ON MY ALLEGED MADNESS
I stand aloof, august, austere
I silence suns with bluest sphere
These eyes that singe and flare and glare
And never, ever, shed a tear
My blood is royal, cold and blue
The world at large I do eschew
The “friends” I’ve known have not a clue
Why I stew a witch’s brew
I hate you, hate you, yes I do
The way my mind is so askew
The world’s a gawking, catty crew
Listen to the lies they spew
They whisper in the dark of night
Guffaw and giggle in broad daylight
“He’s crazy, he suffers, see his plight”
Lot’s Wife’s progenic blight
And so they say some wayward gene
Made me mad, distraught with spleen
My ideas they need not glean
Neuronal quirks of blood unclean
With lots of psychiatric spite
And technocratic talk quite trite
They claim their drugs will set things right
In tactless tracts of thinking light
But I can tell you such a tale
Of horror and an infant’s wail
Of how the World made me assail
And rave and rant and hit like hail
So come survey this paper trail
Of poems, polemics, that pierce the veil
Let your mind set-out and sail
And you’ll be capsized in a gale
Copyright, David Gottfried, 1997
(Inspired by the “chance, dance” rhyme scheme in “Get it On,” a song by the rock group T Rex)
It was quite a mesalliance
To be wed to Frothy France
For the Prussians they will prance
Upon Paris in a trance
We must thwart their advance
And Assume a stoic stance
With a dagger and a lance
We’ll quash their entrance
And When we charge we dance
In underwear by elance
The penile glans is in the manse
And we dare to take a chance
With a very haughty glance
Like a seer at a séance
We’ll avoid happenstance
And wear the tightest pants
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012
STALIN “A RAISON”
(Paris, in 1936, was smothered with signs proclaiming that Stalin saw things as they really were)
The blond bitch eats Vienna’s twat in Anschluss
Her meaty thighs have Bohemia and Prague in a pincer
And her calves kick East, East, killing Slavs and Jews
While the Pope and Il Duce suck on her titties
And her hands play Patty cake with Marshall Petain
And her painted nails twinkle hello to the Klan back at home
Where they love the bitch
Where the bitch is a boulder blocking the Bolsheviks
Like a Moon blotting-out the sun in a Solar Eclipse
But while the West stares East Like Lot’s wife
It will be blinded
And the fires of the Moscovite Sun
Will burn the boulder of the Bitch
Copyright, David Gottfried, 1995
Sicily is sissy balls kicked into the Sea by the Italian boot
Raped by Arabs and Mamalukes and Turks
Dressed up as Chorus Boys
In the Church of the Bloodied Altered Boy of
Jesus, their favorite Jew bleeding in his underwear
A fucking freak show of Priests and perverts and the gorgeous locks
Of a dark Mafia man
Take Christopher Moltesante of the Sopranos
His Midnight Eyelashes
And Saturday Night Specials
Redeem the whole bunch
David Gottfried, Copyright, 2007
I am, I am, I am the Lord Iambic
I’m big, I’m broad, I’m mesomorphic strong
My words, denuded, the essence of the sonic
Like Rock, the rhythm is holy wrong
It’s measured, metered, precise as Math
Skewers, puts in sewers, that unaesthetic drool
And it does it so it feels like hell’s wrath
No, it never suffers the fool
It’s English, it’s bourbon, it’s beef and scotch and smoke
It’s satin, so satin — so satin it is sainted
Raise your glass, drop some acid, come and take a toke
It’s cool, fucking cool and you almost fainted
It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Verbal hallucinations of lemon custard pie
Like Lennon knew Byron on a distant planet
These, the words, my master takes me high
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012
It was a zephyr of a semester
20 credits, all arrogant A
In my band I fancied me Jagger
All my emanations on display
I was the faggot furious
Macho, blithe, seething pretty
Calculating and Injurious
But the heart harkened to the friendly
I ran, I raced, I rushed the border
Of propriety — and pierced demure hemline
The blushing rose given no quarter
And So I lay sated and supine
My master and mistress were music
Melodic lifesavers of Love
You took it like a lozenge
And all the World a Dove
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012
MY EARLY MEMORIES OF THE BERLIN WALL AND MOVIES ABOUT NUNS
I think it all started with the Berlin Wall. I had only turned four when it was constructed, but it made a great impression on my febrile brain. Somewhere, a great, big, dark wall was set-up, and this was designed to keep people from fleeing from the place on the other side of the wall. The concept as articulated was simple enough for a four-year old to grasp. One did not need to hear William Buckley provide a long-winded refutation of dialectical materialism or expound on the superiority of Lockean philosophy. Any child’s fairy tale would suffice: There were ogres or witches or warlocks, and they kept people trapped in their dungeon, or their haunted house, by means of a big, cruel, evil wall.
As I said, I did not need to understand the particulars, but the particulars that I were aware of only served to enhance my obsession. First, there was the name, “Berlin.” The name was as tough and as hard as quartz. It had none of the lovely lulling sound of London, or the soft, sissified S’s of Paris. It was a big tough boy with a bellicose B, and it was a two-syllabic construction which knew exactly what it wanted to say and said it with assurance and confidence. Second, “The Wizard of Oz” made me think about the Berlin Wall. When I saw the wicked witch’s castle on the television screen, I was more impressed by the walls than by the castle itself, by Dorothy who couldn’t leave the castle because she was all walled-in, and by the legions of witch’s soldiers who marched along the castle’s walls chanting “Oh lee oh.” To find some part for myself in this fascinating battle, I marched around the living room, after Sabbath Dinner at my Grandmother’s house, chanting “Berlin wall,” assiduously aping the cadence and martial moroseness of the witch’s solders who chanted “Oh lee oh.” Finally, Berlin was in Germany, and I was a Jew. At this time in my life, I didn’t know what had happened in Germany, and I certainly had no idea that the Communists who ruled East Germany had vanquished the Nazis who had killed the Jews. I simply knew that evil was inherent in anything related to Germany or Germans.
Since I did not know anything about Nazis or Germans or Communists, my sense of evil was fun and entertaining. It didn’t have anything to do with getting killed. It was more like a good horror movie. And I wanted more of it. I loved horror shows, and I wanted to see and know as much as possible about all the evil in Germany and in Berlin with its forbidding, foreboding walls. Of course my Jewish relatives did not find my German fascination entertaining. And my Father had less reason than any of my relatives to be entertained by my Berlin fetish: He not only had served in the United States Military in World War Two but had been on the front lines in North Africa and Italy, and he had injuries, from an exploding shell, to prove it. Nevertheless, he either got a kick out of my obsession or accommodated it gracefully.
He did more than accommodate it. He let me experience my Berlin dream. He told me that he would take me to Berlin, to the other side of the wall. My parents were separated, and on one of the Sundays when he had visitation rights, he achieved the mission. Defeating and superseding all the rules of distance and technology and oceans, we managed to travel from New York to Berlin, to spend time in the forbidden city, and to return safely to New York within a single day by means of a single vehicle, My Father’s car, which was equipped with special powers that James Bond would envy.
Very simply, we went to the Yorkville Section of New York, a German neighborhood situated on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It wasn’t hard for me to believe that I had traveled to Germany. I wanted to believe, and for a child aged four or five, the shortest road trips seem like eternities. And, since I spent most of my time with my Mother, and given the parochial character of my Mother’s automotive perambulations, which consisted of trips that rarely exceeded two miles, a trip to Yorkville, which entailed a long trek North through Brooklyn of five arduous miles, passage over the Atlantic Ocean by means of the Brooklyn Bridge to reach the continent of Manhattan, and a steady, exertion North along the FDR Drive to reach the Teutonic precincts of New York, seemed like an expedition worthy of Marco Polo.
Of course, my Father was able to enlarge the voyage by circuitous meanderings, that would be the envy of any and all cab drivers, all around the five boroughs to enhance the sense of a trip interminable and extravagantly far. And so we went off the FDR drive, and lumbered in traffic to the West Side of Manhattan, and drove underneath the old elevated Westside highway — the elevation overhead and the grimness of not seeing the sun simulating the sense of Berlin. We plowed our tank through war-ravaged Harlem where the bleak and perpetually soot-stained buildings cast a pallor that said the Hun had been on the march through these forlorn villages of France. Our campaign then trudged to the massive bridges that unite Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, to the behemoth of Robert Moses known as Triborough, and the girders, and the steel, and the vast expanse of great industrial dirtiness, connoted a toughness and a grit that could only be military and had to be close to Germany. And when the car toured the sickliest side streets of urban decay and degeneration, where the teeming tenements, of ten people to a room, were besieged with an even greater number of rats, I had an intimation of those Germanic horrors that my relatives, when they thought I could not hear, would cry about in the night.
But I was five, and my tummy was crying, and the trip had gone on for so long that I would have believed that we had journeyed to that new item of interest in the news, South Vietnam. And so the tank became a car, and the car was parked, and we walked down the Streets of Yorkville to find a place to eat.
In the early sixties, Yorkville was still very much Yorkville and not what it is today, which is simply a more northern portion of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which, inundated with chain stores common to all of Manhattan, is indistinguishable from the rest of Manhattan. But at that time the buildings were staid and stout and stiff like a store’s awning that never fluttered in the breeze; the grid format of the streets seemed to make the right angles of Yorkville even more religiously perpendicular than in the balance of New York; and the storekeepers, peering out of their windows, scowled and sneered and wondered what you were doing in their special land. There were plenty of signs in German, and when the people walked, they seemed to stalk, and when you talked, you wondered if you had blasphemed some Prussian certitude which would incur the wrath of the ubiquitous secret police. The wicked witch of East Berlin was all around me, and I was a male form of Dorothy, and my heart throbbing fearfully made me feel more alive.
We finally entered a restaurant, which was as German as anything in the American imagination of Germany could have been. It was slightly dark. It was almost empty. The somber quietude murmured with agonized noises as I heard jail cells slam shut with every clanking of a fork on a gleaming white plate. The proprietors not only seemed to be miserably unhappy but looked as if they had always been miserably unhappy, as if anything but unhappiness were an unnatural way to be, as if their virtue could be measured in the long lines of despondency engraved deep into their chiseled, collapsing jowls. I loved it.
The food was not terribly delicious. There was no sweetness and light in the offerings. No flaky breads, flippant and carefree. The foods were restricted to one corner of the spectrum. There were no red foods, or yellow foods, or orange foods. There was nothing but an enduring brown and white in some sort of goulash or stew. It was as serious as a scholar’s study. It was food. That was all. That was the way it was supposed to be on this special mission to Germany.
I dozed-off to sleep in the car. When I awoke, I asked my Father where we were, and he told me that we were home, in Brooklyn, which was another way of saying America. I asked him how he had gotten across the wall, and my Father blithely said that he had found a weak spot in the wall and just pushed through.
A year or two later, two days before the day John F. Kennedy would be assassinated, my Father died while eating alone in a Brooklyn restaurant. My Father’s death and the President’s death are psychotically conflated in my mind in ways I have never been able to decipher, but among all the whirling thoughts, one thing endured and one thing was clear: I always was and would always be mesmerized by politics, war and history.
Although the cold war was less intense immediately after my Father’s death in November of 1963 than it had been at the time of the Berlin Wall or the Cuban missile crisis, my mind was leaping faster and faster and so I became more aware of the World and how terrible it was. And when the world as a whole was terrible, it made my life that much more livable. (Which reminds me that Lyndon Johnson, according to Doris Kearns Goodwin, supposedly once said that liberals are never as happy as when they can find something to be unhappy about.)
After my Father died, the wall still towered with all its august audacity, and Berlin bewitched like an evil City of mordant dreams, and although I did not know what the terror was, I could see it all the time. I saw it in the melancholic majesty of Jacqueline Kennedy; in Robert Kennedy’s stoic voice which always seemed just a tad away from being a tremulous, crying violin; and in Lyndon Johnson, who sounded inarticulate even when he read words as sweet as Byron’s because every word seemed part of an awful lie and plot.
But just as Robert Kennedy had to overcome his depression and get back to work by running for the United States Senate in New York, I had to arise after my Father’s death and get back into the swirling life of children. Since I was an only child, and needed to be with people, and to be, specifically, with other boys, my Mother pushed me out the door of our apartment building in Brooklyn and sent me into the world of the Street. And when I went into the street, it was not to play ball, or to engage in the other pastimes that the silly children of my situation comedies partook of. I went to the Street to wage politics and war and struggle.
I met a group of boys on my block, and they promptly enlisted me in the fight against Communism. More specifically, Thomas Fitzgerald and Steven Brady, and other Irish Catholic friends in my Brooklyn neighborhood, insisted that I join them in fighting the red peril.
We knew there was a Communist threat. And with my understanding of a communist threat, things were much clearer and more specific than when I was simply enchanted by the wicked witch of East Berlin from the Wizard of Oz. As an anti communist, I subscribed to the certitudes that were clear to any self-respecting seven year old. The Communist threat was explained perfectly by television: On the news shows, which indicated that the Soviet Union was poised to enslave the world; on the spy shows, such as “The Man From Uncle” and “Get Smart,” in which malevolent characters with Russian accents were always planning all sorts of espionage and mayhem; and on cartoons such as “Bulwinkle and Rockie,” which sported devilishly elegant Russian cartoon characters, like Natasha, a woman secret agent who was as deliciously slender, sleek and dark as a piece of A-one licorice from the very best candy stores in the neighborhood, and a stout, snarling Russian man, who seemed ready to start a thermonuclear explosion.
What we did not understand from television, we learned from the all-authoritative school. There were, as everyone knows, the ubiquitous duck and cover drills to defend us in the event of nuclear attack. But there was so much more. There was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Honigman. One day, for no apparent reason, she started screaming about Pearl Harbor, and how treacherous and evil the enemy was. That the enemy of World War Two and the enemy of today were different I – and perhaps many adults – did not know, but the point was that there was an enemy. What the enemy was after was not clear – when my teacher lamented Pearl Harbor I thought she was lamenting the loss of beautiful pearls, or the theft of her very special pearls, or attacks launched by a civilization that was against the beauty of pearls and the purity that they stood for.
Who the barbarians were we weren’t sure, but they were antithetical to our white pearls, our lovely white milk (The milk we drank seemed to have some intimate relationship to Mr. Honigman because the label on the carton said that it was “Homogenized.” It was approved or blessed as innocent and white by our teacher who lauded the whitest pearls of our white Pearl Harbor.), the beautiful white edelweiss that Julie Andrews sang about in “The Sound of Music,” and were, we figured, on the same side as the niggers. (In my Jewish family, I would have never used a bigoted term like “Nigger”; that was one of the joys of playing with my Irish friends.) Although the niggers hadn’t done anything to any of us yet, we knew that they wanted to hurt us. Actually, it made perfect sense: They lived in the crummiest parts of town and after the age of thirty most of them looked like black hefty garbage bags left out in the rain, sullen and frumpy and all worn-out. So of course they wanted to hurt us. They wanted to get back at us. Only we weren’t interested in seeing our land of pearls getting beat-up so we knew we had better be against them.
So we huddled in the gutter along 76th Street and readied ourselves against the Black and Bolshevik storm. A long and luxurious car coursing down the street might secrete a Russian agent planning to explode bombs at the nearby military base, Fort Hamilton. And the gum wrappers discarded by these wicked motorists, onto our modest gutter, might contain secret writings and codes and inscriptions about all sorts of plans and plots emanating from Moscow. And a candy that did not taste quite right might really be poison sent by courier from Castro to kill our gang of valiant seven-year olds.
Castro might as well have been the anti-Christ. All my Catholic friends knew this to be true. After all, he abolished Christmas in Cuba, and the recent Cuban missile crisis was constantly alluded to on TV. As a Jew, I couldn’t hate Castro that much for being against Christianity, but I knew he had something to do with the Bay of Pigs, and pigs were unkosher, and I imagined his naked, hairy body lolling around in a filthy muddy watering hole playing with lots of filthy pigs. So I was sold on the idea that we had to be against Castro.
But I wasn’t as scared of Castro as my Catholic friends. Castro was their passion. To fight Castro, they decided to be more pious, and this meant being more religious. And this meant watching nun movies and shows. The early and mid sixties were, of course, the hey day of nunism in American popular culture. First there was a movie called “Lillies of the Field,” in which Sidney Portier learns to be a good black boy and behave himself and builds a church for a bunch of nice, unhappy nuns. Then there was something called the “Singing Nun.” And of course there was the aforementioned “The Sound of Music” which showed us that nuns fought the Nazis while singing beautiful songs. And then finally, like manna from Heaven, wonderful nuns came to us not just when we went to the movies to see a film of religious uplift but every week. Suddenly, there was a new nun situation comedy, called the “Flying Nun,” which starred a nun who taught all the Puerto Ricans to be good Catholics. Those Ricans needed a lot of work because they were, after all, part nigger. In any event, with all the good work the “Flying Nun” was doing, the Ricans would learn to be more polite when they came to New York to wait tables for us. The “Flying Nun” was such a great religious television program that my friend Bruce Gejertsin boasted that he never missed a show. He figured it would ensure him entry to heaven. (But Bruce was always the most stupid boy in the group. He once decided to lie on the ground, in the filthiest part of the basement of our apartment house, with a piece of cheese so he could catch a mouse for a science class. The mouse caught his finger with its teeth, and gave him a very nasty bite, but he didn’t catch the mouse.)
Although the nun shows were a pleasant companion with a bowl of chocolate ice cream, I realized that they weren’t going to fight communism, and my friends finally accepted the accuracy of my sharper Jewish reasoning. So we realized that we had to surmount our frumpy ways, and that my friends had to overcome their provincial, impecunious Irish Catholic behaviors and mannerisms, and that we all had to become more worldly. Which of course meant more British. James Bond was the very best spy, and he was a model for “The Man from Uncle” spy show, and he was an Englishman and was especially adept at fighting communism. Also, the Beatles were from England, and their arrival made us smitten with all things British. That there might be some incongruity between a fierce anti-communist foreign policy and the Bohemian and dissolute leanings of the Beatles we were less than dimly aware. They were all part of the same thing: The Beatles, and James Bond, and Bobby Kennedy, and Jackie Kennedy were all beautiful and brilliant and suave and saving the world from Communism, of this you could be sure. Although Lyndon Johnson, they told us, was really the President, and supposedly more important than all of our icons, we considered him a wholly marginal figure, what with his slouching Southern speech that drawled like a ball game with no home runs. At best he was one notch beneath Ed Sullivan, who had the special honor of introducing the Beatles to America.
Besides, all my Irish Catholic friends were supporting Barry Goldwater against Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 Presidential election. They might have been poor, but they weren’t interested in the Great Society. Mrs. Fitzgerald’s idea of dinner for the family might have been baked beans, and nothing but backed beans, or macaroni and cheese, and nothing but macaroni and cheese, and although her Baked beans were a masterpiece of beans and bacon and other delights, a slow cooking saga in a big black pot to feed her nine children, in America, in 1964, middle class people usually put more than beans on the table. But Mrs. Fitzgerald did not want any special Federal help which she was sure would come entwined with the debasement of her Church and the debauchery of her daughters at the hands of the Niggers from the blacker parts of town. Instead she wanted crazy Barry to drop the big one on the Russians and to strike a blow for Jesus and Mary.
Although Barry Goldwater’s political views were antithetical to those of Robert Kennedy, none of this stopped my neighbors from supporting Kennedy. Kennedy was their romance because he was an Irish Catholic and he was gallant and he was brave and his brother was murdered. And so Bay Ridge, a strange demographic curiosity in predominantly liberal Brooklyn, a white enclave whistling in the dark against all the forces of modernity, voted overwhelmingly for Barry Goldwater and Prince Robert of Sainted Ireland.
While I watched my friends salivate for Goldwater and the Atom bomb that would herald revelatory apocalypse, I watched my maternal Aunt, who lived one flight above my Mother and I in the same apartment house, work for Lyndon Johnson.
My Aunt had no special love for Johnson. She supported Johnson simply because he was the candidate of the Democratic Party. My aunt was in all respects a Democrat, and she said it with the certainty with which she might have said she was a Jew. She had been born in 1921, knew of a time when the Republicans were a party of nothing but snooty Protestants who spat on the Jews, would close the doors to all Jewish immigration from Nazified Europe, and knew that it was the Democratic Party’s Harry Truman that recognized the State of Israel. And Goldwater simply required a Thorazine shot, which my Aunt would be all to happy to provide him with since she was a registered nurse.
Of course, my Aunt wasn’t going to work for Johnson merely because she wanted him to win. She was a logical person and she knew her work was completely unnecessary because Johnson was headed toward a very big victory in the Nation, and a resounding more than two to one majority in the State of New York. Rather, she worked for Johnson so she could chair an organization called Brooklyn Young Democrats for Johnson, and by heading this organization she could alleviate the discontent of being a lonely divorcee by imagining that she was young – because she ran an organization of young people. Of course, she was the oldest young person in the group. She was practically 43. And with a chronic illness, which ravaged, among other things, her hands — which had become gnarled, and stiff and progressively inflexible – she wasn’t fooling anyone. But by downing a glass of Cherry Herring booze – a sickly sweet concoction that was a Brooklyn Jewish matron’s idea of hard liqueur – and by putting on one of those long Diana Ross and the Supremes’ Gowns that she and my Mother loved to wear – they were long, moderately snug and festooned with hundreds of shimmering sequins — she simulated in her own mind, for a moment, the succulence of something seventeen.
After Lyndon Johnson was elected, everything somehow settled down for a long time. Just as I entered the Freudian latency stage – a period, that begins at the age of six or seven and lasts until puberty, when the child allegedly is free of the psychosexual tumult that governs the rest of this life – I seemed to have entered a political latency stage. For an extended period of time, the whole idea of war and conflict did not seem enriching. As my Father’s death and Kennedy’s death receded further into the past, my interest in Germany and apocalypse was on the wane. Perhaps, this was prompted by finally learning, when I was seven or eight, that Hitler had killed six million Jews.
But the interest in war and politics never went away. If my interest seemed to wane, it was only because I was so exasperatingly baffled by the battles. Among other things, I was perturbed because so many of the bad guys seemed to fight each other. The Germans were not the Russians, and they killed one another, and the Nazis and the Communists, my cousin Barry said, were fantastic at killing each other. I realized that something was left out of the simplifications that I got in class, and saw on TV, and I could not abide the fact that I couldn’t understand it and didn’t know what the politicians were really talking about.
This frustration finally fulminated in a great temper tantrum I threw at a marvelous party at Tom and Connie’s house. They were my Mother’s Italian friends, and I found it such a pleasure to meet and know Italians, as opposed to Irish people, because the former prepared such delectable foods. When I first ate lasagna, at Connie’s house, I distinctly concluded that this food stuff was one of the most brilliant inventions of Man.
In any event, after being such an adorable eight-year old, who lavished praise on the glories of the Italian kitchen, my hosts were suddenly treated to a political firestorm ignited by impish me. I don’t remember how it started, but for some reason either Robert Kennedy or John Lindsay, who had been elected Mayor of New York City in 1965, came into my consciousness. Since I had entered my political latency period after the 1964 elections, I forgot much of what or who Robert Kennedy was. I may have even forgotten that he was the brother of the man who died two days before my Father. (I did not forget who John F. Kennedy was.) But I associated him with Lindsay. Robert Kennedy and John Lindsey were two people with two salient qualities above all: Golden hair and winning smiles. These traits made them detestable because they appeared poised to win America not by argument but by eroticism and seduction. But the smile, more than anything else, was nauseating: The smile was a lie, and they were smiling because of what they weren’t telling you, they were smiling because they were getting away with something, they were smiling and not telling me the truth, about Berlin, about Germany, about the Nazis and the Communists fighting each other, about my Father fighting in Europe, about the evil people who grudgingly served my Father and me in the dreary land of Yorkville.
I started screaming, “They’re all lying to us. We can’t be against both the Germans and the Russians if the Germans and Russians are also against each other. And Bobby Kennedy and Lindsay are all laughing at us because you all vote for them no matter what.”
Since I didn’t understand the wars and conflicts of the adult world, I decided to make my own worlds designed with conflicts that I could understand. And so I made elaborate maps, of tumultuous continents, that were filled with raging nations divided by brittle borders. Since these were wars of my own creation, I could control them and understand them. And, unlike the conflicts between fascism and communism, which the schools and the television would not explain, these were conflicts that I created and so I understood. And I wanted very, very good reasons for the carnage because I wanted the carnage to be exceptional and long-lasting, and so I provided abundant reasons for irreconcilable conflicts that would keep the nations of my imaginary Europe at loggerheads for years.
I created a fish religion of numerous zealous adherents who suffered fantastic persecutions and butcherings. Some nations paid homage to the god of the fish; others did not; and something as trusty as religious hatred could ensure the annihilation of a few million. This would be compounded by economic conflict. There would be a nation of economic adventurists, and these hardy entrepreneurs would exploit the wealth of other lands, and then the nation of Capital and commerce would do battle with the teeming proletariat nations. I lied on the floor of my room and twiddled my pencil on the page, and imagined summit meetings that failed, and blistering generals whose spiked helmets were exclamation points of rage, and roiling crowds, brought to frenzies by great demagogues, boiling like witches’ cauldrons.
But I needed more. Every nation had to have a fine grand name. There were two nations to the West, not so very loosely modeled on Britain and France, and they were called Mc Namara and Jubillee. These names were perfect because to an American boy sold on the idea that American masculinity was preeminent and incontestable, Britain and France, forever needing American help, seemed somewhat irresolute and vaguely effeminate. And Mc Namara and Jubilee seemed too beautiful to be the names of truly strong and Spartan nations, were a touch too Athenian, and seemed as flourishing and as rich as a Strawberry shortcake served in a diner with imitation Versailles furniture. And the name Mc Namara gave me the opportunity to do something with Secretary of Defense Robert Mc Namara, who was forever in the news, was doing something in Vietnam, had managed to steadily escalate the war and increase the bombing, and had managed to look like a dove not because he was dovish but because he was so exceptionally indirect and circuitous in his articulation of just what we were doing in Vietnam. My other names were not as creative but they were damn good for a boy. My Great Eastern power was Kevar, and I still don’t know why I selected this name. Maybe because it represented Russia and I thought of my Jewish relatives from Russia and Jewish words that sound like “Kevar.” I suppose I could provide a further recitation of the names of my great nations, and the reasons why I might have selected them, but at a certain point an essay becomes sheer self indulgence and must be nipped in the bud.
And nip it in the Bud is precisely what my Mother wanted to do. My Mother, unlike my Father, saw nothing creative in my historical imagination. What’s more, my Mother was a keen and dedicated student of psychoanalysis, and consulted doctors, and made certain that I consulted doctors, and seemed more deeply in love with Sigmund Freud than his wife ever was. And my Mother’s doctors were aghast at my wondrous wars. And my Mother and My Mother’s doctors knew exactly what all of this was; they had the incisive intellectual insights to discern the precise paradigm of my pathology, and the august assembly of analytic powers convened a joint meeting of my Mother, My Mother’s doctor, and My Doctor and unearthed the most disturbing and diabolical discovery: My war maps were a sign of hostility.
Because of the patent pathology signified by my war maps, they all had to go. My war maps were destroyed, and I ceased and desisted in making them. Interestingly enough, I had a friend, Michael Saks, who was in my class and was also interested in war maps. He found my war maps fascinating because the boundaries of the countries sprawled and shifted and curved so unexpectedly, because the names of my nations were so elaborate and fanciful, and because I gave every nation a history and a saga of discontent to explain its slaughters. Although I found his wars relatively boring – they all consisted of essentially two superpowers which each had twenty satellite states, the binary conflict between the two sides was the whole of the conflict, and the war would be bereft of any motifs, or allies of shifting loyalties or intrigue – they received a smashing reception at his home.
His parents proudly taped his completed conflicts to the refrigerator, and this enabled one to know, en route to one’s retrieval of a popsicle, that the nation of trap had invaded the nation of zap, as Michael authoritatively explained with his fierce black pen which practically pierced the paper. His Mother was aglow and his Father was aglow and his little brother Stephen was aglow as well. Stephen, incidentally, soon entertained the thought that he, Stephen, could make nuclear weapons – he had industriously watched the right kinds of science shows on television – and no one thought Stephen was psychotic for his belief that any day now he was going to assemble odds and ends from junkyards and discount stores – for something truly critical he might have to go to a grown-up men’s hardware store, those perfectly masculine stores perpetually suffused with the heady aroma of grease and dirty machinery – and make an atom bomb.
But I was without any war maps and any fantasies and so I learned to tow a new party line that was neither American, nor Communist, nor Nazi nor that of the wicked witch of the West. Rather, it was the party line of Freudianism, or rather the perception of Freudianism entertained by frightened American Jews in the Fifties and the Sixties, and this Freudianism mandated the sternest realism and precluded the faintest flicker of imagination.
I haven’t seen Michael Saks in almost thirty years. However, I saw an article of his, on the Op Ed page of The New York Times, about fifteen years ago. From what I have been able to gather, he’s been doing fine. I can’t say the same for myself.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2003