weeks to find it. She showed me a picture of
it in Vogue and then you know your mother. Nothing can
stop her–the British navy, the Amazon jungle–nothing can
stop her when she’s out to find something she wants. I
wonder what she will come home with today.
I remember when she used to drag me along with her. Shop
‘til you drop. And I would drop. Didn’t matter. She was
determined. I’d be done 2 hours before we stopped. She’d
bribe me with ice cream, then make promises, but she’d find
what she was looking for. Always!
One more week ‘til you start school. You ready?
Are you kidding? ‘Specially with the clothes Mom gave me?
The retro look is in.
Have you heard from that guy?
His wife died. He was very upset. He wanted to see me.
Are you going to see him? You were pretty gone when it came
I’m lucky I’m over him. I was very upset when I heard about
his wife, although I knew it was coming.(becoming sad) She
(fighting back tears)
I’ve spent hours talking to Dr. Weiss about it.
What does he say?
Not that much. We talked about me going up there for the
funeral. He convinced me it was a bad idea. I would
probably jump into bed with him all over again.
Sounds like you’re doing the right thing.
Can I ask you about you and Mom?
What about us?
Do you love her?
What are you and mom like when I’m back at school?
Sometimes, not always.
He takes her hand
Do you still love her?
Yes and she loves me.
How do you know that?
It’s hard for you to understand.
I’m trying. Believe me I’m trying.
In the early years we were crazy about each other. 100% of
the time. Do you remember that?
Those were great years. We were all happy.
That was before we knew each other. I mean really knew.
I’m not saying your mother is so bad. Or that I am. But
It doesn’t matter. If it hadn’t been one thing it would
have been another. That’s what happens to everyone. You
can’t love someone like you loved them in the beginning.
CC’S FATHER (CONT'D)
That kind of love is built on your imagination. No actual
person can match that.
He closes the newspaper, folds it carefully
Let me tell you something. Your mother has capabilities I
never even thought about. I hear your fellow students
making fun of homemakers like it takes a bimbo to run a
home. You know that stuff about how a man’s home is his
She’s made a castle for us to live in, all of us. It’s
beautiful, the ways the colors coordinate, the rugs, the
chairs, the sofa. And comfortable! We all take that for
granted. Your mother chose everything in the house. She
repainted the dining room three times before she was
satisfied with the color. And when we started and had no
money she did the painting herself. She wouldn’t let me
touch a paint brush. (laughing to himself) She didn’t like
the quality of my work. And later, when she hired a
painter, she made sure he was doing a good job. She’d fire
people that weren’t performing to her standards.
Your mother knows how to get the best work out of everyone.
Whether it is flirting, or charm, or being a pain in the
ass–whatever it is. It gets done right. That’s not a
small talent. She is a strong woman, very determined.
I’ll bet professors at your school don’t have a clue about
how to get good work done on their house.
I agree the house is beautiful.
Again he laughs to himself.
And comfortable... well.
That white rug in the hall. She wouldn’t let me come in
the front door. I could see my room straight ahead, but I
had to use the back door.
She lets you walk there now. When you were young you
didn’t wipe your feet. So yeah there is crazy perfect love
in the beginning, but eventually the real person spoils
that. After maybe 10, 15 years we had that love feeling
40, 50% of the time.
No. It was higher than that.
That’ how you remember it? Maybe. Maybe it looked that
way. But, by that time, a lot of the time we were faking
it. For you kids. And I guess each other. Then we stopped
faking it. And the love percentage took a real dive. I
don’t think it was a sudden thing. It was a gradual
Until it goes to zero?
That’ll never happen. We have moments. They will always be
That’s all you get at our age. Moments.
I don’t understand.
I’m grateful to have that. Some people... they lose it
He takes her hand and looks in
We still have it. Not the fake kind. The real thing.
I never see it anymore... How often?
We’re different when you kids are around. We don’t see you
that often, so when you come home we want the visit to be
I know. It’s nice but it is kind of phony, everyone—
Mark makes sure it doesn’t get too phony.
I suppose so.
(becoming very serious)
How often do you and mom connect? I mean really connect.
We have our moments...
It could be twice in a day, then not for weeks.
And that’s enough?
You often seem hurt. Really often.
I am but as long as I get–
You know, when we’ve had a blow up, we both want to make
up. Sometimes it takes a few hours. Once or twice it was
days, but we want to make up. That isn’t fake! It’s coming
from our hearts. Sure it’s fear. No one wants to be alone.
And that’s a big part of it. Before we met each other we
were alone. Part of that great feeling when you fall in
love is that your loneliness disappears.
CC says nothing. Her
father has never been blunt
like this before.
Not everyone is miserable being alone, but I am. Back then,
when I didn’t have someone, I’d see other couples with
each other. It would tear me up. So if you have been
there and experienced that...often. Not feeling that any
more... I think it was the same for Mom.
I thought you got together in high school.
We did but we both remember what that was like. Even back
then. So when we have a fight, for a while, we try harder
to be nice. At your age you probably have make up sex.
He smiles, strokes her
hair back across her head
That’s the best. Now making up means acting nice, very
nice to each other for days. And that is not bad at all...
It’s very nice. And it isn’t all because we are afraid of
being alone. That’s certainly a part of it, maybe a big
part of it. But after my anger dies down, I take a good
look at your mother, and I like what I see.
You mean she looks pretty?
No. More than that. Like what I just told you about her
talents as a homemaker. I never thought about that. For
better or worse, you take each other for granted, and yeah,
both of us can get pretty selfish and oblivious of each
other. A lot of times we argue because we are stubborn and
both of us don’t want the other one to win, but sometimes
when we are pissed and thinking about whether the marriage
is worth it, you realize certain things about each other,
good things. Your mother has a lot of good qualities.
Enough to love her?
Enough to love her and then some. Ten times over.
Ten times over?
(Answering with a smile)
Well maybe two or three.
Anyway. Talking about love. It’s stupid to think about
it. I can’t love or not love your mother. She’s a part of
me, like my hand. I don’t think about whether I love my
hand or don’t love it. It’s just me.
That’s a cop out.
It really isn’t.
Fine it is. But it isn’t.
They are both quiet, thinking
Sometimes... Well it was actually once. Your mother
It doesn’t matter. I knew she meant it. It came from deep
within her. That means everything to me.
CC gives him a hug while
he sits there. He looks at her,
takes her hand then releases it.
Looks again with an expression
that usually means, we’re done.
She heads for the door, but then
she turns around.
An apology? That makes up for everything?
Yes. It’s plenty. Don’t be too greedy.
What’s that mean?
He takes a deep breath
Sometimes I’ve overheard you and Mark talking about other
people, judging them. Your idea of how people are supposed
to be! It’s very young. Naive. The standards you expect
people to measure up to ... I mean it’s nice when you
believe people can be like that. And sure sometimes they
are. When it happens everyone relishes it...But
eventually, as you get older, after you are disappointed
enough, after you carry on like you and Mark carry on about
how everyone doesn’t measure up... That begins to get old.
You realize people just aren’t like the way you expect them
to be. Love isn’t that way and people aren’t. People like
that don’t exist. Well they do, here and there. It’s right
out of what they teach you in nursery school, love and hugs
and lots of kisses. For a while you’re there, but it’s not
ongoing. It doesn’t continue. When you’re young you assume
great experiences like that are ahead of you. You’ll
eventually meet the right people and connect. You’ll learn
how to cultivate it. You think you just haven’t had good
enough luck so far. Magazines and books are full of that
kind of living, describing it again and again. Like it is
all around, waiting for you.
You’ve never come across it?
No I have. Your mom and I have met some lovely people.
Many lovely people. There are times I have been with
people and I am aching with envy. Why can’t I have that?
What is their secret?
Once I get to know them better it isn’t there anymore.
But don’t some people have it? They’re lucky. Or they
have figured it out. I have come across that, and it seems
Where? In camp?... We’ve had it, a couple of our vacations
in Florida. They were perfect.
So the secret is Florida?
where the sky meets the sea. Your mother
He shrugs his shoulders.
I thought fathers are supposed to keep their kids’ dreams
That’s the advice they give fathers in magazines. Sorry to
I think you are wrong.
I hope so. I envy your faith. I remember when I was
young. I had your kind of hope, but I also remember how
much it hurt to be disappointed so often.
Maybe you just have had bad luck with people.
Maybe, but I don’t think so. Look. It’s great that you
expect such nice things from people.. I wish I could have
some of that back.
Do you? You make trust sound silly.
Fortunately, I’ve lost it a bit at a time. And in the end
there’s actually something great that happens.
Hawaii Bali Hai, loves that song.
CC’S FATHER (CONT'D)
When those expectations are gone, you can accept people
for who they are. Your mom is who she is. So am I. So
are you. We’re not going to change.
(Waiting for her to catch
Do you understand that? You shouldn’t expect too much.
People are just people. What you have seen so far. That’s
about it. That’s what people are like. That’s where you
should be starting from...Your mom apologized. That means
everything. You used to make fun of how Mom saw it as a
compliment to me, that she could show her mean side to me.
But you know what? She’s right. She can’t stand a lot of
qualities I have– let me put it more bluntly, a lot of
things about me she simply hates...
She can’t stand a lot of things about herself, as much as,
or more than I hate them. She hated this mole she had on
her thigh. Hated it. You know what she did?...She had the
But what about things you can’t change?
You keep hating them. That goes for things she doesn’t
like about me, and things she can’t stand about herself.
And maybe you learn to shut up about it. Your mother
sometimes is able to do that. Most of the time. Sometimes
she can’t or won’t. Same as me. Maybe it doesn’t matter
because eventually, it all comes out anyway.
I know a lot of people who aren’t that vocal, who don’t
talk as much as we do. Grandma always used to say, “If you
don’t have anything nice to say...
True. But you don’t think Mark knows what Grandma thought
of him. And she never said anything.
Grandma didn’t like Mark?
Are you kidding? As much as he didn’t like her.
Ira sees CC’s shock and
disappointment. She assumed her
grandmother couldn’t have been
fond of Mark, but putting it in
words, that her grandmother had
anything but loving feelings
towards any of them...
She never gave up. You do that for family. She kept on
hoping that Mark would come around...
Your Mom... I still love her. And that includes how
critical she can of me and of herself. I know, we all
know, how she can disapprove of us, of herself. But that’s
how she gets to be so beautiful, by keeping at it.
Your love for her? In my mind, it’s mainly there when she
I’m thrilled when she looks beautiful. Thrilled. But that
is not love.
The way you look at her. The way she looks at you.
Being thrilled isn’t love. It’s like seeing a shooting
star. You’re amazed but it isn’t love.
Come on. Isn’t that why you married her?
It is. And I am still thrilled by her beauty, but it’s
more like a bonus now. You have to give your mother
credit. She works so hard to remain young.
Yeah but she was born with it.
Like you were. But ninety percent of what you see comes
from her, from her standards, her self criticism, her
shopping. Yeah we hate that she finds so many things
wrong, how it makes us miserable trying to keep her happy.
How much hate there is in her.
Yeah of a bad haircut.
Okay she hates that. But you can’t have the good without
the bad. Your mother has this grace. Maybe she was born
with that, like her heroes Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant.
Some people just have it. You can’t put your finger on
what it is they do. But everyone knows when it is there.
She loves Johnny Carson. So do I. He has it.
So which is it? You’re born with these qualities that
everyone loves, or self criticism gets you there.
I don’t know. Both. The right amount of each. I just know
I still love your mother. And she loves me. We can’t
stand each other half of the time. Sometimes it’s closer
to three quarters of the time. But there are moments.
Your Mom and I still have moments. Not everyone gets that.
Moments? That’s it?
They are quiet as she
rolls that over in her mind.
“It never occurred to them that they needed to break away.”
“That’s so amazing.”
“Amazing? 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 old fashioned stuff…”
“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. They weren’t unusual. The families of all of their friends are no different.
Family’s everything. My mother had a cousin who could only find a job in Michigan. He and his wife and kids 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 was there was something wrong in their family.”
She sees he isn’t reacting. “What I find remarkable is that you’re mystified by all of this. The real mystery is what’s happening with my classmates.”
“There’s no mystery. When they’re around their parents they can’t be themselves. Students have complained to me.”
“You mean the new person they’ve invented. Okay. I told you about my mom and me. It’s true. She has a hard time with me being different. But at this point, Mark’s mocking everything my father says. Everything. I don’t know what he’s trying to do! He has to know my father is reeling.”
“He’s mainly angry, but you just have to look closer. He’s hurt, really disappointed.”
“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 that gave us a pass.. But now it’s more than that. This isn’t teenage stuff. The youth culture is who you are supposed to be. As an adult! That’s new. Thinking like a teen-ager permanently.”
“No one’s claiming that’s how you should be.”
“Are you kidding? They are. When my parents didn’t see things like my grandparents they stuffed it. They kept quiet.”
“They were scared of them?”
CC’s exasperated that all of this seems so foreign to Jeremy. “Not scared– they didn’t want to hurt their feelings. But it’s more than that.. 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. She 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 her favorite food.
Mark is in my father’s face. 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–”
“Mark talks about him a lot.”
“He’s going to be a shrink so…”
Jeremy goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and studies its contents. CC follows him there. Nothing in the refrigerator appeals to him, so he takes out a small container of Dannon yogurt, his occasional homage to healthy eating.
She waves him off. He scoops up the blueberries in it, bringing them to the top of the container. He takes a spoonful of the jellied fruit, then puts the top back on and returns it to the refrigerator.
“So none of that fighting went on between your parents and your grandparents?”
“Maybe I gave the wrong impression. They fought plenty. I’m not talking about the Waltons. Things were just different. There was this line and you didn’t cross it. When it came to what you could eat, it was God’s laws. But not just that. Most families had something similar, a line. For serious transgressions. It wasn’t really defined but you had a good idea about what you were allowed to do.”
“How did you know about that line?”
She looks at him like he’s an idiot. “Not every thing’s put into words. You just know.”
“Sometimes my mother would be all over us, lecture us about respect, particularly when Mark got full of himself and went after my father, but that really wasn’t it. It just was the way things were. Like something horrible would happen if you crossed the line. It wasn’t spelled out, but you knew it was there. You could only go so far.”
She takes a breath before continuing. There is sadness in her voice.
“Wherever the line was, Mark stomped on it. He took pleasure doing it, like he was a hero. And then it was gone! For everyone. I don’t know when it happened… What my classmates are doing… They’re shedding any part of themselves that resembles their parents and the way they were raised. 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 not be liberated from the old bullshit?”
“My grandmother would turn over in her grave if she heard you say that.”
“That’s not how I see it.”
“I heard what you said before, and I can accept that, but really, how would she know? You think she’s up there watching you?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. I would know…”
She watches him as she proceeds: “My grandmother is part of me. She’s alive in me.”
“Give me a break” is written across Jeremy’s face.
“She is. I can almost hear her voice. My grandpa Joseph was the son of Joshua. He made gold jewelry. Beautiful gold jewelry.” She fingers an earing. “Look at my earrings. Touch them.”
Her expression is insistent. Jeremy touches her earring.
“My grandmother gave them to me. Joshua was the son of Samuel. He taught Joshua how to make jewelry.”
CC touches her earring again.
“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. They needed to know where they stood. It wasn’t just them, my grandmother told me a rabbi who understands the Torah, and explains it, 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’s amused by her phrase but she says it with a straight face.
“Is that how your grandmother put it?”
She smiles. “No that’s mine, but 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 he wanted. God was talking to them from the Torah.”
“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 has been listening.
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. CC goes to the window and looks out again.
“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.”
At this point she has an identical lilt to her grandmother as she had repeated 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?”
Once again CC lights up. “His mother thought so.”
“Have you been to Israel?” Jeremy asks her.
“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.
“I am kissing your grandmother,” he tells her, not completely in jest. She smiles, pleased that he’s beginning to understand. He so often seems closed. Her smile becomes brighter.
“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 is substantial, that seems like me. The rest is swirling around like the wind.”
“You can’t see your room-mate’s point? What students are doing now is gaining their freedom, their independence, replacing all the 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?”
“A conscience formed from your ideals.”
“Ideals are pie in the sky.”
“Our ideals are the best part of us, what we believe in and value, deep deep down”
“What? …That the rich should share what they have with the poor, that we should be helping black people get out of their hole, that we should not destroy the planet, that women should be in charge of their own bodies? Are you against any of that?”
“The core of your conscience should come from that, what you believe. What kind of morality did your parents, your grandmother give you? That you should fast on Yom Kippur? That Mark and Jay should wear a yarmulke in shul— You can’t do this. You can’t do that. How does that make you a better person? Growing up means you deciding what’s important. Creating your own conscience.”
“ You just like the sex part. Do your own thing,” 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.
He turns 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 year. 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 isolated, lonely. The hours, the days passed. She didn’t have a 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 always seemed to be adrift… worrying. Her eagerness to be liked–she said that really messed her up. Usually she feared, no matter how well a relationship was going, 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. Now, her relationships seemed solid. Her tranquility–it’s true. You could feel the difference. 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? It was nice. Belonging.
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 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, what they said 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.”
“My earrings disappearing didn’t feel so good. Leila told me that they were “borrowed”. These, the ones I showed you from my grandmother. Leila told me– actually all 3 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 shakes her head back and forth. She was shocked when I confronted her. She accused me of being possessive. Her friends agreed.”
Jeremy has a nasty smile. He’s also enjoying the story. He’s heard it 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 was with one of them and I ate brown rice and alfalfa sprouts.” She sticks a finger down her throat with a false gag. “I wanted to prove my loyalty, to belong again. If that meant brown rice…”
Jeremy laughingly joins her. “I can do without that ideal.”
“I actually called Mark to check it 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 he stuck a pin in my balloon the magic disappeared. Started thinking about all of it. 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 was it. It was intentional. I knew how they would react. They called me a subversive, wanted me to leave. Their food code was worse than my grandmother with her kosher kitchen. Like I had brought ham and put it on one of her kosher plates…”
Jeremy remains amused.
She continues, “They had no sense of humor. I don’t think I heard anyone laugh the entire time I was there. That’s the down side of ideals. When they are taken seriously like that, they have to be enforced. People were watching me, watching each other. Watching themselves. It was a police state.”
“What!” she says sarcastically. You actually don’t like communes.”
“Not exactly, but–”
“Since then I’ve thought about it a lot.
“If it just happens, if you glide into that space naturally, when your ideals uplift you, and you are uplifted along with other people, that is precious. But it’s a moment. When you try to stay there, you have to force yourself and everyone else…
Being constantly focused on ideals makes people sanctimonious. You become a vigilant nut. You catch the slightest hint of racism, or lack of seriousness about the environment. Or whatever. This girl down the hall actually was a vigilante. 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: “People did that in Russia when they were trying to make communism work. Trying to create a Utopia… You hear stories about the Communists and none3 of it makes sense. How could Sartre support Stalin? How could all kinds of intellectuals in Russia and elsewhere, people who felt so passionately about inequality, people who wanted to do good–how could they ignore the gulags? But you got it exactly right. Idealism leads to incredible stupidity. Your ideals mean so much to you. You so much want what you believe in to be real that you ignore what is happening all around you. You justify a dictatorship.
People get turned in for impure attitudes, not by cynics but by true believers. The Communists were so carried away by their ideals and the future they thought they were going to create, that every other consideration faded away. It’s easy to understand. At least in the beginning. A friend would be arrested and disappear. Maybe you had had misgivings about his loyalty to the cause. So you half understood he should be reeducated. Then this other thing kicks in. Without unanimity, the whole togetherness thing falls apart.” Jeremy once gave a lecture on this subject. He continues.
“Millions of people were turned in by neighbors who doubted them. And even after they arrested them and abused them, members of the party still craved the togetherness. Unity was essential. They held these strange trials. They wanted public confessions. It didn’t matter that they tortured their prisoners to get them, that they threatened to torture their families if they didn’t confess. They sent them to camps in Siberia. Millions died of starvation or the cold. But they insisted it was not to punish them. They were sent away so they could be reeducated. They tried to believe that. Convinced themselves.
Those trials–everyone had to know. Maybe not in the beginning, well maybe not.”
Jeremy’s not done. “ It was the same in Nazi Germany. I heard this lecturer. There was this city of close to a million people in Germany. 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 not just because they themselves were afraid of being turned in to the SS. We like to think it was that, but it wasn’t. 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 people in.
In their minds it was just as wonderful as the Utopia Communists dreamt of. They were excited by a future in which Germany would assume its rightful role in the world. I mean if you are German. The mean stuff? The usual rationalization: It was temporary. You can’t make an omelet without breaking the egg. Ya de da, ya de da.
That fantastic feeling you were describing, what you felt, at first, in the commune, being part of a wonderful group. Ever see films of the Nuremberg rallies. Hundreds of thousands of people. There’s no fear on their face. They are carried away, ecstatic seeing Hitler in the flesh. Then when he speaks, as they listen to his ideas, they really go ape shit. How they were once on their knees, but now! The greatness of the German people is at last going to be realized. And when they shout at the top of their lungs sieg heil, their voice becoming 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, taking 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:
“Seig heil! Seig heil!” Then lowers it, repeats himself. “Hundreds of thousands of people were in Washington led by Joan Baez, singing We shall overcome. It’s the same. Feeling part of something really big, important, hopeful, determined. People love that. They need it. You are not one lousy feeble person, living your life alone without purpose You are 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 actually critical of the communes, CC continues. “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–did the exact same thing, land reform. 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, then the Chinese. True communists inspired by income inequality, half respecting them for going ahead with their plan, doing something, not just talk about it. Somehow the make love not war people never mention the killing. It was the greatest atrocity in the history of Viet Nam. They are locked on the good stuff. The Viet Cong not being Communists. How their 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.”
“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 he seems to agree with her about the down side of ideals.
“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. It’s simple. If you take your ideals too seriously, you fall into a 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. Anyone who isn’t going along with you. You hate them. Even if they kept what they did to themselves. They’re a threat to the community.”
“Jews used to stone people caught eating bacon.”
“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. Families can murder a wayward daughter and not be prosecuted. Honor killings. 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. People really hate you when you make fun of their sacred beliefs.”
Jeremy is smiling, enjoying her story. She continues.
“You have to live up to this idea you have of yourself that is 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. It seems like 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 people 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 happen to Leila–did it happen to you?”
“I told you it did, but it didn’t last. I suppose for some people it does, true believers.”
Jeremy sees that as an opening “It’s funny. 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. To me, while you were part of it…It just seems like you were in heaven.”
That sets her off. She laughs.
“Maybe for ten minutes. 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!”
“Even if it lasted 10 minutes. Hell. Zen Buddhists are satisfied with an instant of Satori. 10 minutes has got to be an eternity.”
Jeremy’s delighted with this tangent. He’s also thought a lot about heaven. Their conversation is sort of a heaven–illumination, flying in every direction. He encourages her to go on.
“Mark and I decided heaven must be like the end of a romantic movie, when the boy finally gets the girl. Prince and princess, living happily ever after.”
She repeats the phrase, “Happily ever after.”
Jeremy’s voice raises: “Forever! That’s the ticket.”
She sighs audibly. She feels it too.
“It’s got to be nice.”
“You and Mark like Hollywood movies?” Jeremy asks.
“Who doesn’t? We used to watch them together. Before he went rogue.”
“He got hung up, became a creep about the happy ending. I could count on what he would say. “And then what?” It would ruin the movie. What’s the movie about if it isn’t that happy ending? Love conquering all?
Never mind the Nazi’s. Hundreds of millions of people–all over the world, inspired by that story, hoping that love was going to win, like the fairy tales their parents told them as children. James Stewart and Donna Reed, Clark Gable…Hollywood understood that adults needed that happy ending as much as when they were children and heard about Cinderella. True love fulfilled.
When the movie ended I wanted to hold on to that feeling as long as I could. Mark would trash it… Well. Not altogether. I could see he loved the movie and was moved. He wanted to be a believer. He just had to remind both of us that it wasn’t for real.
“So Mark was a party pooper.”
“But not until the end of the movie. He loved the fantasy leading up to it. He even loved the happy ending. But it was embarrassing to be sentimental. He didn’t want to be duped… Or maybe it wasn’t even that. He didn’t want me to see him being a softy. He had a certain image to maintain.” Her voice turns sarcastic “Smarty pants Mark.”
Jeremy’s pleased with how far they have gone with the topic. Like a wave coming to shore, the ideas have spread in every direction. They are both a bit relieved to not be hassling each other about politics per se. Jeremy is also pleased to be getting a taste of what Mark had with CC.
“In the end Mark and me worked something out. He agreed to shut up at the end of a good love story. He still had this look on his face like he wanted to mock the movie, but he didn’t say a word. And if I didn’t look at him… Actually a couple of times I did, without him noticing. I could see how carried away he was with the happy ending, but when he saw I was looking at him, that did it. He felt compelled to trash the movie. So I didn’t look at him and he said nothing.”
They are both smiling contentedly which is a mistake. CC has still not ventilated enough about her commune experience and that is where her mind goes.
“Forget about Mark. I was in the commune. After about a week –even before the Mallomars, I was noticing things. I was ready to stick the pin in the balloon myself.”
“What do you mean?
“Within days after my initial euphoria, I started getting angry. At first for a moment or two. But then it grew.”
“When my anger started it was directed at the people outside the commune for not getting it. I was part of this group who had realized…But it quickly became commune members. And myself! I’d get on myself for not having angelic impulses 100% of the time. It was the same old stuff. My conscience would find times that I had ugly emotions and lambast me for them. My shortcomings got highlighted more than ever. The bar had been set at an impossible height.”
“Sounds like something you’ve figured out in therapy.”
“It is. When my conscience goes to town–it’s the nastiest part of me. It grabs control. I landed up hating myself for not being ethereal. Heaven help me when that conscience takes over. Heaven help all of us when righteousness rears it’s ugly head. It’s mean. My shrink’s really into that. Calls it my sadistic superego. He pointed out that our parents try to paint it over with all these good intentions, that what they are teaching you is all about the good. But you know damn well their punishments are what you think about when you’ve done wrong. You fear punishment. Yes, they are teaching you right and wrong, about good and bad. But they’re punishing you, whatever that is. That gets your attention. You assume they will be pissed and they will be.”
Jeremy loves this stuff, loves hearing where her head goes.
“I’m not too different.” He tells her. If heaven were full of all these people with a strict conscience– me and everyone. It would be hell.” He puts his hand on his cock, imitates masturbation. “I couldn’t fool around.”
She is a little disgusted by his gesture, but she also has a residue of sexual interest. She smiles distractedly, then she takes the ball and runs with it, excited by where they are and still may go.
“It’s not even that. I can imagine me in heaven. I’d be really bothered. How come the others aren’t being as honest as I am? Are they stupid? Afraid of the truth? I don’t know why, but even before I was disillusioned with the commune, before the pin in that balloon, I get all bothered whenever I imagined heaven. In the beginning it was sweet. Perfect. But after I thought about it.” She shakes her head. “So I guess my reaction to the commune was predictable.”
Not only is Jeremy pleased with all this. CC is pleased to be articulating her ideas.
Jeremy adds a bit to her shtick “I can just see an angel walking up to you and tapping you on the shoulder, “Hey lady, I think you are in the wrong place.”
Jeremy pushes further. “So understand what that means. Hush up or you go to hell…. Some heaven. It doesn’t even have a Bill of Rights. No freedom of speech…”
He looks at her hoping that she’s appreciated his cleverness. She has, but her reaction doesn’t seem to register with him as much as he wants. He wants more. More. More. Always more. Fortunately, she is engaged enough for him to keep trying.
“Actually, the problems in heaven shouldn’t be coming as a surprise. When I am in a synagogue, even when I was a kid and believed in God, the service went on and on. I couldn’t wait to get out so I could stop whispering.”
“You went to synagogue?”
“On the high holy days.”
“Think about that, whispering. Idealism, holiness, satori are fragile. Anything but whispering decimates it.”
“That doesn’t make it less valuable, just because it’s fragile and has to be treated carefully.”
“It says something.” Thinking further she adds “Actually a lot. Because it isn’t real. Those moments you’re chasing. Whether you are whispering, or repeating a mantra. It’s fragile because it isn’t easy to get your common sense to disappear.”
Jeremy points to a book on the bookshelf.
She takes the book and opens it.
“Look for the highlighted paragraph. It’s near the middle of the book.”
“I found it… by Catherine Beecher (1800—1878)”
“She was the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Read it. She’s commenting on this utopian village, the New Harmony community in Indiana. It failed after two years. Read what she wrote.”
“To collect together a company of persons of all varieties of age, taste, habits, and preconceived opinions, and teach them that there is no God, no future state, no retributions after death, no revealed standard of right and wrong, and no free agency; that the laws that secure private property are a nuisance, that religion is a curse, that marriage is a vexatious restraint, that the family state is needless and unwise, and then to expect such a community to dwell together in harmony, and practice upon the rules of benevolence… What can be conceived more childish or improbable, by any person who has seen the world or known any thing of human nature! And yet such is the plan and expectation of the leaders of practical Atheism?…”
She closes the book.
“So am I. Starved!”
CC follows Jeremy to the kitchen. She’s hoping for something substantial. He opens a cabinet.
“There it is. Oreos!” he shouts, believing his timing could not be more perfect. He’s wrong. The joke part was fine but she was hoping for eggs, a hot dog, a steak, something like that. She says nothing. He takes the last three Oreos from the package. Offers one to her. She takes all three out of his hand. He takes the empty package out. Behind it are Cameos, vanilla Oreos. He takes two of them, and puts them on a plate. He brings milk to the table. She returns the Oreos so that now they have five cookies on the plate.
“Pick three of them.” he suggests magnanimously.
She does. She takes the three Oreos.
He looks at her with a hint of betrayal, but then announces. “I like the vanilla better.”
The milk and cookies distract them, but only for the moment. If anything chewing the cookies, and washing them down with milk, makes them more contemplative.
“That New Harmony community–Do you think anybody could live that way?” she asks him.
“No. Well maybe Swedes are capable of that. There isn’t a single good comedian in Sweden. They torture themselves and everyone else with their morality. I talked about how, when I’m at the synagogue, I can’t wait to get out of there. Just so I can stop whispering. It’s like the Swedes are locked into a Church non stop. Whispering their needs. Like Bergman with his priest father. We have some Swedish students. Being with them is like a thousand hour Bergman movie.
He continues: “There are more atheists in Sweden than anywhere else. But they are fanatical moralists. I heard they have jumped on the counterculture bandwagon, copying what is expected. Free love… Whoopee. They can’t do it. I mean if they were French. That could set me off. But they are so careful about what they say, how they phrase things. What kinds of thoughts they allow themselves.”
They are done with the cookies. They can’t find anything in the refrigerator that interests her. Jeremy leads CC back to the bedroom. He goes to the fireplace, where Carol had left good kindling and logs to start a fire. He looks for some old newspaper and matches. Everything is there. With surprising ease the fire is soon going.
“Carol has everything very organized. She likes having a fire.”
The fireplace has been here all along, but they had both gravitated to the bed. CC is seated in Carol’s rocking chair, where she often nursed Alyosha. He says nothing about CC wearing Carol’s robe, which she has found in the closet The incongruity of CC wearing a garment as familiar as that robe, plays with his head a little, particularly because she looks great in it. So did Carol. Well not great. Comfortable
He goes to his chair. They are both quiet, listening to the crackling sounds. That doesn’t last. While the fire was initially captivating, their restlessness dispels the calm they anticipated. Their thinking about idealism has set off a thousand more thoughts.
Bright eyed she begins. “Okay here is theory I’ve been thinking about.”
“Go on.” He tells her
“This came to me when I was telling you about me and the commune.”
He’s impatient. He’s pretty sure they’ve sucked thoughts about communes dry. It shows on his face.
“Just hear me out.”
“What are you going to do with your ideals? You’re going to expect them to be fulfilled, right?”
“If you are not trying to make them happen what’s the point?”
“And if it doesn’t happen?”
“Where are you going with this?”
“I read this cool article in psych. How ideals serve an important role in our psychology. Man cannot live by bread alone. We need more. Basically they are a wish fulfillment, an expectation, which acts as a promise,.. An ideal about how things can be in the future– that’s what keeps us going day to day. Our dreams. Our hopes. No one could live without an idea that something better is coming.”
“Used to be, no matter how shitty your life was, and I guess for billions of people who have lived on this planet, it has been shitty. We were talking about heaven. The idea of heaven kept people from getting too down. Isn’t that what they say in Hollywood. You got to hold on to your dreams.”
“Heaven evened everything up. The good got rewarded. Hell for those who deserved it. When day to day your life sucks, you wouldn’t be able to make it through without believing that it all has a purpose. Something like that. Justice will prevail. God! Heaven! A happy ending.”
Jeremy is with her. “Right. Hollywood movies. What we said before. True love conquering all. They have been as popular with people all over the world as Christianity.”
CC continues. “You need that. Otherwise what’s the point. Heaven was the central meaning in people’s lives. For centuries! It worked well. Worked amazingly. I mean there was a down side. Some people suffered about the state of their soul, whether their sins would condemn them to hell. But the main thing, that despite what is happening day to day, all is not lost. It will all even out. The universe is just. Your daily experience may tell you life is mean and nasty. But think about how amazing Christianity has been. If suffering can be seen as a trial, the cross everyone must bear, with the end result heaven, existence is made whole. You have a purpose. You can’t beat that! People need that.”
“It doesn’t always have to be religion. Having faith was crucial to keep going. But then along came America. For a lot of immigrants, America took the place of heaven. Imagine what it was like for my grandparents. With the pogroms, the Jew hating. There was a place you could go to truly start over. Where you can see your dreams come true. What’s that song in West Side Story. “There’s a place for us.”
“This was it! America. Yes they were crowded into tenements. The streets weren’t paved with gold as they expected, but the power of their dreams kept becoming real. My grandparents lived to see my parents make it. The condos my father bought for them in Florida. When they lived in the shtetl– no way they could imagine a condo in Florida. Near the beach. The ocean, the sun. With bougainvillea.”
“We’ve been here before. How many times can you carry on about how great America’s been for your grandparents. Enough already.”
“I want to continue.”
“You have to?”
She waits for his disdainful look to fade. When it does she continues.
“They’d look at my parents house in Great Neck. How big it is. How beautiful. The Eldorado! in the garage. Those sporty fins. No one in the shtetl could imagine being sporty. Sporty? What’s that? It wasn’t part of their vocabulary. Words like sporty didn’t exist except to describe foolishness.
Sporty? America outdid their dreams ten times over. The Spaniards searched all over South America trying to find El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. And there it is in my parents’ garage, made in America.”
She’s on a roll, he listens begrudgingly, glorifying America is a right wing ploy. She’s not thinking politically.
“Never mind pride. Their life was a miracle come true. You may think my parents culture is show-offy, total bullshit. And it is. It is. But fuck you. You and Mark have no right to treat it like it is nothing. My grandparents, my parents did well. Not just them. Millions can tell the same story. They made a decent life for themselves. Better than that.” She laughs “the Miracle Mile on Northern Blvd.”
“What is your point, Miss rah-rah America?”
“It worked great for them. I don’t see people’s current ideals working out so well in the future. If the ideals in the commune, and in the counter culture, are what has replaced the hope my parents and grandparents had for their children, if that is the future that people are living for, it’s going to come back to bite them. When their ideals aren’t fulfilled, there’s going to be a whole lot of angry people.”
“I’m not finished. Something more follows from that. I had this conversation with Jay’s wife, Dora. People need to be in awe of something. Life is too empty, too disappointing without it. When God represented that, it was right there. Mozart reaching for transcendence, composing a spine chilling requiem, almost touching God.
When people entered God’s cathedrals. Behold! The devout, their eyes lifting them into the sky, for that moment an intimation of heaven.
She continues. “With God dead, what is there without him? People are finding people to be in awe of. Dora’s right. We are worshipping the Beatles. Celebrity gods? That’s where we are heading. Without God, we are left to worship the famous. Which when you think about it, is pathetic.
“Where did you read that?”
She laughs, “I didn’t. Like I said Dora. She got me thinking.”
Jeremy is impressed: “You should write an article on that. It could be amazing if your predictions turned out to be on the money.”
For a moment they are peaceful, smiling at each other, the undertow of anger seems to have remitted.
“We talk too much. We should give our brains a rest,
She’s right. Although they have had more conversations than a couple from Iowa has in a lifetime, in their book, they are strangers. They are not done fighting each other on a thousand different issues, not done learning about each other.
He likes CC’s independence. But more than that, he wants to know about the Gordons almost as much as she wants to talk about them. Partly it’s out of curiosity. Who is this Dora? What is Mark really like? Jay, her parents her grandmother? But also learning about them gives him the opportunity to change CC from the roots up. She may disagree with his perspective. He is confident, however, she will eventually see things his way. How could she not? His beliefs have won him over.
“We talk too much” she repeats. “We should get out more.”
“And do what? We’ve been to Niagara Falls.”
“I don’t know. Get an egg cream.”
“This isn’t Brooklyn.”
“I guess you’re right. We’re back to the real problem. You don’t have a TV.”
When her daughter Evelyn was born in 1927, Mimi Moscowitz expected that her daughter would grow up to be a princess. However, becoming royalty didn’t mean sitting on a soft pillow. When it came to Evelyn, Mimi was a strict taskmaster.
It’s worked very well. On the one hand, throughout her life Evelyn has been cushioned by her self-confidence. On the other, she’s never been conceited, or snobbish. With good reason– Mimi didn’t indulge her imagination. Her head was never in the clouds. She assumed Evelyn would be the queen of their small domain on and around Flatbush Avenue and that was more than enough. Her idea of reality was what she could see, what she knew, where she walked–her neighborhood. There wasn’t TV to stretch her boundaries. The world outside of Brooklyn was far, far, away.
Later, for Evelyn, after she married Ira, it was Great Neck. The driving force was the same. The key element in her ambition, which worked so well, was what she learned from her mother. At no time did her duchy lie beyond her reach. To be sure, effort was required, compared to her schoolmates, a lot of effort. But Evelyn’s expectations were always within what she knew, which is the secret of a comfortable life, familiar boundaries, that seem just about right.
Towards the beginning of World War II, during training, Ira was stationed in the middle of nowhere, Fort Blanding, Florida. It was the deep south. Off base, more than once, they encountered a sign posted outside lavatories. No dogs, no Negros, and no Jews. Evelyn assumed the sign didn’t apply to her. It was some crazy thing, part of the wacky encounters they were having, at what, for them, was an extended honeymoon. The hicks that lived in Florida were like the natives one encountered in the Caribbean. They and their habits were a fascinating part of a travel adventure.
She looked at their time in Florida like a tourist on vacation collecting vignettes, collecting interesting sights and sounds. The sign forbidding Jews entrance to the toilet wasn’t so much an insult as it was a curiosity– an interesting detail, part of a good story she could tell her friends in Brooklyn about the natives, when she got home. She had Ira pose with her in front of one of the signs, smiling even more than her usual photo-smile. She was tickled by the dirty looks she got from the locals when one of them took that picture, even more when she used the bathroom. Not that anyone staring at them had the nerve to say anything. They rightly imagined she could crush them with a glare. Beauty has that advantage.
In school, she always had similar power over her classmates, from 5th grade on. In the stores, with other customers already there, some longer than her, the shopkeepers always turned their attention to Evelyn. If they asked who was next she would always defer. Fair is fair. But when they would turn to her soon after she entered the store, eager to be of service, even with others around, she considered herself lucky to have come across a nice merchant. Nothing more. She wasn’t aware, more accurately she was oblivious to the fact that she had privileges. When Ira pointed it out to her 10 years into their marriage it wasn’t a surprise. She had noticed, but she saw it as no big deal. It was simply part of her package, like being a brunette or having big green eyes.
Her beauty and confidence were so much a given that it never occurred to her that she was anything other than a usual person. She knew she possessed power. She wanted to maintain it. And that she was prettier than others. But she assumed other people had different powers that worked for them. She had the advantage that while her mother sometimes made mistakes, she couldn’t go too far off in her shopping decisions. Evelyn was that pretty.
That didn’t mean that Mrs. Moscowitz treated shopping for clothes casually. She was just luckier than other mothers. It still took effort. Major effort. But she had a higher baseline. Since everything looked good on Evelyn. the challenge offered Mimi was, could she find something smashing? She was able to aim higher, for Evelyn’s appearance to be spectacular. But the hours it took to reach her goals, were not less than others.
Hour after hour, they performed the proverbial ritual. They shopped until they dropped. Like all of her classmates and their mothers, Mimi and Evelyn labored hard looking for the exact right thing. There were times when Evelyn was ready to cry, times that she did cry. But always her mother was capable of rallying the troops. Evelyn’s tired legs, and exhausted curiosity about what might await them, were handled with military discipline. She had to stuff her discomfort, turn off her whining. All complaints would be ignored until they found their prize.
It was rarely for naught. Although sometimes Mimi bought something that even she wasn’t sure about, bringing it home and hearing her husband Herman’s judgment, could sometimes turn the tide. When he liked it, whatever uncertainty she might have had, completely disappeared.
That wasn’t always necessary. For the predominance of her purchases, Mrs. Moscowitz knew when she had found what she was looking for, a skirt, a blouse, a cute hat, 2 skirts. From the grapevine, she knew which stores had had a fresh delivery, which had been shopped out. They were also able to get in to Mimi’s cousin’s factory and get skirts wholesale. They invariably found something that made the afternoon worthwhile.
When Mimi and Evelyn got home all other activities ceased. Mr. Moscowitz might have been reading the newspaper, or doing paperwork for his business. But the task at hand was far more important. And pleasurable. She had Evelyn run to her room with the shopping bags, and try each thing on. She, along with Herman, waited eagerly for her return.
“Ta-da,” Evelyn cried out as she entered. The cream silk blouse was as perfect as it was in the store, the dark green skirt the same. The moment Evelyn entered the room, she knew what she sought. Her father’s delighted eyes were reward enough for their efforts.
On a great day, if they had discovered one item after another that was just right, as Evelyn modeled each garment their pleasure was multiplied several fold by Mr. Moscowitz’ reaction. They usually knew beforehand. Both anticipated he would celebrate their successful undertaking with them and he invariably did. But you never know until you know. Detail by detail, the tailoring, the fabric, the color– he reinforced his wife’s judgment. “Stunning” was the word he used a lot. He almost never used that word in any other context. Hearing it from his lips, Mrs. Moscowitz looked over to her daughter as if to say “see”. “I told you.” –erasing any doubt one of them may have had at the store.
Sometimes, Mimi would step forward, and pull in a waist here, the shoulders there. Herman had great confidence in his wife’s seamstress abilities. She had once worked for him. So the result was a sure thing. When Evelyn joined them for breakfast before school, the altered garment was part of the joy both of them derived from adoring Evelyn. They knew she was beautiful, but now, with this outfit, they were reminded of how beautiful. The day, brand new, God seemed to have given his blessing. It was part of the explanation for the spirited way Mr. Moscowitz applied Mimi’s marmalade on his toast. They praised Evelyn effusively, unhesitatingly, but they both knew it would be sacrilegious to say out loud their secret conviction, to openly proclaim that God was the reason for their good fortune.
All was, of course, not perfect. Success would have been meaningless if it hadn’t been won battling their handicaps. She had to operate within her price range. Herman would have a conniption if he found out they paid too handsomely for an item they brought home –even if it were a treasure. It would immediately not be a treasure, on price alone. There was a soft boundary. Respecting the extreme effort she and Evelyn had just made, Mimi sometimes felt justified fibbing about the cost. Just a little. Frequent practice perfected that ability. Herman may have occasionally suspected that he wasn’t getting the facts, but he never challenged her.
For those living in the country, the first warm day in the spring is glorious. The sun is bright. The birds are tweeting. It was no different for Mimi and Evelyn in Brooklyn. Certain days were wonderful. Mimi never bought anything just because it was on sale. But if she found something she loved and it was on sale–that made the day wonderful.
It helped that Evelyn’s parents shared the same perspective about shopping. They came from the same background. They grew up a block away from each other. Shared values made it easy for them. Unlike modern marriage with its emphasis on tolerance of each other’s differences, there was nothing to explain, nothing each of them had to learn about the other’s expectations. At least when it came to shopping, no changes were expected of either of them. That was true of a good proportion of other characteristics they brought to their marriage. The marriages went smoothly because their families had so much in common, same rules, same rituals, same habits. Perhaps Mimi’s mother used more onions when she made a pot roast, and her Friday night soup was saltier than Mr. Moscowitz’ mother’s beloved chicken soup that he treasured growing up. But these were specifics of no great importance. Of course, the newly married had to make many adjustments to the stranger they now lived with, and sometimes those adjustments were impossible for either or both of them, but, at least when it came to shopping, Herman’s family’s ideas were identical to Mimi’s family’s ideas.
When she truly found a bargain and it was beautiful, when Evelyn tried it on for Mr. Moscowitz, and he was similarly happy, Mimi took enormous satisfaction, not only because it looked great, but because it cost so little. She knew how much pleasure he derived from that detail. So did she. It was little different than the excitement a fisherman feels when he has caught a giant trout and happily poses for a photograph with his catch.
“A dollar fourteen for that blouse. A dollar fourteen! Can you believe it?” They both looked in wonderment, like a miracle had occurred. After Evelyn took that blouse off and put on something else, Mr. Moscowitz examined every detail of the bargain, expecting to find some defect in the stitching, a small tear, something that would explain its price. When he could not find anything wrong, Mimi also examined it closely. She realized how lucky she had been, which reflected well on her. They both knew her luck derived from her hard work, her tireless devotion to finding this and similarly perfect clothes. Yes, she had been lucky, but it was a deserved reward.
Evelyn wasn’t any different than the other girls in the neighborhood. Their mothers took them shopping with the same determination and expectations. Sometimes they found a nicer outfit than Evelyn’s. When confronted at school Evelyn could comfortably acknowledge it as a fact, but it spurred her and her mother on. Someone else’s success set a new standard. It guided Evelyn and her mother as they tried to find, at the very least, a blouse with equal pizazz. Victory was never beyond their grasp. They might find something nicer. Much nicer.
Fortunately her competitors never threatened her throne, at least not for long. Even when she couldn’t replicate or surpass their victory, the image her classmates had of Evelyn could not be altered . She was a certainty for prom queen. Her place at the top could not be removed by the temporary success of a nicer purchase.
The importance of fashion in Evelyn’s Brooklyn was not unique. Jewish neighborhoods all over the city were similar. Today it is hard to imagine that the Bronx could inspire the young Ralph Lipshitz, (eventually named Ralph Lauren). But the Bronx was very different during Lipshitz’s youth. The Grand Concourse, one hundred and eighty foot wide, with a line of trees separating the roadways was built to echo the Champ Elyse. In the thirties and forties, and still in the fifties, the Grand Concourse was considered the Jewish Park Avenue, an elegant destination for the successful.
The fierce standards of Jewish expectations effected every facet of a young person’s life, their character and especially their accomplishments. As adults we might be amused by the self- consciousness of a teenager getting ready to go out, but there was a basis in reality. A stroll on the Grand Concourse served as a crucible for their persona. Shame or praise were the cauldron that shaped their tastes. You didn’t stroll on the Concourse unless you were dressed to kill.. Every detail mattered. You might as well be dead if you were not up on this season’s look.
Particularly now, fifty years after the Jews fled, when drugs, muggings and violence replaced its fancy aura, if you weren’t from the neighborhood, few would believe its former existence. It is hard to imagine a milieu in high school, where a handsome guy like Ralph Lipshitz, dressed to the nines was as admired as a quarterback at a Texas high school. He was the son of an immigrant house painter. After school he worked at Alexanders, not to save money for college. He needed the money to dress right.
The arc of Ralph Lauren’s life is an interesting study of the transformation that was taking place in America. Jewish families are said to honor learning and intellectual pursuits. Ralph Lauren began high school at Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy. Limudei Kodesh classes are taught in Jewish(Talmud), Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Halkha studies including Gemara (Jewish law). These classes comprised the morning session of the day. In the afternoon the school was secular. After 2 years he switched to DeWitt Clinton High School.
Before they arrived there, De Witt Clinton students were infused with the high expectations that their immigrant parents imagined for them. Their dreams meant everything to them. It didn’t have to be said. Their children understood that for a good many of them, whether their parents considered their lives successful or not, had much to do their accomplishments
The high school took it from there. Its Latin Department was legendary. Its campus was adjacent to the Bronx High School of Science. Standing out from the noise and chaos of the city, together they were sometimes compared by admirers to the Sorbonne. Sounds silly now, but then? It wasn’t just Ralph Lauren that brought a little class to Dewitt Clinton. Fashion photographer Richard Avedon went to De Witt Clinton. The New York Times said that Avedon’s “fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”
Spawned in a cultural pressure cooker, De Witt Clinton High’s graduates shot out of their background to fame and glory. Neil Simon went to De Witt Clinton. So did Richard Rogers. Bruce Jay Friedman, , William Kunstler, (the attorney of 60’s radicals) and Robert Altman (the 60’s photographer). Judd Hirsh, Irving Howe, Lionel Trilling, Avery Fischer, George Cukor. All were children of that culture. And not just among the Jews. Burt Lancaster went to De Witt Clinton. So did James Baldwin and Sugar Ray Robinson. The outsized hunger of Jeremy, CC’s boyfriend, and his compatriots in Brooklyn and the Bronx drove him on as it did them. Ralph Lauren was not understated about where he planned to soar. In his yearbook he described his ambition as becoming a millionaire. He imagined a better world in the Hamptons, a world of Wasps and designed accordingly. As much as his designs don’t look like Jewish clothes, he could not have existed if he came from a different background than Mimi Moscowitz. They shared the same assumptions. Same for Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, and the myriad of Jewish designers. Clothes make the man. And the woman. Ralph Lauren would not have existed if he wasn’t part of this world.
Young Lifshitz’s passion for fashion was part of a secular transformation happening all over the city. At sermons everywhere, the rabbis railed against the allure of tinsel town, but they couldn’t hold back the tide. In subsequent Jewish neighborhoods like Great Neck, the antenna for style continued to remain high. It was a repeating cultural given. It must have seemed an eternal reality.
At the Fresh Meadow Country Club in Great Neck, Mrs. Rivers was the final arbiter of good taste. She sat at a table, at the entrance to the dining room, always in the same seat. No one can remember anyone else sitting there. The Aztecs, the Romans, the Greeks all had their legendary entries, as did the Palace of Versailles. As each woman entered they were scrutinized by Mrs. Rivers. Her reaction was more important than the meal they came for, than the table hopping, gossiping, and kibitzing that would follow. In the moment that women entered, nothing else in their life mattered as much. This was what all the shopping, and preparation was for.
The judgment was finished in a flash. A smile, Mrs. Rivers’ eyes sparkling and you’re there. Her lips turned down and you’re in hell. Who originally set her up as the supreme arbiter is unknown. She had the talent. She had a sharp eye for what is right and wrong with the outfits women wore. She had a sharp tongue and a quick wit, but perhaps the best explanation for her 20 year reign was the look on her face when she didn’t like what someone was wearing. It overpowered anything else that might be going on in the room. That look could be devastating. Or her approval could be a reason for celebration. When she liked an outfit, everyone agreed.
To an outsider it might seem like a parade of high fashion. Most of the women, however, got neither high praise nor ridicule. They were satisfied if what they wore was simply acceptable. It was good enough for the family to relax and enjoy their afternoon. But when Mrs. Rivers was aroused, positively or negatively, she was incapable of being silent about what she thought. Sometimes her voice could be heard throughout the dining room. It wasn’t that she was so loud. Everyone recognized her voice from out of the din. They wanted to hear her verdict right away. She usually hit the nail on the head about what is right and what wrong.
When a new outfit was wrong, she could cut you in half. When something like that happens, by the end of the day, everyone has scrutinized the unfortunate victim again and again, confirming the original verdict.
And it’s not just for that afternoon. For years after, people talked about Mrs. Herman’s hat, which Mrs. Rivers described as a fruit bowl. It made Mrs. Herman a laughing stock. Another evening, everyone remembered what she said about Mrs. Silverstein. “Her pupik’s bursting out of her midriff.” For years what jumped into people’s minds when they saw Mrs. Silverstein were those words. That is, until she had a heart attack and died.”
Without pausing for a moment, out of respect for Mrs. Silverstein, they all plowed forward. No one blamed Mrs. Rivers. Death came years after her comment. But when she died everyone remembered Mrs. Rivers’ indictment and wondered if it could have contributed to her death. The verdict was no, but the fact that it was the first thing everyone thought of when they talked about Mrs. Silverstein confirmed the ferocity of Mrs. Rivers power, and the accuracy of her judgment.”
What qualified Ashkenazi Jews to be experts in finding and selecting beauty is a mystery. There was no history of it being a particular emphasis in the Schtetl. Well not quite. Maimonides referred to a section of the Talmud (Brakhot 57 b) “Three things increase a man’s self esteem, a beautiful dwelling, a beautiful wife, and beautiful clothes.” Two industries were created in America, enormous industries, as a consequence of the seriousness of Schtetl Jews’ love of beauty.
That they came to dominate fashion should be a surprise, but not completely. Jews were tailors in the old country so making clothes came naturally. But what qualified them to create Hollywood, selecting extraordinarily beautiful women and handsome men and making a fortune off of it. Was it the advice of Maimonides? Doubt it. It’s a mystery. Whatever the explanation, the passion of American Jews for beauty, brought them industrial might not only in America. But all over the world.
The narrative for success doesn’t change over the years. Fierce determination. The mother of Diane Furstenberg, (nee Halfin) gave birth to her 18 months after she survived a concentration camp. Furstenberg has spoken broadly about her mother’s influence in her life, crediting her with teaching her that “fear is not an option.” Victory is the best revenge. Her friend Lauren Bacall, from the Bronx had the same attitude. “You just learn to cope with whatever you have to cope with. I spent my childhood in New York, riding on subways and buses. And you know what you learn if you’re a New Yorker? The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.”
One year after marrying a German prince and becoming a German princess, Diane Furstenberg decided that having a German title was not enough. Not nearly enough. Besides she needed her own money. She entered the fashion world. She was not going to fail.
CC’s grandfather, Herman Moscowitz’ resemblance to Sammy Glick is unflattering but not unfair. Mimi always denied it. She thought he was a mensch. He was the president of the Shul, meaning during good years he gave a lot of money, and raised a lot of money, for others to study the Torah, which placed his intentions close to God’s. And indeed, outside of business, especially on the Sabbath, he was a different man. He didn’t obey all the rules for the Sabbath. He didn’t know half of them. But on that day, on Flatbush Avenue he was said to walk in fields of clover. That’s how he described Shabbos to cousins. His voice was soft, cushioned, wise, especially to Evelyn. He had no idea why he had been so lucky to have a daughter that looked like Evelyn, but he enjoyed every moment of it. His face lit up when, on Saturday, she’d come down for breakfast, groomed to perfection, and sometimes better than that, in her Shabbos outfit.
Sammy Glick would have never enjoyed the Shabbos composure of Herman. Still it was true that he had many things in common with Sammy Glick. Herman had to beg, borrow and steal and, not rarely, lie his way to success. Jews could not get loans from banks. They had to turn to brothers, sisters, cousins, congregants at the schul, anyone who claimed to be their friend, in order to remain one step ahead of their debts, invariably coming due. The sweater business was not as dependent on staying ahead of fashion as manufacturers of dresses and blouses. Sweater styles didn’t change as quickly, but still, unfortunately, it was possible in a given season to guess wrong, to manufacture a line of knits that was out of step with customers’ tastes. If this was repeated too many time it meant disaster. Herman was up one year and down the next, and at one point, after two straight bad seasons, he was barely holding on.
But even during the good years it was tense. Daily there were new crises–dozens and dozens of them. Twenty times a day his panic button went off. The zippers were no good. The wrong buttons came. He’d scream and yell. There were unending problems that required him to come up with solutions quickly. And sometimes there were no solutions. That’s when his shouting got intolerably loud. Besides his own ulcer, he gave one to his secretary and to Mimi. She used to kid him that he kept Alka Seltzer in business.
But when there were good years, of which there were many, and occasionally great years, he did the lending. His top dresser drawer was full of I O U’s given to him, scratched out on any paper available, including napkins. He was an easy touch, sentimental to a fault when it involved other people’s troubles. He died broke, but he had been planning his comeback, as he had many times before. Three years before his death, after a good season, he was on top of the world. After he died, Mimi opened his dresser drawer, as Herman had instructed her to do, the top one on the left. It was full of IOUs. Mimi wondered, since it was a bad year, why he didn’t try harder to collect on his loans.
She knew the answer. He was too interested in wanting people to like him. Like a woman. Herman made a show of seeming tough, but he was basically a softy, like his mother. Mimi blamed her for being so close to him, her need not his. For years after his death that was the conclusion of everyone who thought about his family’s financial difficulties. They were suffering the consequences of Herman’s mother’s indulgence.
The Moscowitzs had made clothes for four generations, first with needle and thread, then on a family sewing machine in the old country. In America Herman had been one of the many American miracles, owner of a factory with 40 knitting machines and 60 employees. Unfortunately, when he died at 59, broke, before he could get his new plan up and running, when Evelyn was 17, during her final year in high school, the future seemed frightening. Mimi did not know how many of the IOUs would lead her to cash.
Ira and Evelyn met that year at a dance. Evelyn liked to tell her daughter CC the story. He noticed her from across the gymnasium, as did half the guys entering the room. She didn’t really notice him. He was nice looking, but nothing special. His hair was already beginning to thin in front and he did not particularly project strength if you watched him walk. Not at all. But he had the courage to ask Evelyn to dance and that was all he needed to do. As she later told the story, she couldn’t really explain it but it had something to do with the way he held her, not too strong, not too gentle– just right. Subsequently, I’ll Be Seeing You became her favorite song. And his. Because that is what they danced to. He hummed it into her ear, exactly on tune, as they slowly moved over the floor.
That did it. She felt so calm, so safe in his arms. She had never felt quite like that before. She knew Ira was the man she wanted to marry.
Jeremy approaches Dave’s office. They’ve known each other since the fourth grade. Their relationship has been up and down since then, but being in the same graduate program over the last several years, has turned them into pals.
Jeremy knocks on Dave’s door quickly. Four times. David knows the knock… He puts down a paper he has been reviewing, glad to be rid of it. The student in question is smart and sincere but he tends to overreach and Dave isn’t sure how to communicate with him gently.
“It’s open” he shouts to Jeremy
“Not at all.”
David returns the loose pages on his lap to the original paper clip. Carefully he sets it aside. He sees that Jeremy is upset, which is how he usually is when he comes visiting.
“Still stuck with your thesis?” Dave asks him. “Believe it or not, I finished mine. I handed it in yesterday.”
Jeremy offers his hand. “Congrats. We’ll have to celebrate.”
“How about now? Let’s get out of here.”
Just off campus is a coffee shop that they both like. It is a funky combination of old oak Windsor chairs grouped around tables. Part of the floor is peeling linoleum, part unfinished wood. There are two well worn leather sofas, cracking with dryness. In front of them are coffee tables, covered by today and yesterday’s newspapers. The whole thing would be bleak were it not for several nice looking student waitresses who dress the place up, that and loud Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Richie Havens, Mother Earth. A busboy puts water in their glasses. Each of them holds up his glass
“To Dr. Miller” Jeremy clicks his glass on David’s for a toast. He nods encouragingly .. “practically there.” Dave eyes say thank you:
“To Dr. Slater, who is about to get his act together starting this afternoon.”
Jeremy smiles. “I wish.”
“You wish? Enough wishing. You just have to do it.”
“Okay Mr. Get–It–Done Dave, what’s your secret?” He again clicks Dave’s glass, a bit aggressively.
“No secret. You just have to tunnel ahead. Dig your way there.”
“Through the mud.”
“Mud, hail, rain. It won’t happen where you are most of the time. Flying high.”
“You mean the pot?”
“You could use a few less “oh wows!” And more “one plus one equals two.” But even without the pot I think that’s where your head is all the time anyway.”
“So come on down. Digging. What’s the word everyone uses?… Being grounded.”
“You mean working?”
“Exactly. But real work, not the inspired kind.”
“Being inspired is real. Just because you are excited and enjoying yourself?”
“Well I mean the other kind. Work, work.”
Jeremy waxes poetically:
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
David is impressed:
“I didn’t know you were religious.”
He nods, “If I find a good line.”
“You like that part about the dust?”
Jeremy repeats it “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” Not my favorite. Doesn’t matter? I’m making enough bread.”
“I’d call it cake.”
This doesn’t get a smile from Jeremy, more like a frown. Taking note that Jeremy is upset, Dave dials back, smiles at him generously. It has little effect. Jeremy’s sadness remains.
“Okay come to mama. What’s wrong?”
“I’m in love.”
“When did I ever say I was in love?”
“A thousand times.”
“You implied it.”
“No I didn’t. This is real.”
“Last time it was real.”
“You mean Martha? I never said that was love.”
“You said you were turned on.”
“Yeah I was, but this is different. This is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
David is used to Jeremy’s dramatics. He accepts that whatever is getting Jeremy down is real to him. But he erupts so frequently it has made Dave not take him as seriously as Jeremy would like. Fortunately Dave is often entertained by Jeremy’s excitement, and sometimes he does take Jeremy’s whims as seriously as Jeremy would like them to be taken. That is enough.
“Go ahead. I can tell this is a big one.”
“It’s one of my students.”
“I expect nothing less. You don’t like keeping things simple. “
“No. This is something else. I think this is where I’ve been heading all my life.”
Dave smiles gratuitously.
The waitress comes to their table. She’s very attractive. Both of them, but particularly David, look at her flirtatiously. She is enjoying their attention.
“Two coffees.” David tells her.
The waitress leaves. She has a nice walk. Their eyes follow her. She knows it. She thrives on the looks she gets from the tables she serves
Jeremy begins: “When you were younger, did you think that one day you were going to find this incredible woman and that would be it?”
“You mean like our waitress?”
Jeremy looks him in the eye.
“I guess so.”
“I’ve built my life around her. “
“Come on.” Dave replies playfully.
“No, I mean it. It’s true. Everywhere I’ve been, I was searching for her. Without her I wasn’t really living. More like preparing. But if I found her, then my life could begin… You’ve never felt that?”
David is detached:
“If I went to the museum I would look at the paintings, but I was rarely completely absorbed. I liked a few, was bored by others, but none of them gave me what I was looking for. Perhaps in the next room I might find a painting that would grab me. But if I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a nice looking woman meandering ten, twelve feet away, that feeling disappeared. She had me.
Nothing usually happened. I didn’t, I still don’t have the boldness to proceed as I picture myself in my fantasies, but I was engaged. In the next moment, anything might happen.
When I lived in the Village I’d walk the streets. Street after street. Sometimes hour after hour. Same thing. Looking, looking. It’s why I moved to the Village, to up the chances.
Ever see a movie of a male lion, wandering. Same thing, wandering, looking everywhere, hoping to pick up a scent. They say he is guarding his territory, I think he’s looking for a mate. Or two.”
“Plenty of guys do that. They’re looking to get laid.”
“But that wasn’t it. This started when I was 12 or 13. Okay maybe my hormones pushed me. But it wasn’t that. Well it was a little, but I was looking for…” He hesitates, considering whether to continue.
“You want me to say it?”
“The holy grail? What?”
Close to whispering Jeremy answers him
It is an awkward moment. Saying it openly, putting it that way is not very cool. They both know it. He’s confessing to motivations that they, that he should have overcome long ago.
“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”
“It’s not stupid but you make it so dramatic. It sounds pumped up, like you are making a big production out of it.”
“It’s real. I didn’t decide to talk about it this way for effect. It’s just always been there.”
“In the second grade I had this dream. Many times. I’m not talking about a fantasy. A dream. I’d wake up and remember it. I was superman, flying, looking, returning to earth for my princess. Usually she was the prettiest girl in the class. For two years it was Mindy Nussbaum. Sometimes I’d crash but sometimes I came down smoothly and swept her up into the sky.”
David’s eyes continue to wander through the room, hoping to continue his flirtation with the waitress. He watches her serve another table. Jeremy realizes where Dave is at. It’s okay. He has also done the same thing, eyed a pretty girl when Dave wanted him to pay attention. Jeremy, nevertheless, admonishes Dave.
“Can I go on?”
“It’s all yours.” David answers “
“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”
He kids: “Yeah you followed me.” They both know that isn’t true. They’re friends, good friends, but not that good.
“The real reason… You’re not going to believe it.”
“When it comes to you I believe anything. Why did you come to Buffalo?”
“Because when I came up for an interview I saw this student in the cafeteria. It was maybe a glimpse, but she was beautiful. That’s why I came here. To meet her.”
“You were already married.”
“I know, but I flipped.”
“Who was she?”
“I never saw her again.”
David’s eyes mock him, but affectionately.
“I know it’s idiotic.”
David says nothing.
“But it’s true.”
“You’ve done that more than once?”
“It’s crazy. There’s got to be a name for it.
Sweetly Dave asks, “What does your shrink say?”
“She throws it into some big basket. Psychiatry has maybe 6 or 7 of them. She’s actually been hinting that she’s figured me out. “
“She’s been hinting. She doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks, along with 6 million other people, I have bipolar disorder.”
“So that explains you?”
In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues:
“According to her that explains me. She’s nailed it. I’m like 6 million other people. “
“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”
“I’m in love.”
“I’m just telling you like it is. I mean I may go overboard…”
“Everything I’ve ever done. Everything! Every award in college, every home run I hit, every basket I scored… People put together a CV trying to impress a future employer. My accomplishments, whatever they’ve been— it’s all been for that day when I would find the woman of my dreams. I’d lay it at her feet. Sweetly tell her. I’m the one. Look at what I’ve done!”
David has a shit eating grin as he speaks. Jeremy smiles along with him like he’s in on the joke.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”
“Yeah well. There’s a reason they make all those movies. I’m not alone feeling this way.”
Still noticing Dave’s reaction he complains. “You’re still laughing at me.”
“I know you’re serious. It’s just you have a knack for admitting to things that no one else even mentions. Well maybe teenage girls. But guys? Not even in passing. Sure I’ve watched those movies and gotten in to them. As much now as ever. Even at my age. I’ve been there in real life too. So have most men, but it’s usually a disaster. After their ass has been kicked, after they have been humiliated often enough, they’ve learned their lesson. They steer clear. Having a broken heart is not where most guys want to be.”
Jeremy’s attention wanders off.
“Where are you?”
“This song… Carol wrote it.”
Half mumbling half seriously he sings:
“HEY YOU WITH THE BROKEN SMILE
COME ON OVER AND STAY FOR A WHILE
HEY YOU WITH THE HUNGER IN YOUR EYES”
“Can’t remember the rest…”
Jeremy hums the tune for a moment
I RECOGNIZE THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE
A SHATTERED HEART STILL SEARCHING FOR GRACE
DISAPPOINTED? I KNOW IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU PLANNED.
DARLING SAVE YOUR WORDS
BECAUSE I KNOW THAT’S THE WAY IT HAPPENS
YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST
TO BE STANDING
WITH YOUR HEART LEFT IN YOUR HANDS
Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.
“Carol wrote that?”
“She writes beautiful songs. Personal ones. She says no but that song is about me. I’ve been there. Pretty sure I inspired her lyrics.”
“I’m sure you did. But most guys after it happens once, twice… most guys stick to sports. But you. I don’t know whether you’re incredibly stupid or fearless. It’s a stage you’re supposed to get by. You’re 28. Move on.”
“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”
Insistently Dave continues, “The girl of my dreams, of your dreams, of every guy’s dreams, is exactly that.”
His voice rises: “A fucking dream! You’re 28! Why do you have a problem with that? Why are you stuck?”
Somewhat meekly Jeremy answers him:
“Open your eyes. It isn’t just love. You make such a big deal about finding the truth. It’s right in front of you. It’s called the way things are.”
Dave continues. “Your dream girl. You’ve devoted your life to finding her? She doesn’t exist.”
“You’re too chicken to think about this, aren’t you?”
“Chicken? I’ve moved on. It’s not in the stars. I’m right here on earth digging ditches.”
Jeremy counters: “I’ve dug a thousand ditches. How do you think I got so many fellowships to come here. I‘ve worked my ass off. It doesn’t change anything.”
“It’s a strange coincidence that you’ve fallen in love exactly when your head has to be on straight, exactly when you have to get your thesis done.”
“I don’t think this has anything to do with it.”
Dave shakes his head more seriously, “You’re in never—never land. You’re fucking Peter Pan.” He chants “I won’t grow up. I won’t grow up.”
“You are the biggest cynic.”
“Cynic? I’m just telling you what you already know.”
“Flying around in never, never land. You got to dig ditches not fly around. Learn how to be satisfied. It is possible. Lana and I have made it work. Warts and all. She’s a real person. No body else gives a shit. She does. I’ll take that.”
“Look, I’ve done the same thing with Carol. And she’s terrific. I realize what I’m talking about is asinine. “
“Puer aeternus. Living your life waiting for your ship to come in.”
“I don’t need that Jungian shit. Look I know you are right. Absolutely right.”
“You’re not 14 anymore.”
“You’re right. You’re right. You are right. Believe me I know it. You’re right. It’s not like I didn’t do the same thing. I got tired of waiting. I married Carol to go forward, to get on with it instead of waiting.”
“You fuckin’ seized the day.”
“So you like Bellow?”
I read Seize the Day years ago. I had an epiphany. Only it lasted maybe 4 minutes.”
“You read too much.”
“Me? You’re the one. You need to get your thrills outside of books.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I’m gonna’ sign us up for a polar expedition.”
“We’ll be the first Jews from Brooklyn, who grew up in an apartment house, to go to the North Pole.”
“How about Antarctica?”
David takes a breath, refocuses.
“So what are you going to do?”
“You know what I am going to do.”
With a gentle still friendly edge of superiority David eggs him on,
“I do. Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve waited all your life, everything you’ve strived to become… it’s been for—
“CC! Oh boy. I get it. I have her in one of my classes.” He smiles. “She’s a knockout. Remember at Penn, Davidoff’s class—how he went on about Helen of Troy?”
“The face that launched a thousand ships.”
“He left his wife and kids. CC’s even more beautiful than his girlfriend. I get it…”
“Which makes her all the more dangerous. Chasing Helen resulted in thousands of people dead.”
“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”
“I have no choice. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s strange. This is supposed to happen when your marriage is bad. I love Carol as much as I ever have. We have a good thing going. Carol doesn’t bore me at all. I admire her. I’ve never had a friend like her.”
“That song you sang. She got inside of you. She loves you.”
An image comes into Jeremy’s mind. Carol smiling at him adoringly.
David watches Jeremy sympathetically as his eyes water. Then defying that moment, Jeremy proclaims,
“I can’t help it.”
“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”
Jeremy thinks it over.
“Not as much.” But then he quickly recants, “No it’s fine. She gets turned on and she’ll do practically anything I want to do. Wherever my head goes, it turns her on. She goes crazy. And that makes me go crazy.”
“Do you have to dream up things?”
“Not really, well sometimes but what’s wrong with that? Variety is the spice of life.”
“We haven’t gotten that far. I don’t know if we ever will.”
“But do you have to dream up stuff?”
“You mean kinky? No. With CC I’m there. I’d go ape–shit for a kiss.”
“Still. You know what you have with Carol. You’re lucky. You have it all. What’s the problem?”
“It’s not complicated. CC erases everything else. I can’t take my eyes off of her. I can’t think about anything else. I’d do anything for her.”
“I understand but—“
“If you were in a room with Elizabeth Taylor you’d want to stare at her. Stare and stare. But you couldn’t. You’d look like a jerk, like a nut. So people buy magazines, or they watch her in a movie so they can get a good look. That’s what CC is for me. Only she is living and breathing. If she could be mine!”
They are both quiet for a few moments.
“Do you remember the first time you saw the Eiffel Tower. You dropped right?”
“Yeah, but what about the second and third time?”
“I can get lost in her. Every detail. It’s new every time. Her dimples. The way her chin—”
“Jeremy I get it…”
David waits for what he is saying to register. He sees no signs. He continues:
“Beautiful is nice. Beautiful is beautiful. But a taste… That’s all you get. The last thing you need Jeremy is to fall under a spell.”
“This isn’t a spell. It’s the real thing.”
“Believe me it’s a spell.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Being outside of it you think that way. When it happens…” He counters “It could happen to you.” He takes a deep breath. “My head is spinning. I can’t just drop it and go on with other things. I can’t. Who can do that?”
“Millions of people.”
“That’s all you have to say?”
“What’s there to say? Look, the important question is whether you would leave Carol for her. Would you?”
“You know that for sure?”
“Absolutely. I love Carol. I know I am lucky. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“So stay away from CC. She’s dangerous. You said you discussed this with your psychiatrist.”
“I’m going to.” But as he says this, Jeremy has a disgusted look on his face. He puts 2 thumbs down in front of him.
“Your shrink’s no good? Go to someone else.”
“Let’s not go there…”
They both take a breather as they think about what they have been saying.
“Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “
“I’m feeling fantastic. I’m finally alive. I look at the trees, the sky. And I see them.”
“When I’m reading, I’m understanding what’s on the page more than I ever have. The possibility of me and CC does that.”
“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”
“You know, that isn’t what this is. You’ve given up David. I remember this guy…”
(a bit too patronizing) “It’s called growing up.”
(sarcastically) “Big shot.”
Dr. Weiss, Jeremy’s psychiatrist, finishes writing a prescription for Depakote. Jeremy is focused, confident. Dr. Weiss is extremely concerned as she hands it to him.
“You need to take this three times a day.”
“You’re sure I’m manic depressive? I just don’t know about that.”
“You started seeing me when you were depressed about your thesis. You couldn’t get it done. You knew the way you felt was not normal. It was an illness. This is the polar opposite of it. It’s not unusual on the upside to feel like you do, the best you have ever felt. Bottom line is that you still aren’t taking care of business. It’s the same, no thesis.”
“What I feel has nothing to do with my thesis. I don’t see anything wrong with feeling like this. “
“Well I do. Take the medicine.”
“You’ve tried this before. You gave me meds last year. They just made me tired.”
“This is a different medication.”
“Right. It’s going to cure me, change me.”
“Mr. Slater. No medicine is perfect, but it can make a big difference. Your illness has to be treated. If you don’t comply I may ask your wife to come in for a conference.”
“You can’t do that without my permission.”
“If I have to I will.”
“Fine. I’ll take the medicine.”
Dr. Weiss scrutinizes him. He is not convincing. Jeremy doesn’t make eye contact. She lets that be. Her next patient is waiting.
As soon as Jeremy leaves Dr. Weiss’ office he tears the prescription up. He throws it into the refuse container next to the elevator.
This is an article that appeared in the WSJ on January 12, 2018. It is very relevant to the way psychiatry is being practiced (eg Evidence based medicine) Our poorly understood psyche has yielded to the temptation of numbers, offering experts claiming scientific certainty about subjects they have delineated, but which don’t address valuable information required to make judicial decisions. Instead of a rich literature where clinicians could share their observations, the term “anecdotal” is often used pejoratively, making knowledge of the particular seem worthless. As the article puts it, “not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant.” The allure of metrics is apparently offering similar certainties in many fields.
A Cure for our Fixation on Metrics
By Jerry Z. Muller
In recent decades, what I call “metric fixation” has engulfed an ever-widening range of institutions: businesses, government, health care, K-12 education, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations. It comes with its own vocabulary and master terms. It affects the way that people talk and think about the world and how they act in it. And it is often profoundly wrongheaded and counterproductive.
Metric fixation consists of a set of interconnected beliefs. The first is that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment with numerical indicators of comparative performance based on standardized data. The second is that making such metrics public (transparency) assures that institutions are actually carrying out their purposes (accountability). Finally, there is the belief that people are best motivated by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance, rewards that are either monetary (pay for performance) or reputational (rankings).
But not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant. Most organizations have multiple purposes, and that which is measured and rewarded tends to become the focus of attention, at the expense of other essential goals. Similarly, many jobs have multiple facets, and measuring only a few of them creates incentives to neglect the rest. Almost inevitably, people become adept at manipulating performance indicators. They fudge the data. They deal only with cases that will improve performance indicators. In extreme cases, they fabricate the evidence.
It’s not that measurement is useless or intrinsically pernicious. The challenge is to specify when performance metrics are genuinely useful—that is, how to have metrics without the malady of metric fixation.
Should you find yourself in a position to set policy, here are some questions that you should ask, and the factors that you should keep in mind, in considering whether to use measured performance, and if so, how to use it.
ILLUSTRATION: JAMES STEINBERG
What kind of information do you wish to measure? The more the object to be measured resembles inanimate matter, the more likely it is to be measurable: that is why measurement is indispensable in the natural sciences and in engineering. When the objects to be measured are influenced by the process of measurement, measurement becomes less reliable. Measurement becomes much less reliable the more its object is human activity, since the objects—people—are self-conscious and are capable of reacting to the process of being measured. The more rewards and punishments are involved, the more people are likely to react in a way that skews the measurement’s validity.
How useful is the information? The fact that some activity is measurable does not make it worth measuring. Indeed, the ease of measuring may be inversely proportionate to the significance of what is measured. To put it another way, ask yourself, is what you are measuring a proxy for what you really want to know? If the information is not very useful or not a good proxy for what you’re really aiming at, you’re probably better off not measuring it.
Are alternative measurements available? Are there other sources of information about performance, based on the judgment and experience of clients, patients or parents of students? In a school setting, for example, the degree to which parents request a particular teacher for their children is probably a useful indicator that the teacher is doing something right, whether or not the results show up on standardized tests. In the case of charities, it may be most useful to allow the beneficiaries to judge the results.
What is the metric for? It’s crucial to distinguish between data used for purposes of internal monitoring of performance by the practitioners themselves—say, teachers who want to know how much their students seem to absorbing—versus data to be used by external parties for reward and punishment, such as government agencies. It’s the difference between crime data used to discover where the police ought to deploy more squad cars versus data used to decide whether the precinct commander will get a promotion.
Tools of measurement are most useful for internal analysis by practitioners rather than for external evaluation by the public, which may fail to understand their limits. Such measurement can be used to inform practitioners of their performance relative to their peers, offering recognition to those who have excelled and offering assistance to those who have fallen behind. To the extent that they are used to determine continuing employment and pay, they will be subject to gaming the statistics or outright fraud.
MORE FROM REVIEW
What are the costs of getting the data?Information is never free, and often it is expensive in ways that rarely occur to those who demand more of it. Collecting, processing and analyzing data take time, and a large part of their expense lies in the opportunity costs of the time put into them. Every moment that you or your colleagues or employees devote to producing metrics is time not devoted to the activities being measured. If you’re a data analyst, of course, producing metrics is your primary activity. For everyone else, it’s a distraction. Even if the performance measurements are worth having, their worth may be less than the costs of obtaining them.
Who develops the measurement? Accountability metrics are less likely to be effective when they are imposed from above, using standardized formulas developed by those far from active engagement with the activity being measured. Measurements are more likely to be meaningful when they are developed from the bottom up, with input from teachers, nurses and the cop on the beat.
This means asking those with the tacit knowledge that comes from direct experience to provide suggestions about how to develop appropriate performance standards. Try to involve a representative group of those who will have a stake in the outcomes. In the best case, they should continue to be part of the process of evaluating the measured data. A system of measured performance will work to the extent that the people being measured believe in its worth.
Does the measurement create perverse incentives? Insofar as individuals are agents out to maximize their own interests, there are inevitable drawbacks to all schemes of measured reward. If doctors are remunerated based on the procedures they perform, it creates an incentive for them to perform too many procedures that have high costs but may produce low benefits. If doctors are paid based on the number of patients they see, they have an incentive to see as many patients as possible and to skimp on procedures that are time-consuming but potentially useful. If they are compensated based on successful patient outcomes, they are more likely to take the easiest cases, avoiding problematic patients.
Just because performance measures often have some negative outcomes doesn’t mean that they should be abandoned. They may still be worth using, despite their anticipatable problems. It’s a matter of trade-offs, and that too is a matter of judgment.
With measurement as with everything else, recognizing limits is often the beginning of wisdom. Not all problems are soluble, and even fewer are soluble by metrics. It’s not true, as too many people now believe, that everything can be improved by measurement, or that everything that can be measured can be improved.
—Dr. Muller is a professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. This essay is adapted from his new book, “The Tyranny of Metrics,” published by Princeton University Press.
“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 amrich. 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.
Mark is shopping on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. It has a large parking lot, which means he can drive there. The hippy revolution has not reached Shattuck yet. It looks like the downtown main street of any small city in America circa 1940’s or 50’s. Not far from the supermarket is a Walgreen’s, a Lane Bryant, and a tall men’s shop. In spite of Marks’ political leanings, he can’t forego Twinkies and Devil Dogs, traif to those religiously opposed to processed food, but a comfortable reminder of home. In recent years, despite the tension, bordering on animosity, between him and his father, home is still a good thing in his heart.
While, by the standards of Great Neck, Mark looks like a bum, he showers every day, and carefully brushes his teeth so that they remain pearly white. His hair is longish and scruffy. He cuts it himself with a hair-thinning scissor. He has a blonde mustache, and most days, a two-day growth. But by comparison, his unkempt appearance is hugely different from the Telegraph Avenue regulars. His Levis are worn thin and soiled, but not filthy. His wrinkled tee shirt is Tide detergent clean. He puts on a fresh one daily after a shower. Though successful in conveying he is not from the North Shore of Long Island he cannot hide the features he shares with CC, his handsomeness, which gets him looks even in Berkeley.
At the supermarket he picks up chopped meat, hot dogs, spaghetti, Heinz ketchup, Gulden’s mustard, Best Food mayonnaise (Hellman’s California brand), and all the accouterments he is used to at home. Although at restaurants he douses his salad in oil and vinegar, in his apartment he still prefers his wedge of iceberg lettuce, topped with Russian dressing, a poor man’s simple combination of ketchup and mayonnaise in no particular ratio.
He has always been an adventurous eater. Like many college towns, Berkeley has a huge assortment of cheap, good, ethnic restaurants. Mexican, Indian, Indonesian, Spanish, Szechuan and Cantonese, Italian, Thai, Brazilian. He’s tried all of them. Fortunately he has an iron stomach. Not just for the restaurant food, without knowing what the ingredients are, a whiff of street food and he is an eager customer, afterwards licking his fingers to extract every last bit of flavor.
After putting his groceries away, Mark takes to the streets. One of the great things about his psychiatric medical internship at Herrick Hospital is that he is done with exams. He has a lot of on call hours but no exams. From 7th grade through medical school, a period of 13 years, for most of the life he has known, the freedom he now has, hasn’t been part of his experience. When he would try to have fun, contingencies snuck up and grabbed his attention, imminent exams and midterms, not to mention finals, a day of reckoning, vaguely posted in the future, which was never fully absent from his mind. Now vast amount of free time are his. He can kill an afternoon, an evening, a weekend, hour upon hour, waste them completely and no harm is done.
Unfortunately, the years of hard work have taken their toll. Despite the reality of his new freedom, he’s still a prisoner. All along he tried so hard for it not to possess him. Not wanting to present himself like most premeds, as a grind, he had always put on a decent show. He tried to give the impression that he didn’t study all that much. He envied the easy style of English majors, usually off beat preppies. He was more than willing to copy their persona. There was a certain conceit to presenting himself that way. With his terrific grades, emphasizing how little he studied implied he must be very smart. Plus, playing down his studying, served as an excuse if he did poorly on an exam.
But now, in different circumstances, nothing has changed. Persona is one thing. His premed uptight identity still controls his soul. In theory, in reality, he is free to do as he pleases. But the truth is the truth. In college, he may have reasonably succeeded in giving the impression that taking it easy, having a leisurely afternoon was more important than wasting it on biochemistry equations. But it was bullshit. Even then, he wasn’t able to fool himself. His spirit was owned by forces beyond his control. Sticky, like summer sweat, guilt has been his constant companion. Still is. He may have tried, he may have insisted to himself, that he relax, but without noticing exactly when and where, he had so ably turned off the mindless child in him, that it was now gone.
The image he cultivated in college was exactly that, an image. He was no different than the other pre meds, perpetually on the edge of panic, certain that one disastrous exam could ruin his life forever. He just was careful not to show it. Among the grinds, worried that they might not get grades in the 90’s, all nighters were the usual before an exam. He worried equally the night before, but he didn’t see the point. He knew the material. Yes a professor could ask a trick question. His son of a bitch chemistry professor, Dr. Reed was known for that. But staying up all night wouldn’t help with Dr. Reed’s sadism. Actually, the other premeds knew the material plenty well, as well as he did, but they imagined doom so often, that sleeping wasn’t a choice. Occasionally Mark feared they might be on to something. They understood their situation and automatically did what was necessary. They didn’t care about their nerd reputation. It was irrelevant.
Certainly, being admitted to medical school was every bit as important to Mark as it was to them. The desperation they so often felt, defined his existence every bit as much as it did theirs. The proof was his dreams, one vivid nightmare in particular:
An hour before an exam. He has run out of time to try to understand the material, which, so far, he hasn’t been able to get down. The dream is frantic. It has a racing pace which grabs him up into it.. Then suddenly, the racing is gone. He is lost. He doesn’t know where he is. Immediately relevant, he doesn’t know how he will get to the classroom to take his exam. Then the room appears. He throws open its doors. He sees his empty desk. The dream is racing again. It’s now seconds before he will open the exam booklet. There is no greater feeling of helplessness than that moment. The closest comparison is the time he almost drowned. He had gotten good at snorkeling, at least he thought. His confidence allowed him to go far from the shore with out a life jacket. He breathed in a bunch of water in his snorkel. Tried to blow it out, but couldn’t get back the rhythm. He was far, far deeper than he had ever been. He tried floating on his back, tried a gentle breast stroke. The waves kept coming. He kept breathing in water He couldn’t get any air His arms were getting tired. For a moment he thought that this was it. He overcame his embarrassment, feebly screamed “Help.” Which saved his life.
Staring at the exam, it is as if he is awake. His brain is frantically tearing through solutions trying to think of what he can do. He comes up with nothing. There is no way out.
He felt enormous relief when he awoke. He had escaped. It was only a dream. His mother used to tell him that. But then as now, he can’t snap out of his hell hole immediately. It takes him some time before he feels safe, until his emotions catch up with his awake reality.
But here’s the issue. School’s done. Exams are forever in the past. He still has that dream! It makes no sense. He’s been accepted at Mass General and Yale and Einstein for his residency. He was Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. He should be on top of the world. His vaunted Permanent Record, the one his high school principal held over him and his family when he got caught smoking pot, the key to his future, has been safely put in the past. The California sunshine is his to enjoy.
Why can’t he soak it up, absorb the warm rays, bathe in their tenderness. Why does taking it easy still elude him? The California natives simply wake up, eat their Wheaties and they are in that groove, relaxed. Why is the idea of California, the best he can do? Living is an entirely different animal than preparing for it, judging it sweetly, expecting the rewards. He can’t will his way there.
Where did it go? Until he was 12 or 13, he enjoyed himself without effort, without thinking about enjoying himself. When he did, it was simply on to the next thing and enjoying that. Or not enjoying that, but always immersed. Why can’t he have that back?
His guilt. His guilt. It shouldn’t be there but it is. Guilt about what? He was without sin that day and the day before. And the day before that. He is perpetually busy proclaiming or proving his innocence to himself. Why does it elude him? He can’t put his finger on it.
Probably not. For centuries Christians believed God had this huge book where he kept track of good deeds and sins. He must have had billions of books, one for every person. Or did he have an incredible memory? Catholics knew they were being watched. They felt the same way as Jews. So it is definitely not specifically a Jewish malady.
Perhaps his guilt explains why he is so passionate about causes on the left. His compassion for those having a hard time is automatic, as is his anger at those who can be blamed, those partying, who seem to have no conscience as they enjoy themselves. Except, he doesn’t always agree with politicos about who is to be blamed, the generalizations they make, the lies they so easily slip into their rhetoric. Anger is only satisfying when it is righteous, and truthful.
But that is an insignificant detail. His politics provide an outlet which he needs, at least pointing in a direction where something can be done to eliminate unfairness. Perhaps there are so many leftist Jews because they share his psychology. His guilt is the same as theirs.
None of this rings true. Catholics have just as much guilt. Or do they? They can go to confession and have a total brain cleansing. Jews don’t have that luxury. Their remedy doesn’t work. More than once he fasted on Yom Kippur. It didn’t do a thing. It had absolutely no effect on his guilt.
He has torn through D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, quoted them to anyone who would listen. Logically Zen is the answer. It’s what he needs. He wants to relearn how to lose himself in the moment. In Berkeley, as in the Village, Zen seemed to be on everyone’s mind, so it must not be just him. What was expected of them, the cherished answers of America in the 50’s. Everyone is pouncing on “stereotypes.” Trying to be free. Zen eliminates every expectation. There is just now.
Except Zen is harder to do than understanding its purpose. The moment can’t be occupied by deciding to live in it. It takes training.
But training isn’t an option. As enamored as Mark is by the prospect of diving into and remaining in the moment, he’s never given a moment’s thought to how he could bring it about. Going off to Japan and studying in a Zen monastery was out of the question, inconceivable. It was not even part of his fantasies. Life, as he had planned, waited for him. What was he going to do? Not go on to his residency, not become a psychiatrist? Living in the moment is the answer to the puzzle, to the pervasive angst that he lives in. But chucking his life, and taking off for Kyoto has never crossed his mind. Diving into the paradise of ordinary life, Paradise Now as a Broadway show is proclaiming, will have to wait. Besides it’s nothing more than a slogan. He has to take what he can get. Cherish, like jewels, his epiphanies, believe for that moment that his realization will wash over the rest of his life.
Except, it dissipates fairly quickly. As wonderful as the moment of recognition is, as hopeful as it makes him, as much as he believes that he has finally arrived, found the Holy Grail, the euphoria, that a great discovery brings him, rarely lasts more than a day. Sometimes it lasts 5 or 10 minutes. The belief and celebration that he has arrived, solved the mystery of his existence, is totally gone in two or three days. The best he can do, the closest he comes to loving the moment, and thus, love his life, comes easily, his awe when Tom Seaver is having an awesome day on the mound. His intellectual gymnastics, his Olympian effort, never got him anything close to that.
Mark has reached campus. Left, right, straight ahead, agita is everywhere. Villains have been identified. Their frustration is being mollified by their united anger. Joining them is very appealing to him. It entitles him to let loose against evil forces wherever they may be. Being angry like that brings the innocence of the accuser.
But Mark can join them when suffering is palpable. He is turned off when politicos make generalization that he knows are untrue. Yes if he can feel the pain he can join the shouting of student activists with his own mighty complaint. More often, however, they are furious and he isn’t. Driving by he has seen the suffering in Oakland, poor black people, decrepit old men, or 50 year-old men looking old, sitting on milk crates drowning their misery in booze. Unsupervised kids trying to defeat the misery all around them, taking charge, by getting into trouble. He’s seen it. It’s allreal. He has locked his car doors when driving through rough neighborhoods.
But, it hasn’t sunk in. How could it, growing up in Great Neck and busy at school? When he was going to law school at night, his father had climbed tenement stairways in Harlem, collecting unpaid bills for a furniture store owner, a neighbor in Kew Gardens Hills. His father sometimes talked about what he saw in the apartments. He had no reason to exaggerate. Mark is convinced the injustice is not fictional and something must be done. But what?
He feels coerced by politicos with an ax to grind. In Berkeley, that happens frequently. Whether they are right or wrong, his instinct is to hold back, to doubt what they report. He no longer challenges. They can so easily identify skeptics as disguised right wingers, or being cold hearted to black people, which is not true. He actually wishes that he could join in with their anger, feel cleansed by their passion, obliterate any possibility that he is not 120% pro black people in everyone else’s mind as well as his own. He wishes he could be left wing in his heart and not just in his head.
A hundred feet away, a crowd of students has gathered. From time to time they let out a cheer. He goes over to see what’s going on. One by one, students are taking out their draft cards, lighting their Bic lighters and throwing the flaming card into the air. One of the students throws his burning card down on the sidewalk and stomps on it. This gets an even bigger cheer. In succession, several of the students go the stomping route. Without a moment’s thought he joins the group nearest to him. He has to borrow someone’s lighter to do it, but the deed is done quickly, probably to not let his doubts veto his admirable intentions.
Then someone produces an American flag and puts his Bic lighter to it. At first it stubbornly resists the flame. The lighter keeps going out. But the student is persistent and finally he has a strong flame. Once again the crowd has become one large group. The burning flag has a higher priority than the draft cards. There are cheers, swoons. Not Mark. He silently watches the flag burn.
It makes him sad. He recalls, as a little boy, helping his father put the flag up on July 4th. He remembers the look on his father’s face, not too dissimilar to the look on his grandmother’s face when she bencht licht, when she lit the Friday night candles. A sacred moment of respect and appreciation. Marks’ grandparents said it often enough. How lucky they were to be in America. It was the same sentiment Lone Ranger fans shared with the grateful recipients of his heroics, those he had rescued. Who is that masked man? Hi-ho silver he proclaimed as he rode off into the sunset.
The sentiment went far beyond the Lone Ranger’s heroics. America had rescued millions. Not just his grandparents. Millions and millions bless America. He still has some of that left. He has no rituals that he practices, no sacred beliefs that he is sure of. Moving forward into his career has an almost sacred absoluteness, but that is utilitarian. His politics bring him to a higher level than being a work horse with no higher beliefs.
Burning the flag isn’t sitting right. Okay Kennedy and Johnson made a mistake about Viet Nam. But burning the flag.
He decides burning his draft card was an empty gesture. As he walks back to his apartment it worries him. Was he seen?
In medical school he arranged the teach-ins against the war. Called the speakers. He chartered the buses to bring them all to Washington for the Pentagon march. Attended by something like 800 people, Mark made the introduction to Ben Spock, the fatherly pediatricians that a generation of mothers revered. He had come out against the war and was speaking at meetings like this one. It went extremely well.
Spock had a remarkable persona. Marcus Welby, Goyisha innocence. That smile. The kindness in his eyes. His raison d’etre was clearly to be of help. So his antiwar fervor means a lot more than a bunch of bohemians sounding off. He resembles the person Mark sometimes wishes for himself in the future. You wouldn’t, for a moment think Dr. Spock had a secret trove of Playboys. His firm, and now his righteous angry voice, somehow seemed gentle and properly concerned about what matters. Human beings. Suffering. After welcoming the audience, before Mark introduced Spock, he had an announcement. He asked the hundreds of doctors present to see him after the talk, if they were willing to do “sympathetic” draft exams. Meaning they would help potential draftees to get a 4F, be medically disqualified from fighting in the war.
Afterwards, he wanted to kick himself for his stupidity. What if the FBI were there? What if they took down his name? Although he was chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, he had steadfastly avoided SHO, the Student Health Organization, whose members he assumed were in touch with very radical organizations, the Weathermen, people like that. Most members of SHO were in their first and second year at Einstein. In contrast to Mark, they had been in college when campus activists had been radicalized, when most universities had classroom take-overs, sit-ins, when all of a sudden students were calling the shots, radical students. Mark had not seen that first hand, only seen it on the TV. He didn’t want to be a part of it
Mark isn’t a radical. Upon learning that he was on the libre-virgo cusp, Nancy, who he was crazy in love with for 4 weeks in ‘63, announced that the explanation for what he thought of as being truthful and balanced (although admittedly to an extreme) was that he was born between September 19 and the 25th. Nancy didn’t last long for precisely that reason. She was an air head.
But she got it right. Mark wasn’t a radical. Some people were proud to present themselves as radicals. Not him. He was positioned at the edge, in between. Some card carrying communists, lab workers at the medical school had originally chosen him to be chairman of MCHR. They asked him to arrange for the teach ins. They knew all the phone numbers he needed to contact speakers.
His anger at LBJ over Viet Nam was complete. But he had done nothing about it, so when he was asked to head MCHR, he was pleased to be able to actually do something. It was his chance to be a hero, a role that had been his obsession when he played baseball, but had essentially disappeared. Until now there hadn’t been a vehicle.
As a senior in medical school he had plenty of time. Having been given the position, he was obsessed with doing a great job as Chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. He started a lead poisoning project, another program that tutored kids in the ghetto, and a health careers program.
The health career program was unusually successful. He got 70 people from the medical community to be counselors, 4 kids each. Together they could choose from 300 programs, volunteer meetings with people in the medical community at work. The kids could talk to physical therapists, inhalation therapists, lab technicians, to X ray technicians, to doctors and nurses about what their career was like and how they got there. The emphasis was on seeing them in action.
It could be dramatic. One group followed an operating room nurse into the operating room, while they were doing a gall bladder. Another time a surgeon brought them in to see an appendectomy. The operating room visits were good for a front page second section New York Times story. Doors were wide open for Mark and his program even before the Times story, but after that there were no barriers. Mark had gotten the NYC school system to allow the kids in his program to take time off from school. They provided buses to bring them to the medical school. He had gotten the Commissioner of Hospitals to provide free meals for them at Jacobi Hospital when they came. When he called any city commissioners in Lindsay’s administration, he saw them that day. When he dialed Aspira, the head of the program called back immediately. He seemed to be the real thing, a student activist who could get things done.
He didn’t give himself credit for being a capable administrator. He felt compelled to do something as the chairman of MCHR, so people wouldn’t think he was enjoying the prestige without earning it. But as for the doors open to him, everyone wanted to be part of Bronx Bio Careers. Even Republicans. The plan cost zero. No one got paid, no one asked for a thing. They just wanted to give. And during that year, for some reason, his ego was gone, his motivation uncomplicated. He just wanted to give.
So Mark was anything but a radical. He was very proud of everything he had started and seen through.. There were very few exams during his senior year at medical school. So why not? But now, in Berkeley, he didn’t know why he strove so hard to be a good person. He knew part of the reason he cared deeply about being a good person. He wanted to disprove his own suspicion that he is all talk, no action. It was all part of a piece.
He took pride that he did a lot of charitable things privately, proving to himself that his desire to perform good deeds wasn’t only driven by his need for the limelight. As a child, when he had a powerful belief in God (or, at least, a desire to believe) he was inspired by one of Rabbi Kirshblum’s sermons. Giving charity was most pure when nothing was expected in return, when no one knew about it (other than God).
So he wasn’t a radical. At the time he didn’t know that he was offered the MCHR chairmanship by actual communists, but that wouldn’t have mattered. He was flattered they thought of him. Only much later did it occur to him that his good looks and bohemian but still all American persona made him useful to them. Since he wasn’t a radical, being chosen by card carrying members of party seemed irrelevant. He was proud that he kept his objectivity.
All of his heroes had exclusively become committed left wing intellectuals, but there were a lot of people on the left that he couldn’t stand. How easy it had been when he first became political, believing that people on the left cared about the unfortunate, and those on the right didn’t. The good guys and the bad guys. It was as simple as that. He wanted his basic goodness to be known–at least by the FBI. Because at this point he vaguely believed that the FBI, now kept his Permanent Record. So for them to get it right was important. Rebellious, but basically harmless. If they made a notation in his record like that he would be relieved.
But what if his draft card burning that afternoon was taken too seriously. As for his comments about draft exams, before the 800 people. it was 8 months ago. Nothing ever came of it, or he would have heard about it by now. Or would he?
In frustration, that night as he lies in bed, Mark debates the flag burning. Back and forth– he is for it, then against it. For it, against it. He wonders if his uncertainty, his consistently moderate positions, which he considers the only way an honest person can resist the exaggerations and lies on either side of a controversy– he wonders if that moderation is in reality, a veil for cowardice. He decides it’s true. He is a chicken. Why else would he think so much about how the FBI viewed him. In his calculated self image, that negated his many years of good deeds.
He’s a phony. His positions are all an act to curry favor with…with…He can’t identify who would be impressed by the serious way he pursues objectivity. Most people aren’t that way at all. They want you to side with them. And that is it. So it is not them he is trying to impress, not most people. He decides the person he wants to curry favor with is himself. The standards that rule him is-they are, he half mutters it:
He’s immediately embarrassed that he has sunk so low. Talked to himself out loud.
That’s what the psychotic patients at Bronx State do.
Okay he isn’t a phony. In the end his internal standards matter, which means he is “self directed,” a good quality according to many articles he has read on self esteem. But why does he feel that he’s always putting on an act. Well he is, but everyone else is. Some say what others expect to hear but privately believe the opposite. He isn’t a hypocrite like them.
Or do they not believe something different from what they say? Do they make a point of not thinking privately at all, keeping distracted, watch TV, get on the phone and talk small talk. They want nothing to do with the kind of thinking he is doing now, meandering, zigzagging, doubting, leading nowhere.
Once, one of the few times he was successfully connecting to his father, his father called what he does the same thing everyone calls it, “studying your belly button.” Charitably, on one of the few occasions that he defended his father in his mind, he accepted that his father meant well. His father was simply giving good advice. “Move on.” But Mark can still hear the accusing tone in which his father spoke. It is his vanity. He overvalues his importance. Who cares what you find in your belly button? Why do you think what’s there is of any importance. It’s just lint.
His father meant to mock him. To humiliate him if he could. Just so he could remain better than him.
Why? For what reason? So he can score with Mom? She wasn’t there when he said it. He wanted to score with me. Why? Why does he want to win that much? Why does he have to win.
Finally Mark is able to be easier on himself with a generalization that’s true. Guys need to win. They may deny it, try to be better than that, but it’s what their life is about. Victory. Getting over defeat. They root for the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Yankees, with far more passion, far more deeply than they let on. They make believe their interest in sports goes no further than entertainment. Which is a lie. Mark mourned for a week, more than a week when Da Bums, the Dodgers were defeated in1952 and 53. Like the whole season had been wasted. All those triumphs, all those nail biters for naught. He said “wait til next year” like all the other Dodger fans, but even when he said it, as he proclaimed his faith in the future, he only half believed next year would be different.
The damn’ Yankees-five straight championships. Jay, his older brother, rubbed it in every October. Jay didn’t deserve to be all conceited about it, the pride he took in the pinstripes maintaining their throne. Anybody could pick the best team and stick with them. What kind of fan is that? What kind of satisfaction can you get from loyalty to those who are characterized as the pinstripes? It’s like rooting for the Rockefellers.
Nothing can compare to the Dodgers victory in 1955. Da Bums put an end to Yankee pinstripes, put an end to their tyranny. Certain moments still glow in Mark’s memory, Sandy Amoros’ catch. And the way he spun around, his throw from the outfield to get a double play. Johnny Padres. Johnny Padres.
Jay and the other Yankee fans can’t come close to the joy of Dodger fans when they finally won. Joy? When the Yankees won, the most they are capable of having is their expectations confirmed.
But maybe they don’t have to get excited? They are perfectly comfortable with complacency, the security that accompanies those who side with winners. Jay has always been like that, ass kissing the teachers he needed, palling up to the powerful. He’s probably doing the same thing with his boss now. It’s his M.O.
Mark never stoops that low. Why else is he in Berkeley? The heroic is being for the underdogs. Even if you don’t win. That’s what it’s all about– beating the pinstripes. That’s why Jay is where he is, happily commuting from Forest Hills.
The only real question is why his bosses don’t see Jay as an ass kisser?
Or is he? All those political fights Mark has had with his father– Jay always sided with his father. Because he controls the goodies? It’s cowardly, taking the easy way. But is it really that? Is he ass kissing?
Jay likes their father. He respects him. Right or wrong he’s on his side. Is it ass kissing when you want to do what your boss expects, when he knows you are on his side, when he thinks of you as his trusted lieutenant, when you respect and like your boss.
But what if your boss were to lose his power, what if he is on his way down, would you stick with him? It’s not a question Jay would ask himself. The rules of the game are you respect your master because he is the master. Not if he isn’t. Suddenly, he realizes that a fantasy he has always had, is based on the difference between Jay and himself. He will be close to his father, when he is sick, when he is dying. To him it has always meant that, unlike Jay, despite the frequent battles he’s had with his father, he’s the one who really cares. Which means he loves his father more than Jay. Because he will be there when his father is down.
Suddenly a saying from Muhammad Ali pops up in his mind:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
He opens his eyes, looks up at the ceiling, smiles.
If only he could do that. His father continued to call Ali, Cassius Clay. He was angry that he changed his name, angry he wouldn’t go to Viet Nam.
Just before his consciousness disappears into sleep, another Ali quote seizes his mind.
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
Mark’s convinced Ali’s right. Whenever he’s gone in that direction he’s come to that conclusion. The problem is he hasn’t always gone in that direction. His mind, his conclusions are fickle. He wonders if it is his courage.
He finally decides that he is in favor of burning the flag. It puts him on the side of the fearless, which is what he needs in order to turn off his mind.
I am 75 and still unknown as a writer of major import, but as ridiculous as it may sound, I am patient. Here and there I have had my moments, glimpses of where I might go, but they have been ephemeral, a tease. Fortunately, they have also given me a hint at possibilities. So, like an adolescent, hope springs eternal, firing me up, creating expectations, also setting me up for disappointments. Whatever happens, the effect on my writing is nil. I am as charged and excited as day one when I couldn’t understand something and the light went on. I found an answer. I write and write and write.
I still get excited by the joy of discovery. My head suddenly feels clear. More than that, realizing I have something to say, that isn’t being said elsewhere, gets me going. Even if someone else has gotten there first, I take that as confirmation. Whether I, or someone else, I’m thrilled when I discover an answer to a question that is bothering me.
I suppose I go deep. Not by choice. My questions lead me to new questions and doubts so I keep going. Occasionally, I nail it. Correction– more than occasionally. Often enough. But my heroes are Wittgenstein and Socrates. They treasured honesty above any other habit, being able to admit when they didn’t have an answer.
In the middle of his lectures at Cambridge, Wittgenstein often called himself an idiot when something confused him. He’d stand in front of the class unable to go forward. Eventually, he quit Cambridge’s philosophy department. For 10 years he worked as a gardener. He came back when he figured his way out of logical positivism’s traps. The answer was “ordinary language” philosophy. His fellow gardeners were able to avoid the mazes his colleagues at Cambridge created for themselves.
A similar story about Socrates. Someone told him he was the wisest of all philosophers. He had his doubts. So he went to hear other philosophers’ teachings. Many knew things he didn’t know, but he had one unique quality, which he decided made him wiser than any of them. He knew when he didn’t know something.
A last, certainly sentimental and embarrassing confession. Tears come to my eyes every time I watch this one scene in Dr. Zhivago. Zhivago is dead. His brother thinks he has found his long lost daughter, now grown up. He tells her all about her father, his greatness as a poet, his love of Lara.
“This man was your father. Why won’t you believe it? Don’t you want to believe it?”
“Not if it isn’t true.”
Zhivago brother smiles, “That’s inherited.”
I don’t know what any of that means. How I got that way. But it nevertheless is true, for better or worse, it is one of my obsessions. Even now, for the hundredth time, I feel the tears coming when I go there.
Until my retirement, most of my writing was on psychiatric subjects. It was old school psychiatry, not science, the kind that appeals to laymen. The pain in our hearts, forever ready to grab a hold of our life, the mysteries of our motivations–I was drawn there. The brain’s chemistry may some day provide very good solutions to our troubles, but right now psychiatrists are fooling themselves, and worse, the public. Our knowledge is thin. Yes they should rightfully pride themselves that they adhere to scientific method, to hard facts, to the certainty of numbers proving a point. But all too often this provides an illusion of effectiveness and surprisingly, rigidity and an abundance of false claims. The tip-off is the deference given to “experts.” Experts? Huh? Who are they? I’d much prefer “this is my best shot” That’s all any of us can offer.
“Expert” sounds authoritative, but it represents the eternal temptation of the Wizard of Oz. Basing their elixirs on studies, on hard numbers, on science is very appealing. We prefer very little wiggle room about answers we need. The trap in this mindset, however, is that waving science as a banner, its virtues can act like a smokescreen. The language, the prestige, the trappings of science can be so distracting that science’s core value is overshadowed, absolute clarity about what is known and not known. The theme of many of my articles is that, considering how much we still don’t understand, our steps forward should be tentative, investigative, not closed off by the chilling effects of authority.
Please go to SimonSobo.com to read the praise my articles have received in my field from the likes of Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled). Lauren Slater (Prozac Diaries) and Anna Freud: “I read immediately what you have written and found it very interesting and convincing… I have searched for the right words to describe the processes which underlie the young people’s attitudes, but I was not able to find them. I believe that you have done much better in this respect and I find myself fascinated by your elaborations.” She put part one of that article in the yearly Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, which was like being chosen for the all star team. Thirteen or fourteen of the best articles for that year. And, at that point I had just finished my training.
Professor Bruce Charlton in England, at the time, editor of the iconoclastic journal Medical Hypothesis, had me write an editorial, attacking psychiatry’s “diagnosis” fetish,( placing patients in one of 6 or 7 categories which presumably then explains everything.) Samuel Timimi included a contrarian chapter by me in his book Rethinking ADHD. I should also add my idol at the time, Pauline Kael “loved” a movie review I sent her. She sent me a postcard to call her, and the next day we were shmoozing in her apartment.
IUP wanted to publish my book, The Fear of Death (derived from part 2 of the article Anna Freud liked). A number of people were excited by it. It opened up a whole new perspective in psychoanalysis. Freud had a powerful fear of death. It was the craziest part of him. Yet strangely, he denied it was an important motivation in our psychology. My book presaged, in 1980, a preoccupation that had grabbed a hold of American culture, and that is still with us, a focus on health, on mortality of almost religious magnitude. Destruction of conventional authority, particularly religion, the elevation of me, of personal freedom, left us to face alone the very worst possibility in our life. Death.
IUP, at the time, was the premier publishing house, kind of the Knopf of psychiatric literature. They registered it with The Library of Congress. Listed it in their upcoming publicity. It’s a long story of what went awry but the manuscript eventually sat on my shelf for years unpublished.(I was busy writing another book). Its fate says it all. One day, many years later, Walt Disney Productions contacted me. They had found the title in The Library of Congress. They were doing a comedy, What About Bob? A character in the movie, the shrink’s son, was brooding in his father’s library, reading The Fear of Death. I told them the book didn’t exist. “No problem” they said. They would create a book cover (with blank pages). Sure I told them. At that point, why not. They filmed the scene. But then cut it from the final version of the movie. Speaking of how fame is fleeting. In the end I had to self publish. Took me five years to write that book. Why not get it out there.
Anyway, as often as I have sputtered and fucked up good opportunities, the point remains that many renowned writers, especially those who admire originality, have been turned on after reading my work. So I still expect it is going to happen. Or it won’t. In any case I still lhave my photography
It is 1968, a year when conventional religion seemed to dissipate.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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 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.”
“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?”
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…”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
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?”
“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.