Why I hate the poor

A caveat:  our species, homo sapiens, while it goes through a childhood stage where fairness seems the most important thing in the world, is not, first and foremost, really concerned with fairness in any serious, lifelong way.  Please keep that in mind as you read my unfair account of why I hate poor people.

Why do I hate poor people?    First of all, there are just too many of them on the earth.   If you have no money, and a hard time feeding yourself, why do you have a child, then another, and sometimes many children?  Okay, I get the counter position — do the poor not have the same right as the wealthy to have a child to love?   Fair enough, but on the other hand, there are already billions, literally, of poor people on the earth.  Our planet cannot sustain the overpopulation we have now, let alone many millions more poor, hopeless, hungry children.  So when the rich, who tend to have a reasonable number of offspring, complain that the poor lack restraint when it comes to procreation, you can see their point, in a way.

Is it an unfair point?  In a way.  Would it be better, and more manageable for everyone, if each poor couple only had one or two children, or none?    Yes.   Would it be fair to require each poor couple to stop having sex after they had a child or two?   No.   Would it be fair to expect every poor couple to go out and buy birth control (assuming their religion allowed it) for many years after having the responsible amount of children?   Probably not, if they are already having a hard time feeding, clothing and sheltering themselves and their one or two babies.

Face it, though, fairness really does not enter the discussion of poverty.   If fairness in dealing with the brutality of poverty was the issue, everyone with a billion dollars would simply be required to donate 10% to a fund to end poverty by providing opportunities for poor people to emerge from the horrors of poverty.   For every billion you are worth, one hundred million donated, as a tax- write off.   Instead of your tax going to fund the programs of a government you most likely hate, just give it as forced a one time charitable donation to end poverty.   

People like the Koch brothers would contribute about ten billion to the fund.    They would do this hissing, screaming, kicking, biting, marshaling an army of lawyers to bring dozens of lawsuits.  They would be coerced by the very government they’ve spent a small fortune buying influence over to avoid government coercion of any kind.    But if fairness were really to be practiced, they’d be forced to do it.   Betsey DeVos, ignorant Secretary of Education, and her husband, Mr. Amway, would kick in about six hundred million.  The money would be overseen and distributed by a committee of our best and brightest, for low-cost housing, nutrition, job training, health care, education, subsidized college and so on.   Poverty could be eradicated once and for all, within a generation, if fairness were really our goal.

But wait, why should the super rich pay?   Not only because I hate them, they can best afford it.   Why, just because they have been immensely successful, or supremely fortunate in their birth, should they be punished by being forced to give that giant percentage of their hard-won wealth? Not only because I hate them, but because it’s fair.   A person can’t really spend even one billion dollars in a lifetime, no matter how many homes, planes, gold toilet bowls one buys.   If you can spend it just to prove me wrong, fuck off, you and your jackass addiction to sickening, wasteful luxury.

Hating the poor because they just keep fucking is a reductive reason for hating them, I get that.   I hate the poor because they keep churning out more poor people? The same could be said for the fucking rich, or even the middle and working classes.   Look at the president’s entitled offspring.  Would the world be better off without them?   Inarguably.   But I must have more reasons for hating the poor than the dumb one I have managed to spew so far.   I certainly do.

Many of the poor are in despair.   They are depressed, anxious, fearful, sometimes lashing out at innocent people, simply because their victims are not poor.   What the fuck?   Just because you were born in desperate circumstances, just because your parents and grandparents were born in desperate poverty… that doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk. [1]   Or maybe it does?   The jury is out on this one, but let’s look at a few of the facts of the case, for a minute.    

If you have an emotional disorder, like you wake up screaming in terror after short sleep every night, and you are the child of wealthy parents who love you, you will receive immediate treatment.   This includes a serious discussion with the parents, an examination by a physician, a full battery of tests, a psychiatric exam, talk therapy and possibly a course of carefully monitored psycho-pharmaceuticals.   If you are the tormented child of poor parents, the options will be fewer.    If your family qualifies for something like the Medicaid we have here, you will possibly be able to go on to disability and get medication.

Are medications for mental and emotional disorders always the best way to treat something like a reflex to terror, particularly if founded, not on terrifyingly imagined threats but real, day to day existential dangers?    Admittedly, no.   Are the meds better than nothing?  100%, certainly 50%.   Yet there are probably tens of millions of poor people and their children who get no treatment at all for serious emotional problems.

Am I really blaming the poor, who have much more to fear, many more physical, day to day reasons to be anxious than people with the money to pay for their immediate needs and wants?  Am I brushing aside the trauma associated with chronic hunger, violence associated with hopelessness, the fear of having what little you have snatched by someone more ruthless than yourself?   No, but still.   Not hating is fucking hard work, yo.

The children of the poor, when they become teenagers, often display a lot of anti-social behaviors.  They talk too fucking loud.  They throw garbage on the ground.   They are often promiscuous.   They take drugs.   They have children, while they themselves are still children, the poster children and poster grandchildren for irresponsibly.   When you tell them to stop talking so fucking loud they tell you to shut the fuck up and to stop looking at them.   When you tell them to stop throwing garbage on the floor, they threaten to throw you on the floor.   Forget about lecturing them about having less sex, taking drugs, having as many children as they feel like having.   What a bunch of selfish, intractable young assholes.

Of course, this behavior is not restricted to the children of the poor.  Many years ago, I once subbed in an elite private high school on New York City’s upper east side.   As I stood at the blackboard I had an experience I never had in hundreds of classrooms teaching impoverished NYC children.   An angry preppie came up to me, he was about my size, perhaps a little bigger, stood in front of me glaring, smirking provocatively for his classmates and refusing to move.   So I guess the children of the rich, when they become teenagers, can display anti-social behaviors and be just as fucked up as poor kids.   The poor kids I taught, I have to say, were, as a group, less entitled and more inclined to share than the rich kids at the prep school seemed to be. 

I grant you that it is hard to understand the pressures poverty places on an individual unless you’ve actually encountered any of them.  I’ve had the barest taste of it, and I can tell you how bad it tastes, though I am far from impoverished (at the moment) myself.   In order to not have to work for a living I have been frugal with the funds I have.    I’ve been living, since my mother’s death in 2010, on an income 164.74% over the Federal Poverty Level (“FPL”).   The FPL is set by bureaucrats who have never lived at anywhere near this arbitrarily set, terribly low monetary amount.   It is set very low, below what one needs to actually pay for everything required by a life that is not terribly, terrifyingly insecure.    That artificially low number helps when it is time to tabulate the numbers of people who are, from time to time, statistically lifted out of poverty.

I point out again, that though I live on a low income I have fixed myself, for the simple, selfish reason of not having to work for a living, I do not really live in poverty.   Far from it.   If the sun is glaring as it makes its fiery descent, and, blinded, I tap the brakes a second too late to avoid an imprint on the solid white ass of the stopped leased car in front of mine, I can easily get the $400 to pay the outraged woman in front of me (after verifying with a body shop that this charge is about right), meet her in a local Dunkin’ Donuts, and hand her the cash.  It barely hurts, although I could have also bought a nice piece of long-desired musical gear I won’t get now.

I stand on cold, or sweltering, NYC subway platforms late at night, powerless and angry.  The logic for the poor service at nights in NYC is simple: if you were not a powerless asshole unwilling to spend more than $2.75 to get home you could just jump in a cab, an uber, a lyft, spend the $40 or $50 not to be a powerless asshole with nothing to say about how long you have to fucking wait for public transportation, you wouldn’t be waiting forty minutes to stand on your crowded ride.  If you don’t stand for unreasonably long stretches on freezing subway platforms to get home, it means nothing, really, that many poor bastards have to do it every night.   What you don’t actually experience is an abstraction that will not move you very much, more often than not.  

The indignities of the services for poor and working class people are one thing.  Imagine being poor enough to need government assistance of any kind.   My friend, you are pretty much fucked.   When I worked as an officer of the court, I found myself standing in the shoes of hundreds of impoverished New York City tenants who, but for me, were totally fucked.   The double amputee who got a mailed notice, on Monday, to appear for a face to face meeting the following day, and was unable to get an Access-a-ride scheduled on such short notice?   She immediately lost her public assistance, with no right to appeal, for her failure to attend a mandated “face to face”.   Many moons passed, an eviction proceeding was initiated and she was in debt to her landlord something like $13,000 before I was called in to try to prevent her eviction into homelessness.

Wait, I know, I know.   Why had she had her legs amputated?   Diabetes.  How did she become diabetic?  By being obese, by eating irresponsibly, by not hiring a personal trainer, and eating coach, not seeing the proper experts before it was too late, before she simply ate herself into a lifetime disease and had both of her legs amputated.  I know.    Why was it my problem?   I know, I know…

I appeared in court month after month, for more than a year, as her debt to her landlord doubled.   The attorney for the landlord was furious at me, but I played things out as I had learned to do.    The court is loathe to evict a woman with no legs, send her rolling to a homeless shelter, it makes everybody look bad.  Yet, she was a deadbeat who owed her landlord more than $20,000 formerly paid by a government program for disabled indigents.   The landlord’s attorney railed every time we went before the judge, but to little effect.  It took me more than a year to realize I could only resolve the situation by having the judge sign a subpoena for the head of the agency to appear in court and explain why the agency had cut off my client’s benefits and was not hearing an appeal yet. 

When I served the subpoena (ad testifcandum, as opposed to duces tecum — production of documents) for the agency head to appear in court to testify about why the double amputee had not had her appeal, or her benefits restored, in more than a year and a half, I quickly got a call from the head of the agency.   Would it be possible to send an assistant, she wanted to know?

“You should talk to your own legal counsel about this,” I told her, “You are personally named on the subpoena, and the judge ordered you to appear.  I’m not your lawyer, as you know, and I can’t really give you legal advice.  All I can tell you is that refusal to answer a lawful subpoena is contempt of court, and it would be up to the judge to decide how severely  the contempt of court would be punished.”   Of course, I was talking mostly through my ass, there would likely be no consequence for this bureaucrat not appearing in the lowly Brooklyn Housing Court.

The ruse worked.  She showed up, was a lovely woman with whom I chatted for a long time before the judge saw us.   By the time we were in front of the judge we were of one mind.   The director of the agency kept her promise to the judge, had her people pull all the proper papers, expedite the appeal process, and within a week or two the double amputee had been restored to the rent-subsidy program her poverty and physical disability entitled her to.   The back rent was paid by a huge grant and I got paid my $400 by New York City for more than a year of legal services.   Fair is fair.   This particular story, which should never have taken place,  had a happy ending.

Poverty sucks.   Everybody knows that.   Poor people don’t like it, they just often have no choice about whether to be poor or not.   More determinative than work ethic, high morals, determination, creativity, desire, discipline are the circumstances one is born into.   The data shows that a person born into poverty, in most cases, will die in poverty.  Simple fucking math.  Better to be born to parents with money that parents eternally insecure about paying for what they need?  No question.   The children of the rich, while they may have many legitimate complaints about the unfair things they face in their lives, are innately less sympathetic to me than even the often obnoxious, angry, in-your-face children of the poor.   Not to say I don’t hate them too, of course.

 

[1]  I note, in spite of the unfairness of doing so, that the poor are disproportionately locked up as criminals.   This is because they are stopped and arrested in large numbers, cannot make bail (odds of conviction go up tenfold if you can’t get out of jail on bond) and wind up pleading to lower crimes to minimize their prison sentences.   Wiseasses like Anatole France may crack that “the law in its majestic equality forbids rich and poor alike from begging for alms, stealing bread and sleeping under bridges” but, well, wiseasses will be wiseasses.

Why I Hate the Rich

There is only one game in town for real success in America.   The game is won by the person who acquires the most money, and fame, along the way.   To finish respectably, you have to have, at minimum, by the time you’re old, more money than you will ever need.    Ensuring yourself of this uncertain amount is a tricky proposition in an eternally insecure culture that operates on the casino model — big rewards for big risk but you can lose everything on a bad turn of the wheel.   (That’s why you diversify, schmuck.)   It’s also why, all other things being equal, it is best to inherit a hundred million dollars or more from your parents, who inherited it from their parents and on back several generations.  Old money, there is nothing that smells quite like it.

I am a bitter man when it comes to the fucking rich and their endless privilege.  I am disgusted by how their distorted worldview and values play an overly large role in public discourse, the laws we live by and the brutalizing poverty many must live under while others enjoy unimaginable luxury.  Not content to enjoy their vast wealth and leave others alone, they frequently extend their slimy tentacles into the personal lives of millions upon millions of people who will never meet one of their filthy rich ilk.   What the fuck is up with that?   I’ll write more about my specific reasons for hating these supremely entitled fucks as soon as I set the stage a bit.

Hard-working friends with solid middle class lifestyles (a vanishing breed here in the land of the free) remind me from time to time that I made a conscious choice not to compete for wealth, not to dedicate myself to doing the hard work to advance a career, not to endure even a small amount of abuse in the interest of making good money, not to put in the long years to get a pension, a decent Social Security payment and all the rest.   They suggest that I’ve made a choice they can respect, abstractly, but one that, sadly, identifies me as a cipher, an individual whose life, fundamentally, makes little objective sense in the larger ocean we are all splashing in.  Condensed to a simple question:  if I am so smart, and so talented, why choose to be poor?

It is not easy to explain, even to myself.   Whatever I write here, for example, so much belly aching, no matter how well-written some of it may be.   If someone paid me for it, as happened a couple of times when a guy bought short pieces for publication and swapped in a bunch of random cliches for phrases I’d carefully chosen, well, that’s a different story.   The congratulations emails come flying in when the compromised prose was published.   But this endless stream I produce in my daily writing?   Well, it kind of speaks for itself, duddn’t it?

People literally don’t know what to make of anything we might think of as “artistic”, or even just expressive, unless it is monetized.   If you see it in a museum, it makes you think, provokes a certain awe, you can read learned glosses on the work of art you are experiencing, the depthless insights of the artist, his influences, his place in art history.   If you see something very much like that art work in your friend’s sketchbook, truthfully, what can you say?   “I like the colors,” or “is that supposed to be anything?”  or “is that me?”.   If it arrives in the mail, you can just look at it and shrug it off with a quick shudder.  What the hell is it supposed to mean?

Look, I say god bless you to anyone who doesn’t have artistic pretensions.   My grandmother fucked me up good with that fevered dream of a genius so prolific and undeniable I’d be able to draw on a table cloth at the most expensive restaurant in Paris to pay my bill in full, with a thousand dollar tip.  She didn’t factor in the magnificent ambition and entrepreneurial genius necessary to achieve a fame as vast as Picasso’s, the fame that enables a few brushstrokes on a linen table cloth to create an objet d’art worth the price of a hundred gourmet meals.

To my grandmother’s great chagrin, I was never ambitious or entrepreneurial, I just loved to draw.    At the same time, ever since I was a kid, I realized, on some level, that time is the only real wealth we have.   If you have the treasure of time you can invest some of it in learning to express yourself.   This expression, it always seemed to me, was as crucial to develop as the ability to really listen to other people.   Just to say, I suppose, that I have always had some kind of artistic pretensions about the meaning of my life and my abilities.

Which brings us to the arbiters of who is an artist and who is merely a pretentious person who wants to be one.    Let me say, first, that I have no problem with these arbiters, no burning desire to see my casually scrawled signature painted, 100 times its normal size, on a tastefully lit white museum wall at the threshold of a lifelong retrospective of my work (unless, of course, I had to exert myself in no way and there was a huge cash payment to me when the museum mounted the show).  Years ago it bothered me beyond describing that the “art world” was the province of a cliquish group of born-wealthy connoisseurs who were the gatekeepers of what is High Art and what is, well, simply neuroses made visible.   Let them keep the gates, the palaces of art, the incomprehensibly priceless objets d’art and all the rest.   I can’t use it.

Please believe, it is truly not bitterness about art.  I have as little use for high art as I do for the catalogue of a show I saw as a teenager.   Or my vast collection of Mad Magazines, long ago shipped to the son of an old friend who was also a great lover of the “usual gang of idiots” over at Mad.   Or anything else, really.   Being blessed is its own reward and I consider it a blessing to have these things I love to do, things that enrich my life, that make spending time doing them a blessing to me.  I’m not grasping for any additional blessings, I’m just trying to explain myself.

 Writing, it seems to me, is the most accessible form of expression.   Everybody I know reads, many actually love to read.   A well-written paragraph can break the heart or give a surge of hope.  A handful of times over a long life someone will tell you “that was beautiful,” or “you made me cry”.    Bingo, like a kamakaze finding the smoke stack to fly down, the explosion, the ship sinking, everybody on board killed.

I didn’t start writing this to talk about self-expression, though it is sometimes hard not to.   We have time and we have the expression of our thoughts and feelings.   Picture your life without either one.   How was your day, dear?   I had no time and nothing to say about it.

Onward, then, why I hate the fucking rich.

If you are born into great wealth, you will be given every chance in the world to grow up to be whatever you dream of being.   You can be a contemplative, reading widely and listening deeply and, instead of merely speaking, writing your thoughts on the most beautiful 100% cotton paper available, in fantastically rare ink drawn through an exquisitely perfect writing instrument.    You can go into business, whichever ones you like, with plenty of capital to support you in failure or success.  You can be a lout, a spoiled rich idiot who simply follows his every impulse, shoots endangered animals, fucks people over, has lawyers pay ’em off to shut the fuck up, etc.  If you are born rich, outside of murder with multiple eye witnesses (who are not members of your rarefied social class), there is little in your life that you will ever be held accountable for.

This kind of upbringing, in most cases, results in an individual who believes, as Ivanka Trump apparently does, as does her husband Jared, that anyone who works hard can become a success.   The corollary is that failure is a vice of the lazy, the weak, the unworthy.    If I managed, with a mere few million dollar loan from daddy, to launch a fabulous international brand, what is to stop these whining parasitic takers from doing the same, instead of bitching about how unfair life is?

Chris Hedges uses the phrase The Pathology of the Rich to describe the worldview of people born into vast inherited wealth.   “Pathology” might seem a little unfair, even though I can clearly see the thing he describes, the thing I hate, as a disease.   The simple cause of their rarified, if myopic, view of the world is not hard to see.   If you are born rich you do not have the same experience of life as 99% of the world does.   Hardly anybody can identify with frustrations they have never personally experienced.   If you are sheltered from the most common frustrations of poor people, how will you have any way to relate to them?   The result is a worldview that makes a certain twisted sense.  Hard work equals good fortune equals being rich.   Laziness equals poverty and self-pity, with all the other pathologies appurtenant thereto.

A rich fifteen year-old in an elite boarding school who happens to once make the childish mistake of using an eight year-old boy as an unwilling sexual partner?   No need to ruin the boy’s life, either one of them!  These things are worked out privately, discreetly, no call to get the police and the courts involved, destroying lives and reputations over a youthful mistake.   A few words among gentlemen, the families both need to be consulted, there is a win-win resolution to be negotiated here.   Otherwise the boys will both be shamed and the families’ good names dragged through the mud.   Unthinkable.   The young pederast will be forever tarred a pervert and sex offender simply for one youthful indiscretion.  A terrible outcome, we can all agree.  

If the young pederast had been a scholarship student, from a family of working class swine, well… we rest our case, that’s clearly a different story.  Expel him immediately, after a call to the local constable.  How dare he sodomize his social superior?!

Let the same outrage occur among the poor– these same enlightened philosophers on the board of the elite boarding school will set up a howl for the swiftest and most severe punishment of the savage young child-rapist.  Society must never tolerate such perversion, such predation! How dare they?!

So far it has all been the hereditarily wealthy I’m railing against, but what of the people who, through their own tireless and heroic efforts, acquire vast, self-made fortunes? Some become so wealthy, mind you, that their excrement ceases to emit a bad odor. Universally, it seems, this type is admired and shown as proof that anyone who is talented enough, and dedicated enough, who works hard and smartly enough, can acquire a fortune.  Anyone who makes a billion dollars is automatically considered a genius and a great authority on all matters, often the best possible expert on how to help the children of the poor and dispossessed.

It is no impediment, of course, that most of these self-made successes had many advantages growing up– the best schools, elite universities, crucial business connections, strokes of good luck including excellent timing.   But forget that, these supernovas soon become just like their fellow twits in the highest branches of that cuckoo tree that is super-wealth.  The best of the best.  The only thing they require is vast returns on their already vast fortunes and the lowest possible tax bills.

Rich people necessarily divide the world into people like themselves, the very best people, and that vast and hopeless hoard of mankind who does not share their work ethic, drive, values, faith, native optimism.   I can understand that.   The part I don’t get is why these fantastically fortunate fucks are not content to enjoy their wealth without exerting power over the rest of us.   What business is it of the super-rich if the children of the poor are able to attend excellent public schools?   How are they actually affected if poor people are allowed to have access to affordable health care?   If poor women are able to get an abortion if they find themselves in a difficult spot where they have to make that agonizing choice?

Why can’t these rich fucks just stay in their beautiful enclaves and be content to run the art world, the philanthropic world, corporate board rooms, high culture?   If they could simply do that, I’d have no beef with them.   But they can’t, can they? They need to make educational policies, and environmental laws, and human rights enforcement decisions for all of us.

They want to rule the world.   They do rule the world.   I have always hated the heedless, entitled motherfuckers who dream of nothing but more wealth, more luxury and more power.  Yes, I know there are a some good ones, and just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you’re a grotesquely privileged, empathy-challenged piece of shit, though wealth beyond a certain point is strongly suggestive of it.  I hate the rich for their ability to fuck up without consequence while haughtily judging everybody else.   Fuck them and the whores they rode in on.

Craft

I watched an excellent documentary on Frank Zappa, an eccentric musical genius and original thinker who was also a hell of a guitar player.  The film was called Eat That Question (from the title of a Zappa tune).  It struck me how devoted to his craft the almost maniacal Mr. Zappa was.

If you have something you love to do, it is a beautiful thing to hone it to the highest excellence you can reach.   That honing strikes me as a lifelong effort and it seems to me the minute you become totally satisfied with the craft you’ve attained, like, say, Eric Clapton apparently did, you go on autopilot, begin to roll backwards and start to take on a certain stink.

There is a craft, for lack of a better word,  to everything we practice.   A way of doing the thing each time we do it, with an eye toward doing it even better.   In the case of writing, for instance, it is finding a thought or feeling that is important enough for you to focus on and express.   Then you need to put it into words.   Then comes the most important part, to arrange the words so that everything is as clear to the reader as you can make it.   If you decide it’s good enough, before it is, you are not taking your craft very seriously.

(Then you will need to have another cup of coffee, shower and put your pants on, it’s already almost four o’clock.  Yee gads!)

Racism vs. Humanism

I know that I’m not boldly going out on any kind of moral limb by saying that racism, a creation of fear and rage and perhaps mankind’s most popular eternal justification for hatred,  is irrational.   I mean, internally, racism is not a system that makes sense.   One obvious reason is that it requires making blanket pronouncements against millions of people you’ve never met, just because they fit a certain ethnic or “racial” demographic, which is just ignorant.   I don’t mean to sound judgmental, God forbid, but racism, on it’s face, doesn’t pass the ‘what the fuck, are you a desperate, clueless fucking imbecile?’ test.  

Many racists will at some point encounter a member of the hated race who will do him some kindness, maybe save his life, donate a vital organ or something, or just go out of his way to extend some unexpected kindness to the racist.  Here is the beauty of racism, if it is ardent and staunchly enough held.   A good racist will appreciate the human individual in question and conclude “well, I thank him, he’s one of the good ones.  I guess that proves those (insert racial slur) have at least one decent one among them.”  

If the racist begins to question his belief, based on a few individuals who refute the stereotype, the whole thing starts to unravel.   His fellow racists will disown him as some did when Donald J. Trump, whose credentials are otherwise pretty strong,  “gave his daughter to a Jew.”    

You want consistency in a racist’s “thinking”?   Good luck, sister.  Adolf Hitler himself, poster child for muscular,  mass murdering, evangelizing, yea, charismatic racism, with racist credentials so impeccable that he’s an idol to haters more than seventy years after he finally blew his brains out, made a few exceptions.  It is well known that every top Nazi had a Jew or two he knew to be a decent chap.  “Don’t put a finger on Max Grossman,” a top SS officer would order, “Max is under my protection.”  Max might have been the SS guy’s brave platoon leader in World War One, or had done some other great service to the SS guy, maybe he was the likable, discreet, self-effacing brother of the Jewish woman the SS guy was having a long, secret affair with.

Would it blow your mind to learn that Hitler himself had a list of Jews not to be touched, as he was insanely rounding up and mass murdering every Jew he could find anywhere?  [1]   It wouldn’t have blown my mind, really.  Nothing about the “philosophy” of racism makes much sense and one should expect no real consistency in a belief system that is based on visceral ignorance.   Of course, if somebody saves your life, most people will not kill that person.   If you have an admired teacher you love, you’d tend to spare her while putting everybody else into cattle cars rattling off for slaughter.  A doctor who saved your mother’s life, fine, don’t put her in a gas chamber.   This is sometimes called “common decency” a trait long exhibited among humans.

But here is a mind blowing fact about the versatile Mr. Hitler.    That widely admired totalitarian psychopath (we are living in a renaissance of Mr. Fucking Hitler and his type)  had a list (we learn from Hannah Arendt’s wonderful Eichmann in Jerusalem) of  a few Jews who were not to be harmed, even as the rest of their detested “race” were exterminated like insects.    A few names, ja.  

That insane bastard had the names of three hundred and forty Jews on his fucking Do NOT Exterminate list!  340 Jews!  On Hitler’s list!  (Arendt, 133).

Do not touch a hair on their poisonous heads or you will dance until you die from a length of piano wire.   Do you know how agonizing a death hung by thin, sturdy wire is?  Adolf could show you a few movies of his enemies, their stupid gyrations in slow, comical, climbing death.  Hitler, toward the end, apparently loved nothing more than watching the reels over and over, his enemies slowly choking to death as they kicked their feet and jerked, and soiled themselves.  Humiliating deaths!   Ha!   Who is laughing now, asshole?    So, you kill one of my 340 pet Jews, you will know my wrath.  Be warned.  

Hitler didn’t have to say it twice, or even spell it out, for the Fuhrer’s every spoken word had the force of law (Fuhrerworte haben Gesetzeskraft)  (Arendt, 148).

If the law you must live by is the word of a violent and insane racist apt to say and do literally anything … good luck to you, Bozo.

I called this post Racism v. Humanism.   Humanism, a belief (I say, off the top of my humanistic head [2]) that humans can discover higher truths and solve even terrible problems by the application of rational thought, research and common effort.   Most human beings down through the ages, unless filled beyond bursting with fear, rage and ritualized hatred, would chose humanism over racism, everything else being equal.   Humanists see the best in our fellow humans; racists imagine the worst.   Humanism works toward a common future for humanity that does not include our mass extinction.   Racism, not so much.

 

[1]  While also, of course, being willing to kill millions of non-Jews, collateral damage, if you will, in his war to purify Aryan blood and make the world safe for the whitest of easily suckered white mongrels.

[2] A humanistic head that also requires me not to talk exclusively through my ass. Finding more information took less than three seconds.   Jeeves gives us this more detailed definition of Humanism:

an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.

What I’ve Learned So Far

A caveat, first.   We don’t get to learn that much of great importance, the vast majority of us, in the short time we’re given here in this distracting, demanding world.  I’ve learned this so far, which I’ve found useful, and which I’ll write now and post.  I share it here partly out of pride that I’ve been able to learn it.  I offer it also for whatever help or comfort it may give for some of what you might be struggling to understand in your own life.

Parents don’t fail their children, in most cases, out of any kind of malice or ill-will.

This simple truth is in no way intuitive or obvious, though when you read it you might go “duh…”   As kids we hope for everything from our parents, and almost none of us get that.   The rest is on us.

There are extreme situations, of course, where insane people do unspeakable things to their children.  To the children of those outliers, I really wouldn’t know what to say that could be of use to you, having had to live through that unimaginable nightmare, outside of that none of it was your fault.  I am also not talking to anyone who survived a childhood in an actual, violent, physical war zone, a truly inconceivable horror, except to wish that your parents were heroes and that you and your family were spared the worst.   This piece will probably be most digestible to anybody raised by more or less ordinary, average, normal, regular parents living in peacetime.

Being born to parents, or a single parent, or raised by an adoptive parent, or a parent figure, who is able to give you exactly what you need in life, all the essential things, or even simply a life-affirming sense of being loved that never deserts you, is a matter of luck as great as any other lucky thing in the world.  How were the stars twinkling the night you were born, or, if by day, where was the sun, exactly?   Who can say?  Even if the stars actually have anything to do with luck in the first place, which, who the hell knows? 

My sister and I had painful childhoods, we watched each other suffer, gave each other what little help we could, even as we fought each other much of the time.   None of it could be helped in the house we grew up in.  Yet, our parents were not sadists, psychos, creeps, fools, jerks, nuts, assholes, zealots, criminals, compulsive liars or even particularly rigid people.   They were both very intelligent, sensitive, had good senses of humor,  and both loved us AS WELL AS THEY COULD.  

That is the key there, keep it handy.  

They did what they thought was best for us, always.   How were they to know that at the most crucial emotional moments for my sister and me they had literally no fucking clue how to give us what we needed?   Where were they to have learned that blessed skill?

They certainly had no role models.   Their childhoods were MUCH worse than my sister’s and mine.   I guarantee that, can see few things more clearly than I see that. And my parents’ parents’ childhoods had been worse than my parents’ childhoods and so forth, all the way back.

My father, I learned toward the end of his life, had been whipped in the face (in the face) by his angry, ignorant, religious fanatic mother, from the time he could stand. One year old, or whatever, he’s finally on his feet and — BOOOOM!!!!   In your fucking face, bitch, don’t you fucking look at me, asshole (but hissed in Yiddish).   It’s hard to imagine the horrors of her childhood, except that everyone left behind in that impoverished hamlet she came from was slaughtered in 1942.  

My mother’s mother was charming, dynamic, loved me to death as I loved her, but even as a kid I could easily see how hard she’d come down on my mother, her only child.   Countless yardsticks broken over her daughter’s ass, was the phrase I used to hear, from both my parents.   I always pictured the flimsy yardsticks I knew, with the ads printed on them, no big deal, I could effortlessly snap ’em myself as a ten year-old.  Years later I saw a yardstick from back then.  36 inches of solid squared lumber an inch thick, with numbers and lines carved into it, not those thin, light almost balsa wood jobs they gave away at the hardware store when I was a kid, with the numbers printed on.   Not much was known about my mother’s mother’s childhood, except that twenty years after she left everyone in her large family, and her husband’s, was shot and left in a mass grave in August 1943, if they hadn’t died earlier from starvation, disease, cold or other violence, in the cruel year before the final massacre.

Do I take valuable lessons from my parents?   Yes, from each of them.   I carry them with me every day, wherever I go.   Did I have to undo many curses they placed on my little soul as they ineptly tried to protect me, and love me, and make me not ask terrible questions they couldn’t answer, and encourage me, and discipline me, and praise me, and keep me humble, show me new things, and shield me from things, make me cautious, and brave, empowered, outspoken and submissive and the hundreds of other crucial things parents must constantly do well, in real time, with no notice, and that they receive absolutely no training or preparation for, or sometimes even a clue about?   Many curses that I still have to deal with all the time.  Things that in their angriest moments they never would have dreamed of wishing on me. But there it is.

Did I vex my parents?  Every single day of their lives (at least until the final years of my mother’s lonely life when I’d finally learned not to, and the sudden last two days of my father’s life on the eve of my mother’s widowhood).   Did I disappoint them?  Too many times to count.  Were they proud of me nonetheless?   More than they could say.  Did they love me?   They loved me the very best each of them could love anybody.   More I could not ask of anyone.

What did I learn?  To smile at the idiotic, dependably merciless voice that was in my head year after year, repeating the vicious, undermining things my parents hissed at me when they were too frustrated and angry to remain coherent.   How long did it take me to learn that life-saving trick?  More than thirty years, I think.  It was not quick, I can tell you for sure.  The beauty part is, after enough practice, that ugly little fucker finally pretty much shut the hell up.  What I learned, as that victimizing voice was fading, was to always be merciful to myself. 

Do I ever doubt that I have a good heart?    Never.   Do I question my motivations? Only on rare occasions, and when I find myself on shaky ground I almost always try to fix what I can fix.

But, isn’t that true of every asshole, they believe they have a good heart and that they are right all the time?   Yes.   So doesn’t that mean I’m an asshole?   Not really.

My parents, luckily, gave me the tools to work things out, though they often thwarted me as I was trying to learn to use them.   I’m not proud of the grief I caused them during our long struggle, but neither do I blame them now for the grief they caused me.   How long did balancing that unthinkable mess take, until there was no more pain or regret involved?   I don’t know, maybe forty years, and I have to keep practicing to keep it straight, but it is quite easy to practice now.

What did I learn?   That most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can, within their limitations.   The only thing we can fairly ask of someone else is not to treat us unfairly.   We have the right to demand the best of our loved ones, and we will most often get it, especially if we give ours to them, unless we are making unreasonably one-sided demands.

What did I learn?   “What is hateful to you, do not do to somebody else.”   It is easier to master that than the other formulation of the same golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   We all, each of us, viscerally and instantly know what is hateful to us.   Love can be trickier, even as love, is also, first and last, trying never to do something we find hateful to a person we love.  And if we do fuck up, which we always do, being humble and making amends.

Do I think having finally learned that make me Jesus, or Hillel, or anything special? No.  Isn’t it true I’m just another asshole?   Fine.   But I’m an asshole who will try not to treat other people like assholes, to the extent that I can, and whenever I act with mercy toward another I feel a certain peace and a greater sense of hope for my fellow assholes on this poor, persecuted planet.  I feel like mercy for others, when I can give it, flows directly from my mercy for myself, is part of the same process.

As I told an old friend the other day, and as I spoke it surprised me to hear me saying it: I find I’ve become more patient than I ever thought I could possibly be.  Those feelings of mercy and hope, and learning to nurture myself, help others when I can (and when I can’t help, not hurting), to me, are most of the ballgame, right there.

That’s what I’ve learned.   

 

The problem with an anodyne explantion

The good thing about an anodyne explanation is that it does not stir conflict.   Anodyne explanations are calculated not to ruffle feathers, not to feed into controversy, not to piss anyone off.    

The bad thing about an anodyne explanation is that it must leave out certain things in order to remain inoffensive.   An anodyne explanation can never encompass the difficult parts of the truth about any problem that is vexing and hard to solve.   An anodyne explanation explains away deadly complications in the most inoffensive way.   Those deadly complications, as we know, persist, no matter how gently anodyne the explaining away is.  If these deadly complications don’t affect you directly, an anodyne explanation is fine.  If you are hurt by those complications, the anodyne rap will not leave your feelings as unruffled.

Anodyne:  we are family, family loves each other, you must forgive, we love you, you mustn’t be angry or renounce us, no matter what you think or feel.

Left out:  much violence takes place in families, the intimacy of families leads to as much anger and antipathy as love, we have a choice to forgive or not, based on all of the circumstances, including the sincerity of the apology, love is a beautiful thing, but it is one of several emotions at play here, perhaps I must renounce you, to save myself.  Can you think of one family without factions and outcasts?  I can name several in the closest circle of your loving family, now that I mention it.

Anodyne:  our democracy is a meritocracy that recognizes the inviolable truth that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable human rights including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.   We have a level playing field in our democracy because our commitment to equality of opportunity and freedom of expression for all are our highest values.   Every vote matters and every vote will be counted as we choose the very best candidates to represent us and rule according to our democratic wishes.

Less anodyne: Let us put aside the hundreds of slaves owned by the visionary men who signed on to those words, open any newspaper to the crime section, pull up the news on your phone, visit any penitentiary, look around.   Our meritocracy does indeed grant equality and freedom of expression, but not always in a fair manner, not always having anything to do with merit.  As far as freedom of speech, piles of secret money talk louder than any single individual in our nation and this unlimited “dark money” plays a bigger role in electoral outcomes than even the most inspiring candidate who does not have a sufficiently huge advertising budget.  Plus, don’t get me started about the voting laws, once the Supreme Court decided recently that racism is dead in the USA, with the Birther President’s undeniably mulatto predecessor and all, and therefore, fair is fair, let the states of the former Confederacy decide who can vote in state and federal elections.

Anodyne:  there is great equality and liberty and social mobility in our country, any child can grow up to be president, or become as rich and successful as he or she wants, provided she works really hard.

Less anodyne:   Every American kid loves to hear that, but the reality is, of course, a tad more complicated.    If you’re born poor, and have a stroke of good luck, you may have one chance to work your way out of poverty– and don’t screw it up because you will have the one shot and that’s it, loser.   If you are born wealthy you will not require luck to have as many chances as you need to succeed.   The small network of your fellow rich will do their best to ensure that you do not fail in the end.    You will be given everything you need to succeed, over and over.  You can mismanage and bankrupt countless businesses, take imbecilic business risks (and fail), embroil yourself in a dozen scandals, fuck up in every possible way, and your social network of fellow extremely wealthy people will find a way for you to succeed, if you are determined enough to keep at it, even if it takes fifty years or more.  

(Thank you Chris Hedges [1] for this insight about endless chances for the children of the rich to make good, and virtually none for the children of the poor, it is self-evident once you put it that way).

Anodyne: George H. W. Bush, Bush 41, was our last true gentleman president, civil, kind, decent, human.

Less anodyne:  George H. W. Bush was a child of privilege, son of wealthy senator Prescott Bush who invested in lucrative heavy industries that Hitler made sure were booming (in the rearmament and lead up to war) and kept those booming stocks, apparently, even after the U.S. entered the war against Hitler.   Patrician Prescott’s connections kept him out of trouble.   H.W. was not decent or kind to AIDS sufferers, who hate him to this day (though he was arguably civil) for his inaction in the early years of the deadly crisis. He told homosexuals that AIDS was a disease of their lifestyle choice and that they should stop being irrational and just stop the behavior (anal sex) and they wouldn’t get AIDS.   His armies slaughtered countless people in several bloody wars, including one in Panama, apparently launched to cover up some drug business between himself, when he was head of the CIA, and Manuel Noriega, who had been involved in the cocaine trade that financed many CIA ops.   He arguably obstructed justice by refusing to testify during the Iran-Contra scandal hearings and later, as president, pardoning everyone involved who had been indicted or convicted of anything,  bringing inquiry into the scandal to a clean and permanent end.  I remember him as a complete dick, a perfect clueless patrician twat, though he did sign the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, and was not as in-your-face psychopathic as this stinking pile of born privileged schitt we have in the Oval Office today,   Then again, nobody in public life has ever come close to stinking up the public sphere as much as this stubborn schitt stain currently soiling the office chairs in the White House.

For a definitive, completely un-anodyne discussion of George H.W. Bush’s legacy, check out Jeremy Scahill’s video tribute to the war criminal.

I note here that Jeremy, in the interest of time, does not even mention one of the cannonized Bush’s most horrific legacies, the crippling sanctions on once prosperous Iraq (which, even under a dictator, had free health care for its citizens) that killed uncounted persons over many years.  

Anodyne:  in the land of the free and the home of the brave the only people who claim there is a class war are the malcontents who don’t understand the real nature of our liberty loving society.   Most Americans recognize the beautiful and unparalleled opportunity and equality here, outside of Marxist-type agitators. 

Less:  (the above was not really anodyne, since it was opinionated in a way not designed to sidestep controversy, but onward)   In America there is actually less social mobility than in most other wealthy, developed countries.   The class you are born into is, in most cases, the class you will be in when you die (earlier for the poor, of course, but you get what you pay for here), though people do still escape from poverty or the working class and attain high profile positions that seem to argue that anyone, with enough hard work, can become Michael Jordan, LeBron, Jay-Z.

So, as we can easily see, an anodyne explanation is good for avoiding a fight, agreeing to disagree in an amiable way, simplifying, over-simplifying, walking on the sunny side, staying out of really aggravating terrain.  The New York Times is a long-time master of this anodyne, status quo supportive approach, in many cases.  

We can always set up a grotesque false equivalency to add punch to the anodyne position.  Is the Free Market better than a slave economy where employers are bound by no rules of any kind and are free to kill workers outright at any time?  Of course.   Is the Free Market we have in America, one that grants legal monopolies to certain corporations and huge taxpayer-funded subsidies to preserve already vast profits, truly a free market?   You fucking tell me, buddy.

Freedom is on the march, bitches, that’s all you need to know.  Have a very anodyne day!

 

[1]  Journalist Chris Hedges was a scholarship kid in an elite academy for the children of the extremely rich.  Most of his fellow students were the product of generations of inherited wealth, and were born into an honest sense of superiority.   Hedges was struck by how unaccountable these rich boys were, how stage managed everything was in their lives to make them feel successful and untouchable.   He refers to their isolated, protected sense of entitlement and freedom from the consequences of most of their actions on everybody else, not unfairly, as the pathology of the rich.  

An odd society of married men (final)

For years four married men, and I include myself, as I am as married as anyone (Sekhnet and I have been together twenty years now) would take a ferry ride to an island once a year and spend the day on the beach.   It was an annual tradition that ensured we all got to spend some quality time with a friend who was living abroad and came to the US every summer for a harried, duty-packed visit.   We’d have lunch in a small restaurant there and compare notes on what had happened from the previous year before heading to the beach.   The boat ride there and back, across the sparkling water, was always a highlight of the day.

A few years ago I had a final falling out with a longtime friend named Andy, one of the four, and it became awkward after that to convene the annual meeting.   It would have forced the two men into the conflict, made them choose between me and Andy, something they could not do.   The day was celebrated the last couple of years as a two-some, the two old friends hopping the ferry, eating lunch at the restaurant, spending the day at the beach, catching up.

It must have been one of the last times the four of us were there that the subject of Andy’s wife, Hitler, came up.   I immediately barked out my extreme distaste for her, protested that I was trying to eat and that this harshly opinionated angry little Russian Jew was not a fit subject for mealtime. Andy and I had an understanding that his noisome wife would not be discussed between us.  We’d patched up a friendship Hitler had sundered a few years earlier and not discussing his wife was a condition of our reconciliation. I found it impossible to talk about her without disputing her proclaimed right to express the full measure of her ready rage whenever she wanted to.

But during the polite lunch discussion, Rob, the peacemaker, chided me for my vehemence, for the shorthand “Hitler” (which I stand behind, incidentally) and began defending this woman, Hitler.   “If you really listen to her, and talk to her, she’s really, really smart and she makes a lot of sense”, Rob said.  He noted that she has a great sense of humor.  He said he actually has learned to appreciate her and he gets along great with her now, that he has actually come to like her and feel like she likes him too.   Andy began to laugh an unpleasant, mirthless laugh.

“She fucking hates you, Rob!” Andy said with exaggerated disgust.  He went on to flesh out that hatred a bit.   He did this with a big, humorless smile on his face.  A year or two later Andy’s sickening marriage to Hitler was heading toward a long-overdue divorce.   Andy left her during the separation, moved out of the marital domicile and into a spacious wooden garden apartment that looked like the Zen dojo he’d begun hanging out in with the little sect he’d joined.

Andy, a very bright man who’d scored a perfect hole-in-one on his SATs back in high school, would be quick to point out that a “dojo” is a place where martial artists train and he’d tell me the right word for a place where Zen meditation is done.    In response I’d point out that every place Andy practices anything is a forum for martial arts (and that the only difference between the words “martial” and “marital” is the placement of the I, how’s that for a koan?).

I recall these lunches in particular as a place where unhappily married men complained about and defended their bad marriages.  Since I am not actually married, am not legally contracted to Sekhnet, I was somewhat exempt from this part of the conversation, though, obviously, not really. Everybody has some kind of issue, conflict or problem with virtually everybody else, it’s just one of the features of being human.  

Life partnerships are certainly not exempt from this general rule, in fact, they are often more subject to conflict than less intimate relationships.   The better friendships are the ones where affection causes us to give generous allowances for the foibles of the other, and the proverbial benefit of the doubt.   We’re lucky, in this life, if we find a couple of people we can count on to truly have our best interests at heart and not fight with us too much, it seems, especially during these combative days as we wait for our home, the increasingly besieged earth, to become uninhabitable.

It struck me as a bit ironic that Rob the peacemaker, who defended Andy’s wife, Hitler, against my unfair, if not inaccurate, portrayal, probably also supported him 100% in his decision to divorce her.   It would have been hard not to be supportive of the move.  I am quite sure the divorce did not fix Andy’s somewhat broken life, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.   Rob has been at war with his own wife since shortly after they married, many years ago.  It is one of the most explosive and angry minefields of a marriage I know.   There are periods of uneasy peace surrounded by devastation that has done damage to everybody in its orbit.   I am a casualty, finally, of that toxic relationship.

There is a picture of Andy and me, dressed in misshapen suits, ties inexpertly knotted at our throats, standing on the front stoop of my parents’ house in Queens. Each of us has a bad haircut we probably hacked out ourselves.   The snapshot was taken right before we headed to Rob’s wedding.   I wonder where that photo is.

There were signs at Rob’s wedding, now that I think back, of the disaster that was about to unfold.   A sense of uneasiness and mutual desperation hung over it all, though perhaps my memories are also colored by what has come to pass in the decades since.

                                                                                 ii

To explain why Rob’s marriage was probably doomed to be a war from the start it is necessary to describe my old friend a little.  Rob is also the most important character in this little story as he was my connection to the other married men in the odd society of married men who spent a day at the beach every year.  I’d met Andy through Rob (they’d been at an Ivy League college together) and later I met the émigré, the man for whose company we’d meet at the ferry terminal every summer.   Keep that thought in mind, Rob as the nexus, and the oldest friend of each of us, since it may explain some things later.

Rob has always been a nervous person. He was a nervous boy when I met him in fourth grade when we became best friends, after he had skipped into my grade. The nervous boy grew into a nervous teenager and later a nervous man.   A very smart kid and an intelligent, thoughtful man, I have rarely known him not to be nervous about something.

He comes by it honestly, I would say.  Rob was raised by somewhat nervous parents, two people I knew quite well for decades.  After Rob and I became friends our parents became close friends too.   The families spent many holidays together.    In some families (like Rob’s, actually) I would have called his parents Aunt and Uncle.   The families were very close and I was familiar with Rob’s domineering maternal grandmother as well.    Rob and I went in different directions in High School and fell out of touch for a number of years.

At one point Rob’s mother, Caroline, came across an envelope of James Bond trading cards Rob and I had pasted on to pages and written humorous captions for, many years earlier (Sean Connery was Bond on those cards).  I’d found them in a closet and sent the collection to Rob, whom I hadn’t seen for a few years.   On top of the pile I’d scrawled a note to the effect that “someday we’ll play guitars”.   As I recall, Caroline framed that note, after weeping joyfully to my mother over the life-affirming optimism of an old friend reaching out that way to a friend he’d grown apart from.

We did play guitar a few years later, in San Francisco, where Rob was living at the time.  The cover story for his sojourn in SF, as I recall, was that he was becoming a California resident to get in-state tuition for medical school.  He was actually playing in a rock band, trying to be as close to a full-time musician as he could be.   He had already abandoned the idea of medical school and was probably working on how to best break the news of his career change to his folks.

I plugged a guitar into a large amp in the concrete warehouse room where his band practiced.  It was just Rob and me in the reverb-rich room.  I loved the sound, played some bluesy line, sustaining a note against the wonderful acoustics of that big empty room and Rob’s jaw dropped as he told me how much I sounded like Clapton [1].   This may seem a silly image to include here, but it will be useful to recall later on.

Sometime later, back in New York, we had a remarkable jam session in the basement office of a pediatrician named Dr. Geller (who turned out to have been Sekhnet’s pediatrician, she recalled his enormous hands).   Geller owned the house Rob’s parents rented, the home where Rob and his older sister were raised. I’d had many a holiday meal in that house, in the company of our two families. I’d spent massive amounts of time in that house over the years, but had never been down to Geller’s office before that night.  It was a remarkable session, with Andy on synthesizer keyboard.   It was the first time I’d played with Andy and there was a certain magic to the musical connection that first time.

But none of this explains why Rob was doomed to a combative marriage, so onward. He’d had a series of fairly longterm girlfriends over the years, but as far as I knew, for many years, none of them were Jewish.   In his mind he could only marry a Jewish woman, so this easy out kept his sexual relationships limited in a certain crucial way.   A way that eventually caused great pain, and sometimes anger, in his longterm partners.  A psychiatrist finally pointed this pattern out to Rob, when he was in his early thirties.  I remember Rob telling me about this breakthrough session when he realized, with the shrink’s help, that it was essential for him to date a Jewish girl and get married as soon as possible.   He proceeded to do exactly that.

I liked the woman, though she seemed volatile.   Her older brother (a guy Rob and I both knew in passing at Hebrew School), we soon learned, had opted out of the family, not contacting any of them for years.   This happens in families, I figured, who knows what the whole story is?   The haste with which they got engaged and married may not have been to my taste (I’m still not officially married, nor is Sekhnet planning to marry me) but it wasn’t my business, really.   Yet there was still something a little unsettling about the lead up to the wedding and the wedding itself.  An ominous foreshadowing, if you will.

There was a dinner party before the wedding, at a Mexican restaurant, maybe it was their engagement party.   Hitler, Andy’s wife,  insulted Rob’s oversensitive sister in a curt, particularly brutal manner.   I remember feeling a tension at that dinner that I can only say felt tense.

The bachelor party for Rob was also memorable for something being off about it, even for a bachelor party.   The main thing I recall is that the party was commandeered by the loud, overbearing, drunken asshole brother-in law of the bride, a boisterous clown named Eddie.   My main memory is of Eddie loudly critiquing the body of a stripper in a bar he’d dragged us to.   Perhaps her breasts or buttocks were not up to his exacting standards, although it could have been literally anything, or nothing, at that point.  He was shit-faced and somehow in charge.

Eddie would not be Rob’s brother-in-law that much longer, he and Rob’s wife’s sister divorced not long after that idiotic display of alpha-maleness.   I don’t disparage anyone for getting divorced from someone who mistreats them.  I have been divorced myself several times over the years, even if not from a marriage.   When all you are getting from a relationship is grief, harshness, abuse — time to hop on the bus, Gus.  In fact, for that reason, a terrible relationship, Rob’s wife wrote off her younger sister a few years later.  The sister, although seemingly pleasant enough, is apparently an unredeemable complete fucking bitch.

Rob and his wife finally reached the conclusion that they were better off apart.  They could not find a way out of their eternal war.   A year or two ago they sat their two sons down and informed them of their plan to split up, to divorce. Then, miraculously, they unaccountably reconciled when their younger son moved across the country for college.  It was like a rebirth for their relationship, a beautiful new springtime, though it was not very long before catastrophic sky-blackening storms swept back in.

Now this here, what I am doing now, this is what I always do.   I write about things that are nobody’s business, betray people left and right, simply for the sake of an “interesting” story, even if I don’t use their full names, or any names.  They know it’s them I’m writing about, and that’s the unspeakable thing, that I am publicly probing into things they don’t want probed into, particularly, and most unforgivably, in the public space of the internet.  I eventually write about ticklish, chafing details that make people who used to be my friends angry, defensive, sometimes vindictive.   My beloved Sekhnet, on reading part one of this piece, had a related reaction and a one word review: “flush!”

In other words, down the drain with this whole nasty subject, done with the eternal bad feelings it engenders, these sad and distasteful details of disappointing, doomed disputes with desperate people.  “Flush!” she said again when I began trying to explain why these lived materials from my life are so useful to me.

She listened as I went on about the personal experiences and lessons of one’s life being the most important things to ponder and learn from, the richest things to write clearly about, the best tools for attaining insights and for personal growth.   Plus, I pointed out, there is a great punchline to this particular story, if I can manage to tell it correctly, more than one punchline, actually.   She eventually agreed not to say “flush!” again, for this particular tale, at least.

So onward, but not today, my allotted writing time is at an end.  Part three will put the final pieces in place and hopefully provide a satisfying, if mildly merciless, punchline.

                                                                      iii

In the end, the real trouble between men is not a wife like Hitler who forbids her husband to have someone as a friend.  It is the individual who must act with integrity, or not.  Looking around it doesn’t take long to see that integrity is in short supply in our relentlessly competitive world.  It is not our fault, strictly speaking, as violence is often the rule — faced with superior force we are often stopped in our tracks. Maybe homo sapiens are doomed to eternal compromise with the killers who are always among us and some of that compromise is soul-crushing.

I do the only thing I can imagine doing from one day to the next, try to make sense of seemingly incoherent things.  I know it makes me appear to be a smugly superior asshole to some people, but it’s the best way I’ve found to deal with things that perplex me.

Much of the conflict in the world is the result of incoherent narratives, things we believe based purely on feelings. Armies march for reasons that make absolutely no sense, though a rousing excuse is always given for the slaughter, no matter how otherwise empty and incoherent the war slogans might be. The twitching man with the loaded gun does not need a rational explanation when he tells you to lie on the fucking floor so he can blow your head off.  How the west was won, how slavery was maintained for centuries, how great tracts of land have always changed hands, how fortunes have always been made. Thus it has always been among we who are made of flesh.

At the table on that holiday island we always spoke of long-time intractable problems that sometimes were better and sometimes were worse. There was rarely a perceptible change from year to year in the larger picture of this circle of problematically married men.  This is the lot of virtually everyone, this ebbing and flowing of good and bad fortune and the moods that accompany these changes. I try not to be judgmental, though I do not always succeed in this.

I got a text from Rob that he needed to see me immediately. I called and got a text not to use the phone, just to text him a time and place to meet. I asked what it was about, but he couldn’t say anything but that it was urgent that we talk face to face.

When he showed up in his car he was extremely nervous, even for him. I probed, after a session of small-talk, and learned why his eyelid was twitching. He was there to confront me, to accuse me of deliberately, or thoughtlessly, trying to destroy his marriage. I was probably out of their lives, he said, with no way to redeem myself, because what I’d done was so destructive and unforgivable. But he was going to give me a chance to save our friendship by talking my way out of my death sentence.

What had I done that marked me this way?  Made a remark to his wife, in passing, that she, weeks later, weaponized and used to whip him bloody in front of their marriage counselor. The therapist agreed that I was a malicious force in their marriage who needed to be dealt with immediately.

I walked Rob and myself through everything I could remember about the remark, which was essentially that the wife’s ten minute story about an embittering encounter between the wife and Andy made a lot more sense than Rob’s harried one minute version of the same story about a month earlier. Rob’s story made little sense, but as I have no use for Andy, except perhaps to throw him on the ground and kick him, I didn’t probe for details and we went on to other subjects. Rob immediately expressed regret for telling me anything about his wife’s run-in with Andy. The wife’s story was much more detailed and I understood things I had not when I first heard a rushed, regretted version from Rob that I asked not a single clarifying question about.

The wife seized on my “oh, that makes much more sense than the story Rob told me,” as proof that Rob’s oldest friend also says you’re a fucking liar, Rob, a fucking liar! The therapist was hard-pressed to disagree. You need to confront this person, she’d told him. His wife told them he was afraid of me. He rushed to confront me.

Another man might have reacted to the accusation differently than I did, maybe just punched him in the face, like in a western, just to make it stop.  I wasn’t raised that way, so I went through everything I could remember, a process I repeat whenever I sit down to write. I suppose it’s part of my nature to muse over puzzles, and this was one of the more piquant puzzles that my nose has ever been shoved into. Rob seemed satisfied by the end that I had not intended his marriage fatal harm, intentionally or unconsciously.  Still, he raised other issues with me, had other suspicions and accusations. He seemed intent on keeping me on the defensive.  I have to say, I hate that kind of shit.

Here I will give you a little additional information about the odd society of married men who used to assemble around a table once a year at that restaurant on Fire Island. Rob is Jewish, as am I, so his particular psychological type is familiar to me. Having grown up in the same cultural milieu I get the whole set-up, learned the same formulation of moral values that are supposed to be taken seriously and all the rest. Culturally, the other two problematically married men were always a bit more mysterious to me in some ways.

Andy is a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon version of the classic jovial passive-aggressive, from stock that one writer (Dennis Potter) referred to as “a pinched and whining breed.” Andy’s personal mix is finished with a cringing grandiosity tinged with self-hatred.  If you don’t actually hate yourself, at least a little, you will never understand it. I confess, I truly don’t understand the sick fuck. As for the émigré, you’d have to ask him yourself, he is no longer talking to me, for reasons he need not specify.

I could not simply flush this whole matter of the death of my oldest friendship, as Sekhnet urged me to do. Andy proved himself exceedingly flushable in the end, my life enriched by his subtraction from it, as Rob also turned out to be, in the end, but the part about the émigré continued to bug me.   I knew why I couldn’t be friends with Rob, it was his constant provocation and his infernal, convoluted denials about it.   What was his gripe against me, exactly?

I reached out to Rob, assuming that he’d cried piteously to his old friend about my heartlessness and that had affected his friend to cut ties with me.  It took weeks after my phone calls, and the formulation of precise questions which I emailed to him at his texted request, and a good deal of diligence and forbearance on my part, but eventually Rob gave me the three unforgivable things I had done to him. He told me he had not talked to the émigré about our falling out, in any detail, at least until I’d asked about it in one of the three emailed questions.

His wife told him I’d worn a fucking wire on him the last time we spoke, on what he admitted had been “a bad day.”  Wore a fucking wire like a fucking fuck. An unforgivable betrayal, under any circumstances.

His wife told him I’d said I’d been mad enough at him, at one point in our maddening chat, to want to punch him, throw him on the ground and kick him to make him shut the fuck up.  Unforgivable, no matter what the provocation supposedly was, no matter if I’d acted on it or not.

His wife told him I’d called him a pussy. Unforgivable!

This last bit was a slight distortion of what I’d said.  I had a revelation while she and I were speaking (she’d called to offer the choice of unconditional acceptance of a blanket apology for whatever I thought Rob might have done to me, or fucking myself– something I already periodically do). I realized toward the end of the conversation why Rob was always so competitive with me.  It was only tangentially related to that Clapton sound I could get on a guitar.

The real conflict, it came to me in a flash, was that Rob’s father had never stood up to his wife, and that Rob felt that he was unable to stand up to his wife, or to anybody, really, but that he feels I somehow hold my own in these situations, always seem able to take care of myself, somehow.

So Rob feels, on some level, like he’s a pussy, I told her, and he feels, for whatever reason, that I am not a pussy, and it makes him angry and so he provokes me and he can’t help himself or stop doing it.

“You are definitely not a pussy,” she said.  (The jury is still out on this, I think it’s safe to say).

Then she told her husband that anybody who could be friends with somebody who thinks he’s a pussy is a fucking pussy, end of story.  That’s all she wrote.

 

 

[1]  I don’t want to get bogged down in this Clapton business right now.  I love his tone, Eric’s vibrato is up there in a class almost by itself, the touch and the microtones are beautiful and subtle, etc. but he is an extremely limited guitarist. Great singer, excellent musician, can do that one thing beautifully on guitar, plus the nice acoustic blues picking, but truly, I don’t get why he is not a better and more versatile guitarist by now.  It’s like a failure of imagination, a dull incuriousness, an insane commitment to “brand,” or just an indication of a kind of rigidity, or something.   His autobiography reveals him as something of a shallow jackass, maybe that explains it.  Anyway, Clapton’s vibrato is beautiful, I’ve always loved it and I did indeed strive to master it, to the extent I ever did.