And here’s another big sister Beth story — the theme being pk’s perennial theme (or themes, plural) of disfunction, dishonesty, self-deulusion, misrepresentation … failures of society, of family, of religion, of philosophy … of biology.
Beth worked hard at school, was an honor student; I was the unwilling one: I wouldn’t dignify compulsory “education” by cooperating with it. I didn’t need to be mature to see that the compulsion was real and the education fake. My family exhibited the American reverence for education, for schooling, accepted wholesale the myth that there was a causal connection between time in school and economic privilege within the society. Well there is, but only because the cheating magicians will is so, and everyone complies — my Free Learning Exchange, Inc., founded 1970, offered a true free marketplace, a true free democracy … People didn’t support it, people sat silent while our chances were interfered with, while the fed arrested me, censored me … the media as mum as the public. My family exhibited the American reverence for preference for the male. My sister, the honor student, vowed that she would take a back seat in our family’s poverty: would go to a state school, so I could go to a good school. I had no interest in going to a school of any kind! I wanted to get out of school, to be rid of it.
But what do we have to say about our fates? I went to Columbia: that’s the Ivy league, Bubba. (Dad went to Columbia, C’26, then NYU law.) Beth went to Geneseo: a state teachers college, up in the Finger Lakes. While there guys who impressed me dated my sister. Guys drove to Geneseo for a weekend, from Cornel, from Yale … One Yalie liked Beth. I approved. She didn’t. I think she’d demoted herself in her own mind, and was insisting that her fate match her will. She’d dated guys in high school I’d though little of: though I’ve emphatically changed my mind about one of them: John Bishop. Attended Amherst, because a big lawyer for big Anaconda Copper. Evil, I know, but I don’t blame John, I like John.
Beth repeated the wisdom that you go to college to date, but you go to grad school to meet your husband. Beth went to Ohio State. Came back immediately with an ex-marine Hoosier: I couldn’t stand. Well, none of my business, her choice wasn’t mine. I thought she was degrading herself, never changed my opionion. Worst, I hated Mom supporting his inferiority complex as he sniped at Columbia, the Ivy League … Don was an audiologist. Took his Ohio PhD to Kent, yes the place where they later shot the children, war years. Mom and I drove to visit them in Ohio, at Kent State.
Understand, we’re Knatzs, we’re all drunks. Dad was a drunk. I suspect that Beth worked almost as hard at becoming an alcoholic as I did: in college if not in high school. And Don was a practiced drunk before he commenced grad school. I suspect Mom drank more than we realized: a lot more. Her sister certainly had. … Drunks.
Any way, we’re visiting in Kent, Ohio. We have dinner, we go down to the basement. We commence to make and consumer pitcher after pitcher of whiskey sours. As our speech slurs Beth decides to tell the assembly of her faith in God. (Christ save us, she got a tremor in her voice just like our Uncle Roy’s when he had a few pitchers of whiskey sours in him and commended badgering anyone captive to his hospitality about how much Jesus loved him, and forgave him. A church could support itself just from the repentant sinners that Roy dragged before their altar. (Did any of them ever really repent? not that I ever saw!) (Did Jesus ever really love any of them? Well, they all drove new cars every year: isn’t that proof?)
After Beth had torn her hair and gnashed her teeth till we were all ready to scream, I, the whiskey squirting around in my capillaries (to repeat Tom Wolf’s wonderful image) decided to join the faith jamboree, but with a difference. (pk doesn’t do anything without first rehearsing a difference.) Beth’s pronouncements were all conventional Protestant, with a solid reliance of faith: a la St. Paul. I have faith. At least I did in 1960, 1961, at the time of this story. But: I don’t rely on faith. I ceased needing to when God spoke to me, directly, in person: just a few months before that: 1960, 1961.
Now I know from Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities what happened to the Christians of the early centuries when they dared to report messages from God to the majority who ruled Christianity without any such revelations. When Galileo built a telescope, and looked through it, and right away saw satellites around Jupiter, Geliodo instantly knew that he’d brought civilization to a divide. The Church taught that only the earth had satellites. the moon, the sun, all the stars … the heavens, God himself, circled the earth. The earth was the center, the earth was the only center: and man was the center of the earth.
We pretend to believe that man’s purpose is to worship God; no: God’s purpose is to look at man, lovingly disapprove, chastise, then give us everything anyway.
The Christians who continued to report revelations, or who offered a different set of rituals based on acknowledgment of new information from God, were called Gnostics. The Christians who ruled Christianity repressed knowledge of the Gnostics. The Bible we inherit is the book that already has Gnosticism, and a great deal else, censored from it.
God visited me. What God told me in that visit was something all Christians are already supposed to know: that he, God, had compassion (and further, that he, God, knew what a fuck up I, Paul Knatz, was). Part one of such a message was general, and already familiar. Part two wa specific, but agreed with standard vanilla Christian faith: of course God was aware of individuals: therefore God had to be aware of me, even if the Church in Rome had no awareness of my existence, any more than did by 1961 my church in Rockville Centre where I’d been confirmed. (The pastor knew my name, and knew I didn’t respect him: told elsewhere.)
Let me wrap this up. I’ll edit details later:
I said thing after thing to Beth to try to get a piece of the speaking floor. Big sister drunkenly interrupted me, attempt after attempt. No, little brother: this is my house, I’m the alpha drunk while it’s my family, not Don’s, that’s visiting. I and my faith, I and how much God trust, loves, and respects my faith in him, how perfect a Pauline I am, is the subject of the evening, the only subject.
Eventually I gave up trying to tell the story within my family: mother and sister. I told the story once to great reception in the Whitehorse Tavern, Hudson & 11, Greenwich Village, once. It so happened that one of the people at my table that evening was a theology student. He didn’t interrupt, he cheered me on, offered support, help, word choices: all of them right.
But few in the Christianity that repressed the Gnostics, will allow new evidence. Galileo, the poor fool, published his observations with Jupiter. The Church came down on him like a ton o bricks. And it wasn’t just the Church: his university came down on him! Galileo was threatened with torture if he didn’t recant his evidence. He did.
But not all Galileos are so compromising.
A moment ago I started to tell a story about Beth bringing Don to meet Mom in 1959 or so. Then I caught myself: the memory may have been about two Geneseo guys Beth brought to Rockville Centre some holiday. Or maybe they were two Ohio State guys: from before she took up with Don.
Whoever they were, Beth brought two guys home, from college, from grad school. They were from Ohio: or the midwest somewhere: Indiana …
We were very poor, I repeat: once Mom threw our father out: (he didn’t support us apart from having bought the house her divorce stole from him (not that I approve my no good drunkard father owning the house any more than I approve my mother taking it), splurged by buying live Maine lobsters to treat the visitors. Visitors should be offered what the house normally eats: not caviar when the house can’t afford butter with the bread.
We’re all seated, Mom brings out the steaming platter of bright red lobsters. The midwesterners blanch, visibly retch: What’s that?!
Mom was devastated. That’s what happens in a world of clashing cultures. Stay home and stay kosher; or venture, and get smacked.
But you know? you can stay home, venture nothing, and get smacked anyway!