In grade school, fourth or fifth grade, some fat kid, looking very uncomfortable, was pushed into the class room. The administrator pushing the kid, female, of course, this was the 1940s, harsh-whispered something at the teacher, and that woman, the woman we were familiar with standing in front of us, said, “Class, this is Lennie: he’s just moved back to the United States from Lima, Peru. I want you all to make him welcome.”
Now little Paul always does what he’s told: at that age I did at least. He may do it with a vengeance, he may do it so it drips in vitriolic irony, at least it came to, when I still did it, pretended to go along with the hypocracies of the kleptocracy. I noticed not one kid acknowledge the fat kid; but I went up and said Hi. Lennie was very relieved. Thereafter he attached himself to me. I had a friend I couldn’t get rid of: but in those days I was so passive I did very little to get rid of anything.
I got lots of meals at Lenny’s house. His mother was an enormous fat woman who could lay her elbows comfortably on the floor, wow, was she double jointed. I met the father who’d fulfilled his plan to earn enough money by forty, working off-shore for Mobil (out of the US, that is), to retire. (He did, hence the move to Rockville Centre, but he was back inventing new occupations for himself within weeks: the Packard V12 limousine he’d bought to amuse himself with wore thin fast.
So that’s Lenny, and family: then. (At least a piece of him: last I heard Lenny was a psychiatrist in Chicago.)
Lenny wound up saying more than one thing that cracked me up, and remained in my mind longer than most comments. Here’s one that changed my world, changed me, and my relatinoship to that world:
Lenny had an accident. One day he was bandaged and so was his mother. (His mother always looked alien to me, I mean, native: Pueblo, Navaho … Mexican? long dresses to the floor, colorful.) They’d been riding in a taxi, the taxi crashed into something. Lenny had gone from the back seat, sitting, lolling around, to crashing through the front windshield:
Lenny said, “The last thing I felt was my mother giving me a two-footed kick from behind: ‘There! That oughta be good for an extra couple of thousand dollars!’”
Getting paid for an accident? suing somebody? suing a company … had never occurred to me.
What would my mother have done if I had gone through the window of a taxi? Apologized to them perhaps? Offered to sweep up the glass?
Yeah, Lenny told me that the lawyer used his cut lip to milk the suit: could ruin his career as a brilliant concert trumpet player! (Lenny played the trumpet but I’m not aware anyone thought there was anything brilliant about it.
But not seeing profit in something was typical for my much-abused fatherless family. Would my father, a lawyer after all, have seen profit in it? He wasn’t sober enough for a string of moments to have much in the way of coordinated thought.
But I can tell you about my mother: one day in Brooklyn she gets off the trolly, near Broadway, near Pilling Street, turns around, standing on the street, to lift me down after her … and the trolly closes the door and moves off: pinching my by the waist, my mother tripping along in her absurd high heeled shoes, trying to hold me up so my face wouldn’t bang on the cobblestone.
People on the trolly had trouble communicating with the driver, he was old, deaf. A woman who looked like she belonged in the Bosch painting of Christ Carrying the Cross I posted yesterday handed my mother a card, a lawyer’s card: “He can get you $50 for that!” No, no. My mother got me free of the trolly doors, still in one piece: totally un-panicked, trusting her, or fate, or death …
My father would have been around at that time: we were in the neighborhood of his father’s house: and business: another lawyer.
Another thought on that teacher, female, addressed by that administrator, female: Men are better at slaughter to order, women are better at just following orders, no matter how the orders contradict the rationalizations the war machine, the market machine … conducts business under.
There was litigation in the 1940s, there were lawyers, but there was a fault line somewhere beneath the population separating those who would sue, first thing, those who could be brought around to it slowly, and those who couldn’t be tempted: no matter who did what to them.
Now let me hasten to say: something I wasn’t aware of at the time, but came to be: Rockville Centre was full of Jews. Rockville Centre was also full of Christians who said the Jews were all ready to sue at the drop of a hat.
Understand please, by “Jew” or “Christian” I don’t mean anything theological, or ethical … I’m employing the kind of categorization enemies employ, and morons … I didn’t yet know in the fourth or fifth grade that I had ever once for one second so much as met a Jew: in fact, I was surrounded by Jews; “half” my classmates …
Now, realize, I talked above about a fault line lying beneath the population: true. Now also realize: that fault line moves!
But there are many fault lines moving around beneath us, far more than we could conceive, let alone count.
In those days I couldn’t conceive of holding my father responsible for anything. He could have pulled out my liver, flayed my mother, buggered my sister, puked down all our throats … That was, in my mind, a mind formed by the culture, by the time, his right!!!
I think my mother thought so too.
The law in theory said that he, my father, was responsible for supporting us; but it was like ideas about God: who was there to enforce them?
How was my father, or God, bound by our ideas?
If my father thought he had the right to eat me alive, and I agreed with him, steeped from the cradle in the culture, then where would a court get off acting on my behalf, minor though I were?
Surfing the Serfs
The other week I was writing about emancipation. (Don’t think you know a thing about the subject till you’re sure you’ve absorbed Thomas DeLorenzo’s scholarship!) Last night related thoughts arose as I watched my first Takashi Miike movie, Thirteen Assassins.
Homer refers to a slave who had been a king: he was a king wherever, now he was a slave: under the Trojans, under the Achaeans … the “Greeks.” For himself, he had been a king, for himself, maybe he was still a king, but for the Trojans, telling him to empty the bedpan, he was a slave, property: there was no need to consult his feelings on how he was employed: “Here, suck the boil out of that leper’s ass.”
Before 1861 the Russian property owner didn’t have to consult his serfs before he burned the field, or quartered the baby, or buggered the baby’s mother. The serfs were property, slaves: if it’s your table you can eat on it or smash it to pieces: whose business is it?
Before 1861, and 1863, and after, the southern plantation owner could beat any of his slaves, could declare his son guilty of no wrong after all the virgins had been impregnated …
In the Miiake film a male descendant of the Shogun severs the limbs from a peasant woman, cuts out her tongue … fucks her till he’s bored, throws her out. Oh, we’re so horified, now we want to see the little Shogun dipshit tortured: make him pay.
Why? Wasn’t she his property? Whose business is it what we do without our property?
Well, the money in my wallet is supposedly mine: if it is, how can the king tax it? can I burn it? defecate on it? can I use it in a satanic ritual?
If it’s mine, why not?
There’s an answer, and I’m going to remind you of what it is. Of course you won’t know what it is unless you’ve been reading pk, reading and understanding! ha ha, what an idea: or unless you’d been reading Gregory Bateson, never mind pk. Cultures are build of double binds: damned if you don’t; damned if you do. No one means what they say, not if you scratch below the surface: and if you scratch below the surface, no one will know who you are, no one will know or care what’s been done to you, to keep anyone from knowing who you are, or caring what’s been done to you.
We’re all puppets controlled by strings, all strings controlled by a controller not the controller we think: you think you’re obeying the Tsar, actually the Tsar is a puppet run by strings controlled by the serfs …
Our principles are only skin keep, we crucify anyone who might probe deeper, or see that the whole thing is a facade of paradox, not a valid cosmology.
Anyway, the Shogun’s cruel poppet is going from here to there. Samurai can’t assassinate him here or there but can assassinate him en route from here to there. Twelve guys gang up on two hundred, you know how those martial arts movies go. Then they become thirteen, some clown killing more samurai with a rock and a stick than any of the samurai kill with sharp as razors kendo swords. (Why don’t they all just fight with rocks?)
(Like the Hollywood movie where all the guys beat each other — clang clang clang — with broadswords, finally one guy scores with an elbow to the chops!) (Why waste time with broad swords? if only the elbow is lethal?)
Anyway, the bad Shogun poppet finally gets some steel in his guts, thanks the samurai for the exciting day, seems to mean it.
Meantime, we Americans never kill anyone except for the highest of high moral reasons … (But how come we assassinate people with drones in Afghanistan, why doesn’t Kirk Douglas just hit them with an elbow?)