Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Humor and Aging

There's an old joke. Two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of them says: "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such... small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly. The other important joke for me is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx, but I think it appears originally in Freud's Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious. And it goes like this--I'm paraphrasing: Uh . . . "I would never wanna belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life in terms of my relationships with people. You know, lately, the strangest things have been going through my mind, because I turned fifty, and I guess I'm going through a life crisis or something, I don't know. I'm not worried about aging. I'm not one of those characters, you know. My teeth are a little yellowed, that's about the worst you can say about me. I think I'm gonna get better as I get older, you know? I think I'm gonna be the yellow-toothed, virile type, you know, as opposed to say the distinguished gray-haired type, for instance, you know? Unless I'm neither of those two. Unless I'm one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism.

Friday, June 29, 2007

How I Burned My Foot

I enjoy having breakfast in bed. I like waking up to the smell of bacon. Sue me. And since I don't have a butler, I have to do it myself. So, most nights before I go to bed I will lay six strips of bacon out on my George Foreman grill. Then I go to sleep. When I wake up I plug in the grill. I go back to sleep again. Then I wake up to the smell of crackling bacon. It is delicious, it's good for me. It's the perfect way to start the day. Today I got up, I stepped onto the grill and it clamped down on my foot. That's it. I don't see what's so hard to believe about that.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Crazed Library Patron

Dramatis Personae

Brian Brown, Branch Manager, Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library

Bill Decosta, Assistant Librarian, Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library

Brian's Mother

Brian's Father

Scene: The home of Brian Brown.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: So what's the matter with this Gary Freedman guy?

BRIAN: He's got like a chemical imbalance. He needs to be on medication.

BILL DECOSTA: Oh, yeah, yeah. He's after Brian now.

BRIAN: Bill!!

BRIAN'S MOTHER: He's what?!

BRIAN: He's joking.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: He's after you?

BRIAN: Nooo.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: Why is he after you?

BRIAN: He's not after me.

BRIAN'S MOTHER (to Brian's father): Do you hear this? Some crazy guy is after Brian.

BRIAN'S FATHER: I'll make a few phone calls.

BRIAN: Who you gonna call?

BRIAN'S FATHER: What are you worried about?

BRIAN'S MOTHER: I want to know what you did to this guy that he's after you.

BRIAN: I didn't do anything.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: Well, you must have done something.

BRIAN: No, he just doesn't like me. He's very lonely. He wants to be my friend. He thinks I'm ruining his one chance for friendship in life. So he doesn't like me.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: Doesn't like you? How could anyone not like you?

BRIAN: You know it seems impossible.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: Doesn't - doesn't like you? How could that be?

BRIAN: Ma, I know this may be hard for you to understand but I am sure there are many people who do not like me.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: Huh, Brian, don't say that.

BRIAN: It's true.

BRIAN'S MOTHER: No, it isn't! It's not true. You're a wonderful, wonderful boy. Everybody likes you. It's impossible not to like you. Impossible.

BRIAN'S FATHER: Maybe some people don't like him. I could see that.


BILL DECOSTA: Yeah, I like him.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

S for Spite

The following is an excerpt from Dostoyevsky's novel, Notes from the Underground:

I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my teeth are rotting. I refuse to consult a dentist from spite. I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the dentist by not consulting him; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a dentist it is from spite. My teeth are bad, well--let them get worse! I sometimes think I am not a man at all, but a mouse. There in its nasty, stinking underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and, above all, everlasting spite.

When people approach me I grind my teeth at them, and feel intense enjoyment when I succeed in making anybody unhappy. I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful man. I was lying from spite. I am simply amusing myself with people and in reality I never would become spiteful. I am conscious every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely opposite to that. I feel them positively swarming in myself, these opposite elements. Even in my underground dreams I do not imagine love except as a struggle. I begin it always with hatred and end it with moral subjugation, and afterwards I never know what to do with the subjugated object.

Even in toothache there is enjoyment. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in moans. They express the consciousness that you have no enemy to punish, but that you have pain; the consciousness that you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not, they will go on aching another three months; and that finally, if you are still contumacious and still protest, all that is left you for your gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as you can, and absolutely nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these jeers on the part of someone unknown, end at least in an enjoyment which sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness.

Yes, I am a spiteful man, and I write these words out of spite, in order that I might be spiteful. My aim is to make you uneasy, my readers, out of spite.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Secret Life

Now I have a secret, and it is like an illness. My habit of concealment is so highly developed I am able to accommodate it. But is is painful--hiding it, living with it. The secrecy re-creates the multiple lives that I am used to. But it is not simple, and it is not the game I had invented as a teenager. I am fifty-two. I know that a double life, a life of multiple personalities, is not an alternating existence of first one then another, like an actor changing clothes. It is both lives, multiple lives, felt and led simultaneously.

And so all the time I am Gary Freedman, watching television or listening to music; going to the library or reading a book; or walking down the street or telling my therapist stories or making plans or fantasizing about making love--all that time, the secret twitches within me.

I believe that others too lead multiple lives. Complex people playing multiple roles. Like myself there are people who are explorers and criminals, suicidal psychotics and saints, political prisoners and statesmen, actors and men of the cloth. We do not will these beings into existence. These multiple personalities emerge of their own accord. They are directed by our unconscious wishes, fantasies, conflicts and prohibitions. Psychic complexity cripples some lives and enriches others.

The multiple personalities of my self make me especially sensitive to the multiplicity of others.

Identity diffusion, like the gift of empathizing, central to such diverse arts as psychotherapy and playwriting is little understood. The special kind of imagination that permits one to imagine another, to put himself in the place of another, involves at the very least some experience of incompletion on the part of the "I," with some hope of closure by way of identification with the "thou," thus often thought in Western culture as a feminine quality. But there is more than this. There is a diffusion of identity to accommodate--an inner gallery of characters, and there is a detached witnessing of the entire process. Put to creative use, such a gallery may issue in the career choice of writer, actor, playwright, or any other artist. Given different dimensions, the outcome may be the practice of psychotherapy. With less good fortune, a self-effacing, indecisive chameleon emerges, with a chronic sense of weakness, suggestibility, fraudulence, or hypocrisy. I myself have ultimately known all these uses of my extraordinary state of multiple selves.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Interview

A friend of mine, a Canadian blogger, posted the following interview questions on his blog, Evydense. I will attempt to answer the questions as best I can.

Interview questions for Gary

Okay, better late than never. . . . sorry about that. Gary asked me for 5 questions for him for this interview thing that's going around. Gary lives in Washington D.C. and spends a part of pretty much every day in the library. He loves books, reading, classical and opera music, and is a fairly keen observer of people. His mastery of English and his extensive vocabulary is a trademark of virtually all his blog entries. He is blunt! He suffers from schizoid personality disorder which has a big impact on his life and activities, and is the main reason he is not employed. His Jewish background is clearly an important part of his life, and is a topic he frequently writes about. To get a good flavor, visit his blog here.

Without further ado, here are my questions for you. If you think any of these questions are self-destructive, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your existence! Good luck with the mission.

1) You have pointed out that you have made it as a Wikipedia entry. Do you have any particular reaction to that? The entry deals with "Jewishness". Could you identify a few illustrations or examples in your life that were specifically centered around your Jewish roots, background and heritage?

My reaction to being referenced in Wikipedia is "it's about time." Fame is due me. Next comes world domination and the Nobel Prize.

I can't really identify illustrations or examples in my life that were specifically centered around my Jewish roots, background and heritage. I am only half-Jewish, first of all. My mother wasn't Jewish. I was not raised in the Jewish religion. I identify with the Jewish people and their historical struggles.

To answer the question more fully I rely on the comments of Sigmund Freud about his ties to the Jewish people: "It was to my Jewish nature alone that I owed two characteristics that had become indispensable to me in the difficult course of my life. Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices which restricted others in the use of their intellect; and as a Jew I was prepared to join the Opposition and to do without agreement with the 'compact majority.'" Comparable language is employed in Freud's "Autobiographical Study." Some twenty years earlier (1903), he advised the music critic Max Graf upon the birth of his son Herbert (aka Little Hans): "'If you do not let your son grow up as a Jew,' he said, 'you will deprive him of those sources of energy which cannot be replaced by anything else. He will have to struggle as a Jew, and you ought to develop in him all the energy he will need for the struggle. Do not deprive him of that advantage.'"

I suppose these remarks are a little cryptic, but that is my response to your question.

2) Writing is clearly not only one of your strengths, but one of your primary interests based on what you write in your blogs. What writings have you done that you think have sustained themselves as your 'best' writings, what were they about, and if you know, about how old were you when you wrote them and what frame of mind were you in? If that's too fuzzy or ambiguous a question, how about this one instead. What motivates you to write?

I believe my best writing, the writing I am most proud of, is my legal writing. One example is posted on one of my blogs. You can check it out at:

I am also proud of my autobiography, Significant Moments. It is this writing that is referenced in Wikipedia. I worked on it for eleven years, from 1993 to 2004. Although it is written entirely in the form of quotations from published material, it is, in my opinion, highly original and deeply personal.

What motivates me to write is the desire to discover myself. To learn about my unconscious wishes, conflicts and prohibitions. Writing is a process of discovery for me.

3) Your background and interests in music lean towards what a lot of folks would consider to be 'refined' music. When listening, do you "dissect" the compositions as if they were musical stories, and consider the pieces and how they fit together, or do you hear it as a continuous, inter-dependent wholeness? Do you have a favorite opera or two, and why are they your favorites?

I just listen to the music and enjoy. My deepest enjoyment in life comes from music, not from interaction with other people. My favorite operas are by Wagner: Gotterdammerung and Parsifal. I love Gotterdammerung for the majesty of the orchestral writing. I love Parsifal because of its deeply personal message, a message that I identify with. Contradictory feelings of hopelessness and ultimate hope permeate the work as they do my own life.

4) You also talk a great deal about your childhood, your growing up experiences, the old country attitude of your parents and how you perceive that it has affected you. What are some of your 'warm fuzzy' memories from your childhood?

I have no warm, fuzzy memories of my childhood. What I do recall with fondness is that we used to go to Atlantic City, New Jersey (a beach resort) two weeks every year, coincidentally, at the beginning of July. I loved the beach and I thought that Atlantic City was the most exotic place on earth. In childhood, I looked forward to our trips to Atlantic City all year.

5) If you had a chance to do it all over again, what would be one or two major choice differences that you would make and why?

First, I would have studied harder in high school. I did poorly in high school. I attended a school for academically-talented students that was very demanding. I had the ability to perform well, but I was lazy. Second, I would have chosen a major other than journalism in college. I don't know what I would have chosen, but it certainly wouldn't have been journalism!

Have fun . . . hope they're ok for you. I hope and trust you know that if I have inadvertently crossed lines here, you can just ignore the question (or better still, chew me out as part of your response!!) Don't forget to post your answers on your own blog, and include the 'official rules' at the bottom of your post. PEACE.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Dickensian Ordeal

Sometimes we act, go in and out, do this and that, and everything is easy, casual, and unforced; seemingly it could all be done differently. And sometimes, other times, nothing could be done differently, nothing is unforced and easy, and every breath we take is controlled by some outside power and heavy with fate.

What we call the good deeds of our lives, the ones we find easy to tell about, are almost all of that first, easy kind, and we easily forget them. Other acts, which we find hard to talk about, we never forget; they seem to be more ours than others, and they cast long shadows over all the days of our lives.

Until October 1991, I worked as a paralegal at a large Washington, DC law firm. In late October I took it upon myself to complain to the firm's managers that I was a victim of job harassment carried out by my coworkers. Following a perfunctory investigation, the employer decided to terminate my employment. The employer alleged that it had concluded, in consultation with a psychiatrist, that I suffered from a delusional mental disorder that might be associated with a risk of violence. The reasons for the termination were clearly fabricated by the employer, a convenient sham concocted to provide some legal basis to an otherwise baseless action.

My performance evaluations during my three-and-one-half years of employment were outstanding. My ability to work with others was rated at least average or above-average; one of my evaluations described me as a "team player."

I spoke by telephone with the psychiatrist who, the employer alleged, had advised that I suffered from mental illness. She denied ever talking to the employer, and said, further, that she would never offer a professional opinion about someone she had not seen in private consultation.

I vowed to fight the job termination, and that decision still casts a shadow over all the days of my life. Perhaps I should have forgotten about my unhappy experience at the firm and moved on with my life. Perhaps I should have put all my energies into finding alternative employment. I didn't. I took legal action against the employer, convinced that the facts and the law were on my side. I was sure that ultimately I would prevail and that my employment would be reinstated. It was a decision that was heavy with fate.

For the next seven years, my case was stalled in the District of Columbia Court system. I had originally filed a lawsuit in 1993 in the Court of Appeals. That case was dismissed a year later for lack of jurisdiction. Eventually, I filed the case in the Superior Court. I lost. I appealed again to the Court of Appeals, and finally, in September 1998--after seven long, Dickensian years involving numerous procedural maneuvers worthy of the fictional Jarndyce and Jarndyce (you are familiar with Bleak House, my friends?), I lost the case that itself had been lost in endless litigation.

I had squandered seven years of my life, which I now find difficult to talk about: seven bleak years that I will never forget or retrieve.

In 1993 I was awarded disability benefits by the U.S. Social Security Administration, which, for the last thirteen years has been the source of my income. I have been unemployed for more than fourteen years. Finding another job now, at age fifty-two, will be difficult. In late 1991 I bargained with my future and I lost. Yet seemingly, at the time, I felt as if I could not do things differently; it was as if every breath I took was controlled by some outside power over which I had no influence.

It is only now, after the battle has long been lost that I see that I made poor decisions, and that my life would have been markedly different today had I allowed myself, years earlier, to consider other available options, options that I did not pursue.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Am An Artist

I am an artist. Yes, I am an artist, even if I fail to bring forth a single work of art. I lack the practical skill and the theoretical basis to be a musician, painter, or sculptor and the general, historical, and linguistic education for poet and philosopher. Well, the skills might be acquired; the rest I have. It seems too late for acquiring these skills systematically, moreover, beginning in youth, because of ignorance, and at ripe manhood, because of knowledge, I have lacked perseverance and focus on a small area. I am a miniaturist at heart.

My mind is a cornucopia, overflowing with ideas and interests, and brimming with a Wealth of Notions. Instead of choosing an art, I study the artist type, that is myself, one who has a creative gift and drive even if I never produce a work of art in the conventional sense. Self-consciousness, I say, is the artist's only good fortune.I will tell you who I am, from A to Z -- or at least to W (we free spirits and intellectual vagabonds don't always make it all the way to Karlsbad, so to speak).

I Accept disorder, and, yes, I am Withdrawn. But I am altruistic, energetic, industrious, persistent, self-assertive, and versatile. Then too, I am attracted to the mysterious, I defy conventions, am independent in judgment and thinking, and have oddities of habit. Some would say I am radical. It's true I can be discontented, I can disturb organization, and I am a fault-finder. I make mistakes, am stubborn, and temperamental, and so on. But that's who I am.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Visitors to the Zoo

On a warm night in June
I went to the zoo, sat on one of the benches,
and drank from a bottle of iced tea. Two visitors
came up beside me to drink as well.
This is hardly amazing, I thought, and who would even note such a thing?
The visitors eyed me from time to time, glancing
and nodding. I felt the need to respond, so I nodded, too,
but haltingly, as though not really wanting to be seen.
The visitors must have sensed that I was holding back.
They moved slightly away. Then I thought they might have known me
in another life--the one in which I was a poet.
They might have even read my poems, for back then,
in that shadowy time when our eagerness knew no bounds,
we changed styles almost as often as there were days in the year.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Room With A View: A Psychoanalytical Interpretation

A Room with a View is a 1908 novel by English writer E. M. Forster, about a young woman in the repressed culture of Edwardian England. Set in Italy and England, the story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century. Merchant-Ivory produced an award-winning film adaptation in 1985.

I have a psychoanalytical theory about the story, a summary of which follows. The story's main characters comprise the mother Marian and her two children Freddie (about 18 years old) and a daughter named Lucy (about 20 years old). There is no father; he has presumably died before the story begins. A second grouping comprises an old man, Mr. Emerson and his son George, who pursues and eventually wins over the affections of Lucy. George's mother has apparently died before the story begins. An additional character, Lucy's on-again off-again fiancee, Cecil Vyse, has analytic significance.

It is my proposition that the three young males are in fact dissociated or split images of a single son figure. George is passionate and sexual. He represents the Oedipal self in competition for the affections of Lucy. Cecil is an intellectualized, asexual self -- who gives up Lucy without a struggle. Lucy's brother, Freddie, is a pre-Oedipal self and is depicted in the novel as playful and close to his sister.

Seen in this light, Marian (the mother of Lucy and Freddie) represents the pre-Oedipal mother. Lucy represents the Oedipal mother, who is the object of sexual rivalry. Mr. Emerson represents the pre-Oedipal father. And the sexual George represents an Oedipal self.

The story can be seen as symbolizing a struggle with an incest boundary. Cecil represents an asexual, ascetic, intellectualized defense against Oedipal sexuality. While George represents the expression of Oedipal sexuality. Brother Freddie represents the pre-Oedipal self -- playful and protosexual.

If one views Marion Honeychurch as representing a prototypal mother figure and views the old Mr. Emerson as a prototypal father-figure, then the sexual self (George) obviates incest impulses by his being the actual son of a father figure (Mr. Emerson) who is not in fact the father of George's sexual interest, Lucy Honeychurch. Lucy's actual brother, Freddie, is, analytically-speaking, at a pre-Oedipal (nonsexual) stage. And Cecil represents an asexual, ascetic defense against sexual desire.

That an incest-boundary conflict is an important feature of A Room With A View is strongly suggested by the following:

Though Freddie and Lucy are brother and sister, their closeness, at times, evokes the intimacy of lovers. While the sexually-clueless Cecil and Lucy are engaged to be married, the chaste quality of their relationship suggests the emotional distance of a brother and sister. And while Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson are in fact lovers, at a symbolic level they are brother and sister; the prototypal mother figure Marian Honeychurch complements the prototypal father figure of old Mr. Emerson.

Finally, it is interesting that Lucy and Freddie Honeychurch, Cecil Vyse, and George Emerson are the children of incomplete nuclear complexes. Lucy and Freddie live in a world without a father; Cecil lives in a world without a father; and George Emerson lives in a world without a mother. The story appears to be a creative transformation of E.M. Forster's psychological struggles as a boy whose father died when Forster was a baby and who was raised by his mother and paternal aunts, people who had radically different world views. The story suggests that Forster never developed an integrated image of mother and father--his perception of mother and father remained split and compartmentalized. The tender and conflict-free relationship between George Emerson and his elderly father in the story suggests that Forster had an idealized image of a father-son relationship that was a product of fantasy and not lived experience.

A Room With A View

Part one

Lucy Honeychurch is a young Englishwoman visiting Florence, Italy with her older cousin, Charlotte Bartlett. Dining at their hotel, they complain that their rooms lack the views that they were promised. A fellow pensioner, Mr. Emerson, offers them his and his son's (George) rooms, which have views of the Arno. Charlotte ungraciously refuses, thinking it would place them under an unseemly "obligation." Another guest, an Anglican clergyman named Mr. Beebe, convinces her to accept the Emersons' offer.

Although a bright and talented girl, Lucy is young and not very inquisitive. Her inner passion shows itself only when she plays Beethoven on the piano, impressing Mr. Beebe. He fancies himself less strait-laced than his fellow clergymen, and is intrigued by the contrast between Lucy's emotional piano playing and her mundane life.

Lucy continues to bump into the eccentric Emersons in Florence. Although their manners are awkward and they are deemed socially unacceptable by the other pensioners, Lucy likes them. One afternoon, as Lucy tours Florence on her own, she witnesses a murder. George Emerson happens to be nearby and catches her when she faints. As the two make their way back along the river, they have an oddly intimate conversation. She is puzzled by her new feelings toward George and decides to avoid him. However, on a group picnic to Fiesole, Lucy accidentally stumbles into George on a hillside He kisses her, but they are abruptly interrupted by Charlotte. Charlotte makes Lucy promise that she will never tell anyone, even her mother, of what happened, and the two women leave for Rome the next day.

Part two

In Rome, Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, who she knew in England. Cecil proposes to Lucy twice in Italy; she rejects him both times. As Part Two begins, Lucy has returned to Surrey, England to her family home, Windy Corner. Cecil proposes yet again and this time, she accepts. Cecil is a sophisticated and "superior" Londoner who is eligible in terms of rank and class, even though he despises country society.

The local vicar, Mr. Beebe, announces that new tenants have leased a local cottage: the new arrivals turn out to be the Emersons. Fate takes an ironic turn as Lucy's brother Freddy befriends George and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Although Lucy is initially mortified at the thought of facing both George and Cecil (who is also visiting Windy Corner that Sunday), she resolves to be gracious. Cecil annoys everyone by reading aloud from a cheap romance novel that contains a scene suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence. George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again. Lucy realizes that the novel is by Miss Lavish (a writer-acquaintance from Florence) and that Charlotte must thus have told her about the kiss.

Furious with Charlotte for betraying her secret, Lucy forces her cousin to watch as she tells George to leave and never return. George argues with her, saying that Cecil only sees her as an "object for the shelf" and will never love her enough to grant her independence; while George loves her for who she is. Lucy is moved but remains firm. Later that evening, after Cecil rudely declines again to play tennis, Lucy sours on Cecil and immediately breaks off her engagement. She decides to flee to Greece with friends, but shortly before her departure, she accidentally encounters Mr. Emerson. He is not aware that Lucy has broken her engagement with Cecil, and Lucy cannot lie to the old man. Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she has been in love with his son George all along.

The novel ends in Florence, where George and Lucy have eloped without her mother's consent. Although Lucy "had alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever," the story ends romantically with the promise of lifelong love for both her and George.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Supporting Role: My Sister's Narrative

When I was six years old, it dawned on me in a flash that, with the birth of my brother, Gary, I had been assigned a supporting part while Gary took the leading role in the family.

In my mind's eye I can still see my brother squatting on a white blanket and laughing into the camera. That was in 1954, a few months after my brother was born in late December of the preceding year. The picture was taken at home. Home was in Northwest Philadelphia. My mother was thirty-eight years old at the time. My mother and I were looking at the photograph in that moment's recollection from 1954.

Gary was a happy child, said my mother, looking at the photograph. She didn't say any more, and I didn't say anything either, and looked at Gary squatting on a white blanket and being happy. I don't know what was making him happy, he was alone in the photograph, not clutching a toy and he was still happy. I envied him his happiness, I envied him the white blanket, and I envied him his place in the photo album, too.

Gary was right at the front of the album, ahead of all the other family members, while I was way at the back. And Gary's picture was quite big, while most of the photos I was in were small, not to say tiny. Snapshots taken by my parents with what they called a Box Brownie, and apparently this box thing could only make little tiny photos. You had to look at the photos with me in them very carefully to recognize anything at all.

For example, one of these tiny snapshots was of a pool with several children in it, and one of them was me. All you could see of me was my head, because I didn't know how to swim then, and I was sitting in the water, which came up almost to my chin. And my head was partly hidden by a child standing in the water in front of me, so that the miniscule photo with me in it only showed part of my head right above the surface of the water.

And what's more there was a shadow on the visible part of my head which was probably made by the child standing in front of me, so that the only bit of me you could really see was my right eye. While my brother Gary looked not just happy but important even when he was a baby. On most of the photos from my childhood I am either only partly visible or sometimes not really visible at all.

I envied my brother's leading role in the family.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Schizoid Prison

Everybody else had a childhood, for one thing -- where they were coaxed and coached and taught all the shorthand. Or that's how it always seemed to me, eavesdropping my way through twenty-five years, filling in the stories of normal men's lives. First they had their shining boyhood, which made them strong and psyched them up for the leap across the chasm to adolescence, where the real rites of manhood began. I grilled them about it whenever I could, slipping the casual question in while I talked to them sporadically, furtively.

And every year they leaped further ahead, leaving me in the dust with all my doors closed, and each with a new and better deadbolt. Until I was twenty-five, I was the only man I knew who had no story at all. I'd long since accepted the fact that nothing had ever happened to me and nothing ever would. That's how living in a schizoid prison feels, once you've made your nest in it and learned to call it home. Self-pity becomes your oxygen.

I speak for no one else here, if only I don't want to saddle other people like me with the lead weight of my self-hatred, the particular doorless room of my internal exile. Yet I've come to learn that all our stories add up to the same imprisonment. The self-delusion of uniqueness. The festering pretense that we are the same as normal people are. The gutting of all our passions till we are a bunch of eunuchs, our zones of pleasure in enemy hands. Most of all, the ventriloquism, the learning how to pass for a normal person. Such obedient slaves and role-players we make, with such tidy rooms.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Lonely Planet Guide to My Apartment


My apartment's vast expanse of congested clutter can be daunting at first, and its population of one difficult to communicate with. After going through customs, you'll see a large area with a couch to the left. Much of My Apartment's "television viewing" occurs here, as does the very occasional fantasies of making out with a girl (see "Festivals"). To the north is the food district, with its colorful cereal boxes and jars of spaghetti sauce.


A good rule of thumb is "If it's something you'll want, you have to bring it yourself." This applies to water, as well as to toilet paper and English-language periodicals. Most important, come with plenty of cash, as there's sure to be someone with his hand out. In My Apartment, it's axiomatic that you have to grease the wheels to make the engine run.


The best time to travel to My Apartment is typically after most people in their twenties are already showered and dressed at a job. Visits on Saturdays and Sundays before 2 P.M. are highly discouraged, and can result in lengthy delays at the border (see "Getting There and Away").


The population of My Apartment has a daily ritual of bitching, which occurs in the early afternoon and prior to the preparation of dinner. Usually, meals are taken during reruns of "Seinfeld." Don't be put off by impulsive sobbing or unprovoked rages. These traits have been passed down through generations and are part of the colorful heritage of My Apartment's people. The annual Birthday Meltdown (see "Festivals") is a tour de force of recrimination and self-loathing, highlighted by fanciful stilt-walkers and dancers wearing hand-sewn headdresses.


Rabies and hepatitis have almost completely been eradicated from My Apartment, owing to an intensive program of medication and education. Also, travelers need not be wary of sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence is the only certain preventative, and it is strenuously endorsed by the My Apartment government. Condoms and antibiotics are available on most evenings (see "Medical Services"). While the population of My Apartment is asexual and celibate, he lives in hope.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Few Library Facts

The chiming clock.

The woman at her reading table sneezing.

The hiss of traffic after rain has sleeked the street.

The chime sounding off the silent library air.

Outside, a kind of monumental, after-afternoon-rain
relenting, something loosening and the ground
going soft, glistening, the water on it taking in
the world, the sycamore drawing water up
its roots, the huge trunk sopping it.

In the reading room
the vase of daisies: yellow, white,
and flaming orange.

Magazines and books, a lit figure
bent to her work, lifting her shoulders slowly
up and looking out, letting a breath go.

Smiling when the child comes in with a question.

Outside, the spreading yellow maple shedding branches.

A traffic jam on Connecticut Avenue, car horns blaring.

Birds from dawn to dusk at the feeder:
black flashings across the blank window.

The cats
of Newark Street dazzled, feeling the old hunger.

Now the child
is shaping an arabesque by the computer in the children's room;
now she is wrapped up in a book, reading; now she's standing up
near the librarian, a duchess demanding her cardigan, grinning
at the other children -- their carelessness, sulking, crying, laughing
around the information desk -- as the light seeps through the Venetian blinds.