Author Archives: Matt

WHITE SHOULDERS

WHITE SHOULDERS

The thing about Marlene was that she was a fantasy personified. Yes, I loved her, I had tumultuous sex with her, I floated in the perfume she favored (White Shoulders), I reveled in how pretty she was. She was the proverbially cute-as-a-button shiksa. She did not walk, she strode: at once feminine and athletic, thin, maybe too thin. When I first saw her in the school hallway she had weight on her. Clearly she made a choice and lost weight. I would later discover how determined and strong-willed she could be. Her breasts were diminutive, which reminds me of Charles Chaplin’s comment of his then mistress, Louise Brooks, the great actress of Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, who had breasts the shape of “pears.” It was not her body parts which first attracted me. It was her face, which was lean, with redolent lips. What I did not sense then was the way she bore herself, the old word being her “carriage.” She had a determined bearing, not a hauteur, but a defensive posture that seemed to say “I will not be denied, make way as I egress!” At the time I thought that attractive; now I see it as misspent energy and uptightness, the posture of a repressive personality.

Marlene had a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, and I think of Thomas Mann’s novella Tonio Kroger (even his name reveals the division) whose protagonist expresses both the Nordic north and the radiant exuberance of southern Europe in a conflicted self. Mann had a German father and a Brazilian mother. I mention this because Marlene seemed to have inherited a stronger dose of the Nordic. In terms of our relationship she evinced more of this steely persona than of Tuscany, let us say. When we came to part I could not access her, and I was taken aback, given the intensity of our recent relationship. A connection was closed and shut down forever. In fact it was like a lightning bolt: crack! The relationship was over, the riven oak the only remaining evidence. She was too hurt to reconcile.

Our love affair was propelled by my own needs: to get away from a dreadful experience with Adrienne, to explode. I felt as if I hadn’t lived, and I hadn’t. I went into an early marriage for all the wrong reasons, trying to escape my terrifying aloneness, for I had not spent years working on myself, taking care of myself, finding out who I was. I did not know how to ask the right questions of myself, for I was outer-directed. I could not distinguish between being lonely and being alone. I did not stand in love, I fell in love. There’s an immense difference. I thought, I didn’t think, marriage would save me from myself, give me a matrix. I much later came to understand that the affair with Marlene served as an escape from what was unfulfilled in me. I was feeling stifled, tethered to a marital ball and chain, self-drafted into a mistake of first marriage to Adrienne, who was intemperate, homely and immature. So, classically, the affair served the purpose of getting me out of a suffocating experience. And I experienced all the sexually learning pleasures I could with Marlene.

When partaking of Marlene’s body and its infinite and subtle pleasures it was as if I gorged at a buffet, devouring sweetmeats at will. Consequently, unknown to me at the time, I reified the affair, gave the abstraction a concrete base, so that for a while I came to miss the affair more than Marlene, for years after we had broken up, to my dismay.

I could never be sure what Marlene wanted from this affair except, perhaps, to get away from her husband Charles. She was 24 and he was 38. She may have entered into an early marriage that she wanted out from. Yet, why? I suppose she felt the same way as I did. We were mutually attracted to one another and an affair itself is attractive: the craving for the next assignation, the hair-curling necessity of fooling spouses and coming up with excuses, the bravado of acting out. We served each other’s purposes. What makes this fantasy even more curious is that we made a bubble of pleasure without intent or direction, lacking real examination of our motives. It was the Sixties and Marlene’s favorite album at the time was Simon and Gar’s Bridge over Troubled Water. How apt.

We never talked about things of real importance. We were incapable of doing so, two repressives. I was particularly laminated by a life’s worth of inhibitions. Marlene never told me in so many words that she cared deeply for me or that she loved me, nor did I express such feelings to her. We were on a lark. In some way her presence powerfully saturated mine, so that I needed and wanted her, and desired to be far away in a more peaceful place and clime to live out our lives as one. I never could ask her the right questions because, as you have observed, my awakening of intelligence had not occurred. I reveled in the shared fantasy. If obtuseness could describe me then, I would be a monumental orifice.

When I was away from her during the summers of 1968 and 1969 I was depressed because I had no idea that I had a self or that I could work on having an inner direction. Marlene did not help me to grow, that was not her task, but that was due to her self-limitations. As I look back, hopefully fairly, I don’t believe she had much of an inner life as well. My friend Hal once said that he felt that Marlene was not very bright, which I resented at the time, but there may be some merit to that. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. In a strange Gene Autry serial of the Thirties the people living above ground were called the “surface people.” I associate this to Marlene because I feel, after all these years, not that she was insubstantial but that she was lacking in depth. At moments I kept to myself needs that she never responded to. However, I was so inhibited that I was fearful to express the unheard scream. I thought I’d chase her away if I expressed such a want, and that would not do, given all the psychological and emotional investment I put into her. It was not a healthy investment which powers a healthy relationship. On some levels I could not admit to myself that she was lacking. Marlene lacking? No way!

Somehow our relationship cooled, its ardor spent. I found her drawing away. She did share with a mutual friend that she was having difficulties with me, but she never said anything directly to me, nor did I express what I was feeling about her distance. In my own therapy with an incompetent therapist who was also seeing Marlene as a client at the same time (a real breach of professionalism) and was thus privy of both our minds and behaviors, began to suggest to me (the Grand Poohbah) that I should consider breaking up with her. I cannot recall how it all came about but since I was feeling that Marlene was no longer responsive to me, I ended the relationship one night. The very next day at school she dealt with me as if I had never penetrated her (metaphorically, maybe I had not).

It took me a while to realize that the decision to break up with her was not solely mine and reflected a third party’s assessment of the situation. I had a therapist who was telling me what to do, who was advocating and in so doing compounded the mess. I rued and regretted the decision as soon as I did it because it really wasn’t mine, for it lacked conviction. However, I was dimly cognizant of a peevish “joy” in that: I got to her first. I rejected her, and she did not get to me first. I must say that the therapist was right. I don’t think our relationship would have endured, as I look back now. And how do I know that? Rochelle taught me the ways of loving, and it would have not been imaginable, even if I broke up with her, not to have her willing to hear me out or to express her regret. She would contemplate reconciliation. Rochelle exuded concern and care, while Marlene, once rejected, turned to Nordic ice queen.

Within two or three months Marlene had found another man and, within a few months, married him, which left me dumbfounded. I could not grasp the rapid turnaround, the capacity or determination to transfer new feelings to a new person. Even a good roast taken out of the oven needs to “rest.” On the other hand, my leaving her may have triggered all kinds of feelings I could not ever have access to.

For several years I could not expunge her from my mind, she was such a haunting memory of loss. Tennyson’s “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is a weak comfort to my heart. Marlene sparked something in me, for she was the first true love of my life, and I totally committed myself to her. Did I get over her? Ever? The solace I found with Rochelle, the depth of her loving finally made me see Marlene as a special moment in my life. In certain ways Marlene helped me grow, but the sad part of it was that her help was indirect and unintended. Rochelle taught me deliberately and concretely how to go about loving.

On Facebook there is a picture of Marlene and her two daughters. She’s pretty as ever, but she’s now an old painting in the darkening corridors of my life’s museum. This way to the reminiscence, sir.

WHITE SHOULDERS

WHITE SHOULDERS

The thing about Marlene was that she was a fantasy personified. Yes, I loved her, I had tumultuous sex with her, I floated in the perfume she favored (White Shoulders), I reveled in how pretty she was. She was the proverbially cute-as-a-button shiksa. She did not walk, she strode: at once feminine and athletic, thin, maybe too thin. When I first saw her in the school hallway she had weight on her. Clearly she made a choice and lost weight. I would later discover how determined and strong-willed she could be. Her breasts were diminutive, which reminds me of Charles Chaplin’s comment of his then mistress, Louise Brooks, the great actress of Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, who had breasts the shape of “pears.” It was not her body parts which first attracted me. It was her face, which was lean, with redolent lips. What I did not sense then was the way she bore herself, the old word being her “carriage.” She had a determined bearing, not a hauteur, but a defensive posture that seemed to say “I will not be denied, make way as I egress!” At the time I thought that attractive; now I see it as misspent energy and uptightness, the posture of a repressive personality.

Marlene had a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, and I think of Thomas Mann’s novella Tonio Kroger (even his name reveals the division) whose protagonist expresses both the Nordic north and the radiant exuberance of southern Europe in a conflicted self. Mann had a German father and a Brazilian mother. I mention this because Marlene seemed to have inherited a stronger dose of the Nordic. In terms of our relationship she evinced more of this steely persona than of Tuscany, let us say. When we came to part I could not access her, and I was taken aback, given the intensity of our recent relationship. A connection was closed and shut down forever. In fact it was like a lightning bolt: crack! The relationship was over, the riven oak the only remaining evidence. She was too hurt to reconcile.

Our love affair was propelled by my own needs: to get away from a dreadful experience with Adrienne, to explode. I felt as if I hadn’t lived, and I hadn’t. I went into an early marriage for all the wrong reasons, trying to escape my terrifying aloneness, for I had not spent years working on myself, taking care of myself, finding out who I was. I did not know how to ask the right questions of myself, for I was outer-directed. I could not distinguish between being lonely and being alone. I did not stand in love, I fell in love. There’s an immense difference. I thought, I didn’t think, marriage would save me from myself, give me a matrix. I much later came to understand that the affair with Marlene served as an escape from what was unfulfilled in me. I was feeling stifled, tethered to a marital ball and chain, self-drafted into a mistake of first marriage to Adrienne, who was intemperate, homely and immature. So, classically, the affair served the purpose of getting me out of a suffocating experience. And I experienced all the sexually learning pleasures I could with Marlene.

When partaking of Marlene’s body and its infinite and subtle pleasures it was as if I gorged at a buffet, devouring sweetmeats at will. Consequently, unknown to me at the time, I reified the affair, gave the abstraction a concrete base, so that for a while I came to miss the affair more than Marlene, for years after we had broken up, to my dismay.

I could never be sure what Marlene wanted from this affair except, perhaps, to get away from her husband Charles. She was 24 and he was 38. She may have entered into an early marriage that she wanted out from. Yet, why? I suppose she felt the same way as I did. We were mutually attracted to one another and an affair itself is attractive: the craving for the next assignation, the hair-curling necessity of fooling spouses and coming up with excuses, the bravado of acting out. We served each other’s purposes. What makes this fantasy even more curious is that we made a bubble of pleasure without intent or direction, lacking real examination of our motives. It was the Sixties and Marlene’s favorite album at the time was Simon and Gar’s Bridge over Troubled Water. How apt.

We never talked about things of real importance. We were incapable of doing so, two repressives. I was particularly laminated by a life’s worth of inhibitions. Marlene never told me in so many words that she cared deeply for me or that she loved me, nor did I express such feelings to her. We were on a lark. In some way her presence powerfully saturated mine, so that I needed and wanted her, and desired to be far away in a more peaceful place and clime to live out our lives as one. I never could ask her the right questions because, as you have observed, my awakening of intelligence had not occurred. I reveled in the shared fantasy. If obtuseness could describe me then, I would be a monumental orifice.

When I was away from her during the summers of 1968 and 1969 I was depressed because I had no idea that I had a self or that I could work on having an inner direction. Marlene did not help me to grow, that was not her task, but that was due to her self-limitations. As I look back, hopefully fairly, I don’t believe she had much of an inner life as well. My friend Hal once said that he felt that Marlene was not very bright, which I resented at the time, but there may be some merit to that. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. In a strange Gene Autry serial of the Thirties the people living above ground were called the “surface people.” I associate this to Marlene because I feel, after all these years, not that she was insubstantial but that she was lacking in depth. At moments I kept to myself needs that she never responded to. However, I was so inhibited that I was fearful to express the unheard scream. I thought I’d chase her away if I expressed such a want, and that would not do, given all the psychological and emotional investment I put into her. It was not a healthy investment which powers a healthy relationship. On some levels I could not admit to myself that she was lacking. Marlene lacking? No way!

Somehow our relationship cooled, its ardor spent. I found her drawing away. She did share with a mutual friend that she was having difficulties with me, but she never said anything directly to me, nor did I express what I was feeling about her distance. In my own therapy with an incompetent therapist who was also seeing Marlene as a client at the same time (a real breach of professionalism) and was thus privy of both our minds and behaviors, began to suggest to me (the Grand Poohbah) that I should consider breaking up with her. I cannot recall how it all came about but since I was feeling that Marlene was no longer responsive to me, I ended the relationship one night. The very next day at school she dealt with me as if I had never penetrated her (metaphorically, maybe I had not).

It took me a while to realize that the decision to break up with her was not solely mine and reflected a third party’s assessment of the situation. I had a therapist who was telling me what to do, who was advocating and in so doing compounded the mess. I rued and regretted the decision as soon as I did it because it really wasn’t mine, for it lacked conviction. However, I was dimly cognizant of a peevish “joy” in that: I got to her first. I rejected her, and she did not get to me first. I must say that the therapist was right. I don’t think our relationship would have endured, as I look back now. And how do I know that? Rochelle taught me the ways of loving, and it would have not been imaginable, even if I broke up with her, not to have her willing to hear me out or to express her regret. She would contemplate reconciliation. Rochelle exuded concern and care, while Marlene, once rejected, turned to Nordic ice queen.

Within two or three months Marlene had found another man and, within a few months, married him, which left me dumbfounded. I could not grasp the rapid turnaround, the capacity or determination to transfer new feelings to a new person. Even a good roast taken out of the oven needs to “rest.” On the other hand, my leaving her may have triggered all kinds of feelings I could not ever have access to.

For several years I could not expunge her from my mind, she was such a haunting memory of loss. Tennyson’s “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is a weak comfort to my heart. Marlene sparked something in me, for she was the first true love of my life, and I totally committed myself to her. Did I get over her? Ever? The solace I found with Rochelle, the depth of her loving finally made me see Marlene as a special moment in my life. In certain ways Marlene helped me grow, but the sad part of it was that her help was indirect and unintended. Rochelle taught me deliberately and concretely how to go about loving.

On Facebook there is a picture of Marlene and her two daughters. She’s pretty as ever, but she’s now an old painting in the darkening corridors of my life’s museum. This way to the reminiscence, sir.

MARLENE

ON MARLENE

As I look back at memorable summers in Woodstock I had no idea that they were to be so impactful as to obtain the status of emblematic experiences. I was purely experiencing people and place, not observing, which is the more reflective stance to assume. Nearing my end as it is the autumn of my life, I can take a better measure of who I was and who I am at this moment. It is the gift of old age, if you avail yourself of it. The separating and divorcing of my wife was manumission, but a slave needs a lifetime, if not longer, to be fully emancipated. While I was liberated legally, I was emotionally “enslaved” to an adulterous affair. I lived a very dim awareness, particularly of myself, an empty vessel. Without knowing it, or sensing it, I moved from one kind of slavery to another. I call this being an unaware fool.

From the summer of 1968 in which I pined for Marlene and experienced depression through the next school year when we split up in December, the summer of 69 proved to be one of mourning and melancholia. Since I had no network of friends to share my misfortune (a continuing theme in my life), I only had a malignant therapist to guide me through it all – and, of course, my randy friend Hal.

All the story cannot be told because of its lacunae: missing responses on Marlene’s part, inhibitions on my part, fumbled communication or the lack of it on both our parts; repressed feelings lest we break up, impulsive actions for the joy in that. Reason, what there was of it, weakly served as the bow – not the stern – and an aimless rudder of my being at that wild and wooly time. When asked by her attorney why she wanted a divorce at this time, Marlene told him all she wanted was a divorce from her husband, Charles, period. All she could say was that it was what she wanted and, in fact, she had no real good reason for it. (La-di-la.) I wish she had had a better reason because I would have adapted it to my own situation and used it as well. My reasons were sexual repression and frustration with a disordered and somewhat crazy woman. And, unbeknownst to me, I was emotionally damaged.

So Marlene and I could not really articulate why we wanted a divorce (although I had my reasons). I associate to The Defiant Ones in which escaped inmates, played by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, run from pursuing authorities, shackled together, relying on each other to move this way or that. The affair was controlling us both, Marlene and Matt (M&Ms). As I see it now, it was an inflammatory excitement and it would have to run its course. And it did. I did not get the girl. “Alas, alas, pigeons on the grass.”

What I was not cognizant of as I waded into the river of our affair came to haunt me later on. When we broke up, I entered into a deep depression for about six months or so. It took me years to decipher what had happened to us, to me and to Marlene, what had evicted us from such a powerful attachment. She was the first love affair of my life and I had been profoundly affected by it, given my childhood history of inhibition, repression and parental control. The attachment was intense. And like many affairs that begin insanely florid and then crash, I played outtakes in my mind and examined them for any clues or hints that foretold the shattering that was to come. I experienced the remembrance of things past etched in acid. I ran “reels” in my mind, of treasured moments, of sexual acrobatics, of the scent of her neck, the way she wore her clothing, her stride, and the remarkable and long-lasting memory of the slightly astringent White Shoulders, which she wore on almost a daily basis. Little things became big things as I mourned her loss. It took me many years to dispel her image and her memory while married to Rochelle until she faded from mind but not completely, that has never happened; what was happening was my falling in love with Rochelle more and more as the years flew by. As I dwelled in melancholia, as I experienced intense loss, I perseverated over the notion that I had her and had lost her. The summer of ’69 in Woodstock was limned in the gloom of that loss. In that summer I existed as flotsam and jetsam. I could not feel how lonely I was. I only dealt somewhat with its symptoms, but not the cause(s). I could go only so far down on the psychological diagnostic tree of my existential pain. I was limited man.

After working most of the night as a cab driver to make ends meet, for New York City teachers at that time were not salaried over the two summer months, I would sleep the day away, a major symptom of depression. I would listen to Judy Collins’ Wildflowers until Grand Canyon-deep ruts dug into the LP. Listening to songs on the car radio as I sped up the Thruway to get to Woodstock, I wept over the shared musical memories (especially Herb Alpert’s “This Guy”) I had with Marlene. So the summer of ’68 began with great expectations for the following school year and Marlene, while the summer of ’69 found me mourning the demise of our torrid relationship.

Given who I was at that time I will say now that I contributed a significant amount to the breakup. Indeed, Marlene had shared with a close mutual friend that of late I was giving her a hard time. I never learned what that was. It was symptomatic of me and her, in part, and largely of the affair itself, that we rarely if ever engaged one another about the loopy and lunatic play we were both acting in. I associate to Pirandello’s play, Six Characters in Search of an Author. We both experienced one another manifestly, which for a long while can be delightful if not pleasurable. And so it was. Latently there was nothing we could share because latently we were both unaware, we were not there. We were two empty bottles in a Pepsi six-pack. There was something of the ice queen to her, for she never asked about how my daughter, Caryn, was doing in my absence, the impending divorce and the present separation, or the causes of my leaving Adrienne. On the other hand, I knew more of her husband Charles, their dog Lacey, but not much more. It was as if we laid our private lives aside in order to service the engine of our affair.

As we grew apart, I could say now that I was not feeling felt by her, which was my chronic need, unknown to me then, which I shared with my therapist who ultimately chivvied me into breaking off the affair (an intolerable intervention grounded in the therapist’s needs). And like a good boy I did so and immediately regretted it because the decision was not mine, since I was a manipulated puppet. I later experienced a justified, well-earned resentment for her grotesque intervention. I learned a great deal from the therapeutic abuse done to me and when I came to practice, I avoided as diligently as I could her mistakes with me.

As a contrast to her, I could not imagine Rochelle, my second wife, who I married in February 1970 and who died in an accident in 1999, ever not showing interest in these details. In fact, when she was a child, Caryn bonded well with Rochelle. I do think that men are better off, if they can put their pride and pools of simmering testosterone aside and marry women emotionally and psychologically wiser than they are. And for 29 years I played catch-up to Rochelle.

What really boggled my mind then was that within six months Marlene had found another man in the school (she didn’t look far and wide, which was puzzling-and hurtful to me at the time): a gym teacher who was big and hefty like her first husband Charles (hmmm). I could not grasp, dense as I was at the time, after such a profound, at least, sexual experience with one another, how she could so quickly take her feelings and attach them to another (feeling hurt and rejected by me, and being fickle as well if not shallow) so quickly and so fast. I believe in 1970 she became pregnant with her first child. There were two girls and one son in her family. Her oldest daughter, Mara, died of uterine cancer at 38. Marlene died of pancreatic cancer and spent her final days in a hospice, dying in 2012. One year later her other daughter, Leah, was brutally murdered in her apartment. So, the son and brother, Steve, has seen three women perish in his family, which is a horrendous blow. I don’t know how he gets up in the morning. And the man Marlene wed in 1970, David, is living – but he divorced Marlene! I am curious about the reasons. I will never get answers. From 1969 to 2012, from age 24 to 68, Marlene was and was not. Since she was my first deep attachment to a woman, my first love affair, she has left an eternal imprint. What good is any human life if one has not been deeply touched, moved or loved? Tennyson said it best: “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

COTTON CANDY

 

 

COTTON CANDY AND KITES

Centuries ago I lived in Brighton Beach and then Manhattan Beach, two communities on the south shore of Brooklyn. If you took transit, or the El above Brighton Beach Avenue, you would come to Coney Island, even then a soiled slut of an area. It could serve as a set for “Nightmare Alley.” Steeplechase Park was here, as well as the dizzying spire of the parachute jump which still stands like a frozen, rusted Transformer. I rode that aerial ride at 17 and it was frightening; in those days you “sat” on a skimpy wooden plank with a chain across your lap for safety. I could see all the way to Manhattan Beach. Steeplechase was a memorable park; all kinds of rides and with its very exciting and exquisite steeplechase ride about the park on varicolored and wild-maned horses, these carved wooden stallions ending up in antique stores throughout the U.S.  The park had two monstrous indoor slides that tested any youngster’s mettle and personal grit. All gone now, except it was filmed in an early Clara Bow movie of the silents, It, 1927. The parachute ride, now inoperable, remains, like the Statue of Liberty in The Planet of the Apes.

I recall corns as thick as one’s arm, slathered in butter, hawked on the boardwalk. They were not a favorite of mine but I liked to watch as a vendor using a paper cone wrapped up the silken threads of cotton candy until it grew like a beard about the cone itself. I dimly remember that the process had something of static electricity to it as sugar fibers attached to the moving paper wand. It was much too sugary for my taste; however, Nathan’s franks and its great mustard and Hires root beer, always served in a disposable paper cup, were must-have food at Coney Island. The soft ice cream or custard was spectacular, vanilla my favorite. The breeze off the beach carried a tinge of salt to it, and the weathered boards were inlaid across the boardwalk like parquet. I mention all this in reverie, for my associations to the past, especially the cotton candy, make me reflect. I reflect how much of time is about us as we trek through life, wandering hither and thither like carousing sailors. It is as if I am a paper cone dipped into time and whirled about until I coalesce as a person in the passage of time. It is something done to me, nothing that I can do to it. All and everything is done to me.

I think. I consider. This comes and goes, but it is a common occurrence, for it is something I do, naturally now. I send “kites” into the air, mental ribbons tied to their bottoms. Each kite is a thought or a consideration. And what is it I consider or pose to myself as I spin like cotton candy to my end, the Grim Reaper, scythe in hand, sitting down, watching me patiently, until the spun cone is all wound up? I ask myself if, for example, I should draw up a list of books and read them, not as an attempt to get necessarily wiser, for books don’t make us wiser, but as an attempt to complete something in myself, perhaps a “should.” It is not a bucket list as the cliche has it. I don’t want attainments or achievements before I die. It is more thoughtful than that. Here I am, a miniscule human effort, given such and such amount of days and years, and what should I be doing at this time in my life when I have more time to reflect on the life I have led?

So, I ask myself what would be the purposeful thing to do given the limitations of my life, circumstance, health, family, a wifely companion. What should any human being do at 75 (pick your age) so as to round out his or her days in a way that has some inner purpose? What I come up with is not very satisfying, it all seems mundane. What I do observe is the grand amount of waste in my life: days unseen by the eyes, unfelt, unlived, thrown away at night without regard, reverence and experience. I ask if it is at all possible to bite deeply into my life like one bites deeply into a Carnegie pastrami on rye.

Recent medical issues, real threats to my way of living, recent diagnoses, unfavorable but sustainable, creating fears, of course create fears and make me more alert to issues I have wrestled with for years. The recent experience with the Rapture hints at latent issues, what if this were the last day of your life? What would you do? What are the rents in your relationships that need attending to? And so forth. For me the Rapture, as I interpret it, would be an epiphany of a kind, some kind of transcendent moment free of religiosity, but flinty spiritual stuff, if you will. To seek all this is a fool’s errand, I know. Many things in life come to us, wanted and unwanted, like the next spin around the cotton candy drum. Even if we imagine the list of pleasures we might have before we die: Maui, the Parthenon at sundown, rapturous spiritual lovemaking with one’s significant other, a cruise to a Greek island unknown to tourists. I stop here and observe that my bucket list has nothing to do with material possessions but more to do with sharing with one’s significant others. I spin off, away from the nagging “kite” at hand.

I get up in the mornings (mournings?) now, often resistant to doing anything, but I nag myself into trying to do something for my writing or my life, or my shared existence with my wife Jane. I try to make merry with or without money – and there are many rich things you can do without too much money. I struggle to sit down by my desk and to write an essay, to rewrite a story or to send out an article. All this makes me feel good, writing this essay about my personal feelings feels good.  I try to be. Well, I have always had a philosophical cast to my feelings and self. Not good for an American, I know.

I have not answered the question I posed. What is to be done? At moments I feel I am a ventriloquist’s dummy without his master. I suppose if I come into it, if I wade into this ineffable “it,” I will have a way, a Tao, to bring my life to its final ends, not that I am in a rush. It is the old and ancient question broken down into the historic threes: Who am I? What am I do while I am here? Where am I going? The last one is for the believer; the second one is a savage master. The first question is forever. Will Durant remarked of “the patient pertinacity of death.”

Upon awakening tomorrow, I will face once more what I want to do in the days remaining. What intent can I give some congruency – or peace – to that inner directed self that queries life, not so much in search of an answer, but of posing a better question? And while all this goes on some mighty wind may simply come by and tatter all the kites aloft. Knowing this only makes me, at 75, feel more of the immediacy of my questions. And then I see you, any you, on the street and assume he or she may not even be awake to the questions that should be posed. But that’s a kite of a different color.

AT WHAT COST: PART ONE

What does a writer do when he is in psychological pain, devastating hurt? Agony is the better name, and suffering is its coverlet. He makes up a song for himself, an air to play over and over again until the pain is extinguished and he is soothed. It is a fabricated ritual to slake the immediacy of the anguish. By telling himself about himself there is a measure of the repetition in all that and this very repetition can alleviate the outrageous hurt, the attack upon the self. In this expression I just want to cut through and get to core truths, reflections, or generalizations that may serve clarity, perhaps assuage the pain.

Mene mene tekel upharsin, the writing on the wall. Thou has been weighed and found wanting, she tells me, in short. The past can’t be erased nor expunged; the present, for her, is intolerable.  She has a terrific memory and uses it, at times, inquisitorially. Flagellation above all. She can’t forget and forgive, how regrettable. She cannot come to terms with nor metabolize the past so it is always alive and festering. I have come up short, mortal man. [I must go. I must leave. I feel compelled to do so, she says.] She believes living is best found elsewhere, a canard and human folly — stick and fight — but she doesn’t grasp that, for it is beyond her ken and she is not a little unaware. She is into smart and I am into character. I have to watch an operatic acting out. She sings the aria of the about to be divorced. I thought she was made of sterner stuff. She is not, mostly a brooder, meek and intense, timid, very inhibited, very obedient to authority. She is a people pleaser, she ingratiates. She’s Jane Fonda. Consequently she validates herself in her role. She is who she is because the role tells her, an as-if personality, almost a Zelig. She is, sadly, very outer-directed and that is the only significant awareness she owns up to. At 57 I don’t think that will change. And she has simply fallen out of love with me, these things happen.

When pressed no real answers come forth except a remembered litany of my abuses, a rosary, and oh how she plays the beads,  for she is a variant of the intense Virginia Woolf, so introverted that her feelings are internal wallpaper. Unwilling to make a commitment to what we have shared  — the marriage,  that special commitment holds no meaning for her. She is not into any commitment other than that commitment she has made for herself, that counts for her. Hard to share with this woman feelings at this time when the only room she has are her own feelings, not out of egotism, mind you, but from immaturity and quite frankly not having learned better or at least having self-parented herself to care. She is a mock-feminist. She admits she is amazed that she shared with me that she doesn’t know herself. How do you deal with that? She parts without tears, chilling; the mind, the ego over the heart and soul. A diminishment, in my eyes. And I do love her but that is fast disintegrating.

So I make my final post-mortem case not to do this; although it is all over, she cannot shed a tear for what has been shattered. In that much is learned, a hard learning for me. Maybe  I should have been the woman, and she the man and I would have wept for us both. Maybe she should learn to be less frosty to another who has lain beside her for years, there is something to be said for that. Her cliché answer is that she wept for herself, her own pain, in private. It might have been better if she could have articulated all that, but Woolf again. There is the milk of human kindness, and there is also the rancid milk of inhibition.

I cannot stop someone who has her mind made up; reason doesn’t work; what works is the fullness of time. She has cast aside two major traits of mine: faithfulness and loyalty. Not something to be lightly dismissed, but it is; for her acting out cannot abide dissent or perspective.

I am responsible for what I have done. I own that. I am not one whit pleased with that aspect of my self that has been abusive and unkind; I cut deeply with words. I have a strong personality coupled with a whip-lashing tongue, but I have no excuse for myself. I don this attitude. I have worn this defensive self for decades, long before I met her. I know I can change – – I have and in this marriage; I have seen change in my dealings with her, but she is someone who cannot forget, who cannot forgive in larger ways, considering the totality of who I am. Original sin for her is a repetition compulsion, one cannot escape that ring of fire. I am worth more than being thrown away. To validate her own deep feelings I become collateral damage.Remembrance of things past is the wall I come up against. Why such an allegiance to it? She dwells often in the past and I dwell in the present because I simply know better. If she was a harbor all the ships at sea would find anchorage there and not one would be allowed to leave port. She is not capable of real inner growth.

What aches is that I am seen as unredeemable; that what I have done cannot ever be forgiven. Really? And that is ridiculous. She apparently does not think of redemption. Or she is weary of forgiving me. What must be factored in is her own inhibited ability to express herself because her pain with me is much too much to bear. She never learned to process what she was feeling. And whose responsibility is that? I thought she was grander in her capacity to cherish the many instances in which we related and shared; apparently not.  I find her to be a stern god, an unforgiving one, Baal. Upon the scales of justice memory always wins out for her — and who in her family of origin taught her that decrepitude.

The unremitting fact is that I drove a lovely, gifted but decidedly confused, waffling, stubborn and ultimately narrow, immature and unaware woman from the marriage. And I will pay for it to “the end of my days,” as she might express it.What I did was unconscionable, to her way of thinking. I think not, I was not a guard at Auschwitz. And she has repaid me in spades, especially in the covert, scheming and skulking manner in which she deceitfully plotted and planned her “escape” to freedom. For her freedom is what you remove your self from. She does not have any idea of the majesty of freedom to, that is moving to a larger realization of self. I married a limited self.

In A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS Thomas More asks the prosecutorial Richard Rich, having been betrayed by him, for Rich always sought higher offices, these powerful words: “For Wales, Rich, for Wales.” What you have given up of your inner self to attain money and office. Integrity! And to my now ex-wife I ask the same question as she cowardly flees to a new position, as she leaves the state. “For Amarillo, Jane, for Amarillo.”

Woman on the run!

 

 

 

PLATO’S CAVE, from my memoir

 

 

PLATO’S CAVE

In March of 1968 I was sitting in my apartment on Ash Avenue watching a black-and-white TV when President Lyndon Johnson spoke to the American people. I recall vaguely his reiterating that he would not accept a nomination to run for president again and repeated that he would step down at the end of his present term. The police riot at the Chicago Democratic convention was months away. Since I was self-absorbed in the disastrous relationship with my estranged wife and with the ongoing passion of an affair with a married woman, Marlene, I had no time for the political theater erupting all about me. I was oblivious. Given the life I had lived in my twenties, I was unaware of much of the political happenings about me. It wasn’t that I was desensitized to it. The fact is that I did not have a real self to realize what was happening. I had no real center with which to grasp its import. I lacked inner calm and, consequently, I did not register America. I did not register myself, which says it all.

In 1963 I was married and about a month away from being drafted. I had gone down to the famous Whitehall Street for medical and intellectual tests. Humorously I recall the young kid next to me trying to crib answers from my IQ test and another trying to get a urine sample from his “pals” since he could not piss. Several contributed to his vial. I was prepared to be sent off when Kennedy issued an order that any men who were married would be deferred from the Draft. (Having spent a few miserable months in the ROTC on the Queens College campus, I thought that if I were drafted I would go in as a second lieutenant.) And so I never went off to war. If I had been sent, I would have gone complacently, dumbly, for I was mass man at that time, raised in a culture that had a peacetime draft for years under Ike.

From March to June I acted out in school, teaching poorly, being an infant, running around at night in my Mustang, spritzing my neck, face, underarms and crotch with cologne so that I would be “appetizing,” having sex in cars and parking lots and, eventually, in my apartment. Obsessed with “freedom!” At last I was involved with a woman who could be lusty in bed and who did things to me that were new and exciting, including my first oral sex. I fell in love with love, the affair serving as the avenue for escaping a dreadful marriage. Years later I determined that my first wife was bi-polar which goes a very long way to explain her outbursts and crazed behavior, without excusing my affair. Since I do not believe in a god or organized religion, that matter has to be resolved by me and me alone. I am confirmed in the belief that we often marry our sickness.

As to the affair, Marlene was 24 going on 15 and I was 28 going on 10. The affair itself was the driving engine of the relationship. We did not really talk to one another or seek to find some answers for the questions that drove us headlong into this wild and risky fling. There is an inordinate excitement to an affair, especially since it is transgressing, and all of it is immensely gratifying. Gestures are writ large, feelings are inflamed, sensibility crashes to the sidewalk, moods intensify, feelings become pugilistic. And the center does not hold.

With the waning monies I had at the time, we wined and dined, experiencing each other ravenously, secretly and surreptitiously since her husband was unaware, trying to carve out time for one another. Danger and theater were in the air. While I counted the days before summer recess so that I could be free once more, I “chose” to avoid anything political or social that would impinge on my enjoying my covert affair. I wanted to be unencumbered. The affair was everything, and while participating in it I was very insensitive to my students and to my daughter. I was self-absorbed. Regretfully, I am responsible for damaging the relationship between my young daughter, who was then 4 years old, and myself, because I was greedily involved with my own neediness. I did not reflect, I did not think, I acted out and in so doing I hurt my child and others. I was a bull in a china shop.

By the summer of ’68, I can pretty well assess almost five decades later, what kind of person I was. It is chilling. The intake presents it in a clinical way. I will go about it differently, as if one turns a snow globe over and snowflakes come from everywhere and nowhere, drifting down aberrantly. I was behaving in an unbridled way, being too expansive so that to others, I imagine, I was a fool or out of control. That says it. I was out of control, having experienced a very controlled personality all my young life. The conditioned me was becoming unconditioned, but not with reason, just emotionally explosive and that was not good at all. I simply did not care. If you are coherent that can be liberating. I think I was not a little crazy. Hal once said to me that he feared for me, that my behavior was meshuga at moments. Probably right. They didn’t have this stuff then, but I needed to be epoxied as a human being. I was composed of shards, tesserae.

Even as I write I feel mortification, after all these decades. Memory of oneself is not reparative. I cannot go back and repaint the wall. It is as I left it. Recollection of soured personal relationships and damaging hurt to loved ones, especially my daughter Caryn, cannot be expunged. In 1998 Caryn took her own life. In some way, in some part, I contributed to that. On a daily basis abandoned by her troubled mother, she was also abandoned by me. Given such a short time on this planet, what damage we wreak upon one another. The worst thing I have ever done to another human being was the damage I did to my daughter.

Guilt absolutely serves no use here, for it is a relatively useless emotion. I choose to be harder on myself in other ways. I once read that there is “bad” guilt and there is “good” guilt. So if you went up to Hitler’s crib and blew away his head with a Glock that would be an event in which “good” guilt would be reasonable, taking away a life. If you had a dream of fucking your mother in her ass, to feel guilty about that upon awakening would an example of “bad” guilt, for no one was hurt and your mother was saved from embarrassment. I don’t really buy into this differentiation at all. I don’t accept sin as a viable concept and guilt is a humorless societal parody. I cannot help it if our cortex creates these human ideas or constructs. When I remember, when I recollect and when I have reminiscences, guilt and sin come to mind, but I work on putting them to the side. I also don’t believe Santayana’s bromide that those who fail to study the past are condemned to repeat it. Too tidy for me. In evolutionary psychology terms, the genes combating one another in my DNA couldn’t give a damn. They live and abide in an eternal present.

However, I am responsible in some way for Caryn’s demise. I accept that existentially, no running away from that. I hope as I die and my brain cells are smashed I am able to enunciate her name, “Caryn,” one last time, as an endearing farewell. She was a good person and did no harm to anyone, but she suffered in her life. With her name on my lips, I could ease out of this mortal coil. The memory-sadness of this just crushes me.

The memoir of two summers serves another palette of responses within me. As I have said, I scouted the roads and byways of Woodstock in my first summer there. I came upon Shady, Mt. Tremper and Saugerties, “towns” rather country situations, which I do not recall well since I passed them without too much notice except to learn their names (life as blur). In some way, perhaps I had been given directions by some nameless person. I parked my able golden steed by the side of a road and began to make my way through the bush and woods until I entered a large swimming pond. Therein were many men and women, of all ages, mostly nude, partaking of the waters. I was not ready or prepared to enter willingly. I did not remove my clothes and join in, it was all too shocking to me, a creature of the Fifties. However, voyeuristically, fully dressed, I watched the merry watery and friendly melee of the young in frolic. By the summer of 1969 I would have gladly jumped naked into the pond, but not now. That has stayed in my mind for all these decades, an expression of bodily freedom, unrobed, with limp penises, heavenly and womanly buttocks and breasts cavorting without repression. In some dark recess of my mind I probably felt then that I had come upon a primal scene, an oil by Rousseau.

If I were to drive up the Thruway now and enter Woodstock, I could not find that swimming pond. In some fashion I choose not to find it. It had served a wonderful purpose then and it is now inviolate in my aging mind. It was a place and an event that made me reflect and think about freedom, all kinds of freedom. It made me question my own rigid thinking processes and inhibitions.

A parallel experience with younger people, in their late teens or early twenties, involved another water experience. Doug, Hal’s son (who was about 19 and recently kicked out of college for smoking weed), Wendy (his girlfriend of the moment), Mary (Pangborn’s niece) and her beau, Steve, and I went to a forested waterfall deep in the woods. It was a lovely waterfall, and without hesitation Mary and Steve quickly undressed. Mary and he luxuriated beneath flowing waters. Mary’s breasts were large, her nipples aroused by the water and her furry mons pubis soaked and delightful to my eyes. What made her even more dramatic was her 19th Century model torso: curvy and plump, her thighs thick. I couldn’t do anything but gaze at her, and Mary sensed that and lowered her eyes. Steve and Mary asked the three of us to join them, but we didn’t. Wendy did take off her bra and revealed her large breasts. Mary and Steve had experimented au naturel so often, I imagined, that they were comfortable with it. For me it was all new, and I was not ready to be experimental. It proved titillating at the time, to observe people revealing their bodies in such a fashion. Again I took in, and again I learned.

FROM A NEW MEMOIR: “Naomi”

 

 

ON NAOMI

 

I’m Naomi and this part will be mine as Matt is uncomfortable with it after all these decades because what he did was to blame the victim: me. When I met him I was 24 and in a loose relationship with a pharmacist in Queens. I was gorgeous, no doubt about it. I slithered into pants as I did not have much of an ass, and I had a small chest, but I was wide in the beam and had a stunning face, or so I heard from many men at the time. How can I say it? I was a knockout, with a beautiful Irish nose, small and sculpted at that, with fine dyed-blond hair. Matt shared with me that to walk through a restaurant as a couple to a table made him proud because men and women would turn to look at me and then wonder what size schwanz he had to keep my interest. He needed me to need himself.

 

The very first time I met Matt I wore silver boots, I mean silver with a flowing dark-blue velvet cape. I look back and see how daring I was with clothes, but it was the Sixties. What men in particular didn’t realize, and, unfortunately, I suffered greatly from, was the belief that who I was matched up to the presentation. I was then a little girl, that’s all, with few defenses to handle what came at me, especially from the male sex in lust. And I am not very knowledgeable about many things so I do see that I gave off a ditzy quality. I just barely got through high school and worked in a cosmetic store as a salesclerk. Often I keep silent because that can easily be interpreted as having smarts. Which, I must say, I do not have.

 

I heard from his friend Artie, months later, that when we first saw each other in Marchal’s, a diner on Main Street, in Flushing, Queens, that he had not noticed the come hither looks I was sending out to him – but his friend saw that and urged him to go to my table and pick me up. As I later learned he was so out of circulation he didn’t know what a pass was. He was so oblivious to the world, so into himself and his troubles. I was sitting with my Jewish uncle who I adored, and after dinner we went out to the parking lot to leave. Clearly I had no expectations and never do have them, as I have always been and always am pursued. At that time Matt appeared anxiously at the side of my uncle’s car window and asked me for my phone number right in front of my uncle, who was very amused. If he hadn’t done that, I would never have been raped.

 

Our first date was way out on Long Island, at a restaurant next to a lake. I had the feeling he knew about this place because he must have had an earlier date here with some other woman, perhaps Marlene. Although I was extremely good-looking, it was not helpful in that I was often placed in situations in which men thought I was more sophisticated than I was and wiser sexually. And Matt, like others, did not see me clearly, for he thought that I was more intelligent than I am, but again, my looks eased my way in relationships. On our second date, we hadn’t had sex as yet, for he was not assertive, we went to a movie with my uncle to see Camelot, which was a tear-jerker, or so it was for Matt, for he told me much later on it was like experiencing his affair with Marlene all over, especially what he saw as the cheating theme in the movie or so it was for him. He felt remorse for what had happened to Arthur. Guilt is the word. I always felt Matt was into me because of my looks rather than who I was, although who I was at 24 was not very known to me. I strolled through life.

 

As they say in books, it came to pass that he took me to Woodstock to see his friends Hal and Estelle, Jack and Ava, in the summer of 1968. He and I met with a Catholic priest on a mountain which was interesting and he showed me other highlights of the town. I can say that our relationship at that time was cordial, not loving, more of having someone to go places with. As I look back now he was just too smitten with Marlene. He sometimes appeared distracted, off somewhere.  He could not allow himself to feel or to be connected with me as Naomi. Sad to say, and there is some exaggeration in this, but I may have just been a beautiful toy to him, a thing. And I went along for the adventure since I still had the pharmacist in my corner if I ever needed him. And Woodstock was an eye-opener for me.

 

In the back of Hal’s house was an above-ground pool, and I put on a striking silver bathing suit.  Jack began to engage me in place of Matt, who was somewhere in the house. Jack came on like the world-wise slick traveling salesman he was. Matt had no idea that Jack viewed me as prey, and later that night, after Matt had gone to bed in one of the bedrooms, Jack pursued me relentlessly – and before I knew it he forced himself on me, to my disgust. I never shared with Matt exactly how it came about or if I resisted or cried out for help, but I do remember going to Matt’s room and trying to rouse him from sleep to no avail.

 

The following day, as we went home, I shared what had happened with Jack. He was angry, if not perturbed. He said no more. I do recall that he came to see me at my home a day or two later. I opened the door with a smile.

“How could you have let that happened?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Why, Naomi, didn’t you shout or raise a ruckus?” I was surprised by his anger at me, as if I had in some way violated him. We were still at the doorway and I ended the conversation by shutting it. We never went out again. I was being blamed for what Jack had done to me in so many words.

What there was of our friendship ended. One time I needed help because I was undergoing a surgical procedure, and he came to see me in the hospital, since he was reliable in that way. But when I needed him most critically he was unreliable. I could have responded in many different ways to Jack, and I regret now that I didn’t shame him before his wife by screaming for help until I got someone to help me, but I was stuck in the Sixties when men still ruled.

 

 

A CHAPTER FROM A NEW MEMOIR IN THE MAKING

 

 

AN  ABUNDANCE OF AWARENESS

When I consider the amount of time I have lived and the abundance of memories I have accrued, I think of all that history that will vanish when I disappear. Which is the greater loss, the absence of me or the absence of all I have experienced? I vote against me. I choose for  office the history I have made.

I cannot capture Woodstock in words. ( I cannot describe in words the last strong feeling I had.) I can only glimpse the times in Woodstock indirectly, through a glass darkly. Whatever awareness I had of it then or now has long since gone because it was once lived and is no more. What is left are the distortions of memory, remembrance and reminiscence, all wrapped into the enigma of time. And all these conjectured states are lies.

I cannot capture the past. Never will. Presumptuous. All I can give is a written expression (a lie) which disfigures the very feeling I want to give voice to.

So, I suppose I must go ahead and write not the truth of things, for that is also a lie, but I can set out to write the untruth, the lie, as best as truthfully I can, for this will be less of an unrelenting need to be truthful. I suppose once again that the lie of an event lived or recalled much later on in life has a measure of some truth to it. I cannot get to the truth if all my experiences in Woodstock can only give me an approximation of it at age 74.

And so there was Mary. As I dwell in memory I cannot remember how I came across her or when personal connections led to our acquaintance. All that is lost to me. I do remember her uncle, Edgar Pangborn, a writer of some note, who was a short and slight man, recently felled by a heart attack and recuperating, thin, a man of few words. He would die in the mid 70s. He had written a short story which I later discovered was much anthologized and viewed as a fantasy classic of its kind. I met Pangborn for a short time while at his home – perhaps Mary had first met me and then introduced us. While at his home I met his sister who I also think was called Mary and I learned she was a scientist. What I gathered by talking with young Mary was that Edgar and Mary’s mother was schizophrenic and apparently neither Pangborn married lest that their progeny be genetically inflicted with this malady. And here is an instance of a lie well told when truth is unobtainable or if available, a kind of lie. It was a family tale out of Hawthorne.

At the very few times I saw Edgar there was a quiet, observant woman in her forties who sat in the living room and was originally introduced as his friend and a librarian in the local Woodstock branch. At some intuitive level I felt she was more than his friend or better yet, wish she could be an intimate of his. What is essential to my observation, or my projection, was a kind of poignancy I experienced, as if she was a lady in waiting for him, he who had a recent heart attack and was damaged if not disabled. I introduce her because in some way she is as indelible as Edgar himself. And why is that?

Somehow and in some way I began to observe Mary who was 18. She had a cute face and bushy hair as if a Sixty’s version of Shirley Temple who she probably did not know of. I did not care for her hair, although her face was reasonable attractive. At the early times I met her she “dressed” in those unattractive sun dresses of the time, a rip off of the Empire style, or in jeans that were not flattering as if she did not consider her body worth of attention or, more to the point, hair and clothing were not essential to any relationship at that time and period. Mary had a boyfriend, Steve, who I later met and they were a couple and he generally carried a guitar with him as some appurtenance of who he was. I once took him back to the city and I recall his gently complaining that things between Mary and he were coming apart.  And at that time I did not know, I did not sense that Mary’s affections – or interest were waning for Steve and now focusing on me. I was 28, she 18, and perhaps she saw something in me, obviously, that Steve could not offer her. Of course, I never did learn what she “saw” in me.

I do remember one time with Steve and Mary which probably was the high mark of their relationship. I went with them and another couple to a forest waterfall and before I knew it they stripped down and hand in hand succumbed to the weary cataract above. Mary was what we call now a BBW, her breasts large and she was wide in the beam, a Rubenesque torso something altogether voluptuous and pleasing to my eye. Her exposed mons pubis, her delta of Venus, was how should I say? a mound of hair, now softened by rivulets of rushing water. She was not pornographic to my eye. I felt prurience, the kind one feels as a man by a nude in an oil by one of the masters.

Mary is 64 now, if she lives. She still, in my mind’s eye, looks grotto gorgeous beneath that waterfall, and if I could I’d redirect her in memory to do one more rehearsal, for a final staged reminiscence. I must have for too long stared or gazed at her totality, that wonderful body, and by doing so I had the sense she felt embarrassed, but for a moment, as I was still a stranger to her. On the other hand, it is a lie, I suppose, that she wished to favor me with her apple. Who knows now? Then?

So waves of a new relationship were struck, neither Mary nor I speaking to one another.

As I look back after 46 years the web of feelings, the infinite linked connections of the fragile cat’s cradle that bring people together are omissions in mind as I cannot recall my first romantic feint of connecting to Mary, nor can I recall how I learned of Steve and Mary breaking up and after that there is a significant memory blur, of no recall. I can only share now the lie of it all, for the truth of it is irrelevant as I think of it. I cannot rediscover or excavate the archaeological truth of it all. Perhaps I can approximate the felt truth of it, knowing full well that is something of a lie as well. I choose not to fabricate dialogue between Mary and I, for that is a construction made up of shoddy and inferior materials, not credulous in any case nor critical or tangential to the telling of this failed adventure.

Somewhere near Pangborn’s house, somewhere in a back pasture Mary and I walked alone, confident that we were safely unobserved.  We dropped to the ground and she unbuttoned her blouse to reveal her redolent breasts and lowered her pants as well, altogether passive and welcoming in action. Mary was await for me. As if her breaking up with Steve, her roiling, subliminal assumptions about me, never tested, and her “reading” of my behaviors so far, she apparently craved my penetrating her. I had no condom with me and I had the dread that if I exploded within her she might get pregnant. Given my marital and extramarital situation I could not do this. I controlled myself, although I did stroke her and was taken by her lusty body.

Mary may or may not have given me the contemporary “line” that I need not fear, that she could handle any act of “fate” that occurred. I cannot remember. I was very much a creature of the Fifties in 1968 and in some way we both “cooled” down and walked back to Pangborn’s home in silence. When Edgar saw our heated and still flushed faces I felt he sensed that we had done the dirty deed. Perhaps I should have had sex with Mary, it was in the air, it was in Woodstock, it was of the time, Mary had no qualifications in mind, for she was eager to have me. What feelings perplexed her as we walked back, I do not know. All kinds of misinterpretation of my behavior were possible.

What time passed after that I cannot recollect, much is lost to memory, except for the last time I met Mary. I believe we were in front of a fireplace on the floor and she had come in wearing once again her dowdy jeans, unattractive, but I knew what a bodily treasure lay beneath. I don’t think much was said, indeed as I try to recall I cannot think of one sentence she ever said to me that I do remember. This is not a slight, but a fact, or a lie. What I felt was that I did want to make love to her with or without condoms, all libido. She may have very well wanted an explanation at this second meeting after the abortive sex in the field. I thought I was given a second chance with her. What turned her off were my actions. I moved a few pillows about as if preparing for making love.

And then Mary rose, quietly, and lefty, not a word said. Between almost having her in the pasture and demurring, and now alone again and much more aggressive, she reached several conclusions, shall I say, which was not to her liking. It would have been better if we spoke to one another, instead of counting on or believing the lies we gave to one another, my inhibitions and her subliminal assumptions.

Mary tossed Steve in the expectations of attaining me, that is for sure, or my sense of it. Is it the truth of the matter? I don’t know, just feels like it. I unexpectedly “rejected” her in the field. That is true, but that itself is not the truth of the matter, having explained the causation I experienced. Fifties met Sixties. When I told this tale to a woman, she thought I had done the right thing, for not risking sex with Mary, for she was much too young. I know for certain if I had  a condom with me lust would have swept over me. When I look back any relationship we would hope to have died because of the age differences, but that is temporocentrism, from this time to that time, and a weak, useless and extraneous thinking.

But an abundance of awareness to little effect.

ANECDOTES

It’s been 8 months since I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust was published. During that time I was part of a blog tour, queried at least 1,000 individuals, organizations, associations, museums and schools of Jewish studies. I spread the word on FACEBOOK and Linkedin; contacted personal friends and acquaintances. I donate 10 books  as a giveaway on Goodreads on a monthly basis, paying for the books out of my pocket, not including the  mailing costs to Canada, Great Britain, Australia, France, and Israel. I handed out many copies for reviews and some as gifts to pique interest. I invested at least $4,000 for marketing my book.  Submitting my book to 17 literary contests here and abroad which included entrance fees, ranging from $40 to $125, I won the Beverly Hills Book Awards for short stories which is an immense pleasure. I am engaged in August to speak at two venues with the idea of selling a few books. Mentally I am giving myself until next September, which would make it one year since publication, to market the book and then I will stop. I am not through with this book, it will be a constant in my life.

During these past months the heavy breath of Holocaust resistance to my book has blown across my face. In short, we’ve read enough about the Holocaust; what! another book on the subject; it is too somber and morbid a subject; finally, let us Pontius Pilate the book, wash our hands of it, sight unseen. I can chew and taste the relentless unwillingness to invest time in the subject. There is no fair play in all this, nor can I expect any, as it is one more book I felt I had to write, and one more book not wanted. There is a surfeit of Holocaust books, fiction and non-fiction (Can there ever be?). There is reviewer fatigue about the subject. And there is also a lack of balls to engage the subject. Intellectual and psychological cowardice blows through my computer as bloggers resist, say they “pass,” or simply do not answer (class). Often magazine editors willing to accept the book cannot find reviewers to read it.

The Inquisition was the original blueprint of the Holocaust. Historically we are still examining that period for it hisses, suppurates anti-Semitism and is the template for the Holocaust, 1933 to 1945. It has rightly been argued that the history of Jews has been a series of Holocausts.I recently read a history of Jewish pirates in the Caribbean who waged war against Spain, having been expelled in 1492 and forced to enter another Diaspora. Revenge! The horror stories of Marranos and Conversos, the burning at the stake, autos-da-fe, led Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Benjamin Netanyahu, to write a 1200 page scholarly tome that specifically ascribes Jew hatred at the heart of the Inquisition; in short, it wasn’t the Jew as a non-Christian, it was hatred of the Jew as a people. The concept of limpieza de sangre or purity of blood led directly to the racial theories of Hitler. In a trip to Spain in 2007 I came across a resistance and unwillingness to discuss the Jewish experience in Spain; the odds are that most everyone in Spain, in the nooks and crannies of historical space, had a relative who was Jewish. Perhaps they feel “tainted.”

Since Jews hold memory in high esteem, Netanyahu, centuries later, unearths the real motives for the Inquisition. His book is the last word on the subject.

I am experiencing as a writer a kind of crypto-phenomenon. When I enrolled the book for a tour there were bloggers who resisted displaying the book on their sites. All this was subtly implied. The book is a “downer.” All this reaffirms, without rancor, my general assessment about the species, knowing full well the book would not be “popular.”And what is that assessment: Thou Shalt Not Know. It seems to me that the Holocaust is a litmus test for the mass of men. It reminds them of the continuing rolling reverberation of what each of us is capable of doing. The human race is not capable of remediation, never was, never is, and never will be. Which brings me back to me and why I wrote this book.

I wrote it for the same reason a prisoner etches dates and comments on his cell wall, announcing his existence. I will forever announce that I am a Jew.

Imaginative Renderings does in fact allow great insight. Books like this must continue to be…

READERSLAMENT

Title: “I Truly Lament Working Through the Holocaust”

Author: Mathias B. Freese

Publisher: Wheatmark

ISBN #978-1-62787-161-7

Reviewed by F.T. Donereau for RebeccasReads (1/15)

Amazon Headline: Living Art Rendering Unimaginable History

Amazon Rating: 5 Stars

In the preface to his new book, “I Truly Lament Working Through the Holocaust” Mathias B. Freese declares himself a failure. He also states that all artists who struggle with the Holocaust must begin with the acceptance of failure. I fully understand his point: the Holocaust as a living horror is too much to be rendered fully, in its full deviance, by any artist. This is the failure I believe Mr. Freese is talking about. He is right. It is too large of an incomprehensible ugliness; it can not be fully understood by those witnessing (in this case reading) a work of art. To know the Holocaust one must have been there as victim. But surely this does not preclude us from gaining much from the tales of this short story collection, of getting the gut punch of human folly, human failure. Reading these descriptive, imaginative renderings does in fact allow great insight. Books like this must continue to be created. We need to know as much as we can, to be hit with what was over and over, if there is to be any hope of avoiding such a living hell from appearing again. Mathias Freese’s art of storytelling, his wondrous imaginative flair, gives one hope that eyes will be opened, and hearts too.

Perhaps the great achievement of “I Truly Lament Working Through the Holocaust” is the variety of angles the author manages to strike in this collection totaling 27 stories. With brief strokes (the stories are mostly quite short) Mr. Freese brings forth a great deal of different perspectives— including a sci-fi story I would have thought impossible to make work but which does— which enable us to see the Shoah in more fuller colors. It is not one man’s story. It is not one point of view, one setting, one style of painting. In the end, we are left holding a mural, rather than a single still life. With the many stories cemented in the mind, the reader is able to feel and know this history in ways I don’t believe other books, or movies, have been able to do. It is the individual creativity, unique and at times startling, that makes “I Truly Lament” indispensable.

Because the writer here has taken the time to draw down history in detail, we are able to enter the past with a sense of knowing essential to feeling these stories. Freese is not afraid to lay bare hard things, the foibles of the human animal, its fears and cowardice, pettiness and foolishness and strength and fortitude as well. Backing down from hard truths would have taken away from this work. Because the author was fearless, he has given us truth, and that is always the most powerful thing; dealing with this most serious subject, eliminating some natures because they are too troubling to confess may just have amounted to a crime. We are blessed that this book does no such thing.

“A brutal knock on the door. When I opened it, three German soldiers with rifles barged in and grabbed me. I didn’t resist, it’s not my way.” These are the opening lines of a story entitled, “Of No Use” that appears part way through the collection. The hard clarity of those lines says a lot, don’t you think? I sense no heroes in those words, but I do feel humanity. Further on we get this opening in a story titled, “Snow Globe II: Homage to Kafka” “Snow reveals profoundly dark and black shadows. As the camp lights glare down from towers above, grays are beautifully exposed.” The first example has a brutality and truth to it. The second is otherworldly, description infused with sensuousness, but still somehow grounded. Many worlds in one subject, many ways of coming to it. Mathias Freese wields a strong pen. He writes with beauty, imagination, and fists of stone. Here in “I Truly Lament Working Through the Holocaust” he gives us what we must know, must never forget. That it is art, makes it living, and anything but a failure.

 

 

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