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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

April 3, 2022
by Simon Sobo

The Democrats are Responsible for Jan 6th


At first blush blaming the Democrats for January 6th is as ridiculous as the LA Times recent claim that Trump was responsible for Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine.  Very very few democrats were part of that mob, but nevertheless, the fury of those who were there, their belief that they were trying to save our democracy was a direct result of the actions taken by the Democrats bef0ore and during Donald Trump’s presidency.


I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  He’s not a terrible person and I believe sometimes, maybe often means well, but he makes a fool of himself very often by spitting out  whatever thoughts take hold of him, and then defends himself by saying even more silly things. Sometimes I liked that. Unlike professional politicians you get to know what he really thinks, not hooey platitudes that the professionals work at carefully articulating. He is also a show off in the worst way. Like the celebrities, who are just like him, his best moments come when he is the center of attention.  He can’t stand being without that. Mayor Koch used to ask in a sweet way “How am I doing?” Insecurity on that score is the nightmare of every politician and showbiz personality when things are not going well. Someone taught Trump that the way to handle that is to increase his boasting. It would be easy to call it blarney if he had Irish heritage. But his family came from Scotland and Bavaria, although there may be a hint there. Trump is a German surname derived from a word used to refer to both drums and trumpets.


How are the Democrats and their allies in the mass media responsible for January 6th.  Because they habitually told outrageous lies about Donald Trump. He did more than a few things wrong, but the unrelenting distortions, quoting him out of context, the refusal to go after Democrat’s foibles (and corruption) finally had the effect of convincing people that the media and their Democratic allies in the government, were constant liars and cheats. What they reported had to be taken with ten thousand grains of salt.


Trump is rightly criticized for failing to recognize that he lost, for claiming that the presidency was stolen from him. But he and his followers, some with their rightly ridiculed conspiracy theories had good reason to not believe the media’s account of the election. Despite refutation by judges Trump had appointed, even now they hold on to that belief. Some have explained away the many judges’ dismissal of Trump’s claims.  Perhaps Giuliani  claims were silly, but the judges seemed to rule on his claims awfully  quickly.  I suspect that whether his claims were accurate or not was less important than the chaos that would be created if an ex-president was able to overturn his election defeat. I commend them for understanding that democracy is fragile.  They were protecting our country from becoming a banana republic, going forward rather than becoming tangled in partisan grandstanding. There was work to be done. So goodbye Donald Trump. Shut up already. Stop being a sore loser and bragging about the great work you did as president. It is unseemly and makes you look like a fool.


How are the Democrats and their media allies responsible for January 6th? Yes, by their lies, but we are now learning it was a lot more than that, learning just how far they were willing to go trying to  overturn Trump’s election. It was far more outrageous than Trump’s feeble attempts to undo the election.  For two years Trump’s presidency  was under investigation, the Democrats claiming  his election was illegitimate, worse, brought about by collusion with Russia. So necessary was it to defend himself that it was hard for him to get anything done.  We are learning from Prosecutor John Durham’s investigation that the phony intelligence fed to the FBI can be traced to Christopher Steele, a dark figure, we now learn, paid well by the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on her opponent. Based on the flimsiest source, a conversation overheard at a bar, the Democrats went wild. The Republicans do similar things, hire professionals to find something, anything they can use. As they say, you throw mud at the wall and whatever sticks. Trump’s collusion stuck. They had him good. The FBI had a great time finding dirt they could use against the President. The FBI was far from innocent. They also conspired. We learned of FBI deputy assistant director Peter Strozack’s promise to his mistress that he would stop Trump. FBI plotting  didn’t begin with Trump. We tend to forget that the secret “deep throat” insider that fed the information to Woodward and Bernstein that brought down  President Nixon was the number 2 man in the FBI, William Mark Felt who was in charge of actually running the agency. After LBJ was brought  down in disgrace, the nation was apparently wanting still another president to destroy. So Nixon’s fate was sealed by his moment in history. But back to my central argument.   During the Russian collusion years many people began to notice that not only was the media  regularly  distorting the news.  They were unrelenting. The lies poured out of them on most networks news not to mention CNN, CNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, Public TV, just about every mainstream presenter of the news. (Fox Network also did a lot of lying, but they were supporters of Trump.) The obviousnes of media distortion  affected how much people were willing to believe  not only the information they were fed but what people in the swamp were capable of doing


When I was coming up in the 50’s the national news was on TV for 15 minutes nightly. There were no 24 hours news networks, frantically forced to find entertaining news. Not just about Trump. Hurricanes, earthquakes, global warming, everything communicated  has had to be sensationalized to keep their viewers interested. Without entertaining news their ratings would sink to a point where they would  have  to return to 15 minutes. During my childhood what was going on in Washington didn’t matter all that much to Americans. The civil rights movement changed all that. When it was realized that the government could become the agent to right our wrongs, the media soon saw itself as the voice of moral purpose, and apparently their audience  believed that the media should be the arbiter of moral commitment. When I was growing up as a Jew, the rabbi played that role. For Catholics it was their neighborhood priest. The  media did a pretty good job on them. It was discovered that some priests are pedophiles. The actual number in Boston, where the story broke is probably 6%. In Pennsylvania dioceses it is claimed to be 1.7%. Even if the true number is 10 or 15%, the overwhelming number of priests are not preying on their congregants’ children. That didn’t  matter. The moral authority of priests went kaput. The news media is the place where moral issues are aired and settled. There and in the outpouring of show biz people.  Priests? No one turns to them for clarity.


Except for Passover Seders I am not a practicing Jew, but many years back,  celebrating Rosh Hashana with my wife’s parents led me to a reform synagogue in Great Neck. The sermon was given by their lesbian rabbi who didn’t mention the Torah once. She quoted Op Ed articles from the New York Times again and again.


Was Trump’s election stolen from him? About a half percent  of me  thinks it is possible. I don’t think the media and Democrats are capable of pulling off that kind of lying and conspiring. But then the lying that has gone on by politicians and the media is well beyond anything I previously suspected was possible. So more than half a percent of me thinks ‘who knows?’ I wouldn’t dare raise that possibility in public. It would make me seem to be the fool. But maybe I am chicken to look further and maybe I am too busy with the time remaining for me to be drawn into that morass.


But I can see how  an idealistic and intelligent person could believe the election could be stolen. And that there were probably many of these good people at the rally. They believed they they were saving our precious democracy   just as those on the left worry and sometimes act to save their country. There were also crazy men in that mob, and shrewd politicos looking to exploit any opportunity. And let us not forget hotheads. They are ever present on the Left and the Right, too easily finding situations where they can let fly their hatred.


But I blame the Democrats and the media for 90% of it. Without their relentless plotting and lying as  they tried to overthrow Donald Trump, without it being obvious to millions of people, mainstream people would not have been at that rally. They would have treated claims of a stolen election as nonsense. That would have left only a few hundred people demonstrating on Jan 6th, passionate and nutty people.   Awareness of the incredible lies of the mainstream media and Democrats   over the course of the Trump presidency made Trump’s claims not only plausible, but  apparently, to many millions of people, likely. 50,000 of them took to the streets. Without the outrageous behavior  that preceded it, there would have been no Jan 6 rebellion, no phenomenon to explain. So yes, I blame the Democrats.

March 19, 2022
by Simon Sobo

The Times Momentous Editorial Today Slamming Woke Culture

The Times Momentous Editorial Today Slamming Woke Culture

We should, and I hope many  will, heap on criticism of the New York Times’ behavior in the past few years. I hope it will be sufficient so similar behavior will never again happen. However while long overdue , today’s editorial is welcome and what sounds like a sincere attempt to correct their previous fear of, or loyalty to, the woke agenda. I may even start reading the Times again. I may even watch Bill Maher (or maybe not.  He’s a bright guy but he’s bull headed. meaning once he becomes convinced of something nothing, not even facts can contradict  his tight grip on the truth.  I never owned a bulldog for that reason, but I now may enjoy him from time to time.)


There are those who would like revenge on our previous enemies, to have the New York Times on its knees and the rest of the morons who allowed the publication to be overrun by fanatics. Maybe we could pour vomit all over them or dream up some other suitable punishment. I, for one, am happy that they have finally opened their eyes. Whether they were afraid of their younger employees, or were swept up by the enthusiasm and innocence of the young and began to mouth their slogans, I don’t know. Perhaps ever present liberal guilt, always feeling for and siding with the underdog, distorted their grip on reality. Perhaps, their guilt is so deep they wanted to punish themselves. In this case I am talking about the attack on white men. Unfortunately for us, what should have been an attempt to purify their own conscience turned into an attack on white men in general, on those who created the systemic .


What is happening now is nice but when they were on  rampage to assuage their guilt by improving America  I would have preferred  them to cry out their  Mia culpa  in the privacy of their souls.  It is our misfortune they had to share the guilt with all of us. I hope they got that out of their system or at least have begun to purge themselves, but rereading what I have written I don’t emphasize enough what good news it is for the Times to fight back at the intolerance developing within  its own camp.


One could see it coming.  Weeks ago they ran a news story revealing that far more dark money was  given to Democrats than Republicans.  That would not have been in the Times before.  They are also nibbling on  Hunter Biden’s corruption, a story, like PBS, they completely suppressed before the election. But today! Today!  Historians may  one day look at this editorial as a momentous change in direction, A chance for someone like me, and others like me,  to return to the liberal fold. I’m glad to be back.  There was truth in much that the right and central right  media pointed out about the left. Enemies can be the best critics. I enjoyed  the  glorious trumpeting  of liberal shibboleths and foolishness. But as of now  I can’t stand the carrying on that goes on among the right.  It is as bad as what goes on among the left.


I guess people are people.  Always have been.  Always will be.  Meaning the hate and goodwill in people should never be underestimated.  The question is finding the right way to channel them  so there is a chance that our good will outweighs the bad. Perhaps if the Times has now become moderate (and I assume soon the other copycat media will soon be as well)  we can all sigh a measure of relief. Let the peace making begin. The crazies on both side will once again be marginalized.  Alex Jones and AOC will be seen as nuts. There  can be a period of relative reasonableness. I suppose  otherwise the Democrats are going to be slaughtered in the next election. Not just the New York Times. Ordinary people recognized the absurdities of the extremists and will turn their attention elsewhere. It’s not too early to say goodbye to CNN and Fox News.

March 17, 2022
by Simon Sobo

It’s Not Complicated

It’s Not Complicated

I had other things to do yesterday, but I got this email saying that T Mobile wanted to pay for a year of Paramount Plus, a streaming channel that was once new to me.   Last week I had watched a terrific series on Paramount. 1883.  Why not, I decided. So I googled how to make this come about. I followed the directions to a tee.  It brought me to a link to sign up for Paramount,  pay $4.99 for  a month at a time with automatic renewal.  I signed up. But I didn’t receive notification that T Mobile was paying for it so I went through a maze to discover how to cancel subscribing which I did.


But then I thought maybe I had made a mistake so I decided to start over and repeat the process. Through no intention of my own, I somehow signed up this time for a yearly plan with the same result. Having already learned the complex way to the cancellation site,  the next was easy. I cancelled the yearly plan. In both cases I was told my date of cancellation and subscription were both 3/16 so I wondered if I would be charged by Roku. On their site it says No refunds are given for partial term cancellations. This was an hour after I signed up, but there was no one to explain this too.  It was all done by computer.


There was no telephone number to call Roku to straighten things out, but I was able to find a screen that offered a chat with a live person. I linked up. I was put on a queue which finally, after twenty minutes, a live person connected. I began to type my story but then I was informed by a message that he had disconnected. I was put on another line to wait for a new person to chat with.chat.


That was the end of that.  But today I was curious whether a charge had indeed gone through.  Sure enough Roku’s invoice site listed that I had been charged the yearly charge and the monthly charge. Now determined to actually speak to someone at Roku I again searched for a phone number.  Before giving the phone number to me  their site had me answer a few questions, which led to other questions. I could not write in the  question I had.  I had to put forward questions they thought I wanted to ask. None of them fit.


I quit and decided to call my credit card number (from Costco). They answered quickly, told me that Roku hadn’t charged me yet but I could not block an anticipated charge without closing down that credit card. I decided not to do that. That would be a real pain.


I want back to Roku and on my account ,which miraculously I was able to log into, I  tried to inactivate  the credit card they had on file without supplying a new one. That way I’d eliminate the charge. No luck. To do that my Roku account would close which would be a pain. I use The Roku remote as my main remote.


So I went back to their site and went through the same rigmarole, posing question they assigned to me, trying several different ones to try to get the phone number. They had directed me to the Roku Community for help.  Very often  members of the community asked others for the mysterious phone number.  Not one post  had it.  Instead after each request there was an identical  reply:

Thanks for the Post.

Can you please clarify the issue you are experiencing.

With more information we will be able to assist you further.

Thanks Dan, Ricky,  Phyliis (each post ending with a dozen different names)

Following their reply   there was a link for support that brought them to the identical places I had visited.


As an aside, while at the community site  I  learned there  that others were being billed for Paramount  even though their record clearly showed they had cancelled.  There were also posts about being charged for CBS on Roku. Even before the mess with Paramount began I was emailed  my subscription for CBS on Roku was about to renew.  I knew nothing about CBS on Roku. The email  had a link which I went to, then wondered whether it was a scam. Apparently it wasn’t .  The site asked for no data about me. The scammer was apparently a Roku site trying to sell Roku products, TV’s, remotes, etc


Anyway I went back to trying to find  Roku’s phone number, so I could talk to an actual person.  But this time  went along with the questions they posted for me (that had nothing to do with my questions) but I had no other choice other than going along.  After trying several routes using this strategy, pursuing one irrelevant question after another   my  Alice In Wonderland trip finally  ended. I found the secret number!  I  dialed.  It was answered by an actual human being but I would classify her as an answering machine.  My hearing isn’t the greatest at 78 but I had to have her repeat what she was telling me several times in English that I could understand. She told me (I think) she will escalate my concern about charges to a senior advisor and I should hear within 7 days.  I asked her to email her response to me. I also wondered whether she was a good answering machine and got what I told her correctly.  She said she would send me an email.  She didn’t.


The reader  I assume is thinking I wrote this to get even with Roku. I’m pretty pissed but Roku is not really the point.  They are not alone in spreading mass confusion and ridiculous complications about issues that used to be handled by a simple phone calls between actual people.  The same thing is going on at Yale.  I will spare you all the details but I was told that my urologist who follows me for a former bout of bladder cancer with yearly visits was not willing to follow me for prostate cancer that had been discovered after a prostate procedure.  It was a very mild form of prostate cancer that would not require an examination  only a blood test, a PSA a couple of times a year.  I was emailed to go to my Yale site, remember the password and find their message. Although there would be no examination needed. Just a blood test. I was to schedule an appointment with the doctor. I wrote back that a trip to Yale from where I live could take up to 4-5 hours between driving there, finding parking, and being seen by him.  All of it to tell what I already knew, that my test was negative.  A nurse called to tell me to go to the Yale site.  I said I had.  She had not read my request but soon agreed that I did not have to come in.  I could set up a zoom call with him. Even that I considered an inconvenience, a silly waste of time.  Why couldn’t he simply call me and we could talk of the phone (for about half a minute)?  When I practiced medicine that’s what I would have done.

“Oh no, that could not be done. There are protocols.  She agreed with me it is nonsensical and yes, he could document that  he had spoken to me by phone but she could not change the protocols. Yale had its rules which must be followed  She confessed that she has a dozen stories about silly protocols. I assumed only zoom call could be reimbursed but perhaps the person deciding  on the protocols was young and didn’t know about simple phone calls.

I could add a dozen different stories not about Yale but it isn’t specifically Yale.  The same can be said about my local M.D. who the nurse tells me has to see me (for another issue) even though we both agree all I will do at the visit is salute and be gone. Pro Health has its protocols, and here too, protocols takes precedence over common sense.


But then I am 78 and a grouchy old man.  Foolishly thinking the old way was better.  My generation even watched crazy fantasy movies in which robots and computers took over the world. I always knew that  wasn’t possible.  But now I am not so sure.


I wrote this article when I heard an AT&T ad.  “It’s not complicated” the ad emphasized, referring  to AT&T handing out  a free Samsung Phone. I’m not crazy about the advertising industry, but I am respectful of their ability to quickly understand social trends. If that is true I am not alone in Wonderland. How can we find our way out of the rabbit hole?

Post script: A week later my wife received an email from T Mobile that they would pay for the Paramount Plus (the T Mobile account is in her name) I didn’t pursue that further by signing up.

March 8, 2022
by Simon Sobo

Passover 1968 from 1968 Changed Everything

Mark is home from college for spring break. His uncles, Ira’s brothers, Lester and Herbert Gordon, his aunts, Irene and Anne, and their five children are at the table.  Everyone is dressed up for the holiday, suits and ties and special dresses bought for the occasion. The men wear yarmulkes. In contrast, Mark is wearing torn dungarees and a T-shirt, with nothing on his head. In the past, Ira and Evelyn tried and failed to get him to change into something more appropriate. They’ve given up the fight.  That includes his wild uncut hair.  During previous Seders, other than his clothing, he’s been tolerable. But they are not sure what to expect tonight.

The evening starts out fine. The family performs the same rituals every Pesach.  It’s a happy time. God is ordinarily not a big part of their lives, but on Passover he’s in the room with them.  The women and children sit straight and formal, reverent for God’s sake.  Mark slouches, which he rightly claims is a Seder commandment.  With the exception of Mark, who is bored, everyone quietly listens as Ira and his brothers pray.  Ordinarily, they are modern Americans, acting and looking like everyone else.  Left over from their Hebrew school days, when the brothers competed for their father’s praise, which of them could daven faster has heroic implications.  It is their form of showing off.

But not all is show.  When the Gordon brothers put on yarmulkes, they are not fully in a room on Long Island.  Even if their mother wasn’t at the Seder, they would be showing off.  For God!

As they pray, they are visiting an earlier time and place. A soft echoing melody can be discerned, chanting as their father had chanted, and as their grandfather and his great-grandfather had chanted. They daven with exactly the same voice, the same beat, with a familiar hum.  In this process, the voices of their father and grandfather are returned to them. There are other ways to be connected to people who have come before. The dead visit us in recognizable physical characteristics, the same eyes, the same lips, the same smile. Jay raises his eyebrow when he is curious, exactly like his grandfather did, and Jay never knew him.

Prayer is a sacred place to meet, for, in their imitation, the departed are reincarnated. Father and son, father and grandson together again, together in obedience, together in their sway.

Soon enough, the rest of the family gets busy. From one to the other, the potatoes and then the parsley are passed to the person next to them and dipped in salt water.  As the dish is handed to them, cousins thank cousins almost formally, like they are participating in a ritual supervised by God. They are not as absorbed by the process as Ira and Lester when they daven, but they, too, feel joined to generations beyond the room. Even the children feel uplifted, inspired by their parents’ formality.  They are not simply passing potatoes and parsley. They are doing something important.

Not Mark.  He waves the potatoes and parsley off, but then he decides he wants a piece of boiled potato and throws it in his mouth, making funny faces at his aunt Irene’s three-year-old daughter.  Several times during the prayers, he whispers to CC and the two of them giggle.  Ira notices but says nothing. He repeatedly looks to his brothers for support, which he gets–sympathetic kind eyes. Ira breaks up the matzo and hands it to everyone to take a piece and pass it along. Mark takes a bite of his matzo as soon as it is handed to him, before everyone else at the table can say the prayer thanking God for the matzo. Soon after, Mark begins sipping and then gulping wine—again not at the prescribed moment, after boray pree, when everyone sips their wine together.  He pours himself some more, with a disingenuous innocent expression on his face.

Being oblivious to the expectations that once dictated his holiday obedience puts Mark in a very good mood. During the earlier years, he was a child.  Now, doing whatever he wants, when he wants, is his way of saying he is an adult.  He’s so taken with the charm of his independence that in his mind he is having a great time. Everyone is conspicuously ignoring him, but that doesn’t bother him.    As the Seder moves along, Ira can no longer ignore him.  He glares at Mark repeatedly.  Mark avoids making eye contact.

Customarily, Ira calls on each member of the family to read a section of the Haggadah.

“Mark, you read this . . . in Hebrew,” Ira says pointedly.

Mark reads the Haggadah out loud in Hebrew. During his Hebrew school days, he used to read Hebrew with ease, but he is struggling now.

“‘Raw—shaw mah who Omer? Mah ha—avodah ha—zos law—chem?  Law—chem v—low.  Ul—fee sheh—ho—tzee et—atz—mo min ha—kilal ka—far bah—ee—car.  V—af ah—tah ha—keh—hey et—she—nahv veh—ay—mahr—low bah—ah—voor zeh aw—saw Adonai lee bTzay—see me—mitzrayim.  Lee v—low low.  Ee—loo ha—yaw shahm. Low ha—yaw nee—geh—al.’”

Ira admonishes him. “You’re a little out of practice, aren’t you?”

Mark doesn’t answer.

“Now the English.”

Mark begins, “‘The wicked son, what does he say?’

“Wicked?” Mark asks.


Mark obeys. “‘What is this service to you? By saying, “to you,” he implies “but not to himself.” Since he has excluded himself from us, he denies the foundation of our faith.’”

Preparing himself, Mark stares back at his father.  Then looking at CC, he playfully rolls his eyes. She smiles sympathetically but tries to hide this from her father.

“The wicked son.”  His father repeats. The room is tense.

“Mom, when are we eating?” CC asks.

Normally, at this point, awaiting the meal, everyone is starving.  But it isn’t hunger alone.  There is the anticipation. The Seder meal is like Thanksgiving.  Nanny used to cook the whole thing, but when she no longer was able, Evelyn took over, using the old recipes.  Together with Beryl, their live-in maid, they began shopping and cooking two weeks before. Yes, it’s the taste of the food. But the meal is meant to be momentous, like the Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving. The gefilte fish, the matzo ball soup—Rockwell would have done a mean Pesach dinner painting.  He would have been in good company. The Last Supper has been painted a thousand times.  Did Jesus have matzo ball soup?  Unlikely, but for thousands of years, this meal has had deep meaning for Christians as much as Jews.

Ira loves presenting its significance to the family.

“It was the first time God showed us we were his chosen people.  That is what the Seder is about.  God chose us!”

Mark adds in a sarcastic tone, “He kicked the asses of the Egyptian’s gods.”  His rhythm carries him forward. “Yes he did.   The Jewish God came through.” Ira is boiling but he remains silent.

Soon after, they begin everyone’s favorite song, “Dayenu.”  As always, it is sung with gusto. A few of the cousins add weird harmonies, especially Donny, who has a great voice. That adds to the fun.


Elu hostey, hosteyano, hosteano, me mistraiem, me mitstraiem, hosteano. 


Dai, Dayenu

Dai, Dayenu

Dai. Dayenu

Dayenu Dayenu


Mark interrupts them, speaking loudly.  “You realize what we are singing?  It’s a war song.  A victory song.”

The family’s smiles evaporate.

“What?” Ira barks at him

Mark replies victoriously, “Read the English translation? Dayenu means ‘It would have been enough.’”

Ira takes on the challenge. He reads the translation.

“‘If He had brought us out of Egypt. Dayenu.

“‘If He had executed justice upon the Egyptians. Dayenu.

“‘If He had executed justice upon their gods. Dayenu’—right. So what’s your point? We’re appreciating the gifts God has given us. We are celebrating that our God is the most powerful God, the only real God.”

Happily, Mark replies, “Read the next two.”

Ira begins “‘If He had . . .’”

He stops.  Resentfully, he looks at Mark.

Mark takes over, reading triumphantly:

“‘If He had slain their firstborn.’” He raises his voice. “‘Dayenu. It would have been enough.’”

The room is silent.  No one knows how to react.  Mark continues loudly,

“‘If He had given to us their health and wealth.  It would have been enough. If He had drowned the Egyptian army. Dai ye noo.’

“There goes that song,” Evelyn whispers to CC and Jay.

“And that’s my favorite one,” Jay adds. Jay and his wife, Dora, look at each other, not knowing whether to strike back.

Ira takes over. “So, not just America is an imperialist nation. The ancient Jews were.”

He hesitates before continuing.  “They were slaves. They defeated their oppressors.  God did it.”

Everyone is waiting for fireworks.

“And we go wahoo.  That’s terrific.” Mark snaps at his father.

“It is,” Ira snaps back.

“So the road to Vietnam is ancient.”

Everyone in the room is staring at Mark angrily.

Ira’s voice is raised. “You are full of it, Mr. Pacifist. I’ve seen you watching war movies,” Ira retorts.  “When the good guys wipe out the bad guys, I saw how happy that made you.”

“That was before.  I don’t watch them anymore.”

Ira voice is raised.  “ What you told me yesterday. ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is a war song.”

“It is! Why do we glorify war? There is nothing else to celebrate?”

“Let me tell you something. During the war, the copilot on my plane was from a French family.  He used to sing the ‘La Marseillaise,’ France’s national anthem, before every flight.”

Badly mispronouncing his French, Ira sings the refrain:


  Aux armes, citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, Marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!


“You ever watch Frenchmen singing it?  They’re not like us with Hebrew. They understand every word. You know what words are making him proud?”


To arms, citizens

Form your battalions

Let us march, let us march!

That their impure blood

Should water our fields!


CC takes Mark’s hand and her father’s.

“Let’s just sing it again.  The heck with the Egyptians. The heck with the French.”

“The heck with war,” Mark says to her, demanding seriousness.  She drops their hands.

Ira shouts at him, “We were having a nice happy celebration.  You’re the one who is the warrior.”

They all look around the room, checking one another out, anything to avoid looking at Mark.  They don’t look at Ira, either.  As New Yorkers with subway experience, they are well practiced at seeming oblivious. Jay starts singing “Dayenu.”  The rest join him, at first tentatively, but by the end the usual gusto returns.

They’re happy they have weathered the storm. Mark is still in the room. But soon they come to the part of the Seder where they are to dip their pinkies into their wineglasses and ceremoniously let a drop of wine land on their plates as they pronounce the 10 plagues.  They usually chant this in Hebrew, but Mark repeats the ritual with a loud voice.  Chanting in English, he calls out each of the ten plagues that God rained down on the Egyptians as he drops the wine from his pinkie as if it were blood.


Mark throws his pinkie at the plate so that his drop of wine splatters.  The others at the table do not continue. They stare at him.


Another drop of wine.


A drop of wine

Ira stops him. “We get your point.”

Mark continues: “Killing—of—their—firstborn,” he chants, as if it is a song.

A drop of wine.

There is nervous silence at the table. When the food comes, the spell continues. No one is hungry with the celebratory hunger they have known. The uncles and aunts and cousins try their best to recapture the holiday spirits, joking and talking like nothing has happen.  There is the usual discussion about the matzo balls.  Light or heavy?  There are proponents of both.  Nanny’s were always heavy, substantial—a meal in themselves.  Evelyn’s are modern. Hers are light.  She explains to her sister-in-laws that otherwise, starting out the meal, they are too filling.

Until now, even with Mark’s irreverence over the last few years, the eating part of the Seder has remained a happy occasion. He could be ignored.  It was possible even to laugh at his jokes. This year also, hoping to rescue the evening, there are satisfied expressions on everyone’s faces as they taste the soup, eat the brisket, finish up with honey cake, and, best of all, pass around the candy that only appears after the Seder.  Barton’s and Barricini’s chocolates, chocolate-covered jelly rings and marshmallows.  Ira watches the children gobble it up, taking special satisfaction that he can afford such luxuries.  When he was growing up, his parents’ table lacked these goodies. Once or twice, there was a box of Barricini’s.  They were each allowed one chocolate, so he had learned what the cherry-filled chocolate looked like. No such problem here. Even Mark is happy with the abundance of delicious candy.

Seeing that he has calmed down, hoping the worst is over, Ira makes one final attempt to enlist Mark. He speaks with kindness in his voice. “Mark. If you want to be part of the family, you need to embrace us.  That includes our Seder.”

“But it’s all about war.” Mark answers, trying to be reasonable and fair.

“No, it’s about us getting freed from slavery—God coming to our rescue.    Like Hanukkah.  The Maccabees fought and won, and God made the oil last seven days.  It was a sign from Him that He was there.  He been with them all along.  God’s being there for you means everything to a soldier. It did for me when I was flying during World War Two.  The miracle of the oil lasting seven days told the celebrating army that God had guided them to victory. It’s always been a happy holiday.  Can you get into the spirit of that?”

“Yeah, Purim.  Another war holiday.  It wasn’t just Haman who got foiled.  The Jews killed seventy-five thousand Persians. Happy? Yeah.  Killing our enemies.”

“Where did you get that?”

“Look it up!” he shouts.

“Your grandmother is here.  Can you think of her for a moment?”

Nanny is sitting silently.  Her handkerchief dabs at her lips.

Silently, the thought flashes through CC’s mind. Mark, don’t do it.  Don’t do it.

He does.

“Why, is she going to pinch me?”

“That is quite enough for one evening,” Ira tells his son.  “If you don’t want to celebrate Passover, stop coming to our Seder!”

Mark gets up from the table and heads for his room. Evelyn is not far behind.

“I won’t,” Mark shouts from the staircase.

“Good!” Ira shouts back.

And he doesn’t for many, many years.



December 31, 2021
by Simon Sobo

Balancing Work and Leisure: The New Equilibrium


Lately I have been hearing a lot of talk about people reassessing their lives. Juliette Lewis put it succinctly. “Only recently, I was like, life-work balance? That’s an amazing concept.  I didn’t even know there was a name for it.  I thought it was just like, work your ass off until you crash and burn, and then take some time off to heal your body and mind.” Her discovery is not new. It reminds me of the old adage that many people seemed to have newly repeated ‘No one ever says at their death bed, I wish I spent more time at work.’

 Obviously Covid is having a profound effect on people’s attitudes. The death all around us has changed us. What is it all for? In untold numbers, perhaps millions of people are not returning to their jobs.  I don’t know if it is the daily reminder of death, or people are enjoying being home and don’t want to go back.  But it is such a huge phenomenon that our economy is reeling from its effects. Companies can’t find workers to do work that needs to get done.  There is a breakdown in supplies, a shortage of people able to answer customers’ questions and respond to evident needs.  We are all feeling it.

At its very best, this may be a good thing.  Finding meaning and purpose before it is too late should not be taken lightly. How can we judge for others  the right balance people are trying to achieve? Moreover reportedly, companies are being forced to give higher wages and tailoring jobs more to their employee’s needs (and wants).  Even before Covid, many employers were being forced to make work more in line with their workers ideals, whether it was responding to global warming, racial and gender inequity, or keeping the ocean free of plastics.  Any number of social goods have been elevated by workers, perhaps a late regret by them they hadn’t joined the peace corps when they might have. So many people in college have decided they will only work for non-profits. The new attitude is especially appealing to a generation of millennials who were particularly made to understand that they had to work their asses off to get anywhere in their occupation, not to mention paying off their college debt.

There is only one thing that may be underestimated in this more modern mantra.  America and Americans have been very rich and comfortable compared to the rest of the world.  If people stop working hard this may come to an end.  The Chinese are busting their asses.  That is their misfortune.  It is also their opportunity.  The world has become fiercely competitive.  If too many of us refuse to go back to working hard at what we consider meaningless effort, our future will not be bright.  Yes, being inspired in our undertakings is very satisfying and can be productive, even lead to competitive advantages.  But that hasn’t been common in the work most people do.

Not long ago I watched a Netflix documentary about a Chinese glass factory that took over a mothballed glass factory GM once ran.  The Chinese workers were amazed by the Americans working beside them. They found them lazy and inefficient, with horrible attitudes.  The Chinese worked much longer hours, slept four in a cubicle. Every day the Chinese participated in song and dance pageants extolling their employers and their nation.  They seemed to be into them. By contrast the Americans didn’t stop squawking.  Many had once worked for GM before it shut down its factory. They were bitter that they weren’t earning what they once earned. They thought their bosses were slave drivers. There was one scene where the Chinese workers were asking the Americans what they thought of China.  They were eager to hear good things, proud of their nation’s accomplishments. When they tried to brag about their country it went nowhere.

The Chinese worker’s attitude reminded me of the culture I knew in the 50’s.  My mother worked as a secretary for many years.  She never made much money. Nevertheless, she was proud that she worked for Pfizer. Proud of the wealth and history of the company. She looked up to her boss over the years. She was proud when he was promoted. She didn’t know his views on affairs of the day. She knew the names of his children and where they went to school, but little else. She happily reported to us that he told her he now understood Jews after he had seen Fiddler on the Roof.  My mother never wondered what anti-Semitic views he might have had before he saw the show. When several times he told her that she was indispensable it delighted her.  She did the work of two men. I didn’t doubt it.  My mother was very intelligent and made sure everyone, including herself, did things well. It never occurred to her that she was being exploited. She made it clear that she was an executive secretary. Dressed very professionally she was crowded like sardines in the bus she took every morning to the subway. Which then took her to Manhattan. Neither bus nor train had air conditioning. Waiting for the bus, she stood in line during snow storms and during heat waves. Her attitude resembled the postmen’s motto.  Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. She expected that kind of devotion from herself and the mailman. She had incredible energy. She didn’t complain. On the contrary, she enjoyed her job.  On her death bed I very much doubt she regretted anything about her long years of labor. It was a given. If anything, the harder the challenges she faced the more pride she took in her sacrifices. Her persistence, her effort, her victory over adversity highlighted the depth of her character. The meaning of her work was simple. Her work helped  make possible her children’s accomplishments.  That was plenty.

 Here is the important point. During the 50’s my mother wasn’t unusual. Compared to the depression her family faced in the 30’s her life was like a cakewalk. Like most Americans she sensed things would get better and better. She was sure it would.

I fully understand how unfair her life was by today’s standards.  And yes, I sympathize with people who are not too thrilled with their jobs.  I want to do what I want to do as much of the time as I can. I get it. Their attitude rings true. That is how it should be.  But I can’t ignore the implications of what Covid is making clearer than ever. We are now a bickering, dissatisfied people.  Angry at our bosses, at all of the people in charge. They are seen as enslaving us. Our anger began before Donald Trump, before the Iraq war, before Nixon and all of our failing leaders were exposed. It was there before we thought of priests and boy scout leaders as perverts, before cops were seen as malevolent. I’m not sure when our anger and unruliness began.  Nor when it escalated to its current level. The internet reveals an awful lot of people frothing at the mouth bursting with hatred. Yes, those Chinese workers participating in their company’s song and dance pageants seemed mindless, almost childlike. Yet, I’ll bet their children don’t see them that way. They probably see them like I saw my mother.

The point is that the new seemingly enlightened  perspective about work that Americans are discovering may be a sign of a nation in decline.  We will work less and suffer the consequences.

December 25, 2021
by Simon Sobo

Chapter 4: Jeremy tells Dave about his new love

Jeremy approaches Dave Miller’s office.  They’ve known each other since the fourth grade. Their relationship has been up and down since then, but during the last several years, being in the same graduate program has turned them into pals.  Both teach literature courses, but even when they are covering the same material, they couldn’t be more different.  Dave’s careful thinking contrasts with Jeremy infatuation with sizzling ideas. Dave favors well-researched apparent certainties. They may be approximations but in his mind they are a done deal. While Jeremy can be bombastic he is capable of  changing his mind.  Like his hero Wittgenstein, his questions never stop.

Jeremy knocks on Dave’s door quickly four times. Dave knows the knock.  He puts down a paper he was grading, glad to be rid of it.  The student in question is not stupid and is sincere, but he overreaches.  Dave likes him for that. Without success, however, he’s tried to gently communicate that quality  also is his biggest weakness.

Jeremy opens the door without hearing a come in. “Busy?” he asks.

“Not at all.”

Dave can see that Jeremy is upset.

“Still stuck with your dissertation?”

Jeremy’s frown answers his question.

“You can do it. Believe it or not, I finished mine.  I handed it in yesterday.”

With a big smile Jeremy grips Dave’s in a playful handshake.  Then he gives him a love tap on his chest. If Dave can get it done, there is hope for Jeremy.

“We’ll have to celebrate,” Jeremy tells him cheerfully.

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

He throws the student’s paper on his desk, glad to be free of him.

Just off campus they go to a coffee shop that they both like, a funky combination of old oak Windsor chairs grouped around tables.  Part of the floor shows peeling linoleum, part grayed wood, the finish worn off.  Two leather sofas have cracked with dryness. In front of them are coffee tables, covered by today’s and yesterday’s newspapers.  The shop would be bleak were it not for several very 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.  Jeremy and Dave hold up their glasses.

“To Dr. Miller.” Jeremy clicks his water glass on Dave’s, “Practically there.”  Dave’s eyes say thank you.

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

Jeremy smiles. “I wish.”

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

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

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

“Through the mud.”

“Mud, hail, rain.” Dave answers.

“And shit.” Jeremy predictably replies.

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

“You mean the pot?”

“You could use a few less of those ‘Oh wow!’ reactions and more ‘One plus one equals two.’”


“Never mind the pot, I suspect that’s where your head is most of the time anyway.”


“Try coming down for a while.  What’s the expression 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–”

“Maybe,, but  I mean the other kind. Work-work.”

“I get it” Jeremy waxes poetic: “‘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.’”

Dave’s impressed. “I didn’t know you were religious.”

Jeremy 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.”

Jeremy frowns. Finally acknowledging that Jeremy is down enough, Dave dials back, smiles an ‘I like you smile.’  It has little effect.  Jeremy’s sadness remains.

“Okay, come to mama.  What’s wrong?”

“I’m in love.”


“When did I ever say I was in love?”

“A thousand times.”

“Not true.”

“You implied it.”

“No I didn’t.  This is the real deal.”

“Last time it was real.”

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

“You said you were very turned on.”

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

Dave is used to Jeremy’s dramatics. He accepts that for good reason or not, whatever is getting to Jeremy, it is real.  Perhaps all of Jeremy troubles are real.   But he has gone there so frequently it has made Dave not take him as seriously as Jeremy would like.  Fortunately, Jeremy’s excitement often entertains Dave, and sometimes he takes Jeremy’s whims as seriously as Jeremy would like them to be taken.

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

“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 can’t contain his broad sarcastic smile.

The waitress comes to their table.  Dave has seen her on campus. She has beautiful, long black hair, which she wears straight down.  Both of them, but particularly Dave, look at her flirtatiously.  She’s enjoying their attention  as much as they are enjoying giving it.

“Two coffees,” Dave tells her.

“That’s it?

“That’s it.”

“Could you put whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on his coffee? He’s celebrating.”

The waitress keeps a straight face, but her eyes focus for a moment on Jeremy.  She smiles.

“Anything else?”

“Just black coffee for me,” Dave 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 guys she serves. Several have asked her out.  Best job she has ever had.

In a tone familiar to Dave, Jeremy voice is reflective. “When you were younger, did you think that one day you were going to find this incredible woman and that would be it?”

“You mean like our waitress?”

Jeremy looks him in the eye. “Did you?”

“You mean THE ONE.”

Jeremy’s voice continues to be serious. “I’ve built my life around her.”

“I’ll bet,” 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?”

Dave shrugs.

“If I went to the museum, I would look at the paintings, sort of. I was rarely completely absorbed.  I liked a few, was bored by others, but none of them mattered very much.  They didn’t give me what I was looking for. Perhaps in the next room I might find a painting that would grab me.”

“Or the next.”

“Exactly. Maybe one in fifty painting turned me on. But if I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a nice-looking woman meandering ten, twelve feet away, my boredom disappeared. I came alive. She had me. . . That’s never happened to you?”

“Sort of.”

“I’ve never had the courage to start a conversation, to go somewhere with it. It happened so often that it should’ve seemed stupid. Like I was wasting my time. But I guess I kept hoping in the next moment, something might happen. When I lived in the Village, I’d walk the streets—Bleecker, MacDougal, Greenwich Avenue. 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 surveying his domain?” Dave continues. “Same thing, wandering, looking everywhere, hoping to pick up a scent.  They say he’s guarding his territory. I think he’s looking for dames. Plenty of guys do that.  They’re looking to get laid.”

“But that wasn’t it.  It was more. This started when I was twelve or thirteen. Okay, maybe my hormones were pushing me then. But it wasn’t all that. Even before. I was looking for . . .” He hesitates, considering whether to continue.

“Go ahead.”

“You want me to say it?”

“The holy grail?  What?”

Almost whispering, Jeremy answers him. “True love!”

He blushes as he says it. Its very uncool to actually put it in words.

“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”

“It’s not stupid, but you make it so dramatic.  You’re making a big production out of it.”

“It is a big production.  It’s always been there. It’s powerful. I can tone it down, sometimes ignore it, but it’s always—”


“Always. In the second grade, I had this dream again and again.  I’d wake up and remember it. I was Superman, flying, looking for my true love, meaning the prettiest girl in the class, Mindy Nussbaum. I remember her. I come down from the sky and sweep her up in my arms. Then–

Dave’s eyes are wandering around the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of their waitress. She arrives at the next table with their order.  His wandering eyes interrupt Jeremy, which bothers him, but not for long. He doesn’t mind.  He has done the same thing, eyed a pretty girl when Dave wanted his attention.

“Can I go on?”

“It’s all yours,” Dave answers.

“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”

“Yeah you followed me.”

They both grin. They’re friends now, good friends, but it’s a silly notion. There is no way Mark would be that influenced by Dave. And then they were at best, acquaintances.

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

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

“Because when I came here for an interview, I saw this student in the cafeteria.  It was maybe a glimpse, but then my eyes went back to her several times. Her beauty grew each time I saw her. It threw me for a loop. That’s why I came here. To meet her.”

“You were already married.”

“I know, but I flipped when I saw her.”

“Who was she?”

“I never saw her again.”

He’s smiling but Dave isn’t sure Jeremy realizes how crazy his story sounds.

“You’re serious?”

“I know it’s idiotic.”

Dave says nothing.

“But it’s true. That is the real reason I came here”

Jeremy’s, not embarrassed in the least telling Dave about it. His  tone is triumphant.  He takes his wackiness as a virtue that overshadows any alarm others would normally feel when they reveal how crazy they sound.

“Have you done that more than once?”

“Look. I know it sounds strange.  Very crazy. I’m sure there is a name for it, but that’s the truth. That is why I’m sitting here with you, in the middle of snow country

“What does your shrink say?” You told her all this right?

“She throws it and everything else I tell her into this one big bucket.  Psychiatry has maybe six or seven of them.  She’s claims she’s figured me out.”


“She doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks I have bipolar disorder.”

“So that explains you?”

“That’s it, along with six million other people who have the same thing as me. She’s nailed it. Six million of us, all the same.”

“So what do you think your real diagnosis is?”

“I’m in love.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. I’m just telling you like it is. I mean, I can go overboard. . . .”

“Really?” Dave’s mocking tone goes unnoticed.

“Everything I’ve ever done. Everything!  Every award in college, every home run I’ve hit, every basket I’ve 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.  Croon to her ‘I’m the one.  Look at what I’ve done!’”

Dave has a shit-eating grin as he begins to speak.  Jeremy smiles along with him, like he’s in on the joke, but he isn’t.

“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 living it out.”

“They make Superman movies.  Everyone knows Superman isn’t real.  Those great romances–there’s no difference. It comes from someone’s imagination.”

Dave is pleased with himself for the comparison.

“You don’t have to laugh at me.”

“Sorry. I know you’re serious.  But you admit to things most people haven’t even thought of, let alone confess. Well, maybe teenage girls.  But guys?  Sure, I’ve watched those movies and gotten into 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 enough, they’ve learned their lesson. They steer clear.  Having a broken heart is not where most guys want to return to.”

.  Dave may be teasing him, but on some level Jeremy knows Dave understands and commiserates. He’s a pal.

Jeremy looks around.

“Where’s that waitress?”

“Over there.”


Jeremy starts humming.

“What’s that?”

“This song . . . Carol wrote it.”

He sings: at first like he is kidding around.

But then sings more seriously.


Hey you with the broken smile

Come on over and stay for a while

Hey you with the hunger in your eyes.


Can’t remember the rest. . . .”

Jeremy hums the tune for a moment.

“Oh, right.


I recognize that look on your face

A shattered heart still searching for grace.

Disappointed? I know it’s not the way you planned.

Darling save your words

Because I know that’s the way it happens.

You wouldn’t be the first

To be standing

With your heart left in your hands.”


“Wow. Carol wrote that? She’s talented.”

“I know. Very. Melodies just come to her.  She doesn’t know from where but it’s always been there.  Her lyrics. The same thing. That song is about us. She says it isn’t, but it is.”

“Your disappointments hit you that hard?”

“You mean about my writing?”

“That, and other things.  You were talking about falling in love.”

“Not just that. Yeah I can really get hurt. She senses it immediately even when I try to hide it.”

“She really loves you.”

“I know. That’ how I came to love her.”

“And you don’t think that’s what’s going to happen with your new love?”

“I don’t know, maybe, but that’s a million miles away.”

“Jeremy most guys, after getting burnt once, maybe twice. That’s it.  There’s a reason they stick to sports.  They don’t want to be a love flower. There’s no choice.  We have to toughen up.  But you.  I don’t know whether you’re incredibly stupid or fearless, or what.  It’s a stage you’re supposed to get over. You watch it at a movie. Get into it there. But that’s it. You’re twenty-eight. Twent–eight!”

“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”

“The girl of my dreams, of your dreams, of every guy’s dreams is exactly that.”  His voice rises. “A fucking dream! You’re old enough to know that.  Why do you have a problem with it? Why are you stuck in dream land?”

Somewhat meekly Jeremy looks at him.

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

“Come on.”

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

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

“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.”

Jeremy takes a breath.

“Anyway, I’ve finally found her!”

“Strange coincidence that you’ve fallen in love exactly when your head has to be on straight, exactly when you have to get your dissertation done. You have maybe three months.”

“This has nothing to do with that.”

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.  Look.  You know everything I’m telling you.  It stares at you every day.  It stares a everyone. You’ve 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. Nobody else gives a shit.  She does.  I’ll take that.”

“Look, it’s the same with Carol.   I know how lucky I am.  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’ve said it.  You are right. Absolutely right.”

“You’re not fourteen anymore.”

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

Dave looks at him like now he has gotten him. “Tired of waiting?   You make like you are such a rebel. Who said you have to get married?

Jeremy stares at him as innocently as he can muster.

“You make such a big deal about being independent.”

“I just–”

“It’s okay. I’m sure you know it.  I only take half your bullshit seriously.”

“It’s not bullshit!  You don’t think I mean what I say!”

Dave speaks sweetly. “Maybe your brain does, but not you.  Your beatnik’ thing isn’t you.  It’s this show you put on.”

Jeremy says nothing. But Dave is taking it too far. Commandingly he looks at Dave to stop.

“Okay.” In a kibitzing monotone voice Dave continues. “So you didn’t want to wait–”

“I prefer to think I was seizing the day.”

Not impressed by Jeremey’s diversion, Dave’s self satisfied smile continues, but he has no desire to shut off Jeremy’s escape.  He likes Jeremy enough to ride over it.  “Right… You like Bellow?”

“I read Seize the Day a hundred years ago. I still remember it brought me to an epiphany.”

“Really?” Dave asks.

“That lasted maybe a day.”

“You believe all that stuff?  Seize the day? Grab every moment?” Dave asks challengingly.

“What’s not to believe?”

“it’s not something you can actually do.  You can try for maybe ten minutes to be different. To be a new peson. But it’s a slogan. Epiphany huh? Rah-rah Sis boom ba…?

Jeremy agrees. They both smile contentedly.

“You read too much.” Dave teases.  “You need to get your thrills outside of books.”

“Me? You’re the one.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“Okay we need to do it.”

“I’m gonna sign us up for a polar expedition.” Dave cheerfully offers. “I’ve read a lot about them.”

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

“How about Antarctica?” Dave offers.

Dave takes a breath, refocuses, has a sudden insight.

“So your new love is your Antarctica?”

Jeremy doesn’t answer, which is fine with Dave.  He knows he has nailed it,  made his point.

“What are you going to do?” Bringing it back,Dave asks with real sympathy.

“You know what I am going to do.” Jeremy proudly tells him.

“Not really… I don’t. Let’s start from the beginning…  You’ve waited all your life, everything you’ve strived to become . . . it’s been for—”


“CC?”  It registers. Dave breaks out in a smile.  “I get it. I have her in one of my classes.” His smile continues. “She’s a knockout.”

Jeremy glows. Dave’s reaction is precisely the kind of confirmation he’s looked forward to. Having a gorgeous woman in love with him.  If he wins her he will be in heaven.  He will have won  the ultimate prize, like an Oscar, MVP 1968.  Bathing in glory. At last proving to everyone that he’s the man he has always imagined himself to one day be.

“Unfortunately…” Dave hastens to add.

“Unfortunately what?”

“Remember Davidoff’s class at Penn, 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 where you are.”

“Right.” Jeremy answers happily

“Which is what makes her dangerous.  Bringing back Helen resulted in thousands of people dying.”

“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”

“And career.”

For a moment Dave’s put a dent in his glory.  But he is soon free of that, and acts contrite more for Dave’s benefit than his own. That doesn’t last either.

“I can’t get her out of my head. I have no choice.”

“You saw The Blue Angel, right?”

“Thanks a lot!”


“ You really think I’m like that professor–what was his name, ah Professor Rath. Right, he’s in love with this torch singer.”

“ Marlene Dietrich.”

“CC’s prettier.”

Dave is unimpressed.

“You think I’m that pathetic. He’s this fat pedantic old fool.”

“You think you are more exciting?


“He loses everything.”

“CC’s not a dumb chorus girl.  And I’m not an old fart. Don’t worry.  We’re not going there?”

“I don’t know.” Dave says. “You’re a lot like the professor, plenty bookish.   Books and beauty don’t mix.”

“Except  CC’s been  turned on by my lectures. She likes braininess.”

“You better not be a one hit wonder. You’re going to have to keep being brilliant.”

“Dave, come on.  There’s more to me than that.”

“I agree, but basically, you’re like all of us.  Ordinary… Your ideas are window dressing.”


Just don’t tell me you weren’t warned.”

“Great.  You’ve warned me.  You are off the hook if I kill myself.”

“It may come to that.”

“Jesus.  You’re becoming Mr. Doomsday.”

“Okay fine.  But this worries me.  You’re swimming in deep water and you aren’t the best swimmer.”

He shouts at Dave. “Okay. I get it.”

Both are quiet, thinking over how to smooth things over. Jeremy needs little incentive to keep going.

“It’s strange.  This is supposed to happen when your marriage is bad. I love Carol as much as ever.  I mean I really do. We have a good thing going.  Much more than I expected. Carol doesn’t bore me.  I admire her. I’ve never had a friend like her. We are inside each other’s souls.”

“I hope you are appreciating that. That song you sang.  You matter.  She loves you.”

Jeremy’s eyes water.

Dave notices. He looks at Jeremy with sympathy, but, his disapproval hasn’t changed.

“I can’t help it.  I can’t get CC out of my mind.  …”

Both are quiet again but not for long.. “I can’t help it.” sputters out of Jeremy  again as if he is talking to no one other than himself.

“I get it…Do you still get turned on by Carol?”

Jeremy’s guard goes up, Dave and he don’t usually take it this far, but he continues.

“Not as often as before… I take that back. it’s fine. I love what happens between us. She’ll do practically anything I want, Wherever my head goes she’s there.  Weird or not. Weird doesn’t concern her.”

“You can be weird?”

He shrugs…“ The same as everyone else, but that’s not the point… What we have is alive. . Seeing me excited turns her on.  It can make her crazy, passionate That gets me very excited. It’s who she is.  My desires become hers.  She loses herself.  She loves it.  Not just about sex. Wherever I am she goes there. When we make love that makes me go crazy. It’s good. I’m lucky.”

“So why do you want more? I don’t have to ask.  That’s you.  It’s never enough.”

“You make it sound like it’s greed.”

“I’m not calling it greed, but that’s you.  More, more.

“That’s the way I’m built.”

“Do you have to dream up things?”

The conversation is going too far.  Jeremy answers reluctantly:       “Sometimes, but what’s wrong with that?  Variety is the spice of life.”

“Do you have to dream up things with CC?”

“We haven’t gotten that far.  But I don’t think it will happen.”

“But do you have to dream up stuff?”

“You mean kinky?  No.  With Carol a bit. But not really. With CC, I’m there. I’d go ape shit for a kiss. If I could touch the back of her neck.”

“Why the back of her neck?”

“Don’t know.  That’s what I just thought of.”

“Okay.  You’re all heated up about CC. But you have so much with Carol…  You have it all.”

“Almost all.”

“Fine it’s not perfect. But what is?

“Okay fine I have it all.  As much as I will ever get. As much as anyone gets.  There’s just one thing Dave.”

“What’s that?”

“CC erases everything else. When I’ve been with her 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. Right?  Stare and stare.  Drink in her beauty.  But you can’t do that.  You’d look like a jerk, like a nut.  You’d feel like one.  So, people buy magazines, or they watch her in a movie so they can look at her.  Everyone needs that.”

“What’s your point?”

“Imagine if Elizabeth Taylor looked at you with desire.  Like she was dying to be yours. CC’s looked at me like that! What I feel with her is unbelievable.”

Again they are silent.

“Do you remember the first time you saw the Seagram Building you dropped, right?”


“What about the second and third time?”

“Fine. But Trust me   The thousandth time I’ll look at CC. It’ll still be there. Her face– she has dimples–the way her chin meets her neck. Her fingers are long and slim. When she moves them they are as graceful as a ballerina.”

Dave shoots Jeremy a look that he’s over the top. Jeremy doesn’t notice.

“The way she walks.  How she eats slowly, deliberately,. Last year I was at Joey’s when she came in with some girlfriends.”  He takes a breath. “The way she handles her knife and fork she cuts a slice of pizza into small pieces,. The way she brings it  to her lips.”

“Jeremy, I get it.”

Dave waits hoping that will register.  Clearly not.  Jeremy is somewhere else.  He can’t listen. Dave continues anyway,

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

“This isn’t a spell.”

“Believe me, it’s a spell.”

“That’s easy for you to say.  It could happen to you!”  Dave’s smiles Makes it clear that he is not with him.

“I can’t just drop it and go on with other things. I can’t.  No one can. Who can do that?”

“Millions of people.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

“What’s there to say? Frankly, to me the only question is whether you would leave Carol for her. All the other bullshit…  Would you?”


“You know that for sure?”


Dave look at him doubtfully.

“Yes Jeremy repeats, “I’m not stupid. I know Carol’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“So then stay away from CC. Do you remember how dangerous the Sirens. were?


“You did a paper on the Sirens.  Right? I assumed you wrote about it  because you  had a bad case of it.”

“I did.”

“Didn’t you learn from it?”

“I learned it was dangerous, but I always knew that.”

“Who was the girl then?”

I don’t remember?

“Really? So how is CC any different?”

“No comparison.  I had that for maybe a week, maybe two. What I told you about watching her eat at Joey’s. That was last spring.  This has been going on in my head for months, actually more than a year. Longer  than it has gone on was with anyone else.  CC is a whole new category.”

“I thought this just started.

“It’s a long story. The first time I spoke to her was this semester. But before that she was this mysterious beautiful face that I had to look at.”

“You stalked her?

“I wasn’t stalking.  I was in love. And now, I can tell.  She’s interested. That’s not stalking.”

“You think that is true love?”

Another shrug

You’ve discussed this with your psychiatrist?”

“Part of it.”  Jeremy puts two thumbs down.

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

“I have.  They all are the same”

“Let’s not go there.”

They take a breather, go over their conversaion.  Jeremy wonders if Dave thinks he is crazy.  That bugs him. Finally, Jeremy speaks, “Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “

“What’s that?” Dave asks.

“I’m feeling fantastic.  I’m finally alive.  I look at the trees, the sky. I see beauty.  Everywhere. The clouds! I never noticed the shapes they take. I linger Not just on the clouds. Everything.  Before I just raced by. Like I had been  blind.  When I’m reading, I’m understanding what’s on the page more than I ever have. I wonder where my head was at before. The possibility of Me and CC  does that.”

“What do you mean the possibility.”

“I told you.  I’ll never leave Carol.”

“So, CC is going to be your mistress?  Very French.” He says jovially. “You’ve always admired them.”

“You’re not funny.”

“No seriously. You can pull that off with style.”

“So that’s how you see it?

Jeremy I have no answers,  but you want to know what I really think?…Marijuana makes you manic, Jeremy.”

“That’s not this. Dave You’ve given up,.  I remember this guy—”

Dave pronounces his final judgment. “It’s called growing up.”

December 17, 2021
by Simon Sobo

1968 Changed Everything: The beginning of the novel

Chapter 1

   October 1968 The University of Buffalo

Majestic elms line the wide pathways crisscrossing the campus.   Autumn reds, muted orange, and here and there yellows vibrantly set the trees off against the blue sky.  The wind is whipping up, swirling leaves with each gust.  Students are hurrying in every direction.

 Then, as everyone gets to their class and settles in, the only sound is the exuberant wind, which, this afternoon occasionally whistles as it did last night during the storm At the beginning of the class the students are determined to stay awake.  Later many will drift off.  Torpor is always a concern of the faculty.   Particularly because the lecture hall is overheated. Hoping to combat that, an enormous central window has been swung open which allows crisp fresh October air to blow in.  That window frames a perfectly placed large maple tree, which has turned a spectacular scarlet, as it does every October. While it is hoped the students won’t drift off to never-never land, there is an even better reason for the students to be alert. Twenty-eight-year-old teaching assistant Jeremy Slater is on a roll.

Every campus had one in the sixties, a teacher who could turn on his students with his ideas and passion. Cynics have compared Jeremy to a rock star giving a concert.  So have admirers.

Jeremy’s hazel eyes light up whenever his discoveries hit their mark.  When he gets going, ideas keep popping out of his head.  One thought stimulates the next, then the next.  Riff after riff.

Sitting off to the side in the classroom, CC belongs to him. She’s gotten prettier and prettier, but now, in her senior year, she has become beautiful. Her ginger hair, streaked blond by the summer’s sunshine, frames her large green eyes.  There is a hint of sadness in them, but each time Jeremy hits the right note they sparkle.

CC’s eyes instantly dropped to the ground the first time they met Jeremy’s.  In the worst way she wants to hold his eyes with hers. So they linger, simultaneously fearing she might panic again, but she is increasingly hopeful she won’t. He wants the same thing. But he doesn’t dare. Carol, his wife, owns this part of him. As she should.  His heart is beating on the double. As is CC’s.

With the class full, and his mind crystal clear, this is the closest Jeremy has come to living out his dreams. Fantasies rarely become actual, but when they do, danger seems to disappear. He knows he is scoring again and again, beginning with his first lecture a month ago. Especially today. Everything has come together.

Pointing in CC’s direction, a classmate whispers to the student next to her, “Look at CC.”

She smiles. “I know.”

“Look at Professor Slater!”

The two students have big, knowing, sarcastic grins on their faces as they watch CC and Jeremy.  It doesn’t entirely erase their envy.

Jeremy writes WITTGENSTEIN on the board.  Emphasizing the V pronunciation in Wittgenstein, he speaks dramatically.

“You have to understand that Ludwig Wittgenstein placed truth above any other human quality.  To many people how it is valued  isn’t important. Certainly, most have a choice about whether or not to pursue it.  He didn’t.  Meaning, he’d be seized with doubt. An alarm would go off in his head whenever an idea seemed untrue.”

Imitating Wittgenstein, Jeremy shouts, “No!”

He looks around the room.

“No!” he repeats dramatically, as if on stage.

Jeremy continues. “A conclusion, agreed upon by everyone else. Including himself three minutes before, suddenly has become doubtful.  Wittgenstein was particularly sensitive to the power that groups of people have to capture other people’s agreement, the pressure they put on others to go along with them, not least because he is as likely as anyone else to go along.”

Jeremy’s voice rises. “Suddenly Professor Wittgenstein would snap out of it, recognize that he had been duped. What he thought was true wasn’t true at all.  He’d be seized by doubt.”

Jeremy faces the class. His eyes move from student to student as he speaks.  Finally, they rest on CC.  Her shyness, which ordinarily has protected her, is dissolving. Every word, even Jeremy’s hesitations, work its way through her, singing in a rhythm that is becoming rapturous.  Having arrived, his eyes remain on her as he continues his lecture, gripping her with every syllable.

“He was a professor of philosophy at Cambridge University.  He never published a single article. He never wrote a book.  The world eventually learned about him from the notes taken by his students, which were published later on.  But without acclaim from the usual places, his reputation was remarkable. Those who listened to him lecture knew he was the real thing. Other Cambridge philosophy professors would sit in at his lectures, wanting to harvest his ideas. Bertrand Russell called him ‘the most perfect example I have ever known of genius.’”

Still carried away, Jeremy continues. “Who was this man?” He waits a few seconds for his question to resonate.   “Sometimes, during a lecture, he’d drop what he was talking about.  He’d moan, ‘Idiot!’ It wasn’t theatrics.  He felt like an idiot.”

Again, Jeremy hesitates for the class to savor that thought.

“A monumental battle was taking place inside him. What he had intended to say, no longer made sense to him.  The remarkable thing is that his misgivings didn’t issue from the challenge of a listener, but from his own doubts, which had gained the upper hand.”

Jeremy takes a deep breath before proceeding.

“Ordinarily people don’t do this. Not in public. They don’t doubt themselves that way.  It can be crippling.  The mind is meant to function quietly.  We are confident enough of our ideas so we don’t have to go over them a second and third time.  We possess them. They possess us. When challenged, we can usually hold on to them, even if a bit of doubt creeps in. Perhaps it is stubbornness or laziness, or we may simply be unwilling to abandon such a nice comfortable place in our mind.  We don’t often venture into new territory.   We don’t want to.  Challenges from others are the last thing we need. Perhaps that is why we join groups with basically the same ideas.”

He stops, letting the silence speak.  Then cries out. “Not Wittgenstein!”

Again, he is silent, looking around the room.  Once again, his eyes stop at CC.

“Being in a state of doubt can be fascinating. Hamlet, which many consider the greatest play ever written, is all about doubt.  We empathize with Hamlet’s discomfort.  We wait to see what he will do.  But no one wants to be like Hamlet, a frenzied soul tortured by his confusion, on a pathway to self- destruction. We try to end doubt as soon as we experience it.

“It isn’t just us.  When we see doubt in others, it’s unpleasant.  Like they have lost it. Anguish is best kept private.”

Again, Jeremy gives a bit of time for his thoughts to be digested, then continues.

“So you would think Professor Wittgenstein would lose his audience when he would lose his way. . . Jeremy calls out happily. “Just the opposite!”.

He hesitates. Once again, he stares at one student, then the next, but this time energetically.

“The students in Wittgenstein’s classroom were mesmerized by the process.  He led them wherever he was going.   He wondered how, until then, he had not seen his mistake. He had an unusual talent.  He could cogently present the problem he was having without appearing too self–critical, too nebbishy. The opposite. It was a kind of courage.  He was proud of his uncertainty. He’d go over what did and did not make sense, as if it were a fascinating puzzle.”

Jeremy looks in CC’s direction. Again, their eyes lock, but very quickly, self-consciously, she breaks it off.  He is still there when her eyes return.

“So, in the end, his public self-doubt was a kind of strength.  It was part of what drew the professors to his lectures.  They knew all too well where he was.   They, too, were often stymied.  Most had run out of ideas long ago, not a good thing when you are in the idea business.

“It was the way Wittgenstein went about it. His students recollected his previous encounters with confusion.  And because again and again the answer would materialize, not knowing became a fascinating place to be, suspense that was about to be resolved. Out of thin air, like magic, Wittgenstein would come up with a new way of looking at the problem that a moment before had stymied him.  The cavalry arrived just in time.”

Swept up by his momentum, in his excitement, Jeremy is now staring almost exclusively at CC, as if he is speaking to her and her alone.  The other students are aware of this, but they did not take Jeremy’s course to be given lessons in proper professorial behavior.  He has a reputation.

Nor did it seem unusual that someone as beautiful as CC would pull a lecturer’s eyes toward her.  Everywhere she went, others’ eyes were drawn to her. Particularly today. She’s put it all together. Achieved perfection. The other females in the audience are certainly jealous, but they are also encouraged.   Having spent considerable time that morning in front of the mirror doing themselves up, and not necessarily dissatisfied by what they saw, they’re hoping Professor Slater might leave CC for a moment and look their way. If it were a modern concert, they would be holding up lighters. Or screaming, or moving in synchrony to the music, hoping against all odds, that, even for a fraction of a second, they would get the eyes of John Lennon.

Jeremy continues speaking dramatically. “Logical positivism, when it was new, had been able to answer a lot of questions that philosophers had long been perplexed by. The name had a ring to it, like existentialism, which had captivated the French and German philosophers. Logical positivism was quintessentially English.   Good English words describing philosophers’ most noble virtues. Logic. Clarity. Having the certainty of mathematics. Ever forward to the next challenge.  No artsy-fartsy French poetry junking up the English mind.”

Jeremy walks back and forth in the front of the lecture hall. He’s teaching a course in literature not philosophy, but he had to give this lecture. He continues.

“Everyone was excited. They thought they had finally reached the promised land. One after another, philosophical paradoxes were dissolving due to the power of their new tool.  Does God exist?  If you followed logical positivism’s logic, the answer was clear. Then pouf!”

He again hesitates for effect.

“The party was over. They were back to square one. Logical positivism led to a serious contradiction. Once again, they had painted themselves into a corner. No one, not even those in the world-renowned Cambridge University Philosophy Department, could think his way out of the trap. Not even Wittgenstein.

“What was Wittgenstein’s solution?  He quit philosophy.  He became a hospital orderly, then a gardener. He never mentioned to his coworkers that he had been a professor at Cambridge. For ten years, no one heard a word about him, or from him.

“Then one day he reappeared.  He had discovered a way out of the trap.  He founded a branch of philosophy called ‘ordinary language philosophy.’  Basically, pleased by the irony, he said that philosophers should study how ordinary people communicate.  That was the way out of their puzzlement.”

Smiling broadly, Jeremy continues. “In other words, the study of philosophy, all the years spent carefully defining, clarifying, refocusing . . . driven by a powerful need to get at the truth, that is not the way to get there. Philosophers should toss it all out. The language of ordinary people—gardeners, hospital orderlies, his colleagues for the last decade—held the real answer.  Cutting flowers or pushing a gurney undoes the paradox.

“The professors loved it.”

Jeremy swings his arm as if he is swinging a scythe, with a rhythm that could be part of a dance step.

“It was a coup de grâce to the steel certainties that once had been their bulwark against confusion, that had kept them focused, but which no longer functioned. They had been imprisoned by logic and precise language.”

Imbued with conviction, there is a musical quality as Jeremy continues. He smiles. “Among philosophers, a convincing new paradigm is as exciting as the discovery of the New World— fresh, beautiful, new thoughts, unhindered by doubt.

“If it were a soccer match, they would have put him on their shoulders for scoring the winning goal.  If he were . . . What’re the words to that song?” Jeremy’s face lights up. “Rudolph! The red-nosed reindeer.”   He starts to sing it. “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer . . .”

CC loves it—the simple modesty of childhood songs blended with philosophy at the most profound level. Her delight is transparent. She still remembers when true was true, before becoming complicated by further elaboration.

“As Rudolph went down in history . . . That’s what happened to Wittgenstein.”

He repeats his name as if it were a magical word. “Wittgenstein!”

The bell rings.  Students file out.

With students swarming around him at the lectern, Jeremy’s eyes have not stopped wandering to CC as she gets her books together.  Books pressed against her breasts, CC attempts to seem businesslike as she approaches him, but her eagerness isn’t hard to discern as she joins Jeremy’s entourage at the front of the classroom. She waits patiently as, one by one, he answers the questions of the students. When he is finished and they have left, he turns to CC. Like her, he is not very successful at appearing calm and collected.

“You seemed interested in Wittgenstein,” he says as casually as he can.

“My brother Mark talks a lot about him.”

“Really.  What did he tell you?”

“How he came from one of the richest families in Europe.”


“How he gave away all his money. Every penny.”

“He was extremely intense and impulsive.  All of his brothers were. His father tried to educate the impulsivity away. He was a titan of the steel industry. He hoped to prepare at least one of his boys to step into his shoes.   But he failed. They went in the opposite direction, totally uninterested in business.  They did, however, absorb one quality from him.” His tone of voice changes.  “He was incredibly exacting.”

He stops, letting what he is saying sink in.

“Imagine this.  Paul, Ludwig’s brother, was practicing on one of the seven grand pianos in the Wittgenstein’s mansion when he suddenly shouted at Ludwig in the next room, ‘I cannot play when you are in the house. I feel your skepticism seeping…from under the door!’

“Each of the brothers continually felt scrutinized.  Ludwig was lucky.  As a philosophy professor, he had found a good outlet.

“But that feeling, of being scrutinized, is a sickness, paranoia. Being alone with self-doubt is a plague.  Three of his brothers committed suicide.”


“Not Jesus.  Jewish.  By other people’s standards, he was enormously successful, the star professor in the finest philosophy department in the world.  Yet he continually felt like he was failing, incapable of meeting his standards.

“Geniuses frequently have that quality.  Jascha Heifetz would practice his violin until his fingers felt like they were falling off.  And then he would practice another two hours. What he heard coming from his violin again and again sounded wonderful, but there were always a few notes that weren’t wonderful enough. Perfect moments would not suffice.  He wanted the impossible. Perfection throughout. He often got there, repeatedly, at least according to the critics, but he could hear what the critics couldn’t. His playing was not perfect.

“Fortunately, despite his dissatisfaction, he liked to perform in front of an audience.  He was a bit of a peacock. He bathed in his audience’s adulation.

“Vladimir Horowitz wasn’t so lucky. Despite ecstatic reviews, despite rapturous responses from his audiences, he repeatedly lost confidence in his ability to get where he felt he had to be.  He couldn’t perform from 1953 to 1965.  It’s happening again. He’s stopped playing in public.”

“You think that is Jewish?”


“My brother told me Wittgenstein wasn’t Jewish.”

“He was raised a strict Catholic by his mother.  But his father was Jewish and his mother’s father was Jewish. That’s where the problem came from.”

“You really think it was being Jewish?”

“Maybe not. I’m not just talking about an exclusively Jewish quality.  People who know Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director, say that despite the masterpieces he keeps producing, he often talks about how he isn’t measuring up to what he wants to achieve.  Not one of his movies has come  close to what he expects of himself. . . . Partly it’s about being Japanese.  Only the emperor is entitled to be godly, meaning perfect. . . . But he’s got a bad case of trying to get there.  The glass may always be half empty. His job is to fill it. He doesn’t understand anything else. Did you see Woman in the Dunes?  They had it here at the festival.”


“It’s about this guy who is trapped in a large sand pit.  He must get rid of the sand that has encroached on his house from the night before, or it will be engulfed. So each day, while it is daylight, he digs the sand away.

“It returns as he sleeps. The cycle never ends.  Eventually, he becomes resigned to his fate. For the existentialists, that acceptance is what matters. We’ll be reading The Myth of Sisyphus in two weeks.  The same thing.  He uses every ounce of his strength, every last bit of it, to push a boulder up a hill.  If he stops, it will roll back and crush him.  Each time he gets to the top of the hill, the boulder returns to the bottom, and he has to start over again.  The existentialists thought they had the answer.  Choose to do what you must do.  By making it a choice, you are in charge.”

Skeptical that existentialists have found the answer, Jeremy exhibits the smile of his tribe, the perennial doubting Jew.


Without self-consciousness, appreciating his manner, from some ancient part of herself, CC smiles, touching his arm affectionately.

She imitates him. “Eh?”

He laughs.

Jeremy continues: “Existentialists think choosing to do what you gotta do puts you in charge. I don’t know how that’s a victory. It doesn’t change that you gotta do it.”

“My brother Jay does everything he’s expected to do.  It never occurs to him not to do it.  Yet he feels very much in charge of his life.”

“That’s one solution. . . . It’s got to be boring.  But . . .”  He looks into her eyes.  Wittgenstein really fascinates you, doesn’t he?”

“He does.”

Do you have a class now?”

CC glances at her watch. “Not ’til two-thirty.”

“Let’s go to my office.”

She follows him out of the classroom, then through a series of corridors.  Both she and he are aware of the possibilities privacy will afford. As they walk along, they smile at each other repeatedly.

His office is a hole in the wall with books piled high on his desk.  He clears some books off a chair for CC to sit.

“So what is it about Wittgenstein?” she asks.

“It isn’t that complicated.  He was a genius. His thought went where no one else was going.

“You’re into geniuses?”

“Everybody is into geniuses.”

“That’s not true.  I never thought about it until college. My idea of a stupendous human being was John Lennon. My other brother Mark was into Tom Seaver.  Last year, he had a great year.”

“The pitcher?” Jeremy asks.

“Right.  He’s a big Mets fan. Before Seaver, it was Duke Snider and Bill Sharman.”

Jeremy concurs. “Sharman had a sweet jump shot. A perfect jump shot. It was magic. . . . Swish.”

“Until midway through high school, it was all about athletes for Mark.  Then all of a sudden Mark’s hero became Ludwig Wittgenstein.”

“Sounds like your brother and I have a lot in common. Including Duke Snider. Did you ever see him play?”

“I was too young.”

“Those somersault shoestring catches. Ballet. Not every time but you see him do it once and it gets fixed in your memory. No one has ever done that before. No one since.  You never saw him do it?”

“No.” She studies him before continuing.  “Does someone have to be a genius for you to be interested in them?”

“You want the truth or bullshit?”

“The truth.”

“The truth is, that’s what matters to me.  The truth? I mostly ignore people unless they are very special.  I can fake it.  I do fake it, but—”

“So that eliminates me.”

“Are you serious?  Did you ever look in the mirror?”

She is quiet, pleased but uncomfortable.

There is a mirror on the wall “Take a look at yourself.”

She barely glimpses.  Her embarrassment has now fully taken over. It’s not just the compliment which ordinarily would allow her to relax and let down her guard. Jeremy’s flirtation turning serious so quickly has flustered her.

“It must be hard on your wife.  You expect her to be perfect?  She’s one of the nobodies that aren’t worth your interest?

“She says I’m a baby. I’m into heroes like a ten-year-old.  She’s waiting for me to grow up.”

“Is she right?”

Jeremy shrugs. “I’m sure she is. But I am who I am.  Even if I could change it, I wouldn’t. Doesn’t matter. I can’t.”

“Most people find a way to be satisfied.”

“Most people live a lie.”

CC says nothing.  She doesn’t know what to say.

“By the way, this Sunday I’m having a barbecue.  Several students are coming.  You’re invited.”


* * *

It is Sunday afternoon in late October. With the long gray Buffalo winter ahead of them, Jeremy and his wife, Carol, are thrilled that it is still warm enough to remain outside for their barbecue.  Their home is modest, but lit by the sunshine; the fall colors surrounding their yard are spectacular. Especially since both of them grew up with their worlds limited to the indoors, apartment houses in Brooklyn, museums their only taste of beauty. A backyard in the country, any backyard, is as exciting to them as Prospect Park.

Jeremy is manning the charcoal. Carol is setting up the table.  Carol is just under five four, slightly chunky, but pretty. Her red hair and large blue eyes are striking. Full of energy, she brings out a pitcher of iced tea.  Then she returns to the house and comes out with napkins and paper plates.  Then she goes back into the house.

“I think I hear Alyosha crying,” she tells Jeremy.  “Lately, he’s only been napping half an hour.”

“I was counting on a two-hour nap.”

“He’s just fussing.  I’ll be back,” she tells him as she makes her way back to 18 month old Alyosha.  She arrives at his room.  In his sleep, he’s whimpering. Every once in a while, he screams angrily into his blanket before returning to quietness.  Tiptoeing, Carol moves forward, watching him without being seen. She moves quickly, having practiced it so many times. At the crib, she gently takes his hand.  Softly, she sings, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

She needs only one line. He hardly whimpers when she leaves and makes her way back to the outside, singing the song to herself.

“ If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it—

Returning outside, her singing stops abruptly as her eyes are drawn to CC, who has arrived with three other students, two guys and one other female. She is startled by CC’s beauty, frightened by its implications.

Each offers her a hand as their name is called.

“Carol, this is CC, Deborah, Gabriel.  You know my cousin Jeff.”

Jeff has brought a football.  Jeremy grabs it.

“Go long, Jeff.”

Jeffrey takes off.  Perry, their Lab, runs alongside, barking. Jeremy throws a perfect spiral, which Jeff catches without breaking stride. As the catch is made, Jeremy glances quickly at CC. Carol notices.

“Now you, Gabriel.”

Once again a perfect pass and once again Jeremy steals a look at CC, but this time he is aware Carol’s watching him.  CC also sees Carol’s reaction. Her eyes drop to the ground.

A little later, Jeremy hands out hot dogs and hamburgers from the grill  while Carol goes back and forth to the kitchen.

When they are finished eating, sitting around on the patio, Jeremy takes out a joint.  Carol isn’t too happy that he’s brought out pot in front of the students, but she says nothing. He hands it around.  They all take a few hits.  Carol takes only one, refusing a second. “Someone’s got to function,” she says.

She cleans up while the others space out.  As the afternoon winds down, CC approaches Carol shyly. “Can I help?”

“No thanks. I’ve got it under control.”

CC nevertheless clears the dishes from the table and follows Carol inside.

“You took the bus, right? No one’s going to be driving stoned?”



Carol forces a smile.

“Are you a junior?”


She holds up her hand, her middle finger crossed over her index finger for good luck. “Hopefully, I’ll graduate in June.”

“Oh come on.  Jeremy tells me you’re smart.”

“He’s talked about me?”

“When he told me who was coming. You’re a senior–ready to take on the cold, cruel world?”

“Not yet. Going to school for social work after this, although my father  tells me I should be a lawyer.  Says I think like one.”

“Do you?”

“I can get like that sometimes.  I was on the debating team in high school. But I’ve already been accepted at Columbia for social work.

“That’s a good school. Are you going home?  Did you grow up in the city?”

“When I was young, we lived in Queens.”

“Where in Queens?”

“Kew Gardens Hills.   Actually, Simon and Garfunkel grew up there.”

“Did they?”

“Art Garfunkel always makes it seem like he is from Forest Hills. I think  he was embarrassed. Kew Gardens Hills was on the wrong side of the tracks from Forest Hills.  But all of their songs about home­—that was Kew Gardens Hills.”

“Were your parents embarrassed?”

“Not really.  They saw it as a step up from Brooklyn.  On the way to Great Neck.”

“So what was Kew Gardens Hills like?”

“I just remember there were always a lot of kids outside.  It beats Great Neck by a mile in that regard.  It was garden apartments, which my parents thought was a step up from apartment house apartments.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Well, not really. Five of us lived in four rooms, and we couldn’t afford much of anything.  My parents slept in the living room on a Castro Convertible.”

“That’s no fun.”

My father went to law school at night, and by the time I was four, my family made it to Oceanside, then to Great Neck.  How about you?”

“I’m from Brooklyn all the way,” she says proudly, ignoring CC’s earlier put-down.

“I don’t really know Brooklyn.  My mom and dad are both from there.”

“Did you ever see where they grew up?”

“My Mom took me once to Fortunoff in Brownsville. It looked pretty dangerous.  This one guy approached the car looking for money from us. My mom had us lock the doors. That’s about it.”

I was in the good part of Brooklyn, Bay Ridge. There were no muggings. Jeremy’s grew up somewhere near, Manhattan Beach. I think near Sheepshead Bay.”

“You don’t know?”

“Jeremy’s origins can get confusing.”

“He’s never taken you to where he grew up?”

“Not really.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where’s Sheepshead Bay?

“You don’t know? Typical Long Island.”

“What do you know about Long Island?”

“Nothing. That’s a whole different world.”

“You weren’t curious about Brooklyn.” Carol asks.

“I guess not.  Brownsville scared me.”

“So how are you going to be a social worker? You can’t just stay in your office.”

CC shrugs. “Maybe I will be a lawyer.”


“I just don’t like the bad mood my father came home with after work.  And I really do want to make the world a better place.”

“If you can do something like that it would be nice.”

Despite Carol’s instinct that Jeremy’s attracted  to CC, a bond is forming between them.  The marijuana has loosened their tongues.

“Jeremy’s mentioned you a few times.  I was wondering what you would look like.”

“Am I what you expected?”

“Unfortunately, yes.  Jeremy may seem like he is ruled by his brain, but he’s a typical guy.  His hormones are in charge.  He gets a certain look when he talks about particular students.”

CC is pleased she has been mentioned by Jeremy, less pleased that Carol sees her as a rival.

“You must have been his prettiest student,” CC offers.

“He tells me his smartest. Don’t know about that. But if he believes it,  what the hell. I’ll take it.  We were both undergrads at Penn.  It’s funny. Even when he was a student, he liked to lecture. He has so many ways of looking at things. Totally unique.”

“He gets so carried away by his ideas.” CC gushes a bit too much, which Carol notices.

“When I met him, he wanted to be a rock star. He loves being on stage.”

CC smiles happily. “Was he any good?”

Carol shrugs.

“ He probably wasn’t good enough.  His band went nowhere. But I think he has found his thing.”

Inspired by the stars in CC’s eyes, Carol continues.  “When he gets going, he can be a real turn-on. Like his hero Wittgenstein. I assume he’s spoken about Wittgenstein?”

“He has. He just gave that lecture

“He has that lecture perfected. . . . It’s very polished. He may have wanted to grow up to be Duke Snider when he was a kid, but now he wants to grow up to be Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Certified Genius. Were you wowed?”

CC blushes.

“Don’t worry. I remember how irresistible he was when he got all excited about some new thought.” She grimaces.  “But now—”

“He doesn’t do that to you anymore?”

“I’ve heard his schpiels a thousand times.  It’s pretty hard to get excited.”

“I can’t imagine it getting old.”

“Believe me, everything gets old. His thing with ideas is like an addiction. He has to have them.  Like food.  Happy when he’s got a new one, grouchy when there is not enough. Fortunately, he has other qualities.”

“Like what?”

“It’s not obvious.  He enjoys being Peck’s bad boy.  He won’t win any awards for being a responsible adult, but he’s actually a nice guy.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s plenty. There is very little cruelty in him.  Insensitivity yes—there is a lot of that. A real lot.  He thinks about himself too much. That’s Jeremy.  But intentional cruelty—no.  In a marriage, kindness is what counts. If he could just get his head on straight and finish his dissertation, we’d be in a good place.”

“His dissertation is a big problem?”

Carol swallows hard. “Really big.  The fact that Wittgenstein didn’t publish has been a perfect excuse.  Jeremy can’t just get it done and get his damn doctorate.  Anything less than a masterpiece, something that will live for centuries, anything less would be humiliating to him.” Carol laughs as she finishes.

CC smiles approvingly.  “I like that he aims so high.”

“I know that sounds heroic, but the other side of it is that it leads to deep fears. The professors in the English department are nationally known. It’s an unusually creative department. I don’t know why they’re here, but right now U of B’s English Department is hot. It’s attracted top talent—John Barth, Leslie Fiedler. That’s what brought Jeremy here.”

“I’ve heard it’s one of the best.”

“That’s the problem; the competition is ferocious.  High expectations make daily life uncomfortable.  If he were training for the Olympics, that would be one thing.  Everyone understands that kind of glory, the ups and downs of trying to be the best.  One minute, he believes he is a genius. . . .”  She .  “The next, he’s a no one.  Do you know Dr. Malev?”

“The chairman?”

“He believes Jeremy is extremely gifted.  Dr. Malev has said something to me.”

“That must be exciting.”

“Yes and no.”

“Why no?”

“Because several of the faculty members treat him like he’s a jerk.  Don’t know if they are jealous, or think Jeremy is too full of himself.  But when he has had contact with his supervisors, nine times out of ten he comes home deflated.  Fortunately for him, soon enough, his belief that he’s the next Wittgenstein comes right back.”

“Still, it’s exciting.”

“He needs to get his doctorate done.”

“I didn’t realize there is so much pressure on him.”

“It galls him that he’s not there yet.  Thinks he deserves in, on the basis of all the great ideas he has.  Dr. Malev and a couple of other senior faculty members actually do find his ideas exciting, which is very nice, but everything hinges on his dissertation.   And that’s not working so well.  It’s not easy to knock off a masterpiece.”

“So he’s given up?”

“Are you kidding?  He has the energy of a madman.  Over a week he’ll write twenty, sometimes fifty pages. Good pages.  I’ve read them.   Great pages.  But by midweek, he’s doesn’t like them.  He tears them up.”

He thinks that makes him Wittgenstein because he did the same thing. I remind him Wittgenstein didn’t have a wife and kid.”

“So, all that talk about geniuses—he thinks he’s one?”

“Half the time.  The other half– don’t ask- he knows how stupid it sounds to others, how stupid it is to think that way, when he believes it, he is a handful.  They used to tease him in high school. Called him ‘Pompose.’  For pomposity. And that’s when he wanted to make it with his band. He’s already figured out the perfect defense.  If not in this life, than after he’s gone, someone will discover him.”

“He’s said all that?”

“No, but we were watching this movie about van Gogh, how he never sold a painting when he was alive.”


“Not a single one. Jeremy got all choked up.  I asked him about it.  He said it was nothing. The movie just made him sad. But the way he cried . . .” Carol wipes a tear. “Boy, I just had one puff of the marijuana and it’s made me like Jeremy.  Motormouth,”

“So he has delusions of grandeur?”

“Right after college, he had something published in The Yale Review but nothing since. I don’t really think it’s delusions of grandeur.  He’s able to laugh about it with me.  But whatever that genius thing is, Jeremy’s got a bad case of it. I swear. He thinks geniuses are the only people that truly belong on Earth.  Everyone else is taking up space. That’s one side of it. Then, suddenly, he’ll hate every word he’s written. He fears he’s ordinary. Being like everyone else scares him.  He thinks I wouldn’t love him.  No one would.  Which is so crazy.”

“You’re saying he is really screwed-up.”

“Yes, in his way.  Mind you. Everyone is nuts when you really get to know them.  Jeremy is Jeremy. He’s just a guy. He talks up a storm, but I still see this college kid. Both of us were kids when we met…You’re Jewish, right?” Carol asks CC.


“A lot of Jewish men are like him.  Very ambitious.  Can’t imagine their life as not getting to the top. Nervous as hell that they’re not up to it, that they’re a nobody. That’s what Jeremey talks about a lot.  Genius or being a nobody. Nothing in between.  Like the rest of us slobs.”

“Still, I think it’s exciting.”

“Maybe, but it’s not easy to have incredible standards. It’s hard to be around.”


“I’m not complaining.  Well, I guess I am. I’ll say this.  He never bores me.  He’s gotten more and more interesting the longer I’ve known him.”

“But you’re saying having an ambitious husband is no fun.”

“This is way beyond ambition. The genius thing . . . I’ll admit it can lead to accomplishments, but over the last year––his time is running out to get his dissertation done. We’re not having a good time.  If we just can get through this crisis, then I could put up with my genius husband.”

“Do you save the pages he throws away?”

“I should.  If he ever gets to where he thinks he belongs, they will be worth something.”.

She stops, listens carefully:

“I hear Alyosha. You want to meet him?”

CC has a big smile. “Absolutely.”

Carol takes CC to his room.  She lifts him out of the crib, smells his tush, then hands him to CC.  CC’s had practice with her brother Jay’s little boy. She shakes his hand back and forth. Then squooshes her nose, singing “Aly-o-sha” in a melody as she moves him inches from her face. He smiles happily. Holding the baby, CC follows Carol into the kitchen, then outside, feeling as if she has joined the family, but unfortunately, she is picturing herself in Carol’s place.


Early evening, CC is on the pay phone in a small alcove in the second- floor dorm lounge.  She is talking quietly, trying to keep her conversation private.  Fortunately, there is only one other person in the lounge, CC’s friend Brittany, who’s unlikely to gossip.  Mark, her brother, is in his Dwight Street apartment in Berkeley, phone in hand, spread out on the couch.

“Mark, come on.”

“The last three times we’ve talked, we’ve landed up talking about Jeremy.”

In his appearance, Mark has matured into the male version of CC, unusually handsome, almost pretty.  His eyes are sensitive, which stands out all the more with his gruffly unshaven face, the style in Berkeley. His gestures are robust, almost exaggeratedly so.  He speaks with a deliberately aggressive edge, which took him time to cultivate as he struggled to bury his childhood softness and emerge as his version of a man.  It was necessary as it is for most guys. At a certain point, junior high for most, being a sissy is not allowed in the company of other guys. Despite his effort, he can’t altogether cancel out his still delicate persona.  Country Joe and the Fish are playing in the background.

“Mark, he’s married. He has a one-year-old son.”

He teases, “I know you, CC.”

Almost swooning, she replies, “I’ll admit, he’s the most brilliant man I’ve ever met.”

She looks Brittany’s way, fearful that she has heard something. She hasn’t. She’s laughing away at the Jackie Gleason show on TV.

Mark’s picked up on CC’s swoon. He teases her.

“CC, you’re in love. You’re in love. That’s what it is.”

She grits her teeth. “It’s not so simple.  I like his wife a lot. Someone said she has lupus.  I could never do that to her.”

“Strange coincidence.  You’ve got myasthenia, and he’s flirting with you.  Does he know?”

“I don’t know how he would.” Then, after thinking it over she adds, “Maybe.”

“Myasthenia is not a small thing.”

“No comparison.  You can get really sick from lupus.  You can die.”

“There’s a tiny chance, but so could you. Your Jeremy has a thing about rescuing sick women.”

“I don’t even think he knows I have myasthenia.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know who knows, who doesn’t know about it.  I don’t talk about it. Well, once or twice.”

“Telling you– this guy loves to rescue dames in distress.”

“Mark, let’s keep it simple.  He’s married.”

“Big shit.”

“He talks a lot about Wittgenstein. Your hero.”

Mark’s very pleased, “What about him?”

“How Wittgenstein demanded so much of himself.  Jeremy’s got the same problem.  Everything has to be one-in-a-million good or he can’t go with it. He’s like you.”

“I’m not like that.”

“Since when?”

“Give me a break.”

“Anyway. There’re problems with that. He hasn’t finished his dissertation. According to his wife, several professors in the English Department love him, but they can only extend the deadline for his dissertation so long. Some hate him.  They can’t stand his self-importance.  His time is running out. Carol’s worried that—”


“His wife.  If he doesn’t get it done by this summer they are going to cut him loose. He’s feeling incredible pressure.”

“She told you all that?”

“More or less. We were stoned.”


Mark is pleased that CC is still smoking dope, happy that he turned her on to one of life’s treasures.

CC continues: “He worries a lot about the upcoming deadline for his dissertation. Practically every night he can’t sleep. Lately, nothing she tells him comforts him.”

In a boasting tone, Mark proclaims, “Me, Jeremy, and Wittgenstein.”

She teases him affectionately. “Yeah.  You like to make things ten times harder than they have to be.”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

“What’s there to get?  How to be crazy?”

“You think Jeremy and I are crazy?”

“And Wittgenstein!”

“You think we are crazy?”

CC doesn’t answer.  She’s pleased that she has gotten under Mark’s skin.  He’s pleased that she is in love with someone that is so much like himself.

* * *

A week later, after Jeremy’s class ends, CC comfortably follows him into his office without being asked.

“I liked Carol.”

“She liked you.”

“Hopefully, we can get together again.  Ever eat at Main Moon?” she asks.

“The take-out place?”

“They have incredible dumplings.  They have some tables.  I go there a lot.”

“It’s not going to happen.  Carol’s not happy about my friendship with you.  When she heard you came to my office, she let me have it. She doesn’t want me seeing you here.”

“Something I did?”

“No. She likes you.  It’s me. She doesn’t like the look I get when I mention you.  Things heat up quickly if I even say your name.”

“She’s that jealous?”

“Not usually, but I think she has good reason.”

“What do you mean?”

He moves CC’s hair out of her eyes.

“You can’t figure that out?

He moves closer to her.  She doesn’t retreat.  Jeremy tries to kiss her. She turns her head away.

“Jeremy, no.  Carol . . .”

But as he backs off, he can see the disappointment in her eyes. He goes to kiss her again.  Her hand moves up, covering her lips. He plants a kiss on her cheek, puts his arms around her in a fatherly way, but soon that becomes romantic, tensing her up. Nevertheless, he senses her resistance is losing its hold on her. Practically overcome with desire, he has one thing on his mind. He’s hoping her ‘no’ will soon become yes. He won’t be able to control himself if they get there.

His persistence may be winning out. Although afraid, her desire keeps interrupting her intention, which is to end it right here. Every time that happens he senses it, as well as the opposite.  At first her desire slipped through her armor. Now it’s taking over. She’s lost.

There’s a knock on the door.  They quickly disengage, straighten their clothes. Jeremy’s erection is poking into his pants.  He sticks his hand in his crotch and directs his penis down to the floor.  CC finds that funny. And exciting.

That night in bed, Jeremy tosses and turns, imagining the fantastic romance awaiting him.  Carol notices but decides not to ask him about it.. That same night, CC lies in bed more than content.  In ten minutes, it will be midnight and her twenty-first birthday will begin.  Her mother sent her the incredible sapphire stud earrings she always loved when her mother wore them.  They arrived in the afternoon. When CC opened the package she was stunned, surprised her mother noticed. CC had never said anything, but evidently her mother saw the way she looked at them.

Still, her mother loved those earrings.  It’s not like her to be this generous.  Too often her mother seems to ignore her about things like this. That’s not accurate.  When she was a little girl her mother told her that she would grow up to be beautiful, like Cinderella.  But since then her mother has been on her, unhappy with one thing or another, trying to improve her. Yes It has all been in the service of her mother’s vision, to get her to a very nice place, but mainly CC has experienced her as an incessant critic.

Trying the earrings on, she gasps at their beauty, almost disbelieving what she is seeing, that they are on her ears and then in the mirror she sees the rest of what is before her. Her own beauty. She likes what she sees, which is not the usual.  She returns to the earrings. Noticing how bright they are in the lamplight, how blue. She turns to put one of them in the shade. She likes that color blue as well. Her hand returns to fingering the one on her left ear. As she does so a wave of love for her mother. settles within her.  She doesn’t usually feel this way. It is a much greater love than the one familiar to all of us on a good birthday. Has she finally arrived, become the person her mother expected? For the moment the answer is yes.

She keeps the earrings on in bed, to sleep with them. As soon as her covers have been pulled up and she allows herself to be sucked into her pillow, her hands go to the sapphires, this time to both of them, touching them, squeezing them, rolling them over perhaps to confirm that they are truly hers. She enters the reverie before sleep that she seeks every night. Her hand moves to her hair, flows back with it.  Once, twice, a third time. Slowly, slowly. Then she pushes harder with her index finger, feeling her scalp. This usually puts her to sleep. Twenty-One cries out in her mind.  Thanks Mom. But it is Jeremy’s kiss that now fills her mind and thrills her. The possibility of that ends a perfect day before her birthday.



November 15, 2021
by Simon Sobo

1968 Changed Everything: A Novel: CC’s fears abut her parents’ marriage

Chapter 21

Ira and Evelyn’s Marriage 

 While Jeremy had assumed that buying CC the wonderful ring and sharing the room over Niagara Falls earned him serious lovemaking, CC is not there at all.  She wants to talk. That’s it.  Nothing else. Talk. He has no choice. If he must he must, but not happily.

Jeremy lights a joint.

After a few drags, CC’s mind is sufficiently loosened.

“My parents’ marriage.”

“What about it?”

“When we got back that is where my head went. I want to talk about them.”


“I can’t help it.  I’m thinking about them.”


“You don’t want to?” She knows he doesn’t.  He knows he must.

“I do.”

She leaves it at that. He most likely doesn’t want to hear anything more about their relationship. She has also begun to assume that anything she might ask of him he would do.

He says in a kind voice, “Say what you have to say,” hoping she will take that as an apology.

Still she hesitates.

“No really. Go ahead.”

“You want to hear about my parents? I doubt it, but right now that what’s on my mind.

“No I want to know about them.  Carol needs to talk to me about her parents sometimes. It helps her when I listen and although I want to help she knows I can’t. But she knows I would like to.”

“That helps her?”

“I think so. She’s not alone with her problems. So what did you want to say about your parents?

“I keep trying to think nice thoughts about them.  I’ve exaggerated the way I’ve described them to you. Things aren’t that bad.  Still it’s bugging me. Like something is really wrong. I don’t know what it really is but it’s something.”

“You have no idea?

CC takes a deep breath then in a funereal tone she continues. “I don’t think they love each other. My mother’s pretty difficult. She’s just—”

“Stick to whether they love each other.  Whether they do or don’t.  Not whose fault it is.” There is a bit of scorn in his voice.

“It isn’t just me. A lot of the girls in the dorm talk about the same thing,  Try to make sense of what’s going on with their parents.  Whether they love each other but especially who’s to blame. You think that’s nothing but you’re wrong.”

She goes to the kitchen. He watches her from the living room. She opens a cabinet: Bumble Bee tuna fish, some canned string beans, corn, asparagus. Nothing appeals to her. She wishes she was home. Even in the dorm.  She could go to the candy machine. She closes the cabinet and moves on to another, where she finds the glasses. She 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 another sip, then she gulps down the entire glass.  All the while, her thoughts play like an endless loop in her mind.

“Shrinks are making a good living off of all of this,” he tells her.

“I know.”

She wants something very cold. She finds an ice tray and frees up cubes of ice, puts two in her glass and returns to the bedroom with her ice water.

“Everyone’s trying to get their therapist to side with them.” CC tells Jeremy as she reenters the room

“I know. I thought there isn’t supposed to be any guilt in therapy.”

She smiles. “No guilt for the patient.  There’s plenty of blame for everyone else. Plenty!”

She finishes the water, starts sucking on an ice cube.

“It’s never been like this before.  My mother has always said things that sting my father.  Now she’s using a dagger.  He’s no angel either.”

With that, CC anxiety, which wasn’t there when she started speaking leaps out of its hole and is quickly working her over. Assuming that her parents love each other has been the cement holding the family together.   The possibility of them breaking up is inconceivable. It isn’t just their relationship.  She wonders if they’d still be a family? She can’t imagine that happening.

“We’ve always felt connected. Whether we understand each other or not, we’ve had that. If they got divorced it would be so strange. I’m not sure Jay or Mark would seem like my brothers–not the same way.”

“I’m sure that wouldn’t change. You’re born with that connection.”

“I don’t know.. I can’t imagine coming home and we’re not all there. You and your dad–his four divorces meant nothing?

“Pretty much.”

“It frightens me.”

She doesn’t often experience actual fear. Yes, she can be a nervous chatterbox, full of doubts. She pulls at her cuticles, and her stupid stomach can get very tricky from anything upsetting. All are manifestations of fear.  That’s what her therapist calls it.  But actual fear is something else.  She doesn’t ordinarily know what that’s like. It just doesn’t happen to her.  The sensation isn’t totally foreign. During the Creature from the Black Lagoon, she was terrified.  But otherwise feeling as fearful as she is now is new.  She’s read about anxiety, being afraid and you don’t know why. But reading about it is very different than experiencing it.  The fear taking hold of her lately is frightening. Talking has always helped but her conversations with Jeremy  aren’t lessening it.  Usually, what’s good about him, the pot, the shamelessness which allows them to talk about whatever, gives her a grip. But at this moment her apprehension is being reinforced by their conversation.

“I know he loves her,” CC tells him.  “And she loves him. That makes two.”  She often adds up conclusions like that, as if arithmetic will solve the puzzle.  If she can come up with three or four more good things about their relationship, logic might win her over to that point of view.

It shouldn’t, but saying they love each other out loud also helps, pronouncing her conclusion in words.  She knows it’s real without saying it. She’s been in their presence and shared it when it was there. Copacabana, Copacabana–in this case it isn’t repeating the words like a magical incantation. That vision repeatedly flashes in her brain to rescue her.  Not this time. It isn’t enough. The anxiety remains.

“Am I lying to myself? Maybe they don’t love each other.”  Another trick–pronouncing the worst possibility out  loud sometimes helps to encapsulate it.. But they’re not there yet.  She’s is saying it without conviction.   It doesn’t calm her.

Over the years therapy’s been beneficial. Speaking her thoughts out loud allows her to evaluate them more clearly– step back, see issues with new eyes.  When she gets going, she keeps going, much further than where her mind might have brought her if she weren’t speaking about it out loud.  Smoking a joint with Jeremy acts similarly. But right now nothing is working. Perhaps she’s been affected by Jeremy’s initial resistance to this conversation.  Despite the pot, talking about her parents’ marriage is embarrassing her. Jeremy seemingly is so tied to her, but is he? He is still a stranger.

Actually, she’s reading him wrong. Despite his initial tone of voice, Jeremy is no longer reluctant to listen to her.  His curiosity has been aroused. His impatience was related to his disappointment that he was not going to score after buying her  the ring. But now he has moved beyond that. He wants to hear more.  The longevity of her parents’ relationship amazes him.  It’s so different from his father’s marriages. His remaining irritation is  CC sifting through the blame.

Jeremy’s father fell in love again and again, each time as intensely as  the first time. His ecstasy was real, but it never lasted beyond a few months.  Before Jeremy married Carol, that’s how Jeremy had been with his girlfriends–exactly like his father. In love then not in love. It’s different with CC.  When he fell in love before, it had always been with a woman with whom, from the very beginning, he had reservations.  He didn’t like something about her nose, or her hair, or her voice, or her manner, or, some attitudes he detected.. He saw something wrong from the outset. Wanting to be in love, he’d overlook these shortcomings and convince himself this was the one. But he knew all along.  For a while, he’d feel something like love but then it would die. He knew all along about his qualms and they took over.

He had no reservations about CC–none at all.  He didn’t have to fool himself.  Her beauty stunned him. In an instant he was gone. He still is.

If anything, that’s part of the problem. Despite Dave’s easy cynicism about romance and true love, Dave never mentioned his real doubts.  She’s a level or two, maybe three levels, above where Jeremy’s looks ordinarily would have gotten him. He isn’t bad looking but he doesn’t compare to CC. Jeremy is thrilled to have CC, but he still doesn’t fully believe that luck has finally come his way, that CC loves him like he loves her. He’s hopeful.   But perhaps he never will grasp that she’s his. She’s so much better looking than he is. Their matchup defies the ordinary rules of attraction.

Still, while he would do anything to hold her, talk about anything she wants to talk about, he doesn’t want to be drawn into the thicket of moral questions that preoccupy her.  Not about her family. There are much more important things happening. Addressing what’s evil in America is far more relevant than the rights and wrongs, the gossip and bullshit going on between two people in Great Neck. He isn’t tiring of his initial fascination with her family, particularly Nanny.  It’s not so much anything she has said in particular. It’s the look CC’s gets whenever Nanny is brought up.  He’s mentioned to Dave how much CC is taken with her wisdom. Dave made a good point. He compared her to Polonius.  How Polonius gave all this great advice, wisdom that is still quoted today.

“‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

“‘Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.’

“‘To thine own self be true.’

“Shakespeare stands on a pedestal with timeless advice. Why does it come out of the mouth of Polonius, a foolish old man?”  Dave asked Jeremy whether he thought her grandmother is a fool.

“On the contrary, but something about her bugs me.”

“Wisdom is always after the fact,” Dave answered. “It’s old people talk. It’s a lot easier to be wise when you’re not immersed in what’s going on. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, dressed up as an immortal statement for the ages. It sounds good but it’s coming from someone who is no longer tackling living.

Jeremy’s memories of his grandmother are very different.  She was always a foreign presence. He still remembers the smell of his grandmother’s gefilte fish, the unappetizing gel surrounding each piece–her glop. As soon as he entered his grandmother’s apartment the smell of rotting onions invaded his perceptions.  Later, he hated the smell of urine when his father took him to his grandmother’s nursing home. He went once willingly.  The second time, he went because it seemed important to his father.  But never after that.  Even in the lobby, as you entered the nursing home there was a urine smell, like an institutional bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned enough.  Urine, which ordinarily has little smell, disgusted him. Until CC’s Nanny that was his reaction to old people.

“Do your parents go to bed at the same time?” he asks CC.

“They used to. Why?”

“Wanting to end the day at the same time–that togetherness, trying to be one it’s–”

Jeremy doesn’t silence the thought that’s pops into his head.

“Like coming together.”

He instantly feels foolish.  It’s the usual Jeremy shtick, proud of his courage to do and say the unsayable, followed by his awareness that it hasn’t gone over too well.

“You’re weird,” she says, not really meaning it. She’s not turned off by the incessant naughty boy Jeremy delights in being.  It is so much like Mark.  She doesn’t like Mark’s effect on her father, the way he tweaks him.  She hates it, but there is this hidden piece of her that envies his courage.  She wishes she had some of it. Although what she dislikes about Jeremy is often that part of him.  What she likes about Jeremy is the same thing.

“They used to go to bed together. Every night.”

“When you were little?”

“At least I assumed they did.  When I was young, I was usually asleep when they went to bed, although sometimes I was up until I heard them in their room.”

“Did you ever hear them fucking?”

“Leave it to you to ask that?”


“I’d listen to them brushing their teeth, gargling. That’s what I would remember. My bedtime was eight-thirty, except on Wednesdays.  We were allowed to stay up to watch Father Knows Best. Even Mark. Watching that show made us all happy.”

Jeremy softly pinches CC’s cheek like a grandfather greeting the young ones with sloppy gushy affection. Jeremy coos, “You were such an all-American family.”

“Along with a hundred million other people. It just had that effect. Didn’t you watch it?”

He’s relieved to answer honestly.  “I did.  Either at my mother’s apartment or my father’s. I had a regular childhood.”

The challenge met, Jeremy persists.

“So, they went up to bed together?”

“Back then yes. No longer. My last few years in high school, they came up  to the bedroom at separate times, when they finished whatever they were doing. My mother liked to stay up pretty late. He had to go to work the next morning.”

“What would she do?”

“God only knows. Probably going through her clothes, trying things on.”

“Speaking to her secret lover?”

“Not everyone is like you, Jeremy.”

“You mean like us?”

“You have this crazy idea. My parents and their friends, people at the club, aren’t having affairs. Believe me, the gossip would have surfaced. They were either working or with their families.”

“I bet that’s not true. Your parents probably hid it from you. Every one of the men?  Those men had secretaries.  My mother told me. She was once a secretary.  She fell in love with her boss. He reminded her of her father and she was crazy about her father.”

“So, she slept with her boss? CC asks, a bit alarmed.

“No.  But she said it could have happened. It just never happened.”

“Your mother told you that when you were a kid?”

“Not her  Later on. My father told me she had told him that.  Maybe he was looking for an excuse to throw at me. But my guess is she could understand those things. That’s how she tolerated him.”

“I saw a picture of your mother. I would have liked to meet her.”



She offers him an acknowledgment.  “Maybe a few of the men at the club lose control. But not many.”

His skeptical look elicits further argument.

“I’ll say it again.  If people were fooling around, I would have heard something. I mean, every once in a while, there was a giant scandal, but it was  rare. You have this idea of this rich people’s club like it’s an Italian movie.  People constantly flirting, getting each other into bed.  La Dolce Vita. That’s not the scene.  They’re into eating, losing control that way. At least the men…And looking beautiful, that’s what’s expected of the women. My mother is an ornament for my father. Like all of the women there. It’s not to seduce anyone..”

“She’s an ornament?”

“Well, it’s not just for my father. She loves being the queen at the club.”

“So, no one is having affairs?”

“Look.  I’m not saying people at the club are so holy.  It’s just the rules.   The rules, not their goodness. People don’t want to risk public humiliation. That’s what goes along with being caught having an affair.”

“Those rules are going to change. All of them.” Jeremy says confidently “Every last one.  Pick the most forbidden behavior you can think of.”


“Well okay.”

She smiles. “A guy dressing like a girl? Kissing another guy in public.”

“Who knows? Why not. I don’t care what it is. We’re going to throw away all that bullshit forbidden stuff. Guys with guys.  Sure thing.  What is going to happen is people will go for what they want.  You only have one life to live.  Being free to choose whatever you want should be the rule. Yes, like in the movies, like beautiful Hollywood people, anything they want they can have. We need to honor our dreams.”

Her voice becomes accusatory. “That’s what you want, isn’t it, everyone living wild Hollywood lives?”

He’s struck by the comparison. A Hollywood perspective never occurred to him. Anything but. Except for Jane Fonda, Hollywood people are the last people he admires.”

She continues: “It wouldn’t work.  People lose their figures when they turn thirty or forty. Once they get comfortable in their life.”

“Maybe that’ll change.  Maybe people will stay in shape. Lately, there have been a lot of movies about middle-aged women taking off. They’re going to have to stay trim.”

“You mean have a lean and hungry look? Maybe.” she answers, dismissing it as a possibility.  She’s still processing what he was saying about her parents going up to bed together.

“For years, my mother stayed up late downstairs, watching movies.  I could hear those movies.

“Romantic movies?”

“Mostly.  It sure wasn’t westerns or war movies.”

There’s a pause.  Jeremy grabs the opportunity. Once again Jeremy flips into his teaching voice. “The real test of a relationship is who is getting more destroyed.”

“Meaning what?” she asks sharply. She’s not in the mood for one of his lectures.

Undaunted, he continues.  “The battle of the sexes didn’t begin with that Gloria Steinem, or Betty Friedan. It’s always been center stage. Every romance. Man versus woman.”

“Versus?  I thought it’s getting together.”

“Yeah getting together with someone that can destroy you.” He thinks a little more. “It’s all that matters. The danger is there from the beginning.  Why do you think high school guys are so afraid to ask a girl out.

“You mean you?”

“Not just me.”

“Like you with Marlene Schneider?”

“Okay, if it makes you feel better– me.”

His voice becomes conciliatory. “It sounds cute when you get older.  Very cute—teenagers in love. The one thing it isn’t is cute. I remember it clearly. It wasn’t cute at all.  I was terrified.”

“Were you? Truth no bullshit”

She doesn’t need to hear him say it. “I’m lucky.” CC tells him. “Girls don’t have to make the first move, but I’ve been hurt.  I was crazy about this guy, Jeff Saperstein. Tenth grade.  We got very involved.  He had me rub his penis through his pants.  I’d never touched a penis, but I would have done anything for him.”

“That’s as far as you went?”

“That’s not the point.  He told all his friends about it and they got all over me, teased me like crazy.”

“Gang shamed you?”

“He had a new girlfriend a week later.  Point is, it threw me for a long time.  I kept remembering how hurt I was.”

Jeremy gets up and looks through his records.  He puts on the Everly Brothers.  He sings along with them.

                Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars

                          Any heart not tough nor strong enough

                          To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain . . .


He watches CC’s reaction as the song continues.


Some fools rave of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness

                          Some fools fool themselves I guess

                          But they’re not fooling me

I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true

                          Love is just a lie, made to make you blue

                          Love hurts, oh, love hurts . . .


He lifts the arm of the record player. “Exactly. My fear with Marlene Schneider was realistic. It’s the way things are. Sure, I was mister suave when I was told a girl liked me.  But that was with them. If I didn’t know a girl’s feelings?  Forget it.

Sometimes the whole thing dribbles down to nothing.  That’s painless. But people get hurt. Hurt badly. What happened to you, being dropped for someone else.

He smiles “Hitler couldn’t invent a worse torture.”

“Only you could come up with that comparison.”

“It’s true. That’s why they make so many movies about lovers breaking up, quarreling, broken hearts, then together again. Movie after movie. It never gets old The pain is that real. It grabs your heart, your guts, every part of you.  Like Hitler movies.”

“Come on!”

“It’s true. There’s a million of them..  Everyone’s been there. It’s never boring.”  Hitler was this small little nothing guy, He’ll be remembered forever. Just as there will always be love stories.”

“That’s just a little bit over the top. Love and Hitler?”

“Fine, it isn’t true. The worst pain someone might feel in their whole life  has nothing to do with love. Other things are more important.

“It’s such a negative way of thinking about it?

“Look I know people joke about it. The battle of the sexes. Oh yeah, the battle of the sexes.  Ha-ha. But what happens is powerful.  Real damage, devastating damage occurs. It slams you. For some people it’s enough to give up on love, to play it safe for the rest of their lives.”

“Sometimes people win.”

“Yes. Like me”

She laughs at him. “Right.  Mr. Superman.”

CC thinks over her parents’ marriage in Jeremy’s context.  She’s doesn’t think her mother is convinced that their romance is over, not completely, nor does her father, but the idea that there are winners and losers is sinking in. In high school, that was clear to everyone. Winners and losers. Someone was always in need of comforting. While someone else strutted around the cafeteria. No one doubted the suffering was real except grown-ups, who thought the whole thing was puppy love. You grow out of it, bla bla bla.

But in a marriage?  Winners and losers? The whole point of marriage is to do away with the high school bullshit, the uncertainty, the drama, the catastrophe when you’re rejected. With the spin Jeremy is outlining, CC is looking at her parents’ marriage with fresh eyes. Neither of them is having an affair.  She has no suspicions of that, but it’s almost worse than that.

“On that basis, my mom’s winning.  She still looks like a million bucks. She’s full of energy.  She comes and goes everywhere.  She seems to be having a good time.  A great time!”

“And your father?”

“He’s doing all right.”

But her face says otherwise, and she soon acknowledges the truth.

“His zip is gone.”  She thinks further. “He always has what he thinks is a serious expression. He told me that’s how mature people are supposed to look. Only he doesn’t just look serious.  He looks morose. He’s dragging himself around.”

“He used to sometimes be a kibitzer. That person is gone. Totally! I haven’t seen it in years. He almost never smiles. He’s mostly sad.. He takes naps on the weekend.  Falls asleep during TV programs. When they go to the theater, my mother tells me the same thing.  Once they were in the first row and he started snoring. The actor looked at them. She jabbed him pretty hard.  She wasn’t laughing when she told me about it.”

CC continues to think about it.  “You can see it when he walks.  His shoulders are no longer straight and proud.  There were times he’d strut, well not strut, but clearly was doing just fine.

No longer. He’s only fifty-eight.  He could be seventy-five. He’s put on fifteen or twenty pounds” She hesitates. “You think my mom is doing that to him?”

“What do you think? It sounds typical. There’s a reason men die younger than women. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And you said your father has a heart problem.”

“It isn’t her. He loves to eat.”

“Your mother makes it for him.”

“II don’t know. It’s him.  There are no leftovers. He cleans his plate and hers. And ours too when we were younger”

“He’s fat?”

“Not when we were younger.   But he’s got a paunch. It’s not that bad, but it was never there before”

Jeremy says nothing.

“Sometimes I think my parents have gone beyond the battle of the sexes…  It’s War! . . . If they sometimes love each other is besides the point”

“Do they?”

When my mother looks smashing, you can see it in my father’s eyes.  And hers. They are wildly in love. Both of them. Still.”

“Surprise.  Beauty trumps everything else. That’s where love comes from.”

“Your version of love, Jeremy.  Your version.  There are other ways to love.”

“Look I know–what I have with Carol.  That’s love. Some people think that is the only real thing.  They’re not wrong.”

“You understand that?”

“Yes, but it’s what I felt for my mother. There should be a different word for that and what I have with you.  It’s something different.  When I look at you, your beauty goes straight from my eyes to my heart.”

He puts his hand on his penis and smiles.  “To my cock. It’s electric. There is nothing more certain than what I feel when I look at you. Everything else disappears.  You’re saying that’s what happens to your parents?”

“Well. Not quite…But yes. When they go out.”

Jeremy’s voice becomes professorial. “Doesn’t surprise me. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. ‘The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.’”

“Who said that?” she asks.

“Oscar Wilde…” His lecturing voice continues. “Love’s there when it’s there.  It’s not when it’s not. It isn’t complicated. A moral yardstick is irrelevant. I know you want to bring that into the picture, but it’s a lot simpler than that.”

“Well, love’s there.” She hesitates for effect. “When they are going out. It’s there. True love, as you’re defining it . . . But it only happens when they’re going out,” she adds.

“There’s nothing in their day-to-day life.  She’s a different person. So is he. She can be mean, bitchy.”

“What does your father do with that?”

“He hates it.” CC smiles ironically.  “My mother tells him it’s a compliment. She can act that way because she loves him.  He’s the only person with whom she can totally be herself.”

“Is that what’s been going on with us?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve learned all about your nasty side.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“So that means you don’t love me enough?”

“I’m getting there.”

“So, when you are dishing it out I should thank your mother.” He says this lightheartedly, but in truth, she’s well on her way, and subliminally he knows it.  She’s been putting him down often enough for him to no longer ignore it.

“It’s just such a contrast,” CC continues. 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 loves that.  I mean, the prettiest woman in the room is showing all this love for him. And my mother means it. It’s so strange.  She means it.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Nothing. Well . . . When others aren’t around. It’s hard to know what to think.  Is it all an act?”

“Is it?” he asks.

“I don’t think so. But it’s confusing. Do they have to be onstage for it to take place? Something’s not right about how they are the rest of the time.”

“Like what?” Jeremy asks.

“A thousand things.”

“Give me a for instance.”

“Small things, but they add up.”

“Like what?” he repeats impatiently. “Give me a for instance.”

“I gave you an example before. Those 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.”

Jeremy smiles. “That’s diddly shit.  Every relationship has that. I mean, if you live together.”

“But it happens again and again. “‘Honey . . .’ ‘Dear . . .’ They used to talk like that, with a saccharine tone, but no longer. Now it’s just plain scolding. They throw it at each other. It escalates very quickly, feeds on itself. It’s about diddly shit, but when they get going, they spit venom in every syllable. Especially my mom.”

CC speaks sharply, imitating first her father, then her mother.

“‘I put it there for a reason.’

‘Where I told you not to put it.’

‘Where I can find it.’”

Her imitation strikes Jeremy as funny, and he chuckles.

“It’s not funny.”

He wipes the smile off his face and 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.”

She shakes her head. “Bullshit.  I’m talking about hate!  There’s a wellspring of hatred between my parents, years of hate, 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.”

“Aren’t you being a little dramatic?”

Unswayed, she continues. “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.” CC’s tone is 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 indifference.”

“That is such therapist bullshit. My therapist told me that four times. Four times!   Each time he forgot he’d told me that before.  Four times! The same brilliant insight.  What book did you get that from?”

Jeremy laughs. “My therapist. You know,” he adds “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’s hurt. Really hurt.  And so is my father.  Yeah, everyone quibbles.” CC takes a breath, then her voice stabs at him, “But not with their vehemence!”

“Who’s in charge. It’s about that. Every close relationship. Not just between people in love,” Jeremy offers.

Wrong!” she tells him. “It’s not that important in friendships. I mean it’s there and can get out of hand, 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.”

“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.  Heartbroken, she was crying as she looked at him.”

She stops for a moment, considers that, then continues.

“He didn’t care.”

“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 escalated.”

“So it’s all Mark’s fault?”

“Probably is. Freud said a woman’s son becomes her sword against her husband.”

“Boy, speaking of the blame game.”

“But it’s true. Mark’s brought a lot of this on. . . . What really bothers me is that too many 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.”

“How often is that?”

“Lately, a lot.”

“I guess that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“The reason you need to talk about this.”

“Maybe.  I can’t stand when my parents do that. It puts me right in the middle.  What’s worse, I take sides. As much as I tell myself to stay out of it, I  can’t help it. Just what they want me to do.”

“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 I’m being trained to be a judge. Lawyers can argue for either side. Depends on 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.  Seriously, though, is it that important?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know.” She stops for a moment to think further about the answer to his question. “If I can decide, I won’t have to think about it so much.”

“Maybe you don’t have to think about it at all. Just decide!”

She laughs. “Between my mother and father? If only.”

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. It’s not like he brings flowers and chocolates for her on a whim, because he is thinking about her. He doesn’t forget Valentine’s Day or her birthday. I’ll 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’s pro forma. And when she’s upset. If she starts going over and over a story, he stops listening. My mother told me. When they are in bed, he falls asleep in the middle of one of her sentences. Okay, she’s repeats herself. Like me.  Like you. But if she does that it’s because what she is saying matters to her. A lot! She sees his falling asleep as proof he really doesn’t care.”

CC thinks it over some more.

“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. That’s gone. And there is practically nothing like that from her. Never was. Well, when other people are around, but otherwise . . .”

CC stops again to refuel.

“She gets irritated by him very easily. She’s always correcting him.  Weekends, she’s out of the house a lot 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, relaxed, talking nice and easy, laughing. I never hear her laugh with my father.  They always sound serious. Constant tension.”

“That means she doesn’t love him?”

“What else can it mean?”

“She’s no better. 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—no, loves—Canadian bacon. A lot of things. Funny. I remember what he likes. I get his stuff if I’m at Waldbaum’s. He really appreciates it. How come she doesn’t?”

As she continues, she weighs what she is saying, trying to get a hold of it.

“It goes beyond not being thoughtful, not remembering what he likes. It’s more complicated—because she remembers that stuff for me, and Jay.  And Mark! Especially Mark. I think it’s her way of telling my father that she won’t be his servant. I’ve heard her say something like that when he asked about the bacon, like he is a slave master.”

“Is he?”

“No more than anyone else in a relationship. That’s big in the magazines now. Men as overseers, oppressors. It’s the opposite with my parents. She expects him to be her servant, to be thoughtful about what she wants one hundred percent of the time.”

He concurs. “That’s what most women want.  It’s my way or the highway. Guys joke—happy wife, happy life.”

“So why does everyone say that’s what men are like? Women are the dictators, not men.”

Jeremy adds, “That’s the bullshit in the magazines.  Have you noticed how many magazines now have women editors?”

CC counters, “But I think it’s true. Men do control most marriages.”

“I’m talking about Jewish marriages.  I’m sure you’ve heard the put-downs of JAPs?”

That stops her.

“Okay. It’s true. The students up here are amazed by how different Jewish girls are, especially the ones from Long Island. Well, my mother is what happens when they get married. My grandparents, Herman and Mimi, raised my mother to be a princess. I don’t think they realized the consequences. Like nothing else mattered other than what my mother wanted. My father reaped the reward, his very own princess. He’s expected to be her servant.”

“It’s the opposite with Jewish men.” Jeremy tells her.  We make the best husbands.” Jeremy has heard that said many times. He believes it.

“Whoever told you that, I guarantee they weren’t talking about you.”

He absorbs her put-down without much reaction. He’s getting used to it.

“I don’t get it, CC says. “To me it’s simple. My mother has the time. He’s got to work fifty, sixty hours a week. Sometimes seventy. Why shouldn’t she remember his ginger snaps at Waldbaum’s? Anyway, that says it all.”

“I’m 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 what’s 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 I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted—the look on my face gives her a big smile.”  Half to himself, he murmurs, “Although she slaps my hand if I stick my finger in the chicken salad.

“Even if I am not enthusiastic, Carol knows she’s getting something I need or that I’m going to want. She gives me a lot of thought. So, she’s usually right. She really knows me. Without thinking about it. Without effort–she loves doing all of that.”

“She sounds amazing.”

“She loves loving. It’s what she’s about.”

“She’s that way with everyone?

He thinks for a moment Well…Not really. Mainly, Alyosha and me.”

By speaking about Carol with such fondness, he has broken an unwritten rule they have unconsciously imposed on themselves. But it doesn’t jar him out of his connection to CC. Nor does it register with CC for more than a moment, merely helps her make her point.

“Well, 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 father’s not like that. Basically, he’s gentle. It upsets him when he loses his temper.

“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.”

“Capitalism,” Jeremy announces definitively, like he has solved not only CC’s father’s problems but the mystery of human suffering, now and forever.

She shakes her head, barks sarcastically, “Capitalism? For you, everything reduces to politics. Capitalism? You really believe that, don’t you?  Political change is going to end human suffering.”

“It certainly would help.  You don’t think you can change things?”

“I don’t know,” she says at first in an almost whining voice. But then she snarls, “He’s surrounded by lawyers. . . . Capitalism?  You are a one-trick pony.  For a smart person, you are so stupid. Really stupid. You don’t know what it’s like to be among lawyers, do you? They can’t stop themselves. Some people squash beetles. They save it for people. At least that’s what my father tells me.”

“And your father is not like that?”

“He isn’t. He loves to debate, like Mark and me but it’s not mean spirited. At his office, he’s usually on the receiving end.”  She hesitates, then adds, “I’ll say this. My father’s never missed a day of work. I’m 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, that’s their true feelings when it comes out like that, and it is. But a five-second burst means nothing. It’s 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 doesn’t make an attempt to add his two cents. He’s even a bit proud of her fart metaphor.  She’s coming along. Learning from him–how to be gross.  She’s on a roll and he’s enjoying it. More than that, he likes her admiration of her father, her respect for him. It’s so simple when respect is there. Listening to the way she talks about him makes Jeremy realize that essentially he doesn’t respect anyone. He’d like to, but as soon as he finds a flaw in someone he might respect, his respect disappears.  He envies CC’s comfort in possessing it.

“When my father’s upset, it’s obvious. When I don’t know what’s bothering him, I ask.  And, the last few years, he talks to me about it.

“My mother notices nothing!  Actually, it’s worse when she does. When he’s insecure, she hates him for showing it. She makes a whole production out of it. Just so he knows that she’s noticed. And what she’s thinking is pretty obvious. Like how did she ever get stuck with a person like him?”

“All of that goes on in front of you?”

“I think they view me as old enough to take it.” She smiles ironically.  “Proof they love me.  No secrets.”

“Look what I missed,” Jeremy interjects. “I got none of that kind of love after my parents split up. Compared to your parents, they seem like angels.”

“What’s pathetic is, they can’t help it. They’re not happy being that way.  It makes them miserable. But they can’t control it. Since Mark stirred things up, it’s a hundred times worse. Maybe it never would have gotten started if Mark hadn’t been Mark. I mean, before he started his attacks, no one ever got  emotional in my family. Once he got going, all this animosity appeared. My father would get pissed at Mark and she’d go ape shit that he did. 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.”

She ignores him.

“It bothers me that 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.”

Seemingly, they have a quiet moment of agreement, but for CC, there is no closure. She’s still wound up. “If my father describes an incident with someone at work, she’s invariably on the other person’s 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. I’m exaggerating. If he didn’t get it right, he’d be out on disability from my mother’s attacks. But when it happens, when he’s stumbling, whether he caused it or not, she has 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 wife.”

CC imitates a Jewish woman in the Bronx calling her husband to task:  “‘Alex-an-der.’.. CC’s voice is determined. “My mom’s winning the war. She wins every disagreement.”

After a minute, she says, “Boy, has it changed. When my mother carried on about him, my father used to wink at me. Happy wife, happy life. He’d let her win. My mom knew and I knew and everyone knew.  He was the man.

“For a lot of guys, it’s easier to make believe we’re giving in.”

“But now—no more winks. When she wins, she wins. More to the point,  he loses. Her attacks are landing. Wiping him out.”

“What are they fighting about?”

“Doesn’t matter. Any disagreement. She’s the boss. That doesn’t always have to be bad. Jay gives in one hundred percent of the time, ever since he was two. It doesn’t bother him at all. To him, it isn’t capitulating.  Getting on board is where he wants to be. Dora is right out there with what she wants. Beating her would be a hollow victory. She wins, he wins. Whatever floats her boat floats his boat.”

“You think that’s a good way to be?”

“Don’t know. He seems happy.”

“Except your father’s not like him.”

“Unfortunately. He’s the opposite. He’s competitive. I guess that’s why he takes what’s going on in his office so hard. Jay sails through at work. I think he actually enjoys the politics. He’s fascinated by what’s going on. Who’s down. Who’s up. He plays the game, and it’s half fun.

“Not my father. Winning is everything to him. Everything he does. When he golfs, he feels terrific when he wins and down if he loses. Jay couldn’t care less—as long as he’s played well. When Jay beats him, I’ve heard him trying to convince my father to look at things his way.  Especially after my father has played well. Jay tries to cheer him up. He means it. Jay can see how he is suffering unnecessarily. My father has to change his attitude.”

“So, sometimes Jay is your father’s father.”

“Sometimes. My father has reached that point in his life. We all sense it. He needs something.  He could use some advice. That’s what you think of. That’s not how it was before. I turned to him.” She hesitates a moment. “Sometimes he can’t find a word?”

“He’s fifty-eight?”

“Fifty-eight.  He jokes that he’s got early Alzheimer’s.”

“Does he?”

“No. Except I don’t think he’s joking. He’s developed this gallows humor about being old. Like there is no turning back. He’s getting old. It’s downhill after this. He’s done. The writing is on the wall.”

“He’s done?”

“He said he’s going to retire in two years. Then they’ll travel. . . . I wish he could have Jay’s attitude. But he’s not into that. Changing himself.  My mom sees something wrong in herself and she’s out to become a new person.  She assumes she can do that.”

“Can she?”

“Truthfully, she rarely changes, but it doesn’t matter. Just talking the talk. That’s ninety percent of changing, making yourself feel better.”

“That doesn’t work for him?”

“Not really. He prides himself on his honesty. He might agree in theory. Like it’s better to see things the way Jay sees them. But that’s it. When my father loses he’s down. Period. Even if he jokes, they are sad jokes.  When he is smiling, he still looks depressed. I can see the look on his face when he sees my mother’s latest self-help book. He says nothing, but to him it’s nonsense.”

“And Mark?”

“Are you kidding?  Well, there is no way he would play golf. But he’s exactly like my father. He has to win at everything. Only he sees himself as winning, most of the time. Well, not winning—yeah, winning. Like the stuff at Berkeley, the revolution. He’s totally sold. Like you. Berkeley’s going to change the world. He’s on the winning side.”

She watches Jeremy as she describes Mark’s attitude. “He’s convinced that most people are going to be won over—think like he thinks. They’ll realize how the government sucks. They’ll smoke marijuana, reject the crap at the supermarket, ban preservatives, not get taken in by their parents’ rules. . . . All your stuff. Be sexually liberated. He’s leading the charge.”

“So he doesn’t need self-help books?”

“No. It’s Zen, something– anything as long as it isn’t American or Western.” She laughs, “The big thing is, he bounces right back when something doesn’t work out. He basically knows he’s going to prevail.”

“With girls also? That would be nice to have.”

“What are you talking about, Mr. Love Machine? You didn’t waste any time going after me. Do you come down hard when you lose at love?”

He doesn’t answer. She apparently didn’t hear a word he said about love.

“Don’t worry. Right now, you’re way ahead. Two women in your stable.”

He quickly changes the subject. “So Mark has to win?”

Again CC smiles. “Not just win. Kill you if he can. The Mets have to win.  I remember this one time Gil Hodges, after he became the Mets manager, made a stupid move. It cost them a game. Mark was furious. My father got on him about that. Gil Hodges is practically a saint from his days as a Dodger. Way back—my father prayed for him during his slump. Mark would never do that.”

“Prayed? What slump?”

“You don’t know about his slump? I thought you were once a Dodgers fan.”

“I don’t know about a slump.”

“It’s famous. My father loves to tell that story. He’s told it to me a hundred times. Even when I was a little girl. How no one booed.”

“No one booed?”

“1952. Dodger fans cheered Hodges every time he got up.  That was while he suffered through one of the most famous slumps in baseball history. That’s what my father called it. He told me everyone calls it ‘The Slump.’ You should see how proud he is of the people from Brooklyn.”

Jeremy is listening closely.

“After going hitless in the last four regular-season games in1952, during the 1952 World Series against the Yankees, Hodges went hitless in all seven games, finishing the Series zero for twenty-one at the plate. The Dodgers needed him. The Series was close. Brooklyn lost in seven games. Hodges could have been the difference.

“When his slump continued into the following spring, fans reacted with letters and good-luck gifts, you name it. A Brooklyn priest, Father Herbert Redmond of St. Frances Catholic Church, told his parishioners, ‘Go home and say a prayer for Gil.’

“Hodges began hitting again soon afterward, and rarely struggled again in a World Series.”

Jeremy is amazed. “You know that story, even the name of the priest?”

“My father prayed for Gil.  He told me about it, several times.  It was like a miracle had occurred. Ever see Miracle on 34th Street? One of my father’s favorite movies. I’m sure he was convinced that his prayers, or one of the millions of Dodger fans’ prayers, reached God’s ears. I remember, back then, he encouraged me to believe in God. The point is, winning is important enough to my father that he addresses God about it. What’s the point of baseball if you don’t take winning seriously?”

“So your father is like Mark?”

“His passion about winning—that’s the same.”

“What do they do if the Mets are having a lousy season?”

“Mark can be pretty grouchy. So can my father.”

“All the time?”

“Fortunately, during really bad seasons they can shut it off. They hardly mention the Mets at all. They stop watching the games. Both of them never mentioned the Dodgers again after they left Brooklyn.

“The big thing now for Mark is changing America. Yes, saving Vietnamese children. Helping black people. But the key thing is his certainty that he’s part of a giant cultural wave in history that will transform America.” She points at him. “Isn’t that what you believe?”

Jeremy says nothing, but she is right.  He’s told her before.  He’s confident that history is with him and Mark and Berkeley. He’s sure of it. Nothing can stop them.

“No matter what happens, Mark knows he will wind up in the winner’s circle.”

“And your father?”

“I told you. Gallows humor. It’s particularly bad now.  Taking on my mother and Mark. That’s a lethal combination. Plus, I heard they are talking about early retirement at the office.”

“So what’s bad about that?”

“He’s thinking of retiring, but being pushed out . . .That would be terrible.  Ending his career with defeat. He doesn’t really know if it’s going to happen, but he’s not too thrilled.”

“I feel bad for him.”

“Do you?”


Jeremy gets up, goes to the fridge.  Pours some Tab. Returns to the bedroom with it

“Did you see A Star Is Born?” Jeremy asks


“Your parents sound like them.”

You think it’s that bad? “

“It doesn’t sound great.”

That thought takes over. Their discussions have usually remained at a safe distance, but this one is closer to home.

“After I saw Judy Garland make chopped liver out of James Mason I decided I wouldn’t ever go there, be aggressive like that.”

CC eyes water a bit.

“James Mason…My father puts up a brave front.” She tries to hold on to that but isn’t successful.

“Since menopause?” he asks.

“I didn’t think of that.” She mulls it over. “I thought it was Mark or this feminist thing she has been picking up on.

He laughs. “She’s a feminist?”



“She’d never wear the uniform, but she’ been a soldier in that war long before Gloria Steinem appeared. For years. All of her friends are giving their husbands a hard time. It’s definitely been catching on.


“I don’t know.  Maybe not.  it’s just as likely hormones.”

CC is again at the window. For someone obsessed with beauty, Jeremy’s home is lacking in nice things to look at.  She’s grown fond of their Japanese maple.

“I like that tree.

“The cut-leaf maple? Carol insisted we buy it. I like it too.”

“Do you garden a lot?” she asks him.

“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 used to.”

The maple’s skeleton is striking against the snow.   As she looks at it she speaks as if summarizing.

“Does my father love my mother? I’m sure he believes one marriage is all you get. So he’d better love her. That’s probably how Jay would see it.  If he thought about it at all. My father . . . There’s a good chance he loves my mom.” After further thought, she says, “I know he loves her. It’s not his love . . . or her love. It’s their hatred.”

She wipes a tear.

She sees a tissue box. She takes one. The tears don’t stop. “My father’s disappointed. . . . Not just in her. In all of us.”

“In you?”

“Maybe, no, not me. I think I’m 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. I think my father has become her nemesis.”

Hearing herself actually say it upsets CC more.  She hadn’t seen it as clearly.  Real tears begin. Jeremy puts his arms around her. She’s momentarily comforted by his gesture, but only momentarily.

“Our doctor told him that some time in the past he had a heart attack. He’s such a trooper he probably ignored the pain.  It scares me. I can’t imagine not having him.”

She smiles sadly. “When my father was on top of his game, he was something.”

“Your mother’s that tough on him?”

“I don’t think it’s her. It really is Mark. 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 grown up here. The whole thing . . . It’s at the core of who he is. His pride in America.  Losing that 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 openly competitive with my father. She wasn’t always like that.”

“When . . .” CC begins, but can’t continue. She is now crying.

“You know what? I think you should call your father.”

“Now?  It’s nine-thirty. He could be asleep.”

“Call him.”

“It’ll show up on your telephone bill.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll get it before Carol sees it. Call him.”

August 21, 2021
by Simon Sobo

Chapter 27& 28: Mark attempts to define himself (Berkeley in the 60’s)


Chapter 27

Mark and CC Go at It

In her room at home, CC calls Mark.

“What’s up?” she asks, readying herself for whatever tsaurus Mark will hit her with.

“It’s insane here. I’ve had it with everyone, with the Left, with Reagan. Everyone.”

“Why? What’s happening?”

“Everyone hates everyone.   You’re lucky to be going to school in Buffalo.  Berkeley’s unreal. They’re finding villains everywhere. Everyone’s angry.”

“I thought that Berkeley’s going to be the future of America. Is that what we have to look forward to?”

“Could be.  It’s not too pretty here.”

“Are you serious? I thought you went there because that’s where the good people are.”

“It is.  People are here for the right reasons. It’s not like they are fraternity guys just out to get drunk and have a good time. Most of the people here are hoping to do something meaningful with their lives. Having a good time just isn’t it.”

“So how come all that goodness has stirred up so much hatred?”

“And love.”

“Right, love.” She answers sarcastically.

“CC. Can we stop? You haven’t even gotten here and we’re going at it.”

“You’re right.  I’m seeing the same thing in Buffalo. The counterculture’s everywhere.  I saw John Cage at the Albright- Knox.”

“The Albright-Knox. That’s supposed to be very cool. And John Cage.  He’s something else.”

“He was something all right.”

“You didn’t like him?”

“There was nothing to like. They played something called 4-33.  It was brilliant.  Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of total silence.”

CC can hear Mark’s smile on the phone 3000 miles away.  She is not smiling with him.

“Thats so cool,” he says, half knowing that will get CC going.   “I know it’s hard for you. Just keep an open mind, okay?”

CC’s first thought is how nice it would be to cancel the flight to Berkeley.  She’s already had more than enough from Jeremy.

“I know you like them but artsy people make me feel like a jerk around them. There were these people at the concert who looked at me like I was a cockroach. Just because I didn’t know what was going on.  I hate that. It was like I used to feel in Great Neck when I wasn’t up on the latest style.”

“They’re just people. Yeah some people get off on being snobbish. But you’ll find that everywhere. People find a shtick they can grab onto mainly to make everyone else feel like losers. Otherwise they’d be the target.”

“Well I felt stupid.”

“You just have to learn how to fake it. Make like you are in the know.”

“I thought you said you were breaking away from all the phoniness.”

“Sorry for what happened to you at the concert.”

“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have cared. I gave Jeremy a hard time but when I was with him I wanted to fit in. No way that was going to happen.”

“I’m sure Jeremy knows who you are.”

“Doubt that.  He liked how I looked and that was it.  He assumed he could shape me into the person he wanted.”

“Sounds like you had a great time with him.”


“You stayed around.  Didn’t you?”

“Not really.  It was over pretty quickly.”

“CC.  What you have to learn is how to let things happen.”

“I know that.”

Just allow it to happen.”

“What do you mean happen?”

“Happen!” He says a little too exuberantly.

That word has a history. She can’t resist countering him.  “As in happening?”


“I can’t believe last summer at three a.m. you were crawling in the mud at that Long Island estate. You had a great time, right?”

“I did. Thomas Hoving was there.”


“He’s head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  He was crawling in the mud like everyone else.”

“I thought you promised not to name-drop.”

“Fine, he wasn’t there.”

She’s silent. Both can see where her visit’s going to go, especially Mark. He’s come to expect CC looking for a fight.

“Look, I’m sorry I carried on about that happening.”

But he isn’t.

“CC, you could try to be a little more open-minded.”

“To what?”

“Thomas Hoving was there for a reason. And John Cage? He’s an important part of the avant-garde.”   He says this as if he expects CC to drop all resistance and make way for royalty.

“Oh the avant guard. You’re worried I might miss out on the magic?  That will break my heart.”

“Seriously. Happenings are interesting.”

“Crawling in the mud must have been fascinating.”

“It wasn’t really mud.  It was more like wet dirt.”

She laughs. “I stand corrected.  You were crawling in wet dirt. Doesn’t matter.  You wanted me to know you’re hanging out with cool people, people who know Thomas Hoving.”

“You’re missing the point.  Happenings are about being part of the act of creation. Sharing the moment of conception, experiencing the creativity.  That’s what counts, not the art that’s produced.  That’s for merchants to buy and sell at Christie’s.  Happenings are complete in themselves.”

Unseen by Mark, CC mimics his facial expressions. Across the room in the mirror she can see how good her imitation of his ‘I am great mentality’ is.  She wonders if her visit with Mark may be Jeremy times ten.

“Did you make mud pies?”

He doesn’t answer.

“When you were crawling on the ground it was raining, right?”

He doesn’t answer her.

“Did you make mud pies?”

As she continues to bait him, Mark is only half provoked. Perhaps, she’s not altogether wrong.  He was showing off when he told her about it, particularly the part about Thomas Hoving.  But why can’t she let that go?  That’s how she’s become lately, even before Jeremy.  He still recalls how, long ago, their dad teased her when she was maybe six, calling her a “doubting Thomas.” Said she will make a fine lawyer.  From then on, Mark’s pinned that on her whenever she was like this, when she wasn’t going along with where he was trying to bring her.

But this is worse than usual. He’s prepared to ignore it. He’s expected what happened with Jeremy to affect how she is with him. But only so much. He assumes their history is long enough to not to be undone by stupid disagreements. Or, his vanity. For so many years they were solid. He assumes, despite the current brittleness of their conversations, they are still good. As her big brother, being able to introduce her to new cool things has been ongoing and satisfying.  When she was a little girl, she fell in love with black raspberry ice cream, his favorite and soon hers, after he had her taste it. He remembers her smile and the happy way she looked at him. His mentorship bonded them.          It became even more substantial two summers ago, when he brought her to a Bergman festival at the Bleeker Street Cinema. That was a peak of sorts in his ability to introduce her to great new things. They saw in succession The Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly and Wild Strawberries.  Mark brought their mother to see Wild Strawberries but she was totally unimpressed.  “I don’t need a movie to show me how depressing life is.  I just have to look around,” she told him.

Mark was disappointed. His need for others to confirm his enthusiasms began with his mother. As a young child, she was the first to acknowledge and celebrate his nicest qualities. Not just his triumphs and medals but his dimples, his hair, his smile, any enthusiasm he showed for a new discovery.  As he has moved away from the identity his family had, trying to become a new person, his need has grown more not less. He’s wanted his mother on board and assumed she’d go there if he led the way. She is still turned on when he seems enthusiastic, but the rest is far from a sure thing.  Nevertheless, he’s sure Bergman’s a genius. He tells himself his mother is too old to see things with new eyes.

More the reason that CC has been Mark’s god sent as he has taken on his grand new identity.  CC’s reaction to Bergman gave him what he most craves, gratefulness, adulation, confidence that he’s going in the right direction and might just get there. She left each movie in stunned silence, eagerly drinking in what Mark had to say.

Bergman required his help. His movies don’t deliver the satisfied feeling  good movies give when the story, for better or worse, works out. Happy or unhappy, a good ending wraps things up, leaves a moviegoer satisfied with where they have been taken.

Bergman’s movies don’t do that. You don’t watch them hoping it will turn out well for a character that you have identified with.  There is no story.  You live inside his characters, absorbed into their world.   And there you stay. Instead of an ending, Bergman provides meaning, discussion after the movie, which Mark loves.

Bergman’s father was a minister, like his parishioners he endured Sweden’s dark never ending winters. It is close to zero night after night. Partying la dolce vita style would be ridiculous. Righteous determination sustains the Swedish.   It isn’t easy. His parishioners’ lonely efforts to stay on the godly path couldn’t always be righted by praying together and being enjoined by his sermons.  Moral fiber hardens the soul, makes life bearable.  It provides hope. Give God what he deserves and you will be rewarded. Sometimes a huge silence followed his father’s sermon.

A light makes it Through a ‘Glass Darkly.  As they walked from the theatre to the car, in a hushed excited voice Mark whispered to CC Bergman’s glorious revelation.

“God is love.”

It wasn’t only for CC’s benefit. Those words illuminated every fold in Mark’s brain.  It put to rest thousands of thoughts and doubts he had cultivated after he stopped believing in God. Bergman had nailed it resoundingly with the answer, a lightning bolt, not a burning bush. Love is the miracle we need. Mark overheard CC’s animated voice as she told a friend about Through a Glass Darkly.  She used Mark’s exact words when he proudly intoned his revelation.  He shared the glory he heard in her voice.  He scored again with 8½. No profundities there, but unravelling what was going on in the movie and explaining it to her was quite enough.  It reinforced what he wanted her to believe, that in his new identity he was part of a mighty movement bringing clarity. Remarkable insights flow from his mouth. Mark thrived on that thought.

Like tens of million young men just like him Mark’s ideas of the person he is going to be is based on the wonderful fantasy he has of who he wants to be.  In Mark’s case not a rock star– An idea star.  He was wowed by what Dwight McDonald had to say about several movies he loved.  For a while McDonald replaced what Duke Snider had been, the person Mark was determined to become. Soon there were others, intellectuals who delighted him by cutting through the fog of his existence with sparkling insights.

Along with his terrific ideas, McDonald also was preoccupied with the dummies. When he put them down it delighted Mark.  He had found someone who spoke for him about the mindlessness he found everywhere.  McDonald warned that mass culture was crowding out finer things, culture that mattered.  ‘I piss on it all from a considerable height.’ was Henry Miller clarion call. America had invented Wonder white bread and Hollywood endings, Chevrolet and ball games, Dinah Shore and apple pie.  Beguiled by the abundance in their homes and in the stores, Americans delighted in the details of their life.  Viet Nam was the inevitable outcome, destruction, if anything made worse by our innocence, our eyes blinded by plenty. Only the U.S. had dropped an atom bomb. No one else.  That speaks volumes about who we are. Being clear about good and evil was assumption number one in those drawn to Berkeley. Having the good and bad clearly enumerated gave Mark a heady rush as he drank up McDonald’s braggadocio. He belonged to McDonald’s world, sat on the highbrow throne of clear sightedness.

In med school, Mark’s favorite book Herzog, lashes out on the man his wife left him for. He is a middle brow, clearly beneath Herzog’s status as an intellectual.  When Mark read it he considered Herzog and himself as one and the same person. So absorbed was Mark by his new identity that for a middle brow, someone without the finer sentiments of a high brow actually winning  Herzog’s wife seemed like a miscarriage of reality, a quirk. It made no sense. Mark’s understanding of how society should be arranged was that definite.

Unfortunately, McDonald introduced a dark possibility alongside the comfort of what Mark aspired to become.  Those on the throne of enlightenment are surrounded by poseurs, people pretending to be high brows but not the genuine article. The possibility that Mark was a middle brow cast a huge shadow.

Nothing ever changes. In the 30’s left wingers had to prove their bona fides.  Intellectuals took great pride in accusing others of not being the genuine article, someone who really cared about the suffering of the poor.   Occupying a radical political stance determined whether one was part of the elite.     McDonald had once been a politico, but now, being a high brow versus a middle brow became his badge of legitimacy.

The sky’s the limit when one constructs the person one wants to be, especially for the young.  Fortunately, during up times Mark’s fantasy of who he is vying to become successfully colors his view of who he already is. It is his most effective balm for any doubts that might arise. He is proud when he goes there. But, more often than he prefers, his vision of the greatness he expects to achieve, is full of holes. When he is down Mark can’t always eliminate his fear of being exposed as a charlatan. Yeah, he has done a lot of reading, passionate reading. Compared to the people in Great Neck, he is a very heady fellow, but compared to the smartest people, The New York Jewish intellectuals holding forth in the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere, he is a lightweight. If he is lucky he has heard of the geniuses they quote so easily, coming out of their brain like the person they are quoting is their next door neighbor. While he has heard of most of the brilliant people that they mention, Mark has never read them.  There is the real thing, and there is Mark’s thing. He is an imitator, a middle brow with a me-too sensibility.

So Mark’s image of himself can go up or down, depending on how he sees himself.  Fortunately, there is CC. Having a younger sister has been a blessing.  Sis being impressed by her big brother is what every young boy should have and often does.  Even if it is half imagined, CC’s adulation of her genius brother bathes his ego.  He needs it.  His doubts are as huge as the self image he sometimes manages to project. Yes, he was a jerk name dropping Hoving but CC knows he is better than that. She must! It isn’t just Mark’s terrific Bergman insights. He’s sure she remembers all the other times he triumphantly explained things to her

Mark is shaped by the times. Dream the impossible dream is his credo the inevitable outcome of America in the 60’s.  It isn’t just a catchy phrase.  Anything a young person wants to be can be done without fearing tomorrow. America is booming. There are jobs for everyone now and forever, no matter how crazy they have been.  Whatever craziness has been pursued, it can be placed in the past. A fresh start, a new beginning belongs to everyone.   Their immigrant grandparents bleak reality is long gone. No one knows hunger. Very few children go to bed on an empty stomach.

So pursuing an impossible dream takes little risk. It is cool, the pathway to fulfillment.  Again and again Oscar winners thanked their family for believing that their fantasies of greatness could actually materialize.  Again and again CC’s being won over by Mark, has nurtured the same hopes in Mark, to fulfill who he wants to be.

Gurus  appeared in Berkeley and elsewhere and were taken seriously in the 60’s.  Enlightened men in their twenties and thirties returned from India with the answer.  They didn’t seem stagey at all. Contrasting with the noise surrounding everyone else, their gentle aura seemed to emanate from their souls. They were much like who Mark becomes when he is stoned. Gurus were able to get there without drugs.

Ram Das was the greatest of them all. Born to Gertude Levin, and George Alpert, Richard Alpert’s answers lit the way. Become nobody! Stop living  in the world of your fathers. Stop pushing, pushing, pushing. Be nobody, offered a way out of Mark’s flaming ego.

Richard Albert originally got there using powerful drugs. After returning from a year as a visiting professor in Berkeley, he joined Timothy Leary in Harvard’s Psilicybin Project. They could not have gotten to Harvard as nobodies. Being someone, hard work and dedication were necessary to be accepted at the highest level.  Leary and Alpert took every psychedelic they could get their hands on. They made quite a to do of what they were accomplishing “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

It got them kicked out of Harvard.  Which, as it happens was a good thing. It led to Richard Alpert going to India and coming back as the Ram Das. The greatest Guru of them all. Holiness without drugs. Crucial insights flowing from who he had become. “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

Other gurus’ messages were similar. Divinity exists in everyone.  You are born with it, but it only appears during those moments when you let your ego go. The pathway can be cultivated, so that it permanently occupies the psyche. You don’t have to hit a homerun.  Nor is divine inspiration needed.  God can be found where he lives, inside of us, if we know how to find him   Spiritual exercises can be taught.  Learning how to meditate will get you there.

There are all kinds of ways to get there. Everyday on campus there is a circle of young people dressed as monks, singing as sweetly as they can, singing  as one. Hari Krishna, Krihna, Krishna.  Again and again and again. Mark’s seen them at Grand Central Station, La Guardia airport, places where people are rushing to go elsewhere. They sat on the ground in a circle unperturbed, singing again and again the identical words, transcending the busy universe surrounding them.

Mark’s first take was that they were a bunch of nuts.  From another planet. But now with what they are hoping to achieve explained, the Hare Krishnas are given a second chance. He’s heard Trappist monks doing the same thing, singing soft melodies to God, Gregorian chants, hour after hour. Without crescendos, without virtuosos, without difficult thrilling high notes, as sweet as sugar, the Monks sing, offering to God the devotion God would want from his angels. Seemingly emotionless, hour after hour they cherish  being connected to God, singing an endless love song to him.

When the chants are completed the Trappists become silent. Speaking distracts them from the presence of God.  It stimulates the meaningless concerns of the ego instead of being caressed by God’s calm.

Mark gets it, at least in theory. Be nobody. But sitting on the ground in a circle, making no eye contact with anyone, still strikes him as strange.  As a very talkative New York Jew with ego gushing out of every pore nothing could be more foreign to him. He’s surprised they’re not bored.  Highs and lows are a given part of the journey he is undertaking.  It’s what it is all about. He didn’t make the world that way.  It is just how things are. He likes their goal. But to him tranquility is possible only afterwards, after you win.

He once saw the mother of one of the Krishnas, thrilled at that moment that she had finally found her lost son.  One would expect her son to take a break, leave the circle for a few minutes and say hello. It didn’t happen.  After a furtive glance, he did not look again.  His chanting continued as if nothing had happened.

It didn’t take long for Mark to find a way to discredit gurus. Okay the Beatles made the Maharishi their spiritual advisor. That is not nothing. They know a secret or two. How could Transcendental Meditation not possess qualities that are worthwhile if the Beatles could be entranced.

But Mark soon finds a phony baloney aspect.  An entry fee entitles each initiate of Transcendental Meditation to a secret mantra.  Being led to Nirvana by a very profitable business is not what Mark had in mind.

Still, Mark can’t dismiss all of them out of hand.  Not every Guru is in it for the money.  He, nevertheless, finds another factor that clinches his rejection of them.  As much as he might see himself as a rebel, an innovator finding and valuing the truth from wherever it comes from, despite his noisy proofs of his independence, his insistent displays that he hasn’t been engulfed by group think, an independence that is fundamental to the pride he takes in his individualism, on important matters he is ruled by his deepest values.  They are anything but independent.   At his core, he holds to the creed of the grandchildren of Jewish immigrants.

Anything of worth can only come to those who have earned it­– from sweat and tears, from a long process of discovery and effort. Easy ways bring easy answers. Hard work is the only way to get to where he wants to be. This perspective is not written in stone, but it might as well be.  It resonates deeply. He has never questioned it.

Hard work. As much as he blames it for creating the tense pathway which still imprisons him, the belief that only sacrifice can steer him accurately along the golden pathway loudly rings true.  As much as he has hated the hard work he’s been forced to do, its premise is sacrosanct.  Hard work is the only true path. It is the only way to get where he wants to go, nothing less.

With that as his yardstick, the superiority of his values lead him to the obvious. The difference between him and the newly proclaimed gurus is that he has put in the time, and is willing to do more. Whatever it will take. Taking shortcuts is cheating.  His is the hero’s way. Some of the Gurus spent 10 weeks in an Ashram.  What could they possibly have learned?  Easily won wisdom can be paraded but how deep is it? How can it compare to the answers he expects to find.  He may not have yet tasted the fruits of his effort, but he is confident it will materialize if he keeps going.  His high school studiousness, his nail-bitten premed A’s, four tough years in medical school, his medical internship, the three years he will soon spend in his psychiatry residency, and the five to ten years after that to become a psychoanalyst–how could that fail to bring him the secrets he craves?   In his view of things, this is how it should be.

The sacred can only come from work, from trial after trial, from his unswerving virtue.   Dr. Reed’s sadistic organic chemistry finals, his essays in philosophy for Dr. Kurtz, certainly a man who could smell out derivative thinking– the list is long of the challenges he has met and conquered.  Every triumph defines his legitimacy. Perhaps he hadn’t taken on the impossible, climbed mountains, crossed deserts like Moses, barely surviving.  But the obstacles he has overcome, and will overcome are not a walk in the park.  He has no doubt that whatever still stands in his way, will be met by his will.

Mark didn’t decide to be that way.  It is the way he is made. The stress Mark has undergone so far and what lies ahead are necessary evils. Purification requires suffering to cleanse the soul. Not a day of fasting on Yom Kippur.  Years and years and years of sacrifice. Keeping partying to a minimum, sticking to his books guarantees Mark that true enlightenment will be his.  All so that, once there  he can bring others there. It will be his gift to them. This perspective makes Mark proud to be Mark. Filled with the glorious expectation that he will share it with the one he finally loves.  CC is a warmup for that day.  She is lucky to be given what he has given her, but it is preparation for the eventual coronation of his dreams.

We are still left with a question? Why is Mark certain that he will find the answers that will bring an end to his questions?  The answer isn’t complicated. Part of being young is having confidence that a happy ending awaits him.  Again and his mother read to him story books.  ‘And they lived happily ever after.’  Deep down he believes that.  All is not in vain. There will be a payoff. Certainly, he hasn’t learned from firsthand experience that his ambitions are reasonable.  Mark has never come across anyone who remotely resembles a person who had gotten to where he intends to go. Gurus have a tempting aura, especially Ram Das.  He can’t totally dismiss them, but his gut tells him that  they are dishonest.  You can’t go from X to Y by the shortest route and expect salvation.  Siddhartha spent a lifetime searching.  The fact that he has never come across someone like Siddhartha doesn’t mean such people don’t exist.  Of that he is sure. He’s met them in books, Siddhartha convinced him that it is not a fantasy. It never once crosses his mind that Siddhartha is the product of a fiction writer’s imagination. No more real than Santa Klaus.

The likelihood that Mark’s trials may be for naught, that he is chasing an imaginary treasure doesn’t mean at that age that he is aware of it.  Like most of us, his motivations are bundled with others that operate silently. Dealing day to day demands that his attentions be there rather than deep philosophical questions. He may not think about the assumptions he operates by but they are firmly in place.  Mark’s sincerity, his yearnings to become the saintly, wise  person he imagines he can become, remains unshaken by the tsaurus he has encountered along the way Whatever doubts may cross his mind matter little. It is who Mark is, an explorer determined to be virtuous. Truth, justice and the Berkeley way define him. He believes that all of his striving will bring him the answer, the meaning of life.

The same cannot be said of his sanctity. Busting his chops to reach sainthood legitimizes him but Mark is no innocent.  His initial success in hatching CC to a higher state of awareness, encourages him to repeat the experience with those that matter.  His repertoire of restaurant conversation, starting on the first date, has almost entirely been formed out of his early successes with CC. He isn’t a Don Juan, a sly seducer of resistant women.  He doesn’t want as much pussy as he can get. God is one. She will be the one. His teachings are not meant for everyone.  Like Jeremy, his lofty discoveries, his great insights are to win over the someone who might become the woman he has been searching for. So, in his mind, what he is doing, is innocent and pure. By far the most important quality that pushes the button, however, that brings the possibility of finding his heroine has nothing to do with her intelligence or soul.  It is how beautiful she is. He is like most guys, driven by the strange laws nature has created that makes men attracted to beauty.

When looking for a mate, the male red-capped manakin snaps his wings and dances on a branch to catch a female’s eye. Birds of paradise spend hours  cleaning up where they  will do their rituals. Their good looks, which they display exuberantly, are part of a dance that they do to a silent song.  At the same time they sing to their mating partner, to human ears a not very pleasing sound, but its incessance sometimes leads to a successful courtship.

Mark’s behavior is of that ilk. His search for enlightenment is real. It is not tied up with his vanity or impressing his true love, but when it comes to courting the woman of his dreams, his presentation of himself is intertwined with it. The heart is a lonely hunter. More than one future true love he has sometimes successfully, sometimes not, displayed his medals, meaning in his case his rich cabinet of insights. His epiphanies are honestly gained and mean something besides their use by Mark to try to dazzle a girl, but what most impresses him he assumes will impress her.  He shamelessly repeats not only his epiphanies but the tone of voice and the rhythm that captured his experience.

Some of the particulars he uses to impress a girl that he wants might seem comical to an outsider. Years later that is clear. But in Mark’s mind, he is innocent of chicanery. Why shouldn’t he take a date to a movie he’s seen five times?  It doesn’t matter if he repeats himself.  He is sharing the truth, bringing the person he already half loves to a higher level of understanding in the universe. And in actual fact, when he watches Through a Glass Darkly or Wild Strawberries the fifth time, invariably there is something he hadn’t noticed before. His enjoyment of the movie is deepened by sharing his love–to–be’s absorption in the movie. If his prospective new girlfriend has her own interesting reaction to the movie, it deepens his own appreciation of it. That makes the experience new.

The music he plays when he is trying to win over a woman he is attracted to runs along the same lines. He may have played a song he felt wild about a dozen times for his own pleasure, but he is even more moved by it when playing it for someone he hopes to connect to and love.  It is a generous feeling. He is enabling someone else to get to the wonderful place he has been and enjoy it as he had. A cynic might note that he made his move at exactly the same point in a song, originally his emotional crescendo. But even though repeated at the exact same moment, it brings him fresh excitement. It is easy to dismiss his behavior as the manipulations of a rakish young man. But, given his mind set, he is completely comfortable with his sincerity. More than comfortable–– Mark wants it to be a holy act.  He is pursuing a higher purpose, as part of his mission to elevate her deepest self.  It isn’t just an excuse to get somewhere sexually. The sincerity of his intentions erases other motives, maintains his innocence.

Receiving true love from Mark, the eventual guru, is a gift to her.  Offering her his heart and soul, and the universe surrounding them he seeks rapture for her. When he touches a woman’s breast. When he inserts his penis, if he didn’t truly believe that his desire to elevate her will bring both of them to an elevated plane, he might have seen his lovemaking differently—as simply fucking driven by his relentless hormones, no different than most guys in their twenties. If there are ten thousand men there are ten thousand strategies young men develop to get where they need to go. All are driven by the same thing—animal desire, animal will. Mark’s ability to dress up his motivations in elevated thoughts allows him to be a step up from other guys his age.  He is not only fucking.  He has successfully convinced himself that his lovemaking fulfills an exalted mission.

Not surprisingly, just as every once in a while he fears he is a middle brow, he sometimes sees himself as full of shit. Fortunately, he is able to talk himself out of that harsh perspective by assigning it to his low self esteem.  With that explanation he can leave his shtick intact.

Not that he has always been successful with women. His good looks helps, but he has had as many near misses or outright failures as the next guy.  His choices have reached too high as well as too low. Some of them were indiscriminate. Some of them were no different than the stories other boys in their 20’s might tell–– certainly, very far from the rarefied plane he strives for. For instance, he had this friend, Leila.  She didn’t turn him on at all.  She was too unattractive to be anything other than a friend.  One evening she called. Leila’s girlfriend had died in a car accident.  As Leila told him what had happened she cried and cried. Mark told her he would be right over.  Holding her, trying to comfort her, before he knew it he was fucking her.  His body had taken over.  Such occurrences are not rare.  What was different was that Mark then went with Leila for 3 months. It lasted that long not because love had grown between them.  He remained as indifferent to her as he had been when they were friends.  Our 60’s libertine operated by the code of honor he had been raised on.  If you go all the way with a woman, you must marry her. So he was stuck–    well, for 3 months.

The cure was simple.  Barbara.  A glimpse of Barbara and Leila disappeared. He was nice about his goodbye.  They were still going to be friends and so forth. But it took a split second to determine her fate.  The moment Barbara smiled back. Those two to maybe five seconds meant his search for Miss Right could continue.

There were other major chapters in Mark’s search to define himself.  One of the most important was Mark’s discovery of the importance of spontaneity. As can be guessed, his reverence for it was in exact proportion to his inability to achieve it.  This is not surprising.  It is often the case that people revere what they can’t do or be.  In Mark’s case it meant he philosophized about it an awful lot. Unlike Zorba, unlike Alan Watts, he couldn’t own a moment and move on to the next and the next. He craved being able to do that. But rather than being defeated by his inability, he was enamored by its truth.  His shrink had said it long ago. His realization that it is true–– the importance of spontaneity elevated him.  While he didn’t know how to get there the holiness of Now was another discovery he wanted to share. It was part of his virtue, one he could teach.    And in truth, even when he wasn’t getting that far sexually, if she was turned on by what he was teaching her, he was more than satisfied.

Of course, something else was going on.  He would not admit it to himself at the time but on some level he knew her interest in him might be due to the fact that he was as handsome as ever, even with his scraggly mustache and self cut hair. Some of his success was due to that, but in the 60’s, unlike the 50’s that was a quality officially ignored. Although he was attracted by beauty as much as ever, he did not recognize it in himself as a virtue he possessed.

AS we have seen, Mark began presenting himself as serious about his desire to grow when he was in high school. His desire to be new could have gotten old, but he was rescued whenever a terrific new movie arrived at the theater. Bergman’s nailing another masterpiece lifted him out of the same old, same old, returning him to sanctified consciousness—that and his latest fine insights about the movie.

“Yes,” he throws back at CC.  “Crawling in the mud. If that’s who we really are, creatures in the mud, that’s where we have to learn it and teach it. To connect to an artist’s work, you have to go to where the artist is.”

“So what did you learn being in the mud at three a.m.?”

“You didn’t read that book on Zen I sent you. Did you?

“I started it.”

“And . . .”

She lets out a most unladylike call of the wild, straight from a Tarzan movie. Hearing it in the next room, Evelyn shakes her head, but Mark, in California, is amused.

“You got it down.  Tarzan swinging on his vine—exactly—Rousseau, the noble savage,” Mark tells her.

She answers with an “Aren’t you fancy” tone of voice, which he ignores.

“Everyone needs true freedom. Mom and Dad tried to eradicate our natural selves.”

“You mean they toilet-trained us?”

Ignoring her, he barrels ahead.

“It’s all about returning to the true, where we were before we were put in chains. The noble savage is there in every one of us, buried by repression.  Mom and Dad probably thought they were doing a favor for us, teaching us how to suppress our wildness, but they were wrong.”

“Oh, come on.”

He is undeterred. “When it happens, it’s mind-blowing. Suzuki says it well. You can’t grab satori. It just happens. The trick is to learn to go along for the ride. Like music, you just know that you are there.”

“And what do you do, sing along?”

She is having a good time, but Mark will not be sidetracked, He continues as if CC weren’t throwing barbs. “Satori is slippery. If you try to make it yours, if you try to possess enlightenment, you chase it away. You can’t give it a name. You can’t describe it.”

“‘If you meet the Buddha on the way to enlightenment, kill him.’” She says this in a disrespectful tone, but he ignores that.

“So, you did read it.”

“I read the first forty pages seriously.  After that, I skimmed.  I just remember that line.”

“Did you understand it?”

Exasperated, CC sighs. “What’s to understand?”

Her exasperation flies right past Mark. Like Jeremy, Mark’s so swept up by his desire to teach, by his desire to move people he cares about into his orbit, that he ignores the other person’s reaction.  He assumes she’s an empty vessel, believing that she is offering temporary resistance that he will eventually overcome.

“When you discover something important, you have to not give in to the temptation to turn it into talk. I mean, it’s natural to want to milk it. But that’s the quickest way to kill it.”

She laughs to herself.  He’s made this point ten thousand times! Mark the talker preaching no talk. Enough already she wants to say but doesn’t.

“Every truth becomes a lie,” he tells her.

“Mark.  Why do you keep repeating that?”

Feeling awkward, he is silent.

“I still don’t get why you had to crawl in the mud at three a.m.”

“Because what you are looking for doesn’t happen in a suit and tie. It’s in the moment. The moment. The moment.”

“You mean the mud!” From earlier discussions, CC already knows what’s coming. She attempts to cut him off before he can get started.

“I know you look down on Norman Rockwell. The Abstract Expressionists call him an illustrator, meaning commercial not an artist. But if moments are sacred, that’s what he captures.  Perfectly! That eleven-year-old girl in her attic in front of the mirror, trying on grown-up jewelry, with her mother’s makeup applied, studying herself, dreaming, imagining the woman she will become, her childhood doll discarded to the side. Rockwell got it exactly right. That moment. Great artists capture them.”

“Typical you—Norman Rockwell.”  He says with his most finely developed contempt. They’re right.  He’s not an artist.  He does magazine covers.”

She smiles.  His opinions are so predictable.

She jabs back at him.  “He’s the real thing.  I’ll take his magazine covers over ninety-nine percent of the modern art I’ve seen. Besides, his magazine covers are paintings.  He does one a week. He’s incredibly prolific. Once he’s decided what he wants to show, he just paints it, like you signing your name.”

“Which is why everyone makes fun of him.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. Great artists always have to put up with ridicule.”

“He’s got it all wrong. He decides what he’s going to paint. It doesn’t come naturally.”

“Who made that rule?  Let me guess.  The avant-garde.  Thank God he doesn’t roll in the mud for inspiration.”

“He is so Life magazine-so Hollywood.”

“You mean The Saturday Evening Post.

“Whatever . . .”

“I like what he said about his art.”

“Which is?”

“That if a painting has to be explained, if it can’t speak for itself, he’s failed. It is his first rule every time he starts a new painting. Make it accessible to everyone who looks at it

“Jackson Pollock, De Kooning, it’s exactly what they were trying to get away from.”

“They should have been worshipping at Norman Rockwell’s feet. That whole gang, especially the snooty art critics. I remember you took me to this showing.  It was exactly the opposite.  There were these proclamations, long long explanations about the paintings. I heard that Rockwell and Wyeth both get upset with the criticism they receive from the elite critics.  Our two greatest artists getting nothing but ridicule. Half the reason is that the public, not the snobs, love them.”

Her resistance is not new, but CC’s John Cage experience has made her even more vehement with Mark.

They are both silent for a while until the tension dissolves.

CC speaks first. “Did Mom ask you to call Dora?  What’s going on?”

“Probably nothing. Mom freaks out all the time.”

“Because she cares.  She worries about us.”

“I never call Dora,” Mark replies. “She treats me like I’m some kind of evil person.”

“I thought you like being bad.  It’s so cool.”

“Dora’s just doesn’t get it.  She can’t understand me at all

“You mean that she doesn’t think being bad is cool,”

“She’s humorless. She’s so judgmental.”

“What do you expect. She went to a Yeshiva. That’s how they are taught to live, to obey God’s rules.”

“Oh great.”

“She’s actually interesting. You should have a good talk with her. It wouldn’t hurt to listen to the way she sees things.”

“Right.  Just what I need– the wisdom of Dora. She reminds me of Grandma. Grandma the pincher.”

“You probably deserved her pinches. You do now.”

“Pinching?  Grandma would have to buy a submachine pinching gun to stop me now.”

CC’s voice becomes even more sarcastic.  “Oh, you are so, so naughty, naughty Mark. . . .” She smiles happily. Mark doesn’t answer.

“So you are not going to call Dora?”

Mark laughs, “Don’t think so.”

“I’m going to.”


Chapter 28

CC in Berkeley


A few days later, CC’s plane lands in the Oakland airport.  As Mark carries CC’s bag, he keeps looking happily at her. This is the first time she has visited him in California. The two of them walk together through the arrival portal, out to Mark’s car. The unfamiliarity of the scene fires off familiar emotions. Other than Florida, neither of them has traveled very much. This feels similar to what they felt when they were allowed to go by themselves to the waxworks in London while their parents rested at the hotel. He was fifteen, she twelve. Jay didn’t go to England with them. He had begun college.

By the 1950’s the Dutch no longer wore wooden shoes, nor the Japanese. kimonos, but the English dressed sufficiently differently for CC and Mark to know they were in a foreign country. Not Tahiti, but certainly not Great Neck. They spotted a man wearing a bowler hat, then another. The man sitting opposite them had on a double breasted jacket completely unlike any they had seen back home. When he had arrived at his seat he handled his umbrella like it was a gentleman’s cane. To his right was a woman looking equally different to them. Again, her clothes looked unfamiliar, but it was also some of the expressions on her face and his.  They weren’t American. Nor were the candy machines on the post.  The signs at each station were very British, a red circle with a horizontal blue bar, the color of the flag, a proper British red, white and blue.  Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd, Lancaster Gate, Russell Square Marble Arch, Bethinal Green, Piccadily Circus, CC called out the station names to Mark, not numbers like they were used to in New York. Each name sounded like the station was for a quaint village. Subliminally both of them noticed that somehow the man opposite them and the woman to his right, not only had unfamiliar facial expressions, their movements, like everyone on the train didn’t flow in an American way They sat differently.   They slouched differently. They even sneezed differently. Subdued, not American. Mark had once pointed out to CC that in British movies during fight scenes they didn’t throw a punch like American actors. They were restrained, stiff. The fights looked stupid.

Trying to fit in, Mark and CC kept a straight face, but they couldn’t contain their excitement. Their eyes met each time they noticed another British difference.  They, in turn, were attracting second looks, not just because they both were so good looking, but because they were clearly American. They were aware that they were coming across appealingly. So the whole trip on the underground was very fun.

Oakland is not London, and they are no longer twelve and fifteen, but there is some of the same thing as they walk in the airport.  The parking lot at Oakland airport is not one of the seven wonders of the world, but Mark’s face is flushed with excitement. Being elsewhere together thrilled them in England, and it excites both of them now.   It is midmorning.  There isn’t a cloud in the sky. California sunshine exuberantly bathes the parking lot. A perfect day in New York, a typical day in California.

Since the beginning of Mark’s attempt to reshape his identity away from the rest of the family, practically the entirety of their connection had taken place in each other’s rooms, being inside each other’s heads. Mark has so much to show her.  He has no intention of driving into San Francisco to tour his favorites, Lombard Street, the cable cars, Muir Woods or along Route 1 to Stinson Beach.  The family had done the sights in San Francisco and Northern California years before. No. It is Berkeley he wants her to see. That and, as always, still more visiting inside each other’s minds. They will be able to have hours and hours of it—each finding out where the other one is at.

As soon as they get to his apartment, Mark puts on “Here Comes the Sun.”  He had prearranged the cassette to its exact location. As she listens, he takes her suitcase to his bedroom and returns. She is sitting on the arm of his sofa, not moving a muscle. It isn’t danceable, but when he returns, she offers her hand. After a few tries to find a rhythm, they quit. The important thing to Mark is that she is listening as intensely as he hoped. And smiling! Her calmness as she takes it in thrills Mark, especially when the song finishes and she asks to hear it again. It’s the usual. Her pleasure doubles his own. This is by far his favorite Beatles song. That and the next song on his cassette, which is soon playing, its harmony smooth smooth, smooth.


I’d love to tu-u-u-r-n you on

Woke up, fell out of bed

“Listen to the lyrics.”

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup

And looking up, I noticed I was late


“They’re amazing, aren’t they?”



Found my coat and grabbed my hat

Made the bus in seconds flat

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke

And somebody spoke and I went into a dream . . .


So they are off to a decent start. Their interaction resembles being on a date. No sex or kissing, but in certain respects there is something going on between them like that, her resistance, and his, as usual persistence.  They walk on Telegraph Avenue, two blocks from his apartment on Dwight, drinking it all in. Nothing spectacular to see but nevertheless they are rich in the newness of it all. It is no wonder CC landed up with someone who loves to teach. Mark loves to teach as much, or more than Jeremy.  It is baked into both of them.

They enter Moe’s bookstore.

He could not have planned it any better. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is giving a reading. Standing among the shelves of books, soaking up his words, Mark keeps stealing glimpses in CC’s direction to see if she is into it. She isn’t, which disappoints him. Sensing this she does what she can

“I’m glad I’m here,” she whispers. “I needed to get away.”

“I sent you A Coney Island of the Mind. That’s him. Have you read it?”

“One or two poems.”

“He didn’t interest you?”

“So-so. I liked that other book you sent me. Charles Reznikoff.”

“I thought he was depressing.”

“So what. I liked him.”

“Have you heard from Jeremy?”

“It’s three weeks. He’s not going to call. It’s over.” Her pronouncement doesn’t seem all that upsetting to her, but it does irritate the person next to her.  The persistence of their whispering is getting them looks. Fortunately, they are near the door of the bookstore. He slips away to the outside. She follows.

“It’s good. It’s good,” CC tells him. I’m happy for his wife. . . I was so taken by Jeremy that I never thought about her.   It was wrong.”

His disappointment that she didn’t like Ferlinghetti is preoccupying him  but he is able to hear her.

When I’m in love with a woman, when we’ve connected, it makes everything else disappear. They could drop an atom bomb on me and I wouldn’t notice.  You get a pass on his wife.  It’s wasn’t under your control.”

“I’m not so sure.  Maybe the first time, the first few times, but after that I was plenty aware of her…Anyway, it feels good being without him.  I didn’t notice it before, not enough to bug me but now… He got to be a burden. I got tired of having to react to him. I feel so much lighter.  Even my myasthenia is better. I’m not dragging myself around.”

She turns toward Mark, points her finger at him somewhat comedically. “Don’t have an affair with someone married.”

“Glad I have a sister. I can learn from your mistakes.”

A bit morosely, she replies, “I’m glad I’m good for something.” She isn’t looking for reassurance. At that moment she means it. She doesn’t like herself. For no reason she can fathom.

Mark makes a funny face.  He doesn’t get back the smile from her he hoped for. He’s been used to CC making an effort, even if she didn’t find his remark cute.  Out of generosity or at least politeness, she would give him a flicker of acknowledgement. It isn’t happening. It hasn’t for a while but this is worse than usual.  He isn’t used to her being so elsewhere that she isn’t interested in giving him any reaction whatsoever. He knew she would be sad about Jeremy but he didn’t expect her to be this unavailable to him.  Even when their arguments seemed to never end, she was never as oblivious of Mark as she now seems to be.

“How has your breakup gotten to you?” he asks.

“I don’t want to talk about it okay?”

“It’s too bad. To me, Jeremy sounded like the perfect person. He was on the right side on every issue.”

“You mean your side?”

Mark noticeably sighs in frustration, mostly for her benefit.  She ignores him.

“You don’t take Viet Nam seriously enough. The kids there–”

CC cuts him off. “In the two or three months I was with Jeremy I had twenty years’ worth of it from him. A lifetime’s worth. He took up right where you left off.”

“I’ll bet you gave it back to him.”

She smiles, satisfied by the way it ended.   “The more I heard his shpiel the more I disagreed with him.”

With difficulty Mark smiles.  The way CC has been with him over the last year has not been easy for him.  The never ending arguments­ got on both of their nerves.  What’s worse they no longer can  simply hang– listen to music, watch TV, show each other pictures in magazines, share thoughts of no particular importance, contentedly take their relationship for granted.  Mark’s politics, along with his continual proclamations of his ever-improving identity, now threatens to override any other connection they might have had. The person he was turning himself into was once fine, in the beginning even exciting.  But now he invariably irritates CC, precisely because he makes such a big deal about who he is. Still, behind all of his talk, his loneliness stirs her. But when they are together he makes so much noise it is difficult to see beyond that.

The contentiousness between them on specific issues started their alienation. In her bones she knows he is very very wrong, far off from what should be obvious to him. She wants to look beyond that. But unfortunately, she cares a lot about the issues they argue about, as does he. They both realize it shouldn’t affect them so much. They have known each other forever, been as much a part of each other’s life, as cereal in the morning.  That should count a lot more than their disagreements. They should be able to do what others do, agree to disagree. Move on. Except that hasn’t worked. Agreeing to disagree sounds nice in theory. It occasionally has stopped an argument. But even when it is successful in suppressing their animosity, very much like a truce between combatants, it doesn’t last long.  For hours afterwards they both feel bitter, going over something the other one said, and come up with a better rejoinder they plan to use the next time.  Still along with their bitterness each has a vague longing for that bitterness to go away.  The endless hours they’ve tried finding common ground, often makes things worse. Still tied into the debate they have silenced, invariably they find new things to be angry about, which has more than once multiplied into a silent rage.

Mark thinks that out of pride CC is being difficult. If only she will put that away. Like her he assumes that it is still possible to find the person he has lost.  The real CC will return, the real Mark, will throw aside the layers of masks each has accumulated over the last few years and simply be themselves.

Their deep talks were the first time CC came out of the shell most of us usually live in as we play out our practical minute to minute lives. Where they went together has been unlike any other experience CC had had. It was thrilling.  Yes pot enhanced, but it seemed far more real than her sober experiences, which too often passed unnoticeably. They are the same people they were. With all the time they will be together on this visit it seems so close. What they had should come back.

Mark was encouraged by her smile when he played Here Comes the Sun. For a moment he thought they were connecting. But it didn’t last. After, when they couldn’t find a rhythm to dance to, instead of sharing their amusement with their clumsiness on the dance floor they froze a bit. It was another example of the clumsiness they felt being around each other.  Perhaps they both want it too much. That’s getting in the way.

They head toward the campus.

The smell of honey dew melon once saturated the air on Yom Kippur when first Ira and Evelyn and later Jay, CC and Dora came home from synagogue to end their fast. Neither CC nor Mark are particularly sensitive to smells. But that honeydew smell was a powerful, wonderful aroma. In Sproul Plaza the smell of marijuana is everywhere, which makes Mark happy to be sharing it with CC. Mark and CC took a quick toke or two in the apartment before they left the apartment. The fear of being busted made them close  all the windows. But here cautiousness seems to be unnecessary. Nearby, two students are strolling, openly smoking.   A campus cop walks by, hardly noticing.  Another student lights a joint directly in front of the cop. He blows smoke in the cop’s face. Smiling, the student offers the cop a hit. Good naturedly he refuses, but then has second thoughts and takes a drag.

Mark takes out his half-used joint and lights it, fearlessly   Out of habit she looks around cautiously when he hands the joint to her  but soon realizes it is safe.  As they pass the joint back and forth, she begins to feel  what Mark wanted. to show her. Their nervousness at his apartment when they had taken a hit or two before leaving  was very much how it was back home in their backyard when they snuck a drag or two. Being forbidden made it seem a little crazy  . But now, without  fear of being caught he is happily giving her a sample of what will be the future They are part of a great nation that is being born. This is better than talking about it.  It is better than the happening he tried to tell her about.  That came out of an invitations to be at the estate at a specified time.  This is here, any time, all the time. That CC is part of  it makes  it twice as good, particularly because his pot is excellent.  Acapulco Gold, bought for her visit  From the expression on her face, he sees that she is going for  a grand trip, taken over by a force not in her control, to a flight very very high.  And she is in to it.

A speaker is addressing a small gathering.  From the periphery, Mark and CC listen for a moment.  Like Jeremy, Mark is fond of teachable moment that he can elaborate on.  This isn’t it. What the speaker is preaching is old hat, his passion feigned. He  mindlessly repeats what everyone else is saying.  So Mark moves them on.  It isn’t the Berkeley moment Mark wants to show CC.

He looks around to see who else is holding forth. Disappointment–he’s heard all of them before.  None have grabbed him.  When he stopped and listened he’s been turned off.  And not just by them.  By the scene. The preachers are bad enough but their worst sin is that they are boring. The crowd that gathers around is a turn off.  It doesn’t matter what the guy says, whether it’s true or not, fact or fiction, doing a bit of shouting, or using tight logic. The audience bothers Mark even more than what they are saying.  Listening to someone preach about evil that must be rectified is going to elicit many raised voices, but the listeners have apparently released their rage so often that their shouting hardly seems like anger, more like a congregational response.

The righteousness of their hatred should have a sweet aroma.  Anger is usually ugly.  But righteousness dresses it up. This is just ugly. It should be a community song of justice to be won, voices on the side of angels,  pride strengthened by the certainty that they care about moral things, the poor children in Viet Nam , the plight of black people in America. Shouting publicly can do remarkable things for the conscience.  Being united with others is a way to reach beyond the murmuring their hearts hear when they are alone with their outrage. But this isn’t any of that. It is hollow words, hatred barely camouflaged.

“Ike warned us about the Military-Indusrial complex.  Capitalists so in love with money they are willing to get people killed so they can have more of it, Vietnamese peasants,  American boys.  Innocent lives don’t matter to them.  As long as they can line their pockets.”

“Yeah.” someone shouts

“Those mother fuckers!” another adds, louder than the first.”

In synagogue, if nothing else respectfulness overwhelms any other emotions. Voices raised in a melody,  rhythmic dovening to God who is presumably listening. It once or twice worked for Mark. He was won over by the virtues the rabbi extolled in his sermon.  When he told the congregation that anonymous charity is best it stuck with Mark. The idea that God can see the good you have done and that is what counts. He was not adverse to holding precious what everyone else in the congregation shared, being so influenced by the sermon  to be convinced that  he is a good person.  True they have to leave the synagogue and return to everyday life, to an identity that is far less morally pure. But the memory of their goodness when the rabbi reached them could sometimes carry for days.  unite them in innocense.  Believing that God exists is necessary for the whole phenomenon to take place. So one would think that Mark can no longer participate in it, but like the Marxists in the 30’s Mark belief that he is part of a culture that will determine the future is apparently just as powerful as a belief in God. So why should the crowd of listeners bug him so much, even more with CC there? He doesn’t know.

CC and Mark walk on quietly, each absorbed in their own thoughts.

Mark breaks the silence

“You didn’t really see it.”

“See what?”

“The real thing.  Berkeley as it can be.”

She grimaces. She snaps at him

“Come on.”.

“Well better than today. The speakers weren’t very terrific and the students listening weren’t that inspired.”

“I got a pretty good idea.” She answers.

“What’s going on here is is a pivotal moment in history. I don’t think you could see that.”

“See what?” She shouts. Although she fears that what he is saying may be true, every time she has heard it before stiffens her resistance

“History??!!..They are going to have a chapter about Berkeley in American History 101?”

Her sarcasm lands nowhere, weaker than she had hoped. It flies right by Mark. Her ineffectuality eggs him on.

“History is a lot more than what professors spoon feed you. There’s a lot more to the past.  They are hiding it.  Shameful laws, discrimination against black people that is unbelievable, not just in the South.”

Again the same chorus.  “The future of America is playing out here. We’re going to change what’s wrong. Berkeley is the nexus of a new age.”

“The age of Aquarius” she answers sarcastically.  But then she is more respectful. “Yeah,  a lot sucks.  Not just blacks, discrimination against Jews and the Irish and Italians, all the ethnics. The people that have run this country, the Wasps. A lot has been wrong….Agreed. No one is what they should be… Or ever will be” she adds “But we live in a fantastic country.  The best country there has ever existed in the history of the world.  I don’t understand why you can’t see that.”

“I see it. Yeah.  We are great. Great. But it is the rest…Don’t dare criticize great America.”

“No one’s saying that.”

“Well in school how come they didn’t teach what we’ve done wrong.  They want to hide it.  My friend John told me that it’s even worse in Catholic school. You can get away with that only so long.”

Mark continues, “I’ll predict it now. When the truth comes out we will rethink what we think of this country.  Someday the president of the United States will be from Berkeley.”

“Right,”  she answers sarcastically. “A child nurtured on the sweetness of the revolution to come.” Her tone changes.  “You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Moses was alone in the desert, barely surviving.    Out of his misery he brought a new world, full of beliefs that are now the basis of billions of people’s belief.  Judaism. Christianity.  He was God’s spokesman.  It’s beginning right here, in Berkeley.” He laughs triumphantly. “But without the God part.”

“Right! People in Berkeley have been through so much misery? Your childhood on Long Island. Give me a break.”

“Well, no, but we see what’s wrong in the country and we want to fix it. We’re demanding it…As we should!”

“Prophet Gordon. May I speak?”

He ignores her.  “The truth is the truth. You got to be blind not to see it.”

“You mean what you have in Berkeley. What truth are you for. No rules? Anything goes?  How about what you said on the phone, everyone’s fighting every one here.  Can’t wait to see the future.”

He doesn’t answer her.

“Here’s another truth.” She grabs his hands with both of hers. “You have your internship to finish. This bullshit gotta stop.”

He takes her hands off of his.

“Listen miss. I’m the older brother. I’m the one who gives advice.”

Neither of them had intended for it to get this heated up. Not in the first hour they are together. Remorsefully, they walk silently for a hundred yards moving deeper into the campus.

She grabs his hand again and makes a silly face. It is a signal.  They croon in a baby voice, heavy with Brooklyn intonation.


They are half faking their playfulness but then some passing students look at them like they are weird. No one is going to look at the Gordons like that! It’s the incentive they need to quit faking their playfulness, to really get into it. CC gives him a goofy friendly smile. He smiles back. Appearing like a weirdo to others has united them far better than the good intentions they tried to elicit with their serious talking.

“Those were the best. The best ever . . .” CC croons.

“Camp Pinewood. Remember the strawberry punch?”

“Three o’ clock every day,” she replies.

“‘Mrs. Resnick would ring her cowbell.” He has a big smile. “She loved that cowbell.”

“Did you ever figure out what was in her punch?” he asks CC.

“Probably saltpeter. That’s what I heard. They didn’t want us climbing on top of each other. Saltpeter is the first requirement for a harmonious camp experience.”

“Especially after Judy got pregnant.”

Mark laughs, “She was a junior counselor, right?”

“I don’t know. She was fourteen. I remember the way Mrs. Resnick looked at her. Her famous punch had failed to deliver. She was probably thinking about what else she could add to it?”

“I actually got to like it.”

“What do you think it was?”

“Probably Kool-Aid. Cherry or strawberry.”

“You remember her cockamamie meatballs?”

“Every Tuesday night.”

Mark imitates Mrs. Resnick as she sashayed through the dining hall, half stylish, half mamma-mia.

She called out to Myron so that she could be heard throughout the room.” “‘Eat! Eat! It’ll make you strong.’”

“Myron was such a lousy eater.”

“I know.  Myron was legendary.”

“What was his last name again.”


“No it was Lipinsky.”

“Oh right.  You’re right.”

They walk on happily, and find a bench.

“It seems like a hundred years ago,” Mark says to her. “Those color wars.”

She can’t resist the opening, “One day, that’s how you’ll remember Berkeley.”

He’s annoyed.

“What’s going on here is not fun and games.  It’s important.”

“Are you going to lead us out of the wilderness?”

That stops him long enough for CC to hammer home her message.

“What’s important is your internship. That’s why you are in Berkeley, to do your internship.”

“No kidding.”

“You heard about Ritchie, your favorite cousin Ritchie?”

“Not mine, Mom’s…What happened to him?”

“Three years in jail. Drugs. Dad got him a good lawyer. It could have been five. Aunt Ruth is devastated. He’ll never get his life back. You don’t think Mom and Dad would be wrecked if you screwed up like that? They’ve put so much into you.” He looks at her, signaling he’s heard enough, but she continues. “All their hopes––”

“So I am supposed to supply the happy ending to their movie?”

“Why not?  It’s the same for all of us. Our lives aren’t completely our own.  We belong to them as much as to us.”

“So my life means nothing. Only theirs counts.”

“C’mon. That’s such bullshit. Ninety percent of your life is your own. You  must have noticed that? For their ten percent they’re just asking that you don’t fall flat on your face. They’ve had a basic plan all along that they take absolutely seriously.  Getting you ready so that you can support a family.”


Yeah,  meaning not embarrassing them at the club.”

“Well. You’ve been pretty good at that…Look, at this point what they want is you finishing up, become a doctor.  That’s it.”

“I could’ve been a carpenter and taken care of a family.”

“But not as well as being a doctor. They want the best for you.. They’re hoping that the best happens. What’s so wrong about that?”

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong is I don’t want to provide nachas for them at the club.”

“It’s not for the club.  Okay, they love that stuff.  But believe me they’d love you just as much if you were a carpenter.”

“Right the first Jewish carpenter on Long Island.”

“You’re not wrong.. They would rather be bragging about you than making excuses, but that’s a small part of what they want from you They genuinely want you to have a comfortable life, for you to be satisfied  with what you’ve accomplished. That’s for you not them.”

“So, there hasn’t been constant pressure?”

“So what.  You got a bad deal being a Gordon? Having parents like them? Granted the nachas thing is real, but what is wrong with being proud of you? Proud of me. Proud of our family.”

“It’s just creepy.”

“Oh.  It’s not cool to be proud of your family., not like being at a happening with Thomas Hoving?”

Her scoring causes both to retreat.  They both silently regather themselves. It doesn’t last long.

“You know how much they’ve given us?” CC adds.

“What about what I put in?”

“Oh right,” she says sarcastically.

“You forget. Not just becoming a doctor. I used to go to those cello lessons.  I practiced for hours and hours. Believe me, it wasn’t fun. I hated the cello.”

“So how come you made the Long Island Youth Orchestra?”

“Not because I loved it! I was afraid of my cello teacher. If I didn’t play well, he would tell Dad that I was goofing off.”

Half admiringly, she asks Mark, “So you practiced enough to get into the Long Island Youth Orchestra?”

“Dad’s a tough person to please.”

“You were that afraid of him?”


“Then what was it?

He hesitates for a moment then answers. “Disappointing him.  I was afraid of that.  I don’t know why?  Just like with tennis.”

“He was beaming when you won that tournament at tennis camp. But he didn’t expect you to be a champ. That was your doing.”

“My doing? Right! My doing.”

“Is that why you quit the tennis team?” CC asks.

“The pressure–you have no idea how it got to me.  I began to hate tennis.”

“The pressure was coming from you, not him. It’s not like he couldn’t get over it. He just moved on.”

“Maybe, but I haven’t picked up the cello since I left high school. I don’t even know where it is at home.”

“Mom put it in the attic. Do you play tennis?”

“Actually, no. I don’t enjoy that, either. Well actually that’s not true.  I’ve tried teaching it to Lisa, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t fun.  That’s on Dad.”

“Who’s Lisa?”

“My girlfriend.”

“How come you never mentioned her?”

“It’s been only two weeks, so––”

“Can I meet her?”

“She’s got a paper due.”

He continues. “You think I just glided through college and medical school. I make a lot of noise about what a rebel I am, like I don’t care about those things but–”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I rattle their jar, but in the end I’ve done everything they expected me to do.  And more. Trust me. Being a premed and then going to medical school was no fun. It’s eaten a huge chunk of my life. My best years, when I could have been young.” You don’t think I noticed how carefree the preppies were in college. I couldn’t let loose like them, like I wanted to.>

“So that’s Mom and Dad’s fault?”

“I decided on being a psychiatrist. Not them. They never mentioned becoming a doctor. So, I guess not.”  He thinks it over a bit more. “Still–bottom line?  What they think counts. Anytime I thought about just chucking it all—and believe me, there were times, still are—the first thing that came into my head is how I could explain it to them. I didn’t know what I would say. Especially to Mom, but to Dad, too.  They would have been devastated.”

He thinks over what he wants to say before proceeding.

“I have this one friend whose parents pushed him around all the way through school.  Would punish him if he missed a curfew in high school.  If he goofed off and got bad grades. He was afraid of his father, like he could still take out the belt if he had to.

What Mom and Dad did was worse. They hung on to us succeeding, like if we didn’t their life would be wasted. Like it would kill them.”

“I don’t know what parents you had, but they aren’t mine. So what,” she says bravely. “They’d lose a few feathers in their hat. Trust me, they would find new feathers.”

“You make it sound so simple. I thought you were admitting that those feathers are important to them.”

“Sure. They don’t have as many feathers as they’d like. I guess no one ever does, but I remember certain times when they were the king and queen of the club. After you graduated medical school…”

“Maybe. Along with ten other parents whose kid graduated med school.”

“There were only two others last year at the club.”

“Still. It’s such bullshit.”

“Maybe,” she answers. thinking further. “Do you think nachas is as important to Christians as it is to Jews?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m sure it is for a lot of immigrant families. Any kind. I knew this Korean kid in school.  It was identical.  He felt incredible pressure.  His parents had something to prove.”

“You mean they had their dreams.” CC answers him.


CC and Mark arrive back at Mark’ apartment with a baguette and some brie. Mark has been breaking off pieces of the bread, and nibbling so it is half eaten. As they enter the kitchen, she pulls off a chunk of the bread.

“Wait ’til I put it on the table,” he tells her.

“Looks who’s talking. You ate half of it.”

She sits down at the table. He brings out a container of milk and two glasses.

“We haven’t talked about your new internship. Is that going all right?”

“It’s okay.”

Mark expected they would be talking about Jeremy throughout their walk, CC is much more narrowly focused on Mark. She has been anticipating a heavy duty confrontation with Mark, a continuation of her battles with Jeremy. So far, there has been plenty of disagreement, but not as much Jeremy as she expected.

“It’s not just nachas about us. What really bugs me is the way Dad puffs up his chest when he drives into the club with his Eldorado.”

“So what.  He was ashamed as a kid. They didn’t have a car. Having an Eldorado means a lot to him.”

“His Eldorado is something—the fins!”

“You are so predictable. You and Jeremy. Same exact thing.”

“If I was here at Berkeley, I would drive a pink Eldorado convertible.” Savoring her defiance, she watches Mark for his reaction. There isn’t one. He’s been won over by her argument. CC raises her voice.

“You can’t toss Mom and Dad away just because you don’t need them anymore.”

“Who’s tossing them away?”

“You’ve been doing it for years.”

“I’ll admit it.  I  needed them to pay for school.  They just had a lot of things wrong with their thinking.”

“And you were going to set them straight. I don’t understand it, especially with Mom.”

“I haven’t tossed her away.”

She stares at him accusingly. “Oh no. Mom has loved you with everything she has. Everything. She still does.”

“That doesn’t mean she gets to say who I am.”

“It’s the opposite. Whatever you touch, whatever you say is golden. She tries to get into your shtick. She talks about you all the time.”

“Which is what I was saying about Berkeley. I’m telling you . . .”

“You’re still thinking about that?”

“I just want to be sure you understand what is going on here.”

“I don’t care about that.  I’m talking about you and mom…Lately, she worries about you a lot.”

“It’s my life.”

“She’d do anything for you.”

He rolls his eyes. CC sees that. Evidently, he didn’t accept what she said before.

“Your life?” she shouts at him.

“Your life!” She repeats. “I thought we are family.  What happens to one of us happens to all of us.”

“Oh God,” he mutters to himself. “You sound like Dad. Mr. enmeshment.”

“What the hell is enmeshment.”

“They used that word a lot in my psych rotation.  It’s not a good thing to be enmeshed.”

“You mean the professors put it down a lot?”

“It’s their favorite way to pinpoint what is wrong in a patient’s life.”


“They spoke about it like it was the black plague. Clinging to your family, being ruled by their expectations. I agree.  I’ll say it again.  It’s my life to fuck up or not to fuck up.

“Can’t you see what’s replacing it?  Me Me Me.”

“Come on I care a lot about other people.  What was my bio career program. Those kids need help and I care.”

Yeah, you care about these strangers.  Oh, your politics. Your principles.  You care. You care.  You care.  But not about the people who matter… Us. Me. Mom Dad. Jay. Dora.  Those are the people that matter.”

Mark doesn’t answer her.  He is only half listening.

“I had a long conversation with Dora.  She was telling me that psychiatrists are anti-Jewish.  But it is not the religion.  It’s our whole culture.  I’ll bet not one of them has an Eldorado.”

“Oh, you like Eldorados?”

“Mark.  You are missing the point. We own a piece of each other’s souls.”

“Correct. I want for them not to own a piece of mine. I want my freedom.”

“Forget it. What they own is a given. Since the day you were born.”

Mark smiles. “Exactly, when I was in diapers they were already dreaming up what they expected of me.”

“Maybe, but you haven’t exactly been shy about asking for things from them. Like that Nikon you had your eyes on last Hanukkah. You knew you’d get it.”

“See, it is the money.  I remember the bribing. They’d tell us that we would get what we wanted at Hanukkah if we were ‘good.’”

She sings, “He knows if you’ve been bad or good.”

Mark joins her: “So be good for goodness sake.”

“That’s what parents do. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Teach us what’s right and wrong.”

“Not like Mom and Dad,” Mark replies. “They lay it on too thick.”

CC answers angrily “Bullshit. How is it too thick?”

“I don’t know, but it has to be coming from somewhere. Now I have my own money, so they can’t pull that anymore.”

Her voice rises disdainfully. “You mean you really think it’s the money!” She lets her disdain sink in. “You have to know it has nothing to do with money. Maybe for you, but not for them. Dad belonged to his parents and they didn’t have a dime. Same thing. They gave him what they had… Everything! Like Dad did—still does! Everything. That’s a lot more than money. Even when he doesn’t like you—and plenty of times he doesn’t—he’d cut off his arm if you needed him to.”

“This is getting ridiculous. I gave them what they expected. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“You’d really quit being a psychiatrist if it was up to you?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Sometimes I see these hippies, even the ones sleeping on the street. They’re not owned by their future. I’d like to know what that feels like. Living for today not tomorrow. Not thinking about it so much. Just day to day. I’d love the weight to be lifted. I’ve never had that.”

“That’s what that zen stuff is about?”


“You don’t want to be a shrink?

He doesn’t answer her.

“You just admitted it.  Mom and Dad never said that’s what they wanted you to be.”

“Like I said before. In medical school, I was this close to quitting.  I got in touch with that philosophy professor, Dr. Kurtz, the one who thought I was so brilliant.  He offered to call Sidney Hook, get me a Fulbright.”

“Why didn’t you do it?”

Mark thinks it over for a moment. “Truth is, it wasn’t all Mom and Dad. I guess figuring out people’s psychology appeals to me more than philosophy.”

“I think you’ll be good at it.”

“Hope so. I’m just saying it hasn’t been fun. It started so young.  Since I was ten or eleven, since I decided to be a psychiatrist. You ever notice I hardly ever laugh? I used to be able to laugh, laugh a lot.  Now I have to try to laugh.  Did you ever have to do that?

CC shakes a bit, chilled.  She turns her arms in holding it beneath her as she always has when she is cold. “Brrrr.”

“If you put on some meat, you wouldn’t be cold all the time.”

“Yeah . . . I remember the last time I gained some weight. You weren’t too happy.”

“I’ll make tea.” Mark puts water in a teapot and puts it on the stove.

. “What I want to know is this– why you’re talking to me like I’m some kind of fuckup. I’ve made it to my internship.  Yeah, I almost blew it, but that was a big nothing. Next year, training in psychiatry begins.”

“I’m not saying you’re a fuckup. I’m just worried that you want to be one.”

“You’re just like Dad. I’ll say it again. Everything they’ve asked for I’ve given them. And more.”

“Granted, but we all sense what you said, how much you’d like to blow up the whole thing.”

“I haven’t so far. If I do I do.  I don’t need everyone expectations.”

“Well tough. Mark, we love you.  It’ll matter to us if you fuck up your life.”

“You mean be a shrink, make enough money to live in Great Neck and get an Eldorado.”

“Not an Eldorado.  It’s too Jewey for you.  You’re 3rd generation.  You’ll want a Volvo.”

“So I am supposed to get a Volvo?”

“Oi God.  We are back to that. No one said you have to live in Great Neck.. You don’t like it there, fine.  You don’t want a Volvo? Fine. Just don’t be a bum.”

“A bum? That’s ridiculous!”

“Yeah, well, cousin Manny, who lives on the streets, down on the Bowery, was Phi Beta Kappa.”

“Maybe he is happy. He’d rather drink then do anything else. How do you know he’s so miserable. Maybe he doesn’t care what everyone thinks.”

“I actually spoke to him once. I was walking near the Bowery. Usually, he tries to hide if he sees someone he knows, but I caught up with him.”

“And is he happy?”

“I don’t know. He kept apologizing. For what, I don’t know. But it wasn’t for being happy.”

“I’m not going to become Manny.”

They are both at a point where they want the conversation to end.  They have exhausted the subject tenfold but neither can give in, allow the other the last word.

“When I saw what was going on at the campus, I kept thinking how easy it would be for you to get swept up in it. I know you. You love that stuff. Being a rebel. It scares me, Mark. You’ve worked so hard. You’re so close.”

Mark puts tea bags in their cups and pours steaming water from the teapot.

CC stares at the water as he fills her teacup. “Diving into some high- principled, crazy shit . . . It would be a perfect excuse for you to destroy your life.”

“”Ira!” he says sarcastically…. “You’re a broken record.”

“When you came back from the March on the Pentagon, you were so proud. Like you’d finally done something important. I remember that.”

“Well, I had. Truth is, I was too chicken to go to Mississippi with the Medical Committee for Human Rights. It was dangerous. So at least I did something. I arranged for the chartered buses. Organized the whole thing at medical school. I also introduced Dr. Spock at this teach-in we had there. The auditorium was packed, eight, nine hundred people. I’ve thought about that a lot. I asked for volunteers to do sympathetic draft examinations.”

She immediately picks up on his stupidity.

“Do you think the FBI took down your name?”

“Maybe, but I’m safe. I mean, I think so. I wasn’t into anything else.   There were students at Einstein who were really radical.”

“Like who?”

“The SHO. They were younger. They came straight out of SDS from college. I left college before the SDS existed. I would read books about Castro and supported him when I talked about him with other students, but that was the whole of my politics.  By the time of the teach ins I got much more involved.

“What was the SHO doing? ”

“Don’t know. Didn’t go to their meetings, but they considered themselves radicals. People like them thought up all kinds of nasty stuff. Dad would be happy to hear how cautious I’ve been.”

“How cautious?” she asks in a challenging voice.

“I’ve thought about it. And worried. Does that make you happy?”

“Did you read about that explosion in the Village? The Weather Underground was making a bomb. Jeremy’s cousin knows Kathy Boudin. She was one of the injured students. They were planning to set it off at a dance at Fort Dix for officers and their dates. They blew up their parents’ zillion-dollar brownstone in the Village. People in the Weather Underground are crazy. I hope you keep that in mind.”

“You’re not listening to me. I stayed away from the SHO.”

“Just don’t lose your bullshit filter. It’s so easy to go off the deep end. Once you’ve come to the conclusion that America is evil, it’s logical. It justifies going to war, and if you are at war, killing American soldiers at a dance is fair enough. They’re going to kill Vietnamese children, so they are fair game.”

“You’re talking like I don’t agree. I read all about that bomb. The part that gets me is the nails they stuffed in the bomb. And why a dance? To kill the soldiers’ girlfriends? I can’t imagine that kind of hatred. Nails flying out like bullets to puncture their eyes, their necks, tearing through their party dresses to get at their bowels.”

Mark continues sarcastically: “Oh well, it’s war. Collateral damage?  That whole omelet analogy—you can’t make an omelet without cracking the eggshell. You know how many times I’ve heard that in Berkeley? People talk like that all the time here. You think I’m with them?”

“Not when you put it that way. But I know you. You can get carried away. I doubt that those guys putting the nails in the bomb pictured their targets being torn to shreds. They were just excited that they could successfully make a bomb that could strike at the enemy.”

After a minute, she says, “I know you would never kill anyone. Just make sure you don’t get kicked out of this internship.”

“CC. It’s not going to happen. I used to believe that there were good guys, who really cared about their impact on the world. People like me. People in Berkeley.”

“The make love, not war people.”

“Right. The people in the Yellow Submarine. We’re for love. They’re for hate.”

“Are you being sarcastic?” CC asks


“But I still think you believe that Jay and Dad are for hate. And you’re for love.”

“Jay and Dad have been co-opted by the system. They’re collaborators.”

“Collaborators. Like me.”  She’s smiling derisively, still not sure she is getting through to him.

“Okay. They aren’t collaborators. That’s how I thought about it before.”

“And now?”

“I know they’re not evil, but they’re dupes.”

CC mocks him. “Ah. Dupes. Collaborators? Where do you come up with these words?”

“People talk that way in Berkeley. But it’s true. That’s what they are.”

“Dupes? Basically, I don’t think Jay or Dad even has an opinion on half the things that matter to you. Well, maybe Dad. He’s on the side of soldiers no matter what. He told me that if he came back from the war and he was treated like soldiers are being treated now . . . I heard this one demonstrator spit in a soldier’s face.”

“What’d he do?”

“They’re trained not to lose it.”

“What would Dad do?”

“I’m sure nothing.  I’ve never seen him get in a fight.”

CC opens the refrigerator.  Her back is to Mark.

“So if people like Dad and Jay were to get attacked, it’s okay, right?”

He hesitates just long enough to catch her attention. “Well . . .”


She turns on him angrily.  “First of all, I don’t think America is evil.”

“Are you serious? Our wealth is based on slavery? Should I go on?”

She raises her voice. “Right!  Dad and Jay had a lot to do with slavery.  Grandpa wasn’t even in America ’til the 1890s; all four of our grandparents came long after slavery was abolished.”

“What went on in the South is unforgivable.”

“Agreed, but you seem to be forgetting that three hundred and sixty thousand Union soldiers lost their lives trying to end slavery. And what do New York City Jews have to do with what went on in the South? It wasn’t just blacks. Didn’t Dad tell you what was happening when he went to Florida with the army? There was a sign: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’  Mom and Dad are not complicit, or whatever your word is.  What could we do in the South? Other than Miami, our family has never left New York.”

“That’s not the only reason.”

“Basically, it is. Maybe I should blame WASPs for what the Cossacks did to the Jews in Russia. And how that affected us. You know how Grandma used to say Oy gevalt.  You know what it means? “Oh violence!” We’re heir to hundreds of years of mistreatment.  It became part of our ordinary reaction to anything upsetting. There was no such thing as a proud Jewish persona. Oy gevalt was it. You can’t dump on Jews what was done to black people.  We have our own history of being dumped on.

“Okay. You’re right. I already said it. I no longer trust people in Berkeley. Not like I did.  Sometimes I distrust people on the Left more than I distrust the Right. I’m no longer sure who are the good guys. I don’t think there is any such thing. Individuals are what metters. There are good and bad people on the Left and the Right.”

“Mom and Dad are good guys. They’re not dupes.”


“They’re not!” CC shouts angrily

That silences him. She gets up from the table, moves to the living room with her tea. He remains in the kitchen.

She continues talking to him. “Just stay out of trouble.  Don’t get kicked out of your internship. That’s all that matters to me.”  She yells back at him Your politics are such a turnoff. I still remember this one thing you told me about the radicals. . ..”

Mark joins her in the living room. “What’s that?

“How on the bus on the way home from the March on the Pentagon some of them were planning to escalate. They wanted to even things up. You thought it was because they had been too scared to continue when they were ordered not to move closer to the Pentagon. You told me one of the guys on the bus got hit on the head and was bleeding.”

“He wasn’t the one talking violence. He was a hero. The girls were fighting with one another over who was going to take care of his wound.  Actually, the one who was talking the most crazy, I saw him back off even before other people when they stopped the marchers. As soon as he saw the soldiers, he turned white as a sheet.”

“He was right to be scared.”

“Maybe. But he’s a guy. Guys are not supposed to be scared. It means you’re not a real man.”

“Why, because Ritchie called you a faggot when you wouldn’t shoplift with him?”

“You remember that?”

“I remember the other time you were called a faggot. At Coney Island, when you were too afraid to get on the Cyclone. You were really upset when Jerry said that.”

“Okay. I’m a chicken. So I am like that guy. I have the M O of a bomb maker.”


“I’m chickenshit. Too chicken to go to Mississippi. Chickenshit at the Pentagon. I stayed back when they stopped the march.”

“You think you should have charged it? No one charged it. Those soldiers had guns. Live ammunition. You guys with your proving you’re a man thing. I’m glad you were scared. It’s called sanity.”

“Maybe, but women are partly to blame.  They are not exactly falling all over weak men.”

She is reminded of something she learned in a course. “Don’t blame women. Most male lions play at killing each other when they are cubs. Then later they try to kill each other to claim the females. The winner gets the girls.  The loser is driven off, or else he can string along with the group, but no pussy for him.”

He smiles. “I see your vocabulary has expanded. Way to go, Jeremy. . .. So what about the chickens?” he asks.

“They’re exactly the ones who become radicalized.”

“Why are you staring at me like that?”

Despite his complaint, she keeps staring at him.

“You think by that logic I should be trying to prove I’m the real thing. I should become a radical?”

“No. You should have spent more time with Grandma. One of our forebears was a Talmudic scholar. He did what you do and I do.”

“Which is what?”

“Argue a lot. Argue the world. Talmudic students used to grab each other by their lapels to make a point. A lot was at stake.  Their morality—how they and everyone else should behave.  What God demands of us hinged on whether they were right or wrong about what the Torah said.”

“So how is that arguing the world?”

“Because back then, the Torah was the world. This whole political thing– what you’re describing as America’s evil. The Yeshiva students didn’t turn to politics.  They didn’t hate people who disagreed with them. They argued about what should be considered morally right and what was wrong. They took it very seriously. Just like we do. Right and wrong was determined by their arguments. I mean, why should we care so much about the things we argue about? Why should we mock and ridicule people for their politics?  They would have looked at it like it was a crazy preoccupation. What counts is your loyalty to the Torah.”

“Yeah, right. Religion is the answer. No way. In England, tens of thousands of people died in religious wars. Again, and again. Because it mattered. The Weather Underground bombers—they did it because they were sure they were right.”

“So that is what mattered for Jews. Being right.”

“You’re saying that Great-Grandpa . . .”

“No. Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandpa.”


“Pincus. He was a Talmudic scholar.  He devoted his life to arguing the world. That’s where we get it from. That’s where you come from.

“Grandma told me we have the blood of  our ancestors in us.  We got Pincus’s blood. That’s why deciding what’s right and wrong, arguing about it the way we do, is important to us. Most people see it as nonsense. Especially at the club. But it isn’t nonsense. That’s Pincus. Caring an incredible amounts about what is right and what is wrong.  It’s baked into our chromosomes.”

He looks at her like she is half crazy to not be knowledgeable about genetics. “That’s ridiculous.  I’ve taken courses in genetics.  No way we got it from him.”

“You got any better explanations?”

“Yeah.  It is 1968.  If it were 1950, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

That breaks the tension.  They can walk away, start over, find a new beginning for their get together.

I know grandma is right.  I got Pincus in me and so do you.

Sitting on the couch, for the first time they feel entertained and amused by their debate.

“At Sproul Plaza­—”


“That big open space in front of the Student Union. That’s where I took you. When I first got here, there was a giant rally there, thousands of people, one speech after another about the war, a teach–in kind of thing. For about twenty minutes the speaker was talking, and suddenly someone started yelling that the only thing that liberals know how to do is talk.”

“See—we got it from Pincus. Go on.”

“Seriously. One of them started screaming that people who really cared about Vietnamese children should stop talking and do something. About fifty people followed him across the street, cheering wildly, like at last they were going to get something done.”

“So what did they do?”

“They threw big rocks through the Bank of America window, shook people’s cars.”

“You don’t have the hatred in you to do any of that.”

“Actually, I was one of the fifty who left the meeting. It’s true. He had a point. What good does all that talking do? But then I got scared when I heard the glass shattering, and especially when they started shaking the cars.”

“That is so fucked up. Pincus never hated the people he argued with.”

“Wrong! From what I heard, they used to grab each other by the lapels, shout furiously at each other.”

“That’s because it mattered—mattered a lot. But they didn’t break windows or pick on innocent people in cars.”

“Okay, I’ll grant you. It never occurred to Pincus to kill his opponent. And no one knocked him off.”

“Exactly,” she repeats.

“Fine, I get it.”

He thinks for a while before continuing. “You really think I could be violent, don’t you?”

“No. But just don’t get crazy to prove a point. Mark, promise me.”

“I don’t have to promise. You got the wrong person. I could never kill anyone. Period. I was at a meeting our group had with the Black Panthers from Oakland. That was their main message. That they had moved past talk. You had to see the pride they had when they talked about killing people. They were bragging. Like they were better than the people who wouldn’t kill.”

“What did they say?”

“That they aren’t like the Detroit Panthers. They kept saying that. They weren’t going to just talk about killing. They were going to kill some cops. You should have seen these guys.”

“What did they look like?”

“They were seething with hatred. Daring anyone to look at them the wrong way. It was scary.”

“Why? Did they threaten you?”

“Not directly, no, although all my instincts were flashing warning signals. I was warned before they arrived to keep my fat mouth shut. No one would dare contradict them.”

He adds, “It’s not just the Black Panthers. When I did my surgery rotation at Lincoln Hospital, the only way for these guys to deal with their fear was to look menacing. To be menacing. You had to kill other people to stay safe. You remember how in the old movies people would get insulted and, for their honor, had to challenge the offender to a duel?”

She nods.

“That was the South Bronx. They’d feel disrespected, and to restore their honor, they’d have to kill the person who did it to them. Otherwise, they’d be shamed. They’d be seen as weak and people would pick on them. They’d be like nerdy Jews.”

“You don’t have to throw in that bit about the Jews.”

“What do you think got us killed everywhere? Predators attack the weak first. It’s a law of nature. Germans saw our fear, and that increased their desire to squash us.”

“Blame the victim.”

“The Japanese never went after Jews, but weakness drove them crazy, too.  They venerated the laws of nature. They didn’t just make beautiful gardens. In their minds, they were simply acting as we were meant to act. If they saw someone weak, they hated that person. It was the duty of weak people to kill themselves. That’s what Japanese soldiers did if they’d been dishonored. That’s what they did to the Chinese who begged for mercy. The more they begged, the quicker they were slaughtered. It wasn’t just a sadist here and there. It was a cultural norm.”

“And that’s what went on in the South Bronx?”

“Not much suicide. But the same principle. If their enemies saw them as weak, it became dangerous for them.”

“It’s not just going on in the South Bronx,” he adds. “Someone looks at someone the wrong way. Bam! An argument and one of them is dead. Violence like that is going on across the country, in ghettos everywhere.  They’d bring school kids to the ER. Nine-, ten-, eleven-year–olds who had had their faces smashed in by their mother’s druggy boyfriend. Sometimes by another eleven-year–old with a lead pipe. Sometimes by their mother. That hospital was something. I got to see all of it. If they could bottle the fury, we’d have another atom bomb. Burn, baby, burn. Watts was the tip of the iceberg.  Detroit, Newark—after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, a hundred and twenty cities burned.”

“Just make sure you don’t describe it like that to anyone else. They’ll think you’re a racist,” CC tells him.

“I’m not. I root for them. Still, that’s what’s been going on. People are totally silent about that because they think it would be thought of as racist.”

“I guess there’s nothing to say. Everyone knows it,” says CC. “That’s why whole neighborhoods are disappearing in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The supermarkets, the bakery, shuttered. Where Jeremy grew up—gone. Mom and Dad’s old neighborhood in Brooklyn—the same. In Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, they have triple locks on their doors. Car alarms are constantly going off. No one says anything. They are loud about how they are friends of black people but they are sending their kids to private schools, to protect them Not just in New York. Most big cities are clearing out. Everywhere. Downtowns are being abandoned. Whole blocks of abandoned buildings. People are scared.”

“Do you know how that sounds?” he says. “Like there really is all this racism. People don’t want to live near them because they are prejudiced. It’s such a tricky issue. Aunt Stella has always loved black people. She’s worked with them for twenty years. She’s always been close to her friend Viola. She’s the godmother of Viola’s oldest child.”

“What’s your point?”

“Stella left Brooklyn and moved to Queens as quickly as everyone else.  So did Viola. They didn’t want to live afraid they were going to be mugged. I mean, news travels fast. One or two muggings in a neighborhood and that neighborhood is done. That’s not prejudice. It’s fear. It’s common sense.”

“Okay, the crime frightened them. But you’d better be careful talking about it,” CC warns.

“Are you kidding? I am in Berkeley. Believe me, I’m careful.  I haven’t mentioned anything to anyone about what I saw at Lincoln Hospital.”

“Was Eldridge Cleaver at the meeting?”

“Yeah, I got him to sign his book.”

“Really? Did you see Tom Wolfe’s article about Leonard Bernstein’s party for the Panthers?”

Mark has contempt in his voice “Yeah. Radical chic. Did you read Soul on Ice?”


“I did. I actually had a conversation with Dad about it.  We were both upset about the same thing.”

“What’s that?” CC asks.

“Cleaver admitted to raping black girls as a ‘practice run’ before seeking white women as prey. He thought it was justice.”

“How many did he rape?” CC asks.

“I don’t know, but plenty, I guess.”


Mark continues: “He renounced his behavior in the book, but it’s so interesting how not only was he forgiven; he became a hero and a best seller. fashionable. Just for eventually seeing things from a white perspective. Are we that hungry for a kind word, that guilty?”

“I feel better. As I’m listening to you I’m realizing you are no longer purely on the left.  Some of what you are saying could have been said by a conservative.”

“I don’t care how you categorize me left, right–I call it like I see it. Blacks have a right to be as angry as they are.  They’ve been dealt a rotten hand in America.  And it wasn’t just in the south.  It’s unbelievable.  Blacks couldn’t play baseball with whites until Jackie Robinson.  Everyone is so proud that he broke the  color line, like that says something about us.  But how could it go on for that long? In the North!

I suppose their anger is justified.  Plus we are no angels. Mom told me her grandmother used to spit when she passed a church. On the other hand, I’m not too thrilled about what is going on in our cities.”

Thinking further, he adds, “Anyway, it’s not just a black/white thing.  Sartre wrote a book, Saint Genet, about Genet’s The Thief’s Journal.  Genet wrote about the beauty of evil. Norman Mailer—everyone loves him. He stabbed his wife at the party where he announced that he was running for mayor of New York. The next day, he was on the Mike Wallace show, where he spoke of the knife as a symbol of manhood and continued to plug his mayoral bid.”

CC can’t waste the opportunity to slap at Mark. “I can’t believe Mailer was one of your heroes. You had me read The Naked and the Dead.

“Yeah, I got pretty carried away with Mailer for a while. He described things you heard about, but didn’t read.  More than that.  He dared to say publicly what others were saying in private conversations. That took courage.  I liked that. But Mushugy! Too into power.

I thought Mailer stabbed his wife because he was very drunk, I’m sure that played a part but then someone showed me his article “The White Negro.” It was wild.  He argued that two teenage hoods murdering a candy-store owner demonstrated a kind of existential courage. He equated violence with virility, creativity, and moral courage.”

“You’re lucky Dad doesn’t know about this. It would have clinched his case against you.”

“Dad and Nixon. You know Nixon’s law-and-order campaign was not just about black people. It was about people in Berkeley. . . . The silent majority has seen enough of us.”

“Proves what I’m always trying to say. The Left can get pretty crazy.”

“I agree.” Mark says sadly. “You know, Mailer’s father was a bookkeeper.  Me thinks he protests too much, his Jewish macho thing. He had a boxing ring built on his estate, arm wrestled Mohammed Ali. Same thing as those guys on the bus. Being frightened, being too Jewish, has to be smashed. The only way to be a hero is to be a radical. There is evil in Berkeley. In me. In everyone.”

CC is relieved to hear that Mark is turning in her direction.  She wants to give him a big kiss, but just in case she still wants to hammer home the point.

“When we were walking on campus, what I saw there scared me.  And what scared me the most was that you were so proud of that scene.  I can’t get the thought out of my mind.  Okay you can see some bad things about the left but eventually, you are going to get carried away by it. You had this look on your face. You were showing off crazy people to me like you thought they were so, so cool.”

“Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t think the speakers there were cool at all.  Not what they had to say. Mainly clichés.”

“Still, you seemed proud.”

Mark smiles sheepishly.  It’s admission enough for CC, but he attempts to answer her.

“I was trying to impress you. But it wasn’t what they were preaching. I didn’t listen to most of what they had to say. I just thought they looked real Berkeley, sincerely working for the betterment of mankind. I meant what I said before. Someday the president is going to come from Berkeley.  Everyone is going to want to be part of this scene. Journalists, Hollywood people. They know what’s here is cool.”

You know Dad was right about you at the seder.”

“I’m a bad dude,” he says half proudly. “I admit it.”

Perturbed, she doesn’t answer him. He goes further on the offensive.

“The one thing you don’t understand is that being bad can feel great. Maybe not like in that Folsom Prison song I played for you, murdering someone, but it feels good. Freedom is a big deal. That’s what Mailer was saying. Most people, including me . . . I make a big show of being a rebel, but I’m the same as everyone else. I live my life exactly as I am supposed to. The alarm goes off in the morning, and it’s off to work, where all day long I do what’s expected. I come home, eat supper, and go to bed, then wake up the next morning and repeat the whole thing. Oh yeah, you get two or three weeks to go somewhere for a vacation. That’s how you live until you retire. So to feel free of that—you gotta bust things up.”

“Why bust it up?  Why not just a vacation?”

“A vacation? That’s not enough.”

“No one is entitled to the Garden of Eden. Your thing about being free. Going back to our true nature–without civilization’s constraints. Yeah that feels great, but paradise is lost for a reason. You have to know that.”

“I’ll admit it.       Fear drives me to not rebel too loudly. So, I’m like everyone else. But I pay a price.”

“So what. That’s why we have the movies. There we can love bad boys. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.  We may not be able to do it in real life, but throwing off our yoke for a couple of hours in a movie helps. We need to see people breaking out of their chains, experience it with them. We need to be part of that. We need to see people having affairs, or doing something they wouldn’t dare do. We need to rattle our chains. But what is going on in Berkeley is way more than that.  It’s over the top.”

“Look, I partly agree. Mailer is dangerous because he made heroes of evil people.  Seeing it in the movies is one thing, but actually murdering people? Mailer almost succeeded in killing his wife. His knife penetrated her cardiac sac. As she was lying on the floor, I read, he yelled at the guests at his party, ‘Don’t touch her. Let the bitch die.’”

“Exactly. Berkeley is a chance to enjoy naughtiness. Dressing it up with high moral principles, but it bothers me. You really want to be bad?”

“What I really want is to be free. Mom and Dad ruled us. I can’t put up with that any longer.”

“Fine but it is not just Mom and Dad? They’re like every other parent. They’re teaching us what’s expected out in the world. That’s their job.”

“What Great Neck expects.” His voice is sarcastic. “Great Neck is over the top.”

“Oh God. I had these same arguments with Jeremy. Great Neck is not worse than anywhere else.”

“Could be. Everywhere is Great Neck. That’s why I wanted you to walk through the campus. To see the future.”

“The place could use a McDonald’s, but otherwise I understand what you like about it. I just ask one thing of you. Stay away from the really evil stuff. You want to carry on about being free–have fun. All I ask is that you stay away from people ready to bomb someone.”

“Jesus. How many times are you going to say that?”

The toaster pops up.

“Didn’t know you put bread in the toaster. We have the baguette.”

“Mom sent me rye bread from Zabar’s.”

“With the black seeds?”

Mark grabs the two pieces of toast and starts to butter them.

“You know, Grandma liked the exact same rye bread,” CC reminds him.

CC takes a bite of Mark’s toast. She tears off a bigger piece of the bread.

“Hey, get your own. There’s more.”

“I just wanted a bite.”

“Long Island is so old people.”

“Maybe, but what I don’t understand is why you and Jeremy have so much contempt for where you came from. He’s from Brooklyn. He liked it there. You were happy growing up in Great Neck. It was your home. Mr. Deutch . . . down the block. Every time you saw each other, you both lit up. You’d throw him the ball, and he’d throw it back so you had to make a spectacular catch. And you would. He’d cheer for you. You had each other laughing. The same with Mr. Levine and Dad’s friend Saul. They liked you.  They wanted the best for you. You liked them. That’s Great Neck.”

“It’s not that. It’s the Jewish thing.”

She rolls her eyes.

“I understand what you said about wanting to free yourself. But who are you to throw away what Grandpa Joseph took so seriously—what all our cousins and their grandparents took so seriously? It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to just toss hundreds of years of belief away, turn everything that people believed before into nonsense.”

“Are you going to pinch me now or later?”

Mark goes into another room and returns with a soapbox.  He has a smile on his face.

“Here. Stand on this. It’s from Union Square.”


“The Marxists used to use it when they sounded off in Union Square.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Someone gave it to me.”


They both have a smile on their face.

“Okay, I’m ready to call a truce,” he offers. “Can we just have a relaxing afternoon? Do you think the Mets are going to be good this year?”

“I’ve been having a nice afternoon,” she replies, lying.

“Okay, I’m not as in love with the left as I used to be but I don’t know, CC. You are going in the opposite direction from everyone else. Are you going to become kosher? Mom and Dad aren’t.”

“No, I’m not going to become kosher, but I don’t understand how you, me, my classmates became experts on righteousness, on remaking the world. Experts on everything.”

“Because Grandpa Joseph was an old fart.”

“And you’re cool?”

Mark goes to the sink and pours out the tea from his cup. He takes a glass and turns on the tap, waits for it to be cold. He slowly drinks the water, like he is settling in for a long conversation, as if they are just warming up.

“You thirsty?” Mark asks her.

“I’m good.”

“I know we disagree about everything, but I’ve missed this,” he tells her.

“Same with me,” she says. She’s half-conscious that she is not being completely truthful. “I can’t stand the political talk. I’m talked out, but there is hope for us. I like the way we can switch it off, not take it so seriously that we land up angry with each other.”

Mark agrees: “I wish talking long-distance wasn’t so expensive. Maybe there is a chance we could hash things out.”

Mark smiles at her in a deliberate way.

“What?” she asks half affectionately.

“Jeremy should have made you a guest lecturer. You’ve gotten good at debating.”

“You look amazed.”

“No. I always knew you had it in you. Believe me. I can remember.  But your mind has grown.  Exploded. Is that the influence of Jeremy?”

“Probably. But I’ll give credit to the master.

“Anyway, I think you should forget social work school. You should be a lawyer, like Dad.”

“Jeremy said the same thing.”

While their long conversation has seemingly ended affectionately, their truce in place, that night, despite the moments when they seemed to be on the same page, despite what CC told him, she feels far more alienated from Mark than she ever has. No reason. They seemed to be making nice in the end. Perhaps her frustration with Jeremy. Mark was saying a lot of the right things, but as she thinks it over Mark seems worse than ever, too preoccupied with politics. Sadly it’s sinking in.  He’s changed a little.  She’s changed a lot. They actually agree on some things but it doesn’t matter.  They will never be close again.

That night, as Mark lies in bed, despite all the yacking he did, the rush of ideas and distinctions, which would have made Pincus proud, he focuses on the bottom line. The niece of Israel Zwerling, a psychiatry professor at Einstein, was the one in the news who blew up her family’s brownstone in the Village.  He could never condone that. But Zwerling’s son, right after graduating from college in 1964, drove down to Mississippi with a family friend, Andrew Goodman. After Goodman was killed, along with Schwerner and Chaney, his son stayed in Mississippi until the summer was over.

Mark knows he would never have the courage to do that. He was too chicken to go down there with MCHR in the first place. He certainly would not have remained after a friend was murdered. He torments himself for being a bullshitter.  And chicken! The radicals are right. Talk, talk, talk

And then for the first time he thinks about his father’s courage during World War II and how they say going to war makes a man out of you. He has a fantasy about how he will quit his internship, join the marines, and go fight in Vietnam, but he falls asleep before he can seriously consider the ramifications.



June 2, 2021
by Simon Sobo

Don’t Underestimate Fear

The biggest mistake an analyst can make is to overestimate the importance of reason in their analysis of why people do crazy things, or have crazy thoughts .  Certainly reason plays a part, sometimes an important part.  But fear is often overlooked or played down as an ingredient. And fear explains most of it

We are living in strange times. People are having crazy crazy thoughts, coming to conclusions that make no sense. Most of those having stupid thoughts are not necessarily stupid, or ill informed. They may even have wonderful ideals towering in their minds, and to  others seem kind, and well intentioned.  Their ideals  aren’t necessarily virtue signaling to make an impression on others.    Having fine intentions  is how they know they are good people. But there is no rational way to explain the craziness of their conclusions.  My daughter, who we were told when she was a child has a high IQ, doesn’t believe in vaccines.  You should hear her reasoning.  I suppose it justifies her expensive education. One of my sons thinks it is peachy that he is receiving a Covid check from Washington when he already has a very nice income. I don’t want to elaborate on his politics.

 We live in a frightening time.  Not long ago a  Covid world of sirens and horrifying news stories surrounded us. People fled the cities. True, there weren’t long caravans of people on dusty roads, carrying their possessions in a cart pulled by a donkey.  We live in an advanced society.  But the desperation was real. People went to real estate agents and bid up the prices of houses to levels that didn’t make sense. They weren’t fleeing Hitler, but apparently to them it was very real, a life or death situation.

But even before Covid, fear has played, and still plays, an enormous role in why people  believe in causes and find explanations that  don’t make sense.  Some assume  the problem is  Wall Street, others The Virus.  Then there is Crazy Trump, old man Biden, the ranting of guests on Fox, CNN or MSNBC. The fear is real. The internet blasts a constant refrain. The end of the world is near.  CO2 will wipe out the planet.  We must put an end to gas guzzling cars. (just as the technology has become amazingly reliable)  For the first time in decades we have become energy independent.  We no longer have to depend on the crazies ruling the Middle East. The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer tells us, to the cheers of progressives, that she will stop lines carrying our fuel. A former bartender from the Bronx and her friends in Congress tell us it is the only way to save us from the ravaging fires of California and Australia , the droughts, the hurricanes.  We must trust the science even thought the science is not there. We mustn’t dare to point this out. Billionaires agree with. it, CEOs.   They are virtue signaling as never before.  Is it because they are true believers?  Probably not. It doesn’t matter.  They rationally understand the power of the masses when they share beliefs.  Moreover, not just corporate big wigs, but anyone with a reputation to  safeguard  can witness the fate of those who are not true believers.  They will lose their Twitter account,  be banned from universities, scalded by commentators guarding the virtuous from heretics.  We saw something like this before, during the McCarthy era.  It is dangerous to not join the mob.

Are the crazy ideas new?  Many of them very much so.  But are they really different?  Intelligent people once believed Christ walked on water, and Moses parted the Red Sea.  In addition to the unlikeliness of their beliefs, people have always grouped themselves into true believers with good purposes.  It is an important part of the package  They find an answer to their fear by belonging and believing what everyone else in the group believes, no matter how nuts.  It beats being frightened and alone.  The phenomenon is so powerful and widespread that very few people can avoid belonging to a group with shared beliefs. The alternative is not very gratifying. Being alone with out of control fantasies and explanations that others might deem insane

Experience is too confusing without the comfort of being one of many who have reached the same conclusions. With conventional religion abandoned by a majority of Americans, it was inevitable that the old wild sacred tales would be replaced by new equally strange ideas.

 Should we be so afraid?  Probably not but I don’t really know.  Maybe we should.  We are all going to eventually disappear, be turned into dust, obliterated forever.  At 77 my future is clear.  I just want to remind analysts to not waste their time.  Even if they could reason their way against the ridiculous thoughts they attack. It is not thought that needs to be addressed, or facts corrected.   It is fear. Without salvation demarcated hard times are ripe for saviors, for leaders of historic dimension . Castro, Mao, Mussolini, FDR, Churchill came forward to set things right.  Or are these larger than life heroes only seen that way in retrospect, in a documentary on TV after the horror has been eliminated.

I don’t wish to be a nihilist.  I wish we weren’t so afraid and that stupid thoughts will evolve into decent moderate conclusions, as they so often have in the past, at least when things seemed to be going smoothly.  I have four children  and six grandchildren and hope a nice future awaits them, with comfortable thoughts and assumptions to guide them. There are the best of times, and the worst, and all the times in between.  We are somewhere in that continuum. But unless we are very lucky fear will  occupy our psyches and demand some form of  explanation.  I hope we will come up with good ones.  Then we don’t have to waste so many words  fighting off nonsense.