Mark Gordon unlocks his sister’s Brooklyn apartment with his own key. He is carrying a boxed Samsung hi definition TV from Costco. His son Robert carries a new sound system.
Mark calls from the open door, “CC?… Surprise.”
CC frowns as her brother comes into view. Her voice is unappreciative.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“Well you watch so much TV. I thought you should join the 21st century.”
“Fuck you Mr. White Knight.”
He smiles, “Fuck you Miss Evil Empire.”
Mark is 71, his son Robert 20. He is a psychiatrist, his son a junior at Yale, which is apparent from his sweatshirt. Much has gone right in his life, and it shows in his youthful appearance. Not so CC, who is 68, but looks much older. Every wrinkle has a story behind it, and there are many. She is skinny, almost anorectic. There can’t be many years left. She lies on a bedroom pillow on her sofa with a cover over her legs. The apartment is dark and dingy.
As Mark works on setting up the TV, Robert studies the photos on CC’s desk. He picks one up that shows CC as a 6 year-old on one knee, wearing a baseball cap. She has a big smile. Mark, 9, also with a smile, stands behind her with a baseball bat on his shoulder. They are gorgeous children.
Mark is standing behind the pictures. “Turn it around. Which one are you looking at?”
Robert turns the photo towards his father.
Mark smiles, “Oh that’s when I made Little League all star.”
Directing her comment to Robert, CC snaps sarcastically,.
“So did your Uncle Jay.”
Robert holds up another photo. Mark laughs.
The photo shows a beautiful dame, Lauren Bacallish, sultry, around 30, in galoshes with a Kent coming out of the corner of her mouth, her fox fur coat over her nightgown.
“That’s your grandmother. Grandpa took that picture. She was a beauty wasn’t she?”
“She was.” CC answers.
Mark continues, “Could have been a movie star.”
Mark addresses CC, “Remember how we used to choose who was going to wake her up for car pool. How scared we were.” Mark stares at the photo and thinks back.
Jay, Mark and CC are in front of their mother’s door. Jay is 11, Mark 9, and CC 6. They are adorable. They move their closed fists up and down as they chant together:
“One. Two. Three.”
Just before they shoot, unseen by CC, Mark catches Jay’s eye. He silently mouths “One”.
“Shoot!” They shout excitedly as they throw their clenched fists down.
All three have chosen one. They repeat the exercise and again Mark cheats. Again unseen, he mouths “two” to Jay.
“One. Two. Three. Shoot.”
Having put down one finger, CC must suffer the consequences. She has to be the one to wake up Evelyn their Mom. She is hesitant.
Jay teases her,
“You should be good at it. You’re her boop-sala. Right Mark?”
Mark joins Jay giggling. He adds his own teasing: “Boopsi?”
Mark and Jay find that funny. They laugh happily.
CC opens the door and enters. The boys close it behind her. With the curtains drawn, it is practically pitch black in her mother’s bedroom. Slowly she tip-toes towards the monster, her sleeping mother. She almost trips. Due to the noise from her stumble, protecting her sleep, her mother pulls her quilt closer to her face. CC freezes. She watches her mother closely. Then danger remitting, she moves forward a step or two, all the while staying alert. Finally, she is bedside.
She whispers nervously:
“Mom. It’s snowing.”
Half asleep, eyes still closed, she answers in a snarling tone that used to, but even now, can scare CC:
“No it’s not.”
CC holds her ground.
“Mom! It’s snowing. 3 inches. It’s your turn in the car pool.”
Mrs. Gordon’s tone is angry.
CC’s determination matches her mother’s nastiness.
Ira is drinking coffee in the kitchen. Still in her nightgown and slippers, with the children following her, Evelyn ambles past Mr. Gordon.. Eyes still half closed, she goes to the front closet, and puts a fox fur coat over her nightgown. Eyes puffy, she puts on her sunglasses. She maneuvers her slippers into galoshes. Mr. Gordon is there with his Polaroid. He thinks the scene is goofy enough to be picture worthy. With a big smile Ira peels off the picture as it comes out of his Polaroid. It’s the picture on CC’s desk. Mark’s memory continues.
His mother is driving with her sunglasses on, smoking her Kent. Evelyn’s only half awake. The three children plus two other neighborhood kids are looking out the car window. One of them coughs from the smoke.
Still in a sleep besotted voice, Mrs. Gordon answers:
She opens her window a bit.
Robert studies a new childhood photo, this one of Mark and CC, same age as the last photo.
Mark is showing off his biceps in profile, fist tight, elbow bent (the classic “Look at my muscle” pose). CC is turned to the camera with her hand overlying the bump on Mark’s arm.
“That has a story,” Mark tells his son
CC was six. A boy had pushed her down on the ground. He was poking at her collarbone, telling her to get up.
“I was smaller than the bully, Gerry Talanker, but I stepped up and gave him a whack on the head, sending him to the ground. CC was really proud of me. I pointed at Gerry. That’s my sister… I used to watch out for your aunt.”
In an unfriendly voice CC answers him. “He wouldn’t leave me alone.”
Robert studies another photo.
“Let me see that one.” CC asks.
Robert brings it to her. As she studies the picture of her mother, CC’s face softens. It is a black and white photo of their mother standing at the top of the stair landing, shot from below.
CC remembers standing at the bottom of the stairs with her father as they waited for Evelyn to appear. She was six. Clearly frustrated by the wait, she looks at her father for encouragement.
In a kind voice he reassures her, “You know Mom. Everything has to be just right.”
As Ira picks her up. CC croons.
“M-m-m-m Daddy, you smell so good.”
They hug. He puts her down. She smiles up at him. He smiles back happily. He hands her a Lifesaver.
“The red one.”
“Don’t tell your mother.”
“She lets me have candy.”
“But not before supper.”
Beryl, their young black maid, watches cheerfully.
Studying CC’s face, Ira moves his hand through her hair. She is delighted, as is he.
“You got it from your mother. One day you’re going to break a lot of hearts.”
Evelyn makes her entrance on the landing. She looks amazing. In a gown Scarlett O’Hara might have worn as a belle, before the Civil War.
CC gasps. She is thrilled.
“Mommy, Mommy. You look so beautiful!”
Beryl watches affectionately, but also with a touch of amusement at white people’s foolishness.
Still holding the photo, eyes watering a bit, CC whispers to herself,
Mark and Robert finish setting up the system. Mark turns the TV on, steps back to take a look.
“Not too shabby.”
He looks to CC for approval but there is no way she will soften.
“Who said I wanted a new TV?”
“But look at that picture!”
CC moves a bit on the sofa like she is trying to get up.
“Stay where you are. What can I get you?”
Blunt and charmless CC answers him.
“I’m cold. Tea. I have jasmine. Do you want some? How about you Robert?
Mark shouts from the kitchen.
“Where do you keep your tea cups?”
Still crabby, “They’re there. Above the sink. Where do you think they are?”
Mark can be heard rummaging in the kitchen. Suddenly there is the sound of a dish breaking.
Furiously she admonishes him.
“All that school. Mr. Shrink. Still breaking dishes.”
Her nastiness escalates,
“Pay attention to what you’re doing.”
Witchy, mean, she shouts:
“I don’t want to hear it.”
As Mark and his son drive home, Robert is upset.
“Dad, why do you let her talk to you like that?”
“She has no one else.”
“I promised your grandmother. Robert, she’s my sister.”
“You have to understand. She wasn’t always like that.”
Glowingly, sweetly, he adds,
“We were very close.”
The three of them, Mark 9 years–old, Jay 11, and CC 6, are excited to be in Miami during their Christmas break. They are running in every direction checking out their room at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Mark puts the TV on. CC goes to the balcony and looks out at the ocean. Jay opens the mini fridge.
“Look at all that Coca Cola.”
He opens a bottle.
“Jay, let me have a sip.”
“Get your own.”
“Come on. I’m thirsty.”
Jay passes him the bottle and he takes a drink. Mark offers CC a sip.
“You want some?”
“Hey Mark. I didn’t say you could give it to her. She’s got cooties.”
“She does not. Open another bottle.”
Mark hands the Coke to CC.
Jay goes back to the refrigerator. Mrs. Gordon enters the room. Evelyn is stunning in a bright lavender bathing suit. She admonishes the children.
“You better not let your father see you took something from the fridge. It costs a fortune. Here give me your coats. I’ll put them in the closet.”
She brings their winter coats to the closet and hangs them. Ira enters the room. His eyes are drawn to Evelyn in her bathing suit, hanging the coats. The smallest details enrapture him. She is blessed with not only beauty but grace. He loves the way she moves.
“God Evelyn. You are something else. I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
She smiles with a stop being silly expression. The children are hurriedly taking off their clothes, putting on bathing suits handed to them by their mother. As they drop their clothes Evelyn picks them up and neatly folds them, putting them on their bed.
Ira is as excited as the children. He tells them they can go down alone.
“I’ll meet you by the water.”
Evelyn shouts to them as they are about to take off,
Jay returns from the door. She is putting Coppertone on CC.
“You’re next Jay.”
As she finishes CC, Jay presents his body dutifully. Evelyn hurriedly wipes the lotion all over him. Mark doesn’t go to his mother.
“You’re not putting that stuff on me.”
“Then you’re not going swimming.”
“So. I won’t.”
Ira gives him a shove.
“Get over there.”
Mark does as ordered. As she rubs the lotion on him she speaks affectionately:
“Why do you always have to make trouble?” He isn’t listening.
As soon as the children close the door. Ira lowers Evelyn’s bathing suit and starts touching her breasts.
“Get going Ira. I don’t want them near the water without you.”
He jumps down the hotel stairs and beats the children to the beach. They got off the elevator on the wrong floor but now they have found their way.
Running through the sand Jay and Mark are racing each other to get to the water first. Running as fast as she can, CC trails them. As they reach the turf Jay shouts:
“No. I won. You had to touch the water.” Mark answers.
Ira’s already riding in a wave. It’s a long run. Eager to match him, Jay and Mark dive into an oncoming wave and rush deeper into the water. CC enters the ocean one cautious step at a time. She holds her position as a wave crashes in front of her and almost pushes her down. Ira watches her protectively but isn’t concerned.
Ira sees a new wave coming towards her. He shouts, “Dive under it.”
She dives under the wave, stands, eyes closed, mouth wide open. Ira’s pleased by her victory Determined, CC now proceeds forward. When the water is chest high her hands are held high in the air as she bobs up and down. Ira watches her happily. Once again he rides a wave in. Soon all three are near each other unsuccessfully trying to get the hang of it…
Mr. Gordon shouts to them
“You have to find the right wave.”
Jay’s the first to succeed. A wave carries him speedily to the shore. At the end of his run, he stands up triumphantly. He is all smiles as he reenters the water to repeat it. Waist high Mark and CC are still not having success. They watch Jay with a forlorn expression as their father and Jay grab the same wave.
Ira approaches CC with an inviting smile.
Hand in hand he walks her further into the ocean. A wave knocks both of them down. She swallows some water. Mr. Gordon lifts her in the air and hits her back to clear her breathing. After gagging a bit, she’s not only okay, she’s an eager beaver, besides her father moving deeper in to the water. With his help she can do anything. When they have reached the proper depth, he holds her horizontally and when a wave comes he glides her in. She has a good run. She gets up excitedly, shaking her hands, races back in to the water, and repeats another one. Mark, meanwhile is continuing to fail.
“Come here.” Mr. Gordon shouts to Mark.
“No I can do it myself.”
Ira’s voice escalates, a bit angrily:
Mark is defiant.
“I can do it.”
Evelyn arrives. All except Mark rush towards her. She towels Jay and CC, drying them. A beach boy arrives with 2 chairs. She lays out a blanket in front of them. They all watch as Mark makes 2 tries at riding the wave. Both failures. But then he finally gets it done. That accomplished, he heads back towards the family. Evelyn has a towel ready to wrap it around him. Mark takes his own towel.
CC’s cold. Her lips are blue. Mrs. Gordon hands her a sweatshirt. Soon after, she puts more Coppertone on CC legs Evelyn hands Jay the bottle. Jay puts some on his face. He offers the container to Mark, but he waves him off.
Mr. Gordon has a Spalding. The boys immediately take the field. He throws pop ups to each of them. They are both ballplayers, relaxed and sure handed.
“Throw it over my head.” Mark shouts.
Ira does so and Mark races back, diving to make a spectacular catch. Ira’s face lights up. He is proud to show off his athletic sons in public. Jay also takes off. Trotting, he catches a fly and throws the ball back.
On a transistor radio, rock and roll loudly lays out a rhythm.
Imitating Vince Scully, Mark narrates his own outfield play. He shouts excitedly,
He does a Duke Snider shoestring catch, grabbing the ball an inch from the ground and then doing Snider’s famous somersault. As he completes the somersault, landing on his feet, he triumphantly holds the ball in the air. Evelyn watches him. Smiling, she is also proud that he is so graceful, but no where near as proud as Ira, beaming as he catches other people’s reaction to Mark’s catch. One on looker does a thumbs up, which makes Ira’s day.
Mrs. Gordon shouts to the boys
“Don’t knock yourself out. We have to visit Nanny.”
Towards evening they are all in Nanny’s dining room seated around a large round oak table with thick glass covering it. Beneath the glass is picture after picture of grandma’s brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, children and grandchildren. Not a smile among those from her generation. They are dressed up, posed and formal, trying to look distinguished for posterity.. Everywhere around the apartment there are slightly yellowing crocheted doilies, pillow covers, and the large bed spread that must have taken a very long time to complete. They are presumably family heirlooms, some brought from Russia, but many crocheted in America, by Nanny herself,. None of the Gordons are fond of them. They give an old fashioned musty look to the condo, but they are treated with respect.
The smells of Grandma’s cooking saturate the air. The silverware has been polished and formally set out next to Grandma’s best fleishig dishes. A seltzer bottle, with its squirting top, is placed in front of Ira for him to control the dispensing of the soda. As usual Grandma and Mrs. Gordon do the serving of course after course.
Stomachs full, Jay and Mark are busting out of their shorts. They are both bored.
“Can we be excused?” Jay asks. “The Giants are on.”
“There’s still dessert, strudel,” answers Nanny.
Mark and Jay look at their mother with pleading eyes. She addresses Ira’s mother.
“Mom. I think we are busting out of our clothes.”
“And members of the clean plate club.” CC eagerly adds.
“Which says something about your cooking. We all love your strudel.” Evelyn tells Nanny.
“Mom, the Giants.” Ira complains.
“Go.” Nanny tells the boys.
Ira kisses her forehead. “Thanks Mom.”
He leaves with the boys. Evelyn starts to clear the table.
“Go. CC and me will take care of it. She’s the best dishwasher in the family.” She tells them proudly.
Nanny washes. CC dries. As soon as they finish Nanny sits on a kitchen chair. She calls CC over, points to her lap. CC climbs on.
“You are the best dish dryer in the whole world… What’s happening in school?”
“Nothing. I’m getting good grades.”
“I’m not surprised. Are you learning how to spell?”
“A N T I..disestablich?”
“A N T I D.”
“I’m teasing. That’s the longest word in the dictionary.”
“A N T I D”
“Honey. You don’t have to spell it but I want to continue where we left off Thanksgiving. Okay?”
With a studious expression CC begins:
“Daddy’s father was Joseph.”
“Your grandfather. He would have been crazy over you. He was so smart. Once he was walking by your father while he was doing his math homework. “That’s’ wrong” he said. “You have to multiply not divide.” Where had he learned that? They didn’t teach math in the Shtetl. How do you think your father got all hundreds on his math regents?“
She points to her head. “Brains from his father.”
She squeezes CC’s knee. “From your grandfather… Go on.”
“Joseph was the son of Joshua.”
“What did Joshua do?”
“He made gold jewelry.”
“Beautiful gold jewelry. Look at my earrings? You can touch them.”
CC touches one of her grandmother’s gold earrings.
“Nice aren’t they?”
“I love them.”
“They are yours when I die. Okay go on.”
“Joshua was the son of Pincus…Pincus was…I don’t remember.”
Her grandmother pinches her.
With a strong Yiddish accent she continues:
“Pincus was the son of Samuel. He studied the Torah morning ‘til night. He felt very close to God… Say it again.”
“Pincus was the son of Samuel.”
“And Samuel’s father?”
“I don’t know.”
She pinches CC harder than the first time. CC flinches but says nothing.
“Samuel was the son of Joseph, another Joseph. He wouldn’t be too happy that he’s disappeared so soon. Do you want to disappear forever?”
“So respect Joseph. He was a chazan. They say he had a voice that would make the angels cry. Who did that Joseph belong to?”
“Right Moses. And his father?”
CC’s grandmother smiles and resumes dramatically:
“King of Israel.”
“He was the king of Israel?”
“No just named after the king. But he was wise like Solomon.”
Her grandmother shakes her finger at CC.
“Get it right. Every last one of them is in your blood. Beautiful music, brilliance, wisdom, studiousness, they’re in you waiting for you to find them. If you honor them you will inherit their abilities. They are you if you let them be you. If you dishonor them you will be alone and weak.”
From CC’s expression her grandmother sees that she has gotten her message across. She takes out her cookie bin filled to the top with oatmeal raisin cookies she made that morning.
“You can have one.”
CC tries to take two cookies
In a scolding voice, “Just one.”
The children are all in bed at the hotel that night
“Did grandma pinch you?” Mark asks.
“So what.” CC snaps back
“I don’t like her pinching. She shouldn’t pinch.”
“You probably deserved it. What were you doing?”
“Nothing. She kept saying Zeyn Shtil. I don’t even know what that means.”
“It means quiet.”
“I didn’t want to be quiet.”
“So you deserved to be pinched.”
“I like grandma Annie more. She doesn’t pinch.”
“But her cookies aren’t that good. Graham crackers.”
“I like graham crackers,” Mark claims.
“No you don’t. How come you make things up?”
Jay admonishes the two of them.
“Shhh. Let me sleep.”
It is a lazy very cold afternoon in February 1955. Outside the wind is howling. Occasionally, rattling is heard from an unknown source. Mark has a bunch of friends in his room. They are rambunctious, pushing each other down on the bed, jumping on each other, laughing away. Several have pulled off their sweaters and T Shirts. The thermostat is set at 73. One of the boys notices nine year old CC at the open door watching them. He closes the door. Mark opens it.
“Come on CC. You can come in.”
She is excited to be included. They close the door. They soon are back at it, screaming and giggling away as she is tossed around. One of them suddenly pulls up CC sweater. It is seemingly not a problem. She has not started to develop. All the boys stare, to see for themselves. She pulls it back down. And within a few minutes it is ancient history as they return to tussling. But then she is hot and she takes her sweater off.
Mrs. Gordon opens the door and sees CC bare chested.
“CC come out here.”
She does as requested. Evelyn closes the door
“Please put your sweater back on.”
“Because you are a girl.”
“Just do it.”
She returns to the room and puts on her sweater. They keep an innocent look on their face as they return to tossing each other around. But although they are laughing, almost pointedly, the fun is gone.
Eleven year-old CC is with her mother at Gimbels. They are examining a pair of slacks on the racks. She holds up a pair on its hangar and examines it, looking at it from several different angles.
In the dressing room Mrs. Gordon is studying the red skirt CC has put on.
“Try the purple one again.”
“I like this one. This is the hundredth skirt,” she whines.
Mrs. Gordon takes a deep breath
“It’s the sixth. I’m tired too. Just try it.”
CC returns wearing the purple skirt.
“Now the red one.”
CC returns wearing the red skirt.
“I’m pretty sure the purple. Try it again.”
CC rolls her eyes. Completely focused on her mission, Evelyn ignores her. But when she returns her mother’s eyes light up, pleased by the way she looks.
“Now isn’t that better?” She pulls in the waist as she speaks.
“Much better. Look in the mirror.”
CC is still unhappy.
“You’re going to have to trust me.”
The two of them are having a snack in Macy’s, across the street from Gimbels. A visit there has become part of their ritual. The Long Island Railroad from Great Neck goes to Penn Station, not far from Herald Square. The train ride still doesn’t bore CC. The shopping, at both Macy’s and Gimbels, including the bargain basement, is hard work. But then the cafeteria as reward. CC has taken on a huge slice of coconut cake with her malted.
“Honey sit up straight… Take smaller bites.”
Evelyn’s voice is harsh. How many times does she have to tell her? But not too harsh–she knows her daughter is teachable. Plus Mrs. Gordon is more than happy being with her beautiful daughter and seeing the pleasure she is taking in the cake. She winks at a woman at the next table who is admiring CC. The woman is also enjoying CC’s ardor with her slice of cake.
Later that afternoon Mr. Gordon is watching a Yankee game with Jay. Smiling, Evelyn enters the room with CC. She is carrying the bags from her shopping venture. CC plops down on the sofa, exhausted.
“How did you do?” Mr. Gordon asks.
“Great. I got this really nice skirt for CC. And some blouses for me. The skirt will be perfect for barbecues at the club. CC try it on for your father.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes you have to.”
CC takes the bag her mother offers her and leaves the room, her facial expression dramatizing her oppression. She soon returns with the purple skirt on, still irritated with what is being asked of her. Mrs. Gordon pulls the skirt in at her waist. CC is standing very lazily.
“Stop looking shlumpadicka. Stand up straight.”
She does as directed, but manages to make fun of her mother by standing up straight, then slouching, then standing up straight. Her father appreciates the humor. Her mother is indifferent.
“Do you like it CC?” Mr. Gordon asks
CC’s eyes roll.
“Well you look beautiful.” Ira means it. “Let me see the blouses.”
Mark and his father are in Mr. Gordon’s basement workshop . Mark is an eighth grader. Mr. Gordon is cutting through a two by four while Mark watches him. He notices Mark is unhappy, which irritates him.
“What’s wrong Mark?”
“It’s my science fair project and you’re doing the whole thing.”
“That’s not true. You had the idea.”
“But I wanted to make it myself.”
“You’re too young to use a table saw. It’s dangerous.”
“So teach me how to use it.”
“I don’t know. … Your mother would kill me if…”
“I’ll be careful. Show me.”
“Okay, but not a word to her.”
The table saw’s sound is loud and, at first, frightening. Mark is at the controls, lining up the wood for a cut. His father is watching every move. Suddenly, Mark cries out:
He is screaming hysterically.
Blood is spurting out of his finger.
“Damn’ you. I knew it. How did you do that?”
His screams continue.
“Quiet. It’s nothing.”
Mr. Gordon grabs a paper towel and presses it around Mark’s finger.
“Keep this towel on it. Press hard.”
Mark removes the towel to look.
“Keep it on.” His father screams. “ Keep the pressure on it.”
Mr. Gordon opens a cabinet and brings out his first aide kit. Soon enough the bleeding reduces to oozing. Mr. Gordon dabs it with iodine. Mark screams from the burning.
More philosophical than angry, “It serves you right.” Ira examines the wound, bandages it tightly. “You’re lucky you don’t need stitches. That’s the last time I let you near that saw.”
A week later the family is seated in the auditorium of Great Neck Junior High.
On stage the principal makes his announcements.
“This year the winner of the science fair… For his The Air We Breath exhibit… Mark Gordon. This is the second year in a row that he has won.”
There is loud applause. Mark’s friends whoop it up. Mark maneuvers in front of CC, Jay, his mother and his father to get to the aisle. His father pats him on the tuchas as he goes by. He gets to the stage, shakes hands with the principal. Mark’s eyes go to his father as he is handed the certificate. They are both proud, but especially Mr. Gordon. He nods to Mark, who nods back. A picture is taken with the principal shaking Mark’s hand. Mark is less conscious of his triumph than of his father’s pride. He looks back again at his beaming father then breathes a sigh of relief.
The next morning, a Saturday, they are all together for breakfast.
“How does it feel to be the science fair champ?” CC asks.
“I didn’t win. He did.”
“Who is he?” Mrs. Gordon asks sharply
Meekly Mark replies, “Dad.”
Also sharply, Mr. Gordon continues, “I didn’t hear you.”.
Mark doesn’t answer.
“Next year don’t come to me. You are going to do your project yourself.”
Ira looks at Evelyn for validation. He doesn’t get it. Rather her expression is that he has messed up again, a look that is familiar to him.
“Who wants more pancakes?” she asks the children.
They all raise their hand. She gives the pancakes to the children but denies them to Mr. Gordon.
“You could lose 5 lbs.”
Mr. Gordon takes over the grill and pours 6 more pancakes. Disapprovingly, Mrs. Gordon stares at him.
“You can only have 1 of those”.
He puts 3 on his plate, gives CC the remaining 3.
April,1959, Marks room. Mark is 16, CC 12 going on 13. The Platter’s My Prayer is playing on the radio as Mark, with his girl friend, arms tightly wrapped around each other, dance a slow dance. Once again CC is standing at the open door watching them. Why Do Fools Fall in Love comes on. Mark simply has to look at CC and they become a couple. The two of them do a fantastic Philly. As the music stops CC continues to look adoringly at Mark. Mark’s girlfriend watches enviously. She shouts over the music to CC.
“I like your moves. You’re as good as Bunny on American Bandstand.”
“What about Mark’s?”
“He’s better than Don. The two of you.”
When the music ends CC looks at her watch.
“American Bandstand is on. Let’s go to the family room.
While tasting the icing to a cake she is working on in the kitchen, Mrs. Gordon is listening happily to the sounds of rock coming from the family room. She does a few steps, shakes her ass as she sucks on her finger full of icing.
An August afternoon in 1959 at the Fresh Meadow Country Club. On the other side of the huge sliding glass doors just outside the dining room, Mr. Gordon is standing in front of a long barbecue grill looking things over. He looks into the dining room. Stunning flowers, tastefully arranged, are everywhere. An ice sculpture of a golfer teeing off, has a spotlight on it. A resplendent assortment of cold cuts, sliced turkey, pastrami, corned beef, chicken, potato salad, Sicilian green olives, coleslaw, pickles, celery and carrot sticks occupy several tables. On separate tables are cookies, pastries of every variety, a spread worthy of a fine bar mitzvah. Evelyn signals Ira to return to the table, which he does. Mrs. Gordon has already placed a salad in front of the children. CC and Mark are fussing with it, but Jay has made progress.
Ira, bring me two spare ribs.
How do you want them?
CC speaks up, “ Bring me two burnt ones like you like, Daddy.”
“Hamburgers? Hot Dogs? Lamb Chops? Steaks? Come with me and tell them what you want.”
He returns to the barbecue grill with the three of them, all four salivating.
Greeting Evelyn with a kiss on her cheek, Dottie proudly sits down next to her in the chair vacated by Mr. Gordon. She’s a vain pretty woman, with large diamonds on her fingers and rubies around her wrist. She and Evelyn go way back. The two of them were the queens of the Midwood High cafeteria in Brooklyn. They were called Betty and Veronica (from the Archie comic books) behind their backs but it didn’t matter. They defined the in crowd.
Things are somewhat more complicated now, but they still preside at the club, at least among the sizable percentage of women for whom looks matter a great deal. It has been this way for so long that they take their status for granted as the prerogatives of being as pretty as they are.
“How was the wedding?” Evelyn asks Dottie.
“Beautiful. Beautiful. They had it at Leonards.”
“What did you wear?”
She listens closely as Dottie lays it out.
“You haven’t seen it. I bought this short black dress with a scoop neck with pearls around the collar. The waist comes in and the skirt flairs out.”
“With your legs that must have been something. Which shoes did you wear?”
“My black Yves St Laurent heels with the gold strap. You know the ones.”
“Oooh. Did Abe take pictures?”
“The wedding photographer took a picture of us. I’ll ask my niece for a copy.”
“Good. I can’t wait to see it. How did your niece look?” “
“Stunning. She was a beautiful bride.”
Seeing that Mr. Gordon is on his way back to the table. Dottie gives Evelyn a peck on the cheek and leaves. Mission accomplished. Mr. Gordon returns with a full plate of ribs. He has a heroic expression, like they were at the beach and parched and he has traipsed 10,000 yards to bring back soda for everyone. He gives Evelyn her spare ribs, and CC hers. The boys have gotten their own food. His heroics are short lived.
“I didn’t say I wanted them burnt like yours.” Evelyn tells him.
“I’ll go back and get different ones.”.
“Never mind. I’ll do it.”
She sashays over to the barbecue table, looking fantastic in her teal summer dress, which contrasts nicely with her tan. Out of the corner of their eyes, most of the men in the room steal glimpses of her. So do the women. CC enjoys watching her walk and the attention she is getting. Her mother’s beauty brings glory to the entire family. CC is proud of her.
- Mark’s a junior in the high school. The whole family is together watching Merv Griffin. Mark is sitting next to CC. He keeps whispering to her. She is paying more attention to Mark than the program. Irritated, Mr. Gordon shoots looks at the two of them. Mark laughs loudly, sarcastically.
“What’s so funny?” Ira asks.
“Then don’t laugh so loud.”
“I just think what he said was stupid.”
“Who asked you?”
“Shh. I can’t hear.” Jay says loudly
“It was stupid.”
Mr. Gordon wants to continue, “We’re all stupid right?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It’s written all over your face. Seventeen and you think you know more than everyone else.”
“Well you’ve screwed up the world.”
“Me? All by myself? “
“You had help.”
“We’ll see how you and your friends do.”
“This is bull shit.”
“Enough with the cursing. Your sister and mother are here.”
Unintimidated, Mark stares at his father,
“What? Bull shit?”
Mr. Gordon is close to losing it.
“No one’s forcing you to watch Merv Griffin.”
Mark stands and faces his father like there might be fisticuffs. As he leaves the room Evelyn pleads with him:
“Mark. Come on. Apologize to your father.”
Mr. Gordon’s expression is also one of reconciliation, but it goes unnoticed by Mark, since he has already passed him on the way out of the room. Almost heartbroken, Evelyn stares angrily at Ira. He looks to Jay for support, which he gets. Whenever Mark has gotten chastised, Jay has notched up his goody–goody routine. He has that look on his face. Like it’s you and me Dad.
CC turns to her father. She is upset but her voice is sweet:
“Daddy you have to be nicer to Mark.”
Turning to her, he puts his hand on her head, reflectively.
“I know. Honey.”
A few days after his confrontation with his father Mark is lying in bed reading The Myth of Sisyphus. He’s extremely serious, also sad. He can hear the family downstairs, laughing and having fun. CC comes to his open door.
“Come on downstairs. Dad’s not home.”
“I don’t like TV.”
“Oh come on.”
“I don’t. It’s for idiots.”
CC, in a teasing voice, smiling, “Oh. Mr. Camus.”
He self–consciously pronounces Sartre correctly, “Sartre too.”
CC imitates his French R comically, “Sart r e”
Smiling, Mark throws a pillow at her. She screams playfully.
January 1960. The Gordons have been called to the principal’s office at at the high school. They are dressed to a tee, she in a business dress, he in a suit. Mark is sitting with them. In contrast to them, he has very long messy hair and a three day growth. He is stone faced as the principal speaks.
“I know you are a good family. All three of your children have done well. Mark is respected by his teachers.” He smiles. “His grades are outstanding. Your daughter has the highest GPA of all the cheerleaders. Mark’s math teacher thinks he is some kind of genius. And Jay. Teachers still talk about him. You should be very proud. “
“I’ll come right to the point. The reason I asked to see you, Mark was smoking marijuana in the boy’s bathroom with two other students.”
Mrs. Gordon is demolished, frightened, tearful. Ira sees how upset Evelyn is, and takes her hand. Neither of them look at Mark. He is studying the floor.
“I’m going to suspend Mark for a week.” He looks at Mark’s parents. “I know he wants to go to Brown. And he wants to be a doctor. With this on his record I doubt he’s going to do any of that. If, and only if, Mark stays out of trouble, this won’t go on his permanent record.” He stares hard at Mark. “So it’s up to you.”
Evelyn looks the principal in the eye.
“Thank you Mr. Lapidus. Mark is going to stay out of trouble.”
“You might want to consider a therapist. Smoking pot is no small thing. And why did he do it at school? Was he looking to get caught?”
“Could you recommend someone?”
He writes the name of two people on a slip of paper and hands it to her.
“Either one of these is good.”
As the three of them enter the house Mark is not remorseful in the least. Defiantly he addresses his father.
“What are you going to do? Send me to my room?”
“As a matter of fact yes. I don’t want to see your face before supper.”
Unbowed, Mark goes upstairs. After he leaves, discussion between the Gordons begins.
Angrily Ira confronts Evelyn.
“There better be no repeat of this. You knew he was smoking pot didn’t you?”
“I’ve smelled it in the backyard.”
“And you did nothing about it?”
“A lot of his friends are smoking it. It isn’t a big deal. His grades are good. Didn’t you drink when you were his age?”
“Actually I didn’t. I had no time with my job after school to do anything but study.”
“Well that was you.”
“Not just me. Everyone I knew.”
“I can respect that. I guess Mark’s more like I was. I didn’t have to work. I had a lot of time to do whatever I wanted. You’ve given that freedom to the kids. I’m sure they appreciate it.”
“I doubt that. They just assume it’s coming to them.”
“You think I’ve spoiled them don’t you?”
“Sometimes I think that, but no it’s not you. They’re just lucky. They don’t have to be careful like I was about my future. Only he’s wrong. He can mess up his life real good if he tries.”
“I think he feels a lot of pressure. Too much.”
“Too much pressure? I had too much pressure. He doesn’t know half of it.”
“No. I just think he feels pushed by us. To be a doctor, to give us nachis. I’m not sure he should feel that?”
“Why not? I did. It didn’t harm me one iota.”
“But what you did wasn’t just for your parents. You wanted it for yourself. You hated being poor. He doesn’t have that.”
“So I was lucky to be poor?”
“I’m not saying that, but I don’t think it’s good for Mark to be doing things just to go along with what we expect. It’s not enough of a reason. I think he smoked it in the bathroom because he wanted to get caught. I think he feels railroaded. He wants to get off this train we put him on. Talk to him. Tell him what it was like for you.”
“I’ve done that a thousand times. It goes in one ear and out the other.”
“Believe me he hears you. You’re forgetting he’s a good kid. His grades are great. “You think that is just for him. He wants your respect.”
Emphatically, he answers, “And yours.”
“Okay mine. Look I’m not saying it was your fault.”
“I’ll bet you’ll figure out some way it is.”
She ignores his challenge and speaks sweetly.
“Go upstairs and talk to him.”
Mr. Gordon knocks on Marks’s bedroom door.
“Dad I don’t want to talk.”
Ira opens the door and enters.
“Well I do.”
He takes a seat at the end of the bed. Mark waits for what is coming. He says nothing but the look he gives his father is definitive.
“Look I know what I am doing. Alan quit college and he’s doing great. He has his own apartment in the East Village. Every day he can go and do whatever he wants. He has a great record collection and reads all the time. He’s better educated than half my teachers.”
“And what’s he going to do when he wants to get married and have children? How’s he going to put food on the table?”
“Growing up in Great Neck is not the be all and end all of having a good childhood. You seem to forget that you grew up without anything and look how you turned out.”
“I didn’t enjoy it one bit. You know, when Betsy, that’s what we called our old clunker of a Dodge, when it had to get fixed, it was like someone had stuck a knife in my father’s heart. He didn’t know where he was going to come up with the money. Sometimes, he would take it out on us. Most of the time he was grouchy. That’s the person I mainly knew. I don’t blame him. Vacations, forget it. If we got to Jones Beach once or twice in the summer, that was it.”
“Okay, Miami is nice in the winter. Puerto Rico. Camp is nice. But all of it is bullshit.”
“Bullshit?” Mr. Gordon answers angrily.
Mark realizes he has overstepped.
“I take that back. It’s not bullshit. It’s nice. What you have given us is nice. You make it seem like that’s everything. Like I owe you my life.”
“Not everything. Just certain things. I go to work everyday whether I like it or not. So does everyone else. School’s your job. Doing schoolwork is your job.”
“I do all my schoolwork. I get good grades.”
“But you also have to stay out of trouble. If I got arrested for pot. I’d lose my job.”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“Oh yes I would. They appreciate that I do my job well, but getting arrested. No way they’d allow that. The firm’s reputation depends on us upholding it.”
“Who cares about that?”
“About being respectable? Everyone cares. I care.”
“I was just having some fun with my friends. It was exciting to do it in the school bathroom.”
“But the risk. What’s so exciting about that?”
Mark gets snooty. “Were you ever my age? You don’t know what that’s like, do you?”
“I don’t. It never even occurred to me to risk my future. It would be crazy. Your Mom’s brother… Uncle Manny. He was like that. They were well off. He’d drink himself silly every day. Great when you’re 16 but he never stopped. You see the result.”
He waits for Mark’s reply.
There isn’t one. Then softly:
“He’s the one on the Bowery?”
“I never understood what he was doing. There’s fun time and work time. I don’t understand fucking up your life. The Bowery is the garbage can. That’s what happens when you don’t work. It starts out wanting to have fun.”
“So what do you like to do for fun?”
“I don’t know. Go out dancing with your mother. That to me is fun.” Voice raised he adds, “With or without alcohol.”
“You think I am going to become a pothead. Don’t you?”
“No. I enjoy it. But no… Truth is I was in the bathroom smoking before English class. We were going to discuss “A Tale of Two Cities.” I wanted to find out what I thought of the book.”
“You don’t know without pot?”
“I do but it is different. I like thinking differently. Pot does that for me.”
“Okay fine Mark, but not too often okay, and not where you can get caught.” His voice raises, “Not in the house, and don’t let your sister see you stoned.”
“She already has.”
“Jesus. Did you get her stoned?”
Mark’s expression gives his father the answer.
“She’s a freshman in high school!”
Mr. Gordon studies Mark’s face.
“How many times?”
Mr. Gordon’s stare challenges his answer.
In a guilty unconvincing manner,
“Three or four, but that’s it.”
Shook up, disappointed, Mr. Gordon gets up from the bed and goes to the door.
He speaks morosely.
“We’ll talk some more about this tonight. After dinner.”
“Dad. I’m sorry. I really am.”
“I don’t want you to get stoned with CC.” Again his voice is raised, “Ever again!”
“And you’re to stay out of trouble.”
Mark is suitably contrite.
“I will. Believe me. I will.”
Mrs. Gordon has poured herself a cup of coffee and is sitting at the counter waiting for Ira. He arrives looking gloomy.
“Want some? It’s fresh.”
“I need something a lot stronger than that.”
He takes out a bottle of scotch from the cabinet. Downs two shots. Evelyn watches him.
“Looks like you had a great talk.”
“No comments from the peanut gallery.”
She stares back at him. She didn’t mean to be sarcastic.
“You could try being nicer to him.”
“You could try being nicer to me.”
“Oh, you can dish it out but when it comes to you.”
“Evelyn give it a rest.”
The summer before CC’s junior year in high school Mr. Gordon is looking for his pruner in the shed. He’s obviously frustrated. His anger grows as, for the third time, he keeps moving things around trying to find it. He sees Jay coming out of the house.
“Is Mom inside?”
“She went to Trudy’s house.”
“Do you know when she will be back?”
“I can’t find my pruners. She’s always putting things where I can’t find them.”
“She should be back soon.”
For a fourth time, Ira goes over the same spots he has looked before. He throws down his gardening gloves, disgusted. He returns to the house and flips on the TV. Using the remote he jumps from channel to channel, pausing a second or two, then on to another. He checks his watch frequently. Finally Evelyn walks in the door. She notices mud on the rug.
“Told you a thousand times to take off your gardening shoes when you come inside.”
“Where did you put my pruner?”
“It’s on the top shelf of the shed opposite the door.”
“Why can’t you leave things where I put them.”
“I thought you’d appreciate me organizing the shed. It was a mess.”
“The shed is mine,” he answers angrily. “Leave things where I put them.”
“No reason for you to get so pissed. What’s wrong? You didn’t sleep well last night?”
His anger multiplies.
“I told you a thousand times. Leave the shed alone.”
“Most men would appreciate that I organize things.”
“Leave the shed alone.”
Ira’s in a rage, “Leave it alone.”
Evelyn is hurt
‘Fine. I’ll leave it alone.”
“That’s what you said last time. You are just words.”
She starts to cry. “The truth is finally out. You really don’t love me do you?”
“You’re going to start that?”
Evelyn’s tears are now flowing freely. Ira doesn’t look at her. He goes to the shed and finds his pruner where she said she put them. He begins to prune a rose bush. Gets pricked by a thorn. Sucks on his bleeding finger. He sees a pretty rose, cuts it and walks towards the house. He hands her the rose. CC is there. Mrs. Gordon throws it in the garbage.
“You’re not going to get off so easily. You know, you are not easy to live with.”
She’s scored. He looks guilty, like the incident is all his fault.
“Mom. Dad’s sorry.”
Evelyn’s tone is nasty as she looks at CC
“Who gave you permission to pipe in?”
CC leaves the room.
“You don’t have to take it out on her.”
“Ira, you don’t see it. It’s the damn’ pot. She doesn’t think things over. She says whatever comes into her head.”
Mrs. Gordon is not wrong. CC has been smoking a lot of pot. She and Mark have always been close but marijuana has created a powerful bond between them. With the help of marijuana she can talk to him as she has never talked to anyone before.
Since junior high she has always had friends, but for the most part, their connection is their shared interests, the music they listen to together, dance steps they learn from each other, movie magazines they swoon over. Tony Curtis, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford and Paul Newman are very popular with them. She has a special place for Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity. Those eyes. She could dive right into them, swim in the ocean of luminescence his eyes promise.
But other than knowing what their father does for a living, and what kind of car they drive, she knows little else about her friends beyond their appearance. Nor is she interested, nor are they in her. She admires Rebecca’s curves, and Michelle’s lean athleticism. And Nora’s lips and teeth. And Paula’s nose. And hundreds of other details about them, for the most part not noticed consciously. But the bond is powerful enough, so as she and her friends sit together in the school cafeteria it is as if they are on the throne. Or close to it. They watch what the others are wearing, sensitive to clues about changing trends. They enjoy being the part of the crowd that determines the styles of everyone else. Being part of that is confirmation enough. If pressed, CC might admit the main reason she has “friends” is that it beats the alternative, belonging to the second or third tier.
She once had a friend Sarah but that died. A couple of times she has tried to engage Roberta, the person she likes most, in deeper talks. It went nowhere. They are both too protective of their persona, in high school the most precious commodity. When she and Mark go at it, no subject is off the table. He can be naughty, using curse words with abandon. Only once or twice has CC done the same, and then unconsciously, the words slipping through her guard, to nail an idea she is newly addressing.
She likes, she adores the way Mark gets when he gets going, his limitless enthusiasm, the power of his arguments about causes that had not interested her a whit before. He wore a black armband one day, signaling he was a member of SANE. She soon became antinuclear. For a while he turned against the rock n’ roll hits they had always danced to. (But that was temporary. After Dylan shocked his followers when CC was in college in 1965, and turned electric, embracing rock n’ roll, suddenly the antiestablishment nature of rock was newly recognized. Dylan shocked his followers yet again embracing Johnny Cash. Prior to that the anti–hippy attitude of country west singers had been registered, and they were the enemy. But then Dylan, always Dylan, turned things upside down still again.
Mark played for CC Johnny Cash’s performance at Fulsome Prison.
“Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns.”
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”
He played that last line over and over. At first she didn’t get it, didn’t understand Mark’s smile as he played that line. Her brain can’t wrap around it. But eventually she picks up on it anyway. She even plays it for her friends. Doesn’t matter that when she first heard the song, she was frightened by its rowdiness. Mark’s enraptured connection to Dylan is cool. She understands Robert Allen Zimmerman being transformed into Bob Dylan. She understands Mark’s desire not to be a good boy. Besides she likes Johnny Cash’s voice. She has grown used to Mark bringing her treasure from a source she might not have gone to.
In high school Mark’s being in touch with the cool hip things give CC a step up on her friends, a step up on the boys that ask her out. They seem young, unformed, not a man of the world like Mark. To her Mark is one of a kind, completely unique. As he puts it, an individual.
On the other hand, the family has been only too aware of what Mark is up to, especially Ira.
Passover. Mark is home from college for spring break. Ira’s brother and sister and three children are at the table. Everyone is dressed up as usual for the holiday, with the exception of Mark who is in dungarees and a tee shirt. Although they are formal about performing the ritual service, the mood is festive. The potato and then the parsley are passed around and dipped in salt water. From one to another, cousins thank cousins and pass it on. With the exception of Mark. He waves it off. Several times during the prayers, he whispers to CC and the two of them giggle. Mr. Gordon notices but says nothing. He keeps on looking to his brother for support He breaks up the matzah and hands it to everyone at the table. He’s relieved that Mark takes a bite of the matzah. He’s not happy that Mark has been sipping, and, at times, gulping wine throughout the Seder, not at the prescribed moment and without the expected prayer. Mark has gotten in a very good mood doing whatever he wants, when he wants to. He is ignoring everyone else. They try their best to ignore him.
As they have over the last five years, Mr. Gordon calls on each member of the family to read a section of the Haggadah.
“Mark, you read this….In Hebrew.”
Mark reads the Haggadah out loud in Hebrew. He used to read Hebrew with ease but he is struggling,
“Raw—shaw mah who Omer? Mah ha—avodah ha—zos law—chem? Law—chem v—low 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.”
“You’re a little out of practice, aren’t you?” Mr. Gordon tells him “Now the English.”
“The wicked son, what does he say? “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.”
Mark stares back at his father. Then looks at CC. He rolls his eyes.
“The wicked son.” His father repeats. The room is tense.
“Mom, when are we eating?” CC asks
When the food comes, no one is hungry. They go through the motions, swallowing and chewing. That did it for that seder. In the past it has been a happy occasion, even with Mark making fun of it. But everyone ignored him or laughed at his jokes.
The Seder meal is on par with the Thanksgiving feast. Grandma used to cook the whole thing, but when she no longer was able, Evelyn took over, with the old recipes. She began cooking two weeks before and did a spectacular job. It’s not just a meal. It’s a memory, like the Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving. Too bad he wasn’t Jewish. The Gefilte Fish, the matzo ball soup– he would have done a mean Pesach dinner painting-although that has actually been done a thousand times. The Last Supper! It deserves that kind of celebration, a meal that goes back thousands of years. Mr. Gordon has always loved presenting it’s meaning to the family
“It was the first time God showed us we were his chosen people. He came out big for us.”
Mark adds in a sarcastic tone “He kicked the asses of the Egyptian’s Gods.” His rhythm carries him forward. “Yes he did. God came through.”
A little later, hoping to rescue the evening, there are happy smiles on everyone’s faces as they begin everyone’s favorite song, Dayenu. They sing with their customary gusto.
Elu hostey, hosteyano, hosteano, me mistraiem, me mitstraiem, hosteano.
Dai, Dai, Dai.
Dai Dai Dai. Dai Dai Dai.
Mark interrupts the flow. “You realize what we are singing? It’s a war song. A victory song.”
Everyone’s smiles evaporate immediately.
Very irritated Ira addresses his son
“What?” he barks at him
“Read the English translation? Dayenu means “it would have been enough.”
Ira takes on the challenge:
“ 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 are appreciating the gifts God has given us.”
Aggressively Mark challenges his father, “Read the next two.”
Ira begins “ If he had…
He stops. Looks at Mark resentfully.
Mark takes over, reading loudly, triumphantly:
“If he had slain their first–born,” He raises his voice: “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.”
“Wonderful. There goes that song.” Evelyn says 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. They were slaves. They kicked the ass of their oppressors. God did it.”
“And we go wahoo. That’s terrific.” Mark snaps at him.
“It is.” Ira snaps back.
“So the road to Viet Nam 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 the Lone Ranger.” Ira retorts. “When he plugs up the bad guys with lead I saw how happy that made you. The Star Spangle Banner. A war song. During the war I had this pal from a French family. He used to sing the La Marseillaise, France’s National Anthem, before every flight.”
Badly, mispronouncing almost every word Ira sings the refrain,
Aux armes, citoyens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons ! Marchons !
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !
You ever watch a Frenchman singing it? He isn’t singing Hebrew. He understands every word. You know what words are making him proud?”
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood
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 answers her.
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 each other out. Not looking at Mark, not looking at Ira they aren’t sure what to do. Jay returns to singing Dayenu a second time. They join him at first tentatively, but by the end the usual gusto returns.
They’re happy they have weathered the storm. But soon enough they come to the part of the Seder where they are to dip their pinky into their wine glass and ceremoniously drop the wine on their plate. They usually chant this in Hebrew but as Mark repeats the ritual his voice is loud. He sings out in English, each of the 10 plagues that God has rained down on the Egyptians
Mark throws his pinky at the plate so that his drop of wine lands there. The others do not continue
A drop of wine
A drop of wine
Ira stops him. “We get your point”
A drop of wine
“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.”
“No it’s about us getting freed from slavery. God coming to our rescue. It’s always been a happy holiday. Can you get into the spirit of that?”
He won’t let up. “Yeah. Killing our enemies.”
“Your grandmother is here. Can you think of her for a moment?”
Grandma is sitting silent. Her handkerchief dabs at her lips.
CC is thinking to herself: “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
On a bright nice May afternoon of CC’s senior year in high school, there is happy chatter on the school bus. They arrive in front of the Gordon’s house. As CC goes down the bus stairs, she trips and falls hard on the ground outside. The chatter stops. One of the boys shouts out:
“Daddy long legs.”
In junior high she used to be teased because she was taller than the boys. It stopped once the boys grew taller. Besides she has become so pretty, but she hears the familiar torment and it adds to the embarrassment of the moment.
Mrs. Gordon sees CC on the ground and comes running out. CC doesn’t immediately get up. Mrs. Gordon puts her arms around her.
“I tripped. Same thing happened on Monday.”
“What do you mean? Why didn’t you say anything?”
CC gets up with difficulty. Then she falls back.
“I’m all right. Don’t push the panic button.”
“We’ll see what your father has to say about that.”
A week later they are in the office of Dr. Kermit Osserman, world famous neurologist. In his examining room Dr. Osserman has two fingers out in front of him which CC is grasping.
“Squeeze harder. Come on. I know you can do it…Come on.”
“I know you can.”
She is not able to squeeze harder. He sees she can’t.
“Okay let go.”
She watches him as he takes a vial out of his cabinet. He loads a syringe.
“It won’t hurt. Just a little prick.”
He gives the injection. Counts to 30 silently.
“What grade are you in?”
“Sixteen. Aren’t you young to be a senior.”
“I skipped a grade.”
“So you are smart and beautiful. Okay now squeeze my fingers.”
She does so.
“Can you feel the difference?”
“Now you are strong…Okay. Go back to the waiting room and send in your parents.”
They enter his office.
“Your daughter has MG, myasthenia gravis. I did a Tensilon test.”
“It’s a medicine that makes her stronger. It only works with MG.”
“With ordinary activity her muscles get weak, extremely tired, like she has run 25 miles.”
“Why is it called gravis?” Ira asks
At first Dr. Osserman hesitates but then plunges forward.
“You can die from it. The muscles can become so weak that you can’t breathe. Only an iron lung can keep you alive.”
The Gordons become ashen faced.
Dr. Osserman continues.
“Fortunately, it rarely comes to that. We have good treatments. Now most people can lead normal lives. Occasionally you’ll have double vision. The eye muscles get fatigued. Sometimes other muscles, but she is not going to fall off a bus again. She won’t win an arm wrestle, but no one will know she has a problem.”
“Do people still die from it?” Ira asks
“I’ve lost 3 or 4 patients from it out of hundreds.”
Dr. Osserman shrugs his shoulders.
“The medicine stopped working.”
In the Gordon’s bedroom that night Evelyn is in Ira’s arms crying.
“He said 3 or 4 out of hundreds. That means 1%, 2 %. One or two percent “ he repeats. “She could get hit by a car.”
“The main thing is that she takes her medicine. “
“I’ll make sure she takes it.”
“What about in the fall when she goes away to college? Maybe she should be told she can die.”
“No way Ira. I don’t want you to tell Mark or Jay either. The doctor said it’s like diabetes. It can be controlled. That’s what we should tell them. She’s a good girl. She’ll do what she is told without us scaring her.”
It is the fall of 1964, Mark’s very first evening in his dorm at Albert Einstein Medical School. Classes are to begin the following morning. Mark is in a 2nd year student’ s room with several other students. Everyone is introducing themselves, kibitzing, curious, excited about the year to come. He sees Harrison’s medical textbook on the student’s shelf and asks to take a look at it. He finds the article on Myasthenia gravis. Until now, Mark hadn’t given CC’s illness much thought. His parents’ lighthearted comparison to diabetes is all he heard. She only has to take her medicine and she will be fine.
Mark turns as white as a sheet. Harrison explains the origin of the name. Gravis means grave. Thirty per cent of patients die from the disease.. He reads the prognosis section again. Then he reads it again. Then he stops. He is dazed. In college, he had a friend whose father had Hodgkin’s Disease and was close to dying throughout his childhood. Then he died. That was the closest Mark had ever been to real pain–once removed from it.
Although like any other family, tragedy could strike at any time, for the most part they have expected their lives to be bountiful, with glory a possibility if they are lucky and work hard enough. Mark felt terrible for his friend and his dying father. When he cried at a sad movie, his tears were genuine. When he was rejected by a girl he thought he loved, his heart could be broken. Anguish could overcome him. For a week or two, maybe three.
His reaction to CC’s myasthenia is totally new. It isn’t the sad ending to a movie. It isn’t a friend’s troubles. CC may die. That thought grabs a hold of him. He can’t stop thinking about it.
It is the beginning of his misery. Month after month, he is possessed. In the morning and in the night, relentlessly her death takes over Mark’s thoughts. Fearing worse news he skips any lecture where myasthenia might come up. At night, in his dorm room, instead of sleeping, he stares into the lonely darkness. He hears a truck on the Hutchinson Parkway, miles away, laboring. The toilet flushing down the hall. 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM– finally the dawn promises relief. In an hour or two, others will be awake and at breakfast he will have human contact.
At breakfast his state is obvious. He’s asked what’s wrong. He doesn’t hesitate. He tells his tale of woe to first one person then another. That doesn’t work out very well. His sister’s illness is caressed by his telling about it. In the strange logic of his psychology, finding a witness to his suffering provides Mark with a noble posture. Unfortunately, Mark too easily loses control when he speaks about CC. His eyes watering add to his telling, but then one morning he sobs. Then it happens a second time. After that he doesn’t repeat the story. He avoids those who saw his outburst. Or they avoid him.
Losing it in public is not a sin. It doesn’t bolster his macho image, but these things happen–even to guys. It could happen to anyone. Terrible occurrences are part of life. Others can handle it. Someone dies and reluctantly, sometimes very reluctantly, friends and family make a Shiva call. Unpleasant, but unavoidable. But that’s it. They are done. If they had to make those visits every day, they would soon find excuses for not doing their duty. Shit happens but not every day.
But then, even chronic troubles can be put in an acceptable context. An ongoing battle against sad or dark forces, can be poetic– sturm and drang was once considered noble. When it was in style.
The more worrisome problem is that when pain is chronic it changes from being an unhappy interruption to becoming who a person is. Mark is changing. People sense it when they are around him. Doesn’t matter what he does. Even when he is silent his sadness is palpable. He’s a party pooper. Other students might be kidding around before a class. When Mark enters the room the mood becomes somber. His morose face, his beaten down posture can be identified 50 yards away. This is something new for Mark. He has little choice. He can’t imagine a world without CC.
What if CC learned how terrible myasthenia actually is? Several times, lying in bed, alone with his thoughts, he has imagined jumping into the grave at CC’s funeral, like Hamlet with Ophelia. Hamlet wanted to be buried with her. It is not far from the psychological state that Mark’s spirit now lives in.
Jewish law demands that for an entire year mourners may not seek entertainment. No singing. No dancing. No celebration of any kind. Mark’s grieving has nothing to do with that law. It’s baked into him. Ira likes to keep emotions short and sweet, a quip will do. But Evelyn has a dramatic side. Facing misfortune she wants it to have substance like a good movie, or a deeply felt song. At her death, Rudolpho sobbing, crying out. Mi-mi. That’s how it’s supposed to happen, operatic, big, significant, unforgettable. Mark gets that from his mother. They both like tear jerkers. Now he has one of his own. Perpetually.
At a wake the Irish say goodbye to dead loved ones with tears but also laughter and song. They may have to get drunk to get there, but it is a desirable state. That’s not where Jews are allowed to go. Overcoming pain with laughter, with drunkenness is foreign. They have a better way-clothing whatever happens in moral terms, finding meaning, bearing witness. Going there. Without being aware of the law Mark instinctively knows what is expected. You can’t have fun that a dead CC could not enjoy.
And CC isn’t dead. There is only a thirty percent chance. The glass is 70% full. Doesn’t matter. An ancient persona is strangely comfortable Swimming in a tale of anguish claims him..
“You think you have problems?” His misery makes him a champion, like a disabled person, entitled to all benefits that go along with misfortune. Misery loves company. Bringing another person to be with him- gaining empathy will not only ease his state, but ennoble him. Especially if she is beautiful.
The technical term is secondary gain. Over centuries of suffering Jews got good at telling a tale of woe. When done well it restores dignity in the telling. It justifies whatever else they may be lacking in their character. But there is a terrible downside which far outweighs any gain Mark hopes to receive. The knowledge of her possible death has made her death imminent. And ongoing.
Every memory he has of mistreating CC haunts him. He never thought about his sins before. The time he got furious at her when, as a three year old, she got to his Monopoly game and destroyed it. For that moment he hated her. It lingered for hours afterwards. The time when he was 7 and she 4, that he got her down on the floor with his knees on her shoulders holding her there, sitting above her triumphantly. He made monster sounds which he thought were hilarious. Slowly he let his saliva drip on to her face. She screamed, but in his previous memory she was screaming and laughing with him. Now the memory has switched around. She is scared, repulsed and he is a villain.
In general that’s what has happened to him. He is saying “I’m sorry” far too often. His exaggerated state of humility is striking people as odd, particularly those who knew the old Mark. He can’t help being that way He is feeling sorry constantly, excoriating himself for one misdeed after another.
He realizes his crimes are trivial, but it is not what he has actually done. It’s what’s revealed about him that matters. In his new logic, every situation in which he favored himself instead of the other person now proves to him that he is basically selfish. He calls his athletic triumphs into question. The fact that he enjoyed winning instead of feeling for the loser is now commanding his attention.
All of this is part of a process in which experience is being rearranged in his mind. Increasingly he finds himself focusing on the cruelty in the world, of people everywhere, including himself. Especially himself. The good people, the people he now understands, respects, and loves, are the sick and suffering, poor people, injured people, people born with disabilities, perhaps people not even that bad off, but struggling, the vast numbers of mediocre people who spend most of their life ignored.
“Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Lou Gehrig has become a giant. Dying, but before a stadium of cheering fans. Lucky. He isn’t just saying it. He believes it. That makes him far more heroic than Duke Snider. Snider was a study in grace and power. Gehrig’s grace came from overcoming hardship, the way he pushed himself, tolerated pain, played injured or not. He held the record for consecutive games When Mark compares the two there is no contest. True grit is more important than effortless success.
With his new set of values, and what amounts to a damaged persona, Mark is experiencing social rejections that he never noticed before. He was never 100% confident asking someone he was attracted to out for a date. Maybe he was 40 or 30% and sometimes, when he was on a good roll 90% confident that he might succeed. When he failed he mindlessly moved on to an equally beautiful treasure. But lately, his batting average has sunk to practically zero. Despite his handsomeness, repeatedly, girls he is asking out, aren’t interested in a second date.
He has become soft spoken, far kinder and considerate than he has ever been. Feminists might see in him the man they are now asking for, but the women he has asked out, both of them “feminists”, see his gentleness as fearfulness, a tentative posture, certainly not the protection that a more robust man offers them.
His masculinity had never been an issue. Now it is. He is much more sensitive to rejection, more often shy. In situations that before, he mindlessly let his burners shine bright, he did his shtick, rain or shine. Now he is hesitant, almost immediately discouraged if he detects glazed eyes or the beginning of a yawn. Before he might have started out meeting the same resistance or indifference, but he was in essence unaware of it. Some called it persistence, others chutzpah. Whatever characterization might have been applied to this characteristic in the past, Mark had no choice. It was simply him. He found, wherever his thoughts went, fascinating, and assumed others would respond to them as he had. Or they wouldn’t, but before he always had another jewel to share which he assumed would be interesting.
That dynamic no longer works. He knows he’s broken. He has tried all kinds of strategies to try to fix it. None have worked. Spirit cannot be fixed by strategies. His misery has reached a point that he can not remember what it is like to not be suffering. He can no longer remember what happiness is like. Although he makes a point of reminding himself that this can’t go on forever, he doesn’t really believe it. It is endless. Day after day he is imprisoned by his mood. Then the day after that. Then the week. Then the month.
He thinks about suicide. At first it is occasionally, but then more frequently. Once, on the highway, Mark feels a sudden desire to swerve the car into the support of an overpass. It would be so easy. No one would know it was intentional. All he has to do is turn the steering wheel ninety degrees and that would be it. Fortunately, as much as he is tempted in the abstract, the actual impulse doesn’t materialize. When he thinks about it he knows he could do it, but this one time he broke into a cold sweat. His heart raced. His fear was greater than anything he had ever experienced. It took him some time before he could calm down. The impulse never recurred.
But let us not exaggerate his suffering. Though rejected more often by women than usual, he has not been above using his suffering to good advantage. He is a young man and his hormones still rule him. Several times he has told his story about the tragedy of CC as part of a romantic narrative. Great writers, Dostoevsky, Goethe, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow were only able to plumb the secrets of their heart through suffering. Herzog becomes his favorite book. He underlines his favorite passage.
“Resuming his self-examination, he (Herzog) admitted that he had been a bad husband— twice. Daisy, his first wife, he had treated miserably. Madeleine, his second, had tried to do him in. To his son and his daughter he was a loving but bad father. To his own parents he had been an ungrateful child. To his country, an indifferent citizen. To his brothers and his sister, affectionate but remote. With his friends, an egotist. With love, lazy. With brightness, dull. With power, Satisfied with his own severity, positively enjoying the hardness and factual rigor of his judgment, he lay on his sofa, his arms rising behind him, his legs extended without aim.
But how charming we remain, notwithstanding.”
Herzog is a best seller that year. Self excoriation is not focused on in the magazines as fashionable, but among certain people something like that is going on. A cheerful happy outlook is dismissed by many as a sign of superficiality. Suffering is correlated with intelligence, even genius. Mark doesn’t go that far, he isn’t often enough, able to think of himself as passably cool. But he has read about “Werther Fever”. It caused young men throughout Europe to dress in the clothing style described for Werther in the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. Reputedly, the book led to the first known examples of copycat suicide. “Werther Fever” was watched with concern by the authorities. Both the novel and the Werther clothing style were banned in Leipzig in 1775. The novel was also banned in Denmark and Italy.
But learning about Werther gives him a poetic image to aspire to. Within this context Mark decides his recent problem with women has been that he has gone after the wrong types. Those who suffer are not only good. They are his heroes and heroines.. He loans his copy of Werther to Judy, who has known plenty of tsuris, and when that relationship ends to Nancy, who has also had a rough time. Both eventually end the relationship.
He still can’t get used to that happening. In the past he wasn’t always successful with girlfriends, but most of the time he was. His relationships usually ended because he was bored, rather than the other way around. For better or worse, previously, the bottom line image he had of himself was that he was a charmer. You win some and you lose some. He has begun to appreciate a new reality. Whatever that charm had been, it is now gone.
He opens his heart to his best friend Kevin. They grew up together in Great Neck, always enjoyed each other’s company, could confide in each other. But, after a month or two, Kevin tires of listening again and again to the same thing, Mark sharing his misery. He accuses him of milking his sister’s illness for pity. Kevin is convinced Mark would be perfectly fine if he simply moved on, if he didn’t take such pleasure in the nurturing he is trying to get from others. It is a fair enough assessment of what Mark is doing, but Kevin’s irritated voice is full of contempt. That is unbearable to Mark. He stops calling Kevin. And Kevin does not seem to mind. Eventually Mark accepts every criticism that Kevin leveled at him. It adds to his self excoriation. He makes an effort not to be a kvetch, to speak so much about what he is feeling. Eventually he is successful, but that doesn’t help much. He still feels alienated from people. Lonely in a crowd.
Einstein empties out every weekend. Most of the students are New Yorkers. Students go home to their families. Every Friday night, Jay and Dora come from Forest Hills and Mark from the Bronx for the Shabbis meal. The family is knitted together by grandma’s chicken soup. The problems with his father had actually faded for a while. diminished enough so that Mark could end his exile, and rejoin his family for dinner.
Years before Mark was the star when they were together, at least as far as CC and his mother were concerned. Jay and his father usually conceded that position to him. He was full of babble and new discoveries, good cheer corresponding to the way his life was going. CC and Evelyn enjoyed him.
But now? Fearing that the family might pick up on his sadness and start asking questions, Mark goes out of his way to not seem depressed. He isn’t very good at it. It might have happened anyway, but Jay’s wife Dora has taken center stage at the table. She lights Shabbos candles, something Evelyn had never done. It is new, which is always refreshing, but more than that, it adds dignity to the evening. Dora’s full of jokes and chatter, which keeps the family happily moving through the meal. Mark sits with them, dour, trying to join in, faking his laughter at Dora’s stories.
Evelyn notices. She ascribes his sadness to jealousy. She thinks it is good for him, to learn how to not always be the alpha male. She and Dottie have discussed his change. She assumes he will eventually adjust to Dora’s dominance She has seen Mark go in and out of phases. This is another.
Only it goes on and on. His sadness deepens. It also becomes more mysterious. It is there even when Dora and Jay are not there. Evelyn doesn’t suspect anything, which is to Mark’s credit. From the moment he learned of the seriousness of CC’s myasthenia, he wanted to protect the family from what he learned. It would be as devastating to them as it has been to him. CC spirit is so young, unfettered, her whole life before her. Thoughts like that–he already feels, sometimes, like he is a hundred years old, like he is at the end not the beginning of his life. How would it affect CC to think about her death? He must spare her.
Not that he isn’t tempted to tell all. It would be so much easier if he weren’t alone, if he could be together with them, mourning CC. But he loves them too much to inflict his suffering on them. He takes pride in being able to keep this secret, pride in his silence.
That goes on for two years, but then suddenly it stops. Mark learns that the textbook he had read in 1964 was dated. The outlook for myasthenia is now excellent. Most people with the disease can expect a normal lifespan. Had he not cut classes, or, quickly exited the lecture hall, as if he had to use the men’s room, when the subject came up, he might have learned this earlier. It would have spared him years of suffering. But, at this point, it doesn’t matter that much. It’s over.
Plus, even before he found relief from his personal misery, his lcompassion for those who are suffering became powerful. It was transformed into political passion. He had already leaned left, because he bought into the belief, that people on the left were kinder, more original, more creative, more interesting. His love affair with the Village, with artists and bohemians had been intensified by the new politics. He had gone to several teach ins about the war, been to several demonstrations, been proudly defiant. On October 15, 1965, David J. Miller burned his draft card at a rally held near the Armed Forces Induction Center on Whitehall Street in Manhattan. The 24-year-old pacifist, member of the Catholic Worker Movement, became the first man arrested and convicted under the 1965 amendment to the 1948 Selective Service Act.
That demonstration was the first time Mark was ever chased by the police, the first time he saw them use their nightsticks trying to slam some sense into the skulls of the demonstrators, the first time Mark had seen their hatred, and felt his own. Compared to his years of sadness, his new outlook, his refusal to tolerate injustice greatly improves his mood. It feels so much better to find evil in others rather than himself, to experience that anger not directed at himself, but at those who deserve it. No longer awaiting CC’s death, he can do something to make the world better. So this new Mark is full of energy, purpose and pride. Politics had rescued him from his misery. This happened even before he learned that myasthenia isn’t fatal.
By the time of his graduation from medical school in 1968 Mark had regained a bit of glory. He had been chosen Bronx Chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, became a member of the national governing council. He was back in action, a leader of men, a man of principles.
It’s the autumn in 1968 at the University of Buffalo. Majestic elms line the wide pathways crisscrossing the campus. The reds, yellows and oranges of the trees are spectacular. The wind is whipping up, swirling leaves with each gust. Students are hurrying in every direction.
In a classroom, fresh air blows in through giant windows left open in Sy Hall. The window frames a large maple tree, in its autumn glory, turned scarlet. 29 year-old teaching assistant, Jeremy Slater is on a roll.
In the 60’s every campus had one, a teacher who could turn on his students with his ideas and passion, especially female students. Cynics have compared him to a rock star at a concert. So have admirers.
Jeremy’s green eyes are his best feature. They light up whenever his non–stop ideas hit their mark. Which is frequently. When he gets going, discoveries keep popping out of his head. One thought stimulates the next. Then the next. Riff after riff.
With each inspiration, he glances at CC who sits apart from the others. Away from home, the transformation is complete. CC the child, has become a magnificent creature. She is now a senior. To those who haven’t known her, but are seeing her for the first time, CC is gorgeous, a vision, light as a feather. Her ginger hair, streaked blonde by the summer’s sunshine, frames her large hazel eyes. There is sadness in them, but they sparkle, becoming almost iridescent, each time Jeremy hits the right note.
Seeing her in the state she is in, the possibility of having something like that happen, originally led Jeremy to teaching. Normally shy, when he lectures he is transformed, a king, gazing beyond his courtesans to his empire. At this point in his life he’s able to look and watch others comfortably, something that was not true before. At this moment, emboldened by the reaction he is getting from CC, he’s taking notice as never before.
Her eyes dropped to the ground the first time they met Jeremy’s. But now they melt, lingering for precious seconds. His heart is beating on the double. She is also done in. Every word seems like it is coming from heaven, for that is where Jeremy appears to be speaking. Fantasies rarely become actual, but when they do- with the class full, and his mind crystal clear, this is the closest he has come to living out his dreams.
Pointing in CC’s direction, a classmate whispers to the student next to her.
“Look at CC.”
“Look at Dr. Slater!”
The two students have big knowing sarcastic grins on their faces as they watch CC and Jeremy, but it doesn’t entirely cover up the envy in their eyes.
Jeremy writes WITTGENSTEIN on the board. Emphasizing the v pronunciation in Wittgenstein he speaks dramatically.
“You have to understand that Ludwig Wittgenstein placed truth above any other human quality. He didn’t have a choice as most people do. It was automatic. Meaning, he’d be seized with doubt. An alarm would go off in his head whenever an idea seemed untrue.”
Imitating Wittgenstein, as Jeremy imagines he must have been, he shouts.
He looks around the room
“No!” he repeats dramatically.
“A conclusion, agreed upon by everyone else, including him 3 minutes before, suddenly has ignited a rebuke. Wittgenstein was particularly sensitive to the power groups of people have to capture other people’s agreement, the pressure they put on others to go along with them, not least because he was as likely as anyone else to get duped.”
“But suddenly he would snap out of it, recognize his previous truth as an illusion. Doubt would erupt from a separate part of his personality.”
Jeremy faces the class. One by one his eyes move from student to student as he speaks. Finally, they rest on CC. She is enraptured by every syllable, by his words, by every hesitation.
“He was a professor of philosophy at Cambridge University. He never published a single article. He never wrote a book. The world eventually learned about him from the notes taken by his students, which were published later on. But without acclaim from the usual places, his reputation was remarkable. Those who listened to him lecture knew he was the real thing. Other Cambridge philosophy professors would sit in at his lectures wanting to harvest his ideas. Bertrand Russell called him (savoring every word) “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius.”
Still carried away, Jeremy continues.
“Who was this man? Sometimes, during a lecture, he’d drop what he was talking about. He’d call himself an idiot. He moaned helplessly… It wasn’t theatrics. He felt like an idiot.”
“A monumental battle was taking place inside him. What he had intended to say, no longer made sense to him. The remarkable thing is that his misgivings didn’t issue from the challenge of a listener, but from his own thoughts which had gained the upper hand.”
Jeremy takes a deep breath before proceeding. “Ordinarily people don’t like doubting themselves. It can be crippling. The mind is meant to function quietly. We are confident enough of our ideas so that we don’t have to go over them a second and third time. We possess them. When challenged we can usually hold on to them, even if a bit of doubt creeps in. Perhaps it is stubbornness or laziness, or simply we may be unwilling to abandon such a nice comfortable place in our mind. We rarely venture into new territory. We don’t want to. Challenges from others are the last thing we need. Perhaps that is why we join groups with basically the same ideas.”
“Being in a state of doubt can be fascinating. Hamlet, which many consider the greatest play ever written, is all about doubt. We empathize with his discomfort. We wait to see what he will do. But no one wants to be like Hamlet, a frenzied soul tortured by his confusion, on a pathway to self destruction. We try to end doubt at soon as we experience it.”
“It isn’t just us. When we see doubt in others it is unpleasant. Anguish is best kept private.”
“So you would think Professor Wittgenstein would lose his audience when he would lose his way…”
“Just the opposite!” Jeremy calls out happily.
He hesitates. Again he stares at one student then the next.
“The students in Wittgenstein’s classroom were mesmerized by the process. He led them wherever he was going. He wondered how, until now, he had not seen his mistake. He had an unusual talent. He could cogently present the problem he was having without appearing too self–critical. It was a kind of courage. He was proud of his uncertainty. He’d go over what did and did not make sense as if it were a fascinating puzzle.”
Jeremy looks in CC’s direction.
“So in the end, his public self doubt was a kind of strength. It was part of what drew the professors to his lectures. They knew all too well where he was at. They too were often stymied. Most had run out of ideas long ago, not a good thing when you are in the idea business. “
“It was the way Wittgenstein went about it. His students recollected his previous encounters with confusion. And, because again and again, the answer would materialize, not knowing became a fascinating place to be. Out of thin air: Magic. Wittgenstein would come up with a new way of looking at the problem that, a moment before, had stymied him. The cavalry arrived just in time.”
Swept up by his momentum, in his excitement, Jeremy is now staring almost exclusively at CC as if he is speaking to her, and her alone. The other students are aware of this, but they did not take Jeremy’s course to be given lessons in proper professorial behavior. He has a reputation.
Nor did it seem unusual, that someone, as beautiful as CC, would pull a lecturer’s eyes towards her. Jealous certainly, but the other females in the audience are also encouraged. Having spent considerable time before class in front of the mirror doing themselves up, and not necessarily dissatisfied by what they saw, they’re hoping Professor Slater might leave CC for a moment, and look their way. If it were a modern concert they would be holding up lighters. Or screaming, hoping against all odds, that, even for a fraction of a second, they would get the eyes of John Lennon.
Jeremy still speaks dramatically.
“Logical positivism, when it was new, had been able to answer a lot of questions that philosophers had long been perplexed by. The name had a ring to it, like existentialism which had captivated the French and German philosophers. Logical positivism was quintessentially English. Good English words describing philosophers’ most noble virtues. Logic. Clarity. Ever forward to the next challenge. No artsy fartsy French poetry junking up the mind.”
Jeremy walks back and forth in the front of the lecture hall.
“Everyone was excited. They thought they had finally reached the promised land. One after another, paradoxes were dissolving using the power of their new tool. Does God exist? If you followed logical positivism’s logic the answer was clear.”
“Then pouf!” He hesitates for effect.
“The party was over. They were back to square one. Logical positivism had its own contradiction. Once again, they had painted themselves into a corner. No one, not even the world renowned Cambridge University Philosophy Department could think their way out of the trap. Not even Wittgenstein.”
“What was Wittgenstein’s solution? He quit philosophy. He became a hospital orderly, then a gardener. He never mentioned to his coworkers that he had been a professor at Cambridge. For 10 years no one heard a word about him, or from him.”
“Then one day he reappeared. He had discovered a way out of the corner. He founded a branch of philosophy called Ordinary Language Philosophy. Basically, (pleased by the irony) he said that philosophers should study how ordinary people communicate. That was the way out of their trap.”
Smiling broadly 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, is not the way to get there. Philosophers should toss it all out. The language of ordinary people, gardeners, hospital orderlies, his colleagues for the last decade, held the real answer. Cutting flowers, pushing a gurney, undoes the paradox.”
“The professors loved it.”
Jeremy swings his arm as if he is swinging a scythe.
“It was a coup de grace to the steel certainties that had been their bulwark against confusion, that had kept them focused, but which no longer functioned.”
His words are imbued with conviction. “Among philosophers a convincing new paradigm is as exciting as the discovery of the New World— fresh, beautiful, new thoughts, unhindered by doubt.”
“If it were a soccer match they would have put him on their shoulders for scoring the winning goal. If he were… What’s the words to that song?” His face lights up “Rudolph! The red nosed reindeer.”
CC’s face lights up with his humble reference.
“He would go down in history…. Which is what happened to Wittgenstein.”
He repeats his name as if it were a magical word.
The bell rings. Students file out.
Surrounded by students, swarming him at the lectern, Jeremy’s eyes have not stopped wandering to CC as she gets her books together. Books pressed against her breasts, CC attempts to seem businesslike as she approaches him, but her eagerness is still apparent as she joins Jeremy’s entourage at the front of the classroom. It is in her eyes. She waits patiently as one by one he answers the questions of the students. When he is finished, and they have left, he turns to CC. He also is not very successful at appearing calm and collected.
“You seemed interested in Wittgenstein.”
“My brother Mark’s talked a lot about him.”
“Really. What did he tell you?”
“How he came from one of the richest families in Europe.”
“How he gave away all his money. Every penny.”
“He was extremely intense and impulsive. All of his brothers were. His father tried to educate the impulsivity away. He was a titan of the steel industry. He hoped to prepare at least one of his boys to step into his shoes. But he failed. They went in the opposite direction, totally uninterested in business. They did, however, absorb one quality from him. He was incredibly exacting.”
He stops, letting what he is saying sink in.
“Imagine this. Paul, Ludwig’s brother, was practicing on one of the seven grand pianos in the Wittgenstein’s mansion, when he suddenly shouted at Ludwig in the next room: “I cannot play when you are in the house. I feel your skepticism seeping towards me from under the door!”
“Each of the brothers, continually felt scrutinized. Ludwig was lucky. As a philosophy professor, he had found a good outlet.”
“But that feeling, of being scrutinized, is a sickness, paranoia. Being alone with self doubt is a plague. Three of his brothers committed suicide”
“Not Jesus. Jewish. By other people’s standards, he was enormously successful, the star professor at the finest philosophy department in the world. Yet he continually felt like he was failing, incapable of meeting his standards.”
“Geniuses frequently have that quality. Jascha Heifetz would practice his violin until his fingers felt like they were falling off. And then he would practice another 2 hours. What he heard coming from his violin just wasn’t good enough. Bits and pieces materialized that were perfect. Moments. But rarely the whole thing. He wanted the impossible. Perfection, again and again and again.”
“Fortunately, despite his shortcomings, he liked himself enough to perform in front of an audience. He was a bit of a peacock. He bathed in his audience’s adulation.”
“Vladimir Horowitz wasn’t so lucky. Despite ecstatic reviews, despite rapturous responses from his audiences, he repeatedly lost confidence in his abilities. He couldn’t perform from 1953 to 1965. It’s happening again. He’s stopped playing in public.”
“You think that is Jewish?”
“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.”
“Actually, I’m not just talking about a Jewish quality. People who know Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director, say that despite the masterpieces he keeps producing, he often talks about how he isn’t measuring up to what he wants to achieve. Not one of his movies has come close enough to what he expects of himself…Partly it’s being Japanese. Only the emperor is entitled to be godly, meaning perfect…..But he’s got a bad case of trying to get there. The glass is always half empty. He sees it as his job to fill it. He doesn’t understand anything else. Did you see Women in the Dunes? They had it here at the festival.”
“It’s about this guy who is trapped in a large sand pit. He must get rid of the sand that has encroached on his house from the night before, or it will be engulfed. So each day, while it is daylight, he digs the sand away. It returns as he sleeps. It never ends. Eventually he becomes resigned to his fate. We’ll be reading the Myth of 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 the perennial doubting Jew.
Without self consciousness, appreciating his manner, from some ancient part of herself, she smiles, touching his arm affectionately.
She imitates him.
“They think a mind game can get them out of it. Choosing to do what you gotta do doesn’t change that you gotta do it.”
“My bother Jay does everything he’s expected to do. It never occurs to him not to do it. Yet, he feels very much in charge of his life.”
“That’s one solution.”
“Wittgenstein really fascinates you doesn’t he?”
“He does. Do you have a class now?”
CC glances at her watch.
“Not ‘til 2:30.”
“Let’s go to my office.”
She follows him out of the classroom, then through a series of corridors. As she follows, they smile at each other repeatedly. Both she and he are aware of the possibilities privacy will afford.
His office is a hole in the wall with books piled high on his desk. He clears some books off a chair for CC to sit.
“So what is it about Wittgenstein?”
“It isn’t that complicated. He was a genius.”
“You’re in to geniuses?”
“Everybody is in to geniuses.”
“That’s not true. I never thought about it until college. My idea of a stupendous human being was John Lennon. My other brother Mark used to be into Tom Seaver. What a year he had.”
“The pitcher?” 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. Swish… It was magic.”
“Until college. Then all of a sudden Mark’s hero became Ludwig Wittgenstein.”
“Sounds like your brother and I have a lot in common. Including Duke Snider. Those somersault shoe string catches. Ballet. You see him do it once and it gets fixed in your memory. No one has ever done that before. No one since. Did you ever see him do that?”
“No.” She studies him. “Does someone have to be a genius for you to be interested in them?”
“You want the truth or bullshit?”
“The truth is, that’s what matters to me. The truth? I mostly ignore people unless they are very special. I can fake it. I do fake it, but—“
“So that eliminates me.”
“Are you serious? Did you ever look in the mirror?”
She is quiet, self—conscious.
“Just take a look.”
CC is embarrassed, not just with the compliment, but with Jeremy’s flirtation turning serious so quickly.
“It must be hard on your wife. You expect her to be perfect?”
“She says I’m a baby, I’m into 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 grey Buffalo winter ahead of them, Jeremy and his wife Carol are thrilled. 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 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 5’4”, slightly chunky but pretty with red hair, and large interesting green eyes. She is full of energy. She brings out a pitcher of iced tea. Then she returns to the house and comes out with napkins and paper plates. Then back into the house:
“I think I hear Alyosha crying,” she tells Jeremy. “Lately, he’s only been napping half an hour.”
“I was counting on a two hour nap.”
“He’s just fussing. I’ll be right back.”
Carol makes her way back to Alyosha. On tiptoes she arrives at his room, and watches him without being seen. He’s whimpering, though every once in a while, he screams angrily. She goes to the crib and takes his hand. Very gently she sings:
“If you’re happy and you know it, (whispering) clap your hands.”
That makes him happy. He hardly whimpers when she leaves and makes her way back to the outside, continuing the song for her own pleasure.
“If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it—“
Returning outside her singing abruptly stops as her eyes are drawn to CC who has arrived with 3 other students, two guys and one other female. She is blown away by CC’s beauty.
Each offers their hand as their name is called:
“Carol this is CC, Deborah, Gabriel. You know my cousin Jeff.”
Jeff has brought a football. Jeremy grabs it.
“Go long Jeff.”
Jeffrey takes off. Perry, their lab, runs alongside barking. Jeremy throws a perfect spiral which Jeff catches without breaking stride. As the catch is made Jeremy glances quickly at CC. Carol notices.
“Now you Gabriel.”
Once again a perfect pass and once again Jeremy steals a look at CC, but this time he sees Carol watching him. CC also sees Carol’s reaction.
A little later, back to the grill. Jeremy hands out hot dogs and hamburgers to everyone while Carol is back and forth to her kitchen.
Later, they are sitting around on the patio. Jeremy takes out a joint. Carol isn’t too happy with him bringing out pot in front of the students, but says nothing. He hands it around. They all take a few hits. Carol takes only one, refusing a second:
“Someone’s got to function.”
She remains busy while the others space out. As the afternoon winds down CC approaches Carol shyly:
“Can I help?”
“No, I got it under control.”
CC nevertheless clears the dishes from the table and follows Carol inside.
“You took the bus? Right? No one’s going to be driving stoned?
Carol forces a smile
“Are you a junior?”
She holds up her hand, her middle finger crossed over her index fingers for good luck: “Hopefully I’ll graduate in June.”
“Ready to take on the cold, cruel world?”
“Not yet. Going to social work school after this.”
“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. “
“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.
“Are you embarrassed?”
“Not really. I don’t really remember. I’m told five of us lived in 4 rooms, and we couldn’t afford much of anything. My parents slept in the living room on a Castro convertible. But my father went to law school at night and by the time I was 4 my family made it to Great Neck? How about you?”
“I’m from Brooklyn.”
“Don’t really know Brooklyn. My mom and dad are both from there.”
“Did you ever see where they grew up?”
“My Mom took me once to Fortunoffs in Brownsville. It looked pretty dangerous there. That’s about it.”
Carol is amused
“Typical Long Island.”
“What do you know about Long Island?”
They both smile, relaxing their guard. A bond is forming. The marijuana has loosened them further.
“Jeremy’s mentioned you a few times. I was wondering what you would look like.”
“Am I what you expected?”
“Unfortunately yes. Jeremy may seem ruled by his brain but he’s a typical guy. His hormones are in charge. He gets a certain look when he talks about certain students.”
CC is pleased she has been mentioned by Jeremy, less pleased that Carol sees her as a rival.
“You must have been his prettiest student.” 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 is gushing a bit too much, which Carol notices.
“When I met him he wanted to be a rock star.”
CC smiles. “Was he any good?”
“Not bad? His band went no where.”
Inspired by the stars in CC’s eyes Carol gets into it: “When he gets going he can be a real turn on. Like his hero Wittgenstein. I assume he’s spoken about Wittgenstein?”
“He’s 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?”
“It’s okay. I remember how irresistible he was when he got all excited about some new thought. But his—“
“He doesn’t do that to you anymore?”
“I’ve heard his schpiels a thousand times. It’s pretty hard to get excited.”
“I can’t imagine it getting old.”
“Believe me, everything gets old. His thing with ideas is 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.”
“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 plenty. There is very little cruelty in him. Insensitivity yes– there is a lot of that, that’s Jeremy. But intentional cruelty—no. In a marriage that’s what counts. If he could just get his head on straight and finish his thesis, we’d be in a good place.”
“His thesis is a big problem?”
Carol swallows hard:
“Really big. The fact that Wittgenstein didn’t publish has been a perfect excuse. Jeremy can’t just get it done and get his damn’ doctorate. Anything less than a masterpiece, something that will live for centuries, anything less would be humiliating to him.”
CC smiles approvingly. “I like that he aims so high.”
I know that sound heroic, but it leads to deep fears. The professors in his department are nationally known. It’s an unusually creative department. I don’t know why they’re here, but right now U of B’s English department is hot, 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 ferocious competition. High expectations makes daily life uncomfortable. If he were training for the Olympics, that would be one thing. Everyone understands that kind of glory, the ups and downs of trying to be the best. One minute he believes he is a genius….” She hesitates. “The next He’s a no one. Do you know Dr. Malev?”
“He really believes Jeremy is gifted? Dr. Malev has said something to me.”
“That must be exciting.”
“Yes and no.”
“Because several of the faculty members treat him like he’s nobody. Don’t know if they are jealous, or think Jeremy is deluded. But he often comes home deflated. Fortunately for him, with time, 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 is not there yet. Thinks he deserves in, on the basis of all the great ideas he has. Dr. Malev, actually several senior faculty members, find his ideas exciting, which is very nice, but everything hinges on his thesis. And that’s not working so well. It’s not easy to knock off a masterpiece.”
“So he’s given up?”
“Are you kidding? He has the energy of a mad man. He works at his thesis like a crazy man. Over a week he’ll write 20, sometimes 50 pages. Good pages. I’ve read them. Great pages. But by midweek, he’s doesn’t like them. He tears them up.”
As Carol goes on CC’s love swirls around her… “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… He knows how stupid it sounds to others, how stupid it is to think that way, but 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. Motor–mouth,”
“So he has delusions of grandeur?”
“Right after college he had something published in the New Yorker, but nothing since. I don’t really think it’ s delusions of grandeur. He’s able to laugh about it with me. But, what ever that genius thing is, Jeremy’s got a bad case of it. 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 is ordinary. Being like every one else scares him. He thinks I wouldn’t love him. Which is so crazy.”
“You’re saying he is really screwed up.”
“Yes, in his way. So is everyone when you really get to know them. Jeremy is Jeremy.”
“You’re Jewish right?” Carol asks CC
“A lot of Jewish men are like him. Very ambitious. Want to, rather, have to be, on top. Nervous as hell that they’re not up to it. That they’re a nobody. It’s not easy to have incredible standards. It’s twice as hard to be around it.”
“I’m sure, but I think it’s exciting.”
“I’m not really complaining. He never bores me. He’s gotten more and more interesting the longer I’ve known him.”
“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 thesis done. We’re not having a good time. If we just can get through this crisis then I could put up with my genius husband.”
“Do you try to save the pages he throws away?”
“I should. If he ever gets to where he thinks he belongs they will be worth something.”.
She stops. Listens carefully:
“I hear Alyosha. You want to meet him?”
CC smiles: “Absolutely.” Carol brings CC to his room. Lifts him out of the crib, smells his tush, then hands him to CC. She’s had practice with Jay’s small son. She shakes his hand back and forth. Then moves her nose into his face, trying to get happy talk. Holding the baby, CC follows Carol into the kitchen, then outside, all the while picturing herself in Carol’s place.
Early evening, CC is on the pay phone in a small alcove in the 2nd floor dorm lounge. She is talking quietly, trying to keep her conversation private. Fortunately, there is only one other person in the lounge, CC’s friend Brittany, who’s unlikely to gossip. Mark is in his Berkeley California apartment, phone in hand, spread out on the couch.
“Mark, come on.”
“The last 3 times we’ve talked we’ve land up talking about Jeremy.”
In his appearance, Mark has matured into the male version of CC, unusually handsome, almost pretty, and like Brad Pitt his eyes are sensitive which stands out even more with his gruffly unshaven face. His gestures are robust. He speaks with a deliberately aggressive edge, which took him time to cultivate, as he struggled to bury his childhood softness and emerge as his version of a man. Despite his effort, he can’t all together cancel out his still delicate persona. Country Joe and the Fish are playing in the background.
“Mark. He’s married. He has a one year old son.”
He teases, “I know you CC.”
Almost swooning, “I’ll admit, he’s the most brilliant man I’ve ever met.”
She looks Brittany’s way, fearful that she has heard something.
Mark giggles. He’s picked up on her swoon.
“CC you’re in love. You’re in love. That’s what it is.”
She grits her teeth. “It’s not so simple. His wife has lupus. I could never do that to her.”
“Strange coincidence. You’ve got myasthenia and he’s flirting with you. Does he know?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Still, myasthenia is not a small thing.”
“No comparison. You can get really sick from Lupus. You can die.”
“So could you. He has a thing about rescuing sick women.”
“Let’s keep it simple. He’s married.”
“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 as you. Everything has to be one in a million good or he can’t go with it.”
“I’m not like that.”
“Give me a break.”
“Anyway. He hasn’t finished his thesis. Several professors in the English department, according to his wife, love him, but they can only extend the deadline for his thesis so long. His time is running out. Carol’s worried that—”
“His wife. If he doesn’t get it done by this summer they are going to cut him loose. He’s feeling incredible pressure.”
“She told you all that?”
“More or less. We were stoned.”
“Oh, I get it.”
Mark is pleased that CC is still smoking, happy that he turned her on to one of life’s treasures.
“He worries a lot about the upcoming deadline for his thesis. Practically every night he can’t sleep. Lately, nothing she tells him, comforts him.”
In a boasting tone Mark proclaims:
“Me, Jeremy and Wittgenstein.”
She teases affectionately:
“Yeah. You like to make things 10 times harder than they have to be.”
“You don’t get it, do you?”
“What’s there to get? How to be crazy?”
“You think me and Jeremy are crazy?”
“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 him.
A week later, after Jeremy’s class ends CC comfortably follows Jeremy into his office without being asked.
“I liked Carol.”
“She liked you.”
“Hopefully, we can get together again. Ever eat at Main Moon?” she asks.
“The takeout place?”
“They have incredible dumplings. They have some tables. I go there a lot.”
“Unfortunately it’s not going to happen. Carol’s not happy about my friendship with you. When she heard you came to my office, she let me have it. She doesn’t want me seeing you here.”
“Something I did?”
“No. She likes you. It’s me. She doesn’t like the look on my face when I mention you. Things heat up quickly if I even say your name.”
“She’s that jealous?”
“Not usually but I think she has good reason.”
“What do you mean?”
He moves her hair out of her eyes.
“You can’t figure that out?
He moves closer to her. Jeremy tries to kiss her. She turns her head away.
“Jeremy, No. .. Carol…”
But when he backs off, he can see the disappointment in her eyes. He goes to kiss her again. She backs further away, but he manages to plant a kiss. He puts his arms around her. CC is not physically strong. He holds her tightly while she resists. He can sense her ambivalence. He hopes no means yes.
Afraid, she reluctantly submits. Her fear excites her.
There’s a knock on the door. They quickly disengage, straighten their clothes. Jeremy’s erection is poking into his pants. He sticks his hand in his crotch and directs his penis down to the floor. CC finds that funny.
That night in bed Jeremy tosses and turns imagining the romance awaiting him. That night CC lies in bed with a big smile. In 10 minutes it will be midnight and her 21st birthday will begin. Her mother has already sent her the incredible sapphire stud earrings she always loved when her mother wore them. CC had never said anything but her mother knew from the way she looked at them. She was excited when she opened the package in the afternoon and tried them on. She couldn’t help herself. She gasped at their beauty. But it is Jeremy’s kiss that now fills her mind and thrills her. The memory of that is the ending to a perfect day.
Jeremy approaches Dave’s office. They’ve known each other since the fourth grade Their relationship has been up and down since then but the last several years, being in the same graduate program has turned them into pals.
Jeremy knocks on Dave’s door quickly four times. David knows the knock… Dave puts down a paper he was grading. He’s glad to be rid of it. The student in question is smart and sincere but he tends to overreach and Dave isn’t sure how to communicate with him gently.
Jeremy opens the door. “Busy?” he asks.
“Not at all.”
David can see that Jeremy is upset.
“Still stuck with your thesis? Believe it or not, I finished mine. I handed it in yesterday.”
Jeremy offers his hand.
“Congrats. We’ll have to celebrate.”
“How about now? Let’s get out of here.”
Just off campus is a coffee shop that they both like. It is a funky combination of old oak Windsor chairs grouped around tables. Part of the floor is peeling linoleum, part unfinished wood. There are two well worn leather sofas, cracking with dryness. In front of them are coffee tables, covered by today and yesterday’s newspapers. The whole thing would be bleak were it not for several nice looking student waitresses who dress the place up, that and loud Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Richie Havens, Mother Earth. A busboy puts water in their glasses. Each of them holds up his glass
“To Dr. Miller” Jeremy clicks his glass on David’s for a toast. He nods encouragingly .. “practically there.” Dave eyes say thank you:
“To Dr. Slater, who is about to get his act together starting this afternoon.”
Jeremy smiles. “I wish.”
“You wish? Enough wishing. You just have to do it.”
“Okay Mr. Get–It–Done Dave, what’s your secret?” He again clicks Dave’s glass, a bit aggressively.
“No secret. You just have to tunnel ahead. Dig your way there.”
“Through the mud.”
“Mud, hail, rain. It won’t happen where you are most of the time. Flying high.”
“You mean the pot?”
“You could use a few less “oh wows!” And more “one plus one equals two.” But even without the pot I think that’s where your head is all the time anyway.”
“So come on down. Digging. What’s the word everyone uses?… Being grounded.”
“You mean working?”
“Exactly. But real work, not the inspired kind.”
“Being inspired is real. Just because you are excited and enjoying yourself?”
“Well I mean the other kind. Work, work.”
Jeremy waxes poetically:
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
David is impressed:
“I didn’t know you were religious.”
He nods, “If I find a good line.”
“You like that part about the dust?”
Jeremy repeats it “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” Not my favorite. Doesn’t matter? I’m making enough bread.”
“I’d call it cake.”
This doesn’t get a smile from Jeremy, more like a frown. Taking note that Jeremy is upset, Dave dials back, smiles at him generously. It has little effect. Jeremy’s sadness remains.
“Okay come to mama. What’s wrong?”
“I’m in love.”
“When did I ever say I was in love?”
“A thousand times.”
“You implied it.”
“No I didn’t. This is real.”
“Last time it was real.”
“You mean Martha? I never said that was love.”
“You said you were turned on.”
“Yeah I was, but this is different. This is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
David is used to Jeremy’s dramatics. He accepts that whatever is getting Jeremy down is real to him. But he erupts so frequently it has made Dave not take him as seriously as Jeremy would like. Fortunately Dave is often entertained by Jeremy’s excitement, and sometimes he does take Jeremy’s whims as seriously as Jeremy would like them to be taken. That is enough.
“Go ahead. I can tell this is a big one.”
“It’s one of my students.”
“I expect nothing less. You don’t like keeping things simple. “
“No. This is something else. I think this is where I’ve been heading all my life.”
Dave smiles gratuitously.
The waitress comes to their table. She’s very attractive. Both of them, but particularly David, look at her flirtatiously. She is enjoying their attention.
“Two coffees.” David tells her.
The waitress leaves. She has a nice walk. Their eyes follow her. She knows it. She thrives on the looks she gets from the tables she serves
Jeremy begins: “When you were younger, did you think that one day you were going to find this incredible woman and that would be it?”
“You mean like our waitress?”
Jeremy looks him in the eye.
“I guess so.”
“I’ve built my life around her. “
“Come on.” Dave replies playfully.
“No, I mean it. It’s true. Everywhere I’ve been, I was searching for her. Without her I wasn’t really living. More like preparing. But if I found her, then my life could begin… You’ve never felt that?”
David is detached:
“If I went to the museum I would look at the paintings, but I was rarely completely absorbed. I liked a few, was bored by others, but none of them gave me what I was looking for. Perhaps in the next room I might find a painting that would grab me. But if I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a nice looking woman meandering ten, twelve feet away, that feeling disappeared. She had me.
Nothing usually happened. I didn’t, I still don’t have the boldness to proceed as I picture myself in my fantasies, but I was engaged. In the next moment, anything might happen.
When I lived in the Village I’d walk the streets. Street after street. Sometimes hour after hour. Same thing. Looking, looking. It’s why I moved to the Village, to up the chances.
Ever see a movie of a male lion, wandering. Same thing, wandering, looking everywhere, hoping to pick up a scent. They say he is guarding his territory, I think he’s looking for a mate. Or two.”
“Plenty of guys do that. They’re looking to get laid.”
“But that wasn’t it. This started when I was 12 or 13. Okay maybe my hormones pushed me. But it wasn’t that. Well it was a little, but I was looking for…” He hesitates, considering whether to continue.
“You want me to say it?”
“The holy grail? What?”
Close to whispering Jeremy answers him
It is an awkward moment. Saying it openly, putting it that way is not very cool. They both know it. He’s confessing to motivations that they, that he should have overcome long ago.
“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”
“It’s not stupid but you make it so dramatic. It sounds pumped up, like you are making a big production out of it.”
“It’s real. I didn’t decide to talk about it this way for effect. It’s just always been there.”
“In the second grade I had this dream. Many times. I’m not talking about a fantasy. A dream. I’d wake up and remember it. I was superman, flying, looking, returning to earth for my princess. Usually she was the prettiest girl in the class. For two years it was Mindy Nussbaum. Sometimes I’d crash but sometimes I came down smoothly and swept her up into the sky.”
David’s eyes continue to wander through the room, hoping to continue his flirtation with the waitress. He watches her serve another table. Jeremy realizes where Dave is at. It’s okay. He has also done the same thing, eyed a pretty girl when Dave wanted him to pay attention. Jeremy, nevertheless, admonishes Dave.
“Can I go on?”
“It’s all yours.” David answers “
“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”
He kids: “Yeah you followed me.” They both know that isn’t true. They’re friends, good friends, but not that good.
“The real reason… You’re not going to believe it.”
“When it comes to you I believe anything. Why did you come to Buffalo?”
“Because when I came up for an interview I saw this student in the cafeteria. It was maybe a glimpse, but she was beautiful. That’s why I came here. To meet her.”
“You were already married.”
“I know, but I flipped.”
“Who was she?”
“I never saw her again.”
David’s eyes mock him, but affectionately.
“I know it’s idiotic.”
David says nothing.
“But it’s true.”
“You’ve done that more than once?”
“It’s crazy. There’s got to be a name for it.
Sweetly Dave asks, “What does your shrink say?”
“She throws it into some big basket. Psychiatry has maybe 6 or 7 of them. She’s actually been hinting that she’s figured me out. “
“She’s been hinting. She doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks, along with 6 million other people, I have bipolar disorder.”
“So that explains you?”
In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues:
“According to her that explains me. She’s nailed it. I’m like 6 million other people. “
“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”
“I’m in love.”
“I’m just telling you like it is. I mean I may go overboard…”
“Everything I’ve ever done. Everything! Every award in college, every home run I hit, every basket I scored… People put together a CV trying to impress a future employer. My accomplishments, whatever they’ve been— it’s all been for that day when I would find the woman of my dreams. I’d lay it at her feet. Sweetly tell her. I’m the one. Look at what I’ve done!”
David has a shit eating grin as he speaks. Jeremy smiles along with him like he’s in on the joke.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”
“Yeah well. There’s a reason they make all those movies. I’m not alone feeling this way.”
Still noticing Dave’s reaction he complains. “You’re still laughing at me.”
“I know you’re serious. It’s just you have a knack for admitting to things that no one else even mentions. Well maybe teenage girls. But guys? Not even in passing. Sure I’ve watched those movies and gotten in to them. As much now as ever. Even at my age. I’ve been there in real life too. So have most men, but it’s usually a disaster. After their ass has been kicked, after they have been humiliated often enough, they’ve learned their lesson. They steer clear. Having a broken heart is not where most guys want to be.”
Jeremy’s attention wanders off.
“Where are you?”
“This song… Carol wrote it.”
Half mumbling half seriously he sings:
“HEY YOU WITH THE BROKEN SMILE
COME ON OVER AND STAY FOR A WHILE
HEY YOU WITH THE HUNGER IN YOUR EYES”
“Can’t remember the rest…”
Jeremy hums the tune for a moment
I RECOGNIZE THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE
A SHATTERED HEART STILL SEARCHING FOR GRACE
DISAPPOINTED? I KNOW IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU PLANNED.
DARLING SAVE YOUR WORDS
BECAUSE I KNOW THAT’S THE WAY IT HAPPENS
YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST
TO BE STANDING
WITH YOUR HEART LEFT IN YOUR HANDS
Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.
“Carol wrote that?”
“She writes beautiful songs. Personal ones. She says no but that song is about me. I’ve been there. Pretty sure I inspired her lyrics.”
“I’m sure you did. But most guys after it happens once, twice… most guys stick to sports. But you. I don’t know whether you’re incredibly stupid or fearless. It’s a stage you’re supposed to get by. You’re 28. Move on.”
“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”
Insistently Dave continues, “The girl of my dreams, of your dreams, of every guy’s dreams, is exactly that.”
His voice rises: “A fucking dream! You’re 28! Why do you have a problem with that? Why are you stuck?”
Somewhat meekly Jeremy answers him:
“Open your eyes. It isn’t just love. You make such a big deal about finding the truth. It’s right in front of you. It’s called the way things are.”
Dave continues. “Your dream girl. You’ve devoted your life to finding her? She doesn’t exist.”
“You’re too chicken to think about this, aren’t you?”
“Chicken? I’ve moved on. It’s not in the stars. I’m right here on earth digging ditches.”
Jeremy counters: “I’ve dug a thousand ditches. How do you think I got so many fellowships to come here. I‘ve worked my ass off. It doesn’t change anything.”
“It’s a strange coincidence that you’ve fallen in love exactly when your head has to be on straight, exactly when you have to get your thesis done.”
“I don’t think this has anything to do with it.”
Dave shakes his head more seriously, “You’re in never—never land. You’re fucking Peter Pan.” He chants “I won’t grow up. I won’t grow up.”
“You are the biggest cynic.”
“Cynic? I’m just telling you what you already know.”
“Flying around in never, never land. You got to dig ditches not fly around. Learn how to be satisfied. It is possible. Lana and I have made it work. Warts and all. She’s a real person. No body else gives a shit. She does. I’ll take that.”
“Look, I’ve done the same thing with Carol. And she’s terrific. I realize what I’m talking about is asinine. “
“Puer aeternus. Living your life waiting for your ship to come in.”
“I don’t need that Jungian shit. Look I know you are right. Absolutely right.”
“You’re not 14 anymore.”
“You’re right. You’re right. You are right. Believe me I know it. You’re right. It’s not like I didn’t do the same thing. I got tired of waiting. I married Carol to go forward, to get on with it instead of waiting.”
“You fuckin’ seized the day.”
“So you like Bellow?”
I read Seize the Day years ago. I had an epiphany. Only it lasted maybe 4 minutes.”
“You read too much.”
“Me? You’re the one. You need to get your thrills outside of books.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I’m gonna’ sign us up for a polar expedition.”
“We’ll be the first Jews from Brooklyn, who grew up in an apartment house, to go to the North Pole.”
“How about Antarctica?”
David takes a breath, refocuses.
“So what are you going to do?”
“You know what I am going to do.”
With a gentle still friendly edge of superiority David eggs him on,
“I do. Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve waited all your life, everything you’ve strived to become… it’s been for—
“CC! Oh boy. I get it. I have her in one of my classes.” He smiles. “She’s a knockout. Remember at Penn, Davidoff’s class—how he went on about Helen of Troy?”
“The face that launched a thousand ships.”
“He left his wife and kids. CC’s even more beautiful than his girlfriend. I get it…”
“Which makes her all the more dangerous. Chasing Helen resulted in thousands of people dead.”
“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”
“I have no choice. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s strange. This is supposed to happen when your marriage is bad. I love Carol as much as I ever have. We have a good thing going. Carol doesn’t bore me at all. I admire her. I’ve never had a friend like her.”
“That song you sang. She got inside of you. She loves you.”
An image comes into Jeremy’s mind. Carol smiling at him adoringly.
David watches Jeremy sympathetically as his eyes water. Then defying that moment, Jeremy proclaims,
“I can’t help it.”
“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”
Jeremy thinks it over.
“Not as much.” But then he quickly recants, “No it’s fine. She gets turned on and she’ll do practically anything I want to do. Wherever my head goes, it turns her on. She goes crazy. And that makes me go crazy.”
“Do you have to dream up things?”
“Not really, well sometimes but what’s wrong with that? Variety is the spice of life.”
“We haven’t gotten that far. I don’t know if we ever will.”
“But do you have to dream up stuff?”
“You mean kinky? No. With CC I’m there. I’d go ape–shit for a kiss.”
“Still. You know what you have with Carol. You’re lucky. You have it all. What’s the problem?”
“It’s not complicated. CC erases everything else. I can’t take my eyes off of her. I can’t think about anything else. I’d do anything for her.”
“I understand but—“
“If you were in a room with Elizabeth Taylor you’d want to stare at her. Stare and stare. But you couldn’t. You’d look like a jerk, like a nut. So people buy magazines, or they watch her in a movie so they can get a good look. That’s what CC is for me. Only she is living and breathing. If she could be mine!”
They are both quiet for a few moments.
“Do you remember the first time you saw the Eiffel Tower. You dropped right?”
“Yeah, but what about the second and third time?”
“I can get lost in her. Every detail. It’s new every time. Her dimples. The way her chin—”
“Jeremy I get it…”
David waits for what he is saying to register. He sees no signs. He continues:
“Beautiful is nice. Beautiful is beautiful. But a taste… That’s all you get. The last thing you need Jeremy is to fall under a spell.”
“This isn’t a spell. It’s the real thing.”
“Believe me it’s a spell.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Being outside of it you think that way. When it happens…” He counters “It could happen to you.” He takes a deep breath. “My head is spinning. I can’t just drop it and go on with other things. I can’t. Who can do that?”
“Millions of people.”
“That’s all you have to say?”
“What’s there to say? Look, the important question is whether you would leave Carol for her. Would you?”
“You know that for sure?”
“Absolutely. I love Carol. I know I am lucky. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“So stay away from CC. She’s dangerous. You said you discussed this with your psychiatrist.”
“I’m going to.” But as he says this, Jeremy has a disgusted look on his face. He puts 2 thumbs down in front of him.
“Your shrink’s no good? Go to someone else.”
“Let’s not go there…”
They both take a breather as they think about what they have been saying.
“Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “
“I’m feeling fantastic. I’m finally alive. I look at the trees, the sky. And I see them.”
“When I’m reading, I’m understanding what’s on the page more than I ever have. The possibility of me and CC does that.”
“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”
“You know, that isn’t what this is. You’ve given up David. I remember this guy…”
(a bit too patronizing) “It’s called growing up.”
(sarcastically) “Big shot.”
Dr. Weiss, Jeremy’s psychiatrist, finishes writing a prescription for Depakote. Jeremy is focused, confident. Dr. Weiss is extremely concerned as she hands it to him.
“You need to take this three times a day.”
“You’re sure I’m manic depressive? I just don’t know about that.”
“You started seeing me when you were depressed about your thesis. You couldn’t get it done. You knew the way you felt was not normal. It was an illness. This is the polar opposite of it. It’s not unusual on the upside to feel like you do, the best you have ever felt. Bottom line is that you still aren’t taking care of business. It’s the same, no thesis.”
“What I feel has nothing to do with my thesis. I don’t see anything wrong with feeling like this. “
“Well I do. Take the medicine.”
“You’ve tried this before. You gave me meds last year. They just made me tired.”
“This is a different medication.”
“Right. It’s going to cure me, change me.”
“Mr. Slater. No medicine is perfect, but it can make a big difference. Your illness has to be treated. If you don’t comply I may ask your wife to come in for a conference.”
“You can’t do that without my permission.”
“If I have to I will.”
“Fine. I’ll take the medicine.”
Dr. Weiss scrutinizes him. He is not convincing. Jeremy doesn’t make eye contact. She lets that be. Her next patient is waiting.
As soon as Jeremy leaves Dr. Weiss’ office he tears the prescription up. He throws it into the refuse container next to the elevator.
Mark’s decision to do his internship in Berkeley was a no brainer. It was where things were happening in 1968. “You are either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Eldridge Cleaver announced to America. He is part of the Oakland scene, next town over from Berkeley.
Mark wouldn’t deny vanity played a part. As medical school was coming to an end, he bragged that he was heading to Berkeley. He considered himself very cool. Others may have felt they were making it to the big time with internships at Mass General, John Hopkins and the like. That meant nothing to Mark. He didn’t think like a doctor. He didn’t consider himself a doctor. He went to medical school because that is what you had to do to become a psychoanalyst, but that was it. Freud thought that becoming an M.D. was stupid, completely unnecessary. He was ignored. American doctors had prevailed. They owned the profession. Schools were popping up everywhere claiming to train psychoanalysts, but they were considered renegade. Anyone could go there. They weren’t sanctioned by the International Psychoanalytic Association.
Mark was willing to jump through the required hoops. Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude, whatever anxiety and hard work it took. He thought nothing of doing it. He talks the talk of the rebel. It’s where his passion, his beliefs reside, but he is in fact conservative. He is not willing to take very many chances with his future.
Berkeley, had almost mythical importance to him. He spent a summer there, in 1965, after the Free Speech Movement had put Berkeley on the map the year before. Berkeley was California’s East Village where Mark imagined all the best people lived. He was stuck in the Bronx, while he went to medical school, but his heart was there on St Marks’ Place. His friend Bruce had moved there. Mark was jealous of him. He harbored doubts that he was the real thing, that he would fit in among bohemians. He read all the right books, believed in all the causes, wanted it for himself like no other identity he had seen around, but he was uncomfortable when he went to Bennington looking for girls. They might see him as a wannabe, a typical Great Neck guy, masquerading as bohemian.
The original scene which grabbed his imagination, and every other rebel that he knew, had been the Left Bank in the 1920’s. Gertrude Stein, Hemingway. Fitzgerald, Cocteau, sipping espresso at an outdoor café, passionately involved in conversation. Perhaps it never existed, but that image was engraved in Mark’s mind. It was a photograph of what heaven might look like.
December 3, 1968, Mark is part of a huge crowd in Sproul Plaza, outside the student union building. The weather is crisp, with a bite to it, like an early morning in Vermont, but with California’s dazzling light.
A speaker is addressing the crowd.
“If we do nothing it’s no different than the Germans looking the other way while the Nazis killed the Jews. We’re dropping napalm on poor villagers in Vietnam. Napalm is a jelly that sticks to you as it burns. Your whole body catches fire with this goo all over you. I’ve seen video clips of children lit up like a branding iron, screaming as they die. Whole families incinerated. We can’t claim that we didn’t know. We have to stop it.”
Someone in the crowd shouts:
“How? By giving speeches at the student union?”
The speaker counters. “We have to educate people. If each of us talked to 10 people and they talked to 10 people.”
“ That’s all liberals ever do. Talk. Yackety, yack yack .”
“If you’re tired of talk,” the same guy shouts out, “if you want to do something NOW! Follow me.”
Thirty or forty students, Mark among them, separate themselves from the others. They cross the street. At first they merely shout wildly, like Indian war cries in a children’s game. They have no previous experience being revolutionaries. But then a group of them stop a car and start rocking it. They seem to be getting a kick out of the fear they see in the motorist’s eyes. They let the first car go, but stop the car behind it and repeat the rocking. A businessman, wearing a suit, gets out of his car and grabs one of the protesters. He is thrown to the ground by the others. They kick him. In the stomach. In the head. He grabs one kicker’s leg bringing him down, but then 6 or 7 other students join the party, kicking him, as they have seen in the movies.
On the sidewalk, perpendicular to the plaza on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft, a protester has a lighter with him and tries to set debris on fire in a steel mesh garbage can. Several times his lighter fails to light. But finally, he succeeds. He is thrilled with the blaze. So are his onlookers. At last they are doing something. Kicking it, he manages to move it into the street, turning it over, screaming like a wild man who has found gold. It is no longer the sound of a child playing, nor of a frat boy kicking up his heels. The demonstration is becoming the real thing.
Especially after a student throws a brick through the front window of the Bank of America. The sound of shattering glass. The students are no longer playing. Occupying classrooms is one thing. You are still on your own turf. This goes beyond the universities. To banks!
The mob screaming, cursing– loud voices shout out directions to the others. It’s a beginning. Steadily escalating what is needed to bring down the powers that be, the noise alone is meaningful. A second storefront window is smashed. No one there had ever heard sounds like this before. It excites an unfamiliar energy. The crowd in the street is growing. A third car is stopped. Mark is among those ready to rock this car but then Mark sees there is a frightened child in the back seat. He tries to hold the car down.
“Stop!” He shouts. There’s a little boy! “
The student who first drew the mob away from the main group shouts back at him furiously:
“Children are burning in Nam. Right now!”
The mob’s leader, with the others, continue to rock the car. Ignored, Mark walks over to his adversary and shoves him.
The police arrive. They move through the crowd, nightsticks flying. People start running in every direction. One of the policeman grabs Mark and throws him to the ground. A student nearby starts oinking, distracting the policeman. Mark takes off and is not pursued. The police roughly grab three other students, the slowest, also throwing them to the ground. They put them in handcuffs. One of the three being arrested is a female. The students, who have been chased across the street, start shouting. They are joined by several of the other students.
The police are operating as they normally do. Not having much experience with the police, onlookers are shocked by how rough the police are being with the girl. The businessman has recovered. As he walks near the crowd several students stare at him triumphantly, like a villain has been demolished, but most of the mocking is addressed towards the police.
“Pig. Oink, Oink.” They shout with complete hatred. Mark is quiet, totally turned off by the bedlam. He sees the fear in a young policeman’s eyes. He sees the hatred the students have provoked in several other policemen. It is completely new for the Berkeley policemen as well. They are used to mingling with the students at campus events, directing traffic, being a supervising adult.
They throw the girl in handcuffs into the police car along with the others. Several of them charge the crowd on the other side of the street, including those that were watching. But then one of the females, a beauty, brazenly holds her ground, amazingly, defiantly sticking out her chest at them. That hesitation is enough to obliterate their determination.
The police are completely outnumbered. The crowd senses how vulnerable they are. Thee students exult in their victory, cheering wildly as the police retreat. Those who have perfected their hog call are louder than ever.
The police slam their car doors and drive away, sirens blazing. But that is not nearly enough. As loud as it is their sirens no longer seem commanding.
He sees the look on everyone’s face. Of victory. Mark doesn’t share it. He stares quietly at the police’s departure, slowly recapturing his breath.
Days later Mark is walking on Telegraph, with his fellow medical intern Bob, surveying the scene. They pass a store entryway where two street people, hippies with long beads around their neck, love tattoos and snake tatoos everywhere on their bodies, are lying on a flattened cardboard box. They have camped out there for 2 nights. Rock and roll blares from their boom box. They smell of urine and sweat. Across the street is Cafe Med, the famous Cafe Med, originator of the latte. People complained about the bitterness of espresso so they added a lot of milk. In front of the Med is a large number of motor cycles. 8 or 9 Hell’s Angels are hanging out at the outside tables. They too are playing music loudly, their anthem? The Rolling Stone’s Sympathy for the Devil.
“Boy, things have changed.” Mark tells Bob. When I came out here in ‘65, three years ago, the Med was the quintessential beat hang out. Totally different scene. People would bring a bottle of wine and a baguette and ordered cheese. Guitars would be strumming. Peace and Love. It was nice.
Bob snaps at him.
“That was then. You’re such an elitist. The revolution is not going to happen with pie in the sky liberals like you.”
Bob takes out his copy of Mao’s Red book. He starts reading aloud:
“Those who assert this kind of “independence” are usually wedded to the doctrine of “me first” and are generally wrong on the question of the relationship between the individual and the Party. Although in words they profess respect for the Party, in practice they put themselves first and the Party second. What are these people after? They are after fame and position and want to be in the limelight. Whenever they are put in charge of a branch of work, they assert their “independence.”
“Mark. You’re snobbishness is being noted.”
Mark laughs. ““Being noted?” Did you see Dr. Zhivago?”
“A couple of years ago.”
“They kept saying that to Zhivago. When he found patients with typhus. Officially there was no typhus. When he insisted there was, that’s what a party representative told him, as he wrote in his notebook, “Your attitude is being noted.” In those days that was serious. The communists killed millions, most of them turned in by their neighbors with notebooks.
Mark mumbles to himself. “noted” He raises his voice. “Noted by whom? The Medical Committee for Human Rights? Fuck you Bob with your Mao bible.”
Bob is neither insulted nor set back by what Mark is saying. He is embarrassed by his shouting in public, embarrassed that other people might think he’s Mark’s friend. He waits for Mark to calm down…
Then, speaking as if he is a little league coach attending to one of his injured players. “You okay buddy? You okay?”
“Why? The Medical Committee for Human Rights can’t take a little controversy.”
“Just tone it down. Try not to be so abrasive.”
“You mean Jewish?”
Bob doesn’t answer. They turn into a doorway and climb the stairs.
He looks at the others on the stairway. Suddenly he’s aware they are waspy, blonde hair, blue eyes like 90% of the people in Berkeley. He has a wisp of home sickness. He notices only one other Jewish appearing guy. Unlike New York, the Movement in California is blonde and blue eyed.
Bob continues: “Don’t get me wrong. I think your bluntness is refreshing.”
He pauses then continues in an authoritative way:
Mark doesn’t answer.
“The Oakland Black Panthers are coming tonight. You better get a hold of yourself. You don’t want to piss them off.”
“Eldridge Cleaver?” Mark asks excitedly. He’s read Soul on Ice.
Bob answers in a completely cool voice.
“No, but maybe Huey Newtown and Bobby Seale.”
The meeting is being held in relatively small room above a store. Several people are seated on bridge chairs in something resembling a semi–circle.
Bob and Mark find a seat. Not only is Bob’s Red Book conspicuous. Half the doctors have their own copy and are reading it. After a short wait the celebrities arrive, four Black Panthers. Huey Newtown is handsome. The others are not, beginning with their menacing strut. The Movement is no longer Stokely Carmichael from Bronx High School of Science, breaking away from all his Jewish friends, rejecting a scholarship to Harvard for graduate school so that he can devote his energies to civil rights. His rhetoric is angry. Very angry, but he is still familiar. These guys are the kind of people that Mark and other people on a subway car, black or white, out of fear, would not dare to make eye contact with.
They take their seat. Without missing a beat, one of them lifts his fist.
“You guys with your lead poisoning project are bullshit. It’s too late for that shit.”
“So how can we help?”
“Help? Where the fuck were you before? We’re here to tell you that the time is now. The revolution is here. We ain’t bull shitting like our brothers in Detroit. We gonna kill the pigs, not talk about it. He stares at his audience, daring any of them to look back.
Mark looks around the room. Most of the doctors, including Bob, have an adulating expression on their face. Mark catches the eye of Maury whose eyes are seeking him out. Maury silently forms a word:
It is mid November 1968. Along a campus road lined with towering elm trees, CC walks by herself among a crowd of students cheerfully heading towards the Buffalo stadium. They are anticipating a great afternoon. Buffalo has a terrific football team, including their brilliant running back Ken Rudkoski.
The sun is shining brightly, warming CC’s face, but there is also a refreshing chill in the air. The autumn leaves are aflame. Above, they blow in every direction, swirling happily before carpeting the walkway. Football games are a big deal on campus, especially homecoming weekend. Alumni walk amongst the students, recalling similar days of their own. Some recall the way quarterback John Stofa, now with the Miami Dolphins, performed miracle after miracle, again and again rescuing the Bulls from defeat.
CC stops and picks up a pretty red leaf. She examines it in detail, noticing the veins, which increases her pleasure with its beauty. She’s been here four years. This is the first game she has gone to. For a moment she feels lost. She isn’t used to crowds. They often seem menacing, even today, despite their cheerfulness. At her father’s advice, the goal was fresh air. It seemed like a good way to spend the afternoon, but now she is having her doubts.
Jeff, Jeremy’s cousin, is walking not far behind her. He notices how distracted she seems. He calls out her name. She turns around and waits for him to catch up, smiling vaguely. He is a familiar face but she doesn’t quite know who he is.
Jeff points to himself, “Jeff”
She still doesn’t seem to recognize him. He pounds his chest like Tarzan.
“Me Jeff. You CC.”
That doesn’t help.
“Jeremy’s cousin. Jeff.”
Still, from the look on her face, she only half recognizes him.
“I’m in your Russian Lit class. I read my paper to the class last week. On Alyosha?” Her eyes come alive.
“Right. The Brother’s Karamazov. Dostoyevsky had me living in St Petersburg for 2 weeks. I liked your paper,”
“What you said about innocence” she adds. “How Dostoyevsky wanted there to be a glimmer of hope, a child standing out from the misery surrounding him.”
“He was good at misery. He got me.”
Her face brightens, “You captured the contrast. Your Alyosha. Sweet, sweet, Alyosha.”
“Wow. You really gave my paper a lot of thought.”
“I loved the book. I lived in it.”
“What did you think about his idea that without God everything is permitted?”
“Did he really say that?”
“Something like that. That was the whole point of the Grand Inquisitor. The Inquisitor knew there was no God but he understood people needed him to make believe there was one, so that they would behave.”
Jeff thinks to himself for a moment.
CC continues. “They could fear him and still believe that God was good.”
Jeff is very happy to be discovering CC.
“ I had no idea you were a heavy duty student. You take classes seriously. To have given all that thought to my paper—”
“I liked what you said. I listen, even when a paper is bad.”
“That must get boring.”
“Not at all. I’m curious. There’s always something.”
“I never would have taken you for that kind of person.”
“The kind that likes to think a lot.”
“Glad to meet you.”
They are both quiet for a moment as they walk on.
“You don’t remember that I met you at my cousin Jeremy’s barbecue.”
“Now I do.”
“So why were you confused about who I am?”
CC is still a bit hazy.
“I don’t know. Just was. New people take time to register.”
“You’re a strange dude CC.”
“And you’s a strange lady, Jeff.”
Happily, they bump fists, and jump a little.
They reach the ticket booth outside the stadium. Jeff is in front of her. He buys two tickets. Hands one to her.
“How much do I owe you?”
CC takes her wallet out of her pocketbook.
“Just this one time.”
Putting her wallet back, “Thank you.”
Jeff hands the two tickets to a usher, who tears off one half…. Once inside he studies the tickets.
“Which way?” CC asks
He leads her. Ahead of them is a steep concrete staircase. a lot of steps. It’s a challenge for CC. Because of her myasthenia, she has to stop after about 10 steps, to regain her strength. He comes back to help her.
“Sorry. I’m out of shape,” she says as she is regaining her breath.
“You should work out, jog like me.”
“Right… Did Alyosha give you hope?”
“He did. The other characters were in such agony.”
Leading her, Jeff, at first, guides her shoulder, but then walks ahead.
“It’s just up here.”
Again he has to backtrack for her as she stops on the stairway. She is bent over, slowly taking deep breaths.
“Hey. I’m in no rush,” Jeff answers with a kind voice. “You’re really out of shape., he teases.
They get to their row. People have to stand so that they can get by them. CC almost trips on someone’s foot, but Jeff grabs her and she regains her balance. Since the myasthenia began, she is used to those moments. She’s learned how to move on, not seem upset.
The game has already started. After they are seated Jeff looks around and is pleased by the seats. At the end of their row, one section away, Jeremy and Carol are seated. CC soon notices. She tries to watch the game but she can’t concentrate.
“I’m good. Everything okay with you?”
The ball is kicked–off. Buffalo’s receiver is tackled at the 20 yard line. Pretty quickly her eyes go to the cheerleaders, who are waving their pompoms, trying to get a cheer started. As a sophomore in high school, CC was a cheerleader. There is one cheerleader in particular who is very pretty, peppery, full of energy. CC watches her. Her eyes also jump to Jeremy. Then quickly come back. A student in front of them, wearing a Davy Crockett fur hat, screams: “GO BULLS!”
Jeff notices how distracted she is.
“Are you watching the game?”
“I will. I like to watch the cheerleaders.”
“But the game?”
Not very convincingly she throws her hands in front of her in a comedic half cheer:
They are both quiet for a while. CC continues to look around.
“It’s a beautiful stadium. The grass, the whole scene… I don’t really like football. Don’t know anything about it.”
“Oh. So that’s what it is?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve had this look on your face.”
“What kind of look?”
“I don’t know… Anna Karenina.”
She smiles nervously, “No, it’s nothing. I just have this paper I have to get done.”
He looks at her skeptically.
“No really. I shouldn’t be here at the game. It’s due Monday. Tonight and tomorrow night will be all–nighters.”
First Jeremy then Carol notice CC and Jeff. Carol does a decent imitation of waving casually. So do CC and Jeremy, but for an instant their eyes lock. Carol notices, but says nothing. She looks towards the field.
CC continues to have difficulty paying attention to the game. She might as well not be there, although the sounds engage her. Linemen slam into each other like locomotives crashing, subwoofer bangs and grunts. The fans are totally into the action, cheering when Buffalo gains yardage, groaning, when the quarterback is sacked. Periodically, heard through the crowd noises, deep voices shout curses, others sing prayers as the fans try to influence what is happening.
Ken Rudkoski does some fancy footwork, breaks free and runs in for a touchdown. Tumultuous happiness. In comparison to the previous buzz and chaos of the crowd, the sound of a touchdown is melodious.
CC’s thoughts leave the stadium altogether. At first she is stealing glances at Jeremy. It’s been a month since she went to his office. But her looking Jeremy’s way stops when Carol notices. He is being policed. The next time she looks, Carol again looks back at her.
Her thoughts turn to Mark, to how, a week before, he sent her Jacqueline du Pré attacking an Elgar concerto. After Mark saw du Pré in Berkeley, he couldn’t stop talking about her, how the music enveloped her. He sent a photo. She was wearing a short skirt. Her legs were spread open, embracing her cello. She was looking up to the heavens. Mark described how she seemed to be moving inside the music as she played it. Or as Mark put it, Elgar played her.
CC knew what he meant. Mark took her to Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve. Something like that happened to the conductor Alexander Schneider. He danced to the music. No. The music danced him. Same thing with another of his idols, Nina Simone. Simone was completely possessed. As she sang, her fingers on the piano created surprising harmonies, variations on the melodies, rhythms. Where were they coming from? Damn’ if she knew.
Being lost in music is not foreign to her. When she used to dance the Philly with Mark, she wasn’t really controlling her body. She knew the steps so they were automatic. But the music took over. Her legs and feet and hips, the rhythm owned her. Mark goes ape shit over that quality. Once engaged by it every fact he learns about the artist turns him on still more.
There’s excitement on the field. Another roar from the crowd breaks into her revery. She looks towards the goal line. Buffalo has scored again.
Jeff again notices that CC is elsewhere. He slaps his hands. She smiles. She likes Jeff’s smile. They hit hands, sort of like patti-cake, but then she returns to her thoughts. She could be anywhere. She wishes she were alone so she could more fully return to Mark and Jacqueline du Pré.
Mark wrote CC about how du Pré converted to Judaism at the Western Wall last year and went all over Israel with her husband Daniel Barenboim to celebrate Israel’s victory in the war.
The 1967 war was an emotional subject for Mark. For years he had been reading the New York Review and other leftist articles to CC, highly critical of Israel. When the war came, all of that was swept away. Everything Mark had been telling her was at once irrelevant. He was scared shit for Israel.
Mark told her that Israeli doctors at Einstein, were hugging and kissing the other doctors in the cafeteria as they prepared to rush home to the war. Along with his fear for Israel, Mark felt proud of the Israeli doctors. He felt connected to them. It was the first time he had become at odds with the left, the first time he felt Israel was a part of him, like family.
Somehow Jacqueline du Pré was part of that. He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm as he learned more and more about her. She was pulled out of school at 14 because she wasn’t keeping up with the work. She didn’t like to practice. Once she knew a piece she felt the tedium of practice could kill it for her. That explained a lot, about how she performed the way she did, how she could get lost in the music, how she could be discovering it as she dived into the score. That abiliity, to keep the music alive was so precious to him.
CC thought that Mark had fallen in love with her. He saw her perform once and that was it. Was it the way she moved? Was it that she was pretty? The picture he sent–was it her short skirt? She assumed Mark had been stoned when he watched her perform so CC used the pot he had left her to listen to the record.
For most of their lives, neither he nor CC were very enthusiastic about classical music. Ignorance as much as anything else. They grew up on rock and roll and Brodway tunes. Now they had their favorite classical music, Beethtoven’s Ode to Joy, Carmina Burata, Cantata 140. In line with the identity he was busy constructing, he had become a bit snobbish about rock and roll. Bach was often playing in his room. As always he tried to bring her along. Du Pré had moved him, and now the record he sent had also moved her to a new place. She was grateful. He turned her on to West Side Story, to Larry Kert singing Maria.
That was one of his best qualities, the way he wanted to share his treats. His ability to bring her to his most precious moments remains. No one else has that effect on her. Even now when she plays West Side story and listens to Maria she gets goose bumps. It certainly is the music, but it also it is being together with Mark at his best.
The music gets them there like their discussions once did. They often disagree, especially lately, but what she has had with Mark is a high point in her life so far. Everything else she experiences seems like a pale shadow.
All around her people at the stadium are getting up and moving around. It is halftime. CC puts her thoughts aside and smiles at Jeff. She leaves her seat. Jeremy notices and gets up.
“Going for something to eat. What do you want?” he asks Carol.
“Nothing. I’m good.”
CC is on line at the refreshment stand below the stadium seats. Jeremy joins her.
“Buffalo’s gonna have a winning season.” she offers.
Jeremy stares at her, trying hard to look as if he isn’t. It’s been quite a while since they kissed. Just stolen glances between them since, but he has thought so often about that kiss. Was it simply a weak moment for her? Was her reaction real? He thinks he knows the answer but isn’t sure. CC also has to know where they are at. Exactly like Jeremy, that time together left her with more questions than answers.
“How are you and Carol doing?”
He shrugs. “We’re all right.”
Jeremy bends, speaks softly into her ear so those nearby can’t hear,
“What happened in my office…”
“You don’t have to explain.”
“I’ve been thinking about what I was going to say. “
“I wasn’t sure if it was real.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just didn’t know.”
Jeremy takes a deep breath before moving another step forward, but then he launches.
“What’s real is…. I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve gone over what happened a thousand times and I can’t decide. I have to know whether you have feelings for me.”
She answers in a teasing tone, “You sound like Wittgenstein.”
“Don’t know what you mean.”
“Plagued by questions. Your mind not shutting down.”
“Do you know what that’s like?”
“Having someone on your mind like that?” The teasing continues, “Poor you. Boopsala.” She isn’t sure why she said that.
He shrugs, trying to appear collected.
The awkwardness of her boopsala is standing out in her mind. She takes control of her voice. It’s sympathetic.
“Guess that’s not fun.”
“You ever pick petals from a daisy?”
“No never did.”
“It said you love me not. But then I used another daisy and that said you do.”
“As much as you love Wittgenstein?”
Jeremy corrects her: “Vittgenstein. Vittgenstein.”
She is indifferent to his pedagogy.
“From what I’ve heard about you, your interest in me will last maybe two weeks.”
He smiles and shakes his head: “Romeo and Juliet have lasted 500 years.”
Theatrically, he answers. As he speaks it sounds foolish even to him. ”My love will never die.”
“You and me are Romeo and Juliet?” she counters.
She holds up two fingers. “Two weeks…” “Two weeks” she repeats.
“Forever.” He answers lightly.
“It doesn’t matter. Carol and Alyosha have first dibs on you. You’re going to have to get control of yourself.”
What matters is in her eyes. He can see that she is interested. He is relieved.
“And how do I do that?”
“It can be done. I got two brothers and one of them—“
“Not Mark. The other one who doesn’t ask questions. Jay can stop himself.”
“Mark’s the one that’s like me?”
“He’s brainy like you. … And crazy like you.
“What’s Jay’s secret?”
“It doesn’t occur to him to break the rules.”
“Jay’s your boring brother?”
She shrugs before continuing. “I guess so, but he never seems bored. He’s a regular guy.”
“He’s not interested in trouble. It doesn’t give him a charge. He’s a 50’s guy. Graduated Cornell in ‘63. He was a cheerleader when football was the main thing happening on campus.” She smiles. “Still puts on his saddle shoes when he goes to alumni games. Enjoys every minute of every Cornell game…He works at Aetna.”
“That’s not boring?”
“But he’s not. Doesn’t talk enough to be boring. He’s from a different generation. Think Randolph Scott. The comfort, the pride that was on his face.
Jeremy is amused. “Randolph Scott with saddle shoes leading a cheer?”
“Laugh all you want. His life is under control. He doesn’t say much. He doesn’t have that much he needs to say. His private business is private..”
“The strong and silent type.”
“You got it.”
“As opposed to Mark and me?”
The line has hardly moved, and they are far back, so they can continue talking.
“Look. I love to talk as much as you do. Me and Mark would get stoned and talk for hours. Sometimes we don’t remember what we talked about.”
“Doesn’t matter what we say. I can be myself with him and he is with me. It’s made us very close.”
“We have a long history.” She thinks a bit more. “I love Jay too. I respect him.”
“But he doesn’t know you.”
“He does, but not in a talky way. In a different way.”
CC and Jeremy are now at the front of the line. He buys 2 slices of pizza. The slices are red hot. CC burns her tongue. She blows on the bite inside her mouth by panting several times, rhythmically shaking her hands in the process.
“Looks like you’ve got practice doing that.”
“I eat fast. My mom says I gobble.”
“It’s not very ladylike. That’s been my mom’s mission in life, making me ladylike.”
Their chatting ends abruptly as CC notices Carol high above at the portal exit from the seats. Jeremy sees her too. At which point CC and Jeremy try to act as if their meeting is coincidental. Jeremy is not much of an actor. CC moves towards the next concession booth as if she hasn’t noticed Carol. Jeremy walks towards the stairs where Carol is standing at the top with a guilty expression on his face. It isn’t clear how much Carol has seen, but evidently enough for her to stare at him with fire in her eyes. He knows that look well. She walks down the stairs slowly, carefully, and walks right by him proceeding to the line for food. He trails behind. She is also having difficulty catching her breath.
“I’m a little dizzy. What were you talking to CC about?”
“How is she?”
He doesn’t answer. She proceeds with determination in her voice.
“I saw you talking. How is she?”
“We weren’t really talking.”
“Jeremy, you’re a bad liar.”
“Want a slice?”
“No I want a hot dog.”
He holds up a dollar and points to the hot dogs.
“Mustard and sauerkraut?” the vendor asks.
“Nothing on it.”
The vendor hands her a hot dog. Standing close to him she speaks firmly.
“Your days of blow jobs are over.” She takes a sharp bite of the hotdog, chewing it defiantly.
“You are hereby warned.”
“Don’t sweetie me.”
Her breathing difficulties becoming more noticeable. Jeremy is concerned.
“That’s what happens when you scold me.”
“That’s what happens when you give me something to scold you about.”
They have returned to the same routine. A few days later Jeremy’s class ends. From the back of the classroom CC watches Jeremy as he talks to another student. She is waiting for him to look her way. He doesn’t. She keeps watching him. Nothing. Reluctantly she leaves. As soon as she turns away his eyes are on her.
A week later another of Jeremy’s classes ends. Other than a quick glance, CC doesn’t hesitate. She simply leaves the classroom. Once again, when he’s certain she won’t look back, Jeremy watches her as she leaves.
Another of Jeremy’s classes. The bell rings. The students rise from their seats. CC looks towards Jeremy but he isn’t looking her way.
“Everyone. Enjoy Thanksgiving… Remember what you have to be thankful for!”
Jeremy directs this last remark to CC. She is looking down at the floor sadly, troubled. Is it over? Jeremy is also looking troubled that he doesn’t have her attention. Students have surrounded him. Just as she leaves the classroom he takes one last look. She isn’t looking at him.
The Gordons are at Jay and Dora’s apartment in Forest Hills during CCs Thanksgiving vacation. Dora lights the Friday night Sabbath candles. A lace doily, from Nanny, sits on her head. She covers her face, then her hands reach over the flickering candles in a fluid circular motion, as if to bring the light toward her, then back to her face, then her hands return to the lit candles. She does this exactly as her mother benched licht. She chants.”
“Baruch ata Adonoy
Eloheinu melech Ha—loam
Asher kid—shanu bemitzvo’sav
ve tzivanu lehadlik ner shel Shabbos
As she removes her hands from her face a tear emerges. Softly she whispers, “Mom.”
Jay tells her: “She’s with us Dora. She can hear you.”
Evelyn is thinking of her own mother. Her eyes go to the heavens. She also sheds a tear. A single tear.
One by one Dora goes around the table chanting “Good Shabbis” as she tenderly kisses the head of everyone seated at the table. Mrs. Gordon wipes away a second tear.
Jay gets up when Dora reaches him.
“Good shabbis Jay.”
They hug. A genuine hug. She kisses him on the cheek. Jay also goes around the table repeating Dora’s Shabbis blessing as he kisses them individually.
After Jay’s kiss, CC watches the others. She wonders, she wishes she had Dora and Jay’s connection to God.
“My mother used to bench licht every Friday night,” Mrs. Gordon tells the others.
CC asks her, not in a challenging way: “How come you don’t Mom?”
“I don’t know. I don’t do a lot of things my mother used to do. Too much going on at the club.” She turns to Dora. “I have to tell you. 7 months after childbirth. You got your figure back.”
Dora holds in her belly
“Well I think you look great. The apartment too. You’ve done amazing things with what you’ve got.”
Dora looks at Mr. Gordon
“With your help.”
Mrs. Gordon continues: “You’ve done a terrific job….And Sam is the handsomest 7 month old I’ve ever seen. He’s smart too. I can tell. His eyes study everything.”
Dora turns to CC
“When you going back?”
“How you doing in school?” Dora asks CC.
“Good. All A’s, except French. I may get my first C.”
“Staying out of trouble too, right?” Mrs. Gordon asks CC.
Dora jabs her mother–in–law with a gentle pinch.
“She’s got to have a little fun.”
Mr. Gordon studies CC as he asks “How often do you talk to Mark?” The room gets tense.
“Not that often?”
He looks skeptical.
Dora tries to keep it light.
“Say hello to him from me.”
Dora notices Mr. Gordon’s is continuing to scrutinize CC.
“Dad. Come into the kitchen. I want you to taste the kneidelach. You said your mother’s were the best. I used her recipe.”
“I don’t know if I can taste anything. I’m kind of full from Thanksgiving turkey.”
Seizing the opportunity, Mrs. Gordon rises, “I’ll come in there with you.”
As the three get up from the table, Dora stops to examine a pendant CC is wearing on some beads around her neck. Mr. and Mrs. Gordon arrive in the kitchen before Dora.
“Ira. I want you to leave your daughter alone about Mark. He’s her brother.”
“I’ll stop when he grows up–that’s if he grows up.”
“You’re not fair to him… Or to her!”
As Dora arrives at the entrance, they immediately hush up. They welcome her with a smile.
Following the Thanksgiving break, CC and Jeremy’s connection becomes increasingly tenuous. Carol put a halt to them at the football game. And from there they move to a pattern which keeps repeating itself. His eyes move towards hers but he doesn’t quite get there. Instead, he furtively steals glances of her. CC does the same thing, which, if anything, sows confusion. One moment they are electrified by their connection. The next, convinced their love isn’t reciprocated. Sometimes, they wonder if anything was ever there. Do they have a chance? One moment yes, the next no.
Not pursuing Jeremy puts CC on the side of virtue, but she is not able to focus on anything other than him for very long. The dance they do with their eyes leaves her in a tizzy. Back and forth, longing, indifference, heart break. Then longing again, this time hoping against hope for a triumphant reconnection.
The stakes in love are always high. Fear of being made the fool is as painful to suffer as the joy promised. Sometimes, when their eyes meet, his go elsewhere. Worst still, the nasty look she sometimes gets, stirs up the same in her. Energized by a broken heart, revenge is dangerous. As answer to the last snub, more than once, both want to tell the other to “fuck off.”
Their uncertainty extends beyond the Christmas holiday through the winter break between semesters, and then into late February. Uncertainty can sometimes be sweet, but not this kind. It is torture. Particularly Jeremy. His swagger has disappeared.
Dave’s relieved. At their last meeting , he thought, whatever the consequences, Jeremy was ready to jump into the abyss. Now he seems to better appreciate his situation. Time is running out for the completion of his thesis. Dave hopes that with CC gone, Jeremy will be able to work on it.
Except morning to night he is preoccupied, as is she, with the affair they are not having.
His daydreams grow in boldness. He was overwhelmed with guilt the first time he imagined, as he made love to Carol, that he had CC in his arms. Afterwards, Jeremy couldn’t look at Carol. She got it immediately. She starts a diet, three pounds the first week, which he notices and likes. Being more attracted to her diminishes his guilt but not how often he substitutes CC while making love to her. It is the only way for CC to be in his arms.
Comedy and tragedy, sometimes both– a few plateaus but more often high cliffs from which to leap. The ailment seems so simple to cure, a sign from CC, any sign, any indication, however small, that she feels what he feels, and then they can go from there. There are encouraging hints. She signed up for a second semester. Surely that means something. Several icy stares undo his conclusion. His confidence is waning. His high school shyness grows with every slight. She still doesn’t know if she has mastered her fake impassive look, which she has practiced almost to perfection.
love wounds and mars
Any heart not tough, nor strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain…
He’s mesmerized by the Everly Brothers’ song
Some fools rave on happiness
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, ooh, love hurts
Who is to say what expression is on their faces, but one day, the stars line up perfectly for both of them. Encouraged, her heart sings. It is a phantom victory. The next day she asks a question about Bertrand Russell, which is an opportunity to look straight at him. His answer is formal. Worse, he moves on to another student’s question while she stares at him with her disappointment obvious. He doesn’t seem to notice. The second time she asks a question, this time about Gilbert Ryle, they connect. Not at that moment. But, they both wake up at 4 AM encouraged enough to contemplate taking the leap.
On certain days they are finally sensible, calm, at peace with where they are. It is a good thing that they didn’t move forward. With equanimity they can accept that from the very beginning, it was impossible. They will be able to allow it to die a dignified death.
It doesn’t take long for them to recognize that attitude is a pose, a bunch of words. Whatever comfort they’ve achieved is gone in a flash. Especially after he says something brilliant in class, and he sees the response on her face. She wanted to run up and embrace him. Risk humiliation if he didn’t respond. Especially after she has bought a new top- a turquoise peasant shirt that does him in. She is almost sure that his reaction to her blouse is real, a cocky jerk of his head in the air, like a stallion’s arrogant taunt, meant for her. Sometimes it is so close. They are sure it will happen, but this occurs less often than not.
CC’s unhappiness is plain to everyone who knows her. CC’s mom and dad, Mark, Dora, even Jay. CC is not herself. Trying to get off the roller coaster she exposes the whole thing. She tells her father about Jeremy. It is a complete surprise but he doesn’t focus on how wrong it is. Rather on her feelings. He tells her to wait. That is the only way to discover if love is true.
But she has waited and her confusion isn’t going away. Ira tells Evelyn her secret. They make a joint decision to say nothing. Evelyn considers speaking to Mark about it, but Ira convinces her to not muddy the water.
Carol knows. It hurts in the worst way. For months. She can’t help herself. The attitudes she has tried to construct to lessen her pain prove worthless And lately everything seems to be getting worse. Quite a few times, she has to stop and catch her breath. Is it her lupus acting up?
A student knocks on CC’s door, and shouts to her. It’s the last week in February.
“You’ve got a call.”
CC goes to the public pay phone in the lounge. It’s her mother.
“Sam has fever?”
“ How high?”
“103. Call Dora.”
CC doesn’t call Dora. She goes back to her room. In not too long CC’s bunched up on her bed with a book studying French. She’s very upset that she could get a C+. That has never happened before, although it could have been expected. All the homework in the world, all the practice cannot rid CC of her tin ear. She can’t get the knack of a French accent, of the rhythm, the tongue rolls, any of it. From the first time she heard Mark pronounce Sartre ‘til now. She can hear it. If anything, the sound of people speaking French has always intrigued her, seemed wonderful, but when she tries to speak it, she is like a klutz on the dance floor.
Once again a knock on her door.
“You’ve got another call.”
Fearing something serious, CC hurriedly returns to the lounge and gets on the phone.
“The hospital? Jesus.”
CC quickly puts on her coat and leaves.
In her room at Buffalo General, Carol has an IV attached to her arm and an oxygen tube near her nose. She is conscious, but groggy. Jeremy holds her hand.
Carol mumbles, “I need to sleep.” She has needed to sleep for months, but she couldn’t let down her guard.
Jeremy moves his hand across her forehead.
“Gai Shluffin.” He hasn’t used a Yiddish expression for years. There used to be a lot of that between them.
She is soon asleep. Her breathing is raspy. Unable to stop himself, furtively he looks over the paperwork at the foot of Carol’s bed for a clue. He can’t make sense of it. He checks the IV. He worries that it is coming in too fast, so he slows the drip down. Sorry that he intervened he then worries it is too slow. Fearing he will be caught, he keeps looking at the corridor.
A nurse is at the door. Sternly she confronts him. “You shouldn’t touch the IV.”
“We’re in charge of that.”
The nurse makes adjustments. They can both hear Carol’s breathing which is raspy.
“Why’s she breathing like that?”
“She has pneumonia.”
He’s alarmed, “She has pneumonia?”
The nurse is still irritated with Jeremy about the IV. “Doctor’s not worried.”
“It’s a mild case?”
The nurse’s irritation continues. Jeremy is keeping her from her chores.
“Apparently,” she answers, presuming Jeremy should know it is mild pneumonia and patient’s families are not allowed too many questions. The staff has more important things to do than gab.
CC arrives. The nurse looks at her suspiciously. Then she looks over at Jeremy. Given CC’s beauty, there was bound to be a thought like that. But Jeremy’s eyes confirm it. As CC tries to enter the room the nurse waves her finger.
The nurse scrutinizes CC long enough to be sure she will obey her, then she moves on. She walks down the corridor to the next room.
Carol is drifting in and out of sleep. Believing that she is sleeping deeply enough, Jeremy leaves her and joins CC.. Her eyes reach out to him which he needs. Desperately. He needs to talk.
They both look down the hall at the nurse. She isn’t watching them. He hugs her. She responds as if it is a family kind of hug, breaking it quickly, but unseen by the nurse, they continue to hold each other’s hand. They are out of Carol’s sight.
. Their months of longing stares, quickly disrupted if either of them pulls away–gone in flash.. They are finally connected. Holding each other’s hand is enough. It promises more.
“Will she be all right?” CC asks.
“She has pneumonia but, apparently, a mild case. This afternoon the doctor told me he thinks she is going to fully recover. Her kidneys had shut down. Fortunately, they’ve started to work again. He said she’s going to be fine. He’s guessing she’ll be home in a week or two.”
“When did all of this happen?”
“Lupus is like that. It appears and disappears. The worst part is it can come from out of the blue. Three weeks ago she was feeling like herself, full of energy. Then last week she thought she had the flu, so she stayed in bed. She sent Alyosha to day care. Then she began to get weaker and weaker.
It’s not the first time. The day I saw you at the football game, she said she felt fine. So we went. Big mistake. After the first half she started getting dizzy. That lasted a few days. Then she was better. For 3 months. Until tonight. When I came home she was in a daze… confused. It was scary. She’s never been like that before.”
There are vague sounds from Carol’s bed.
“I think she’s waking up.”
Letting go of CC’s hand Jeremy moves into Carol’s view. He returns to the room. Carol’s eyes are open.
Barely discernible, she speaks to him.
“I heard you talking.”
Carol stares at the corridor suspiciously. She sees nothing. She looks at him quizzically, not quite “how could you?” But part of the way there. Then her eyes close and she is asleep again.
Jeremy returns to the corridor.
CC has put on her gloves.
“I’m gonna get going.”
Their eyes are locked on each other.
“Call me if you need to talk,” she tells him.
After she leaves, Jeremy places a chair so he can sit next to Carol, holding her hand. She’s awake again. She looks at him with a hurt expression. He looks innocent enough except for his eyes where his guilt is easy to read.
Carol’s parents enter the room. Jeremy looks at his watch.
“You got here fast.”
Carol’s mother answers. “We were already in Buffalo, for my niece Beverly’s wedding. You met her. Glad we left the hotel’s phone number on the answering machine.”
Jeremy smiles. “Modern technology.”
Her mother looks at him expectantly.
“She’s better. Much better. She’s tired but she’s definitely better.”
Jeremy gives his seat to Carol’s mother. She takes Carol’s hand. With her other hand she feels Carol’s forehead.
“Honey? I’m here.”
Carol wakes up a bit. She and her mother talk with their eyes. Little needs to be said.
Barely audible she tells her mother
“I want Jeremy to go.”
“What did you say?”
Carol speaks more strongly. “I want Jeremy to go.”
Carol’s mother stares at Jeremy coldly. Jeremy looks at her as innocently as he can, but Carol’s mother stare is unrelenting.
“I would like you to leave.”
Jeremy looks into her eyes.
“Mom. I don’t know what Carol told you, but nothing is going on.”
“I’m sure, but please leave.”
“Carol’s told me enough. I saw that girl get on the elevator. I just knew it.”
Still unsuccessfully trying to look innocent, Jeremy keeps trying to make eye contact with Carol’s mother. She stares back coldly, her fury not fully contained. He leaves. In the corridor he can see Carol’s mother at the bed. She’s speaking to Carol and Carol appears to be answering.
With tears in her eyes Carol’s mother speaks.
“I’ve got you honey. I won’t let you go. You’re going to be all right.”
Carol’s mother squeezes her daughter’s hand again. Then, apparently relieved, Carol returns to sleep.
Jeremy hears them. Walking down the corridor, tail down, Jeremy looks into a room. A family is gathered around a patient, who is evidently quite sick. The patient’s brother, hat in hand, has tears rolling down his cheeks.
Disheartened Jeremy walks to his car. He gets in, puts the key in the ignition but doesn’t start the car. For a moment he just sits there. He stares out at the numerous cars parked in the lot, then at someone in the next car who is sobbing. He needs to get out of the hospital. He turns the ignition. He gasps. He turns around to back up with sad eyes.
At home in his bedroom, he lights a joint. He takes 3 hits. Puts it out between his thumb and index finger. He lies back in his bed, staring at the ceiling. About to tear, he gets up to go to the bathroom sink. His dog is blocking his path. He pushes on the dog with his foot.
“Perry. Move it.”
Perry holds his ground. Jeremy’s leg shoves him roughly out of the way.
He calls Alyosha’s babysitter:
“Do you think you can keep Alyosha overnight. Carol’s mother is here and she’ll take over tomorrow…Good. Thanks.”
Jeremy brushes his teeth. As he returns to the bedroom, he passes the long horizontal bureau. It has a picture of Carol. The two of them in London. His favorite. He lifts it up and stares at her. He puts the picture down. He returns to his empty bed, lying diagonally across where Carol would ordinarily be. He takes one more look at the picture of Carol. He falls asleep.
His eyes pop open. He looks at the clock. It is 4:15 AM. He gets up and puts on his running shoes.
There isn’t a soul to be seen on his block. It’s been an unusually mild winter. Jogging, he leaps over a small snow bank that was left from last week’s snowfall. He’s pushes himself. His legs have already lost their spring.
Having made it to the campus 2 miles from home, he starts to sprint. He keeps sprinting and sprinting, breathing heavier and heavier, grimacing in pain. His chest is tightening. He comes to a hill. He pushes himself to race up it. Faster and faster he goes then insanely faster.
He collapses. A campus cop hurries over.
“You all right Dr. Slater?”
The cop extends his arm and lifts Jeremy to a sitting position, holding him there as he gasps for air. Jeremy pushes back. The cop soon realizes that Jeremy needs to be lying down. So he helps him lie on the cold ground, using Jeremy’s coat’s hood as a pillow Slowly Jeremy catches his breath and begins to look around He looks at the cop.
“The way you were running. Never saw anything like it.”
The cop reaches out his hand and pulls Jeremy to a sitting position, then helps him to stand up. Bowed over at first, he soon straightens out. He seems to be okay.
“Punishing yourself like that. You could do damage.”
Still breathing hard Jeremy answers:
“I wasn’t punishing myself. I like running like that.”
“But there are limits.”
Jeremy isn’t listening.
“Each to his own Dr. Slater.”
“It’s not Dr. Slater. I’m not a doctor.”
“My son is in your class. That makes you Dr. Slater.”
When he gets back to the house Jeremy calls CC. He listens to the rings, a sleepy eyed student, doing an all–nighter, answers. The student leaves to get CC.
CC is on the phone: “No I’m glad you called.”
She arrives at Jeremy’s house 45 minutes later. Jeremy helps CC take off her coat.
“I was lucky. I hitched a ride.”
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“At this time of the morning, weird people are out there.”
“It was a milkman going to work.”
“I was out before. Is it still cold out?”
“Not too bad. Weather man on the radio said 41.”
“A high of 41? Or that’s what it is now?”
“Don’t know. Wasn’t paying attention.”
He throws her coat across a chair. She is standing not too far away from him. What comes next is clear to him. With the house to himself he is not going to waste this opportunity. He offers his hand. She takes it. He leads her to the couch. He sits down and pulls her towards him. She resists, ducks away, sits next to him.
He puts an arm around her in a warm not necessarily seductive way. She has a reluctant expression, but she allows it.
“Carol’s going to be okay,” she says in an attempt to reassure him.
“It’s not fair. We haven’t done anything.”
Not expecting that answer CC looks at him bewildered as he repeats: “We haven’t done anything. You and me.”
CC looks into his eyes. He is elsewhere.
“It’s one thing if we had… I kissed you. So what.”
A long silence. He continues within his thoughts.
“It’s scary to get that sick,” CC tells him.
“Has it ever happened to you?”
“You know about my myasthenia?”
He doesn’t answer.
“Once I got double vision for a day. I needed air. I didn’t have the strength to take a good breath.”
“Were you scared?”
“The thought that I could die passed through my mind. For several hours. Yeah I was scared. But I was able to reach my doctor. Something was wrong with my medicine. Hasn’t happened since.”
“You live with that?”
“That along with Elvis.”
What do you mean?
“Don’t worry I don’t like Elvis.”
“It has to be rough having a disease.”
“I don’t think about it much. Seeing Carol shook me up.”
He kisses her forehead, comfortingly, but then tries to move to her lips. She pulls back. She stares at him in a rebuke. How could he think of coming on to her with his wife in the hospital?
He stands back. Goes to his bedroom. Returns with his fur collared army jacket.
“Put this on. I want to take you somewhere. Wait, let me get you a sweater.”
He comes back with a heavy turtle neck sweater. She puts the sweater on, then zippers up his coat. The coat is 10 sizes too big, but looks great. Unconsciously she models for him in front of the mirror, looking at her left profile, then her right. She smiles at herself approvingly. So does he.
He means it. She looks both ridiculous and fetching. She knows it.
CC laughs, “For once I agree with you.”
“The jacket’s warm. You can keep it.”
“My coat is warm.”
“Not like this one.”
“When you wear it you’ll think of me.”
She follows him to his car, a black Ford Galaxie convertible, with spoked wheels, 7 years old but polished and in good shape. Many coats of wax and elbow grease are apparent. CC walks half around it admiring it.
“I didn’t picture you having a car like this.”
“She’s my baby. What did you think I’d have.”
“What did Socrates drive?”
“Don’t know. Mark has a Volkswagen. I expected something like that. Faculty–ish. This could be on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine. Do you have a name for it?”
“Betsy. Growing up my father had a car named Betsy. So that’s where it comes from.”
They get in the car. Warming it up, he revs up the motor like a teenager. He settles down and starts to drive. From the look on her face, she is enjoying being by his side as he handles the road.
“I always wanted a convertible. And now I have one.”
CC’s voice is cheerful, “You’re definitely not a typical faculty member.”
Jeremy smiles, “Actually, people in my department go out of their way to break stereotypes. No Volvos. Dr. Franklin just bought a Camaro. Several professors asked where I got this. I could tell. They wanted one just like it. I seem to have started a trend.”
“No you are different than my other teachers. It isn’t just your car. You’re not like a faculty member. Usually professors come across as professors, kind of stuffy.”
“Some of them have English accents. Like Dr. Maisel, and I heard he grew up in the Bronx.”
“He did. I knew him years ago in school. He didn’t have an English accent then. Pure Bronxese.
“Is there an English accent school that teachers go to, like Arthur Murray for dancing?”
“Aren’t you exaggerating a little? Maybe ten, twenty per cent of the faculty have English accents and half of those went to Oxford.”
“Maybe but I haven’t heard so many English accents anywhere else I’ve been. Certainly not on Long Island. In the Village when Mark would take me there. I heard a lot of it. But other than that…”
“Look, a professor can’t just sound like one of the guys on the block. He isn’t. Would you go to a doctor if he sounded like the guys on the street corner, or hire a lawyer like that. Professionals need a public persona. You know how everyone rises when the judge enters the courtroom. Imagine him in Bermuda shorts. He couldn’t rule the court without his black robe, without an aura.”
“Well, I like that you are not like that.”
“I try to keep it real. Actually, a lot of the time I feel like a student more than a professor.”
“I’m not there yet, not where I want to be. I’m hungry. There’s a lot I don’t understand. Too much I don’t understand. I’m more student than teacher.”
“Except now students think they know everything, how they are going to change the world.”
“Well, the old kind of student.”
“Which is what I like. I think it’s what everyone likes about you. Your informality. Your honesty. You are considered cool.”
“That’s nice to know.” He thinks that over. “Very nice.”
She continues. “I’ll bet when you do get there you’ll develop a nice little paunch. You’ll be as self satisfied as all the other professors.”
“Maybe, but my paunch will have to wait.”
“Which hopefully is never. I like the way you are now.”
“Don’t worry. No way I’ll have an English accent.”
“We’ll see.” She says this in a challenging way.
“What does that mean?”
She thinks a bit.
“Truthfully, you already don’t sound like you come from Brooklyn. When you got going on Wittgenstein you sounded like you were reading from Shakespeare. You had a rhythm, like you were singing a song.”
He’s pleased with the description. He takes a breath “Occasionally I get carried away. But how I sounded when I spoke about Wittgenstein… losing my Brooklyn accent… It isn’t like I became a big shot professor. Or practiced the lecture without a Brooklyn accent. I just get carried away when it comes to him.”
She has a broad smile, “You were swooning.”
He smiles. “He turns me on. The fact that he could just leave being a Cambridge professor and become a gardener, then 10 years later stroll right in again to Cambridge. His ideas mattered more than anything else. The way he would curse himself out when he couldn’t figure something out. You know there is an interesting story about Socrates.”
He asks CC to take down a green book from his bookshelf.
“Go to Chapter 4, to the part I underlined.”
She shows him the book, “This?”
“Yes, read it.”
“When told that the Oracle of Delphi had revealed to one of his friends that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, he responded not by boasting or celebrating, but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong.”
“He went to one wise person after another assuming they were smarter than him. They all had the same characteristic. They claimed to know things that they didn’t know. So, in the end Socrates decided that he was the wisest, because he was able to acknowledge that he knows nothing.”
Jeremy takes the book and reads the next line. “I know one thing;… that I know nothing.”
He continues in his pedagogical tone: “That is one of his most famous quotes. I love it– how much Wittgenstein was like Socrates.”
He sees that she is drinking it up. He continues. It isn’t even that Wittgenstein was so brilliant. Who knows what his IQ was. It was his honesty. There is so much bullshit flying around. He didn’t partake. The part that I like the best is that the Cambridge faculty had such respect for him. Simple honesty. Why should it be so rare?”
“You have that quality.”
He’s very pleased.
“But before your head gets all swollen there’s a big problem with being like that. My mother warned me.”
You have grease stains on all your shirts. My mother told me that people like you always have grease stains on their clothes. She’s noticed all of Mark’s shirts have them. She’s called Mark a slob but somehow she’s half joking, which is a big deal for her, not being turned off by it.”
“He’s a slob?”
“Not really. His dungarees are dirty. He wouldn’t wear clean jeans, or brand new sneakers. In fact I saw him rub mud on a pair of new white sneakers. But it’s a look. He showers every day. My mother knows that. That’s the bottom line. Yes grease stains on his shirts, but it’s only a look.”
“So it’s agreed. No accents,” she repeats.
“For you. No English accent.”
“Not for Carol?”
“No this is our thing.. She wouldn’t mind if I seemed a little older, like a professor. She thinks I’m a baby.”
“She’s not romanced by how unvarnished you are?”
“How could she be? She knows me 10 years, when we were both babies.”
“Still. Half the class swooned right along with you, when you got into your lecture. That wouldn’t be possible if you put on airs.”
“Carol thinks you’re wrong. She says I wouldn’t lose anything. I would just have more dignity.”
“Could you go there?”
“I don’t know. But I think she’s right. During classes I’m too out there, my emotions, my ideas. I’m not crazy about that. What’s inside is too much on display. I’d prefer more privacy.”
“Fine but stop calling yourself a baby.”
“But I am. Those professors with the English accents. They did what they needed to do to come across as a professor. I don’t blame them.” He repeats slowly and with a deeper voice. “You do what you need to do. I have to learn how to do some of that.”
CC holds back. She is reflective.
“Mark gets so turned on comes when an artist puts it all out there. Like Nina Simone. That day at the football game I was thinking about that. When she sings, the piano–the song is playing her. She’s completely out there. Her soul is naked. That’s the quality you have. It’s special.”
“But I’m not an artist. I’m talking to a bunch of college students, half of them daydreaming about what they are going to have for lunch.”
“You’re wrong. People know it when they hear it. A lot of students talk about your classes. It would be a shame if you lost whatever that is.”
“Okay it’s nice. Real nice, but still. I wouldn’t mind having it under my control.”
“What’s the difference? When you got into Wittgenstein it was not because you chose to do it. It just took over. It’s rare and it’s wonderful.”
“I guess so.” Partly, he’s touched. He knows it’s true. Carol sees him through the lens of his future, what he will be, what they will be, when he gets his act together and claims his doctorate. The future she anticipates has substance. His inspirations are fleeting, combustible, burnt up in the moment. Carol is already sentimental about when Alyosha grows up and gets married and they have grandchildren. She’s long past loving who he is right now. It may have once charged her, especially in the beginning. But now the elusiveness of Jeremy’s ephemeral moments has turned her focus to the future, to something she can bank on.
“You and Carol are so different. If I lost my Brooklyn accent Carol would see it as a sign of maturity.”
Straight ahead of them, bits of light have begun to emerge on the road. Ice has formed on the telephone wires and they are brightly reflecting the sun. It’s beautiful.
They are outside the city proper. He pulls over and puts the top down. He turns up the heat as high as it will go. The blower blasts them with hot air. She’s wide eyed, excited. She’s never driven in a convertible with its top down in the winter, and half in the dark. He unwinds his wool scarf from his neck and puts it around her neck. They drive slowly. It is both crazy and exhilarating.
“You warm enough?” he asks.
She snuggles up next to him. He puts his arm around her. They drive silently. They slow down for a red light. But then, considering the hour, he decides to drive through it, a little to excited by his rule breaking. She smiles, which he notices. This appears to turn something loose. Half crazy, he speeds up and hits a series of sharp turns quickly.
Alarmed she shouts: “Jeremy. Slow down.”
The nuttiness continues until the car slides off towards the side of the road.
CC screams: “Black ice!”
He slams the brakes hard. They spin around 180 degrees, fortunately coming to a complete stop.
“I can’t believe you. Can you tell me what that was?”
“No I can’t. But you’re right. That was black ice.”
“Do you want to die?”
He ignores the question. He turns the car around. His driving returns to normal. The full sunrise has arrived and is unusually striking. The rumble of Niagara Falls can be heard in the distance. It grows ever louder as they get closer. Finally, it becomes a roar. They get out of the car.
“Close your eyes.” Jeremy tells her.
Briefly she opens them as he leads her blindly forward.
This time she obeys. She has had very few adventures in her life. In the movies yes, but taking part in one? She’s excited. He leads her through an opening in a chain link fence. They move forward thirty or forty feet.
“Okay open them.”
He watches her closely. Lit by the sunrise her eyes shine. Usually Jeremy pictures a scene and is disappointed as reality can’t match up with his imagination. Not this time. Not only her eyes, which are so bright, what is before them exceeds all expectations. The horse shoe falls are immediately in front of them, the magnitude of the water pouring over the wide perpendicular cliffs, a million gallons per second, rush to the bottom. Its mighty roar surrounds them, engulfs them. Like thunder it blocks out all other sounds but it doesn’t start and stop, each time a bit differently. It’s constant. If it is possible, the roar is a soothing. Moses climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, to a worthy site to receive God’s Ten Commandments. Niagara Falls is available to every tourist that takes a drive from New York. To newly weds! Jeremy was here once before, when he arrived at the university, but being here now with CC…
The falls are still illuminated by night time spot lights. In contrast to the powerful sound, their eyes find delicacy as the yellow–purple–orange light from the sunrise is throwing off mini–rainbows in the mist created by the pounding water.
She speaks an inch from his ear, shouting a bit to be heard. “It’s awesome.”
Jeremy tries to outshout the fall’s roar.
“You deserve this.”
“What?” She can’t hear him.
He repeats it.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It just seems like something you deserve.”
“Because I am so stupendous?” she asks, gently doubting.
She is trying to keep it light, be amused, play down the spectacular, but she can’t. Jeremy notices she is starting to melt. He kisses her gently. Her teeth are chattering from the cold, which keeps the spell from encompassing them. He’s brought a blanket from his trunk, which he puts around her, but she continues to chatter. He shouts to be heard over the falls.
“I guess we gotta go.”
She too senses they are almost there: She stamps her feet. “No. I like it here.”
“Yeah, but the moment’s passed. When it passes it passes.. You can’t get it back.”
“D. T. Suzuki.”
“Who?” She says with a sarcastic edge.
“It’s a lecture for a different time. Zen… I know somewhere we can drive to.”
They head back to the car. She’s disappointed but not without hope.
“I talk too much,” he tells her.
“Da.” She got that expression with that intonation from a movie. It seemed so right then. It is now.
He loves it. He again tries to kiss her. She moves her mouth away. “The moment has passed.” Or so she tells herself.
They return to the car. He starts the engine, closes the top of the car. The heat is blasting away.
“How’s that? You warmer?”
She holds the blanket tightly around her neck, and starting with her shoulders trying to warm up, she theatrically undulates down to her toes, letting out a cow boyish shout. She ends with:
That shindig blasts Jeremy. If Dave were here he’d be saying to him, ”Oh boy! Oh boy!” but in the new language, “wow.”
They arrive at the other spot, a nice, only slightly less spectacular view, which they can see from the car.
“How’s that?… You okay?”
She puts her hand behind his neck. Stares into his eyes.
“You know you really don’t have to impress me to get a kiss. Believe me. If we had stayed at your house, and you put on Johnny Mathis, it might have done the trick. You don’t always have to be Superman. We’re past the first date.”
He knows she is lying. “That’s how I am.”
“My cousin Maury was a comedian. You remind me of him. He’d deliver jokes one after another, until we were sore from laughing. Then he’d keep going past the point that we wanted to be entertained.”
“What are you saying?”
“I guess I’m thinking more about what you said, how much both of us talk.
“We don’t know how to seize the moment.”
Clumsily he puts his arms around her. She pulls away.
“Let’s go back.” She says this in a determined way
“What happened to seizing?”
“C’mon. Let’s go.”
“So it will take magic.”
“Is it Carol?”
She doesn’t answer. They both know it is. They are quiet. There’s nothing to say. In a romantic daze he watches her, still hoping for a moment. It’s gone beyond hoping. He expects it.
“You ever think about show business?”
“I would if I had talent.”
“You were in a band. You sang. Carol told me.”
“We went nowhere.”
She sees his mounting frustration. She takes a breath.
“I can’t help it.” She tells him. “I can’t ignore Carol. I’m surprised you can.”
“I’m not thinking about her at all.”
He finds her eyes, “Being here with you…”
She won’t allow him to stay there. “I don’t get it. You love Carol…”
“So what is this with me?”
“I’m just telling you the truth. What I have with you is elemental. It’s a force from nature. Like metal being pulled by a magnet. Ten minutes after I first saw you, the first day of class, I began picturing coming here with you. It just came into my mind.. Niagara Falls with you. Like a song playing in my head. Over and over. No not a song.” He rolls down the window so that the roar of the falls returns. “A symphony!”
The sound is overpowering, constant, yet somehow, his mind regains control of its faculties. Somehow the fall’s sound is like an echo, the sound ebbs allowing his reaction: “I’m thrilled.”
“You’re thrilled that Carol is in the hospital?”
He closes the car window. Become very serious.
“I’m upset about that. I’m upset that she could die from her lupus.”
“Carol’s my soul mate. I’ve never felt closer to anyone . I’ve never had that with anyone. No one. I don’t know if it will ever happen again.”
“So, why me?”
“You’re going to think this strange.”
He studies her closely before proceeding
“I wish she could be here with me, that I could share you with her.”
“You mean a threesome?”
“I’m not into kinky…I don’t know what I mean.”
“That’s good. Look. I don’t really get it. How you can love her and—“
“Be blown away by you? I just am. I’ve never been so excited in my life. Watching you at the falls. It was how I pictured it. Being three feet from you, talking to you, turning you on. It doesn’t get better.”
“That’s because you want to fuck me.”
He is both taken back and thrilled by her cursing, by her bluntness. She moves closer to him, or, at least, he sees it that way. He again tries to kiss her. She again moves her head away.
Her voice is more emphatic.
“I don’t want to. I don’t understand… Carol?”
“Carol, Shmarol. I think you are waiting for me to do one more trick.”
“Okay Mr. Superman. Fly to that tree and fly back.”
Again he tries to kiss her, and again she avoids him. But at least now she is smiling.
“You didn’t fly to the tree.”
They study each other.
“Friends. We should be friends. That’s it.”
“But Carol in the hospital… Having the house to myself…”
“You sound like someone at a convention. Everyone going wild because they have a hotel room and their spouse is at home.”
“Carol doesn’t police me.”
“Oh no. What is this?”
He puts the car into drive. Pulls out on the road
“You want the truth?” She asks.
“I want to visit Carol.”
“Not to me. I want this to be real. Whatever I’m going to do. Or not do. I have to see her.”
“I don’t think so.”
She’s determined. “I’m going to visit her.”
Later that morning Jeremy is with Carol. She is a good deal better. The I.V. has been disconnected. Her catheter is gone. She is woozy and keeps dozing on and off, but she is basically okay. Her mother is attending to her which puts Jeremy in the background. Soon after, CC arrives with Jeff. He only half believed her but here she is.
CC has brought flowers. He stares at her trying to be dismissive. She ignores him. Her attention is on Carol.
“Carol. You have visitors.” He tells her.
She only half opens her eyes.
“Your cousin Jeff told me you were here. How are you feeling?”
Carol doesn’t answer CC. Carol’s mother insinuates herself so that Jeremy can’t get close to the bed. She looks at him coldly. Then she studies CC. She suspected as much. Only Carol and Jeremy can hear her.
“Is this your girlfriend?”
“Mom, There is no girlfriend.”
“Look Carol is not stupid.”
He doesn’t answer. He looks at the floor. Carol’s mother turns away from him. Carol opens her eyes, stares sadly at Jeremy.
Carol’s mother continues: “I see the way you look at women. You’ve always done that.”
Carol is more awake: “Mom, shush.”
CC turns her attention to Jeff: “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.”
“I’ll go to the waiting room.”
CC hands Carol her bouquet of flowers.
Carol’s mother takes them, “I’ll find a vase.”
CC and Carol make eye contact. What is being communicated is ambiguous. A nurse enters: “Sorry. Only two visitors at a time.”
Jeremy speaks hollowly, “I’ll go with them. I have a class in about an hour. I’ll be back.”
Carol watches him as he leaves with CC. She looks at her mother who looks at them with an irritated puss.
“Mom, I love him.”
“It’s not easy for him to be married to me…. My sickness.”
“It’s not easy for any man to be married to any woman. But some do better at it. Your father would never… never.”
“I’m not sure they’ve done anything.”
“Doesn’t matter. He’s a baby.”
He’s a good man. He’s going to grow up. You’ll see.”
“What choice do I have? None.”
CC, Jeremy and Jeff wait for the hospital elevator.
Jeremy addresses Jeff: “Thanks for coming.”
“She looks better.” CC says to no one in particular.
“You were here before?” Jeff asks
That afternoon CC returns to Jeremy’s house. She’s drinking tea on the sofa, staring into the fire in the fireplace. Jeremy sits beneath her on the floor, close to leaning his head against her leg. Then he does. She doesn’t move away. If she hadn’t understood the situation all along, and chose to ignore it, CC has now arrived at the same place as Jeremy. Carol being away is their opportunity. She strokes his head.
“She looked better than I expected.”
“That’s what’s weird about Lupus. You go in and out of being sick.”
CC sips her tea.
“You know, when Carol had Alyosha it was a miracle. Her doctor told her if she were to get pregnant she would have to stop her medications. And that could be disastrous. I told her I didn’t care about children, which was the truth. But I knew she wanted a baby so I went along. We were supposed to wait ‘til she was in full remission. That wasn’t happening so we went ahead anyway.”
“Were you afraid?”
“It was a ballsy move. She didn’t give it two seconds thought. She wanted to have a child in the worst way. And that was that She was pregnant within weeks.”
He looks at CC with tenderness.
“Carol is lucky to have you.”
He moves his head off her knee and looks up. He speaks forcefully:
“I don’t want to talk about Carol. She is not on my mind. You are.”
“And what about Alyosha?”
“I can’t help it. I feel like Carol is in this room watching me.”
His eyes plead. Then he becomes determined.
“This is such bullshit.”
CC waits for the moment to pass. She gets up, goes to the window. Looks out. He stands up, but doesn’t move towards her. She stares at nothing in particular:
“So the delivery went well? Alyosha was healthy?”
“Carol had toxemia but they were able to get it under control.”
Jeremy interrupts their flow forcefully
“What’s the point of this conversation?”
“This is just how it is. You love Carol. She’s here in the room with us.”
“This is about us. Carol isn’t here…Right now it’s you and me. I’m thrilled I’m with you.”
Her heart throbs as. One phrase at a time, he is nailing down his ownership of her.
“Alone…In my house…It’s our opportunity… Not that many come along.” She looks at him sympathetically. “I can’t help it,” he adds.
For a moment she breaks out of his spell. “It’s not as simple as that.”
“As simple as what?”
Her tone becomes nasty: “I’ve heard stories. You’ve done this before. I’m not going to be a fling.”
He stands up. Hands CC her army coat. She’s surprised but puts the coat on. For a moment she’s flustered. Has he lost patience, telling her to beat it, to go home? She opens the door to leave.
“Where you going? Wait one second.”
Jeremy goes in to the bedroom. Returns with CC’s bag.
“Are you going to leave without this?”
Feeling awkward she takes it from him.
Again he returns to his bedroom but he returns with his winter coat on.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
CC stares at Jeremy, her happiness apparent. “Go where?”
“Let’s just go.”
“You have ants in your pants.”
It’s snowing hard. It’s been such an unusually warm winter. Especially for Buffalo. Weeks and weeks in the 40’s. The tiny droplets are coming down in sheets, with the stiff wind, almost horizontally. Each drop is like a tiny dagger. Blowing against their face, it feels more like ice than snow. Both have been in blizzards before. The news had mentioned a blizzard. But in Buffalo, blizzards are so familiar that the natives, Jeremy included, have learned not to panic, like they might if they were elsewhere. Besides, amazingly, it is the first real storm of the season which loans a certain innocence, novelty, far more than a warning of danger.
A car’s wheels can be heard spinning.
“This is crazy,” she shouts above the howling wind.
“I’m not getting in unless you promise to drive safely.”
“Don’t worry. Get in.”
As a joke, he pushes the button for the top to come down.
They drive slowly with the top up. As they drive, the snow is quickly accumulating. Then suddenly it lets up and the sun is shining.
“What is it they say about Buffalo weather. If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. It will change.”
“That’s not Buffalo weather. It’s New England weather.”
Jeremy winks, “Oh well. You win some and you lose some.” In his teacher’s voice: “Where does the quote come from?”
Triumphantly CC answers: “Mark Twain”
He pulls the car over and stops. Once again he reaches for the button to put the top down.
“You’re serious this time aren’t you?”
“I’m just curious what it would be like”
“Crazy is what it would be like.”
“That wouldn’t bother me.”
“Well for us not crazy people, I don’t want to be driving around in a convertible during a blizzard.”
He returns the car to the road. During a mild winter, people forget. The first serious snow is received as a winter wonderland. Enchanted, they watch the scenery as they talk.”
He drives like a normal driver. He’s engaged enough by their conversation to not turn her attention to his driving.
“I don’t understand how you can act like Carol isn’t with you.”
“Look. It was my idea to get out of the house. If we didn’t leave I would have jumped you.”
“Would you?” she answers with a bare hint of flirtatiousness.
They drive for a while quietly while they both mull over what is happening.
She speaks first, “You say you love me but–”
“If it’s about Carol I don’t want to hear it.”
“Something else. How can you love me when you know absolutely nothing about me?”
“What do you know about me?”
“That you are the most honest person I have ever met.”
He laughs: “Honest? I talk about truth a lot. I’m obsessed with it, but that doesn’t mean I’m honest. You already know I’ve cheated on Carol before. Basically, I’m not honest at all.”
“So why is truth so important to you?”
Jeremy smiles. He is in familiar territory.
“I’ve thought about that a lot. Erich Fromm, the guy who wrote The Art of Loving. He knows every in and out. He’s obsessed with love. People quote him all the time.”
“He’s been married five times.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“Someone told me it was.”
“Whoever told you that is wrong.”
“Maybe. I’ll look it up, but the idea is still valid. Maybe I talk about truth so much because I am basically dishonest. He speaks in a stage voice. “Me thinks Thou doth protest too much.”… I know my dishonesty is something I’ve got to fix. So I keep carrying on about it, like maybe I’ll learn.”
“I got a better example. Did you ever watch Jimmy Swaggart?”
“The preacher? …No.”
“They have him in New York. Buffalo stations don’t carry him. When I’m home I land up watching him, practically every day. Sometimes for hours. He’s pretty amazing.”
“You’re Jewish. He’s a Christian preacher.”
“I’m not interested in the Christ part. It’s him. He cries. Really cries, from the bottom of his heart. Goes on about how he must have God’s forgiveness for his sins. He means it. It’s powerful. He’s not foolin’ around. It gets to me.”
“He’s just acting.”
“I’ve never seen an actor go where he goes. It’s not an act. It’s real. Tears pour out of him. He’s reaching into the depths of his soul. Trying to free himself of his guilt.”
“He takes me with him every time. Gets me repenting for everything I ever did wrong. They try to get you there on Yom Kipper, but I just think about what I am going to eat when I break my fast. Jimmy Swaggart!”
“Do you have a punch line?”
“Someone told me he goes to whores every night.”
Jeremy has a delighted wide grin, “What a hypocrite.”
“You’re right but the whole thing is real. He genuinely wants forgiveness.”
“And at night, whores.”
“At least he goes to his whores with a clear conscience.”
Jeremy thinks further, “So that’s why I am carrying on about honesty?”
“I don’t know. I think guilt plays a big part in everyone, you, me, Jimmy Swaggart, Erich Fromm. We protest so much because we can’t stand what guilt feels like.”
His fascination with CC takes a leap. She’s not just a pretty face. He assumed she would be intelligent when he was first captivated by her eyes. They had a certain depth. Also the way she makes such a big deal about his intelligence. A dummy would not have cared.
“So you think we shouldn’t get involved. The guilt would be too much.”
He rolls his eyes.
The snow has begun again, coming down harder. Once or twice they skid. Unintentionally. He doesn’t seem alarmed. If anything it focuses him still more. The wind is now wailing. The news was right. It is a blizzard. The fact that he is calm, calms her. She is actually admiring his skill driving in the snow.
“Maybe we should turn back?” she suggests.
“Are you kidding?”
“I’m having difficulty seeing the road? We’ve passed 3 abandoned cars.”
“I love it. Nobody’s on the road. I hope we have 2 feet of snow.”
“ Where are we going?”
“ Don’t know. Somewhere.”
“Do you have snow tires?”
Jeremy’s eyes are lit up like a madman.
“No. But I love this.”
“You mean a city slicker out in the wild. Having an adventure?”
“Whatever you want to call it. I love it.”
“You should have been a white water rafter.”
“You’re a complete idiot.”
“Actually I was thinking we can drive into Canada, see Niagara Falls from the other side. Why not go again? It’s pretty spectacular. Forty minutes. We’ve been going for fifteen.”
“In normal weather.”
“But no traffic. The road is ours.”
“It’s probably snowing worse at the Falls.”
They drive on for awhile, neither saying a word. Finally Jeremy breaks the silence.
“It wasn’t the same with the others. I’ve never felt like this. Never! The first day of classes… I saw you and that was that.”
They drive on further. He pulls over to the side of the road. Turns towards her. Something is bothering him.
“I have a confession. Even before classes… I saw you once walking on campus. I followed you. Did you know that?”
She looks at him with a sheepish smile.
“Actually, I do. You had a strange expression on your face.”
“What kind of expression?”
“Strange, half crazy.”
“Did I scare you?”
“For a moment but no. I liked you watching me. I like your face. You’re sort of handsome.”
“Even with my nose?”
“Especially with your nose. I like it. Later, the way you looked at me kept popping into my mind. You were this mysterious stranger. Like in a novel. (Laughing) One time I pictured you blowing your nose.”
“I’ve never mastered blowing my nose in public.”
“I know I’ve seen you. What a mess. But in my fantasy you were perfect….. Blowing your nose like Cary Grant would blow his nose. So suave. I tried to keep level headed. But it was exciting. I was hoping you would follow me again. I actually looked for you for weeks. But you disappeared.”
“Once or twice I saw you on campus. I wanted to know who you were.”
She is thinking things over. Finally: “Okay truth time. I arranged to take your class.”
Jeremy smiles happily: “I didn’t know that. I thought it was sheer luck. Like I did something right and the gods were repaying me.”
“I don’t know their names. Gods!”
Thinking it over some more, Jeremy continues: “You looked surprised the first day. When I came into the room.”
“I know. Even though I arranged it. I wasn’t sure if my information was correct. That you really were the person who followed me. I guess I was surprised that it was actually happening.”
The conversation is making both of them very happy.
“We have a strange mojo… My friend’s been warning me about you. Telling me to stay away. He thinks what’s going on in me is way over the top. Besides being crazy, he thinks it’s dangerous.”
“Do you think so?”
“I think I’ve fallen in love. “
Speaking so directly brings a wave of awkward silence. They should have already been kissing and nothing is happening. Is he all talk and no action? There is a book on the front seat. Jeremy points to it.
“Read the first paragraph.”
“Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.”
She looks confused: “What does that mean?”
“Don’t know. That’s Samuel Johnson. Don’t understand that guy. The other book. Go to the beginning.”
She sees it and does as directed.
“It is the folly of lovers?…”
“Yes, that one, the Van Gogh book. Page one. It’s underlined.”
“It is the folly of lovers that they act little differently than mad men. Van Gogh knew that folly. He lived it every day.”
“That’s why his paintings leap out of the canvas. When he’d get manic, everything he saw was on fire. He painted it that way.”
She puts down the book. They both look at each other expectantly, but Jeremy starts the car and returns to the road, driving slightly too fast.
“You know what happened to Van Gogh.”
“Yeah. He cut off his ear. “
“Before he killed himself.” Jeremy intentionally makes the car skid. “Which is what you are going to do with this car,” she tells him almost happily.
Jeremy again turns the steering wheel abruptly, teasing them with danger as the car skids for a moment on the empty road.
CC scolds him: “You’re crazy.”
“Me and Van Gogh.”
“He was a nut.”
He laughs and swerves some more.
“It’s not funny.”
Suddenly they go into a serious skid, the car spins completely out of control. An 18 wheeler is heading towards them. The sound of its very loud horn is constant as it approaches them
The truck just misses them but they are on the wrong side of the road. So the danger continues because far off in the distance another truck is heading towards them, Jeremy floors the gas pedal. This digs them deeper in to the snow. They are stuck. He jumps out of the car.
With CC steering he pushes. The truck is coming closer. He moves to the front of the car and pushes from there, as she puts the car in reverse, gets traction and manages to make it back to the right side of the road just as the approaching truck begins to skid. Jeremy, who is still outside the car is almost hit by the skidding truck.
He is white as a ghost when he opens the car door to get in. He pushes his head back into the car seat. Takes a deep breath.
Then, like soldiers in a trench after the shooting is over, working as a team, averting catastrophe together has brought them closer as talking hadn’t. They look at each other.
“That was scary.”
Jeremy is smiling. Nervously, bluster comes out of his mouth.
“I knew nothing would happen. This car brings me luck. I’m safe as long as I’m in it.”
“Are you serious?”
“God told me.”
“I’d like to go back, okay?
He turns the car around and they drive for a while. Having made his point, that geniuses are spared the usual cautions of others, and that he is half an idiot, chastened by reality, their near death experience has left a serious impression, the swerving stops.
They continue their previous conversation.
“Were you like this with the other students you slept with?”
“You are in an entirely different category. I never followed them.”
He doesn’t answer.
“Never?” She repeats
Still no answer.
“What about anyone else, when you were younger, in high school?”
“I was a completely different person. The Jeremy I am now only came into existence when I got older. Somehow my reading, filling up my head with ideas, changed me. My father told me I discovered myself. Don’t know about that. I think when I was young I didn’t have enough ammunition. Bullies could read my defenselessness. Took one look and they knew it. Having smart thoughts became for me, a kind of ammunition. I eventually had more than enough.”
“It gave me balls. In high school if I got a wrong look, it sent me reeling. With girls I was this sensitive scared little boy.”
“Those are strange years for everyone. I was the same way. My father told me everyone is scared when they are in love, especially the first time.”
“And second and third.”
“How many times have you been in love?”
Jeremy doesn’t answer
He smiles fondly: “There was one person back then that I did feel the way I do about you. Marlene Schneider. Exactly the same. I fell in love with her the second I saw her. The split second. One look. She was absolutely gorgeous… Like you.”
She gives him a little shove on his leg. For a moment he accelerates then stops. They swerve a bit.
“After school I used to be a delivery boy at a dry cleaner. Every day around 3:30 she’d walk by where I worked. Starting around 3 I’d be looking at my watch every few minutes. If I had to go out on a delivery around 3:30 and I missed her, it was like a wasted day.”
“Sounds like true love.”
“I never got up the nerve to speak to her. I was scared out of my mind, paralyzed. When I saw her approaching my heart stopped. My eyes were frozen on the ground. Once, just once I looked up, into her eyes.”
He smiles, shaking his head: “I can still remember that moment. Did I see love coming from her? Did she love me?”
“I’ll never know. I never met her. Not a word between us. In love for years, thinking about her all the time, and not a word.”
Laughing: “So I’m not your first.”
“No actually you’re my second chance.”
She likes the comparison.
“It’s true. Twelve years and I can still picture that moment when my eyes and Marlene Schneider’s eyes locked. I felt this rush. It was like the universe had opened. What did I do? My eyes dropped to the ground and stayed there.”
He stares at her half mad.
“Still, it was something. I’m not going to blow it this time.”
“Did you have acne or something. With your looks I can’t believe you didn’t have girls all over you.”
“I had a lot of girlfriends. And I kept hearing about girls who had crushes on me. With them I had courage, but the only one I really wanted… Marlene Schneider… scared the hell out of me.”
“So how do I know the new you isn’t going to track down Marlene Schneider?”
“I already did. She’s married and had twins. She’s put on weight. That old feeling was gone.”
“So along comes me. Nice and thin me. Oh and those others girls you slept with.”
“The others don’t count. They threw themselves at me.”
“After one of your lectures?”
“Probably. Sometimes I get very carried away.” (sheepishly)
Very matter of fact: “It turns the ladies on.”
Jeremy continues shyly, but proudly: “I’ll confess. I enjoy it.”
“So the bottom line is you’re a show off.”
“You don’t have to put it that way. I’ll admit before teaching I thought about going into show business. Before my band. As a comedian, an actor. I sang in my band.”
“You said I remind you of this comedian you have in your family. When I’m at a party and get high, I can be funny.”
“So your serious lectures, they could have been part of a comedy routine. You just like being on stage? Getting attention?”
“Not at all. A good comedian is totally in to his material. Otherwise he couldn’t do it. Same with my lectures. I really am inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Every time I discover something new about him I flip.”
“Well you’re good at it… Great! It’s not even close. In the three and a half years of teachers I’ve had, you have the best act in town. You can do what Wittgenstein could do. You can hypnotize your audience.”
Smiling confidently: “Really?”
“Come on. you know that’s what happens. Seriously, how many groupies have you had?”
“Two. They were too hot to resist.”
“So I’d be number three. You really do put on a good show. You have people eating out of your hand.”
“And girls wanting to jump into bed with you.”
“CC you’re not one of them. This has been different from the beginning. It didn’t begin with my lectures. You had already seen me following you. The lecture simply confirmed the kill.”
“Is that it? You like to kill young ladies?”
“You want to make me into this Don Juan/lady killer. Why don’t you know what I feel about you?”
“Okay. I do. Well maybe I half believe it. But—“
“But nothing. I know something’s happening between us. Truth time? … I gasped the first day of class when you walked into the room. Did you notice?”
“My mysterious stalker was going to reveal himself. That you actually were my teacher was mind blowing…. And then your lectures…”
“I was a stalker? I followed you once.”
“I’m teasing…Still, I think you are a Don Juan.”
“How do I prove I’m not? What do I have to tell you?”
“Tell me?… That is not going to cut it. Don Juans tell their conquests all kinds of things. Convincingly! That’s what makes them a Don Juan.”
“Okay. Never mind what I say. Look at me. Look at me this very moment. Look at the way I’m looking at you.”
“You watch the road.”
He pulls over and stops the car, offers his face as a specimen. She takes a long hard look. His eyes are jumping around restlessly.
“You look scared.”
“I am… That means my love is true.”
(playfully) “Actually you look pathetic.”
Jeremy is not amused: “Pathetic or not, I can’t help it. What’s going on with you has been building up all my life. I’ve been waiting to meet you.”
“You don’t know what that’s like do you?”
“Well everyone’s weird in some way.”
They drive on silently. She looks up at him from time to time. He sees a diner.
He stops at the diner.
They settle in to a booth in the diner. The waitress comes over. She is looking at the weather outside. “Takes a lot of courage to be driving tonight.”
“Or stupidity.” CC replies.
Jeremy smiles proudly and foolishly.
“What can I get you?”
“Coffee, black. Also a hamburger and French fries.”
She looks at CC.
“Do you have a chocolate chip muffin?”
“Honey. This isn’t New York. How about a blueberry muffin?”
The waitress returns with the hamburger and fries for Jeremy and a huge diner size muffin for CC. CC smiles when she sees its enormity. She takes a bite, becomes gabby. The waitress pours Jeremy’s coffee.
“You never were crazy about Carol?”
“No. Not crazy.”
“Not even in the beginning?”
“I loved her as I got to know her. Her soul. It’s grown and grown. I love her more than ever. “
The waitress has lingered by their table listening. They realize it. They both look at her. She leaves.
“Did you think she was beautiful?”
“She was attractive. She’s put on a little weight.”
“So why did you marry her?”
“Because, at the time, I was ready to get married. I didn’t have to be ga—ga. I wanted to get started, have a family. And she seemed bright… nice. I was right. She’s more than I imagined. I’ve never known anyone like I know her. The longer I’ve known her the closer we’ve become.”
“But you didn’t love her?”
“You didn’t hear me. She is perfect. We’re buddies. We can tell each other anything.”
Jeremy notices her bewilderment: “It’s completely different from what you and I have.”
“That makes no sense. You can’t be falling in love with me and love Carol like that.”
“Who made that rule?”
“No one, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
“Carol and I have something very special. From day one I felt Carol was in need of protection. I had this powerful urge. I wanted to give it to her. And that’s what she does for me. Protect me. We’re shelter in a storm. We have a home together which we’ve built and built.”
“That’s what everyone has. I mean if they have a good marriage.”
“But it’s more…You know all those stories they told us as kids, the prince saving the princess. That part of the story. That feels like love to me. Always has. I just didn’t know it could grow so strong. The way she needs me. The way I need her. I’ll never leave her.”
“Can you save her?”
“ I’m willing to die trying… Bring on the dragons.”
“What do you mean die?”
“I don’t know what I mean. Eight years I’ve watched over her. And she’s watched over me. She’s my alarm system. Warns me when I am off kilter.”
“So where do I fit in? Am I just eye candy?”
“I don’t know. I have what I have with you. I love Carol but you…” He breaks into a song:
“You broke my heart
Coz I couldn’t dance”
CC has a give me a break look on her face which stops him. She moves her two hands in front of each other like a referee signaling “no basket.”
“No singing. Song lyrics are such nonsense.”
He shakes his head. “You’re so wrong. They come from a deep place. You can’t compose a love song without having a broken heart.”
Jeremy again begins to croon… decently, with feeling. He sings partly for the waitress, and if there were other people there (which there aren’t) it would be for them as well. He knows this song well. It was part of his band’s routine. He used to nail it.
“Too bad you didn’t se me when I was in my band” He breaks into his song:
You broke my heart
Coz I couldn’t dance
(sadly)You didn’t even want me around
But now I’m back
To let you know that I can really shake ’em down.
He stands and starts to dance. Really dance. With a big happy smile, lost in his routine. It seems the perfect thing to do in a diner, in the middle of a snow storm, with just CC and the waitress there to appreciate it. He voice screeches like the original hit
Do you love me (I can really move)
Now do you love me (I’m in the groove)
Ah do you love me (do you really love me)
Now that I can dance
He’s giving a fantastic performance, better even then he used to do when the band cranked it out. CC smiles. The waitress smiles, which encourages him to get even crazier. He repeats the chorus.
Do you love me (I can really move)
Now do you love me (I’m in the groove)
Ah do you love me (do you really love me)
Now that I can dance
CC grabs his hand happily. They start to dance. He has stopped singing but they both hear the song, the rhythm continuing in their heads. When they stop they both turn serious. They don’t know what to do next, which for a moment makes them shy. Despite his clown act, his eyes are imploring like Robin Williams, forever not there yet, not finished with his act, never finished. Suddenly she picks up on it and feels a chill.
“I want to get back now. Okay?”
Still standing he finishes his coffee. Takes a last bite of his hamburger, grabs a few French fries, gobbles them down. Wipes his lips with the back of his hand rather than a napkin. Some ketchup drops on his coat. Takes his finger and wipes it off. Sucks his finger dry.
She puts on her coat and takes the muffin with her. The waitress has not brought a check. As they walk towards the door, the waitress is beaming. CC shows the muffin to the waitress.
“No charge but you have to come back and finish your dance.”
CC is in front. She has already passed the waitress. Unheard by CC she leans forward and whispers happily to Jeremy: “Good luck.”
The snow is coming down harder. The wind is whistling. Engulfed by the storm surrounding them, they both settle in for a determined drive. He starts the car.
“Can I have a bite?”
She breaks a piece of the muffin and hands it to him.
“What did the waitress say to you?”
“She wished me good luck.”
CC is amused, tickled by the way things are going but that soon fades as they get back on the road. She turns to him, unexpectedly serious. She’s back in her head.
“You think you can just invent rules for yourself as you go along. Don’t you? Whatever mood strikes you. That’s you. Mr. Spontaneity.”
“And who are you? Miss consistency?… Jay?”
“Zen rules. Follow your bliss.”
“You sound like Charley Chan (imitating him) Son number 2 say—
He is now also serious, meaning pedagogical. “Where do rules come from? We’re here to be ourselves and enjoy what we are doing. That’s why we are alive. Otherwise there would be no point.”
She’s dripping with sarcasm: “Spontaneity? My mother warned me. Spontaneity turns you into a fat person. You can’t eat whenever you feel like it. Same for sex.”
“So you really like rules?”
“I don’t like them any more than you do, but you gotta have them.”
“Rules, rules, rules—there’s too many of them. Particularly if there’s no God. What’s the point?”
“I thought you said God made this car magical?”
“That’s the car god. Not the big guy in the sky god. The big guy—no way he’s gonna tell me how to live. He doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. I’m the only one who can make the rules that I live by.”
“What about the car god? Doesn’t he have rules?”
“Yeah. Change the oil every 3000 miles.”
“You left out one thing.”
“God expects you to drive safely.”
They make it home. He parks in the garage. Alert to ice on the unshovelled walkway from the garage, she puts her arm through his. He starts out completely sensitive, protective. Jeremy helps CC over a snow drift. But then, ahead, he sees a patch of ice. He’s off. He runs forward and slides on it like a child. He looks back expecting her appreciation. He gets it. They enter the house. He goes immediately to the bookcase and opens a book, which he reads to her:
“Helplessly his mind sang. He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young man on the flying trapeze.”
“Who wrote that?”
“The daring young man on the flying trapeze? Saroyan. It made him famous.”
It started innocently enough. April 18th 1969 the Berkeley Barb, ran an article entitled ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye’ It informed readers about a “guerilla pop–up park.” “A park will be built this Sunday between Dwight and Haste…
“The land is owned by the university which tore down a lot of beautiful houses in order to build a swamp.”
In a year the university will build a cement type expensive parking lot which will fiercely compete with the other lots for the allegiance of Berkeley’s Buicks.
“On Sunday we will stop this shit. Bring shovels, hoses, chains, grass, paints, flowers, trees, bull dozers, top soil, colorful smiles, laughter and lots of sweat … we want the park to be a cultural, political freak out and rap center for the Western world.”
Hear ye. Hear Ye
The People’s Park has been disassembled. Squatters rights–California law would have taken ownership away from the university if it was occupied long enough by the hippies, or so the rumor went. Unarmed Berkeley police are standing guard at the disassembled park.
There is a loud roar as they are quickly overpowered by the crowd surging forward. The newly installed fence is pushed down and the vacant lot is once again theirs. Someone finds the car tire that had been cut down and hangs it once again from a tree to serve as a swing. They are heady with power, the best, most noble kind, their newly accomplished contradiction of the powers that be. But once the rubber tire is again happily swinging, and they have cheered 3 different kids swinging on it, the second kid wildly daring gravity, the third a me-too kind of swinger, meaning boring, they are turned off by the 4th and 5th kid who are arguing over whose turn it is.
There is nothing left for the crowd to do. No focus. There is random shouting. Not attached to an event, it comes across as noise. The police have left the area. A leader steps forth. The crowd follows him down Telegraph Avenue towards the campus, where they are soon met by 2 policemen. There is no barricade, just the two uniformed men standing there trying to reroute the crowd. There is pushing and shoving.
Shortly after, at the Herrick Hospital emergency room entrance, a police car comes screeching to a stop. Only a few pieces of jagged glass are left where the windshield and windows once were. With his arms around his partner, a policeman staggers towards the entrance. A nurse rushes forward with a wheelchair. The injured policeman is quickly seated.
Mark and his supervisor, a resident one year older, greet the policeman and his partner as he is wheeled into the treatment area. The policeman’s shirt has blood stains. He is sweating profusely.
“What happened,” the medical resident asks him?
His partner answers, “It’s World War III out there.”
They help the policeman on to a gurney and close the curtains. He moves carefully, fearful that he may further injure himself. Mark and his buddy have practiced this many times and are efficient. Mark cuts open the injured policeman’s shirt with a scissor. The resident examines the wound on his chest:
“Is this your only injury?” the resident asks the policemen.
His partner adds a bit of detail, “When he tried to stop the crowd this prick threw a knife at him. He threw it hard. He wanted to kill him.”
“He’s lucky. The knife bounced off his breast bone. A couple of inches over… We just have to clean it and maybe a stitch or two.”
Two more policemen arrive, also with their windshields gone. Worried, they eagerly question a nurse. She points them towards the location of the injured policeman. They peek in the curtain. One of them addresses the injured policeman’s partner.
“Is Jerry okay? I heard he has a knife wound in his chest.”
“He’s okay. They say the wound is superficial.”
“I see they also destroyed your car. The fucks know we are unarmed.”
“We were just driving along when the rocks came showering down. We were stupid enough to stop. They surrounded the car. They pulled me out. Got me down on the ground. One of them was kicking me. When Jimmy got out of the car, someone threw the knife. I guess they weren’t total animals. When he started to bleed that stopped everyone. Like all of a sudden their game wasn’t a game any more. My son could have been one of them.”
“Maybe but they own the street. There are instigators among them, cool as a cucumber. Too bad we can’t pick them out. “
“The chief wants us to stay away from Telegraph. He’s calling in the Alameda County sheriff.”
Not long after, in full riot gear, guns drawn, some with shotguns, the Alameda county sheriff’s men have regained control of the streets. Here and there a brave (or stupid) student pops up and screams “pig” at the officers. Or oinks. But most of the students and street people have gone to the roofs to watch the action. They cheer when one of the policemen gets hit by a rock thrown from the roof as if it is a sport event. A few of them have perfected their oinks. A rock comes flying down and destroys the windshield of a parked car. In a rage, one of the county sheriff men shoots up at the roof with his rifle. Then several others start shooting.
Shortly after there is bedlam at Herrick’s Hospital’s emergency room entrance. Doctors are shouting orders to the nurses.
“Start a line. Contact Dr. Nusra to get his ass to the O.R. pronto.
Mark, call the operating room to get ready.”
A gurney with a wounded street person is raced down the hall to the elevator. Nurses run alongside. One of them is pumping air into his lungs, the other is applying pressure to his wound.
A senior ER physician watches them leave the ER. Quietly, angrily he is perplexed, amazed that this is happening: “That guy was shot with a double aught shotgun. They use them to bring down deer. The sheriff’s not fooling around. He wants to kill people.”
Mark doesn’t know what to make of it. He hasn’t come across anything like this before. He does what he always does, provides some kind of commentary. “When people are angry enough they really go crazy.”
A few days later, The Berkeley Barb’s Tari summarizes the demonstration:
They thought they could get away with firing guns at their own unarmed children—they did. They thought they could get away with strafing the college campus with blister gas.
And they thought they could get away with murder if they dressed it up in official rhetoric, if they call the victim “a rioter”, if they made it look as if the president of the UC student body is responsible for it by inciting to riot.
Will the people of Berkeley let them get away with that? I really doubt it. The officials talk about how they deplore violence while they murder persons all over the world now even in Berkeley. They don’t have a special lease on violence. It can be turned against them.
They tell us they are only protecting ”liberty” when they mean simply the liberty to kill and imprison us. That kind of liberty will be taken away from them…
Chancellor Roger Hynes, who started a war over square block of land then left town turning Berkeley over to his assassins…
CC and Jeremy enter the house freezing their tails off after their abortive trip.
Jeremy heads for the kitchen: “I’ll make coffee.”
“Do you have hot chocolate. I don’t drink coffee.”
“Never learned to.”
He rummages a little on the shelves.
“Here it is. Swiss Miss.”
She long ago finished her blueberry muffin.
“Do you like English muffins?”
“Do you have cookies?”
“No. No chocolate muffins either. What about the English muffin? I’ve got Thomas’ English muffins”
“Don’t like them.”
Shortly after, they are sitting opposite each other in the kitchen, he with his coffee, she with her hot chocolate. She is still wearing Jeremy’s army jacket. She is picking at the ends of Jeremy’s English muffin.
“I thought you don’t like English muffins.”
“It looks good on your plate.”
She continues to pick at his muffin.
“I’ll make you your own.”
Stubbornly CC maintains her position.-
“I don’t want one. I don’t like them.
“Coffee, English muffins…What’s with all that?”
“I like what I like.”
With a sarcastic expression on his face, Jeremy watches her drink her hot chocolate.
“Hot chocolate. I keep forgetting you’re half child. How old were you 6,7 years ago?”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing” he still has a sarcastic superior expression.
“6 years is a long time.”
“A third of your life.”
“I just don’t like coffee. Big deal…”
His accusing eyes remain.
“Mark tried to get me to drink it.”
“When was that?”
“I don’t know, when I was 11 or 12. He wants me to like everything he likes. Especially if he’s just discovered it. He’s just like you.”
She picks up his cup of coffee and takes a sip. She makes a face.
“You don’t think that’s bitter? I don’t understand it. Why isn’t everyone drinking hot chocolate? What’s with coffee?”
“You know, you’re not alone. Practically no one in your class likes coffee. I couldn’t wait to try it. It’s something my parents did and children didn’t. So I couldn’t wait to start drinking it.”
“Yeah we are different. No one wants to do what our parents did.”
“So why does Mark like coffee?”
“Good question… Actually I do know. We were in the dining room. My parents were in the kitchen. He snuck a sip after a big dinner. Did the same thing with wine. He was 8 or 9, just like he used to light up my mother’s butts he found in the ashtray. He doesn’t drink coffee now, but when I was 11 or so he loved coffee and wanted a partner in sin. He had me try it. It just tasted lousy. It’s bitter.”
“You don’t like to give in to Mark do you?”
“I want to be myself.”
“Which is who?”
Emphatic, angrily she shouts:
Jeremy is taken back by the depth of her feeling. She is as well. He stares at her expecting an explanation.
“It’s not just him. My mother… She acts like I am still five. I’m tired of being her project. She wants me to be a junior version of her.”
“She assumes that is who I want to be. Like she is so great. I can see it in her eyes. Stop fighting and be me.”
“The last few years she’s realized how stupid that is. But she still slips into it. Just assumes I see things like she does.”
“Anything. If she sees a lamp she loves. If I tell her I don’t like it, she doesn’t really believe I don’t like it. She assumes I’m being difficult, or stubborn.”
“She never cut the cord.”
“Not just me. In certain ways she’s like that with my father. She always has to be right. She’ll hear something on TV which supports something she said 6 months ago to my father when they disagreed. She’ll let him have it. Like in your face. She has to win every argument.”
“Anything… nothing. Like you can’t eat English muffins without marmalade. If my father doesn’t enjoy it like she does, God help him.” She walks towards the window. “I don’t know what that’s about.”
Jeremy says nothing. CC regathers her focus.
“It’s not just her. Too many people push on me.”
“It’ll let up when you get older. Believe me at 45 the guys aren’t going to give a shit what you put on your English muffin.”
“My dad’s over 45. It means everything to my mother. Like how could he not want marmalade on his English muffin?”
Jeremy has a very snotty tone: “Your mother’s something.”
CC’s uncomfortable with his animosity towards her.
“Come on. You—“
“When I put her down it’s okay. I hate her for that moment. Only I love her… But you…”
“Sorry. I really do dislike your mother, but it’s unfair.”
“Exactly, how could you? You haven’t met her.”
“I got it from you. Stuff you’ve been telling me. I just assumed. This is the first time you said you loved her.”
“Are you kidding? I love my mother. She is real big in me. Real big. She just pisses me off most of the time.”
“Let’s drop it. If you like your mother I like your mother.”
“Is that possible? My guess is you hate bossy people.”
“It doesn’t matter. If you love her I do. It’s not complicated. I feel what you feel.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Well maybe not yet, but I can feel it happening.”
“Boy you are big on sap. Be honest.”
“Okay. If I met her and she pushed…” He thinks better about continuing… “Let’s go back to where we started. Whatever Mark was doing, and other guys, trust me, when you get older, you’re going to see a lot less pushing. You know how guys want to sleep with a virgin. Especially a pretty virgin. It isn’t just sex. They want you to become addicted to them. They’re that way about everything.”
“Who said I’m not a virgin?”
“There was a guy in high school. And three so far in college. Sorry. I’m not little Miss Innocent.”
“They may have fucked you, but you don’t seem like you’ve been fucked.”
“Well I was.”
“What once each?”
“You’re still a child. Your vagina and your brain are not connected yet. I can tell.”
“It has nothing to do with sex.”
“What about your clitoris?”
“I never had a conversation with it. You have a weird mind.”
“Mark, the battle you are in with him… it’s not unusual. Guys want to change women. Make them the same as them. They don’t like being alone.”
“But I’m his sister not his girlfriend.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“I’ve been his virgin for everything. Still am.”
“That’s why you don’t want to kiss me.”
CC is incredulous.
“Wo. Let me hear this one.”
“Mark. He’s always pushing you. You have to push back. So when I—“
CC throws her arms around him and kisses him passionately. He’s right there. He unzips her army jacket, pulls up the sweater he gave her, quickly unsnaps her bra, baring her breasts, which drives him wild. He lifts her and carries her to the bedroom. The stored up frustration of all these months, all of their conversations, powers him–her beauty now to be his.