An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
24 March, 2018

Right, so I just posted the post which I’d written last week but only now just posted, which is redundant, but I kinda wanted to see how many times I could get the word “post” into the first sentence of this post, which, as a result, may not be the best first sentence of all the posts I’ve ever posted in my history of posting posts.  Am I…?  Yes, I think I’m done.

So anyway.

Since I’ve just posted published a post piece, this post edition will be a bit light in the news department.  One or two work stories, and some riffing on Torah and music.  And then Monday, I’m off to New York, bitches!

So it’s always tough when there is a big turnover in the class.  The new group needs to establish a new dynamic and relationship amongst themselves, and then we need to do the same between us.  And today (Friday) was my first day with the new advanced group (which includes three holdovers).  But it came together pretty nicely and they’re all very sweet.

I earned some cred when I wowed them with some off the cuff linguistic etymologies.  And I think they’re sufficiently interesting that I shall post them here.  Because I even dare to think that you people reading this might find them interesting.

So one student asks me, “What’s the difference between perhaps and maybe?”  To which I (too) casually reply, “Ain’t no difference.”1  So then she’s like, “But which one do you use?”  What, me personally?  “Yes.”  Well, I use maybe almost exclusively.  I hardly ever say perhaps.  But that’s not a right/wrong thing.  It’s not a more/less common thing.  It’s not a formal/informal thing.  It’s not even a British/American thing.  It’s just a Dave thing.

But OK, let’s look at these words, since you bring it up.  Because etymologically, they mean the exact same thing.  See, one thing that we don’t normally do, is break these kinds of words down; especially when we use them all the time; and extra-especially when they’re so small.  Right?  I mean, you just have a translation value in your head.  They mean vielleicht.

So let’s break them down.  may|be : [it] may/can be [possible].  per|haps : (Latin) according to chance.  Which is another way of saying “it can happen” or “it is possible.”  And in German, another way of saying vielleicht (maybe)2 is es kann sein: literally, “it can be.”  And in French (because one of my students speaks French), peut être: also literally, “it can be.”  So in all our languages, we express this idea with words meaning something like “it can happen, but it doesn’t actually have to happen.”  And the English words mean this too.  It’s just that they’ve been condensed down into single words that we take for granted.

So they were all pretty impressed with that.  You know, they had the “holy fucking shit, now it’s so obvious” faces on.  And one of the guys – actually, the guy I snapped at a few weeks back – he’s like, “You know, I really appreciate this.  I’ve never had a teacher who’s been able to explain things the way you do.”  Which was rather gratifying to hear, if I’m being honest.

Fast Forward.  We’ve just completed an exercise.  And I ask if anybody has any questions.  And this same dude, he’s like, “Yeah, what’s the difference between reimburse and indemnify?”  And I’m like, What the actual fuck?  And he’s all, “Yeah, I know it’s not related to what we’re doing, but you asked if we had any questions and this is my question.”  Touché, salesman.  I too have an uncle.

Fine.  But it kinda put me on the spot.  Because “indemnify” is not a word I use.  So I tell him, I’m not exactly sure, and I probably need to look it up in the dictionary, “which you are old enough to do your own damned self,” I absolutely said.  And he’s like, “I cooooulllllddddd….”

Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m the teacher.

So I start thinking.  Like, I know reimburse means to get back money you’ve spent.  And I have this feeling that indemnify has to do with righting a wrong.  But I’m not so solid on that that I’m prepared to teach it as fact.  But I figure, let’s have some fun with this.

“You guys wanna do a little experiment?”  And they’re like, Yeah, let’s do it.  So I put the first word up on the board.  “Let’s break this apart.”

re|im|burse

“What does re- mean, as a prefix?”  ‘Again,’ they answer.  “Good.  And -in- (because -im- is really -in-) just means in.  So far so good.  Now, German has a word like -burse, no?  Bürse? Bourse?”  ‘Börse,’ they tell me.  “OK, and what does it mean?”  Something about stocks, stock exchange, etc.  Fine.  “Good, OK and French has bourse, which also means this, but also something like wallet.  In fact, it’s connected to English purse.  So let’s just agree that -burse- is a place you put money, broadly speaking.  So reimburse literally means something like ‘to again-in-the-money-bag.’”

And you can see their minds are already half-blown.  But that was easy.  Because I already know what reimburse means and I’ve already defined it.  So that was just a parlor trick.  Now for the hard part.  Because remember, I don’t exactly know what indemnify means.  “OK, so now let’s do an experiment.”  And I put the word on the board.

in|demn|ify

“Right, so here, in- doesn’t mean in, it means un-.  And -ify is word ending with a specific job.  It’s a verb marker that describes the process of turning an adjective into a noun that is the condition of that adjective.  Sounds confusing, but let’s look at an example: simplify.  The adjective is simple.  So the verb simplify means to make something simple.  Or solidify, to make something solid.  OK, that’s clear.  So whatever this word indemnify means, it means to make something un-demn.  So what’s –demn- then?”

“Well, to me, it looks an awful lot like damn.  I mean, the vowel is basically meaningless.  But if – and big “if,” because I don’t actually know; this is an experiment, remember – but if I’m right, let’s say, broadly, that –demn- means to put somebody or something into a bad condition.”

At which point the dude who asked the question in the first place yells out, “Oh, like condemn!”  Motherfucker, yes!  Exactly like condemn!  Well done.

Right, so having done all that: “OK, so my guess – and I stress, this is a guess, albeit an educated one – is that indemnify wants to mean something like ‘to un-bad-condition somebody/something.’  Now, can anybody get me a German translation of this word?”

One guy has it ready.  He has entschädigen.  Which translates as indemnify, but which literally means, ‘to un-misfortune somebody/thing.’  Well, holy fucking shit, the experiment is a success!  Oh, and by the way, what’s the German word for reimburse?  Apparently it’s just zurück zahlen – literally, “to pay back.”

Well, there you have it.  Reimburse is just getting money back which you’ve already spent.  But indemnify means to redress a wrong, usually by getting money back.  And we just figured that out.

This time, their minds were fully blown.  I mean, I’m hearing oohs and aahs, the whole nine.  But the funny thing is, I’m like, “Y’all can do this already.  As German speakers, your brains are specially trained to break words apart like this.  You can look at a word like entschädigen, and yeah, you can know what it ‘means.’  But you can also see the two parts of it (three, if you count the verbal ending), and know what they mean individually.  And you know enough about English to at least sort out the prefixes and suffixes.  That at least gets you in the door.  After that, if you happen to know a bit of French and/or Latin, you’re basically unstoppable.  But even if you don’t, you can do an awful lot.”

And look, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here.  Yeah, I mean, OK, maybe a little.  But honestly, I’ve never blown a class away like that before.  Not to that degree.  It felt really good, I can’t lie about that.

But also, it was crazy fun for me.  Because, in real life, if I want to know what indemnify means, I’m going to walk through all those steps mentally before I ever open up a dictionary.  So that, hopefully, when I do open up the dictionary, I’m doing it to confirm my mental research rather than simply asking it for the answer.  And that, that was fun to share.  To maybe give them those tools a little bit.

And maybe this doesn’t work with every group, you know?  Maybe some groups don’t give a flying one and just want the answer.  But this bunch was genuinely interested.  You know, like for a minute there, they were seeing the numbers behind the Matrix.  Which I’m always trying to get them to do.

To sum up, I love my job.  I’ve said it before.  But I really do.  Also, I’m so ready for a fucking vacation, you guys.

Timo was in town.  He was in town last year, so I feel like he’s come up before.  But Timo is one of the festival dudes, from Joschka’s hometown.  So we all went out last night (Thursday).  Good times.  Timo’s a riot.  He speaks a crazy kind of German, which I don’t always understand.  But this time, I understood a helluva lot more.  I was quite pleased with myself, ain’t gonna lie.

Also, I took my shoes off at Joschi’s; as you do.  And Timo’s all, “Du hast Käseweiße Füße.”  Which literally means, you have cheese-white feet.  Which is hilarious.  And I honestly don’t know if that’s a Timoism or a thing Germans actually say.  But it’s great.

Anyway, it was just a lot of joking around and eating and drinking.  But absolutely great times.  I feel very lucky with the people I’ve gotten to know through Joschel.  Timo.  The Bavarians.  Actually, me and J are going to make another road trip to Bavaria in May.  I’m super looking forward to that.

Speaking of German, it’s starting to fuck with my English.  And I don’t like it.  I might have mentioned that one of my colleagues lives in some kind of hippie kibbutz thing.  And they make their own honey.  So he brought a jar of it for one of our students.  And she’s all, You gotta try this.  So I did.  And she’s all, What do you think?

And I say: “For me, it’s OK.”  For me, it’s OK?  What the fuck is that???  I’ve never said that before in my life.  That’s not English!  That’s a thing German people say when they speak English.  Jö, for me, it’s OK.  Like, it’s clearly just a 1:1 translation of what they would say in German.  Because no native speaker would ever say that.

We’d say, “Hey, yeah, not bad.”  Or, “You know, this is pretty good.”  Or something.  But certainly not that.  “For me, it’s OK.”  Fuck me.

Staying with German for a moment longer.  One thing English loves to do, is turning nouns into verbs.  The classic example is to google something.  Right?  Google is a proper name, a noun.  But we’ve turned it into a verb.  You might even say, we’ve verbed google.  E-mail is another example.  When was the last time you said you “sent an email”?  No, you’ve simply “emailed” somebody.

Anyway, for whatever reason, German doesn’t like to do this.  I mean, it certainly could if it wanted to.  But it just doesn’t.  The fuck knows why.  Fine, that’s their business.

Now remember, in a previous post, I mentioned that the German word for “to look (something) up” in the dictionary is nachschlagen?  Well, obviously we now look things up on the internet as well.

Right, so Timo is telling me about something he’d just looked up online.  And he says, “Ja, das hab ich nachgegoogelt.”  Nachgegoogelt.  He looked it up with google.  He googled it up.  Excuse me?  What the actual fuck did you just say, pal?  You literally took an English noun/verb and conjugated it Germanly.  Like, if that’s what you people are about now, then fuck it.  I’m done.  I refuse to learn even one more German verb.  From now now on, I’m just going to use English verbs and conjugate them Germanly.  Ab heute, ich werde nur englische Verben usen.  Hav kein Lust mehr, deutsche Verben upzulooken.  Understandst du?3

So Torah.  I’m confused.  Like, so confused.  Where do I even start?

OK, so the Exodus.  So my understanding is, they get the hell outta Dodge with not even time for the bread to rise.  And then they’re wandering in the desert.  That’s my understanding.  So where I get confused is, the next part of the story is God’s instructions on how to build the Tabernacle and the Ark and the Altar and all that jazz.

And he’s all, Thou needest so many cubits of acacia wood for this and so many cubits of acacia wood for that and so many cubits of acacia wood for…and wait a sec.  Are they not in the desert?  Where is all this lumber coming from?  I mean, he made it rain manna.  Which, already is a stretch.  But if you’re inclined to believe this shit, then fine.  He’s God.  He can make it rain whatever he wants.  But I didn’t see anything about him making it rain timber.  So where are they getting it?

And also, another building material is defined by my dictionary as “dolphin or porpoise skin” (תחש – thachash4).  Like, I was having a hard enough time with the wood.  Now they’re gathering (or have brought with them) fucking dolphin skins?  I mean, if I can paraphrase Scotty here, Ye can test me faith, but ye canna test the laws of physics!

But this interesting.  Because there’s a lot of debate on whether or not the Exodus was a “real” historical event.  Plenty of people have gone digging around the Sinai looking for archaeological evidence.  And so far, bupkis.  But maybe this is a place to start.  I mean, if we accept that they must have had access to these materials, then where, reasonably, could they expect to find such things?  Has anybody done research from that perspective?  I don’t know.  But it’s interesting.

Whatever.  What else can I say?  But now I’m in Leviticus.  And it’s all about how to deal with religiously unclean shit.  Skin diseases and whatnot.  And I mean, sure, why not.  Anyway, you’re supposed to perform certain rituals and sacrifices.  And when I say “you,” I mean the Cohenim, the priests.

It’s not that important.  To me.  What I find interesting is, what do Christians do with all this stuff?  Because, this is also word-of-god shit for them too, right?  But I don’t see them keeping up with all this.  And in Exodus, there were the rules about wearing tfilin.  And they sure as shit don’t do that.  So how do they decide?  How do they choose what to keep and what not to keep?  To me, that’s what’s interesting.  Super interesting.

But enough of that.  I’ve been on a Judas Priest kick of late.  Because last week, The YouTubes recommended to me a live video from 1983.  And it blew me away.  Rob Halford, the singer, blew me away.  He had the flamboyant showmanship of Freddy Mercury mixed with the metal-godness of Bruce Dickinson.  And his voice.  Oh my god, you guys.  Oh. My. God.

And look, it doesn’t have the intangible magic of Dio.5  It doesn’t have the, shit, I don’t even know.  But whatever makes Bruce so great, it doesn’t quite have that either.  But it’s got this range.  Like, he’s simultaneously a tenor, alto and soprano.  And he’s completely metal about it.  He’s doing things that shouldn’t be humanly possible, and he’s doing it like it’s nothing.  Like he’s singing in the fucking shower.

And the guitarists are super special.  If you’re a guitarist and a metal fan, then, fuck, Glen Tipton and KK Downing.  No explanation needed.  Actually, Charlotte’s cousin and uncle played (or still play?) in a Priest tribute band.  And while I was there, I totally nerded out with her cousin over Priest, and Tipton’s guitar playing.

We were both just like, “Dude, that solo, in Beyond the Realms of Death.”  And that was the whole conversation.  Because we both knew exactly what that meant.  We both knew the perfection, the glory, the infallible phrasing, the exquisite tone, the divine melodies of that work of art.  Instant respect.

So yeah, I’ve just been listening to a ton of Priest lately.  And in the 80’s, they got a bit cheesy, sure.  And now, Halford is old and his mid-range is shot.  But man.  Like, I forgot how good this band was.

And you know, they sort of invented metal.  OK, we say that about a lot bands.  Sabbath.  Purple.  Zeppelin.6  Motörhead even.  And there’s some truth to all that.  But Priest was the first band that accepted the metal moniker.  They’re the first band that said, “Yes, we are heavy fucking metal.”  Because all those other bands insisted – still insist – that they “just play rock’n’roll.”

And Priest is also the first band to really do the twin lead guitars with harmonies thing, in a metal context.  I mean yes, Thin Lizzy was doing it before them.7  And I love Thin Lizzy.  No, I love Thin Lizzy.  To me, they’re a truly special band.  In the way that Queen is a special band.  I’m not saying they’re as good as Queen.  Nobody is.  But for me, they’re on that level.  I could go on about Thin Lizzy.8  All I wanted to say was, although Thin Lizzy predated Priest with the twin lead guitar harmonies, they weren’t metal about.  Oh, they were glorious about it.  Just not metal.

Priest brought this to metal.  And every single metal band since, owes them a debt.  Iron Maiden included.  Also, I think I’m rambling now.  And I haven’t said half as much about Priest as I could, or even would like to.  But I think I’ve said enough, when I say, I’ve been enjoying the shit out of them lately.

No, wait.  One more thing.  In that travel camp summer, when I was 15 or however old I was, the one where Rob taught me how to play Iron Man and Paranoid in the back of the bus.  That summer, at some interstate rest stop, I bought a cassette of Priest’s live album “Unleashed in the East.”

I’d been reading about Priest in guitar mags for years already, but somehow, I still didn’t have any of their records.  And there, in some (possibly) Ohio gas station, was this cassette.  So I bought it.  Because this was 1995-ish, and I had a Walkman.  And I put the tape in and press play.  And I didn’t know what to expect.  Like, every guitarist I ever gave a shit about, in every interview I could get my hands on, all they said was, Priest was a major influence.  But what would that mean?

So I press play.  And oh my god shut the fuck up!  The first track.  Exciter.  The guitars.  Halford’s voice.  Never heard anything like it.  Changed my life.  And every track after that.  SinnerThe Ripper.  And get this.  The most metal cover of Joan Baez’ Diamonds and Rust.  To this day, I don’t know what the original sounds like.  Don’t care either.  The Priest version is definitive.  I texted Jared about it last week, or the week before.  He agrees.

Fuck yes, Judas fucking Priest.

And now a bit of copy paste.  Just my thoughts on Danzig and Van Halen, which I cut from my last post…

From the Day-Drinking with Anne post (3/17):

Towards the end, we switched to my iPhone.  The first thing I put on was Danzig I.  Because that’s a great fucking album.  Do I need to a Danzig thing here?  OK, fine.  Glenn Danzig was the singer for the Misfits.9  Then he went solo…

…Well, actually, first he did Samhain.  Which, come on, November Coming Fire.  Great album name.  Great album art.  Great music.  But after Samhain, he went solo.  Rick Rubin produced the first four albums, which are the ones that matter.

And I’m telling you, friends, these are special albums.  Dark.  Bluesy.  Heavy.  Evil.  But with a lot of soul.  They don’t call him “The Evil Elvis” for nothing.  And each one is unique.  Danzig I10 is a proper heavy rock album.  Danzig II: Lucifuge is bluesier, heavier and probably better.  Except when it’s not.  No, but if nothing else, the slide guitar on 777 is fucking…well, I’ve used the word already, but…Evil.  Then you get Danzig III: How the Gods Kill.  Which, first of all, as far as I’m concerned, is the greatest album name of all time.  And it’s less bluesy, but also heavier.  And darker even, if that’s possible.  And it has Anything, which, if you don’t like that song, then probably honestly you should think about going and fucking yourself.  No, seriously.  If you don’t like this song, you had better be some kind of special human being for me to want to still be friends with you.  It’s possible, yes.  Just, it won’t be easy, is what I’m saying.11

And then, yeah, Danzig IV.  Which is somehow Jared’s favorite.  Well, to each his own.  I mean, it’s a great album, no doubt.  It’s one of the Sacred Four.  But this is where he starts to introduce some techno shit.  And yeah, it works.  And yeah, there are great tracks.  But it’s my least favorite of the four.  Which means it’s still better than anything most bands have done.

Anyway, one of the great things about Danzig is the atmosphere it/he/they create(s).  I don’t know how he does it.  But you put on a Danzig album, and it doesn’t matter where you are.  You put on a Danzig album, and it’s automatically a cold, grey, rainy, autumn day.  And when it is actually a cold, grey, rainy, autumn day, well, it’s that…squared.  I love Danzig is what I’m saying.

Right.  So I put on Danzig I.  Which wasn’t even the point.  The point was, after that, I put on Van Halen II.  Ugh, do I need to do a Van Halen thing now?  And the answer is yes, because apparently I can’t ever get to my actual point.  But this will be shorter than the Danzig thing…

…OK, so Halen.  It’s a weird band.  Like, you can either love them or hate them.  You can even do both.  But it’s hard to be in between.  I tend to do both.  Sometimes I love VH.  Sometimes I think it’s the stupidest most self-indulgent shit ever.  But they’re fun.  Ok.  They’re more fun with Roth.  But it’s probably better music with Hagar.  Or is it?  I usually think so.  Except, do I?  Fuck, no, we’re not doing the DLR/Hagar debate here.

But I recently watched a live video of Dance the Night Away, which by any metric is just a good fucking tune.  And you watch this band, and you just see how much fun they’re having.  And that’s not nothing.

But also, Van Halen has this going for them.  They were always Shyer’s favorite band, along with Rush.12  Shyer, you may remember, was the drummer in my band and also my brother’s best friend; the band I played in with Jared and my brother and Rob.  Also the most wonderful, gifted drummer I’ve ever played with.  He visited me in Berlin last year.  Well, he visited Berlin last year.  Not for me.  But we met up.  The point is, I love Shyer.  And Shyer loves the Halen.  So I can’t listen to that band and not think of that guy.  And that always makes me happy.  Because I love Shyer…

So, uh, that’s what I cut from the last post.  And that’s where we’ll stop.  But first let me say this.  If you’re a metal fan, go listen to some Priest.  And while you’re at it, listen to some Halen.  Not much, because they get old fast.  But listen to Dance the Night Away.  And if you have “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” listen to Runaround, Top of the World and Right Now.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

And if you like dark, heavy stuff, acquaint yourself with the first four Danzig albums.  The best way is to just go through them chronologically.  But if you can’t be bothered, then just listen to
“Danzig II: Lucifuge.”  And if you really can’t be bothered, at least listen to Anything, off “Danzig III: How the Gods Kill.”  Which again, is the greatest album name of all time.

And if you’re any kind of music fan…no, you know what?  If you have a beating heart, go listen to Thin Lizzy.  If you want an album, it’s “Jailbreak.”  Or “Fighting.”  Or “Live and Dangerous.”  If you need a song, well, we all know The Boys are Back in Town.  But if you want a new song, heres’ three: Running Back, Angel from the Coast and Song for While I’m Away.  And yeah, Whiskey in the Jar.

And if you somehow don’t like Thin Lizzy, after listening to those songs or albums, then do me a favor.  Keep it to yourself, yeah?  I mean, I love you.  And I’d like to keep it that way.

זײַ געסונט

 

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about using “ain’t” in the classroom.  On the one hand, if they’re learning English for the workplace – which they are – it’s not only not useful, but possibly even counterproductive.  On the other hand, if they’re going to interact with music and television – which they do – I feel like it’s something they should know. []
  2. As I’m proofreading this, it occurs to me that if you break apart viel|leicht, what you get is something that literally means “very light.”  And, like, that’s an interesting way to think about a possibility, about a ‘maybe.’  There’s a very light chance of it happening. []
  3. I assume that’s lost on all but J-Dawg and Joschel. []
  4. What a beautiful language! []
  5. Bless his soul and may he rest in peace.  I love you, Dio. []
  6. Other people say that about Zep.  I don’t.  For my money, Zeppelin is shit.  If you want heavy, listen to Sabbath.  If you want actual good musicianship, listen to Purple.  Because Page isn’t fit to carry Blackmore’s guitar case, imho.  And Jon Lord alone is worth ten Led Zeppelins.  And maybe Robert Plant is “better” than Ozzy.  But he ain’t better than Ian Gillain or David Coverdale or Glenn Hughes.  Fuck Zeppelin, is what I’m saying.  Even though I know I’m pretty much alone on this. []
  7. And apparently Wishbone Ash.  But I never got into them. []
  8. I really want to go on about Thin Lizzy.  I won’t, but I want to.  I will say this though.  If you somehow don’t like Thin Lizzy, I’m going to have to think long and hard about if we can be friends.  I’m not saying it’s impossible.  But I am saying I’ll have misgivings.  That’s where I hold Thin Lizzy. []
  9. If you don’t know The Misfits, then, I dunno, I can’t help you.  Get out from under whatever rock your living under and go know The Misfits. []
  10. Really, it’s just called “Danzig.”  But this is easier. []
  11. So apparently, I feel about Anything the way I feel about Thin Lizzy. []
  12. No.  We’re definitely not doing a Rush thing here.  I mean, we could.  Even if we take two albums: 2012 and Grace Under Pressure…No!  Stop! []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
17 March, 20181

Welp, I’m 37 now.  And I don’t really know what to say about that except, perhaps, fuck you, Time, you merciless, relentless bastard.  And while we’re at it, it’s your fault Vin Scully won’t be calling ballgames anymore.  Like, what’s your deal?  One minute I’m 25, living in Manhattan, drinking unlimited mimosas at brunch after a late night out and feeling fine.  And the next minute, I’m 37 in Berlin and hangovers last 24 hours.  But every day of the Trump presidency is new, waking hell and one year is an eternity?  Like I said, fuck you, Time.

That said, I had a pretty decent birthday this year.  First of all, Charlotte came to visit, which was…fine.  It was fine.  She sends me a message about two weeks beforehand.  “How would you feel about your best friend coming to visit for your birthday?”  “What?  Jared’s coming??!!  How do you even know that??”  “What?”  “Ooohhh, you mean you.  Yeah, that’d be…fine.  It’d be fine.”

No, seriously though.  It was great.  I mean, that’s pretty special when your friend in another country just up and offers to fly to Berlin for your birthday.  Obviously we had a great time.  First of all, she’s the first proper visitor I’ve had to my place here.  I mean, Anne’s been over a couple of times.  And I had that dinner party.  But this was my first proper visiting guest.

And she was pretty excited to see my place as well.  As she put it, for the last two years in the states, I was living with my folks.  So it wasn’t really my place.  You have to go all the way back to 2014 for the last time she visited me in my own apartment.  Anyway, the moment she steps into my room, she smiles and says, “Ah, it smells like you!”  She meant the pipe smell, obvi.

It kinda reminded me of the last time Niki came to my apartment in Chinatown, after all my furniture had been moved out.  And she said, “I’m gonna miss this smell.”   Anyway, C loved my place here.  It was so me, she said.  The candles, the books, the wooden furniture.  So that was very cool.

And it was just a nice old-timey visit.  We played Yatzee, we talked shop, we drank bottles of wine, we played music.  We even learned a new kickass song.  Pourtant, by Vanessa Paradis.  For one thing, the guitar part is crazy fun to play.  For another thing, C does the singing.  That’s actually been one really cool thing to have watched develop over the years.

In the beginning, I did all the singing.  I don’t know how much of that was just me knowing the songs, or her being self-conscious.  I guess I don’t actually know if she was self-conscious about singing.  But she didn’t do it in the beginning, is the point.  After a while though, she’d start doubling up with me on a couple of songs: Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, a French version of Rammstein’s Seemann that we had worked up.

But somewhere along the line, she started singing some songs on her own.  Carla Bruni’s Quelqu’un M’a Dit, Sympathique by Pink Martini and this song by Moriarty which I call “The Buffalo Song,” but which I think is actually called Jimmy.  Anyway, I rather enjoy when she takes over the vox.  First of all, it’s a nice break for me.  But also, her voice is…fine.  I mean, it’s fine.  No, seriously, she sings really rather well, and she has a nice voice.2  But also, as I wrote in my one of my previous posts, it just feels good to play with somebody.  To jam, to have that chemistry, to bring music to life.  Man, I miss that.

The one song we haven’t beaten yet is Sound of Silence.  Mostly because I haven’t been able to master the harmony.  Mostly bc I never work on it on my own.  But we’ll get it eventually.  And when we do, well, that will be fun.

As with most things, I left the planning of my birthday to the last possible minute.  Which Joschka loves.  Finally, I decided on going to this metal bar, which is the closest thing we’ve found in Berlin to Duffs.  Of course I was late.  To my own birthday.  Because of course I was.  Which Joschka also loves.  Anyway, me and C roll up to the metal bar – Blackland – to find J waiting outside with Annett and a friend she’d brought.  Apparently, there was a record release party that night, and thus a ten euro cover.  A fact I might have known, had I done any advance research whatsoever.  Well, anyway, fuck a ten euro cover, amirite?

So we went down the block to this Eckkneippe – corner pub – which was, in fact, the same Eckkneippe where me and Anne had got trashed on Glühwein earlier this winter.  It turned out to be perfect.  Plenty of room.  A big table where we could all sit together.  Pool.  Darts.  Cheap drinks.  Local Berlin flavor.  Next time I do a big outing, I think that’s where I shall do it.

So it was me and C, J, Annett and her friend.  A bit later Cindy showed up, and then Anne.  For a while we all just sat around the table, hanging out, drinking.  It was pretty great.  To my right, Anne and C are chatting away in French.  To my left, the others are chatting away in German.  And I’m sort of going back and forth between the two.  Because I’m so fucking cosmopolitan, ya know?

Side Note.  The next day, C told me she was really impressed with my German.  Not that she understands a word of it.  But just that it really looks like I’m fluent.  And she’s right.  It does look that way.  I mean, I can carry on, chat away at speed, make jokes, laugh at jokes.  “The trappings and the suits of fluency,” he said, adapting a quote from Shakespeare, because he’s so fucking cosmopolitan, ya know?

But what she doesn’t see, of course, is that it’s basically all wrong, what I’m saying.  Wrong genders, wrong cases, wrong prepositions, wrong word orders.  The whole “I must to go on the park to bring a piss” thing.  I spoke about that with Anne, because she’s in the same leaky boat.  We laugh about it.  But more on that later.  End Side Note.

At some point, the waitress puts a shot of whiskey in front of me, which I didn’t order.  “What’s this?” I ask.  And Joschka is like, “It’s from me.”  And I’m like, “Thanks!  What is it?”  And he’s like, “I dunno, nothing good.”  And I’m like, “Thanks?”  And he’s like, “It’s literally the best whiskey I could buy.  They have nothing here.”  Which was hilarious.  I mean, I can imagine him at the bar.  “One shot of your finest whiskey, please.”  “Sorry, we don’t have that.”

The waitress was great, btw.  Total local Berliner.  Not a word of English.  When C wanted to order a glass of wine, the poor waitress was like, “Can somebody translate?”  But she was super sweet, the waitress.

Later on, J-Dawg showed up.  J-Dawg, whose real name is Julia (pronounced Yulia), but whom I only ever call J-Dawg or Jules.  She’s the one, remember, the former student who invited me to her birthday and I was terrified to go, because speaking German with strangers.  Anyway, she came with her boyfriend.  Which was really great.  All the more so because it was totally out of their way, geography-wise.

But you know, I’m looking around the table.  And there’s Joschka, whom I’ve known since 2012 already.3  And Charlotte, whom I’ve known since 2103 already.4  And Cindy, who’s a total doll and speaks German with me and plays chess with me on the iPhone.5  And then there’s Annett, really the first friend I made in Berlin.  And Anne, my language partner, my drinking buddy, my fellow stranger-in-a-strange-land.  And J-Dawg, a former student who now is actually my friend.  And I’m thinking I ain’t doing too bad here.

Then at some point, I look around.  Some of my friends are over at the pool table.  Some others are talking amongst themselves at the table-table.  And I’m talking to who(m)ever I’m talking to.  And it was like my old birthdays in New York, at the 11th Street Tavern/Pub/Bar whatever it was called.  Where I used to get upwards of 20 people together, and just watch them all have a good time around me, where I was free to float from one crowd to the next at my pleasure, collecting free whiskeys wherever I went.  Those were some pretty great birthdays.  Some of the best in fact.  And it was a bit surreal to realize that Joschka and Charlotte were at those parties too.  And this was like that, just smaller.  I’ll call that a birthday win, I will.  Thank you very much.

I also did pretty well on the presents front.  My roommates gave me a bottle of Tullamore Dew.  C brought me a bottle of Pastis.  Joschka gave me a nice cigar.  Even my bosses gave me a taster set of four very nice Irish whiskeys.  And Anne gave me a picture of a hoody.  Which needs explanation.

So remember I said she found this picture of these two old broads wearing sweatshirts with “New York Drinking Team” across the front?  And we decided we needed to get hoodies made that said “Berlin Drinking Team”?  Well, anyway, I mention to her that I was looking around online, and I found something that might be nice, but it would run us around 50 bucks, each.

And she’s like, “Welp, I guess I’ll give you your present now.”  And she hands me an envelope, in which was a postcard-sized printout of a hoody with “Berlin Drinking Team” printed on it.  Like, this is your present, Dave.  We just need to sort out the font and all that.  And just, wow.  Right?

Oh, also, under “Berlin Drinking Team,” in smaller type, was our slogan.  Because we have a slogan now.  See, a while back, I told her I was watching a documentary on the French Revolution.  And this revolutionary – Danton – had this awesome quote.  “Do you know it?”  “Which one?  Danton has a lot of quotes.”  “Pour vaincre, il nous faut l’audace, encore l’audace, toujours l’audace!”6  And by the end, we’re basically shouting “Toujours l’audace!” together.  So yeah, she knew the quote.  And now that’s the official slogan of the Berlin Drinking Team.

So that’s about it for the birthday.  It would have been nice if the roommies could have come.  But they just had their one-year anniversary.  And the same day as my birthday outing, they had a huge family party that was like eight hours long.  So they were pretty dead by the end of it.  Schade.  Too bad.  But they continue to be great.  And they were really sweet with C too, which was lovely.

Monday I was over at Anne’s for a bit of day drinking, as I didn’t have any lessons that day.  She made lunch.  We drank many beers.  We played this great little game, the name of which I forget.  But it’s a little wooden board with a spinning top and…ah, fuck it.  I can’t describe it.  But it was a lot of fun.  I kinda want one.

We also listened to music.  As you do.  I found a record in her collection which I had to play.  Because on the cover was a middle-aged French dude with a baller moustache and a pipe.  So how could I not?  Georges something-or-other.  Anyway, it was really good, and I need to download some.  Just as soon as I remember the fella’s name.

Towards the end, we switched to my iPhone.  The first thing I put on was Danzig I.  Because that’s a great fucking album.  Do I need to a Danzig thing here?  OK, fine.  Glenn Danzig was the singer for the Misfits.7  Then he went solo…

[…]

Right.  So I put on Danzig I.  Which wasn’t even the point.  The point was, after that, I put on Van Halen II.  Ugh, do I need to do a Van Halen thing now?  And the answer is yes, because apparently I can’t ever get to my actual point.  But this will be shorter than the Danzig thing…

[…]8

Aaaannnyyyywwaaaay…the point – finally, the fucking point – is that after Danzig, I put on Van Halen IIDance the Night Away, specifically.  And Anne – remember, I’m at Anne’s house now, where this story started 37 pages ago – and Anne says “Is this also Danzig?”  What? No!  This is Van Halen!  And she’s like, “Van Halen?!  Omg we have to watch the Hot for Teacher video!”  And then she did the jazz hands.  Because in the video they do jazz hands.  So we watched the Hot for Teacher video.  Which was hilarious.  And then that was the end of Monday Day Drinking for the Berlin Drinking Team.

Tuesday, I met up with Dafna.  Dafna?  Yeah, she’s the Israeli girl.  My first time in Berlin, 2015, we did a Shabbas dinner for the goyim.  Then in 2016, we did a Rosh HaShanah dinner, also for the goyim.  And then she moved away for her studies.  Anyway, she’s back in Berlin and emailed me about meeting for a beer.  Which we did.  Well, which I did.  Actually, she drank tea.  Whatever.  But that was cool.  Well, apart from me being like 40 minutes late.  But she gave the wrong address.  Otherwise I would only have been 25-30 minutes late.  Because Dave.

Anyway, it was cool, like I said.  Like, it’s cool to have another Jew in Berlin.  But it’s also strange.  Because she’s an Israeli Jew.  And I’m a New York Jew.  Big difference.  She’s all tough and badass, and I’m all self-deprecating and borderline neurotic.  And the Israelis dumped Yiddish after the Holocaust.  Language of The Weak and all that.  So in speaking of my hour-long commute, I’m like, “What a schlepp!”  And she’s like, “Huh?”

Or another example.  Somewhere in the course of our conversation, the Jewish prayer shawl came up.  You know, as it does.  But for some reason, I couldn’t remember the name for it.  And she’s all, “Bad Jew, I’m not gonna help you.”  Anyway, like half an hour later, she’s talking, and I interrupt, slapping my hands on the table, giving her a bit of a start.  “Talis!” I yell, accent on the first syllable.  And she’s all, “Umm, what?”  “Talis!” I say again, “The prayer shawl.”  And she’s just looking at me like I have two heads.

And then I remember.  “Ooohhh.  Taleet,” I say, accent on the second syllable, ending with “t” instead of “s.”  Because, see, that’s the Israeli pronunciation.  And she’s like, “Oh, yeah.  What the fuck is a talis?”  And I’m like, “That’s how we say it.  In New York.  That’s the Yiddish pronunciation.”  And she’s all, “Yeah, that’s dumb.  We don’t say that.”  Which, they don’t.

Because that’s the point.  After the war, the people who went on to Israel decided, as I said, to forget all about Yiddish.  Language of the Weak, language of the sheep who marched their owned damned selves onto the trains.  So when the Israelis brought Hebrew back to life, they made a point of restoring the “original” pronunciation.  So they put the accent on the last syllable instead of the first.  And they pronounce final tav (ת) as “t” instead of “s.”  Although, really the “original” pronunciation would have had “th” instead of “t”; whence “Sabbath.”  But whatever.

Anyway, it was a good time.  Also a good time was, a few weeks ago I met up with another former student, Margit.  I kind of adore Margit, or Mag.  I don’t know how old she is, but she’s got two teenagers, so I’m guessing 50-something.  Anyway, she’s fantastic.  Like, simultaneously sassy and motherly.  Like, she’ll give me shit and joke about all manner of inappropriate subjects, but also kinda looks out for me.  Actually, she reminds me quite a bit of my mom.  Maybe that’s why I like her so much.  But the point was, I met up with Mag a couple of weeks ago, and it was lovely to see her.  And as I’ve said before, one of the things I love about my job, is just all the awesome people I meet, people who become my friends after they’ve left the school.

Speaking of which, Friday was the last day for three of my students.  One is that Polish girl who brought me the pickles.  She’s a real character.  But also, she started in the beginner class and progressed all the way to the advanced.  And she’ll have no problem getting B2 on her exam.  She might even get C1; she’s certainly capable of it.  Just that she doesn’t work fast enough yet, and it’s a timed exam.  Given another month, I’m certain she’d nail it.  The point is, I’m actually really proud of her.

Another one whose last day was Friday was the girl I mentioned last time, the one I hope maybe we can do some music together.  I love this kid, also my age, btw.  Total smartass.  For instance.  Today, I’m like, “So for her homework – ,” and she cuts me off.  “I don’t care about your homework, Dave!”  And I was just like, “Omg, have you always been such a bitch?”  And she just starts laughing and bites her tongue and gives me this little wink.  Like, you’ve reached a special place with your students when you can call one of them a bitch in class and have it be OK.  And yeah, obviously, don’t do that.  But also, cool.

Anyway, at the end of the day, she’s like, “Wait!”  And she pulls out of her bag two craft beers.  And one one, she wrote “Thank you…” and on the other, “…Dave.”  And she runs up to the front of the room and gives them to me.  And of course, I’m like, “Ugh, do I have to, like, hug you now, or something?”  And she all like rolls her eyes and shit, and’s like “You don’t have to,” and starts to walk away.  To which, of course, I’m like, “Fuck you, bring it in.”  So we had a little hug, and that was very sweet.  And also, she’s married, so don’t ask.

But also also, last week she helped me make a doctor’s appointment.  Yes, mom, everything’s fine.  Just, I was a bit under the weather, and I’m paying for this health insurance, so, you know, use it and shit.  But I’d never made an appointment over the phone before, and I didn’t know what questions they might ask and what if I didn’t understand something, yadda yadda.  So I asked her if she could just come with me to make the call, in case I needed help.  Because I do think of her as a friend, and I do trust her.  And she did.  And I really appreciated that.

And also also also, one other thing I like about this kid, she appreciates word play.  So I’m looking at the beers she gave me, and she’s like, “Look on the back!”  And there was a note on the back.  It said, “By Nina…Bye…”  Yes!  She punned on the beers she gave me!  I love my job.

Right.  So this post is already over-long, and even so, there’s things I haven’t gotten to.  Like, so many Torah thoughts.  But that’s for next time.  Right now, I want to close with a few words about Harvey Blatt.

I’ve known Bobby since I’m, what, 15?  We went to travel camp together.  He taught me how to play Iron Man and Paranoid on this little portable electric guitar while we rode the bus that magical summer.  He was the drummer in the first band I ever played in, Sweet ETP.9  He played bass in The Fury.  In those teenage years, Rob was the groundbreaker, the pathfinder.  He did everything first.  Among other things, he introduced us to all kinds of music, by way of his older brother Russ’ record collection.

Our band practiced in his basement.  We had parties in that basement.  I can still smell that basement.  For years, we were at his house, every Monday night without fail, to watch wrestling.  Hell, during college, we even went to his house to watch wrestling…while he was away at college!

That house was a second home to all of us.  To Harriet, his mom, we were “The Boys.”  She treated us like we were her own children.  She cooked for us.  She bought junk food for us.  She gave us advice about girls and about life.

To his dad, we were, I suppose, “Those Idiots.”  But there was no malice in those words, no contempt.  There was love though.  I mean, fuck, we were teenage boys.  What were we, if we weren’t idiots?  Harvey Blatt was Rob’s dad.

And look, I don’t pretend to “know” the man.  But I knew him how I knew him, if that makes any sense.

Harvey was incredibly sweet, and somehow, even more generous.  I’ll come to the generosity in a moment.  First the sweet.  Look, he wasn’t affectionate.  He wasn’t demonstrative.  And again, I’m speaking from my interactions with the man.  But what I remember, was a man full of zingers, almost always directed at Rob, but sometimes at us too, the idiots.

But man, he was funny!  He just made you laugh, you know?  And the thing with the zingers was, you never doubted that they were coming from a place of love.  I mean that.  You never doubted it.  Lemme try and paint a picture, though really more a silhouette.

Harvey was the lord of his manor.  Not in a heavy-handed way.  Not in a way that diminished Harriet in the least, who was very much the lady of the manor, so to speak.  Just that, when Harvey came into the room, you knew you were in his house.  But he had this way of surveying the scene.  Of looking down on us idiots.  No, literally, looking down.  Because the living room was sunk a bit lower than the rest of the house.  So he’d stand on the steps of the kitchen – adjacent to the living room – and look out over his domain.

And he’d see the idiots, watching wrestling, eating M&M’s, and just generally acting like stupid teenagers.  And this was his son.  And his son’s friends.  And you know, I believe he enjoyed that.  I believed he enjoyed seeing his youngest son enjoying life, having a good time, surrounded by his best friends.  I believe he knew how much love was in that room full of idiots.  And I think he was proud, you know?  I think he was proud to be able to give his son this life.  I think he was proud that it was his home that was the second home to all of these clowns.  And then, you know, he’d zing Bobby and we’d all laugh and Rob would cringe and that would be that.  Then Harvey would go elsewhere.

But this was a guy who, his home was our home.  This was a place where the boys could congregate and be idiots.  He gave us that.

I said generous.  There was one year – and I don’t remember the occasion – he bought us all, all six of us, tickets to WrestleMania XX.  At Madison Square Garden.  Look, if you’re not a wrestling fan, you just can’t grasp how big a deal this was.  But it was huge fucking deal.  And those tickets weren’t cheap.  And we were all just out of college, so we didn’t have the proverbial pot to piss in.  And he just, he just bought us those tickets.  For the idiots.  For the clowns that had been clowning around in his house all those years.

And he didn’t want anything in return.  He didn’t expect anything.  He just knew how much it meant to us, and that was all he needed.  And he didn’t come with us either, mind you.  It wasn’t, “I’m taking you guys to WrestleMania.”  Oh no.  He had literally zero interest.  But we had interest.  So he did that for us.

And I should add, just for the sake of clarity and at the risk of redundancy, we didn’t ask.  We didn’t hint.  We didn’t fish for it.  I mean, I have no idea if Rob spoke to him about it or asked for it.  But we certainly didn’t.  For us, it was a complete surprise.  And just wonderful.10

One other story of Harvey’s generosity.  One year, during college, the way the schedule worked out, I wasn’t able to make it home for my family’s Passover Seder.  Which, if you’re Jewish, you get; and if you’re not, just, it’s a big deal is all you need to know.

Anyway, I asked Rob if it would be OK if I came to his family’s Seder, which was on a different day.  And of course I was welcomed with open arms.  Harriet was delighted, because Harriet.  Anyway, it comes time to search for the Afikomen.  Which, I can’t believe I have to explain this for the gentiles, but here’s the short version.  The Afikomen is a piece of Matzah, a cracker basically.  The grownups hide it and the kids do a scavenger hunt for it.  And the winner gets some kind of prize.  A money prize.

Actually, it’s not a prize, per se.  Really, the kid who finds it is supposed to “sell” it back to the grownups.  I mean, we’re Jews, what did you expect?  But the point is, it’s for the kids, the children.  Normally, college age kids don’t participate in this.  You’ve aged out of it.

Fine.  So they do the whole Afikomen shtick.  And I stay in my seat.  But one of Rob’s (also college-aged) cousins says, “Dave, you’ll want to get in on this.”  And I’m like, “But surely it’s just for the children.”  And she’s like, “Trust me.”  At which point, she gets up and joins the hunt.  Well, when in Rome, right?

Fast forward to some little cousin finds the damn thing.  And we all line up, like ducks in a row, so Harvey can give the prize.  I should say here, that in my family, whoever found the Afikomen usually walked away with no more than $20, and probably less.  I say this, because Harvey put five hundred (500!) dollars into the hand of whatever prepubescent cousin had found The Big A.

But wait, there’s more!  Then, Harvey walks down the line, and into the hand of each loser, he places a fresh, crisp, hundred (100!) dollar bill.  I could have untied my shoes with my teeth, so far had my jaw fallen.

One last thing about Harvey and then we can wrap up.  This was a man who worked incredibly hard, built a business and did very very well for himself.  And then there was us.  It looks different now.  It looks different when Jared is a social worker and Adam is an attorney and on and on.  But way back when – and honestly, for me still – we didn’t know what the fuck we would do with our lives.

And Rob studied one thing, and then he studied another thing, and then he had one job and then he had a totally different job.  All of which is fine and normal yadda yadda.  All I’m saying is, Harvey was a guy who knew exactly what he was doing and Rob was a guy who was very much figuring it out.

And, you know, you read stories about demanding fathers.  Fathers who are disappointed in their sons, because the sons fail to live up to whatever impossible expectations the fathers had set for them.  Yes, it’s a trope.  But it’s a trope because it’s real.  That happens.

And I don’t pretend to know what went on behind closed doors.  I can only speak to what I saw.  But what I saw was this.  I saw a man who, without question or hesitation, supported his son at every turn.  A man who believed in his son, who wanted him to succeed.  But more importantly, a man who wanted his son to succeed at what his son wanted, not at what he himself might have wished.

And when you get down to it, what more can you ask from a father?

Unwavering, unquestioning support and love.  Generosity.  But a generosity that extended beyond the circle of the man’s own family.  A generosity that encompassed the loved ones of the people he loved.  And humor.  Because after love, what does more for the heart – for the soul – than laughter?

Rest in peace, Harvey Blatt.  And rest easy, for we will all will carry just a bit of that love which you have shared with us, in the kindness of your heart.

זײַ געסונט

 

  1. I wrote this post on the 17th, but for a number of reasons, it’s taken me a week to get it posted.  All temporal references are from the perspective of the 17th and not today, the 24th. []
  2. Ugh, she’s going to read this. []
  3. Jesus fucking Christ. []
  4. Cf. footnote 2. []
  5. And who lately has been kicking my ass. []
  6. “For victory, we must have audacity, and again audacity, always audacity!”  I’m going with the most literal translation of ‘audace’ here, but maybe there’s a better word. []
  7. If you don’t know The Misfits, then, I dunno, I can’t help you.  Get out from under whatever rock you’re living under and go know The Misfits. []
  8. You will notice the pair of lacunae here.  I had gone off on a couple of tangents.  One about Danzig, the other about Van Halen.  But this post wound up being way too long, so I cut them.  But I think I’ll do a separate post on music soon, in which I’ll include said tangents.  #yourewelcome []
  9. Elizabeth Taylor’s Penis.  It’s a fragrance.  Don’t ask. []
  10. Also, Chris Benoit won the title.  And I don’t want to go down a wrestling rabbit-hole here, but, at the time, that was just the most amazing thing in the world.  And to be there for that… []

The Federalist Project – #5

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 5

Jay

10 November, 1787

 

Ostensibly on the advantages of Union, Federalist No. 5 – Jay’s last contribution to the series – really focuses on the dangers of dis-union and the various hypothetical futures which might attend it.  Several historical examples are also given in support of the argument.  As in my previous essay, we will proceed through J’s arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

Paragraph One begins with a nod to historical authority, in the form of a letter by England’s Queen Ann to the Scottish Parliament:

  • “Queen Ann, in her letter of the 1st July 1706 to the Scotch Parliament, makes some observations on the importance of the Union then forming between England and Scotland, which merit our attention.”
    • J begins by laying the groundwork for – preparing the reader to – expect a discussion on the manifold advantages of Union. Yet this line of argument does not really get beyond the second paragraph.  Thereafter, it is about the disadvantages of disunion.  But first, Ann’s argument for:
  • “An entire and perfect Union will be the solid foundation of lasting peace: It will serve your religion, liberty, and property, remove the animosities amongst yourselves, and the jealousies and differences betwixt our two kingdoms.”
    • Interesting that she (and by extension, J) leads with ‘serve your religion.’ Though I am no student of Scotch/English history, I know that there were plenty of religious wars between them, of the Catholic/Protestant variety.  Whose religion, then, is being served?  Or does she here mean the freedom to practice freely the religion of one’s own choosing?  If so, that would be interesting in itself, as it is not that long (1620) that the Puritans feld religious persecution in coming to the New World.  And can J really mean the freedom to practice freely the religion of one’s own choosing?  On the one hand, no doubt America is religiously pluralistic: Anglicans, Catholics, Puritans, Quakers, et al; even Jews.  On the other hand, H himself sang the praises of a nation which ‘Providence has been pleased to give…to one united people…professing the same religion…’ (F.2.5).  Therefore, I must conclude at least, that whatever its advantages, Union is hardly a guarantee of the “security” of religion, at least, any more than separate States or confederacies would be.
  • “It must encrease your strength, riches, and trade: And by this Union the whole Island, being joined in affection and free from all apprehensions of different interest, will be enabled to resist all its enemies.”
    • ‘It must encrease your strength, riches, and trade’ – This, no doubt, is the strongest – and most incontrovertible – of arguments.
    • ‘…being joined in affection and free from all apprehensions of different interest…’ – This is almost laughable. How many Scots – then or now – speak of England with ‘affection’?  As for ‘free from all apprehensions of different interest,’ I highly doubt this was absolutely true of England and Scotland, even if it were comparatively true vis-à-vis the time before Union.  As for the US, this would hardly be true of the various sections (i.e. North/South) in Union, certainly up to the Civil War.  One may even question how true it is now, to a certain degree (e.g. Coasts v. Heartland) when looking at strictly domestic  Though one must concede that the argument stands scrutiny when considering Union vis-à-vis foreign affairs.
  • “…[Union] being the only effectual way to serve our present and future happiness; And disappoint the designs of our and your enemies, who will doubtless, on this occasion, use their utmost endeavours to prevent or delay this Union.”
    • This will essentially serve as the Leitmotif of J’s arguments in this essay.

 

¶ 2 simply restates the thrust of F.4:

  • “It was remarked in the preceding Paper, that weakness and division at home, would invite dangers from abroad; And that nothing would tend more to secure us from them than Union, strength, and good Government within ourselves. This subject is copious and cannot easily be exhausted.”
    • F.5 is not all that different than F.4.  It makes much the same argument, and in much the same way.

 

J is always strongest, in my mind, when he bases his arguments in cold reality, whether that be the current geo-political situation or historical example.  In ¶3, J makes use of the latter:

  • “The history of Great Britain is the one with which we are in general the best acquainted, and it gives us many useful lessons. We may profit by their experience, without paying the price which it cost them.”
    • Right enough, and thus a good starting point. Though as for ‘the price which it cost them,’ I’m not sure what he means.  Perhaps this would be more obvious to the contemporary reader.
  • “Altho’ it seems obvious to common sense, that the people of such an island, should be but one nation, yet we find that they were for ages divided into three, and that those three were almost constantly embroiled in quarrels and wary with one another.”
    • How, in any sense of the word, is that ‘obvious’? Of the three, the weaker two – Scotland & Wales – were of a different ethnicity (Celtic opp. Germanic/Anglo-Norman), speaking their own distinct languages and having their own different histories.  Foregoing the earlier Roman and then Germanic (to say nothing of Norse) invasions, which pushed aside the native Celts (Britons included), the fact that they were ‘embroiled in quarrels and wary’ owes far more to English aggression, and ultimately domination, than to anything else.  And their eventual Union owed far more to England’s comparative strength than to anything that might be termed ‘affection.’  That said, problems of historical accuracy aside, the argument serves rhetorically to prepare the reader to agree with the real point of the paragraph, to wit:
  • “Notwithstanding their true interest, with respect to the continental nations was really the same, yet by the arts and practices of those nations, their mutual jealousies were perpetually kept enflamed…”
    • Here we get to the main point. They have more in common in terms of interest than they do with any other powers.
  • “…and for a long series of years they were far more inconvenient and troublesome, than they were useful and assisting to each other.”
    • This is essentially a re-stating of his warning that ‘independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies…[could] perhaps [be] played off against each other’ (F.4.17). But here it is given the weight of historical example.

 

In ¶4, J holds forth on the probable outcome(s) of disunion:

  • “Should the people of America divide themselves into three or four nations, would not the same thing happen? Would not similar jealousies arise; and be in like manner cherished?  Instead of their being “joined in affection, and free from all apprehension of different interest” [sic] envy and jealousy would soon extinguish confidence and affection, and the partial interests of each confederacy, instead of the general interests of all America, would be the only objects of their policy and pursuits.”
    • The rhetorical questions follow logically from the preceding paragraph. J then answers his own rhetorical questions.  The conclusion, based on his arguments, is logically sound.  The question is, does he imply such a rosy picture of Union while underestimating the degree of division between the sections, or to present a counterweight to those same divisions?  With knowledge of the Civil War to come, it may feel to the modern reader that he underestimates them.  Yet by giving the negative outcome of disunion so clearly and forcefully, it suggests that he has a firm grasp of the underlying problems and divisions inherent among the States.
  • “Hence like most other bordering nations, they would always be either envolved in disputes and war, or live in the constant apprehension of them.”
    • As an argument, it is more or less redundant. However, it is an interesting insight into what was considered the natural order of things at the time – and indeed up to 1945.  Yet we can look at Europe today, or our relations with Canada and Mexico, and see that this hardly need be considered de facto  Could J ever have imagined a world like this?

 

¶5 sees J directly addressing the proponents of smaller confederacies.  In so doing, he argues that nothing resembling a reasonable balance of power can be long maintained, if it is even possible to establish such a balance at the outset:

  • “The most sanguine advocates for three or four confederacies, cannot reasonably suppose that they would long remain exactly on an equal footing in point of strength, even if it was possible to form them so at first…”
    • Although J grudgingly admits of a (brief) theoretical equality between confederacies, he essentially sees the enterprise as effectively zero-sum. If one succeeds, another – or all others – must fail.  However, I fail to see why.  If all the constituent parts of the Union have what it takes to succeed together, does it not stand to reason that they could each do so separately?  Tearing themselves apart through jealousy is one thing.  Simply not being able to succeed on their own merits seems quite another.  But we will examine this further in the course of this essay…
  • “…but admitting that to be practicable, yet what human contrivance can secure the continuance of such equality.”
    • This is little more than rhetorical fluff, as the point is already made well enough in the first part of the sentence. But the rhetoric is worth looking at.  We should note the strong language: ‘what human contrivance.’  The proposal is beyond difficult, J argues.  So far beyond difficult in fact, that it exceeds human capacity.  It is thus virtually impossible.  Also of note is the assonance: ‘contrivance…continuance.’  Both words start and end with the same sound.  Finally, it is a rhetorical question, yet he ends with a period.  It is not even worth trying to answer against it.  It is as good as fact.
  • “Independent of those local circumstances which tend to beget and encrease power in one part, and to impede its progress in another…”
    • Presumably, he is referring to natural resources, technological development, internal improvements, etc. J treats this as a throwaway, yet to me, it is far more important than his main argument, which follows…
  • “…we must advert to the effects of that superior policy and good management which would probably distinguish the Government of one above the rest, and by which their relative equality and in strength and consideration, would be destroyed.”
    • “In other words, the quality of one Government must necessarily be superior to others, and to the detriment of others. It would be lovely to think that by this he somehow means that a Northern confederacy, free from slavery, would inherently be of a better and stronger Government than a Southern confederacy based on slavery, and that this must lead to a diminution of the power and strength of such a confederacy.  Yet, if he does mean this, it is super-buried, for he seems really to be speaking in the usual J-esque axiomatic absolutes.
  • “For it cannot be presumed that the same degree of sound policy…would uniformly be observed by each of these confederacies, for a long succession of years.”
    • The key here is ‘for a long succession of years,’ set off by a comma, which otherwise seems unnecessary. (Though admittedly, trying to read into commas of this era – and J’s in particular – may be a bit of a fool’s errand).  In any case, this is a direct rebuke of those who would argue that separate confederacies would absolutely establish good Governments.  Perhaps they could – at the outset, J argues.  But it won’t, nay can’t, last.  This argument from the future is, of course, unprovable.  And J knows this.  Thus he will make the case in the following paragraphs.

 

In ¶5, J predicts a collapse of cooperation and failure to achieve a balance of power.  In ¶6, he paints a more vivid picture of what that would look like:

  • “Whenever, and from whatever causes, it might happen; and happen it would, that any one of these nations or confederacies should rise on the scale of political importance much above the degree of their neighbours, that moment would those neighbours behold her with envy and with fear…”
    • J here continues his argument from ¶5, driving home the point as a fait accompli that a state of equality could not long endure. With his ‘and happen it would,’ he brooks no room for debate on this subject.
  • “…Both those passions [envy and fear] would lead them to countenance, if not to promote, whatever might promise to diminish her importance; and would also restrain them from measures calculated to advance, or even to secure her prosperity.”
    • J continues to see petty rivalries as a greater motivating factor than what he calls ‘interest,’ which would guide a Union.
  • “Much time would not be necessary to enable her to discern these unfriendly dispositions – She would soon begin, not only to lose confidence in her neighbours, but also to feel a disposition equally unfavorable to them: Distrust naturally creates distrust, and by nothing is good will and kind conduct more speedily changed, than by invidious jealousies and uncandid imputations, whether expressed or implied.”
    • J foresees an inevitable cascade of failures:
      • Discern unfriendly dispositions à lose confidence/feel equally unfriendly à mutual distrust à jealousies/uncandid or implied imputations à end of good will.
    • One other thought, and I am almost hesitant to write this. J here speaks of an individual nation/confederacy as a ‘she.’  And here also he imputes to ‘her’ emotional characteristics: unfavorable disposition, distrust, good will and kind conduct, invidious jealousy, expressed and implied imputations.  Does this in any way reflect the latent sexism of the period, i.e. that women were ‘emotional’ and unstable?  Or is it simply that any nation in any context would be referred to as a ‘she,’ and that the conduct described is natural to politics, to the men who operate governments, to human nature in general?  A very brief check of where J mentions other nations shows no use of singular pronouns, so I can, at the moment, add nothing more.  And since this is J’s last essay, there may not be much more to find.  Still, I shall endeavor to keep on eye on this going forward…

 

In ¶7, J speculates, rather presciently, on what a Northern and a Southern might look like, and what their relationship to each other would likely be:

  • “The North is generally the region of strength, and many local circumstances render it probable, that the most Northern of the proposed confederacies would, at a point not very distant, be unquestionably more formidable than any of the others.”
    • J here breaks from his theoreticals and hypotheticals and returns to the real world, and in so doing, suggests a very real, probable and believable outcome.
    • ‘local circumstances’ are left unexplained and to the reader’s imagination. We should naturally assume strength of economy, size and activity of ports, cities, internal improvements, etc.  Left unstated also, but hopefully implied, are the deleterious effects of slavery on the South and their corresponding absence in the North.  We would also do well to remember that in these pre-cotton gin times, cotton was not yet king, the South was not the (cotton-based) economic power it would later become, and slavery not as profitable as it would later be.
  • “No sooner would this become evident, than the Northern Hive would excite the same Ideas and sensations in the more Southern party of America, which it formerly did in the Southern parts of Europe.”
    • By italicizing and capitalizing ‘Northern Hive’ and by comparing it to Europe, J seems to be referencing some historical circumstance which, presumably would be known to the reader. For my part, I do not know to what he refers.
  • “Nor does it appear to be a rash conjecture, that its young swarms might often be tempted to gather honey in the more blooming fields and milder air of their luxurious and more delicate neighbors.”
    • Another rare use of metaphor by J. And as with the previous example, in which he spoke of Britain (cf. F.4.14), he here uses it to describe a real-world example, rather than one of his academic theoreticals or hypotheticals.  In both cases, he can hardly be said to have gone overboard in restricting himself to two metaphors in each instance (‘nursery for seamen,’ ‘prowess and thunder’ in the former; ‘young swarms,’ and ‘gather honey’ in the latter).  Though to be sure, this passage is far more poetic than the previous, using four adjectives (‘blooming fields,’ ‘milder air,’ ‘luxurious, delicate neighbors’).  We should also note the mild use of anaphora in his double use of the comparative ‘more’.

 

In ¶8, J essentially restates his the previous argument, but in more general terms:

  • “Those who well consider the history of similar divisions and confederacies…that those in contemplation would in no other sense be neighbors, than as they would be borderers; that they would neither love nor trust one another, but on the contrary would be a prey to discord, jealousy and mutual injuries; in short that they would place us exactly in the situation which some other nations doubtless wish to see us, viz. formidable only to each other.”
    • Essentially a rehashing of the foregoing. But after the very specific picture painted in ¶7, J returns again to the vague and theoretical, leaving it to the audience to imagine for themselves what this might look like, and what nations might be the source of our troubles.  In this way, those who most perceive France as a threat or enemy are sure to imagine France, those England, England, etc.  And again, he ends with a warning.
    • “discord, jealousy and mutual injuries” – J seems largely predisposed to using the Oxford (serial) comma. Yet here he avoids it.  I cannot see that there is even the slightest shade or variation of meaning expressed by its omission.  On the contrary, I think it highlights the dangers of trying to read too much into the use of commas generally from this period.

 

J counters directly, in ¶9, those holding the opposing view:

  • “From these considerations it appears that those Gentlemen are greatly mistaken, who suppose that alliances offensive and defensive might be found between these confederacies…which would be necessary to put and keep them in a formidable state of defence against foreign enemies.”
    • J rejects again the feasibility of disunion. By invoking real ‘Gentlemen,’ he uses this paragraph to pivot away from the theoretical and back to the real world with its real players.
    • We should also not that here, as in the previous paragraph, J closes with the adjective ‘formidable.’ But in ¶8, the divided States are formidable only to each other.  Here, they fail to be formidable against their enemies.

 

J uses ¶10 as ground to analyze the real-world geopolitical situation, and to make predictions based on those analyses:

  • “When did the independent states into which Britain and Spain were formerly divided, combine in such alliances, or unite their forces against a foreign enemy?”
    • By posing this as a rhetorical question, J is confident in having the reader’s agreement.
  • “The proposed confederacies will be distinct nations.”
    • But how distinct, I wonder. Remember J’s encomium on the one-ness of the American people in F2.5?  Slavery not withstanding, do the American people have more or less in common than the English/Scots/Welsh or Castile/Aragon?  The answer seems to depend on the argument J is trying to make.
  • “Each of them would have its commerce with foreigners to regulate by distinct treaties; and as their production and commodities are different, and proper for different markets, so would those treaties be essentially different. Different commercial concerns must create different interests, and of course different degrees of political attachment to, and connection with different foreign nations.”
    • J the diplomat returns, and as usual, his analysis is clear-eyed and realistic. No coincidence then, that he here speaks of ‘interest’ rather than ‘convenience,’ ‘jealousy,’ and the like.
  • “Hence it might and probably would happen, that the foreign nations with whom the Southern confederacy might be at war, would be the one, with whom the Northern confederacy would be the most desirous of preserving peace and friendship.”
    • Very astute. During the Civil War, the South would try to engage England, with whom they had strong economic ties, to their cause.  And of course, the North feared this greatly.  Only the question of slavery, not here addressed (and apparently never addressed by J in these essays) prevented it.
  • “An alliance so contrary to their immediate interests would not therefore be easy to form, nor if formed, would it be observed and fulfilled with perfect good faith.”
    • Once again, J ends the paragraph with an unambiguous prediction of failure if the constitution is not adopted.

 

In ¶11, J continues his predictions begun in the previous paragraph before pivoting to a historical example:

  • “Nay it is far more probable that in America, as in Europe, neighboring nations, acting under the impulse of opposite interest, and unfriendly passions, would frequently be found taking different sides.”
    • Here J, in his warning, combines ‘interests’ and ‘passions.’ This is a fitting summation of all his previous analyses.
  • “Considering our distance from Europe, it would be more natural for these confederacies to apprehend danger from one another, than from distant nations, and therefore that each of them should be more desirous to guard against the others, by aid of foreign alliances, than to guard against foreign dangers by alliances between themselves.”
    • Once again, J bases his arguments on what is ‘natural,’ leaving the reader little room to argue the point within himself.
  • “And let us not forget how much more easy it is to receive foreign fleets into our ports, and foreign armies into our country, than it is to persuade or compel them to depart.”
    • No doubt the quartering of British troops in American homes and British ships in American ports during the Revolution is still fresh in J’s mind; and no doubt he assumes it is just as fresh in the minds of his readers. And we should remember that New York City – to whom this essay is largely addressed – was occupied by the British for most of the war.
  • “How many conquests di the Romans and others make in the character of allies, and what innovations did they under the same character introduce into the Governments of those whom they pretended to protect.”
    • This question, and the previous, were marked out by M as being of special import. To my eye, however, J jumps rather quickly from foreign alliances to inevitable occupation.  Especially in light of the geographic distance, which he paints as an advantage when it suits him.
    • And again, we see rhetorical questions written with a period rather than a question mark, which paints them more as fact than question.

 

In ¶12, J’s last in the Federalist, he calls for sound judgment, albeit on his terms and based on the analyses he has presented:

  • “Let candid men judge then whether the division of America into any given number of independent sovereignties would tend to secure us against the hostilities and improper interference of foreign nations.”
    • J closes his last Federalist essay with a call to judgment based on what he has argued rather than a dark warning or prediction, as in his previous essays. In a sense, he can be seen to be encouraging his readership, showing confidence in them to make the right decision.  From this point on, it will be H & M making the arguments.  J has said his piece.

The full text of Federalist No.5 can be found here.