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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

August 4, 2016
by Simon Sobo
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A Plea to Black Moderates (including Oprah)

After Ferguson two New York City policeman were assassinated, then the five at Dallas and three in Baton Rouge. As could be expected from the President, and throughout the black community, the reaction has been both shock and sympathy for the fallen officers and their families. They are calling call for love, not hate, reconciliation not violence, reactions that should be expected of them and the only hope that can see us through.

 

But no matter how heartfelt their reaction has been, we can expect little improvement in the hostility towards policemen expressed by Black Lives Matter protesters and others’ fury about unarmed black men being shot by the police. What can make a great deal of difference is for moderates to straighten the misinformation that animates a good deal of the hostility.

 

From the very beginning of the narrative that the police have been shooting innocent black men, the media has played up racism as the motive. Starting with Ferguson, a shooting that the Grand Jury took the unusual step of making their deliberations public, then followed by Obama’s Justice Department which independently went over the evidence. There was no question that the policeman involved was legitimately defending himself. There was gunpowder on Michael Brown’s hands from trying to grab the officer’s gun. He did not have his hands up. He was charging the officer. These facts were available to any reporter who did a minimum of research. Yet Ferguson is cited again and again and again by the media as an example of the police targeting innocent black men.

 

Following Ferguson, Philadelphia’s police chief asked the Justice Department to study the problem there.  In Philadelphia there are six times the number of shootings by the police as in NYC.   The Justice Department studied  the pattern of OIS (officer involved shootings) when the suspect turned out to be unarmed (a great many of those shot were suspected of having arms).  Sure enough 80% of those shot owing to  “a misinterpreted threat perception” were black and their average age was 20. However the threat perception failure rate for white policemen was 6.8% with black suspects.  For black policemen it was  11.4% and for hispanic policemen it was 16.8%.  So apparently fear of the black suspects and acting on that fear was least among white policemen.  One other statistic is worth noting.  In keeping with the belief that having to patrol  dangerous places is the main factor behind  OIS, a map of Philadelphia was made which clearly shows that OIS, by far, most commonly occurred where there is the highest amount of crime and homicides, particularly districts 22 and 25. In black middle class neighborhoods no one was shot.

 

Why has the media not presented the facts about Ferguson? Why has there not been more awareness of the Philadelphia study? Most of us who watch the news know how often they amp up happenings, to capture the most viewers. This is true of hurricane coverage as much as racially charged incidents, but there is another factor operating here. The media has been afraid to appear racist by not going along with the Black Lives Matter perspective.

 

I assume similar motivations exist for someone like Oprah or Mayor Dinkins of New York and I should add President Obama. They don’t want to appear to be on white people’s side in these controversies. It is seen as a betrayal. It should be noted that when the Justice Department’s findings totally exonerated the white policeman in Ferguson, it released this information with a condemnation of the Ferguson Police Department for their racist policies.

 

Even after the two New York City policemen were executed by a man furious with what he had been told happened in Ferguson, Obama held back from cooling things down.  He was against shooting policemen he said and he was also against the rioting that followed the grand jury’s announcement of their findings. But this man, who considers himself to be the president of all the people, could not bring himself to proclaim Officer Wilson’s innocence.  He did not mention that Officer Wilson had never used his gun before. The best he could do is this.   During a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College, a historically black school he said to the crowd:

“Officer Wilson, like anybody else who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process and reasonable-doubt standards…  And if there is uncertainty about what happened, then we can’t just charge him anyway because what happened was a tragedy.”

 

So I am making a plea to black moderates. Before any more policemen are killed it is not enough to whisper platitudes. Your reluctance to speak loudly is understandable but too much is at stake here for you to hold back. Why does no one bring into the narrative the fact that during the Civil war 360,000 white men from the north lost their lives trying to free black slaves? Your courage is needed. It could save lives.

 

 

 

July 5, 2016
by Simon Sobo
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CC: 1ST chapters

 

Chapter 1

 

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?”

No response.

Slightly louder.

“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.

“Go away.”

CC’s determination matches her mother’s nastiness.

“Mom!!”

“Okay. Okay.”

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:

“Okay. Okay.”

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.

“Cherry right?”

“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,

“Beautiful.”

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.”

“I just—”

Her nastiness escalates,

“Pay attention to what you’re doing.”

“Just—“

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.”

“Still.”

“I promised your grandmother. Robert, she’s my sister.”

“But—”

“You have to understand. She wasn’t always like that.”

Glowingly, sweetly, he adds,

“We were very close.”

 

Chapter 2

 

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,

“Wait.”

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:

“I won.”

“No. I won. You had to touch the water.” Mark answers.

“Who said?”

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.

“It’s freezing!”

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.

“Come here.”

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:

“Come here.”

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,

“Snider charges…”

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?”

“Yes.”

“Spell antidisestablishmentarianism.”

“A N T I..disestablich?”

“Ment.”

“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.

“Ow!”

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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“Moishe.”

“Right Moses. And his father?”

“Solomon.”

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.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a girl.”

“Mo-o-om.”

“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.”

CC pouts.

“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.

“Ow—oooh!”

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?

Doesn’t matter.

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.

****

  1. 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.

“Nothing.”

“Then don’t laugh so loud.”

“I just think what he said was stupid.”

“Who?”

“Merv Griffin.”

“Who asked you?”

“Just that—“

“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. “

“We are.”

“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?”

“Are 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?”

“A couple.”

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!”

“Okay.”

“And you’re to stay out of trouble.”

Mark is suitably contrite.

“I will. Believe me. I will.”

“You better.”

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?”

“No, why?”

“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.”

Ira shouts,

“Leave the shed alone.”

“You know–”

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?”

“It’s true.”

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.

Dayaynu!

Dai, Dai, Dai.

Dai Dai Dai. Dai Dai Dai.

Dayaynu Dayaynu

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

Blo-o-od

Mark throws his pinky at the plate so that his drop of wine lands there. The others do not continue

“Froooogs.”

A drop of wine

“Lice.”

A drop of wine

Ira stops him. “We get your point”

Mark continues

“Killing—of—their—first—born”

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.

“What happened?”

“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 can’t!”

“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?”

“Senior.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“What’s that?”

“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.”

“What happened?”

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.”

“She’s 16!”

“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.”

 

 

Chapter 3

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.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

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.”

“I know.”

“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.

“No!”

He looks around the room

“No!” he repeats dramatically.

Jeremy continues.

“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.

“Wittgenstein!”

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.”

“True.”

“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”

“Jesus.”

“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?”

“Well—“

“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.”

“Oh.”

“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.”

“No.”

“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.

“Eh?”

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

She imitates him.

“Eh?”

He laughs.

Jeremy continues:

“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.”

“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.”

 

Chapter 5

 

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?

“Right.”

“Okay.”

Carol forces a smile

“Are you a junior?”

“Senior.”

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.”

“Which one?”

“Columbia.”

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

“When I was young we lived in Queens.”

“Where in Queens?”

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

“Did they?”

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

“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?”

“Nothing.”

“Typical Brooklyn.”

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 has.”

“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?”

CC blushes.

“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.”

“Like what?”

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

“That’s it?”

“That’s plenty. There is very little cruelty in him. Insensitivity yes– there is a lot of that, 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?”

“The chairman?”

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

“That must be exciting.”

“Yes and no.”

“Why no?”

“Because several of the faculty members treat him like he’s 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

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Well…”

“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.”

“Since when?”

“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—”

“Carol?”

“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?”

“And Wittgenstein!”

“You think we are crazy?”

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

And exciting.

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.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Jeremy approaches Dave’s office. They’ve known each other since the fourth grade Their relationship has been up and down since then but 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.”

“Maybe.”

“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.”

“Again?”

“When did I ever say I was in love?”

“A thousand times.”

“Not true.”

“You implied it.”

“No I didn’t. This is real.”

“Last time it was real.”

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

“You said you were turned on.”

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

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

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

“It’s one of my students.”

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

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

Dave smiles gratuitously.

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

“Two coffees.” David tells her.

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

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

“You mean like our waitress?”

Jeremy looks him in the eye.

“Did you?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ve built my life around her. “

“Come on.” Dave replies playfully.

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

David is detached:

“Go on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ahead.”

“You want me to say it?”

“The holy grail? What?”

Close to whispering Jeremy answers him

“True love!”

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

“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”

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

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

“Always?”

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

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

“Can I go on?”

“It’s all yours.” David answers “

“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”

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

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

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

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

“You were already married.”

“I know, but I flipped.”

“Who was she?”

“I never saw her again.”

David’s eyes mock him, but affectionately.

“You’re serious?”

“I know it’s idiotic.”

David says nothing.

“But it’s true.”

“You’ve done that more than once?”

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

“So that explains you?”

In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues:

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

“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”

“I’m in love.”

“That’s it?”

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

“How’s that?”

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

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

“What’s so funny?”

“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”

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

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

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

Jeremy’s attention wanders off.

“Where are you?”

“This song… Carol wrote it.”

Half mumbling half seriously he sings:

“HEY YOU WITH THE BROKEN SMILE

COME ON OVER AND STAY FOR A WHILE

HEY YOU WITH THE HUNGER IN YOUR EYES”

“Can’t remember the rest…”

Jeremy hums the tune for a moment

“Oh right:

I RECOGNIZE THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE

A SHATTERED HEART STILL SEARCHING FOR GRACE

DISAPPOINTED? I KNOW IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU PLANNED.

DARLING SAVE YOUR WORDS

BECAUSE I KNOW THAT’S THE WAY IT HAPPENS

YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST

TO BE STANDING

WITH YOUR HEART LEFT IN YOUR HANDS

Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.

“Carol wrote that?”

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

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

“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”

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

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

Somewhat meekly Jeremy answers him:

“You’re right.”

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

“Come on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are the biggest cynic.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re not 14 anymore.”

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

“You fuckin’ seized the day.”

“So you like Bellow?”

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

“You read too much.”

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

“Look who’s talking.”

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

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

“How about Antarctica?”

David takes a breath, refocuses.

“So what are you going to do?”

“You know what I am going to do.”

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

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

“CC.”

“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…”

“Right.”

“Which makes her all the more dangerous. Chasing Helen resulted in thousands of people dead.”

“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”

“And career.”

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

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

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

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

“I can’t help it.”

“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”

Jeremy thinks it over.

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

“Do you have to dream up things?”

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

“With CC?”

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

“But do you have to dream up stuff?”

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

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

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

“I understand but—“

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

They are both quiet for a few moments.

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

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

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

“Jeremy I get it…”

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

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

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

“Believe me it’s a spell.”

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

“Millions of people.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

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

“No.”

“You know that for sure?”

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

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

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

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

“Let’s not go there…”

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

Jeremy continues:

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

“What’s that?”

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

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

“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”

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

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

(sarcastically) “Big shot.”

****

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Well I do. Take the medicine.”

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

“This is a different medication.”

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

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

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

“If I have to I will.”

“Fine. I’ll take the medicine.”

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

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

 

Chapter 7

 

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 .”

“Well…”

“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.

“Oink, Oink.”

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.”

“Meaning what?”

“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:

“Sometimes!”

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.

And then.

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:

“Meshugy”

Mark smiles.

 

Chapter 8

 

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.”

“Me too.”

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.”

“What kind?”

“The kind that likes to think a lot.”

“Well…”

“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?”

“My treat.”

CC takes her wallet out of her pocketbook.

“No way.”

“Just this one time.”

Putting her wallet back, “Thank you.”

“Your welcome.”

Jeff hands the two tickets to a usher, who tears off one half…. Once inside he studies the tickets.

“Which way?” CC asks

“Follow me.”

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.

“Sorry.”

“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.

“You okay?”

“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?”

She shrugs.

“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:

“Go Bulls.”

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.

“Could be.”

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.”

“That’s good.”

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. “

“And?”

“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?”

She shrugs

“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.”

“They’re dead.”

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.

“Sounds nice.”

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—“

“Mark?”

“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?”

“Boring?”

She shrugs before continuing. “I guess so, but he never seems bored. He’s a regular guy.”

“Meaning?”

“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.”

“Sounds meaningful.”

“Doesn’t matter what we say. I can be myself with him and he is with me. It’s made us very close.”

“And Jay?”

“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.”

“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.

“You okay?”

“I’m a little dizzy. What were you talking to CC about?”

“Nothing.”

“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.”

“Sweetie.”

“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.

 

Chapter 9

 

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

“Not quite.”

“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?”

“Sunday night.”

“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.

Chapter 10

 

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 hurts,

love scars,

love wounds and mars
Any heart not tough, nor strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain…

 

He’s mesmerized by the Everly Brothers’ song

 

Some fools rave on happiness
Blissfulness,

togetherness
Some fools fool themselves I guess
But they’re not fooling me

I know it isn’t true,

know it isn’t true
Love is just a lie, made to make you blue
Love hurts, 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.”

“I will.”

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.”

“I was—“

“We’re in charge of that.”

“Sorry.”

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.

“Only family.”

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.”

“Heard what?”

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.”

“There’s nothing.”

“Carol’s told me enough. I saw that girl get on the elevator. I just knew it.”

“What?”

“Enough…Leave.”

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.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

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.”

“Everyone hitches.”

“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?

CC laughs.

“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.

“You’re amazing.”

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.”

“Really I—“

“When you wear it you’ll think of me.”

“Maybe.”

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?”

“No seriously.”

“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.”

“They do?”

“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.”

“Meaning?”

“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.”

 

“Go on”.

“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.”

“What’s that?”

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.

“What?”

“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.

“Close them.”

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.

“Exactly.”

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.”

“Says who?”

“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:

“Oooh.”

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 smiles.

“Any warmer?”

“Yes. “

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.”

She shrugs

“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.”

“Truthfully?”

“Truthfully.”

“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…”

“I do.”

Love her!”

“I do.”

“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.”

“So.”

“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.

“What?”

“I want to visit Carol.”

“That’s crazy.”

“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.”

 

 

Chapter 12

 

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.

“They’re beautiful.”

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.”

“I know.”

“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

“Briefly.”

 

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?”

“Him either.”

“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.”

“Really?”

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.”

“Fine!”

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.

“Hold on.”

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.

“Get in.”

“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.

“No way.”

“I’m kidding.”

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.

“That’s amazing.”

“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.”

He shrugs.

“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.”

“So?”

“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.”

“Come on.”

“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.”

“Carol—”

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.”

“Perhaps.”

“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.”

“Which gods?”

“I don’t know their names. Gods!”

“Oh?”

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?

“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.”

“Never?”

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.”

“I’d say.”

“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?”

“Did she?”

“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.”

“A comedian?”

“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.”

Jeremy shrugs.

“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 what?”

“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?”

“I—”

“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.”

“Come on.”

“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.

“You hungry?”

“No.”

He stops at the diner.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

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?”

“Fine.”

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.”

“Please.”

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.”

“What’s that?”

“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.”

She smiles.

 

Chapter 14

 

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

May 1969

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.

“That’s it.”

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…

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

February 1969

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.”

“Really?”

“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?”

“13!”

“Exactly.”

“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:

“Me!”

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.”

“Your mother-”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“Like what?”

“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.”

“About what?”

“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.

“You’re mean.”

“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?”

“Really?”

“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?”

“Well—”

“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.

 

Commodore: Chapters 1 and 2

February 28, 2016 by Simon Sobo | 0 comments

Chapter 1

 

Staten Island 1802

For the last twenty days, the weather has been overcast. It’s April yet the gray dark winter sky seems like it will never give way. Not an hour of sunshine to warm the face. Not a single warm afternoon so that the body can lose its chill.

6AM:   Trailing behind his father Cornelius Vanderbilt, nine-year-old (Cornelius) “Cornele” makes his way across the potato fields. Deep mud from the melting snow sucks at the boy’s boots, making it difficult to climb the incline. Old Cornelius is irritated by the slowdown. He’s had to stop his wheelbarrow several times so that his son could catch up.

Gloomy weather like this would sour the mood of any farmer, let alone Cornelius. The freezing drizzle is also rotten luck for Cornele. He and his father would have taken shelter from rain, but his father insists, cold as it is, a drizzle is not enough reason to leave the fields. 

Making things worse, the farm borders New York’s Upper Bay.  A storm may be coming.   High, mean waves are crashing into the shore, sending sprays of icy saltwater into the air.  This joins the freezing drizzle, as gusts of wind sweep the moisture a hundred yards into the farm.

Cornele’s damp wool coat provides little protection. The wind finds its way beneath it, injecting icy chills that cut right through him.   More meat on him would help prevent the chill from seeping into his chest. Every few moments a sharp frozen, aching sensation reaches his bones, especially his knees.

Old Cornelius started this morning as he does every morning, wanting to call it quits.  After the rooster startled him from his dream, he pulled his quilt tighter, kept his eyes closed, and- if only for a few moments longer, fought to stay asleep.

No luck. As the dream dissipated, it left him all nerves, which increased the longer he lay there.

Now, an hour later, angry energy propels him forward. He parks his wheelbarrow carefully, facing up the hill, so that it won’t fall, reaches for his pick ax, lifts it over his head, and swings it wildly into the mud, trying to free a large rock from the soil. He is a man at war, hurling his fury at the enemy, which is everywhere. Cornele stands nearby ready to help his father, but he is aggravating him more than he is helping him.

When they first went outside, Cornele played with the frosty air. He blew out a thin stream as far as it would go and waved his hand through it as if it were smoke. He tried to make rings. His father looked at him like he wanted like to kill him. As usual Cornele doesn’t seem capable of standing still.

“When you work, you work. No bullshit,” he lectures.

Cornele’s heard it a hundred times, heard the anger as his father said it.   Only lately it’s moved beyond aggravation to a fury firing out of his eyes.

Cornele repeatedly tightens his ungloved fingers into fists, trying to prevent them from freezing.   His knees move in and out rhythmically as if he has to pee. From time to time, his shivering escalates into a tremor, which culminates in a quivering little boy moan. He tried to pass this off as a playful sound the first time, but hearing it a second time further pisses off Old Cornelius. He’s convinced his son is exaggerating how cold he is.   He wants Cornele concentrating on what they’re doing, not on what he is feeling.

“The Princess and the pea. Your mother is raising a princess.”

“I ain’t no princess.”

His father is undeterred. He is intent on showing Cornele his mighty swing. The boy has an unobstructed view. Each time Cornelius’ smashes his tool into the earth, it sends mud flying everywhere. He’s practically covered Cornele’s coat and face.   A fleck of mud hits Cornele just below his eye. He flinches. Old Cornelius stares at him defiantly.

“Who told you to stand there?”

Cornele moves two steps backwards. He stares like a deer caught in the headlights.

  His father scowls “Are you waiting for me to say something?”

Cornele’s eyes begin to water.

“Don’t you cry boy. Damn’ princess with her pea,” he repeats. “How’d I ever get a son like this.”

Cornele’s first tear finally slides down his cheek, and then many more. Old Cornelius has seen enough. He will not stand out here with a crying son. He throws down his pick, and storms away in the direction of the house. He shouts, “It’s your Ma’s fault. Made you a cry baby.”

Watching his father march off, Cornele wipes his eyes with his arms. He’s determined not to let the tears continue.

He lifts the pick lying on the ground and swings it solidly into the earth. Old Cornelius hears him and does an about face. He returns and roughly grabs the pick-ax away from Cornele.

  “Your Ma’d kill me…” he mumbles loud enough to be heard.

His father takes a mighty swing. The huge rock comes loose. “See what I mean?” is written on his face. Happy to have another opportunity, Cornele drops to the side of the rock. He digs his fingers into the cold mud surrounding it, and pulls the huge rock completely free. His father brings over the wheelbarrow. His face turns bright red as he lifts the huge rock to the edge of the wheelbarrow tray. Huffing and puffing he drops it in. This tips the wheelbarrow over.

“God damn’ it,” Cornelius yells. The steam is coming out of every pore. When he manages to get a modicum of control over himself he places the wheelbarrow at a better angle.

“Come here and hold this steady.”

Cornele does as he is told. He holds it tightly, trying to steady it. While doing so, he shifts his feet back and forth still trying to keep warm, which is what bothered his father in the first place.

“Pay attention to what you’re doing,” he scowls. He grabs the wheelbarrow tray and shoves it a bit, “Like this! Get it straight.”

With Herculean effort, cursing all the way, Old Cornelius again lifts the rock to the edge of the wheelbarrow and drops it in. The wheelbarrow falls over.

Furiously, he shouts loud enough to be heard in hell, “Hold it damn’ you.”

Cornele pulls the wheelbarrow up, positions it, stiffens his body, and tightens his grip. His father again lifts the rock and drops it down. Using all of his strength, Cornele manages to keep it upright.

“So when you want to, you can do it,” his father observes sarcastically, but as he wheels the rock away, there is a trace of affection for Cornele’s contribution.

Old Cornelius will add it to the other rocks, which form a wall cutting across the field. Each rock represents a separate battle. As has become his habit, he glances at the largest one every time he brings a new addition. On nicer days it serves as a trophy, but usually it is too hot, or too cold, too wet too dry—the biggest rock, all of the rocks, remind him of just how badly he’s been cursed by God.                                                                                                        

“Fuck you Jesus. You son of a whore. Stuck me on this piece of shit land. Fucking rocks everywhere.”

With his father gone, Cornele takes the pick and throws himself at another rock. He is able to get it loosened. He gets on his knees and once again moves the mud away with his hands. Happily he anticipates his father’s admiration when he returns.

Old Cornelius’ reaction is completely the opposite. He grabs the tool.   “You are a fuckin’ idiot. I took the pick away once. I told ya. Ma‘ll blame me if you hurt yourself.”

Still intent on showing his son how it’s done, his ferocious swing further placates his rage. His steady stream of cursing, thousand and thousands of times before, has never been enough to get the job done. He can’t shout as powerfully as he needs to. The vehemence of his pick ax swing, attacking the earth, momentarily makes him feel right.

The rock is not loosening.

“Mother fucker. You mother fucker.”

A boulder under the rock isn’t allowing him to get at the dirt underneath. He slams the pick into the earth a fourth time but it has no effect.

For Old Cornelius it always comes down to the same thing, futility. Why bother? You can’t win. He throws the pick ax on the ground.

One son sick and the other useless. Too many mouths to feed. Daughters not sons. There is nothing else to say or do other than quit. He heads for the house muttering all the way, bitter that Cornele has failed him. He had counted on the future when a strong son would ease his toils.

 “Thinks he’s a prince. Nothing. You hear me Cornele,” he shouts. You’re going to be nothing.” A moment later he adds, “Can’t even hold a wheelbarrow. The world out there ain’t gonna wipe your ass like your Ma.”

When his father is far enough away, Cornele lifts the pick-ax and starts swinging.   In the distance, his father turns around. Hands on his hips, he watches his son with the nastiest scowl yet. As he turns back to the house, he kicks a shovel that had been left in his path. He shouts at Cornele.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to leave the shovel there? How many times? Almost tripped on it.”

He picks up the shovel, swings it in Cornele’s direction, and then lets go. It falls far short of its target. Cornele is unfazed. His father has grabbed him roughly many times, but never actually beat him.

   Fussing and cursing, Old Cornelius heads for the house again.

“Nothing! You hear me Cornele. You’re gonna be nothing.”

Phoebe watches him through the window as he returns   She is not happy. She opens the door, stares him up and down.

“Another short day?”

“The weather.”

“So why’d you drag Cornele out there? You already have one sick son. Jacob’s coughing started on a day like this.”

  He doesn’t answer. She isn’t finished.

You managed to come back. Where is   Cornele?”      

Noticing his blue lips, her tone softens.

“There’s hot tea on the stove.”

She’s no fool. He’s regularly disappointed her, but with all his shortcomings, the family could not last 10 minutes without him.   It isn’t easy to chop out their survival against nature’s malevolence. She wouldn’t want to be out there on a nasty day like this.

She shouts for Cornele to come in.   Her voice sounds like it is coming from heaven.   His arms had gotten heavy. He will soon be warm by the fire and sipping tea.

With this in mind he has new energy. He stares at the rock that has been his nemesis, rust colored and smooth. He swings a mighty blow. No luck.   It isn’t budging. He loosens some dirt and takes another swing. Still nothing happens. The next swing does the trick. He is about to lift it when it begins to pour.

He fixes the location of the rock in his mind so he can return tomorrow. Slowed by the mud, he runs towards the house. Hail is bouncing off the ground. That makes him smile. He doesn’t get to see hail very often.

 

It is dinnertime. Cornele’s mother, Phoebe Hand Vanderbilt, and her eldest daughter Mary, are bringing food to the large kitchen table. Phoebe is pregnant. She has a strong face, a straight mouth a little drawn down in the corners, but green eyes that glitter humorously from under thick brows. There is shrewdness in her face, determination, kindliness. But not right now. Jacob, her eldest boy, is coughing the worst yet, hacking away from deep within his chest.

  “Damn’ it. Cover your mouth.” Old Cornelius shouts at him.

  Phoebe brings Jacob a kitchen rag. He hacks away once or twice more, but then coughs more gently before stopping. They settle down. She looks around the table.

“What’s with you Cornele? Why the sad face?”

He glances at his father surreptitiously, before looking down at his plate. Old Cornelius is chewing his food looking as innocent as a priest giving a sermon, making eye contact with no one.   He can keep it up for only so long when she stares him down. She catches his eye for a fraction of a second. That’s enough for him to momentarily lose his composure.

  The portions are meager. There is not enough food for the seven of them. After cleaning their plates, they look longingly at the little that remains. Phoebe takes the meat off her plate and puts it on Jacob’s plate.

  “Here, eat this.”

  The other children stare at the meat.

  “Not hungry,” he replies in a sickly way.

  “Try.”

  “Can’t. I’m nauseous.”

  Old Cornelius and Phoebe exchange a worried glance.

  Phoebe puts the meat on Cornele’s plate.

  “You take it.”

  Charlotte reacts immediately,

  “He always gets everything.”

  “Men’s work requires more meat.”

  “And what do we get? Sugar and spice?”

  “Keep it up and you’ll get the back of my hand.”

Cornele quickly devours the piece of meat. Phoebe pours milk about a third of the way up in each of the children’s glasses.

  Charlotte is not finished complaining.

  “Can I at least have more milk?”

  Phoebe pours the last of it into her glass. Charlotte continues to look expectantly.  

  “There isn’t any more.”

  “I’m hungry.”

  “Talk to your father about that.”

           She still hasn’t let up on his decision to sell Betsy, one of their two cows, for one of   his schemes. As usual, that money brought back nothing. Late at night, in bed, she’s told him a thousand times. She doesn’t mind the booze. It’s the gambling. Just because he loses it over a few months, rather then in one night, it’s the same. He’s gonna land them in the poor house yet. Now with Elsa, their other cow, not producing well…

     Jacob starts to cough again. Old Cornelius stands up and puts on his hat.

    “Where you going?” Phoebe asks him.

     “Out.”

     Without looking back, he closes the door behind him.

  No need for Phoebe to say anything. Old Cornelius storming out is a regular occurrence. She returns from the oven with a plate of steaming biscuits.

“One each.”

  The weather has cleared. The clouds left behind by the storm have made for a magnificent sunset. A schooner, its sails haloed in orange fills their front window.   Almost to touch the color Phoebe goes to the window. She wants to get a better look.

  “Come to the window.”

     Charlotte hardly glances. She knows what’s coming. She’s heard stories about her grandfather a thousand times too many.

   “Like the boat my father had. Some days I’d stand by the shore. Waiting…”

Cornele can’t take his eyes off the boat. In contrast to Charlotte, every time his mother talks about her father he enters into her memory like in a dream. It brings him to a better place. Like songs that sometimes play in his head, his pleasure multiplies each time the story gets repeated.

  The ship’s deep foghorn fills the airways.

  “I could hear him before I could see him. As soon as he entered the harbor, he’d sound the horn extra long for me.”

  The foghorn again sounds its deep extended bass.

“Still sends a thrill through me… It’s why I fell in love with this house… You can hear the ships’ horns, watch the ships come back from the sea.”

  She runs her fingers through Cornele’s hair, as she stares at the boat.

  “He was tall and strong like you…”

  She sees he is uncomfortable.

  “Go keep your father company.”

  Cornele hesitates.

  “He likes your company when he goes walking.”

  Cornele is still hesitant.

  “Believe me. He does. He told me. He used to like it when Jacob could go out with him.”

  She hands him his hat. Cornele takes it and reluctantly puts on his coat.

  Phoebe is pleased. She feels a little guilty for driving Cornelius from the dinner table. This will help. Cornele needs time together with his father when they’re not working. He can be a different person on his walks.

  “Here take this biscuit to your father.” She breaks off another half for him.

  “Preparing for a comment from Charlotte, she goes on the offensive.

“You can each have another half a biscuit.

Cornele catches up to his father. He is deep in a dark mood. They walk slowly, quietly along the shoreline, Cornele kicking pebbles along the way. It is now well into the sunset, the bay slowly changing from orange to red. They stare out over the water as small waves fold into the shore. The sound lures them into silence. It quiets Cornelius’ anger.

Cornele throws a pebble into the water.   A thin ping can be heard as it breaks the surface. Lit by the sunset, circles of color slowly expand from the pebble, becoming less intense, and then disappear.

Cornele measures his father’s mood cautiously. He is still uncertain what will come next. His father throws a pebble. It is again followed by a circle of color.

Cornele lets down his guard a bit. His father takes out a flask and gulps down a swallow of whiskey.

Cornele’s apprehension returns. Could be the beginning of trouble. Then suddenly, another schooner appears, slowly passing them on its way to docking in Manhattan. Ordinarily, Old Cornelius lacks the patience to nurture Cornele’s curiosity. He might begin with an educational purpose, but it too often turns into a lecture.   Interesting details fade, invariably replaced by a lesson aimed at his moral education. This soon becomes scolding, sometimes for things Cornele didn’t do. His father will acknowledge this, but he says its good for Cornele to listen anyway and learn. Old Cornelius can’t help himself. There is so much that needs fixing. There is so much anger in him at the injustice in the world.

   The one exception is ships. Like Phoebe he has a thing for ships. He points: “What is that called?”

  “The bow.”

“That?”   

“The jib sail.”

  The ship’s flag comes into view.

  “What country?”

  “Spain. That’s the Castilla.”

  Sure enough, soon is seen, written boldly, La Castilla adorning the bow.

  “See I told you.”

  “Your Ma says you can name every boat that comes into the harbor.”

“I can.”

“That’s how you use your time? Watching the boats?”

  “They go all over the world.”

  Old Cornelius says nothing but it is clear he is unimpressed.

   “Your Ma also tells me you like to wear your grandfather’s captain hat.”

  Cornele remains silent.

  “You’re too old to play baby games like that.”

  Another ship comes into view.

  Cornele calls out excitedly.

  “That one’s Dutch. It’s Dutch like us.

“Don’t you let your mother tell you any different. The English stole New York from us.” Frustrated, angry, determined he continues, “It should be New Amsterdam.”

  Cornele’s apprehension grows as the anger grows in his father’s voice.

  “Telling ya. I would sell Betsy again. Your Ma don’t understand. Ya can’t get anywhere working with your hands.   No future in it.”

  He looks at Cornele, not sure what he understands. Cornele is, in fact, not listening. He’s planning his escape route, should the drinking continue.

                                                        Chapter 2

                                                                 Late December 1876, a lifetime later.

Cornelius Vanderbilt is sitting on the side of his bed using a cane to support himself. A doctor has just completed his examination. Eighty-four, thin and pale, he groans in pain as he attempts to stand up. Yet, sick as he is, he still radiates authority.   His groans are as much shouting back at the pain as feeling it. When he feels irritation in his throat his raucously loud coughs take over the room.

Below his bedroom window, a mob of reporters has overflowed into the street at the front of his Manhattan townhouse. A newsboy can be heard outside calling out the tidings:

“Commodore Vanderbilt dying. Richest man in America very ill.”

Making it to a standing position, Vanderbilt heads towards the window. An extern, dressed in white, tries to help him, but he is waved away contemptuously.

The doctor begins to stir but thinks better of it.

Outside, someone is shouting “Commodore” over and over.

Vanderbilt mumbles to himself as he moves toward the window. He rubs away the frost with his pajama sleeve and looks out at the reporters.

“Twice as many as yesterday. They’re ready to suck on my bones the minute I die.”

An organ grinder, with a leashed monkey sitting on his shoulder, cranks out a tune.

“A fucking carnival under my window.”

One of the reporters catches a glimpse of Vanderbilt and points. The result is a new round of shoving and pushing as each tries to secure a better position. Everyone’s shouting.

“Commodore.”

“Mr. Vanderbilt!”

Vanderbilt leaves the window.

The doorbell rings, a series of gongs.

“Pendleton. Get the door,” he shouts to the butler, as he makes his way to the second floor landing overlooking the entrance.

“Who is it?”

“A reporter,” Pendleton shouts back, “Mr. Michael Burch.”

Burch leans forward and looks up at the landing.

Vanderbilt moves into full view and straightens up.   Like a bear rising on its back legs, he appears doubly menacing.

“I ain’t dying you mother fucker.”

Calmly, Burch shouts up to him, “Sir, it’s Michael Burch.”

He waits for a response, but there isn’t any.

“Michael Burch. You asked me to come here… You liked my story about you in last week’s Sentinel…Said you wanted to tell me the rest…that ring any bells?”

“I read that article.” Vanderbilt shouts to him in a raspy voice. “I don’t remember asking you to come here.”

“Our readers want to know everything they can about you.”

“Sure they do. Especially, how I got my money. Probably think I have a secret which I’ll take to the grave.”

“Well, do you?”

“Just one. I tripped over a chest of diamonds and gold on Treasure Island when I was twelve. Been living off it ever since.”

“You’re a lucky man.”

“I wanted it enough. That’s how I done it.”

“Can’t be that simple.   You started with nothing.”

“Actually it is that simple. It ain’t the stuff you guys write about. I know it’s hard coming up with news.   Still! Ya ever get tired of bullshit?”

“We’re not all like that. Make you a deal. You tell the story straight and I’ll report it that way. Let our readers decide.”

“Decide what?”

“How you did it. That’s what people want to know.”

“There’s nothing unusual about it.”

“Nothing? You were better at making money then anyone that’s ever lived. People want to know about things like that.”

“I’m sure they do.”

“They’re looking for ideas. What’s wrong with that?”

“I ain’t no ‘how to’ person.”

“I’m sure you aren’t. But something made you succeed. It wasn’t just luck.”

“There was plenty of luck.”

“Not the way you kept multiplying your money. You did it for 70 years.”

Normally, flattery would turn Vanderbilt off, but since he’s become ill, he’s been more vulnerable to compliments.

“People want to figure out how come, what drove you on like that?”

“I’m trying to sort that out myself.”

“There’s a lot of stories floating around, not all of them nice.”

“Not all of it was nice. But none of it was crooked.”

“They say you could outsmart anyone.”

“That’s because everyone thought they were smarter than me. Dumber they think you are, the better you’ll do.”

“See that’s what people are looking for, advice. You have some more like that?”

“No. Only other thing is ya gotta be quick. Act before someone else gets the idea.”

“So you are cagey.”

“You want to call it cagey, go ahead.”

“Well what is it?”

“Who the fuck knows. I just do what I do.”

Vanderbilt starts to cough. He clears his chest and gathers his phlegm, forces the gunk out of his throat. He lets the phlegm

fly towards the spittoon. He hits his mark.

“Getting sick brings out new talents,” he says triumphantly.

“Do you see things differently since you got sick like this?”

“Probably.”

“Like what?”

“That I may be dying got me thinking about a lot of things. ”

“Is that on your mind a lot?” Burch asks with some genuineness.

“You really give a shit?”

Burch squirms a bit, which Vanderbilt ignores.

“Some days, it feels like I’m dying. Other days…I feel like a million bucks.   Like today.”

“You know the Herald is printing a daily report on your health. Been running it for the last month.”

“I know. The countdown. You can tell your editor I ain’t dying any time soon.”

Burch isn’t sure what Vanderbilt believes. His physical deterioration is striking, especially his pallor. Burch saw him at a function a year ago. It’s as if the person before him is someone else, taking measured steps, frail like a ghost.

“Since you are feeling good, how about an interview?”

“Truth is when I read your article I thought about doing an interview with you.

Give you this. Most reporters make up stories to fill in what they don’t know.   In your article you didn’t do that. What you wrote about me last week was true. Every bit of it.”

“I do my best.”

“I respect that.” Vanderbilt observes Burch as he absorbs the compliment. He continues.

“I need that. I want to set things straight. Never understood people my age writing memoirs. Now I do. I want the last word.”

“I can help you do that. People trust what I write.”

Vanderbilt seems perplexed.

“Is something wrong?”

“Sounds like I invited you, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“I really don’t remember doing that. Don’t remember it at all. I’m forgetting a lot of things lately. ”

“I was definitely told to come here.”

Thinking further: “Was probably my son, Bill. You got sons?”

Burch holds up two fingers, “Eight and ten.”

“Wait ‘til they get older and become pricks like Bill…”

“You really didn’t ask me to come?”

Vanderbilt isn’t listening.

“I’m sure it was Bill. The fuck has taken over. Convinced the doctors I’m senile. That’s put him in charge.”

He clears some more phlegm from his throat.

“Probably I’m not all there. But all that means is I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around here…Who wants to? I’m stuck with this body that ain’t worth shit. And the fact is, my memories are a thousand times more interesting than the people around me now.”

He takes several labored breaths, than continues. “I keep mentioning people my son’s never heard of. So what? He thinks my talking so much about the past is proof I’m a goner. The doctor agrees it’s a sign of senility. What they don’t get is, these people in the past happen to be the people I spent my life with.”

He hesitates to catch his breath.

“They mean something to me. I’m sorting things out with them. Finishing things up between us.”

“That matters to you?”

Vanderbilt doesn’t answer.

The extern, a tall young man, has followed him to the landing.

“Sir, I think you have to get back to bed.”

He grabs Vanderbilt’s arm trying to force him back to the bedroom. Over matched, Vanderbilt’s hand tightens on his walking stick as the extern begins to pull in earnest. He

cracks the extern on his head, a sharp glancing blow, and pulls his arm free.

“Keep your hands to yourself,” he spits out. “Who the fuck da ya think you are?”

The extern retreats.   Vanderbilt waits for him to leave the landing, which he does. He returns to the bedroom, leaving the door open.

“Shut that door!”

The intern ignores him. Vanderbilt returns his attention to Burch.

“Believe me, the people I’m thinking about are god damn’ more important than the assholes around here. Including Bill when he pokes his head in.”

He looks toward the bedroom.

“Put that down,” he shouts at the extern. He leaves the landing to retake possession of a urinal from the extern. He grabs it out of his hands. The extern gives him a patronizing glance, the same he gives to all the old biddies that he sees.

With Vanderbilt busy, Burch questions Pendleton, “Is he okay?”

“His mind’s sharp as a bell. Remembers everything. What’s changed is now he tells people things he used to keep private. Doesn’t care anymore.”

“Anything else?”

“The last 7 or 8 years the second Mrs. Vanderbilt had made him into a gentleman.”

Pendleton’s pride swells as he speaks.

“Should have seen him at 80, dapper, erect posture; he looked 60. They made quite a couple…Up until this illness. Now he’s more like he was before he married her, yelling and cursing as bad as he ever did.”

Having defeated the extern Vanderbilt returns invigorated. He shouts down to Burch.

“You can bring your ass up here. Except you gotta do one thing first. Tell your buddies to clear out. I want ‘em off my sidewalk.”

“Sir. The sidewalks are public property.”

“Fuck you Pendleton. Who asked you?”

Vanderbilt waits to catch his breath.

Outside someone shouts. “Burch got in!”

“Try it”

There is a knock on the door.

“Burch?” Vanderbilt yells down at him.

“Get rid of ‘em. And get them off my sidewalk.”

“Sir, most of them are not my friends out there.”

“I don’t give a shit. Next thing – they’re gonna invade this place.”

Two more knocks, this time louder, more insistent.

“Pendleton. Get that door and slam it in the man’s face. And none of your bullshit manners. See if you can catch one of his fingers or his nose.”

“Yes sir!”

“Then send someone to the precinct. Talk to Donahue.”

Shouting like he’d like to slap him on the ass, “Pronto!”

Pendleton mutters to Burch:

“He’s the same man.”

“One other thing, Pendleton. After you send someone to talk to Donahue, I want you to get my revolver from the gun case, walk to the back of the house and blow your brains out. And don’t make a mess!”

Pendleton winks at Burch.

“As you wish, great one.”

He adds cheerfully,“ Burch. You can have my story.”

Burch goes to a mirror, nervously slicks down his hair, straightens his tie, and then rushes up the stairs. The doctor, looking bedraggled, passes him on his way down. The doctor shakes his head in frustration. He has a sympathetic look of “you’re next.”

January 10, 2016
by Simon Sobo
2 Comments

Ending Insurance Companies Control of Mental Health Care

 

My retirement from psychiatry has allowed independence from fears that caused temperance in my opinions about issues, which all along deserved a passionate campaign for change. This is an article about the stranglehold that insurance companies have had on health care, particularly mental health care, for more than 20 years. First a description of what can only be described as atrocities that I personally witnessed.

I got a call from a social worker at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. The following day they were discharging a female patient, a second grade teacher from New Milford with three children. The social worker begged me to see her the day she was discharged. I agreed to do so. The patient appeared in my waiting room as scheduled. The only problem was that she was so afraid of me that she would not come into my office. To no avail I tried everything I could think of to convince her that she would be safe. Only when my next patient appeared in the waiting room did she agree to enter my office. There were only 5 minutes left in her session, but in that time she told me that she had ruined her life, and all was hopeless. As best I could, I tried to reassure her, but it was obvious that nothing I said was having an impact. We made an appointment for the next day, which she did not keep. I called. Her husband answered. She had blown her brains out the evening before.

This was early on in the HMO era when I didn’t immediately understand the desperation in the social worker’s voice. She clearly knew that the decision to discharge this patient was completely insane.

I was called to the New Milford Hospital ER to see a young woman, holding a baby, who was experiencing her first psychotic break. She was convinced that a spying device had been put in her baby’s vagina. She kept checking her baby’s vagina hoping to find it. Oxford (an insurance company in the Northeast) would not approve hospitalization. They said she was not a danger to herself or others. They wanted her treated at Danbury’s Day Hospital. At the time there was no public transportation between New Milford and Danbury, but even if there was, this woman was not sane enough to commute there every day. I insisted on speaking to a supervisor at Oxford, then to his supervisor. They wouldn’t budge in their decision. The next day I was summoned by administration in New Milford Hospital. Oxford had called them to complain about my rudeness. I confess that I was guilty as charged. As Chief of Psychiatry there I was expected to set an example. This incident also happened early in the HMO era, a time when hospitals were worried about remaining in the insurance company’s network. Early on doctors were also worried about being labeled as a provider who gave unnecessary care. Certain insurance companies let it be known that they were keeping tabs.

I was seeing a woman in her 40’s for psychotherapy who had a double mastectomy for breast cancer. The gods were not favoring her. She had also had a heart attack. Her grown son was drinking too much and her daughter had had an affair, which led to the end of her daughter’s marriage. This woman’s husband was tired of listening to his wife’s troubles. After 10 sessions her insurance company, PHS, decided she had enough psychotherapy. I went through their chain of command appealing the decision. Finally I got to talk to the head of their psychiatric division, Dr. Robert Dailey from Bridgeport Hospital. He told me this woman did not need psychotherapy. She needed hospice. Astonished, I argued that she was not a terminal patient. She was still working and struggling to keep her family afloat. He would hear nothing of it. Case closed.

The situations cited above came from my direct experience. I could describe ten others.   Most psychiatrists have similar stories to tell. Indeed, this article was originally prepared for Psychiatric Times. They felt it was unsuitable because it was old news. As one reviewer put it “everyone has their own horror stories no different than these.” All across America, when it started, it was if a plague had descended on the field of psychiatry. Except this plague had been paid for by our patients, or else it was a benefit bestowed by their employers.

Mistreatment was not confined to mental health care. Patients unfortunate enough to have M.S., or those who had had a stroke, were learning that after initial treatments, they could no longer have physical therapy, the one way they could do battle with the calamity that had befallen them.

Dr. Linda Peeno was the medical director at three different insurance companies, including, Humana. When she came to the conclusion that the first company was unethical she moved on to the next and finally the third before concluding the problem was industry wide. Her conscience was bothering her. She felt directly responsible for the death of several people. This is not why she went into medicine. Although she liked the hours provided by a job at an insurance company, she could not continue. The opposite. She felt she had to reveal to the public what was happening. With a secure job as an professor of ethics at a local university taking on the insurance companies became her life’s work. She has written extensively and well about the problems she observed. Writing for U.S News and World Report in 2002 she described a typical scenario at her job:

“The staff of our medical department had attached questions as the letter passed through its maze to me, the HMO doctor at the end of the decision-making line. If something has to do with medical necessity, I am the final word. Our nurses could make denials if something was a benefit decision. Cosmetic surgery, for example, would be excluded in the certificate of coverage. The number of notes on the letter signals that this request falls in the gray area between outright necessity and clear-cut exclusion–the danger zone for the patient.

The decision is now mine, and I feel the pressure to find a way to say no. If I cannot pronounce it medically unnecessary, then I have to find a different way to interpret our medical guidelines or the contract language in order to deny the request.

A bright-blue square catches my attention. It is from a particularly cost-conscious staffer and contains a handwritten warning to me: “Approve this, and it will be your last!” It is common practice to use removable stickies. After we have finished passing any document around, we can remove all the comments. Official records will reflect only the final decisions and not the process by which we made them.”

From that same article:

“A doctor had called to tell me that his patient was almost 80, lived alone, and could not handle the preparations he would need to make for bowel surgery. Besides, we had already told the doctor that the surgery would have to be done in a hospital over 60 miles away from the man’s home. There was one in his town but they weren’t affiliated with the company. The local hospital had not yet learned to buckle under.

Without the pre-op admission the night before surgery, this frail man would have to drive himself to the hospital almost in the middle of the night, after hours of laxatives and withholding of fluids. When I approved the request, I got a call from my physician supervisor, angrily telling me that we did not pay for creature comforts. I told him I had already done it, but in the future…”

Linda Peeno testified before a Congressional subcommittee on Health and the Environment on May 30, 1996. Her testimony, and many thought provoking articles by her, can be found on the internet. Showtime produced a film Damaged Care that tells her story. She had accomplished a lot. Except about what mattered. Despite her Congressional testimony, her well placed articles, and the Showtime movie, very little changed.

In 2001 I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a lawsuit against an insurance company written in what I thought was a disparaging tone. I understood the sentiment behind the reporter’s attitude. Lawsuits have gotten out of hand. There are far too many of them that are built on lies and exaggerations. In our litigious society, small mistakes, which we all can make, can be exaggerated into a million dollar payoff. The result? Enormous energies directed to covering your ass, which means the multiplication of professionals adept at that noble aspiration. Lawyers and their enforcing bureaucrats get to tell workers what they can and cannot do, which means programed rigidity from the top, the last thing needed in a service based economy.

The suit that the reporter was dissing was not frivolous. I knew the person who was suing. He had lost his 16 year-old son because his insurance company determined that his son must leave Danbury Hospital. It was clear to his father and everyone that knew the boy, that he was  in grave danger and could not be discharged until his condition improved. The boy’s suicide attempt was for real. It was sheer luck that the pipe he put his rope over broke. My patient knew his son still wanted to die and if let out of the hospital he would finish the job. He reasoned with the doctor, he pleaded with him.  He begged.

I called the reporter Milo Geyelin and we spoke for 3 ½ hours. I gave him the details of how what had happened in this case was happening everywhere. Necessary care was being rejected as unnecessary. Several months later he called me. He had written, the lead story in the Wall Street Journal of May 8th 2001. a story about HMO’s control of mental health. That story was particularly focused on Magellan,  the largest mental health managed care company. It was gobbling up all its competitors, particularly less profitable, but more ethical HMOs.  By the journalistic standards of the day Geyelin’s duty was to be “balanced”.  He allowed Magellan to respond. The gist of their defense was mistakes happen, but they were being corrected.

I thought the article allowed Magellan to come across as sincere, as trying their best. From direct experience I knew they were not trying their best, anything but, when it came to siding with their patient’s best interests.  They perceived those who had become seriously ill as a plague on the company, understandable from the insurance companies point of view.   But from the patient’s point of view, insurance companies were a curse, one that had to be combatted along with the illness.

His story didn’t stop there. Magellan sold contracts to large insurance companies (as a mental health carve out, a company that specializes in managing psychiatric care). They contracted to produce providers that would take care of any insured patient in need of care.

They didn’t deliver what they had promised.  In many parts of the country they had no providers available at all. Many on their list of psychiatrists had once been providers but they had long ago given up on Magellan after submitted insurance claim forms were repeatedly “lost.” It required a lot of energy to get paid, and it just wasn’t worth it.

Magellan had their patients in a no lose situation for them. They allowed their patients to only see providers in their network and there were practically no providers available.  That didn’t bother them at all.  Moreover, if, by luck, a patient found a provider, treatment had to wait until the insurance company approved of it. This could take weeks. And too frequently there was no reply at all. They accused the provider of not sending in their form, (usually a lie) or they accused the doctor of filling the form out incorrectly. Probably true given the confusing directions and triviality of the form.

I can attest that it was impossible to reach the insurance company to try to straighten things out. Not only did they choreograph a long musical, “your call is important to us” wait, if you did get through, the people handling the calls were minimum wagers with no authority , little intelligence, and zero energy to climb the mountain of rules, the operational chaos that awaited them should they choose to truly help the caller with his problem.  They were trained to deal with forms. They knew their list of approved symptoms, as designated by DSM IV.  Anything that didn’t fit on that form was like Chinese to them.

It should be noted that, the form had very little room for the doctor to individualize his case, explain things as he saw it. It didn’t really matter. If he were to try, he would be passed right over.  There wouldn’t be a call back even if he had made his case. Clerks have very little tolerance for outliers.

Essentially the process was a scam. Totally legal but a scam nonetheless.  Entirely within the law  medical care was being shaped by purveyors with criminal motives and intent. Patients, who had lost it, forced to finally acknowledge that they needed help, were out of luck if they tried to get that help. They had to meet criteria that were sacrosanct, prepared by experts, hired for the purpose of making sure their patients didn’t cash in on their policies

The amazing part of the story is how Magellan had come out of nowhere, and overnight they were everywhere. It was formed out of the ruins of a failing company Charter Behavioral Health systems. At their height they were a Wall Street darling, a chain of 90 psychiatric hospitals from which they were making industrial profits. In the end Charter was investigated by the Justice Department for Medicare Fraud.  As they closed up shop, selling off their hospitals provided the capital to allow them to quickly become a huge player in managed care.

The irony is striking. One of the very companies that had, on a massive scale, overcharged for care, billed for care never given, with very little difficulty became in charge of what care would be allowed or disallowed. Businessmen to the core, they stuck to first principles. They followed where the money had gone. The denial of care business was now more profitable than the delivery of care. Of all people, they were now deciding what was, and what was not, “necessary” care. The fox was  guarding the chicken house. Every dollar they saved by denying care was money that went into  their pockets..

Managed care companies do not compete in the quality of work they deliver.  The only thing that matters is numbers. Particularly in the 90’s CEO’s were moving from rubber companies to cupcake bakers, to oil drilling companies, with little knowledge needed about the products of the companies they were leading.   As long as every quarter they could deliver the right numbers,  their job security was golden. Magellan was confident that the money they made from selling off the hospital chain would be multiplied by their new business. The sale of ninety hospitals leaves you with a lot of capital, the muscle required to buy up  competitors.

Numbers can also work against managed care companies. For example, an audit of American Biodyne which contracted for 14 million dollars to provide mental health services for Ohio state employees for 2 years found that the firm had actually spent $2.1 million on treatment claims in 1991 and $2.6 million in 1992. The rest of the $14 million went to American Biodyne.

The need to keep medical costs down was the original impetus for HMOs.  This is a real issue. America’s 3 trillion dollar health care costs were, and still are, wildly out of control.   We spend far more than any other country and the results are far from obvious. There is waste and unnecessary procedures anywhere you look.

The problem I am addressing is the decision to put for profit HMOs in charge of cutting costs. Taking care away from ill patients and putting these savings in to the pockets of an HMO amounted to legally stealing care from those least able to defend themselves. It was breathtaking in its audacity.

The head of Oxford, a relatively small company, was paid 28 million dollars a year, the majority of it pinched from sick patients. US Healthcare’s CEO, a former pharmacist, earned 900 million dollars when he sold his cost cutting company to Aetna. His daughter and other family members also got millions not to mention the 25 million dollar jet Aetna gave to him. Inside Edition featured him in an expose on the lifestyles of wealthy HMO executives.

US Health Care executives were put in charge of the company. Changing their name back to Aetna was easy. It took years for Aetna to extricate themselves from the chaos US Health Care had wrought

The Wall Street Journal in 2006 ran an expose, “Health Care Gold Mines.” It was reported that William McGuire, CEO of one of the larger health insurance companies, United Health Care, had unrealized gains on stock options worth 1.8 billion dollars. He had been given the right to “time” his stock option grants. His timing was so extraordinary that questions have been raised that he backdated his purchases. His associates call him “brilliant.” Very brilliant. The Wall Street Journal’s analysts concluded that if the options were granted to him blindly, the chance of his guessing as well as he did, was 1 in 200 million.

Not only have congressional committees long ago had the unscrupulous practices of insurance practices revealed to them.   Newspaper and national magazines have made reports about it, again and again in exposes. Yet the issue has no legs. Nothing changes.

Frankly, at first glance, the quiet on this issue is a mystery. Politicians, and columnists have so often carried on about abortion rights, or gay marriage, or some other higher cause that these issue have become de rigueur in the politically correct playbook. Yet neither abortion nor gay marriage materially affects a great many people’s lives. Health insurance practices do. Why is there silence from media pundits and politicians who love any exposure they can get?The strange thing is that what’s going on in the health insurance industry is no Enron. It isn’t a secret. If not personally abused, most people know people who have gotten screwed by their health insurance company. They have heard stories from colleagues or family members, anguished stories if the illness has been severe. People have come to expect that somehow they will be done in by the small print in their policies.

The absence of a public outcry, the failure of news stories and Congressional hearings to halt the HMOs was one of the reasons I wrote a  novel After Lisa. I had written articles for years with suggestions about how I thought psychiatric care could be improved.  This was, I felt, the most important way my writing could make a difference.  If enough of the public could identify with the Russells, the protagonists in my story, there might be a possibility of change.  After Lisa is based on the story of the case I contacted the Wall Street Journal reporter about. I was seeing a father who had lost his 12 year-old daughter to cancer. His 16 year-old son tried to hang himself. He was hospitalized at Danbury Hospital.

From day one they had started discharge planning. In those days insurance companies had a little trick they pulled. They pressured doctors to get their patient to “contract for safety,” have the patient put in writing a promise that they would not commit suicide. Once this was signed out the patient would go.

AS I noted this boy’s father was convinced his son’s attempt was completely serious. He was desperate.  One of his friends, a social welfare worker said to legally abandon his son. That way they couldn’t discharge him. The hospital answered that his son would be sent to a shelter. I will cut to the chase. The day he was discharged his son successfully hung himself. With two children gone my patient’s opening words to me, when I first met him, was “I am a dead man.”

My hope was, and still is, that my novel, or better, a movie based on the story, might translate the issues enough to arouse the public. When I started I thought discussing the  book on Oprah would bring forth thousands of people with their own story to tell. But, my fear is that even if the best result occurred, with the long history of public exposure about this issue, it too will have no effect.

December 14, 2014 60 Minutes ran a story Denied. It was well done, detailing what other stories like it have done, dead patients the result of insurance company indifference. Has the  60 Minute expose had an  impact? It’s been three months.  The usual silence on this issue continues.  There is no reason to think it will be different than all of the exposes that preceded it.

There is one angle that could have an enormous impact.  What was not covered by their story, or the others documenting insurance company malfeasance, is the fact that insurance companies have no fear of making bad calls (e.g forcing a patient out of the hospital who soon after kills himself).  The embarrassment is minimal (no news story) and the legal consequence nil. The parents and spouses of those who have lost a love one cannot sue an insurance company.   Federal ERISA law forbids it.

This issue has a history. In June of 2001 (see June 21st 2001 Congressional record) the Senate debated and passed the McCain Kennedy Bill, a health care “bill of rights,” that would have allowed lawsuits against HMOs. The vote was 59-36. Changes were made on this bill in the House and then the bill mysteriously disappeared from the political landscape!

Subsequently, several states passed legislation allowing suits against insurance companies. But, on June 23, 2004, the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided that while congress could pass legislation allowing lawsuits against health insurance companies by injured family members, states could not do so.   There are suggestions that the unusual 9-0 vote was an indication that this issue was too important, the pressure was too great for the justices to allow controversy.

Nevertheless, the success of insurance company lobbying to not only defeat this bill, but successfully end all discussion of lawsuits is a mystery that I do not fully understand. After all, the media and politicians have vigorously gone after other powerful industries, Banks, Wall Street and Oil companies. Despite their power they have not been as successful at keeping a lid on their controversies.

Because 60 Minutes has not responded to my repeated attempts to reach them about the ERISA law, I am including the phone number of the executive director, Kevin Tedesco, 212-975-2329 in the hope that one of the readers of this article will have better luck. Or perhaps call volume will have an impact. If this were to happen, if 60 Minutes were to take up the issue of the ERISA law’s prohibition of law suits, and if this led to the law being changed, so that insurance companies had to live in fear of being sued, it would change mental health care for generations to come.

But I am not sanguine about the prospects. The issues are in fact complex.  Ultimately the real issue, the debate that has to take place is how we, as a nation, are going to restrict health care to keep costs under control. Managed care companies have been hired to do the dirty work. They are not simply dirty. They are filthy. Powerful forces are lined up to keep things as they are. For instance, when the the Erisa Law was up for discussion in Congress the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  lobbied along with other powerful groups   to not allow the ERISA law to be changed. I assume they are still working hard to keep this issue submerged.

When the Democrats stuck their nose into regulating health care, so health care costs could be reduced, the Republicans rightly identified the “Death Panels” they were looking to set up. The Republican solution was HSAs, high deductible medical plans. This has been partially adopted in ObamaCare. Faced with  four or five thousand dollar deductibles smart middle class shoppers have delayed seeing their doctors and their expensive procedures.

But ultimately we have to bring  the issue front and center. What should and should not be covered?   HMOs have been a disgusting solution. We can do better.

 

October 23, 2015
by Simon Sobo
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Is “Natural” a Good Quality When It Comes to Medications

 

An excerpt from Chapter 5 of After Lisa addressing this question :

{Looking down at the playground from her 5th floor  73rd Street window, watching  little Maria on the swings, enables Deborah  to stay calm.  They have just returned from the hospital where the outlook looks grim for her 12 year-old daughter Lisa. She is speaking to Michael her husband}

“Joanne’s cousin had a lymphoma. Everyone said nothing could be done. She took shark cartilage. They’ve used it in China for thousands of years. Joanne’s said it cured her.”

Michael’s face tightens. Joanne cuts Deborah’s hair so they get to talk at length. Joanne’s place now has an acupuncturist and a Yoga instructor. There is talk of a spa. She sells facial creams containing herbs. Deborah claims the creams work wonders. Still worse from Michael’s point of view, Joanne is mellow and soft spoken with a smile,  an aura that hints at an understanding of the secrets of the universe. She truly believes what she believes. In style and tone she is the very opposite of Michael. He has looked over some of the brochures that Deborah’s brought home. They are nonsense.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s friend Laura is also into organic foods, and on the face of it, she doesn’t seem very crazy. No ax to grind.  Deborah has several other acquaintances who are in the same camp. Health food is no longer a cult, like Macrobiotics was in the 60’s. There are too many mainstream true believers. On the talk shows that Deborah watches similar information is repeated again and again by celebrity after celebrity, all with confidence that they know what they are talking about.   

Healthy foods, unprocessed food; at first pass that kind of makes sense. But the amount of misinformation being broadcast in the mainstream drives him nuts. Michael’s mother had her chicken soup as a remedy for sniffles, and honey and lemon juice for a cough. She knew, however, that these were bubameinsas that she got from her mother, and her mother got from her mother.  She knew that her children should drink plenty of milk, and eat their vegetables. She also knew that she didn’t know very much about scientific subjects. Nothing in fact. She didn’t adopt an I am a dodo persona. Not a hint of Lucy or Gracy Allen. She expected to be taken seriously but in science it would have been apt to be classified as stupid. His mother didn’t know how to change the channel on the TV nor did she care to learn.

“You want Lisa to take shark cartilage?”

“Michael, It’s natural.”.

Michael erupts when he hears that word. He has gone over this subject in his mind again and again. Every time he reads or hears someone refer to “natural” as validation of a product, he comes up with a thousand counter arguments, which he marshals as what should be the end of the debate. It never is.   This is the perfect opportunity to unleash his full battery of thoughts..

“Deborah I love nature … I love the Grand Canyon. I love that river we go to upstate, untouched by people. I mean that place in the mountains, clouds lit up by the sunset, watching the lightening from there, the trees turning into a painting in the fall. You know I love it.  But that doesn’t mean that everything natural is safe or good especially when it comes to medicines.”

“There is a balance in nature. Michael . We are always screwing it up. Throwing its equilibriums into chaos when we mess with it.”

“ Fine but those equilibrium are not sacred. You know Manhattan was full of swamps. Living there in the summer meant being in a smelly, clammy, damp, rotting environment. It was like living inside  dirty underwear. Yellow Fever could hit anytime. Washington DC was even worse. Guess what? They drained the swamps. They stood up to defenders of the wetlands. Fine some birds may have been displaced. Some may have died when they lost their swamps. Except we have New York City and Washington D.C.”

“ Yeah we have concrete paved over nature.”

“We have two vibrant centers of human activity. I’ll take that over a swamp…Nature is just what it is. it is good, it is bad and it can be very bad.

“Bubonic plague is natural. So is smallpox. That killed 300 million people.

“Michael-”

“They mine asbestos. It is a natural product buried under the earth. Poisonous mushrooms, mosquitos carrying malaria…”

“I get the point.” That doesn’t stop him

“Fungal diseases killing roses; black spot, aphids, mites. Nature’s gifts to us.”

He hesitates before speaking with gusto.

“Roses represent a victory over nature. Same for the Polio vaccine.”

At this point Deborah is irritated. Which he interprets as she does not yet see the truth of his argument. His voice get louder. He reads her irritation  as skepticism which makes him pile on still more examples for his argument

Cholesterol plaques building up in your arteries. That’s natural. Once again people have defied nature. Lipitor is a nasty chemical, according to Joanne’s brochure. It’s synthetic, it’s disturbing the balance in your body, that’s a no-no according to her booklet.

Yes it gives some side effects, yes it changes some of your body’s equilibriums. It is an unnatural chemical that just happens to have saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. This artificial chemical is a miracle as great as anything nature serves up.

When I was growing up, three of my friends’ dads died in their 40’s of a heart attack. Ever notice that just isn’t happening any more. Lipitor.

Foods without preservatives are natural. Nature’s true purpose, spoiled food once killed tens of thousands of people before they added those unnatural processed chemicals, the preservative that Joanne’s brochures carry on about.”

Okay Michael, Okay, Okay. This is just what I need, you ranting and raving. You’re like a bull dog.”

 “You don’t want to hear it? Don’t get me started with that kind of bullshit. Natural.” He unsuccessfully hunts for one of the brochures she brought home. He finds it, but before he can open it, and read some silly quotes that he’s underlined, Deborah cuts him off

    “It’s not just the brochures. I’ve read articles, a lot of articles. Plenty of people believe in natural foods..”

    “ I don’t care if 99% of people buy into it. Debbie. You’re not stupid. Use your brain instead of going along with everyone. What they are saying simply doesn’t make sense. What counts is whether something makes sense. Natural has nothing to do with it.

“You’re so narrow minded. If it’s not Western…”

 “Deborah, think about what they’re saying. My mother would have never claimed she knew more than doctors, She knew her chicken soup worked and that was the end of it.

  He doesn’t like the look on her face.

  “Oh right. My mother’s not liberated?”

“You said it. I didn’t”

“Thank God she isn’t.  Let me tell you. My mother had a good mind. Still does. She can sort out bullshit better than either one of us. She doesn’t buy into this women know better than men

“Okay. Your mother’s not an idiot.”

“You’re not either but you are too taken by what other people say. I know Joanne is cool, and the people on Oprah are cool but they know shit about health and medical treatment. They’re like you, all liberal artsy in college. Science was for nerds. Those brochures you bring home? If you had ever taken a science course and taken it seriously, a course in anything, you would have read the first paragraph in that brochure and thrown it away.”

She raises her voice louder than him, “Can we stop? Michael we were talking about Lisa. Not politics. This is about Lisa. I know you need to talk about stuff you think about, but-“

It silences him. She is right. He’s gotten carried away once again. Lately more than ever. The room is quiet for the first time since they got home.

Remorsefully he takes her hand. “You want to give her shark cartilage, give her shark cartilage. But that’s it. It’s not going to replace real treatment.”

February 12, 2015
by Simon Sobo
1 Comment

About my book: The Fear of Death

                                         The Fear of Death  

An argument  with Freud, and a reconsideration of his  ideas.  This book is an attempt to   introduce the obvious into psychoanalytic theory, that the fear of death plays a seminal role in our psychology.   Freud had a powerful  fear of death.  Yet he dismissed its importance in his theories about our motivations.  This despite the fact that  it was, by far, his most pressing neurotic symptom.   It was the lurking monster in his most frightening and famous dream, the Dora dream. He looks into his patient Dora’s throat and discovers a horrifying lesion that he had missed. Like the Pharoah questioning Joseph, he has to understand what that dream means.

It takes hold of him, drives him to work on what  will become “The Interpretation of Dreams.”   The extent to which Freud had no choice  about this undertaking can best be appreciated  from his  letter to Wilhelm Fleiss.  He describes a process of working   “to which every effort of thought has to be given and which gradually absorbs all other capacities and the ability to receive impressions– a sort of neoplastic substance that enters into one’s humanity and then replaces it.  With me it is even more so.  Work and earning  are identical with me–so that I have become wholly carcinoma…my existence from now on is that of a neoplasm.” (Jones 1953)

A strange image describing one’s work, work that was later to be  recognized as inspired.    Eventually, what his dream meant became clear.  The location of the lesion in the back of Dora’s throat was to be the exact spot that Freud’s throat cancer developed many years later. Had he felt a tickle there from his cigar smoking and then dreamt about it?  Apparently. He had looked into the mouth of death.  The cancer eventually killed him.

“The Interpretation of Dreams” is usually considered the birth of psychoanalysis.  Freud called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious.” He  brilliantly wrestled with what he found there,  asked many of the right questions. He  came up with many right answers.  But if his search for clarity about  dreams, and the working of the unconscious,  was induced by the Dora dream, what influence did it have on the body of his work ? He correctly discovered that in their dreams, unencumbered by the  deliberate mind  that occupies our daytime consciousness, his patients’ unsatisfied sexual cravings push to be fulfilled.  The evidence was everywhere.  But what about their fear of death? Certainly, many people are awakened by a dream in which they are about to die. There is much to learn from these dreams.  Appreciating the reality of death, makes life more meaningful.  It makes one’s relationships, one’s work, one’s discoveries all the more valuable.

Or trivial.  But whatever one’s reaction, it is not possible to understand a person through their  dreams without considering their relationship to their death.  How could someone  describing their work as a cancer, with an openly admitted  powerful fear of death, ignore this aspect of the dream’s meaning and dismiss the fear of death as a major part of our psychology.

I have no answer, but clearly, he was wrong. It is not hard to find the fear of death constantly addressed in men’s thinking.  It is usually transformed, put in a  positive perspective. The best example is religion; to get rid of the fear of death, the Aztec’s practiced human sacrifice to appease the angry Gods.  The Christians offered Christ to a more benevolent Jehovah. It is the road not taken by Abraham with his son, Isaac.

Century after century, Christians worried about their future after death.    Transformed by religious doctrine, they were tormented  with the dark possibilities awaiting them when they died. They were pious (or resolved to follow that path) in order to assure a  place in heaven.   But that wasn’t easy.  Few men are entirely innocent.  Especially in the past they were terrified  that their moments of giving into temptation might land them in hell.  

Even those quietly pious had their moments.  Immortality is the cornerstone of Christianity, its most powerful ideal.  Hundreds of millions of Bibles have been read, studied and  held dear. (in contrast to this book which makes no promises)   Christ promised his believers would live forever. What else has to be said to the fearful flock?

 Today we see a revival of that passion.  Isis members have been willing to  fight ferociously and fearlessly,  offer themselves for suicide missions, with the belief they will achieve the opposite result of their fear. They are guaranteed a heaven that is  quintessentially the opposite of a revered Muslim life.  Life as they have known it has centered on strictly imposed  sexual suppression.  It drives them crazy.  Makes them turn on those who have given in.  Yes they stone adulterers, but their own path is not a bed of roses.   Young men, trying to defy their powerful hormonal push,  pray several times a day to keep themselves under control.

How difference it is in Allah’s dynasty, where they will receive their reward.   Not one, not two, 72 virgins await them in heaven after they die.  It beats the promises of Jesus where heaven has never been adequately imagined.  Angels playing harps?   I suppose that means, paradise consists of innocence completely restored.  Essentially asexual composure awaits the virtuous  Is this the best reward Christ can offer?

 Modern Western secular consciousness is quite different.  Since the existence of God is dubious,  happiness  in this life is all we have.  So that is what we pursue.   The fear of death is resolved very differently.  Virtuous behavior is redefined (exercise, weight loss, lower cholesterol, and the most virtuous of all,  “organic” food).  This belief system is transformative  in religion’s usual ways.    Fantastic beliefs are bought and believed,  logic and evidence tossed away.

That is not a problem.  Whatever bargaining, compromising, and self deception is required, when it comes to religion, the mind is up to the task. Faith and spirituality invariably trump common sense.  Or any and all evidence. Information about nutrition and exercise,  has run in a thousand different directions,  with an astounding number of  easily tested ideas promulgated and  going unchallenged.   

 As might be expected, when it comes to religion, people can  go over board.  In its modern incarnation some people become fanatical about the organic purity of their food.  They become “glaat” kosher.  Many become sanctimonious, outraged by the lack of healthy eating by others. Or they are angry that corporate agribusiness is poisoning them. The inventory they do of their soul would not be recognizable by the conventionally religious  Their virtues and vices are measured  by whether or not they gave in to temptation and ate that slice of pizza, or whether they forgoed their morning workout.

Whatever language we use, the fear of death insinuates itself into our consciousness, demanding solutions.   Unfortunately, this book doesn’t offer a  solution to the basic problem.  As Woody Allen put it  “I don’t want to be immortal because of my work.  I want to be immortal by living forever.”

 

P.S.   Readers seeking great wisdom, (or any wisdom at all) about how to cope with death or dying should look elsewhere.  This book is specifically concerned with developmental psychoanalytic theory.  Twenty-five years ago that was  my passion.  I spent five years writing this book.  It is an interesting primer for those wanting to dive into Freud’s and my thinking about a host of subjects too varied to easily summarize.  I hope it has my usual passion to lay bare mysteries that are unnecessarily ineffable.  I once believed that truth is unmistakably helpful and important,  a virtue of the highest order. I have had no choice.  It is what I must do for reasons unknown to me.  Now I only half believe it is crucial.  Kindness is more important.

October 23, 2014
by Simon Sobo
1 Comment

After Lisa: Chapter 1

Based on a true story

Chapter 1

October 1999

New York City

Glittering crystal chandeliers brightly illuminate the Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom as the sound of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz sweeps through the room. Sipping cocktails, guests lightly applaud the MacDonalds as they glide around the center of the ballroom, the floor to themselves. Several dance partners stand at the edge, gathering courage to challenge the MacDonalds for the spotlight. At the tables, gossip is cheerfully exchanged, as, here too, they check on the MacDonalds from time to time. Standing off not far from the bar, spicy singles in their 20’s flirt, their eyes searching through the crowd for the opportunity to find a still better partner.

Strauss has been a great choice for tonight. Retro worked. It’s made the evening grand, not what the guests expected when they received their invitations.

Very high up in the vaulted ceiling, a sniper has positioned himself. He looks through his high-powered rifle, moving through the room, one table at a time.   While the women have spent weeks preparing for tonight; putting the perfect shoes, hair, and make-up together with the right dress, they didn’t expect to be examined through a rifle’s telescopic lens. At the head table, the assassin’s sight focuses on one after another of the guests.  He lingers on a matronly lady covered with serious jewelry, but tonight his goal is narrow. He settles on the MacDonalds as they return to the table. Mrs. Martin MacDonald is a stunning blonde in her thirties. The assassin’s only interest is her dance partner, Martin MacDonald, a silver-haired man with a jutting chin, and a physique chiseled at his club.  Killing MacDonald is the whole purpose of the evening.          

The rifleman is perfectly positioned in a utility room above the ballroom.  Perched as high as he is, behind the glare of the chandeliers, his protruding telescopic rifle is a speck in the filigreed façade. Unnoticed, he will be able to proceed at a leisurely pace, carefully aiming without drawing the slightest attention.  His escape plan should also go smoothly.   He is dressed in a nicely tailored tuxedo. The sniper is confident that after he’s killed Macdonald his dapper appearance will allow him to easily disappear among the guests. He was born with good looks. He enjoys using them.

Joe Tolley, from Channel 2 News, gently clears his throat into the microphone.  People eyes are drawn to the now lit up dais. This part of the evening is the reason they are here.  Everyone returns to their seats.  Tolley clowns a bit, gets some nice laughs.

“Our speaker tonight needs no introduction.  He is a man of our age, a captain of our decade…

Applause. Tolley has prepared well. Leaving little to chance, in front of the mirror he practiced the casual smile he is now presenting during the extended applause. As it dies down he continues.

“Martin MacDonald is the personification of who we are and have become.”

Cheering.

This brings a smile to MacDonald. As he gets up from his chair, he bends forward over the table, and, whispering an imitation of Tolley’s voice, he captures his lisp perfectly.  The men seated nearby find this funny.  Not the women.  They draw back from MacDonald’s meanness, an effect that MacDonald seems to regularly elicit from the fairer sex.

MacDonald winks at his wife. She returns an encouraging smile, which he doesn’t notice. He long ago stopped seeing her. Jauntily he dashes for the stage.   Skipping up the steps he is soon at the lectern.  With his reading glasses low on his nose, patterned after an image of John Adams he saw on TV, he shuffles his papers, looks over the audience from far left to right.

MacDonald is hot. Buoyed by increasing opportunities, at this point materializing daily, he, more than anyone, knows exactly what he has done to create his good fortune. He is proud of it. He looks upward, to his Sicilian grandfather in heaven. He wouldn’t be here today without him.

He smiles broadly at the audience, feeling among friends.  They are completely captured. Who wouldn’t want in on MacDonald’s phenomenal profits?  Who wouldn’t want the wife he has, beneath the glittering chandeliers at the Plaza.

Business Week ran a feature on MacDonald in its May issue. His story is quintessential 90’s. A startup in his garage, an office consisting of a file cabinet, desk, and telephone. MacDonald answered the phone himself.  He did the filing.  Later, as the business grew, he sweated through payrolls, wondering where he would find the money for his 12 employees.  Today he’s unfazed by billion dollar figures. The one caveat? He went into the health insurance business knowing nothing about health insurance. Like so many of the new wave of CEOs his expertise is with numbers. As long as they work he remains the golden boy.

For CEO wannabes in the audience MacDonald offers magic.  For actual CEOs he offers lessons in how to hit the bottom line out of the ballpark.  He’s someone to study closely, figure out whether he’s doing what he claims to be doing.  In not very long they will be expected to replicate Cambridge Health’s profit. If they don’t they’ll soon be gone, replaced by a CEO who will get the right numbers. Anticipating platitudes they don’t expect to learn much tonight. But just in case, Martin MacDonald has their total attention

It’s been 25 years since his graduation from Macalester College, in St. Paul Minnesota. He’s never lost his boy wonder quality. Probably it was the football.  Being a second team All-American linebacker did a lot to shore up his identity. Thrown into the lion pit, he emerged a lion. He has kept the momentum going. He takes great pleasure smashing an adversary in his teeth. It has served him well. Winning is the only acceptable result in his encounters. When the need to fight his adversaries temporarily abates, he has fun. He is a wiz with numbers. There is special satisfaction when the numbers are large. Lately they have been huge.

Growing up he was hugely influenced by his mother’s scrappy Sicilian father and her two brothers, who lived nearby.  A Sicilian style wouldn’t ordinarily work in the insurance industry.  But MacDonald is also Scottish. On the face of it he seems an all American regular guy, a team player, a boy scout, very unlike his ruffian uncles, an insurance man through and through.   Only savvy.

He saw his father, Robert MacDonald, only during the summer, but those summers  powerfully influenced his persona. His father’s cheerful Scotch veneer is what others knew him by and respected.  MacDonald’s adulation of his father made it possible to effortlessly emulate him. It also spiritually connected him to his father’s Scottish clan, one with a long tradition of money cleverness invariably bestowed on the eldest son. So his take no prisoners uncles from Sicily were well camouflaged.

He adjusts the mike, taps it with his finger a few times. Then, with a strong voice he begins.

“My thanks to the American Insurance Association.  I am honored that you are having me here to tell you what you already know.  We need to stick together.  Stand as one.  Be strong. We share the same mission, to put a stop to runaway medical spending, to deliver health care at a reasonable cost.”

Happily, the audience applauds.

Ever so slowly the rifleman scopes MacDonald between his eyes. A voice from inside him urges.

“Now!”

He can’t trust that voice, a hard lesson learned again and again when he made the mistake of trusting his impulses.

The sight is fogging up. He pulls his rifle back into the utility room, and wipes off the condensed vapor with his thumb. All the while he keeps an eye on MacDonald. (an unobserved target can disappear.)  He double-checks that everything else is in order.  Nervously his tightly gloved index finger rubs over the filed off serial number. That was item one in his plan. An identifier that had to be removed. He pulls at the ends of his thin leather gloves to tighten them still further.   He cocks the trigger mechanism: cutting through the utility room’s silence, the sound of precision steel snapping into place with a bit of an echo. He repeats this a second time with military efficiency.  He takes a cartridge case from his pocket and loads.

Soon enough he again has MacDonald’s forehead perfectly centered.  Carefully, calmly–he can almost feel the bullet drilling in to the spot, into MacDonald’s skull. He can imagine the sweetness of that moment

There is a noise somewhere down the hall.  The sniper freezes. He listens carefully for it to repeat. He soon recognizes the scratching of a busy mouse.

“Stay with this,” he commands himself. He must follow a series of steps that have been practiced so often, that when his eyes and trigger-finger have the target in sight, what follows is automatic.   His finger tightens slowly.  Slowly.   He is almost there.

MacDonald’s wit is knocking the audience out. Laughter, cheers, happy shouts interrupt his talk. This has seduced MacDonald into letting it all out. The rhythm of a revivalist preacher rings out in the ballroom.

“Our fight is the good fight, our goal necessary…”

The audience’s enthusiasm pisses off the rifleman.   That stops him.

During training they drilled it in. “Don’t act unless you’re emotionless.”     Focus requires brain silence.   The mind must disappear as the momentum of the plan closes in on the target.   Anger is the natural emotion before and during a kill, but not for a professional. It undoes your skill.

He learned the hard way. In his first battle he got excited, terrified and furious at an adversary who had killed Arnie, his friend standing 3 feet away from him. He shot wildly, like he had never learned a thing.   Fortunately, cool as a cucumber, one of his buddies shot the man dead.

It was the closest he came to getting killed. He had no trouble picturing himself as rotting flesh six feet under. That image subsequently, kept him completely professional.

Twenty-six years ago, at army sharpshooter school, the basic method of training was simple and absolute.   Every step was repeated again and again, again, and again until nothing else is possible other than the next step.   The final decision to kill doesn’t reside with the sniper. It is muscle memory.

That’s not happening now.  The opposite. Normally obstacles to a plan, which inevitably arise, are quickly absorbed as interesting new wrinkles to be patiently overcome. Instead, unexpected events, like the sound of the mouse, rattle him. His concentration is shot. In the army, the sergeant sometimes fed the men greenies, amphetamines to improve their concentration. Given their level of stress it helped them even more than kids with ADHD.

His chin tight, “Focus,” he says to himself in a nasty whisper.

He began so determined.  Righteous anger can move mountains.  Or drive you crazy until you act. For months, unanswerable questions had wormed their way through his mind and exhausted him. First grief, then blame, endlessly assigning it to one person after another including himself.

Then that dissipated. His anguish completely disappeared once the specifics of his plan to kill MacDonald were thought out in detail. Setting it up took over. He went from inactivity, practically in a coma, to energy harnessed by having a purpose.

Getting things done their way. The army had taught him how to stay organized. Concentrate all efforts on the first step before going on to the next.  He needed a well-camouflaged spot with complete vision of the target. As soon as he learned MacDonald was going to speak in the Plaza ballroom, he went through twelve utility rooms located in the ceiling before finding the perfect one. The next thing on his check list-finding a MacMillan Tac 50 rifle was easier than he expected. The Tac is extremely accurate and able to be broken down into a compact form. Fortunately, Marty, his pal at work knew exactly where to find one. It took only an hour and a half to find the guy. And contrary to the image he had, based on Hollywood versions of gun salesmen, the guy who sold it to him was a character, an educated friendly enough black man with a wicked sense of humor. Next he had to find the right size satchel. The first one that he bought was too small so he had to return it and try out another size.

No problem. The view of the dais was so perfect, like a gift from God, it energized all the other steps. Everything fell into place. It may have taken two times on one of the items, or ten. Didn’t matter. It got done.

His smile returned.   At last justice would be done.

Except it isn’t happening tonight.

In truth, even in the army it got more complicated. At the beginning of his sniper training he had no difficulty pulling the trigger.  He carried out three missions successfully without a second thought. He killed whom he was assigned to kill and took pride in his accomplishment.

His fourth assignment brought that to an end. He noticed his target’s red hair.   That did it.  His precision, so easily summoned a moment before, deserted him.   There was no flow. His trigger-finger and eye were no longer one.

It wasn’t a morality thing, at least not that he was aware of. He had no specific thoughts about right and wrong. He knew it was right to kill this particular bad guy, with or without his red hair. There were no thoughts at all. But the red hair kept coming into his mind.

A therapist taught him how to shut that off. But it didn’t matter.   He’d still miss his target again and again.

When the time came he didn’t reenlist. His sergeant more or less made clear that was to be his plan.

Once again the gunman pulls the rifle back into the utility room.  We get a better look at him.  He’s sweating.  His face is alive with emotion.   As opposed to our initial impression, he is anything but a professional.

“Take your time,” he commands himself. That does nothing. Drifting thoughts grab his attention, one after another, without rhyme or reason.

He had imagined the exact instant in detail.    MacDonald, just after he’s made a clever observation, bathed in adulation, a split second before the applause erupts, the audience smiling, congratulating themselves for being there.

Bang!

Blood is the perfect punctuation.

A single shot.

Sweet!

Bang.

It will put them on notice.  Someone’s watching.  Someone

sees what you’re doing.

MacDonald ends his talk. Like a politician at a convention he waves to the audience.

As he returns to his table, the rifleman’s frantic.

He still has a good shot. Now!

He doesn’t pull the trigger.

The rifleman soon makes peace with the new facts. His fantasy about the precise moment of MacDonald’s death was self-indulgent. The joy of catching him at a glorious moment in front of the audience isn’t all that important. Reaching for a French fry, wiping off the ketchup from his lips, blowing his nose, trying to catch the eye of one of the attractive women at his table-any moment will be okay. Shot and killed is the main point. If the deed gets done, the meaning will be clear.   Dead is dead.

This last thought enables the rifleman to cool off. MacDonald will remain in target range for at least an hour. Later will be fine.

Michael wipes the sweat off his forehead. He’s hot and clammy, his shirt and underwear are sticking to him.  He takes off his tuxedo jacket, sits himself on the floor against a huge cable roll stored in the room. Trying to regain his composure, he closes his eyes and inhales deeply, filling his chest with air.

No luck.  His clammy shirt is bothering him. He can’t seem to catch his breath. His mind is still all over the place. Doubts. More doubts. He closes his eyes, drifts through his memories…

 

October 23, 2014
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

After Lisa Chapter 2

 

Ten years earlier.

 

Two tents have been pitched at a clearing high in the mountains. It is a day to worship the fall foliage, sunny, the air with a bite to it, crisp, clear, newly cold.

Far below, the farm fields form squares of contrasting green color, fall crops of lettuce and broccoli, waiting to be harvested.   Orange pumpkins are piled high near the corner of one of the squares. Another square is brown and orange, half picked and half unpicked.

Ten years younger Michael Russell is a devil with light green, deep-set eyes. Calm and carefree, he hardly resembles the gunman. At 30 Deborah Russell’s striking blonde, still thick, almost hippie curls are the first thing that catch people’s attention. She is petite. She moves like a cat. The children are adorable. Six-year-old Ritchie is quiet and observant, seven-year-old Lisa feisty. They are lucky. They have inherited Deborah’s hair and Michael’s luminescent green eyes. They are graceful like Deborah, with Michael’s energy propelling them.

Michael is eight feet up in a tree. He’s taped his brand new Nikon on a limb above him. Seated on a lower branch, he looks through the eyepiece. He is constructing a family portrait.   It’s going to be a great shot.

This shot was planned over a year ago. He told Deborah about it before they arrived. It was hatched while they were making their first visit here and Michael sat on this exact tree trunk. He saw an extraordinary view as he looked down at Ritchie, and wished he had his camera. This time he is prepared.

He screws a cable into his camera he purchased for this picture. The cable will invisibly run to the spot he has designated for himself in the portrait. With the cable, his thumb will physically control the shutter.

He moves them to their places, then plays with the shutter speed.   Deborah is beginning to lose her patience. Lisa also has done enough posing.

“Dad, how long do we have to stand here?”

That emboldens Deborah. She gives Michael an “enough already” look.

“Good things come to those who wait.”

“Daaad!”

He saves fortune cookie advice for the children. And Lisa is never amused. But they both like the ritual of it. This is the tenth time Lisa’s heard it, and the tenth time she’s admonished him with that exact tone of voice.

“One more second.”

He always answers with the same words and it is never a second. Once his stubbornness is aroused he can dig in. He will not be rushed.   As he looks through his eyepiece, he is fascinated by how he imagines the picture will look. The four of them will seem surrealistically suspended in air, two thousand feet above the farmland in the valley.

Behind Michael, in front of him, to the right and to the left, is the glory of autumn. Maple trees, birches, and oaks prepare for winter, yellows, oranges and reds, intense pastels, intersected by strong brown tree branches and trunks. Michael likes the beauty of the surrounding foliage, but what he is even more drawn to the immense emptiness in front of him. It beckons him, pulls at him. Once before, on the top of the Empire State Building the same thing happened; again vast nothingness. 

He once again feels an urge to jump. He can feel it in his stomach which is poised to react to his leap.  Immediately after that impulse comes dread. Like it was a close call. Yet, suicide is not at all on his mind. It never occurs to him.   Why that sensation? He read an article that claimed having a desire to jump from a great height is common. So is the quiver of anxiety when the thought registers. Freud took this phenomenon as evidence for one of his most radical speculations. He claimed we have an unconscious wish to die. Fully aware of how crazy it sounded, he nevertheless ranked it with our sexual drive as one of the two fundamental forces shaping our motivation. Despite his anticipation of rejection Freud wouldn’t back down.   He felt he had the evidence.

Clearly, this is not a fitting background for a family picture. Why does Michael want to use it? It has nothing to do with his family. The explanation isn’t all that complicated. He’s still young, at an age when novelty can seem exciting, when “originality,” “creativity” are taken as a sign of serious talent.   His real talent is plain and simple, his attraction to beauty. But he can’t help noticing the lilt in people’s voice when they describe someone as creative. He would like his photography to be “cool” like that.  In fact he likes it a little too much. He has not reached a point where he appreciates how much this kind of vanity interferes with his artistic purposes.

  “Okay, everyone stay where you are. Look up.”

Ritchie breaks ranks.

A little too emphatically Lisa grabs Ritchie and returns him to his place.

“Ouch” he cries out angrily.

To deaf ears. Lisa looks up at her father. He smiles his ‘we are partners on a mission’ smile. She loves that connection when it is offered.

Still sitting on the limb, Michael positions Ritchie first to the right, then Lisa to the left. Then he moves Ritchie left again. Lisa pulls on her brother. “Ritchie! Over here,” she commands.

“Look into the camera. Deborah, Lift your chin… more…That’s it.”

Exasperated, Lisa admonishes him. “Daddy take the picture already.”

They are very close to perfection. He likes the way Lisa’s arms are thrown around Harry, their mutt. He likes the way Harry is smiling, half giddy, panting away, ready for the next bit of action.

“Just one more minute. Ritchie, you could be up a little higher.”

A look from Deborah warns him. She has a temper. She has complained many times to Michael about his fussiness when he takes pictures. She’s asked him a thousand times. Why does she have to get angry for it to register?

He hears her, or more accurately sees, how pissed Deborah is. He will have to settle for the picture he has now or get nothing at all.

“Nobody move.”

He hurriedly fiddles with the cable one last time, then swings down and hangs by the branch, imitating King Kong.

“Careful,” Deborah shouts.

He drops to the ground almost bouncing up as he lands. Score one for him against the nay-sayers. Extending the cable he joins them.

“Okay everyone, Look up… Cheese.”

They shout, “Carrot juice.” “Carrot juice” has become a tradition since it made them laugh the first time. This time is no exception. Smiling happy Russells-he likes what he sees. Click, click.

“Okay, one more”

It is the signal the kids have been waiting for. They are outta there.

“Wait!” he yells

Lisa yells back ,“No way.”

Ritchie imitates Lisa.

“Yeah. No way.”

Happy noise: laughter, barking, Ritchie emits a wssssss, an airplane sound as he flies his miniature plane. Chin level he wsssses past Lisa. She drops her coat to the ground and spreads her arms wide so that they resemble airplane wings. She takes off with a wssssss. She shouts to Ritchie.

“My plane is bigger. Wsssssss.,” she yells, twice as loud as Ritchie. “Catch me.”

He reverses course and runs with his airplane chasing her. The two planes circle the campfire. Suddenly Ritchie trips and goes down. He has scraped his knee. He tries not to cry.

From the ground, For one last second Ritchie tries to continue his “Wsssss,” but it no longer is coming from a glorious airplane defying gravity. He fights against his tears.

It is no use. The dam breaks. He hopelessly looks up at his daddy. Michael lifts him and scolds the ground with a ditty.

                                     “Oh what did you do to my Ritchie?

                                        My Ritchie did nothing to you.

                                       The next time you hurt my Ritchie.

                                       I’ll caw-awl the policeman on you.”

 

Michael kicks at the ground twice with his heels as he shouts

“Boom. Boom.”

His tears gone, Ritchie is put down and, imitating his father, he clumsily kicks the ground himself, twice with his toes.

“Boom-boom.”

He again holds his plane in the air and starts running with it. Lisa turns around and with arms still held wide she makes her wsssss sound still louder, more powerful than Ritchie’s. She is soon chasing Ritchie’s airplane with her own. Harry comes into the picture.  They smile triumphantly, join forces, two wissssers united, chasing Harry. He gallops far away. Laughing, Lisa shouts for Harry to return. He barks at her from 20 yards away..

She once again runs around the fire. Watching from the distance, Harry continues to bark. Lisa calls to him. He returns to chase her. Finally catching her, he jumps on her back, a perfect tackle.   “Harry!” She screams happily as he brings her down. Ritchie simply stands and watches them with a big fat grin.

The campfire is dying down. The sun is low in the sky. The children are still whizzing around, but shortly exhaustion will take over.

Deborah yells for them to come to her, which they do without protest. It has become a routine. Brushing their teeth. Putting a dab of toothpaste on each toothbrush, she hands the yellow tipped one to Lisa and the green tipped to Ritchie. Lisa holds hers up and inspects it to be sure she’s been given the right toothbrush. From a canteen Deborah pours water on her brush, then does the same for Ritchie. They get to work. Ritchie hums as he goes.   Lisa is a more competent brusher. Soon however, they are making more noise than actually brushing.

“Okay enough.” Deborah orders them.

   She hands Lisa the canteen for a swig of water. Lisa gargles noisily then spits it out, aiming for the longest distance. She enjoys the idea of spitting on the ground.

It’s Ritchie’s turn. He gargles and spits not nearly as far as Lisa. As compensation Ritchie sticks his toe on Lisa’s wet spot for good measure.

Deborah’s voice breaks through their procrastination. They know perfectly well what comes after brushing their teeth. They deliver their toothbrushes to Deborah.   They love the absoluteness of the rules in this routine. Like a game of Monopoly, “Go to Jail, Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.”

The excitement is only possible if you don’t ask why. Why do I have to go to jail? Why can’t I collect $200 dollars? Why? No whys are allowed. No whys are needed. The fun comes from totally living within Monopoly.

“Okay. March to the tent.”

They march. When they get to the entrance she calls to them.

“About face.”

They do so with military precision.

“Wow. Do that again. No wait. Let me call Daddy.”

She shouts from some distance away, “Michael!”

He shouts back, “What?”

“Watch this.”

Happy marionettes. They repeat their about-face.

He shouts to them. “You want to join the army like me?”

“Yeees.”

Deborah yells, “I’ll be there soon.”

She turns to the kids, “Okay. In your tent. I’ll come in to kiss you good night in a minute.”

No protest. Sleeping in the tent is a treat. Off they go.

Deborah washes their toothbrushes while listening to the crackling timbers in the fire.

She shouts to Michael. He waves from the distance. She inches her skirt little by little up her long legs.

He loves her legs. He’s told her many times that he married her for her legs. She swims miles at the YMCA pool every other day to keep them that way.

She enters the children’s tent, picks their clothes up and folds them. They are excited. This is a treat. Normally they sleep alone in their rooms at home. They are sitting side by side with their legs in a shared sleeping bag.

Lisa is wearing a ring that Deborah had found in her mother’s attic. It belonged to her grandmother’s great aunt, a beauty who had never married. The ring had been given to her by a young man who was killed in a duel fought over her. She remained true, wore the ring for the rest of her life, never marrying. After she heard the story, Lisa asked for it. Deborah had it sized. Lisa wouldn’t take it off even when she took her bath. Something about that story.

Lisa hands her ring to Ritchie, “Put it on tonight. It means we are married.”

Ritchie counters, “I can’t marry my sister. Right Mommy?”

“Make believe,” Lisa argues.

The boss interrupts.

“Come on guys.”

Lisa ceremoniously puts the ring on his finger. Ritchie lies back, enchanted with the thought of being Lisa’s husband.

Deborah snaps him out of it. She has him slide further into the bag so that she can zip him up on his side. Next Lisa. Deborah looks into her eyes. Her lips are parted. She gives her a juicy kiss which makes her giggle. As Lisa brings her arms inside her bag and Deborah zippers her up they smile at each other, a devil in Lisa’s eyes. Deborah gives Ritchie a kiss. As usual he gives her his yuck face.

There is still a bit of light. Not long after Deborah has left the tent, giggling excitedly, Ritchie and Lisa share a look of complicity. Lisa unzips and flashes her hidden Hershey Bar.

She puts her finger in front of her lips. “Shhh.”

Their arms disappear inside the bags. Ritchie pinches Lisa.

From outside the tent Deborah warns them.

“Shh…”

They giggle again. Deborah sticks her head back in the tent. They let out a startled scream.   Then more giggles. Deborah pretends she hasn’t seen the chocolate bar. After it disappears under the cover she points her finger at them, teasingly accusing them. A high pitch tweet from them. She gives them their definitive goodnight, a “that’s enough” face. They settle down quickly. The fresh air has had its effect. As their eyes close they are already half asleep.

Smiling, Deborah walks away and settles by the fire. She listens to crackling twigs and sparks flying out from the fire. She stares at a log luminescent orange framed by grey ash. She is soon absorbed by the constancy of the flames and sparks. She grew up with a fireplace. She misses it in their New York apartment.

Every once in a while, she thinks she hears an animal stepping on a stick behind her.   A cougar jumps out of the dark woods! A quick look in that direction. It’s Harry settling down. She feels a chill. She puts on a sweatshirt and gets closer to the fire.   Sitting on a boulder, she lights a joint, unwinds, stares into space, finally calm with the darkness all around.

After 10 minutes she reenters the children’s tent. They are sleeping peacefully. Her eyes embrace them as she listens to their gentle breathing. Lisa coughs. Deborah continues to listen. Her breathing is a bit nasal. She finally convinces herself that it is nothing, as Michael invariably tells her. As she parts the door flap of the tent to leave she can make out Michael sixty yards away.

He is seated where they took the picture, on the edge of the cliff thousands of feet above the valley. The ledge is tilted slightly downward. Deborah appears. She is feeling the marijuana, grinning like a happy child.

Approaching carefully, she grips the rock with her strong fingernails for traction as she slides next to him.

She slips anyway, but quickly recovers.

“Whoa. That was close,” Michael says.

“I’m all right.” She examines her finger. “I broke a nail.”

In the quiet she sits close to him, both of them looking straight out into the emptiness.

“How is your book going? How’s Cornelius?”

“Amazing- as always. He refused to quit.”

“I still don’t get what’s so interesting about Vanderbilt?”

“He came from nothing and died the richest man in the world. Believe me there is a story there.”

“But two years on this guy. It’s like he’s part of our family. Truthfully I think he’s a macho schmuck.”

“You don’t know anything about him.”

“Is that what you really wanted to be, a macho guy who wins all the time?  You know that means everyone else loses?”

“Yeah, but it must be nice to win all the time.”

“Don’t know how I landed up with someone like you… an ex army sharpshooter” she teases. She loves his competitiveness. She hates his competitiveness.

“You don’t want to win?”

“ Not really.” She lies.  Yeah I hate to lose, but win.  I don’t think about it much.”  She hesitates, then continues, “Michael. You have a bad case of it.”  She tells him with a superior tone, a tone that bugs him every time he hears it.

“Thanks,” he utters in a warning tenor. 

They both stop.  Time out.  They are quiet. She chews on her lip.  Both look straight ahead.

The quiet is at first a way to get away, to hide from the preceding moment. But it soon takes over. They came here hoping to be captured. It is happening.

            The sunset has begun.  Dreamily her eyes drift to the clouds, now painted with glowing colors.  Beyond she can make out the distant line where the sky touches the ground.. They listen to the soft whistling wind occasionally punctuated by ospreys screaming out dominance over the valley below. Ca, Ca, Ca. They don’t let up.

They both start to smile.

“Nirvana.” He states sweetly.

“Shush you’ll chase it away,” she whispers. “No talking.”

She’s right. He feels it in his fingers which seem light, in the air going in and out of his lungs, but mainly in what he sees, which excites both of them- the sky saturated with deepening colors. No sunset is exactly the same.

 ” This is our fourth year.  Can’t remember how we found this place?”

“Joe told me about it.”

“Well he’s good for something. Is he still giving you a hard time about your Exxon story?”

“Not as much.”

“Doesn’t surprise me.  It’s a good story.”

Again they are silent until Deborah laughs to herself.

“What?”

“Something Amy said.”

“What?”

“She said in a past life you must have been Japanese. Always trying to take it to the next level.”

“Do you think so?”

They both know it is true. Neither understands it.  He is forever on a quest for perfection. “Live Now.  Live now.” the drugstore gurus urge.  Working towards tomorrow’s possibilities guarantees disappointment. You never quite get there.  Perfect is the enemy of the good. Enjoy things for what they are. Grab what you can while it can be had. The good, the good, the good is best.”

But it’s simply not in him.  Perhaps you have to be born that way, able to live now.  Able to be satisfied with the moment.  Deborah complains that his quest makes him too critical. She sees it in his expectations of the children. Why can’t he see exactly how perfect they are?   Deborah’s sister complains about the same thing with her husband. They tell each other that it is just the way men are. Michael should understand. He’s always felt that he disappointed his father. They never talked about it before his father died. But he knew. He could see it in his father’s eyes.

Wanting, expecting perfection makes him critical of what he has. Living in the future means that when Michael gets where he wanted to go, even if it was very hard to get there, the satisfaction disappears and he soon dreams a new dream. A better one.  “Why not?” he asks.  “If you are alive why not want the best there is, just so that you know what that is like?”  Greed she calls it. Deprivation, he counters, but understanding will not change it.  It is simply a given. 

Except when it comes to a sunset. It is not compared to other sunsets.   A sunset cannot be improved. Just followed quietly.

The sun is huge, the sky orange with hints of red. Beyond the farms, high grasses define a creek that leads to an inlet.  Even without pot Michael is there with Deborah.  He thinks of Maine and the sea grasses.

 Off to the right, leaves dance in the fading orange light, which, ever so slowly, is changing to a reddish hue.   Very, very far away a tractor, looking like a toy, moves slowly along, leaving mounds of dirt looking like anthills.   Its driver is a tiny dot.

 Deborah’s body feels buoyant, like she is floating.    A cool crisp breeze blows across their foreheads, as a sliver of red sun shimmers at the very edge of the horizon.  Then it disappears. They exhale in appreciation.  He hands her a plastic cup of wine.  He is excited by a new thought.

“I can see why they used to worship the sun.”

“Who are they?” He is too easy a target. She loves to tweak him when he becomes contemplative and speculative. He is like a child.

“Ancient people. People who lived outside. Not knowing how things work, not learning about it in books, in school. Just what’s in front of them, the sun, huge, hot.   Or cold on a winter day.   Completely gone on a cloudy day.  Can you imagine that?”

She is elsewhere.

“Sorry.”

 He doesn’t pause for a breath.

“For someone in that state of mind the sun is a mighty god.  If you’re trying to make sense of things, worshipping it makes perfect sense.  What else is a god if not something powerful, unworldly?”

She stays silent.

His voice raises, inspired by still another of his thoughts.  “Except you can see the sun!   It’s actually there.  That sure beats Jehovah. I’d  worship it if I lived back then.”

She says nothing. He is stirred up, his voice loud.  Michael and God. Not the makings of a peaceful evening, but not always unpleasant.

  A Jew is not allowed to flirt with ancient gods.  Michael hasn’t been righteous since his teen years.  He’s long since blasted away at God in his mind and in conversations.    His heart is unmoved by the rituals his parents practiced.  But he’s close to blasphemy and he knows it. Blasphemy is blasphemy. Taunting Jehovah makes him giddy, which must be stopped.  His voice becomes quiet and respectful, almost humble.

“God’s done a pretty good job here,” he tells Deborah.

She smiles, acknowledging the thought.  Saying that calms him a bit.  He feels better when he is on better terms with Yahweh, the God he’s certain doesn’t exist.

 He holds up his cup. In a few weeks it will be Rosh Hashanah. 

“To the big guy in the sky.”

 He points his wine glass at Deborah” Shana Tova”

Shana Tova” she repeats.

Deborah holds her cup up, points to where the sun has descended.  “To the Sun God.”

He gulps the wine.   She sips it. The` howling wind can be heard in the distance.  Leaves fly in the air in front of them. A moment later stillness returns.  They smile at each other contentedly, lucky to be a witness to “His” magic.

She points skyward straight above his head.  A sliver of the moon is already visible.  He turns around.

She whispers, “To the god who owns the night.   With a whisper.”

“Only one god allowed.”

 “If there is a sun god there is a moon god,”.

He smiles at her logic

She opens her arms.

“Come here Mr. Vanderbilt.”

October 23, 2014
by Simon Sobo
0 comments

After Lisa Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Two hands slap at an overturned card, a jack. Lisa and Ritchie try to out shout each other. Michael watches quietly.

“Slapjack!”

Ritchie, now eleven, is sitting on twelve-year-old Lisa’s hospital bed.   Both want to win badly. Happy rock n’ roll plays in the background. Lisa has mastered her bubble gum, cracking it emphatically, rhythmically, repeatedly blowing small bubbles then sucking them in. With one hand behind her back, she draws the next card.

Ritchie fakes slapping the pack. Lisa, just in time, freezes her hand. He points at it.

“You moved your hand.”

She shakes her head, “No!”

“You did!”

They prepare for the next draw. Lisa sneaks a look at the covered card. Another jack! Keeping a poker face she uncovers it. She beats Ritchie’s slap, smiles triumphantly.

Ritchie is not happy.

“You cheated. You snuck a look.”

“I did not.”

“You did. I saw you.”

“Daddy!

“Leave me out of it.”

She brings the back of her hand to her chest, swallows hard with a little too much theatre. Ritchie suspects this might be a ploy, but by the second swallow it looks like she is fighting nausea. Concerned, he looks at his father for reassurance. Another tentative swallow. She gags. This is clearly not under her control. Michael, who’s been reading the sports section of the newspaper, comes to life.

“You okay?”

She smiles at him a bit tearfully but then her discomfort passes as quickly as it came. In very short time, her mischievous grin takes over, as she prepares to turn over the next card. She imitates the sound of a drum roll. Ritchie is not amused by her sound effects.

“Stop,” he orders.

Deborah noisily enters the room. Lisa doesn’t look up. For a crucial moment she tries to stay with her game. Finally she gives in.

As Deborah’s mother once did to her, Deborah moves the back of her hand across Lisa’s forehead, then puts her cheek on it, checking her temperature. “How’s the patient?” she asks cheerfully, as she deposits some bags of snacks on a chair.

“Is the food any better in the cafeteria? What they bring me here sucks.”

Deborah glares at Lisa. She doesn’t like that kind of talk. Lisa’s eyes drop. Michael tosses a bag of potato chips to her. Deborah tries to intercept it.

“Doctor said only hospital food.”

Lisa throws it back to her father, “I wasn’t hungry anyway.”

Ritchie moves off to the corner of the room. He pretends to be busy, shuffling his deck of cards, but he is watching everything.

Deborah again touches Lisa’s brow with the back of her hand.

“She definitely has a fever.”

“Again?”

“I’m pretty sure. Here, feel her brow.”

Michael ignores her and plops into a different chair by the bedside. He takes the TV remote and puts on the New York Jets.

Deborah strokes Lisa forehead.

“Are you okay?”

“The same.”

“Does anything hurt?”

“It’s the same Mom, the same. Stop asking me. That’s the hundredth time you’ve asked today.”

“When did they bring your medicine? Michael, check with the nurse.”

He reluctantly starts to get out of his chair. Lisa intervenes.

“Mom. This is a big game. Ritchie you go.”

Ritchie goes forward with his task. He leaves the room and heads towards the nursing station. The once grand hospital is showing its age. The corridors have been scrubbed and scrubbed, but the marble trim around passageways has passed the point of a pleasant ivory toned patina to simply looking brown and dingy. The high ceilings seem to amplify the cold creepy institutional feeling. Ritchie shuffles down the hall. He shoots a look in the first room he encounters. A doctor and two assistants are busy preparing for a procedure. He catches the eye of seven-year-old Billy sitting up on his bed.

“Hey Billy.”

   Billy, pale and clearly ill, points his index finger at him, pretending to shoot a gun. His thumb comes down as if it is the trigger, followed by an imitation gun recoil. Ritchie returns the gesture calling out “picccchhhhu” as he shoots back.

The door closes. Ritchie moves on down the hall happily when suddenly Billy’s scream rips through the quiet.

“OWWWWW”

   “It won’t hurt…It won’t hurt. I promise you. Stay still.”

    Then another scream is heard all over the ward, this one the result of a local being administered so that a scalpel can cut through Billy’s flesh for a cut down to start the IV again.   In her room, Lisa looks at her father. She squeezes her mother’s hand.

    Billy screams again. “You said it wouldn’t hurt. You said it wouldn’t hurt. You promised.”

  Michael closes the door to their room.

The doctor’s voice can still be heard. “Hold him still. I can’t do this if he keeps moving.”