Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Odd Man Out

As a white man, you can live your whole life never not fitting in. You never walk into a bar that sees only your boobs. To be Whitie is to be wallpaper. You don't draw attention, good or bad. Still, what would it be like, to live with attention? To just let people stare. To let them fill in the blank, and assume what they will. To let people project some aspect of themselves on you for a whole day.

Well, I'm white, but I've never been "white." I've never fit in, I've never been simply wallpaper. I've always stood out. I've always been an outsider and the odd man out. People ask me why I am the way I am. I don't have a good answer. I suppose it comes naturally to me to be different. I was an outsider in my own family, growing up. I adapted to the role of outsider and I seem to seek out that role as an adult. It's close to instinctual for me.

I tend to be passive and unassertive. But I don't just fall into a group dynamic. I'm an aggressive non-joiner, I suppose. I have difficulty acknowledging or expressing anger. But I express that anger in a passive-aggressive way, by standing apart -- by intentionally turning my back on those who anger me.

I'm inhibited and constricted in my emotional life. I have difficulty allowing myself to acknowledge or express wishes and impulses. I'm not a secure outsider, but an insecure one. I tend to feel helpless, powerless, or at the mercy of forces outside my control.

My emotional states are dominated by feelings of futility and meaninglessness. I tend to feel empty or bored. I don't think I've ever been happy -- ever. Not truly happy for an extended period of time. Depression and despondency have been my companions since early childhood, for as long as I can remember.

I don't relate to people emotionally. I have such a limited and constricted range of emotions. I feel inadequate, inferior or a failure. People seem to sense that about me. I also feel listless, fatigued and lacking in energy.

I often wonder where people get their energy. Energy for living, for activities, for pleasure. I always feel so drained. I find little or no pleasure, satisfaction or enjoyment in life's activities.

For as long as I can remember I've felt anxious. Not simply anxious around other people, but anxious all the time, even when I'm alone. Though, yes, I tend to be shy and reserved in social situations.

But above all I feel like an outcast or an outsider, I have never felt that I truly belonged. It's as if in every situation I'm told that this is the wrong place for me, the wrong environment. I am forever being told to go elsewhere. "You're not wanted here, there's some other place where you'd fit in." But I never find that other place. I've been searching for that other place my entire life. And now, in middle-age, I've given up trying. I live the life of a hermit, a recluse.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Buying A Friend

I wanted a friend.

I had heard of a local society, The Friends of the Friendless that sold friends. They owned the Sorry Sod Social Club and had a Saturday stand at Union Station in Washington. But The Friends of the Friendless specialized in young people. I'd been in contact with young people. They are not people I wanted to befriend. I wanted a proper friend, a middle-aged one. Could The Friends of the Friendless procure for me a middle-aged friend?

Well, yes, they probably could. My neighbor had friends, and he told me that if I ordered one before it was befriended by someone else the friend wouldn't have to be inspected by the Department of Social Relations, a little known federal agency established in the waning days of the Clinton Administration to ensure that anyone who wanted a friend would have a decent friend. This, people said, was a good thing. In effect, it was explained to me, I'd be buying a well-seasoned friend with lots of life experience -- "Think of a friend as a pet" -- rather than a purchased friend sold by The Friends of the Friendless. (The social logic of the Department of Social Relations is based on a belief that all government agencies are good, even if they were established to oversee the buying and selling of friends, which you would have thought was good in any event.) But when I appeared the following Saturday the prospective friend that was offered up for sale was definitively a loser, dressed in cutoffs and a threadbare T-shirt that reeked from beer and a lack of basic hygiene: a large-sized fellow, about two-hundred-twenty pounds, about six feet tall, with a little too much on view, including a pot-belly that was ill-concealed by the aforementioned noisome T-shirt.

The challenge was getting the friend to come to my home to hang out with me. The decrepit state of the individual insured that every passerby knew what I'd bought. He was not your normal parcel of urban shopping. It was not a normal Union Station purchase, either, and many people looked at me as though I were a bad man to have purchased another human being to ensnare him in the bondage of friendship. One woman stood in front of me with her arms across her chest in open disapproval. I was tempted to make small conversation with my new acquisition against the street lamp pole. ("Mind if we chat here for a few minutes to give the impression that we're old friends blathering it up at this intersection?")

I don't own a car. How would I get my new friend home? Flag a taxi, of course. I waved down a cab and the two of us got in. I, the picture of good hygiene and unquestionable sobriety and my newly-purchased friend, the ill-smelling lout. The three of us -- I, my friend, and the driver -- precariously poised, putted home. I asked the driver to park in front of my building, and, urging my new friend on, staggered to the door, musing, Is there a law against this?

The front-desk manager, Tim Norton, welcomed us with the delight of an unapologetic social-climber, and we stepped into the elevator. But, before we descended (I live on the ground floor), a problem appeared in the Saturday morning dress of a K Street lobbyist, who had come in behind us.

"Gary, do we want another passenger?" I was struggling. Two hundred pounds was akin to a big man. What's more, things had gotten worse for my new acquisition, with beads of sweat dripping down his brow, the T-shirt itself soaked in bodily fluids.

It was a summer day in a small elevator: the front desk manager, the K Street lobbyist, and my friend. The lobbyist turned. I don't know why. Maybe he smelled something, although the smell, as these things go, wasn't bad. He conducted an inventory of the details of my new acquaintance, and when the door opened he exited with considerable dispatch.

"Did you hear the sound he made?" Tim Norton asked with undisguised glee. I had heard it and was distressed. I had been uncomfortable in Union Station. Now I'd made my neighbor sick.

I deposited my friend on the living room couch. I reflected on the difficulty of bringing a purchased friend to one's home. I hadn't wanted to upset my neighbor. I didn't know him well but gathered (from Tim Norton, the front desk manager) that he, too, was a sociable man who knew the value of friends. My friend was a more elementary form of friend he'd been socializing with for years. The realization confirmed something I'd always suspected: people don't want purchased friends. They don't think of people as something to purchase. They think of friends as the outcome of chit-chat and banter that grows into something of at least semi-permanent status. But I, unsociable sod that I am, am incapable of small talk and convivial colloquy, so I have to purchase my friends at the market.

Yes, my friendships are, by necessity, subject to the capricious vicissitudes of the marketplace and therefore beyond my control. At least my new friend didn't cost all that much. And by the terms of the sale, he was mine forever, or until I could no longer endure the odor.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lonely in the City

In the summer of 1983, at the age of 29, I moved to Washington, DC and entered the Master of Laws Program at American University Law School. This wasn't exactly the culmination of a lifelong dream. I'd come to Washington to become managing partner of a major law firm, and, in fact, I'd been signed two years earlier as a law clerk by Sagot & Jennings, one of the more reputable law firms in Philadelphia. I thought the line from law clerk to managing partner would be straight and short. But other than occasional rejection letters, I wasn't making much progress, and I was beginning to wonder why I'd ever left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia's not hard to find on the map. That's where I'd been born and raised, and my family -- what's left of it, still calls it home.I missed them - my family, I mean. And I missed big-city life. I barely knew a soul in Washington, which at that time, back in the early 80's, was just a sleepy Southern town. Actually, I didn't know anybody. I was renting a one-room apartment in Cleveland Park. The previous tenant had been the Spanish Embassy. I could still smell the Arroz con Pollo when I first rented the place.

Washington is very tough on lonely people. When my classes ended at American University, I'd walk the 20 or so blocks from Scott Circle to my apartment in Cleveland Park, and see all these happy couples on the street, arm in arm or hand in hand, smiling and cooing at each other, and I wondered when it was going to be my turn. I wanted to be happy too. At night, I'd look at all the lit-up windows in the surrounding high-rises--millions of them (or do I exaggerate?)--and I'd imagine all the happy people sitting down to dinner, watching a romantic movie on TV, then crawling into bed to make love for hours on end. When you're lonely, you tend to think you're the last lonely person in the world. You can't even imagine that there are other people out there--single people, couples, even married people--who are just as lonely as you are. But they're out there, of course. They're everywhere.

Some of them even stayed at 3801, where I lived. There were women who would slip me their phone numbers, asking me to please call, they were available. And there were lonely men, too. I remember one tenant in particular, a man in his late forties - we'll call him Stanley S.: he always buzzed the front desk just as I entered the building after classes and asked the clerk to please send me up with the afternoon papers. This was in the days before Tim Norton manned the front desk. It became something of a running joke at my building: "It's Gary's boyfriend again, pining for him." I'd go upstairs, newspapers in hand, and he'd open the door in the buff and ask me to come in."I can't," I'd say. "I'm sorry.""Oh please, Gary. Just for a minute or two. You're so handsome.""No," I'd repeat. "I'm in training for the priesthood and I only do it with young boys." I lied of course. I wasn't in training for the priesthood and I didn't do anything with young boys. And he'd look at me with those big puppy-dog eyes, like he was about to cry or something, and ask if I was sure. "I'll do anything, Gary. Anything at all, Just say the word. Tell me what you want. Spell it out."

To be honest, I felt kind of bad for the guy, I could relate to that kind of loneliness. I was meeting people here and there, sure, but I couldn't afford to go out. Anyway, that was twenty years ago. I'm still lonely, still on the brink of despair, running from dark place to dark place. You know the drill. Psychologically, I'm one of the walking wounded. That's why I always carry a pen in my right hand. I always carry a pen in my hand in case I come up with another idea for something to write. Some new, previously undisclosed, painful memory of which I need to unburden myself.

My life is just one miserable patch of painful experiences. It's so sad, so lonely. I guess I just never learned how to connect with people. I'm just one sorry, lonely, sod.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Mental Safari

The word "safari," in Swahili, means "journey"; it has nothing to do with animals. Someone "on safari" is just away and unobtainable and out of touch. The same might be said, I suppose, about a person who has entered a state of meditation or a psychotic state. The person who embarks on a state of mediation or who has become psychotic has entered an intrapsychic world that is unobtainable and out of touch.

Out of touch in my inner world is where I want to be. The wish to disappear sends many people to meditate or to wish for insanity. If you are thoroughly sick of being kept waiting at home or at work, meditation or psychosis is perfect: let other people wait for a change. Meditation or severe mental illness is a sort of revenge for having been put on hold, having to leave messages on answering machines, not knowing your party's extension, being kept waiting all your working life -- the homebound writer's irritants. Being kept waiting is the human condition.

I thought, Let other people explain where I am. I imagined the dialogue:

"When will Gary be back?"

"We don't know."

"Where is he?"

"We're not sure."

"Can we get in touch with him?"


Meditation or severe mental illness, the journey through one's intrapsychic world, can also be a sort of revenge on cellular phones and fax machines, on telephones and the daily newspaper, on the creepier aspects of the modern world that allow anyone who chooses to get his insinuating hands on you. I desired to be unobtainable. In the novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad depicts Kurtz, sick as he is, attempting to escape from Marlow's riverboat, crawling on all fours like an animal, trying to flee into the jungle. I understood that.

I was going on a journey to my intrapsychic world for the best reason -- in a spirit of discovery; and for the pettiest -- simply to disappear, to light out, with a suggestion of I dare you to try and find me.

Work (when I worked, that is) had become a routine, and routines make time pass quickly. I was a sitting duck in my predictable routine: people knew when to call me; they knew when I would be at my desk. I was in such regular touch it made having a job a mode of life I hated. I was sick of being called up and importuned, asked for favors, hit up for money. You stick around too long and people begin to impose their own deadlines on you. "I need this by the twenty-fifth" or "Please read this by Friday" or "Try to finish this over the weekend" or "Let's have a conference call on Wednesday." Call me, fax me, e-mail me. You can get me anytime on my cell phone, here's the number.

Being available at any time in the totally accessible world seemed to me pure horror. It made me want to find a place that was not accessible at all: no phones, no fax machines, not even mail delivery, the wonderful old world of being out of touch. In other words, gone away.

Sure, I would still receive calls, faxes, and telephone calls. But I could ignore them if I chose to do so. I would live life on my own terms. If I chose to ignore the ringing telephone I could safely ignore it.

All I had to do was remove myself. I loved not having to ask permission, and in fact in my domestic life things had begun to get a little predictable, too -- Gary Freedman at home every evening.

I wanted to drop out. People said, "Get a cell phone, use FedEx, sign up for Hotmail, stop in at Internet cafes, visit my Web site . . . "

I said no thanks. The whole point of my leaving was to escape this stuff, to be out of touch. The greatest justification for becoming unobtainable through a persistent meditative state is not self-improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace. As Huck put it, lighting out for the territory.

One's inner world is one of the last great places on earth a person can vanish into. I wanted that. Let them wait. I have been kept waiting far too many times for far too long.

I am outta here, I told myself. I would become unobtainable by reason of psychosis. A journey to one's inner world from which there is no escape.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Portrait in Every Way True to Nature

I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself. Simply myself.

If I have written much of it in the third person, well, that is because such an obsessive account of my intrusion into this valley of suffering forces one, like Dorian Gray, to confront his own "devilish, furtive, ingrown" self-portrait. The pronoun he gives a blessed bit of distance between myself and a too fresh ordeal in which the use of I would be rather like picking off a scab only to find that the wound had not completely healed.

In the career of the most unliterary of writers, in the sense that literary ambition had never entered the world of his imagination, the coming into existence of the first book is quite an inexplicable event. In my own case I cannot trace it back to any mental or psychological cause which one could point out and hold to. The greatest of my gifts being a consummate capacity for doing nothing, I cannot even point to boredom as a rational stimulus for taking up a pen.

What kind of person am I? What is so special about me?

I am an assimilated Jew, content to be assimilated, relieved to be religiously unobservant. I don't know any Hebrew, or have forgotten the little I once learned.

Speaking personally, I find that the American experience of being an assimilated grandchild of Orthodox immigrants has tended to make me an ill-informed, nonbelieving, non-observant Orthodox Jew, haunted by nostalgia for the peculiar music of the synagogue, for the Judaism I do not practice. And this adds still another puzzling iridescence to my Jewishness and to the tantalizing opportunities of my writer's divided self.

Since these pages, if they survive me, may be the last testament of my brief and insignificant passage through the world, let me scrawl out the main facts:

I come from an unbroken line of infidel Jews. My father was a Voltairian. My mother was pious, but one day my father took me out for a walk, a walk in a little neighboring wood, I can remember it perfectly, and explained to me that there was no way we could know that there is a God; that it didn't do any good to trouble one's head about such; but to live and do one's duty among one's fellow man.

I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike any one I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different. Whether Nature did well or ill in breaking the mould in which she formed me, is a question which can only be resolved after reading my writings.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Obscure and the Routine

I could never have appreciated how obscure my family was when I was growing up. A poor family in northwest Philadelphia, too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. I thought we were big time. I thought we were important people. I thought the world really revolved around my family. We had this way of understanding everything. There was nothing my father could not explain. And even if it was bad, we always knew what was happening. It was a terrible strain, but I began to understand that it was worth it. We had no modesty, any of us. We were fierce in our self-importance. We were really important to ourselves. Our lives were important and what happened to us was important. The day's small plans and obligations engrossed us. Going to school. To work. Shopping. My father going to union meetings every two weeks on Thursday nights. It was all terribly important. And so when, in adulthood, I took a shit job at one of the largest law firms in the country that was managed by a close friend of the President of the United States and the former Ambassador to Russia it seemed plausible that these important people had taken an interest in me. It was not delusional. It did not have the vapid essence of illusion. It was real. It was substantial. I was important. It was like the world had finally agreed to what I always knew that we were important people. Recognition was just. It was more than just, it was unsurprising.

But where we lived, growing up, always seemed to me the essence of obscurity. In northwest Philadelphia connected rowhouses fill each city block. Two stories high they line the streets mile after mile. Kids grow up around doorways, on stoops, in courtyards. And in the dark living rooms with their wooden floors, and aging decrepit furniture. One block after another. Miles of rowhouses with their rooms of cooking smells and their armament of garbage cans at the curb. From the prominence of our little house on Seventeenth Street I could see around the ranks of rowhouses. Beyond my sight I knew there were more streets, more rowhouses interspersed every fifteen or twenty blocks with a red castle of a school just like mine. Surrounded by this monotony of architecture, we were protected from worse things -- storms, fireballs, the marches of ants, floods from the sky -- nothing in this part of the world being worth such energy, such destruction. I had it all worked out. We were important in this world of the obscure and the routine.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Fruitless Obsession

Subject is a 50-year-old male. He has been unemployed and profoundly isolated for years. Other than consultations with mental health professionals, subject has no social contacts of any kind with family, acquaintances, or friends.

Years earlier, while subject was employed, he had several acquaintances whom he would have liked to befriend. Each of the acquaintances was acutely ambitious, inner-directed, intelligent, idealistic, and independent in thought and action.

Subject is highly intelligent, verbally fluent, and creative. He devoted about ten years of his unemployment writing a lengthy autobiographical study that was unusual in structure. The content of the writing features subject's identification with historical and literary figures who were compulsive letter writers; who developed exclusive, idealized friendships; whose privacy rights were violated; and who struggled with the experience of loss, exile or banishment. Subject visits his neighborhood library daily.

Subject has a paranoid fantasy that the library manager is in daily communication with his former employer, a local law firm. Subject believes that the employer informs the library manager of subject's personal goings on, and that the manager reports back to the employer on subject's activities at the library. For some years subject had a vague notion that the manager might one day become his friend. Subject imagines that the manager likes him and that the manager would welcome a social overture from him. Subject imagines that he receives subtle cues from the manager that the manager feels some personal connection with subject.

The manager appears to be a highly intelligent, underachiever who has little in common with any of his colleagues at the library. The manager is in his mid-forties, married, but childless.

Subject imagines that the library manager is an individual who, from early life, had strong ambitions for success, fame, and independence, but that his early dreams and promise were not realized. The manager has worked his entire adult life in libraries, and subject imagines that the manager has severely repressed feelings of dissatisfaction with his life.

At some point, many years into subject's unemployment, subject begins to write daily letters to the manager and save them on the public computer's hard-drive. Subject discusses in these letter his thoughts and feelings; the tone of the letters is friendly, informal and at times humorous. Subject imagines that the manager reads the letters and finds them interesting and entertaining. Subject further imagines that the manager transmits copies of the letters to the subject's former employer who, subject imagines, retains a personal interest in him.

At the point subject begins his letter writing activity, his feelings for the manager grow in intensity. Subject becomes obsessed with the manager, who dominates subject's thoughts. Subject begins to experience a feeling "of mounting self-confidence to the point of excitement and feeling as though" he and the library manager will become friends, possibly close friends.

After a year of this letter writing activity, the manager summons the police to request that subject be ejected from the library and that he be banned from the library for a period of six months. The manager tells the police that he had chanced upon a letter that subject had written and saved to the computer hard-drive. In the manager's opinion the letter is threatening in tone and evidences a disturbed mental state. The police do not concur with the manager's assessment of the letter, but agree to enforce the manager's request that subject be banned from visiting the library.

Subject willingly honors the police action, but continues to write letters to the manager that he transmits to subject's own e-mail account. Subject imagines that unidentified persons continue to read the letters. Subject continues to imagine that he and the library manager will someday become friends, though he understands realistically that this will probably not happen. Subject remains suspicious of the circumstances underlying the manager's action in having subject banned from the library. Subject responds emotionally to the ban with feelings of "anxiety, anger, confusion, and humiliation."

Subject is convinced that the manager lied to the police when he told them that he, the manager, had read only one of subject's letters. Subject imagines that he was the victim of a personalized vendetta by the library manager, whose actions (so subject believes) were prompted by irrational psychological motives that centered on the manager's own repressed feelings about subject.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gary Sees a Hooker


Gary Freedman, a middle-aged depressed white man

Cookie Williams, an African-American hooker

SCENE: The studio apartment of Gary Freedman

GARY FREEDMAN: Cookie, you're a definite artist. They should put your lips in the Smithsonian.

COOKIE WILLIAMS: It took you awhile. I didn't think you'd make it.

GARY FREEDMAN: I was having a little problem focusing. Finally, I got the right fantasy. I thought of a woman I saw on Pennsylvania Avenue and I coupled her with Svetlana Stalin. It's the daughter of the dictator. It worked.

COOKIE WILLIAMS: What do you take medicine for?

GARY FREEDMAN: Me? Depression.

COOKIE WILLIAMS: What are you depressed about?

GARY FREEDMAN: Depressed. Don't you ever get depressed? Doesn't your work get you down?

COOKIE WILLIAMS: It's okay. Beats the hell out of waitressing.

GARY FREEDMAN: It's funny. Every hooker I meet says it beats the hell out of waitressing. Waitressing's got to be the worst fucking job in the world. It's unbelievable.

COOKIE WILLIAMS: What are you sad about?

GARY FREEDMAN: I'm spiritually bankrupt. I'm empty.

COOKIE WILLIAMS: What do you mean?

GARY FREEDMAN: I'm frightened. I got no soul. Know what I mean? See, when I was younger, it was less scary waiting for Lefty than it is waiting for Godot.


GARY FREEDMAN: You know that the universe is coming apart? You know what a black hole is?

COOKIE WILLIAMS: Yeah. That's how I make my living.

GARY FREEDMAN: I gotta tell you, a great writer named Sophocles said it was probably best not to be born at all.

COOKIE WILLIAMS: Honey, it's a little too late for that.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Brian Brown National Monument

As readers of this blog may be aware, I have an imaginary friend. His name is Brian Patrick Brown. Brian is a real person. He's the branch manager of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC. He's worked at the library since 1988.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Wayward Life

For some reason I can't get Kevin Black out of my mind.

Be that as it may.

Tonight my shoes are in the middle of the living room floor. My right and left sock are hanging willy nilly from the front doorknob and bookshelf, respectively. My clothes never left the bathroom once I got out of the tub that incidentally is covered in grungy man film and my own body hair. Were I to invite you on a scavenger hunt in my home right now, I'd challenge you to find a half-eaten sandwich, a three-day weekend's worth of junk mail, empty CD cases and cans of diet soft drink that are only half empty. Or are they half full? In the VCR is a videocassette that dates back to my younger, more sexually-potent days (if you catch my drift) and at the top of my lungs I'm singing along to my downloaded 80s-era (1880s, that is) recordings of Verdi, Wagner, and Rossini.

When those are done I plan to move on to 70s (again, think 1870s) mellow gold. Yes, I'm devolving not just musically but also developmentally. As I write I'm sitting in my throne. For some men the throne is a reclining La-Z-Boy-style chair with cup holders and convenient pockets for the TV Guide and remote control(s). Mine's a bit more streamlined. I bought it a decade ago when it came from Rooms To Go with an identical couch, a coffee table and two end tables complete with generic lamps. The couch, tables and lamps have long since gone the way of garage sales or the trash, but this chair remains. Acquaintences affectionately refers to it as "the plaid chair", but I know it' as the throne. Along with an old Bullwinkle t-shirt, this chair's the only thing of mine in the home that predates my current state of insanity.

Well, OK, there's that VHS collection I mentioned, but I generally keep that hidden away. Ahh, if this chair could talk! Well sure, most of what it would say would be about being covered in stale french fries and spilled kosher box wine but it'd also talk about sexual escapades involving me and . . . that VHS collection I mentioned earlier. Right now I want to shout, shout, let it all out. These are the things I can do without: emissions testing; overdue library book bills; Social Security reform proposals; the lawn that still needs to be mowed in the front of my apartment building; alarms set to go off at 7:28AM; and food stamp recertifications that need to be reported every year.

Wait, where was I? Here in my thrown I fell asleep and dreamed that I ran. I ran so far away. Tracy Lordes, hold me now. Warm my heart. Stay with me. We can dance if we want to. 'Cause your friends don't blog and if they don't blog then they're no friends of mine. It's a safety dance.How embarrassing!You'll have to forgive me.You see, I suffer from My Own E-Hollywood Story Disorder. The visions always start with the same image. I'm wearing a Boone's Farm-stained Bullwinkle t-shirt and I'm sitting in a tasteless plaid Rooms-to-Go-esque chair. Tina Turner walks in and she's my private dancer. Sometimes the music playing is 80s (1980s, this time) glam but any old music will do nicely, thank you. She does what I want her to do which is take on me and take me on.

For a brief moment part of me wonders if I can escape my responsibilities into a world of music video animation where it's better to be safe than sorry. I start to shed tears, but they're only tears for fears, and then I think Hey now. Hey now. Iko iko I, eh?If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you? Screw Tracy Lordes. I'm ready for the delusions in my head to go away. I may be climbing on rainbows, but Brian here goes. Dreams, they're for those who sleep. Life is for us to keep. Brian (I'm referring to my imaginary friend, Brian Brown), if you're wondering what this blog is leading to . . . It's leading to where my life is currently leading -- namely, nowhere.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Unrepentant Plagiarist

My street in Washington is named for a New England state that is represented in Congress by one Orthodox Jewish senator and another senator who is reputed to be making tentative steps toward embarking on a presidential bid in 2008. It's a long street that traverses Washington, D.C. and wends its way deep into the northern suburbs of the city, way past the beltway. It's Connecticut Avenue, no more or less attractive than any other streets in the District that are named for New England states, though I must say I prefer Connecticut Avenue in Atlantic City where I once purchased three hotels in a ten-hour Monopoly marathon back in the 1960s.

If you didn't know it already, I'm a plagiarist. I plagiarize for fun but without profit. It's a hobby of mine, copying the writings of others and passing them off as the writings of others. I'm an honest plagiarist. There aren't many of those. Most plagiarists copy the writings of others and pass those writings off as their own. Not me. Only the unsuspecting or the dedicatedly stupid would fail to notice the disclaimer at the heading of this blog that proclaims: "This blog features unattributed quotations and paraphrases of published material." Right now I'm plagiarizing or paraphrasing a piece from The New Yorker written by David Sedaris. But the paraphrasing is so thoroughgoing that you'd never know that this post is thoroughly unoriginal. The first sentence of the Sedaris piece, paraphrased above, reads: "My street in Paris is named for a surgeon who taught at the nearby medical school and discovered an abnormal skin condition, a contracture that causes the fingers to bend inward, eventually turning the hand into a full-time fist." (You can look up the piece yourself. It's in the April 18, 2005 edition of The New Yorker, starting at page 92.)

Now that's thorough plagiarizing. It goes beyond plagiarizing, in fact. My piece is more like a jazz riff on Sedaris. A totally inscrutable disguise that is only suggested by the published work.

I've never mentioned it before, but my plagiarizing has made me notorious in Washington, among both natives and tourists. People gather outside my window arguing about the merits of my work, or roundly condemn my linguistic practices, which are seen by some as the gravest of misdeeds -- crimes, really -- that call for nothing less than a sound whipping. I live on the first floor of my apartment building and the voices just below my window are easily heard amid the traffic noises emanating from that street I live on that's named for a New England state.

For some, the arguments are about language. A wife had made certain claims regarding my abilities as a plagiarizer. "I've been reading his blog posts," she said, or, perhaps, "All those bloggers write things that are pretty much alike, so what's the difference if he copies from someone else?" But then people use slang, or ask unexpected questions, using obscene expletives and things begin to fall apart: "He's the one who claims to be a fucking original. He's an asshole." I hear this all the time, and look out my window to see a couple standing toe to toe on the sidewalk.

"Yeah," the woman will say. "But at least he tries to write something that sets him apart from other bloggers. That should count for something in the blogosphere."

"Well, he should try harder, damn it. Nobody wants to read what somebody else has already written."

Arguments about the sources of material are the second most common. People notice that they've read something before and argue about where they've read it. Was it in high school English, in college? What is it that I've plagiarized? Is it Dickens, Chaucer, Shakespeare? These arguments will last about half an hour, then the couple will decide they are tired and hungry and need to find a bathroom. That's the thing about plagiarism. It only concerns people who have nothing else to worry about. If you're tired, hungry, or need to use a toilet facility, someone else's act of plagiarizing has about as much interest as yesterday's garbage. People argue about plagiarism only when they have nothing else to argue about. Plagiarizing and paraphrasing is way down on the totem pole of people's concerns. Get hit with a cancer diagnosis, and I guarantee you, you won't be arguing about whether or not I plagiarize.

"For God's sake, Philip, would it kill you to just ask somebody where you've read this piece before?"

I lie on my couch thinking, Why don't you ask? How come Philip has to do it? But these things are often more complicated than they appear. Maybe Mary Frances was an English major, and has been claiming to have an encyclopedic knowledge of English literature. Maybe she's one of those who refuse to investigate cases of suspected plagiarism lest she appear to be not as knowledgeable as she's always claimed.

The desire to pass as a literary authority is loaded territory, and can lead to the ugliest sort of argument. "You want to be considered to have a vast knowledge of world literature, Mary Frances, that's your problem, but you're just another illiterate." I went to the window for that one, and saw a marriage disintegrate before my eyes. Poor Mary Frances in her beige beret. Back at the hotel it had probably seemed like a good idea, but now it was ruined and ridiculous, a cheap felt pancake sliding off the back of her head. She'd done the little scarf thing, too, not caring that it was summer. It could have been worse, I thought. She could have been wearing one of those striped boater's shirts, but, as it was, it was pretty bad, a costume, really. Yes, here was poor Mary Frances fretting about my supposed plagiarism when she herself looked like a walking caricature. A case of sartorial misrepresentation. She was dressed like every other damned female tourist in Washington and here she was worried about the fact that my latest blog post seemed to resemble something she had read in a tenth-grade English class.

Some vacationers raise the roof -- they don't care who hears them -- but Mary Frances spoke in a whisper. This, too, was seen as pretension, and made her husband even angrier. "Bloggers," he repeated. "They write trash anyway. What's the difference if some blogger outsources his blog posts? Got it?"

I looked at this guy and knew for certain that if we'd met at a party he'd claim to have never noticed my plagiarism. No, he'd never have the balls to do that. He might have to admit that although my blog posts seemed unoriginal, he couldn't quite figure out whether he'd read my material in The New Yorker or in the New York Times travel section. Besides there was the issue of his own attire. How would he explain that some other guy at the party was wearing the exact same necktie.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Inner Storm

The inner storm broke in January,
When I received a letter from an unknown admirer,
Forwarded to me by an acquaintance.
Instant Captivation!

I read its seemingly innocuous lines
And stopped as if they were a message from another world.

On the surface
It was merely a belated accolade for my written musings,
But one sentence held me and worked on my imagination:

Until now I've never wished to be another person,
Not even for a little while,
Until just lately when I found your writings.
Then I wished to be another
If only for the briefest span of time
To make sure you know that I love
Those vignettes 'as no one had yet done.'

The author, a musician from Vienna
With a musical name,
Was referring to my occasional pieces.

She struck an extraordinarily expectant chord.

I, who so often strive to be another person,
Wrote back with undisguised enthusiasm
As if these simple lines had transformed me into someone else,
An instrument of feeling and singing,
A Seer like Arthur Rimbaud's famous wood that wakes up as a violin.

The man, myself, was the wood;
The letter that touched me turned me into an instrument
Of the most intense of effusive poetic prose
That displaced any further poetry for a time.

For the appearance of this unknown musician
Unleashed a series of letters,
Unusually voluminous even for me,
Beginning with my favorite mummied Egyptian monarch
In the Berlin museum and turning into music,
The sublime province of sound,
To assert new recognitions about myself and my art.

Or is music the resurrection of the dead?
Does one not die at its border and emerge in splendor,
No longer to destroy?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Gary Freedman
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Apartment 136
Washington, DC 20008

Telephone: 202 362-7064 or messages 202 363-3800



LL.M., International Trade Law, The Washington College of Law, The American University, December 1984

J.D., Temple University Law School, May 1982. Associate editor of The Jurist, a student publication.

B.A., Journalism, The Pennsylvania State University, May 1975


Disabled, October 1991 to Present

Legal Assistant, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Washington, DC, March 1988 to October 1991. Duties included document coding, transcript digesting, and cite checking.

Legal Assistant, Hogan & Hartson, Washington, DC, September 1985 to February 1988. Duties comprised document coding, including writing summaries of German-language documents.

Internship, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. International Trade Commission, Washington, DC, January 1984 to June 1984. Duties included legal research and writing.

Information Analyst, Information Ventures, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 1983 to May 1983. Duties included abstracting of technical literature.

Law Clerk, Sagot & Jennings, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 1981 to August 1982. Offered position as associate upon graduation from law school. Duties comprised legal research and writing, including preparation of legal memoranda, briefs, and motions filed in state and federal courts.

Information Analyst, The Franklin Institute Research Laboratories, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 1975 to July 1979. Responsible for the production of Cancer Therapy Abstracts, a monthly publication prepared for The National Cancer Institute; responsible for the production of Biological Effects of Nonionizing Electromagnetic Radiation, a quarterly publication prepared for the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy.


Member, Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (retired status)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In Memory of Rilke

I leave a note that allows no ambiguity:
"I am traveling within, with your blessings.
Off to distant domains, old Friend."

I am thinking of You as though from a garden, comrade.
And I enter the second and final stage of my life
as I would end a painful letter that showed how far,
for the moment, I have gotten.

Or, how far I have not gotten on this ache-filled journey.

Now I have already been in my room a few hours;
I feel as though You were still here,
as if I could see You:
and I believe that for me it will remain so.
My dearest person, dear old Friend.

I have now left You behind in some distant realm.
In the mountains we still shared
a few common paths that were beautiful.
I was too impatient to remain without thoughts of You.

Whatever the reason, I am traveling
way back in time:
to the stand-up desk, to the quiet isolation,
back to the Elegy of Lost Friendship.

Look, we do not love as flowers do,
Rilke said,
in a single year; when we love, a sap
immemorial rises in our arms . . .

Now the friends in this Elegy are more than
two hearts and bodies,
yet betraying one another as they had been
in the first passages I composed in my room.

They were now dissected, explored,
their psyches revealed.

After the long hiatus of wandering --
after Venice, the canals, the earthquake of passion,
a loud passion in the thicket --
I have assayed our Friendship through
a psychoanalytic prism
and find that the "immemorial sap"
strikes me like a biblical message.

Neptune, the river god
with whom I had begun this Elegy months before,
has now been tamed through understanding.

Lead him out close to the garden. . . .
Restrain him.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Central High School of Philadelphia

I attended The Central High School of Philadelphia, which has a long and illustrious history. I graduated in 1971, a member of the 230th class.

Central High School is the second oldest public high school in the United States and is a part of the School District of Philadelphia. Until 1983, Central was an all-boys school.

Central was founded in 1836 and is a four-year, college preparatory, magnet school. About 2,400 students attend grades 9 through 12. It consistently ranks among the top schools in the city and state, and is among the top public schools in the nation for its academic standards.
The music department, comprising an orchestra and choir, is world-renowned, having traveled to such locales as Israel, London, Quebec, and Austria. It is one of the few schools that give academic credit for participation in the orchestra. It was scheduled to be the first American High School group to travel to China, when the SARS outbreak occurred and caused the trip to be postponed.

Central High School holds the distinction of being the only high school in the United States that has the authority, granted by an Act of Assembly in 1849, to confer academic degrees upon its graduates. This practice is still in effect, and graduates who meet the requirements are granted the Bachelor of Arts degree. Central also confers high school diplomas upon graduates who do not meet the requirement for a degree.

Central, rather than using a general class year to identify its classes (as in "class of 2007"), uses the class graduating number system (as in "266th graduating class"). This tradition started shortly after the school's founding, when it was common to have two graduating classes per year - one in January and one in June. In June of 1965, semiannual graduations were replaced by annual graduations. The current senior class will be the 265th graduating class of Central High School.

Central, due to its authority to grant academic degrees, traditionally refers to the principal of the school as the "President" of Central High School. The current president is Dr. Sheldon S. Pavel.

The Central High School website is located at and has been developed and maintained entirely by Central students.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Gary is a Loner

Gary is a loner. He is sometimes withdrawn, and has a fairly chilly, nonchalant personality. Although he is introverted, he is extremely rational. He is wary at times of the outer world, his senses, and even his intellect, because they might all be sources of illusion. His quest for identity with a spiritual whole gives him a voracious appetite for ideologies, structures, and theories. Readings which others would find abstract and intellectual impress him as reflections of important and lively realities. As a result, he has a penchant for reflection and philosophical study. He is intrigued by difficult problems and enjoys solving them. There is no difficulty which can discourage him from the goal he has decided to reach for himself. His tendency to be a bit calculating, sometimes conservative, and his independent mind all give him the ability to tackle difficult tasks.

Gary leads a difficult existence and, though he wallows in despair, he is not overwhelmed by the burdens of life.

Indeed, a hard lot has fallen upon him! But he resigns himself to the will of destiny, and only asks God constantly to grant through His divine will that, so long as he must still suffer death in life here, he be protected from penury. This will give him the strength to bear his lot, however hard and grievous, with resignation to the will of the Almighty.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fathers and Sons

My father, I think, did not make a strong first impression. His name was unprepossessing. He was called Jack (or Jake) -- not Jacob, just Jack -- and he had no middle name or initial. He was of medium height, around five feet eight. He had a prominent nose and a well-formed chin and dark brown eyes. He was dark-complexioned. He was strong -- naturally thick in the chest and shoulders, I think, and probably made stronger by years of carrying rolls of cloth. He was a cutter in the garment industry. As a young man, he played baseball. I have a photo album that contains pictures of him playing the game when he was in his early twenties -- in the 1920s. He often used the word "powerful," and when he did he wasn't talking about someone who was a titan of business or a man to be reckoned with at City Hall; he was talking about someone who could lift the end of a car off the ground.

When I was a child, I took it for granted, as children do, that my father was powerful in both senses of the word -- as well as being a lot smarter than most other people. (Any time I need confirmation of that, all I would have had to do was to ask him about current events. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth century politics.) He was not only the leader of our own family but was probably the most intelligent member of the family he had come from -- a youngest son whose father had died at a relatively early age. In a circle that began with his six siblings and included some of his other relatives, he appeared to be the most intellectually substantial person.

I remember the moment when it dawned on me that my father did not impress the world at large as a powerful figure. In my mid-twenties I was seeing a psychiatrist for whom I had little respect. I told him stories about my father. How my father never completed high school, despite the fact that he had an impressive intellect. How my father was sometimes dominated and humiliated by my mother's older sister. How my father worked in factory jobs his entire life. The psychiatrist said, "I have no respect for your father at all."

In novels of American strivers, the sort of realization I had in the psychiatrist's office can cause the hero to become disillusioned with his father or to resolve that he himself will, at any cost, be a person who commands attention. I didn't have that sort of reaction. I do remember the moment, but it was not a moment that changed my opinion of my father or changed the way I thought about myself. That may have been because in his own world he was a figure of such strength. It may have been because his values were so deeply embedded -- he had a stubborn confidence in their rightness -- that it would have seemed trivial to put much weight on how the world of less certain human beings might respond to him. The psychiatrist's observation only made me think less of him as a therapist.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I have become lost to the world with which I wasted so much time; it has heard nothing from me for so long that it may well think that I am dead!

It does not concern me in the least if it treats me as if I were dead. I can say nothing at all to the contrary, for I am, in truth, dead to the world.

I am dead to the world’s hustle and bustle and rest in a land of quietude! I live alone in my heaven, in my loving, and in my song.