October 18, 2004
Hey, buddy. "How now? Moody?"
October 12, 2004. Columbus Day. A day for visionary mariners sailing on voyages of discovery aboard wood-framed caravels. A day for innovative seekers of distant marvels, of abiding fame and expansive riches. A day of triumph for self-possessed risk-takers. Columbus followed a map of possibilities, routes taken, neglected, and cut fresh -- always careful to avoid shark-infested waters. I identify with Columbus. Perhaps you don't, my friend. One need not accept the identification to value the discovery.
And what did you do on Columbus Day, Brian?
I spent the day at the theater. I saw a performance of -- ironically -- "The Tempest," speaking metaphorically, of course. "The Tempest" was the last entire play that Shakespeare wrote before he left London to lead the life of a man of property in Stratford. Do you know it, Brian? "The Tempest?" I know it intimately. The play commences with a frightful storm at sea: at least a category 3 or 4 on the meteorological scale. On the F-scale the opening storm is off the charts.
Act I, Scene 1: "[A ship at sea.] A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightening heard. Enter a Shipmate and a Boatswain [without warrants, I might add]." As the scene ends, the ship seems about to sink and all fear they are lost.
The audience appeared to be terrified. I sat there thinking, "No, this is the way it's supposed to go. This is what Shakespeare wrote. This is how the play begins." My curiosity was only aroused in Scene II. [The island. Before Prospero's cell]. It's the scene where Miranda makes her entrance. She never appeared. I thought, "This is odd. All these actors, traipsing about -- from two theater companies, no less (four players from a national touring troupe and ten players from a local company: fourteen in all)." I thought: "Where's Miranda? Where IS Miranda?" Well, in point of fact, Miranda never did appear. Her part had been excised from this production. Watered down Shakespeare, I suppose you'd call it.
All in all, the production was a grim affair, frightfully tedious. There was a special irony to the line: "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." Yes, there were many strange bedfellows in that production. In any event, it was a night out. And I got a free ride to the theater! Someone said to me, "How did you survive the ordeal?" "Will Power," I replied.
To tell you the truth, I could hardly wait for the denouement -- the final lines. The Epilogue, spoken by Prospero. You must remember this. "Now 'tis true I must be here confined by you, or sent home. Let me not, since I have my own home got, dwell in this bare island in Southeast by your spell; But release me from my bands with the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails, which was to please. Now I want spirits to enforce, art to enchant; and my ending is despair unless I be relieved by prayer, which pierces so that it assaults mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free."
And so Prospero was set free, as even I was set free -- Thank God!
Shakespeare. Poets and playwrights (like letter writers who send red flags up the mast) may often write things they do not feel, but they rarely feel things that they do not, sooner or later, write. The absence of one emotion in Shakespeare, the undue intensity of another are powerful indicators of a mind and a man at work.
People say to me, "You had a horrific time at the theater the other night. Yet you seem emotionally unaffected by the experience." That's true. Attendance at one performance of "The Tempest" does not a life make. My emotional investment remains tied up with the Campaign. The Campaign's the thing -- everything else is just commentary. Shakespeare himself lived through far worse. Against the old notion of an expansive Elizabethan culture connected by the open English road, Shakespeare drew a portrait of a society nearly Soviet, or perhaps South American, in its paranoias, public persecutions, and sudden assaults on free expression and personal freedom. For Shakespeare, as for me, a bad night at the theater is just a bad night at the theater. "It's not the worst so long as you can say, 'This is the worst.'"
There are many points of comparison between Shakespeare and me. In some ways we are similar: in other ways, not. One tenet that Shakespeare lived by was that it was insane to throw your life away on a principle of faith. That's a lesson I never learned. My whole campaign -- the last thirteen years of my life, in fact -- bears testimony to that. As Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt points out, among the vast array of human types that Shakespeare drew -- prostitutes and sorcerers, pickpockets and Egyptian queens -- the only one he never attempted a sympathetic portrait of is the saint-fanatic, the visionary religious. Shakespeare could write "The Tempest," but he would never have written a play about Gandhi with a title like "Monsoon for the Mahatma."
It makes sense if you imagine both Shakespeare and me not as men running away to seek fortune but as already experienced players, trying to resume an interrupted career. I would like to get back to work. I would like to resume my career.
All Shakespeare's tragic heroes -- Othello, Macbeth, Lear, even Hamlet -- have plenty of courage; what they lack is prudence and judgment. Sound familiar, buddy? Prudence and judgment are two qualities that I lack as well. Unlike Richard Nixon's, my tragedy is more Shakespearean than Biblical. Nixon's life drama, in Len Garment's view, was that of a man who sinned, suffered, died, and rose again. The career of Richard Nixon was a set of variations on the same theme. As Shakespeare put it: "What's past is prologue." (By the way, Brian, what's your stand on the Log Cabin Republicans? Are you pro-Log or anti-Log?)
A Nixonian realist I'm not. I, like Shakespeare's heroes, never seemed to have learned what conviction coupled with a lack of realism (or sound legal advice) can get you. My life drama is that of a man who never sinned (what a pity!), but suffered the obloquy of his peers, and, in trying to extricate himself from a lifelong fate-neurosis, dug himself into ever-deeper holes. I have lived the last thirteen years as a tragic Falstaff-like epistolarian (if that can be imagined), but without a Master Ford to offer pardon. At times I play the cunning fool, and, at others, I appear to be an unbalanced mountebank.
Can anyone understand me in my totality? I have certain abilities, yes. I have managed, as few have done since, to play a perfect "psychotic -- functional -- hopeless fool" trifecta. I am a hustler and an egotist; a deluded and dysfunctional mental patient (when I need to be); and a naive fool. But I play these roles to my advantage, hoping someday for the big payoff; hoping (speaking metaphorically) to someday sight land -- a "brave, new world" at the edge of a desolate horizon.
Perhaps I, too, like Shakespeare, will prosper -- truly prosper -- some day, and leave the capital for a country estate. In his rent-controlled apartment in London Shakespeare had prospered. He had invested his money wisely, bought the best house in Stratford, and, as he sat down to write "The Tempest," was looking forward to taking his ease in his garden at New Place where he might contemplate his London successes and write a bit when it suited him. Life could be calm and serene.
Dennis Race probably thought I was rather naive and guileless and that he could take advantage of me. He will discover, if he hasn't already, that the naive young outsider he last saw thirteen years ago was just as ambitious as any Akin Gump associate (or partner, even), and far more able and adaptable in certain situations.
Yes, everything always leads back to The Termination: my job termination back in 1991. It was the crushing and transforming blow to my life. My life since has been a new version of an old revenge play. The knot of griefs and obsessions that entangle me emotionally find expression and discharge in "walking the boards" (i.e., acting), avoiding boredom, writing and, of course, the theater. Theater is my religion, both in the sense that it is what I care most about and in the sense that the ritual of theater is the only available substitute for the utter vacuity of my outer life.
In my revenge play I have feigned madness. I have waited for years, acting like an idiot, until the moment is right for me to strike and claim my rightful station as a victim of a Federal civil rights violation. My show of madness is not just superfluous but truly self-destructive -- it does nothing but draw suspicious attention to me. Yes, I acknowledge that. But my hope is that someday attention will be paid to my supporting cast: the entire troupe and company of players without which my play would not exist. Attention must be paid.
People say to me: "But what is your motive? Why do you do it? Why do you persist in acting this role? Why do you continue with this play?"
A motive? What is my motive? In all honesty, I have replaced the clear exposition of motive with a kind of chattering, compulsive, image-chasing interior monologue of dreads and desires. These letters are part of my interior monologue, an interior monologue made public. Letters are my substitute for soliloquy. And you, my friend, are my Horatio.
My handling of "motive" is what distinguishes my theater from conventional theater. In conventional theater, the motives of each of the key characters are perfectly clear. Their behavior is as transparently motivated as that of people in melodramas. What I have done is to eliminate the motive in ways that make a mess of the story, and allows it to become something more than a story. My characters have drives that are rooted in who they are, not motives generated by plot. "Why would the managers of Akin Gump put you under surveillance?" asks The Mad Monk. "What would possess them to gain unlawful access to your apartment and videotape its contents?" she queries. "What you know you know," I say to The Mad Monk, and there is no more I can say.
The compulsive nature of my behavior allows for both black comedy -- Dennis Race can be mocked (like Lear) because his behavior is ridiculous in a way that Oedipus' is not -- and human sympathy; we feel sorry for Dennis Race (as we do for Lear) in a way that we never feel sorry for Oedipus. Do you remember your "King Lear?" He had three daughters: Cordelia, who was faithful and sincere -- as well as the two British bitches, Goneril and Regan. Cordelia remained silent at the termination meeting in Act I, and Lear misread her. The old king was conned by Goneril and Regan, who eventually destroyed him; more precisely, Lear's credulity brought about his own downfall. Poor old Lear. In my theater, as in Shakespeare's, the plot deepens and darkens in ways that no one could ever have imagined at first.
In my tragedy, it didn't have to happen; a decision not to terminate my employment was one telephone call or timely doubt or conversation away. By canceling out the ordinary neatness of narrative explanation, I do not merely mystify my people; I humanize them. We know my characters the way we know real people -- not as illustrations of some principle, or as exemplary remote figures who have "desires" and "arcs" of success and failure, but as compulsion machines capable of charm. And I certainly do charm you, buddy, don't I?
There is not, of course, a formula that can be universally applied; if it could, every melodrama could become Shakespearean just by muddying up the plot. President Nixon, for example -- at least according to Len Garment -- remained fundamentally Biblical rather than Shakespearean. Nixon muddied up the plot, all right, but only for about eighteen-and-half minutes: a brief interlude in a lengthy history play.
As Glickman put it: "The questions forced on every screenwriter -- where is the character's motive? what does he 'want?' -- are exactly the questions Shakespeare ignored. (When Hollywood melodrama does touch the edge of the tragic, it is nearly always through the removal of motive. Why does Michael ruin his own values and dearest hopes by shooting the policeman and Sollozzo? Why does Gittes pursue Noah? All that keeps 'Citizen Kane' from tragedy is Rosebud.) With Shakespeare, the inner life is no longer a condition of narrative but one of existence. They are, therefore they think." Smart guy, that Glickman.
Fundamentally, I -- like Shakespeare -- am an instinctive liberal humanist, capable of empathy, because, in a world of sharks, I can imagine what it feels like to be sharked, and I know how to bracket experience -- to ask, What is it like for "them?"
I hope that law enforcement has learned something from "The Tempest." Drama can seem, can even be, incredibly potent art -- very big stuff, the work of magi and majesties, reanimating the past and restoring losses. But in the end it is just rough magic -- show business, the craft of the conjurer and the juggler and the player, making shadows in candlelight. At the theater the other night, I asked James Brown (yes, Brian, THE James Brown): "How do you know I'm not just a scam artist, a con artist pulling a hustle? Maybe I'm just acting." James Brown said to me: "That's what we're here to find out." I wonder if the audience ever did get the plot of "The Tempest": a peculiar and motiveless play of the tragic and the absurd, the latest (is it the last?) play in a canon of thirteen years duration. Yes, I wonder.
In the end, who am I? I am a connoisseur of comedy, a free flowing natural who will do anything for a joke or a pun, and whom life and ability bend toward tragedy. I have evolved a matchless all-sidedness and negative capability, which can probe two ideas at once and never quite come down on the "side" of either: I am a man in whom a temperamental timidity and caution has blossomed artistically into the nearest thing we have to permanent disability benefits.
My normalcy is not philistine or easy -- in my play, people lose jobs, library privileges, minds, and lawsuits -- and it entails a conservative obeisance to the common order: I believe in the Metro DC Police, the FBI, bosses, authority. But I do not believe "too much" in those things, and in this lies the beginning of sanity.
My Campaign? How is that going? It goes, it goes.
On Saturday I received a reply to a letter dated October 12, 2004 that I wrote to the Office of Human Resources of Montgomery County, Maryland. Yes, I'm serious. The government of Montgomery County actually replied to THE letter that aroused such a tempestuous response from the Metro DC Police. Not only did they send me a response, they also sent me a photocopy of my letter (they kept the original), and stamped my letter "RECEIVED -- HUMAN RESOURCES -- '04 OCT 13 A10:47." They also sent me a copy of information from their website on employment opportunities in Montgomery Country. The letter reads: "October 14, 2004. Dear Applicant: Enclosed you will find the resume/application that you submitted to the Office of Human Resources. We are returning this resume/application because you must apply for a specific position. In order to be considered for employment with Montgomery County Government, you must apply for an announced position. Information pertaining to current employment opportunities is available on our website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov - click on "careers" We appreciate your interest in Montgomery County and wish you continued success in your employment endeavors. Sincerely, Office of Human Resources, Montgomery County Government" (unsigned) (Joseph Adler, Director, telephone 240 777 5000). An important piece of documentary evidence, don't you think, Brian?
I've been asked to remove myself from the Campaign. I will not back down. I am still a candidate for a Federal civil rights violation. I will continue to run. This isn't 1972. Remember that campaign? The Senator Tom Eagleton affair. The press disclosed that George McGovern's running mate, Tom Eagleton, had been treated for depression -- The Black Dog -- and had received electroshock therapy. Well, as I say, this isn't 1972. Yes, "I am a depressed American." But I'm out and proud. We depressed Americans are no longer consigned to closet space. We are just like the rest of Americans. We are the leaders of society. We are people like Mike ("Cuff 'im") Wallace of CBS NEWS, who is a depressed American. We are Patty Duke, former President of the Screen Actors Guild, a bi-polar American. (Coincidentally, both Patty Duke and I were treated by the same psychiatrist: Jay D. Amsterdam, M.D., a psychopharmacologist affiliated with The University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia).
Yes, I will modify my campaign, but it will continue. I plan to visit government offices personally, with a collection of documents in toe: the U.S. Social Security Administration, The EEOC, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the D.C. Office of Human Rights, the office of Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. I will continue to fight the fight.
I was recently asked at a press conference about a statement I made several weeks ago. A reporter said: "Mr. Freedman, you stated that you formed a belief in the year 1992, during the summer of that year, while you were on extended unemployment benefits, you formed a belief that Dennis Race became very angry about your action of including his name and telephone number in employment inquiries to prospective employers. Is there any documentary evidence that would point directly or circumstantially to the fact that you actually did put Dennis Race's name on employment inquiries, or that you formed a belief that Dennis Race was angered by your action?" Yes, I was asked that question. Let me respond to that in this forum.
Yes, as a matter of fact, there is a contemporaneous document that talks about my putting Dennis Race's name on employment applications in the summer of 1992, when I was receiving extended unemployment benefits. The document is page 17 of the document submission I made on June 14, 1993 to Paul Yessler, M.D., the U.S. Social Security Administration psychiatric consultant who evaluated me for disability benefits in June 1993. The letter is part of my Social Security disability file; indeed, it is part of my original disability claim from 1993.
The letter is a fax I sent to my sister that reads:
I have been sending out resumes to prospective employers.
My last place of employment was Akin Gump. There's always a chance that a prospective employer will, on his own initiative, contact Akin Gump. In all likelihood, the prospective employer would wish to speak to the legal assistant administrator or another supervisory employee.
My termination from Akin Gump was unlawful, and resulted in part from the knowingly
false and malicious statements made by the legal assistant administrator and other supervisory employees to management. Further, there is reason to believe that it was supervisory employees who, for three and one-half years, helped to instigate a course of harassment and helped to instigate malicious and defamatory rumors. Further there is evidence that this harassing conduct by supervisory employees did not end with the termination of my employment with Akin Gump, but continued on for months afterwards by use of the telephone for harassment purposes and not for legitimate business purposes.
In order to protect the firm and in mitigation of my own damages I have indicated on the cover letter that if there are to be any contacts they are to be with Dennis Race. (I know that Dennis Race will act responsibly in relation to third parties.) This may help prevent any further unlawful behavior by the legal assistant administrator or other supervisory employees, which would only compound the firm's legal liability.
I hope Dennis Race and the management of the firm understand and appreciate this course of action, which, unfortunately, is unavoidable in a case such as this. What do you do in a case like this, do you have any suggestions?
The letter is pure campaign B.S. I had put Dennis Race's name on the letter so that he would be getting calls that he would find annoying. The reason I wrote the above letter to my sister is that you, Brian, and Debra were acting out so wildly in the library ("I want my name taken off that letter. I want my name taken off that letter!") that I knew there were some real storms brewing at the firm about my letter writing campaign, back in the summer of 1992. There is an old French expression, "Qui s'excuse, s'accuse." He who excuses himself, accuses himself. Why did I find it necessary to explain my actions to my sister, if I was not feeling defensive about my behavior? Why was I feeling defensive about my behavior? I was picking up strong signals at Cleveland Park Library that you knew exactly what was going on at the firm. And I believed that my sister was faxing my letters back to the firm. Hence, the above letter. I faxed the above letter to my sister in the hope (or belief) that she would fax the letter to Akin Gump.
Check you out next week, buddy. Piece of advice: always leave a paper trail (or try to generate one, -- The Montgomery County Government can be very helpful in that regard.)
P.S. If you're ever in Bombay, never yell "Monsoon!" in a crowded theater. It gets the locals nervous as hell.