An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
9 July, 2018

Oh, hey.  So remember way back in January of 2017 I did a sort of New Year’s Resolution post?  Except it wasn’t so much a “resolution” post as “here’s the shit I want to get done, or at least, get started” post?  Well, one of those things was to translate this fairy tale thing I’d written into French.  So yeah, like 2.5 weeks ago – which, you’ll note, is firmly in 2018 – I finally got started.

Really fascinating process.  And really hard!  But also really gratifying.  Until it wasn’t.  And then it was again.  I’ll explain.  Right, so the story itself, in English, is 20 pages, single-spaced.  By now, I’ve spent about two weeks on it.  Which has worked out to just over seven pages.  So like, half a page a night.  And after the first night, I was like, “Hey, you know what?  This ain’t half bad!  I think I can do this!”

Which isn’t to say it was good, either.  Just, you know, not half bad.  And I knew, off the bat, there would be problems.  Basic shit, like prepositions (impossible), idioms (possible, but mad hard) and the finer points of grammar (not impossible, but I don’t know what I don’t know kinda thing).  But after the first night, I thought I was off to a decent start.

After the second night, though.  Not so much.  What I mean is, I read the whole thing over, and I just thought, “Jeez, this is fucking terrible!”  See, I was out of the ‘working’ headspace and into the ‘reading’ headspace.  And to whatever extent I can or can’t write French, I can certainly read it.  And when I read what I had wrought…yeesh.  No, really.  I wanted to burn it and never ever even try to write French again as long as I live.  Seriously.

But as luck would have it, Charlotte was visiting that weekend.  More on that later.  But the point is, she’s a French teacher with a background in lit.  So she knows what she’s talking about.  Anyway, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind taking a look at it.  Which, turns out, she was pretty excited to do.

So she did.  And sure enough, wrong prepositions all over the place.  Some grammar problems that are easy enough to fix and which I can learn from and hopefully get better at.  And she helped out with some idiomatic stuff which I just don’t have access to.  But there were also more than a few things which she thought I did really well, and one or two things I may even have impressed her with.

And then we talked about approach.  Because when I started, I really was trying to “translate” my English.  Which is what lead to the ‘idiom traps’ if I can call them that.  What I mean is, I was trying to translate English idioms directly into French, which just doesn’t work.  So what we talked about was basically this.  That going forward, I should stop trying to “translate,” so to speak.  What I should really be trying to do, is simply to tell the story in French.

After all, it’s my story.  I don’t owe it to some original author to try and create a “faithful translation,” whatever that might mean.  I’m the author.  It’s already mine.  Which means I have the freedom to just tell it in French, the way I can.  And so, I guess it won’t be so much a “translation” as a “French version” of my story.  My French version.  Which, the more I think about it, is actually pretty cool.

So we decided that I’ll create a google doc so she can edit as I go, basically.  But she’s the perfect person to be doing this with.  Because her attitude is essentially, “I’m not trying to re-write your story.  I just want to fix the things that are wrong and give you suggestions where things don’t work.”

Which is great.  Because there’s something that’s very important to me here.  And maybe this is a bit venal on my part.  But when it’s done, I really want to be able to say that I wrote it.  In fucking French.  And obviously I’m happy to give credit where credit is due, right?  Like, obviously I can’t just do this alone.  But I really want for it to be mine, you know?  I hope that makes sense.  Just, I feel like that would be such a huge accomplishment, to be able to really write a story in another language.  And have it not suck.

But she’s also the perfect person to be doing this with for another reason.  Not to sound corny, but she gets me.  What I mean is, working with her was pretty effortless.  Hand-in-glove kinda thing.  She explains something with a minimum of words, and I get it.  I ask a question, she knows exactly what I mean and how to answer.  She doesn’t get something I wrote, I can tell her what I was trying to do, and in a flash, she’s on it.  Just easy, you know?

Anyway, two big takeaways from going over just this first page with Charlotte.  The first is, keep trying.  Because I asked.  “Do I suck at this?  Should I just give up and never try to write French again as long as I live?”  And she’s like, “No, of course not.”  Because, like I said, that’s where I was at the end of the first page.

But the other takeaway was really special.  To me, anyway.  She said, “Looking at this, it’s very obvious that you read literary French.”  Or words to that effect.  But I mean, fuck yeah!  Because, come on, how long have I been reading Verne and Dumas and now Hugo (more on that later, too).  Like, yeah, I hope that shows through.  I hope I’m learning something from all this reading I do.  Well, I guess I am.  But to have that sort of be noticed and appreciated, well, yeah, that’s kind of a little feather in the cap, you know?

So yeah, Charlotte came for a short visit the last weekend of June.  A short visit, but a lot of fun.  And productive, obviously.  I picked her up at the airport around 11 on Friday night, which means we only had time to come home (an hour ride) and drink a bunch of wine.  Classic.  Saturday we played some music, went for a short walk in the woods out east (bad weather), and took a look at my story.

We realized we were hungry around 10.  Which is annoying because nothing out here is open that late, even on a Saturday.  But in the end we found a traditional German restaurant which Yelp said was open til midnight.  We got there at like 11.  And it was empty, save for the three people working.  And by working, I mean sitting around a table drinking beer.

So I asked if it was too late to order food.  And they were so nice about it.  Of course it’s not too late, we’re happy to have you.  That kinda thing.  And you guys.  The food was uh-mazing.  We both got schnitzel.  Which itself was fantastic.  But it also came with a little salad, string beans and fried potatoes.  And in the string beans and potatoes were little bits of bacon.  And all of it cooked in so much butter.  I mean, it was outa this world.  And the waitress, who didn’t speak a word of English, was just adorable.  The sweetest lady.

And also, the place was so empty and so quiet, we could actually hear the chef whistling and singing in the kitchen while he cooked for us.  I mean, what a win, you guys.

We actually, oddly, didn’t really get drunk.  So we came back, listened to music for a bit1 and just sorta fell asleep.  Just a nice, peaceful night.  And then Sunday was more music playing.  We had to leave to get her to the airport around 2:45, so there wasn’t really time for much else.

But you know how last time I was saying we had been working on Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, and just not getting it?  Well, yesterday, finally, we got it.  I mean, it took a lot of work.  And nobody’s gonna confuse us for S&G.  But we can do it.  And you know what?  It sounds pretty good!  She does the melody and I do the harmony.  And it works.  It just works.  And holy shit, y’all, that is fun!

And we also came back to this song by some band called Moriarty (which may or may not be how it’s spelled).  I mentioned this song last time she was here, I think.  It’s probably called “Jimmy,” but we just call it “The Buffalo Song.”  Anyway, I worked up a new guitar arrangement.  She does the singing.  On the choruses I started experimenting with some harmonies.  Some definitely didn’t work.  Some worked a treat.

But there’s this too.  She’s got a good voice, you guys.  Like, she’s still figuring out how to use it.  But she’s got no problems with pitch.  And her tone is really sweet.  I mean, I just enjoy listening to her sing.  You would too.  So we recorded it.  And when I listened back to it, I was like, “Shit, that’s you?  You sound good!”

And I know I said this last time, but I love this now.  I love when I can just play the guitar and listen to her sing.  It’s really great.  And then when we get some good harmonies going, I fucking love it.  Because, that’s something that’s brand new for me.  Harmonies I mean.

All those years playing in bands, I never once stepped in front of a microphone.  And then, all these past years doing my own stuff, I’ve always sang alone.  So I don’t know the first thing about harmonizing.  I mean, Shyer, for example, that dude could just harmonize on top of anything and it would be instant gold.  Not me, nossir.

So this is new for me.  And it’s not easy or natural.  But I guess I can kinda do it.  And when it works, damn.  Fun City, Population: Two.

Anyway, that was that.  Basically a 36-hour visit.  But crazy good times, as always, (if a bit less crazy than always).  The plan is to hopefully meet up in the north of France sometime in September.  Already looking forward to it.

So, Victor Hugo.  I guess I decided it was finally time I see what this dude is all about, seeing as how he’s such a big deal and all.  Now, the obvious choice would have been Les Misérables.  But that shit’s crazy long.  And I’m not done with my Musketeers yet, so that one’s gonna have to wait.  So I decided instead on Notre Dame de Paris.  Which, in English, we know as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  But that’s a bit misleading.  The French title is more accurate.  Because so much of this book, apparently, is just about the fucking church.  And architecture in general.

No, seriously.  He has whole chapters that have literally nothing to do with the story.  They’re just about architecture and Paris in general.  The guy’s passionate about buildings, whaddya want?

Anyway, it’s good, obviously.  It’s hard though.  First of all, he’s dropping Latin left and right.  And not words or phrases, mind you.  Whole sentences in Latin.  And not bothering to translate them either.  He’s just, “It’s like, ‘blah-us blah-us blah-us,’ know what I mean?  Of course you do.  On with the story!”  Uh, thanks?

And the vocabulary is hard.  Lotta words I’ve never seen before.  Which, on the one hand, great.  That’s how you learn.  But on the other hand, uh, what?  The upshot being that I find myself skipping a lot of words.  Because I’d like to finish this book before I die.  So it’s a challenge.

But it’s worth it.  Because he does a lot of things where I’m just like, “Wow, nice!”  Like, yeah, OK, I see why this guy is a big deal.  Also, did you guys know Quasimodo has only one eye?  I mean, I guess he has two eyes.  But he’s got some awful growth that completely covers one of them.  So effectively he’s a Cyclops.  And he’s deaf.  Not born deaf.  But he went deaf from all the chruchbell-ringing.  Did you guys know that?  I didn’t know that.  Anyway, it’s pretty great, is what I’m saying.

Staying on the subject of reading.  I’ve just finished the Book of Numbers, maybe two weeks ago.  So that’s four out of five books of the Torah read.  Crazytown.  But I’ll get more into that next time maybe.

More interestingly, I’ve decided to get a bit more serious with regard to my curiosity about/passion for Yiddish.  Like, let’s see if I can teach myself to read this language.  After all, it’s basically German (which I speak, but ironically can’t read) with a smattering of Hebrew.  So there’s this newspaper, The Forward, out of New York.  It started life in the early 20th century as a Yiddish-language daily.  At some point it switched to a weekly English paper.  But they still publish in Yiddish online.  So, I figured, Fuck it.  I printed out an article.

And I just started hacking away at it.  Usually just in the mornings at work, before class starts.  It’s going very slowly.  But it’s going, absolutely.  Basically, I’m just working with my (admittedly imperfect) knowledge of German and Hebrew, my general (admittedly limited) linguistic knowledge and a dictionary.  And yeah, I guess I’m working with what I guess I can call the overall background music of my life.  What I mean is, I’m finding words that I just know because I heard them growing up.  Which is cool.

Anyway, it’s endlessly fascinating.  But more than that, there’s a joy in it.  Like, I feel like I’m connecting with something that belongs to me, but which is hazy, that hangs out in the past, but not the ancient past.  This is the language of my grandparents and my great-grandparents.  This is the language my parents heard around them growing up, even if they never learned it.  It’s words that are a part of my parents’ English vocabulary.2  It’s woven into the fabric of my life and yet largely out of reach.

I can’t talk to my grandparents anymore, never mind my great-grandparents.  But maybe I can learn their language a little bit.  It’s a way to connect with my ancestors that I didn’t have even when they were alive.  But not my ancient ancestors.  Hebrew does that, in a very different way.  Hebrew connects me with people I never knew, who died thousands of years before I was born.  Yiddish connects me with people who I knew and loved, and who loved me.   And that’s powerful.  Yeah, there’s a power in that.

So where is this going?  I mean, I’m not about to go start hanging out with the Chasidim, thank you very much.  Nor can I dig up The Olds and ask וואַס מאַכסטו (Was Machste?, What’s up?).  So I ask again, apart from the spiritual mumbo-jumbo, where is this going?  I guess, my goal – for now, anyway – is, first just to finish this article.3  And then read another.  And another.  Until I feel good enough about it to try my hand at, I dunno, Shalom Alechem?  I mean, why not?

But yeah, I guess I’d love to get to the point where I could read Yiddish on the subway about as easily as I read French.  Is that attainable?  No idea.  Maybe.  But there’s only one way to find out.

So that’s a side project.  Among a million side projects.  But it’s a good one, I think.  And a fun one.  Because whatever else, there’s something undeniably fun about Yiddish.  To me, anyway.  But the way it’s almost sort of an argot.  Like, on the one hand, it really is just a dialect of German.  But the pronunciation is different.  And the idioms are different.  The word order and sentence construction are different.  And then there’s the Hebrew sprinkled throughout.  So that, I think, you could speak Yiddish in front of a German and, yeah, maybe they’d catch some of it, but they probably wouldn’t really understand it.  That’s what I mean by argot, I guess.  But that’s fun.  Like cockney rhyming-slang.  But for Jews.  Now if only I could find anybody to actually speak it with…

Right, well that’s probably enough for now.  Vinny is in Berlin now, so of course that’s fun – you know, drinking and philosophizing about sandwiches.  Plus he brought meat and cheese from Italy, so added bonus there.  And then in August I’m off to Italy myself for a week of desperately needed vacation.  And hopefully France in September.  And in between, work and work.  My job work and my projects work.  My Federalist Project, this translation project, Torah, Yiddish, Greek – I’ve got to get back on track with this Demosthenes oration; and Homer, I’ve got to get back to Homer.

And the guitar.  I’m trying to learn the whole of Gaspar Sanz’ Suite Española.  I’ve been playing the Canarios4 for years; as have two of my uncles.  But I don’t know that either of them ever learned the whole suite.  I should ask.  Anyway, I’m working on that now.  So yeah, much to do.  But so much of it is wonderful.  It’s good to be busy, when this is the kinda shit you’re busy with.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

זײַ געסנט

  1. Turns out we both sorta secretly love Ace of Base.  Who knew? []
  2. I sent my mom a picture of the article I was working on, all marked up with my grammar and vocab notes.  And as it’s properly in Yiddish, it’s using the modified Hebrew alphabet; it’s not been anglicized.  And she just writes back “Fershtayce?”  Which in Yiddish would look like פאַרשטייסטו and in German, Verstehst du?  “Do you understand?”, in other words.  Only one answer to that question, obviously.  “A bissell.” []
  3. So I drafted this last week.  But since then, I have actually finished the article.  Like, oh shit, I just read an actual newspaper article in Yiddish.  Fucking cool!  So now I’ve started a second… []
  4. Canarios – the last movement of the suite. []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-3

Editor’s Note: This piece resumes a series of silly Star Wars fanfic-y spoofs I’d started two or three years ago.  It concludes the story in which one Dr. Starrkin (father of the title character, Colonel Starrkin) discovers some overruns in the Imperial Budget and must sort them out with a certain Darth Vader.  It is in this third, and concluding, volume that Dr. Starrkin actually meets the Dark Lord himself.  The first two installments may be found here & here.  And so, without further ado, I give you:

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-3
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

16 January, 01 E.C.

We made our landing on Mustafar without incident.  The shuttle ramp lowered itself and I began to disembark.  As I did so, Simon the pilot called after me.

“Shall I keep the engine running, gov?”

Everybody’s a comic, I thought, as I entered the main entrance hall.  I was greeted by a smiling receptionist.

“Do you have an appointment?” he asked.

“I believe I have the only appointment,” I sad calmly.

“Ah, Doctor Starrkin!  I wasn’t sure you’d actually come.”

“That’s why I made the appointment.”

“Yeah, right.”  His smile faded.  “Still though.”  He looked me up and down.  “Sir?”

“Yes, sergeant?”

“If I may ask, sir.  I notice you’re wearing a rather tight collar.  Are you sure that’s wise?”

“Am I sure that’s…Force, man!  You suggested it!”

“I was being ironic, sir.  I thought that was obvious.”

“Why would that be obvious?”  I was admittedly confused.

“Well, because of his Lordship’s…reputation.”  He almost whispered this last word.

“Reputations are little more than glorified rumors,” I said confidently.  “Now, may I go in?”

“Of course, sir.  His Lordship isn’t expecting you.”

“I’m sorry,” I said slowly.  “Did you say he’s not expecting me?

“That’s right, sir.  His Lordship generally assumes his guests will find any way possible to get out of any…appointment.”  He put this last word in air quotes.

“Why did you put ‘appointment’ in air quotes?” I asked.

“Well, sir.  People don’t generally come here willingly.”

“Well I most certainly have, sergeant.”  I was beginning to grow weary of this man.  “But if, as you say, he is not expecting me, perhaps you’d be so good as to announce me.”

“Best not, sir.”

“And how’s that, exactly?”

“Well, sir.  His Vaderness doesn’t like to be disturbed, you see.  The last man in this job who used the intercom, well…let’s just say he doesn’t work here anymore.”

“I see.”  This was becoming tiresome.  “Then I shall simply enter unannounced.”

“Ooh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you, sir.”  And he whistled.

“Very well, sergeant.”  I took a deep breath.  “What would you do, if you were me?”

“Well, sir.  I reckon I’d turn right back around and walk on out of here whilst I still had the chance.”

“Enough of this,” I said sharply.  “I’m going in.”  And I strode past him.  As the door shshed open before me, I heard him speak.

“Maybe you want to – “ But I was ignoring him.  “ – loosen your collar,” he said, as the door shshed close behind me.

I found myself walking down a long corridor, with only a single door at the far end.  And when I say ‘far end,’ I do mean far.  It was six hundred meters if it was a centimeter.  No doors, no windows, save the aforementioned single door all the way the end.  When I (finally) reached it, I found that it was marked only with the letters “DV.”  Well, this must be it, I thought.  I knocked.  The door shshed open.

And there, standing before me, doing literally nothing but standing there, was His Darkness himself.  The Black One.  The Machine-Man.  The Terminator.  The one and only Lord Darth Vader.  In the flesh.  Or, rather, what was left of the flesh.

Bloody tinted helmet.  Was he looking at me?  Was he looking past me?  Was he even awake?  I opened my mouth to speak, but he beat me to it.

“Ah, Doctor Starrkin.  Do come in.”  I came in.

“I thought you weren’t expecting me, Lord Vader.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Then how did you – “

“Know who you were?  Let’s just say, I felt your presence.”

“I didn’t even know I had a presence,” I said, half to myself.

“Everybody has a presence.  It’s part of the Force, you see.  Ah, but perhaps you’re wondering what the Force is.  Well, the Force is a sort of power…no, not power.  An energy maybe.  I mean, not a quantifiable ‘energy’ in the sense of physics.  It is neither potential nor kinetic.  And yet it is both.  Both and neither.  Neither and both.  That is the Force.  And it…well, how can I put this in layman’s terms?  I guess you could say it binds the galaxy together.  Although, I guess you could say that about the Empire too.  But the Empire binds the galaxy together in a political sense.  And the Force is not political.  Well.  I mean, of course there’s a light side and a dark side.  And which side one adheres to generally breaks down along political lines.  So in that sense, yes, I guess the Force does bind the galaxy together in a political sense.  But also, in another, more powerful sense.  Sense.  Am I even making sense?”

“My lord?”  I must confess, I had begun to zone out.

“I say, Doctor Starrkin, am I making any sense?”

“With all due respect, my lord,” I said, returning to myself.  “I didn’t come here to philosophize about the Force.”

“No, no, of course not.  You came here to discuss the budget for…The Project.”

“How did you – “

“Know that?”  He sounded just a touch exasperated.  But maybe it was just his breathing apparatus.  “The Force.  I thought I made that clear.”

“Well, it doesn’t really matter.”

“Oh, but it does.  It does matter!  Look, I’ll show you.  Watch this.”  And without moving a muscle or a servo, he caused his desk to levitate a full meter off the ground.  “I bet you’re wondering how I did that.”

“The…Force?”  I tried to sound impressed, but I don’t think I succeeded.

“The Force!” he exclaimed.  “Very good, Doctor Starrkin.  Very good indeed.  You begin to see the true power of the Dark Side.”

“Of the Dark Side?”

“Of the Force!” he corrected quickly.  “Who said anything about the Dark Side?  There’s no Dark Side here.  Just because I enjoy dressing in all black – “

“With all due respect, my lord – “

“Don’t interrupt me!”

“I’m sorry, my lord.”

“And don’t apologize!  I don’t know why everybody is always apologizing to me.  I really seem to intimidate people, you know?  And I don’t know why.  Honestly.  I mean, maybe it’s the mask.  Is it the mask?  You can tell me.  I won’t be offended.”

“Well, my lord, if I’m being honest – “

“Please.  Be honest,” he said sincerely.

“Well, my lord.  To be honest, the mask is just a touch disconcerting…” I trailed off under his dark stare.

“Go on,” he insisted.

“And not the mask, per se.  But, well, it’s the tinted eye-pieces, I think.  What I mean is, one can’t tell if one is being looked at.  One can’t read your expression.  So one does not know if one has given offense.”

“I knew it!”  He punched a gloved fist into a gloved palm.  “I knew it.  I said to Palpatine, ‘Can we not do tinted eye-pieces?  It’s going to give a bad first impression.’  That’s what I said to him.  And you know what his answer was?  ‘Gooood.  Gooood.’  That’s what he said.”

“But surely you could simply order non-tinted eye-pieces?”

“It’s not in the budget,” he said, shaking his head forlornly.  “Ah, the budget!  That’s what you’ve come to talk about.  Let’s get down to titanium tacks, shall we?”

“With pleasure, my lord.”

“Now, if I read the Force correctly – which I always do – you have some questions about cost overruns on…The Project.”

“How did you…oh, right, the Force.  Yes, well.  There are a number of – “

“Line items I signed off on, which are unexplained, yes.  It’s part of a special assignment, which comes directly from the Emperor himself.“

“And what is the nature of this assignment, my lord?”  Now we were getting somewhere.

“Liquidation.”

“Liquidation?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, that’s simple enough.  If we could just show that in the filings, then that’s all I’d need.”  I was beginning to think this would be all too easy.

“Oh, we can’t do that,” he said nonchalantly.

“And why not?”

“It’s quite sensitive, politically speaking.”  I noticed, as he said this, that seemed to be almost nervously fingering his cape.

“Be that as it may, my lord, the public has a right to know where its tax dollars are going.”

“Well, normally I’d agree with you,” he said evasively.

“But?”

“But in this case…well, I was afraid…I mean, we were afraid…well, the emperor was afraid…” he trailed off.

“Yes?” I pressed.

“There was concern over a public backlash.”

“I see.”  Politicians, I thought.  They’re all the same.  “May I speak freely?”

“Oh, please do!”  He seemed almost relieved.

“Look, my lord.  These overruns are quite extensive.  They throw the whole imperial budget out of balance.  Two more years of this and we’ll have to raise taxes.  And nothing, my lord, nothing causes public backlash like raising taxes.”

“I never thought about it that way.”  He looked at me closely.  Or didn’t.  I honestly couldn’t tell.  “You know, Doctor Starrkin, you’re good.  You’re very good.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“No, seriously.  I knew I liked you the minute you walked in that door.  ‘This one doesn’t wear riding pants,’ I thought to myself.  That’s when I knew we would get along.”  And he patted his thighs to emphasize his own lack of riding pants.

“I never did care for them.  They make sitting at a desk quite uncomfortable.  And when you’re an accountant, such as myself, you spend an awful lot of time behind a desk.”

“Right?!” he exclaimed cheerfully.  “I mean, I don’t usually sit at a desk, mind you.  But I do spend a lot of time in shuttles.  And those things are cramped enough.  Riding pants would just make it worse.  Plus, I mean, try having a light saber duel in a cape and riding pants.  You don’t know how many Jedi I’ve seen try to whirl round only to get their cape caught on their riding pants.”  He paused, darkly.  “Many a Jedi has died in just this way.”

“Have they?” I asked.

“I mean, I’ve heard.  I’ve heard that many a Jedi have died in just this way.”  He paused again, this time even more darkly than the last.  “Which reminds me.  You’re not a Jedi, are you?”

“Me?  A Jedi?”  I laughed.  “Force, no!”

“Do I take it then, that you’re…not a fan of the Jedi?”

“To put it mildly, my lord.  In my professional opinion, they’ve been a sink on the economy of the Republic for far too long.”

“You mean, the Empire.”

“I mean both, my lord.”

“And how’s that, exactly?”  He seemed genuinely curious.

“Well, it’s like this, my lord.”  I was growing confident.  Now we were in my territory.  “Six generations ago, they applied for tax exemption on religious grounds.  Which, I mean, in theory is fine.  Separation of Church and State and all that.  But, well, they’re not really separate from the State, are they, the Jedi?  I mean, they were originally chartered as a defense force.  Which is a military matter, and therefore a matter of State.  But some clever Jedi figured, ‘Hey, we use the Force.  That’s a religion.  We should re-charter ourselves as a religion.  No taxes!’  So that’s what they did.”

“That’s absolutely fascinating!’ cried Darth Vader.

“Oh, it gets better, my lord!”  I felt like I was floating six inches off the ground.  Which, to be fair, I might have been.  One never knows, when one is in the presence of His Blackness.  “You see, if they had given up their capacity as a defense force and focused entirely on religion, there’d be no problem.  But they didn’t do that.  They kept on ‘defending the Republic’ or ‘defending the Empire.’  But they didn’t pay a dime in taxes.”

“Right?” He might actually have been smiling behind that mask.  “That’s just what I’m on about!”

“Exactly!” I agreed.  “And wouldn’t you know it?  It’s only after they got their tax exemption that they started building all these palaces and shrines and schools and whatnot.  And on some of the choicest property in the Rep…I mean, Empire.  Think of the property tax revenue we’re losing!  Why, just on Coruscant alone…”  I began to calculate the numbers in my head.  But Vader interrupted me.

“Well, I see we’re on the same page here.  So I shall be frank.”

“Wait, your name’s not actually Frank, is it?”

“Huh?  No, it’s…well, nevermind that.  My point is, it’s just for this reason that we decided the Jedi must be liquidated.”

“Liquidated?  You mean, their assets?”  I’m an accountant.  I need specifics.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“In what manner of speaking, precisely.”

“In the manner of speaking where one considers one’s life to be an asset.”

“Ah,” I gasped.  “You mean…exterminated.”

“Oh, don’t act so surprised, Doctor.”

“Surprise has nothing to do with it, my lord.  But ‘liquidation’ is a technical term.  It must refer to assets.  If you want to say that you’re removing the Jedi…from life, as it were, in this case…well, that’s ‘extermination.’  Also a technical term.

“Is it?”

“Indeed it is, my lord.  We even have a special budgetary code for this.  We call it a six-one-seven-B-eight.”

“I see, I see,” mused Vader thoughtfully.  “And is there also a budgetary code for bounty hunting?”  And then he quickly added, “I’m asking for a friend.”

“Bounty hunting,” I thought, ignoring his last comment.  “Yes.  Let me think.  Oh right.  Yeah, that’s an I-G-eight-eight.”

“How ironic,” he laughed darkly.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Or coincidental,” he shrugged.  “I’ve never been really clear on the difference between irony and coincidence.”

“To be honest,” I answered, “neither have I.”

“Good man,” he nodded approvingly.

“But what I am clear on,” I pressed, “is numbers.”

“Bothersome things,” he shook his black behelmed head.

“OK, I think that’s irony,” I said, half to myself.

“How so?”  He seemed genuinely interested.

“Well, my lord.  If I may be so bold?”

“Of course.”

“Well, my lord.  All of your autonomous life-functions are governed by a computer.  With all due respect, you wouldn’t be alive if not for numbers.  So the fact that you find numbers to be – how did you put it? – ‘bothersome things,’ well, that’s just a touch ironic.”

“Oh, very good!”  He clapped his black begloved hands together.  “You.  You’re good, doc.  You’re very good.”

“Thank you, my lord.  But if we could  – “

“Return to the matter at hand?  Yes, of course.”  He paused.  “Ah, but I sense that you do not like it when I finish your sentences for you.”

“Did the Force tell you that?” I asked coldly.

“Was that irony?”

“More sarcasm, my lord.”  And then, thinking better of it, “Respectful sarcasm, of course.”

“Of course.”  This was followed by an awkward silence.  And then, “So.  You think you can help?  With the budget, I mean.”

“Yes, I think so.  I’ll need to see your files though.”

“Naturally.”  And without a word, he caused a filing cabinet in the corner of the office to levitate off the floor and float in front of me.  While still in the air, the top drawer seemed to open of its own accord.  And then a manila folder rose out of it and opened before me.  It was filled with receipts.

“These aren’t the files I’m looing for,” I said, shaking my head.

“These aren’t the files you’re looking for,” he repeated.

“I just said that.”

“Yes, of course you did,” said Vader with a hint of embarrassment.  And then, as if by magic, the folder closed itself and returned to whence it had come.  In it’s place, a new folder arose and opened itself before me.  This, too, was filled with receipts.

“You’re nothing if not thorough, my lord.”  I was genuinely impressed.

“One must be thorough, if one hopes to be a sith lord.”

“A what?” I asked, only half-listening as I perused the receipts.

“A…myth horde?”

“A myth horde,” I repeated, looking up.

“Yes, a myth horde.  You know,” he stammered, “an anthology of traditional semi-fantastic origin and folk tales.”

“I know what a myth horde is,” I sighed.  “But why would you hope to be a – “

“Nevermind.  It’s not important.  What is important,” he said grandly, “is that we get this budget sorted to your liking.”

“Well,” I said, closing the file.  “I don’t think that will be a problem.  We’ll just total up all these receipts and divide them up by trimester and assign them a six-one-seven-B-eight; ‘extermination of tax revenue inefficiencies.”

“You mean by quarter?”

“I mean by trimester.”  I shook my head.  I hated trying to talk shop with laymen.  “The Republic ran quarterly.  But since we’ve become an empire, we’ve moved to a trimester system.  Cuts down on paperwork.”

“I see,” he said in a way that made it clear he didn’t.

“In any case,” I said, returning to the matter at hand, “that will satisfy me as to the cost overruns.”

“Then you’re done with these files?”  He seemed almost giddy.

“I am.”

And no sooner had I said that, did he, with a wave of his black besleeved arm, cause the filing cabinet to fly through the air at great speed and crash against the wall, where it fell to the ground in contorted heap.

“Was that absolutely necessary?” I asked.

“No?  But it was cool, right?”

“Impressive,” I agreed.

“Most impressive,” he added.

“I mean, that was fire!”

“Please don’t mention ‘fire’ around me.”

“Eh?  How’s that?”  Oh no.  What had I said?  My collar suddenly felt very tight around my neck.  Was I just nervous?  Or was that…him?

“Well, it’s just that…”  He shifted his weight uncomfortably.

“It’s OK.  Nevermind.”  I pulled at my collar.

“No, no.  My therapist says its good for me to talk about it.”  Darth Vader has a therapist?  “It’s just…well, my accident…it was in a fire.”

“And yet, you’ve made your office on a homogeneously volcanic planet.  You’re literally surrounded by fire.

“I know!” he exclaimed.  “What a coincidence, right?”

“I mean, I think it’s ironic?

“Is it?”

“Yes?”

“Well, doctor,” he said ominously.  “One thing is painfully clear.”

“And that is, my lord?”

“That neither you nor I have a clear understanding of the difference between irony and coincidence.”

“It does seem that way, my lord,” I said with not a little relief.

“You know who does, though?” he added thoughtfully.

“The Jedi?” I suggested, thinking of the most sage and learnéd men in the galaxy.

“The Jedi?!” he laughed.  “Force, no!  No, the receptionist.  He was a liberal arts major at Republic University.”

“You mean, Imperial University,” I offered.

“I do not.  It was still Republic University when he was there, and that’s what’s on his diploma.  We may yet retcon all diplomas to read ‘Imperial University.’  And there are those who wish to simply nullify all degrees granted under the Ancien Régime.  But that’s short-sighted in my cybernetically enhanced eyes.  I mean, this system runs on bureaucracy.  You can’t just go around wiping out academic degrees like so many Jedi.”  He stopped himself.  “Sorry,” he added.  “Too soon?”

“Hardly, my lord.”

“Yes, well, in any case.  Let’s get the receptionist in here.  He’ll clear this up for us.”

“Very good, my lord,” I agreed.  And he pressed a button on his breastplate which seemed to activate the intercom.

“Cuthbert?” he called softly.  “Can you hear me?  Is this thing working?  Cuthbert?”

“Yes, my lord, I can hear you,” came the tinny voice over the intercom.  He sounded half terrified and half annoyed that his boss still hadn’t quite mastered the intercom.

“Cuthbert,” said Vader.  “Would you be a dear and come down to my office.  The doctor and I have a question for you.”

“Immediately, Lord Vader,” came the hurried reply before the intercom clicked off.

“Right,” said Vader, turning to look at me again.  I think.  “It will be a few minutes for him to traverse The Corridor.  Can I offer you a cup of tea?  Blue-milk?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure?  I can personally recommend the Blue-milk.  It’s imported from Tatooine.  They invented Blue-milk, you know.”

“I’m sure it’s lovely, my lord.  But no, thank you.”

“Suit yourself,” said His Blackness with a shrug.

“But I was wondering about that,” I added.

“About the Blue-milk?”

“Huh?  No.  I mean, yes.  I’ve loads of questions about Blue-milk.  But no, I was wondering about the corridor.  It seems to serve no purpose.  There are no doors or windows save yours at this end, and the one at the other, for reception.  Why have such a long corridor?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes, I’m genuinely curious.”  I was.  To the point where I’d been wanting to ask this question since I walked through the door.

“Well, it’s a bit silly, really.”  And he bashfully rubbed his right foot against his left while fingering his left elbow with his right hand.

“It’s OK,” I said encouragingly.  “You can tell me.”

“Well,” he stammered.  “It makes me feel like I’m back on a Star Destroyer.”

“Does it?”

“Have you ever been on an Imperial Star Destroyer?” he asked proudly.

“Can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”

“Oh, well,” he began with not a little delight.  “They’re just filled with long corridors.  Because they’re so bloody big, you know?  I mean, some of them just go on for-ev-er.  So I guess,” he said, pulling awkwardly at his cape, “it just makes me feel like I’m back aboard one.”  And he looked down at his black bebooted feet.  “It’s silly, I know.”

“Oh, it’s not silly,” I said encouragingly.

“Really?”  He looked up at me, tilting his helmet earnestly to one side.  “You mean it?”

“Of course!” I declared.  “We all need a touch of home now and again.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”  He really did sound relieved.  “I was worried you were going to say it was an unnecessary expenditure or something like that.”

“Yes well…” I trailed off.  I mean, it probably was an unnecessary expenditure, if we’re being honest.  But even though I’m an accountant, I still have a heart.  And well, he seemed so vulnerable in that moment.  So I said:

“Yes, well, I’m sure it’s a function of the topography of the volcano into which this facility has been built.”

“It’s not though,” he said earnestly.  “I mean, between you and me, there’s no need for a corridor of any length.  I just as easily could have built my office adjacent to reception.”

“But I’m sure,” I said very slowly, “it’s just a function of the topography of the volcano into which this facility has been built.”

“Oh, I see!” he exclaimed, catching on.  “Yes, it’s because of the toponomy…

“Topography…”

“Topogrpahy!  Of the mountain…”

“The volcano…”

“The volcano – “  And then this charade was interrupted by the shshing open of the door, through which the receptionist had just entered.  “Ah, Cuthbert!” he said, relieved by the opportunity to change the subject.

“My lord,” said Cuthbert gravely, falling to his knees.

“Cuthbert,” said Darth Vader, deadly and darkly serious.  “I must discuss with you a matter of grave importance.”

“My lard,” stammered Cuthbert, “I…I…”

“Did you just say, ‘my lard?!”  His voice plummeted to a terrifying bass.

“My lord!” cried Cuthbert in terror.  “Lord!  I’m sure I said lord!”

“By the Force, I heard lard,” grumbled The Dark One.  “Did you hear lard, doctor?” he asked, turning to me.

“My lord,” I said nervously.  “I do believe he said, ‘my lord.’  I’m quite sure.”  In fact, he absolutely did say lard.  But the poor boy was so terrified, I could not be help him in this critical moment.

“Are you calling me a liar!?”  He was apoplectic in his Darthness.

“No!  My lord…I…”

“Then what?” he demanded.

“Perhaps, my lord, just maybe, there was a glitch in your auditory perceptors.  I didn’t mean to imply…”  And I fell to my knees in terror, beside the already terrified Cuthbert.

“You meant to imply that my cybernetic implants are anything less than perfect?  Is that what you meant to imply?”  And he levitated himself a full meter off the ground for effect.

“My lord, I simply – “

“Enough!”  And then he started to cackle.  A high-pitched, mechanical whine of a laugh.  “Oh relax, you two.  I’m just having a bit of fun.”  And he lowered himself back down to earth.  Cuthbert and I exchanged furtive glances of relief.  I gingerly rose back to my feet.  Cuthbert did not.

“Dear Cuthbert,” he said pacifically.  “What is the difference between irony and coincidence?”

“My lord?” he answered carefully.

“Irony and coincidence,” repeated Vader.  “What’s the difference?”

“Well, my lord,” began Cuthbert nervously, still on one knee and staring at the floor.

“Oh, get up!”

“Yes, my lord.”  And Cuthbert rose to his feet, though he continued to stare at his boots.  “Well, my lord, irony is when something said or done is the opposite of what is expected.  Like a fire truck itself catching fire.”

“Did he just mention fire?” said Vader, looking darkly at me.

“Whereas coincidence,” hurried on Cuthbert, “is two similar things happening at the same time by chance.  Like if – “

“Don’t make this about fire,” grumbled His Befired Blackness.

“Like if,” continued Cuthbert, “we all showed up today wearing all black.  My lord.”

At which point we all looked around.  We were, in fact, all three of us, wearing nothing but black.

“How ironic!” exclaimed Vader, slapping black belgoved hands against black beleathered thighs.

“Err, yes…my lord,” agreed the receptionist nervously.

“Thank you, Cuthbert.  That will be all,” said Vader casually.  “But know this.  Your parents may rest in peace knowing that your liberal arts degree has at last paid dividends.”

“Oh, my Force!” shrieked Cuthbert.  “Are my parents…are they…dead?”

“What?” barked Vader.  “No, of course not!  Why would you think that?”  He paused, looking up at the ceiling.  “Oh!  Because I said ‘rest in peace’?  Sorry, I meant to say, ‘they may rest assured.’  Sorry.  No, really.  I’ve always had trouble with idioms.  Right, doctor?”  He turned to face me.  “Liquidate.  Exterminate.  Rest in peace.  Rest assured.  Who can keep these things straight?  Well,” he said, half to himself.  “That’s why we keep you liberal arts guys around.  Am I right, doctor?”

“Most assuredly, my lord.”

“Very well then.”  And then turning back to the receptionist, “Be gone with you now, Cuthbert.”

“My lord,” said Cuthbert, bowing deeply before beating a hasty retreat.

“Well now, doctor,” he said to me after the door had shshed closed.  “I trust you are satisfied as to my cost overruns?”

“As to the overruns,” I answered, “I am.  But as for…the Project – “

“Yes, yes,” he cut me off dismissively.  “We can’t write that into the budget just yet.  It’s highly classified.  Top secret, you know.  Top top secret, even.”

“Top top secret?” I questioned.  “Is that even a – “

“A thing?  Yes, I’m afraid it is.”

“Well, it may well be, my lord.  But it still needs to be in the Imperial Budget,” I said firmly.  “Perhaps if you could enlighten me as to the nature of the project, I could help you devise an appropriate budget code for it.”

“Well, it’s quite simple really,” began Vader proudly.  “It’s a…hang on.  This is off the record, right?”

“It is now.”

“Gooood.  Gooood.”  And I swear he winked at me behind his tinted eye-pieces, in acknowledgement of his mocking of the Emperor’s favorite affirmation.  “Well, simply put, the Project is a roughly moon-sized space station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet.”

“I see, I see,” I said encouragingly.  “And the purpose of this space station?”

“Fear.”  He spoke this single word with grave ominousity.

“Fear,” I repeated.  “You must understand, Lord Vader, I cannot write ‘Fear’ into the Imperial budget.”

“Fear,” he mused to himself.  “Fear will keep the local systems in line.  Fear of this battle station.”

“Ah, you said ‘keep the local systems in line,’ did you?”  My budgetary ears were pricked.  “I can work with that.  Domestic tranquility, common defense, that sort of thing.”

“Well it’s really more about – “

“No, no.  It’s best if you don’t speak, my lord,” I said waving him off, consumed by thoughts of numbers, percentages and line items.  “Now, tell me, my lord.  Will this ‘battle station,’ as you call it, will it be a one-off, or do you expect this is the first in a series of ‘battle stations’?”

“Would it not be better if we said ‘space station’ instead of ‘battle station’?”  He was trying to be helpful.  It was almost cute.

“No, certainly not,” I said firmly.  “You see, ‘space station’ sounds like science.  We’ll never get that through the Senate.  No, ‘battle station’ is better.  They never vote against military spending.”

“Doc,” he nearly cooed mechanically.  “You.  You’re good!”

“Yes, yes,” I waved him off.  “I’m not the AEIOU for nothing.  But please, answer the question.  Is it a one-off?”

“Oh, no,” answered His Blackness proudly.  “I expect we shall build at least three.  Well, to be fair, it’s a long term project.  I may only live to see the first two.  But, if I had to guess, at least three.”

“No, that’s good.  You see, one-off’s are hard to justify.  They seem like an extravagance.  But if this is to be a long-term, ongoing sort of thing, then we can write that into the budget almost as a permanent line item.”

“Yes, I see,” said His Darthness with faux confidence.

“Quite,” I agreed casually.  “In any case, Lord Vader, I think I’m done here.  I may yet need to review further documents.  But if you could have Cuthbert – “

“Yes, of course.  Anything you need,” he agreed eagerly.

“Right.  Well, then.  I guess I’ll be on my way.”

“Right.  I guess so,” answered Vader awkwardly.  “Sorry, I’m not good with goodbyes.”

“Me neither,” I muttered with equal awkwardness.

“Uh, take care of yourself?  I guess…it’s what your best at?”  He shook his head.  “Sorry, that sounded cold.”

“It’s fine,” I shrugged.  “Uh…may the Force be with you?”

“It already is?”  This was growing more awkward by the moment.

“Yes, of course it is.  I mean, you’re a…you’re a myth horde?”

“A myth horde,” he agreed.  “That’s right.”

“Fine, fine.  So, uh, I’ll just, uh…” And I gestured towards the door over my shoulder with my thumb.

“Uh, allow me to show you out?” offered Vader with awkward grace.

“As you wish.”

“Ah, well, uh, here you are,” he said pointing towards the door, without actually moving his feet so much as a centimeter.

“Right.  By then.”

“Bye,” said His Lordship the Black Darth Vader with a half-wave.  At which point, I backed out through the gently shshing door.  And when, finally, it closed behind me, I exhaled a long, sweet, exhalation.  Force, I thought, that was awkward.

I made my way back down the long corridor.  I waved to Cuthbert as I passed through reception, but he was too busy enjoying the act of respiration to notice me.  From there, I marched out to the landing platform and up the ramp into the shuttle cockpit, where Simon the pilot was smoking a cigarette.

“Didn’t expect to see you again, gov,” he said casually.

“Didn’t expect to see me again…so soon, you mean,” I corrected him.

“Err, yeah.  Sufmin’ like that, gov.”

“Nevermind,” I said, taking my seat.  “Home, James.  And don’t spare the horses.”

“It’s Simon, gov.  And horses?”

“Banthas,” I winced.  “Home, Simon.  And don’t spare the banthas.”

I never was much good with idioms.

The Federalist Project – #6

The Federalist Project
Federalist No. 6

Hamilton

14 November, 1787

After the last four essays written by Jay, we return now to Hamilton.  Before diving in, I want to make a few short observations vis-à-vis their styles.  H has come down to us through history – and now again via Broadway – as the more gifted stylist of the two.  Indeed, thanks to the musical, he may even be surpassing Jefferson as the most gifted stylist of the age; at least in the popular imagination.  And by and large, I’ve so far found this to be true.

And yet.  And yet, he is wordy.  Wordy in that Mozartian “too many notes” kind of way.  It’s fantastic, it’s fun and, at times, over the top.  But there as a tightness to J’s writing, a sparseness, if such a thing could be said about the Greco-Latin influenced periodic prose of the 18th century.  He wasted no words, in my opinion.  Whereas H erects whole paragraphs of historical examples, which, really, we could probably live without.  J is more efficient.  H burns brighter.

This, at least, is my opinion after reading a mere six essays (2 H, 4 J).  In any case, Fed 6 sees H resuming J’s last argument.  Namely, that proximity without alliance breeds resentment and eventually conflict; and that commerce is no sure check against this.  H also begins to offer us his (rather dark, I dare say) views on human nature, as we shall soon see.  As in my previous essay, we will proceed through J’s arguments paragraph by paragraph, beginning with the first:

In Paragraph One, H reminds the reader where we left off before stating his purpose for this essay:

  • “The three last numbers of this Paper have been dedicated to an enumeration of the dangers to which we should be exposed, in a state of disunion, from the arms and arts of foreign nations.”
    • H picks up where J left off.
    • “arts and arms” is a nice alliteration.
    • H makes no mention in the initial opening of ‘confederacy’ or ‘States,’ but goes straight to ‘disunion,’ replacing J’s positive word with a negative.
  • “I shall now proceed to delineate dangers of a different, and, perhaps, still more alarming kind, those which will in all probability flow from dissentions between States themselves, and from domestic factions and convulsions.”
    • The second sentence marks H’s first reference to the ‘States’ as well as to that of ‘faction.’
    • Again, we may note the alliteration: ‘delineate dangers…different…dissentions…domestic.’
  • “These have been already in some instances slightly anticipated, but they deserve a more particular and more full investigation.”
    • H announces the purpose of this essay.

 

Paragraph Two is not so much a statement or defense of H’s own views as an attack on those of the opposition:

  • “A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt, that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other.”
    • ‘A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations…’ – H immediately undercuts the rationality of the opposition.
    • H is rhetorically clever here. He presents the argument of the opposition, but inverts it.  This argument, if made by an opponent, would be negative; in other words, he would say that these things would not  But by hanging the argument off a doubt clause (‘doubt that…’), he allows himself to use their words in a positive construction – to say that these things would happen.
  • “To presume a want of motives for such contests, as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious.”
    • An indictment of human nature. Previously, J implied these things, either by historical example or by thought experiment, but never was he so direct; never did he describe ‘men’ so bluntly.
  • “To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.”
    • Although he will soon dive into (many) specific examples, H paints here with the broadest possible brush.
    • ‘uniform course of human events,’ ‘accumulated experience of ages’ – H is much stronger in his characterizations than J. Where the latter often set out in a conciliatory tone, often speaking of things upon which all men can readily agree (I paraphrase), H is more combative.  History is the evidence – all of history – and those who are blind to it either cannot or will not see.”
    • ‘set at defiance’ – those who think this way are not merely wrong or misguided, they actively stand in the face of and challenge all available (and obvious) proof; no better than political Don Quixotes, tilting at historical – or present – Utopian windmills.

 

H addresses, in Paragraph Three, the ‘causes of hostility among nations’ in broad and general terms:

  • “The causes of hostility among nations are innumerable. These are some which have a general and almost constant operation upon the collective bodies of society.”
    • H breaks them down into three categories. The first:
      • “The love of power or the desire of preeminence and dominion.”
        • Further described as “the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety.”
      • The second is described is having “a more circumscribed, though an equally operative influence, within their spheres”:
        • “The rivalships and competitions of commerce between commercial nations.”
      • The third group is comprised of “others, not less numerous than either of the former, which take their origin intirely in private passions.”
        • “In the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members.”
      • To this last group, he adds the following commentary:
        • “Men of this class, whether the favourites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence they possessed; and assuming the pretext of some public motive, have not scrupled to sacrifice the national tranquility to personal advantage, or personal gratification.”
      • We may sum up in this way. The first group is ascribed to collective bodies of society’ and the second to ‘commercial nations.’  These are offered as simple facts with no need of further explanation.  The third group is ascribed to ‘private persons’ and ‘men of this class’ [italics mine].  Only here dos H offer any sort of commentary, and again, it is that of his negative view of human nature, though more implicit here than in ¶2.  In the former, he says this is how men are; here hey says, this is what they do.
      • One might argue that he gives added rhetorical weight to his description of the third class by his use of assonance (‘in’): ‘intirely in,’ ‘inenmities, interests…individuals…in…

 

From Paragraphs Four, Five and Six, no lengthy quotations need be given; an overview will suffice.  In each case, H cites, in detail, the historical examples of two well-known individuals.  In ¶4, it is the ‘celebrated Pericles.’  What is worth noting here, is that as far as his contemporary Thucydides was concerned, P was a heroic figure and represented the best that Athenian democracy had to offer.  But we know that the Founders – especially those of the Federalist bent (amongst whom H must be counted) – were not fans of direct democracy (the Athenian model), preferring rather the Roman republican model.  It is also worth noting that he draws his examples, not from Thucydides, but from Plutarch, who wrote several hundred years later.  Even for Plutarch, P was a noble figure.  Yet it is in his writings that the unflattering examples are be taken.  The only negative to be found in Thucydides is the plague at Athens, which was an unintended consequence of an otherwise sound policy, rather than avarice, lust for power or uxoriousness – the examples here given.
In ¶‘s Five and Six, the example is Henry VIII’s minster Cardinal Wolsey, where the nature of the examples given are much the same as those supplied for P.  I hazard the supposition that this example – that of an Englishman – was chosen with care, in that it would be wholly familiar to an American audience.  In terms of history, in that it is not so distant.  And by ethnicity, in that the English are most near to the Americans in terms of culture, language, &c.  Thus, it is in the English, that the Americans are most likely to see themselves.
In any case, by choosing two examples so different from one another – at least superficially: different cultures, languages, religions, systems of government, and separated by over 1,000 years – he demonstrates the universality of (flawed) human nature.

 

In Paragraph Seven, H notes that it is hardly necessary to give further examples from history, which abounds with them.  He then closes by supplying a contemporary example:

  • “To multiply examples of the agency of personal considerations in the production of great national events, either foreign or domestic, according to their direction would be an unnecessary waste of time.”
    • Far be it from me to criticize the great H, but for one concerned with wasting time, he is at no want for a lack of verbiage, as this ¶ – and the preceding three – show.
  • “Those who have but a superficial acquaintance with the sources from which they are to be drawn will themselves recollect a variety of instances; and those who have a tolerable knowledge of human nature will not stand in need of such lights, to form their opinion either of the reality or extent of that agency.”
    • A clever bit of antithesis, for who would openly avow themselves as being ignorant both of history and of human nature? Thus, even his enemies must be with him on this point, or else declare themselves ignorant at best, fools at worst.
    • ‘Superficial acquaintance’ can hardly be a casual choice of words. Indeed, it stands in direct contrast with the deep knowledge of history just demonstrated by H.
  • “Perhaps however a reference, tending to illustrate the general principle, may with propriety be made to a case which has lately happened among ourselves. If SHAYS had not been a desperate debtor it is much to be doubted whether Massachusetts would have been plunged into a civil war.”
    • H cleverly cloaks his argument in the garment of detached rationality: “Perhaps…a reference…may with propriety me made…”. Yet, I assume it had – or, at least, that H meant for it to have – a rather different effect.  Whereas the examples of Pericles and Wolsey are relatively ancient history, Shay’s Rebellion is nothing short of current events (1786-7).  As such, it would almost certainly play upon the emptions of the readership in ways that the foregoing could not possibly.  Ending the paragraph with the highly charged words ‘civil war’ only hammers it home that much harder.

 

To this point, H has largely confined himself to arguing against the notion that neighboring confederacies would be naturally friendly towards one another.  In Paragraph Eight, he begins to rebut the idea that commercial relations are a guarantor of piece:

  • “But notwithstanding the concurring testimony of experience, in this particular, there are still to be found visionary, or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the States, though dismembered and alienated from each other.”
    • ‘visionary’ – to our modern eyes, this word has only a positive connotation. Was it so in 1787, or could it also be negative?  If not, then it is sharply ironic.  Thus, ‘designing’ either reinforces it, or else stands in contrast to highlight the irony.
    • ‘perpetual peace’ – a nice bit of alliteration.
    • ‘dismembered – calls to mind the idea dating at least to the middle ages, and still then current – I believe – of the body politic as a literal body, with the executive as head, military as arms, &c. Thus, to ‘dismember’ the Union is to literally take apart a very real body.
  • “The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men and to extinguish those inflammable humours which have so often kindled into wars.”
    • We can perhaps agree with H, from the perspective of our own age of rampant and barely-checked capitalism, that commerce does little to ‘soften the manners of men.’
    • By identifying the ‘humours’ as ‘inflammable,’ H highlights the implied/inherent impossibility of their extinguishment.
    • We should also note the assonance: manners of men,’ ‘softenso often.’
  • “Commercial republics, like ours, will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other [continues the opposition argument]. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and accord.”
    • Current history would seem to agree with that which H finds so laughable.  The European Union would be a prime example; or the US and Canada; or the US & Europe, &c.  But of course this is all post 1945, and can fairly be labeled as a “small sample size.”  And where we have engaged in war post 1945, it has been with nations who have not been our economic partners; e.g. Vietnam, Iraq, &c.  But perhaps this is a superficial analysis on my part.  In any case, I must conclude, for myself at least, that the jury is still out on this question.
    • Note: I wrote the above comments before President Trump instituted his tariffs against Canada, and – for the moment, at least – seems to have endangered our relationship with that country. But even still, a war between is must still be considered unfathomable.

 

Paragraph Nine continues the theme, arguing that commercial interests under any form of government are no guarantee of security because men are men:

  • “Is it not (we may ask these projectors in politics) the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit?”
    • With this, H opens a series of rhetorical questions which make up ¶9. But in this first one, he casts the (implicitly) naïve argument of the opposition.  All that follow are his own counter-arguments.
  • “If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it? Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions and immediate interests have a more active and imperious controul [sic] over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice?”
    • This passage marked by M.
    • Simply a recasting of his previous arguments in the form of a rhetorical question.
  • “Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter?  Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships and desires of unjust acquisition that affect nations as well as kings?  Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities?”
    • H gives further depth and color to his view of human nature. It is perhaps striking to our modern eye – so fond of democracy – to see ‘the people’ painted with the same brush as monarchies and kings.  We will see how H develops his views in the coming essays, but it is diffiuclt here not to see that for H, the constitution is not so much an expression of human nature as a check against it.
  • “Is it not well known that their [popular assemblies’] determinations are often governed by a few individuals, in whom they place confidence, and are of course liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals? Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war?”
    • This passage marked by M.
    • ‘…governed by a few individuals, in whom they place confidence…’ – It is impossible for anyone even ‘superficially acquainted’ with history not to see in this a direct allusion to the already cited example Pericles. Nor would it be lost on anyone with such a ‘superficial acquaintance’ with the history, that Athens was very much a commercial empire; in a way that Sparta, e.g., was not.
  • “Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power and glory?”
    • An accusation that would later be leveled against the Founders themselves.
  • “Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives, since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned b[y] the cupidity of territory or dominion?”
    • This passage marked by M.
    • I presume he speaks of the post-Columbian period and wars in and about the New World. But for me, it is hard to separate ‘commercial motives’ from those of ‘cupidity of territory or dominion,’ as the latter necessarily yields the former, whether in natural resources or human.
  • “Has not the spirit of commerce in many instances administered new incentives to the appetite both for the one and for the other?”
    • The ‘appetite’ always was – is and will be – present, as an inherent feature of human nature. ‘Commerce” simply gives it a new avenue for expression.
  • “Let experience the least fallible guide of human opinions be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries.”
    • After a series of 12 rhetorical questions, H closes with the first and only statement of the ¶. By calling on ‘experience’ to answer these questions, he yields to a higher authority than himself, and one which is inherently harder for his opposition to gainsay.

 

In Paragraphs 10-14, H steps through a series of historical examples to show that commercial nations are as prone to war as any other.  I do not think much value is to be added to this analysis by quoting them in their entirety.  That said, M marked them out as being of special value, at least to him.  Therefore, a brief overview:

  • ¶10-11: Athens and Sparta; Carthage and Rome. H identifies Athens and Carthage as ‘commercial Republics’ and as instigators of the Peloponnesian war and the Punic wars respectively.  He also notes that both were ultimately defeated in those wars.  Special mention is made of Hannibal and Scipio, the generals of Carthage and Rome respectively.  No mention is here made of Pericles or any other Athenian general, nor of Leonidas or any other Spartan.
  • ¶12: The example is of Venice, which, H notes, ‘figured more than once in wars of ambition.’ He concludes by noting that Pope Julius II established a league against them which ultimately dealt a ‘deadly blow to the power and pride of that haughty Republic.’
  • ¶13: H here cites the Provinces of Holland as taking ‘a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe.’ He notes their ‘furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea’ and that they were ‘among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Lewis [sic] XIV.’
  • ¶14: As in ¶4-6, H’s final example is that of England, where, he notes, ‘the representatives of the people compose one branch of the national legislature.’ I give here the last two sentences in full, as they serve as a succinct summary of these five paragraphs wholly:
    • “Commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country. Few nations, nevertheless, have been more frequently engaged in war; and the wars, in which that Kingdom has been engaged, have in numerous instances proceeded from the people.”
      • We should note the verb tense in the final main clause, for H surely chose this with care. The use of the present perfect (‘has been engaged’) shows that this is still very much the current state of affairs with England; and by extension, would be the state of affairs for America if the proponents of disunion were to win out.  Although he begins in the 5th century B.C., he, after stepping nimbly through the ages, ends in the present day.  In so doing, he shows again that human nature – his view of it – has been constant for at least 2,300 years.

 

In Paragraph 15, H argues that representative governments can, in fact, be worse than monarchies:

  • “There have been, if I may so express it, almost as many popular as royal wars. The cries of the nation and the importunities of their representatives have, upon various occasions, dragged their monarchy into war, or continued them in contrary to their inclinations, and, sometimes, contrary to the real interest of the State.”
    • The people are as dangerous – sometimes more dangerous – than a person, argues H. he goes on to cite ‘that memorable struggle, between the rival Houses of Austria and Bourbon which so long kept Europe in a flame…’  He notes further that ‘the antipathies of the English against the French, seconding the ambition, or rather the avarice of a favorite leader [the Duke of Marlborough (H’s note)] protracted the war beyond the limits marked out by sound policy and for a considerable time in opposition to the views of the Court.’

 

H clarifies his position, in Paragraph 16, that commercial nations are prone to war:

  • “The wars of these two last mentioned nations have in great measure grown out of commercial considerations – The desire of supplanting and the fear of being supplanted either in particular branches of traffic or in the general advantages of trade and navigation; and sometimes even the more culpable desire of sharing in the commerce of other nations without their consent.”
    • In the foregoing paragraphs, H contented himself with the simple recounting of historical examples. Here, finally, he gives the reasons why ‘commercial States’ are as prone to war as any other; if not more prone.
    • ‘sharing in the commerce of other nations without their consent’ – Presumably, H is referring, at least in part, to smuggling; something which the Americans themselves were not entirely innocent of. While I am not sure to what degree, if any, smuggling was going on in 1787, I seem to recall that not long before, the colonists were running a tidy smuggling racket in molasses from the West Indies; and that this was more or less common knowledge.  Assuming I have that right, we might assume that this last comment would ring a little louder in the ears of the readership.

 

We may also deal with Paragraph 17 in a summary fashion.  Here, H gives the examples of ‘the last war but two between Britain and Spain.,’  The gist is that ‘illicit trade with the Spanish main’ on the part of the British led to disproportionately harsh reprisals by the Spanish which led to harsher again reprisals by the British; and ultimately war.  Within this, there are two passages worth giving in full:

  • “…and by the usual progress of a spirit of resentment, the innocent were after a while confounded with the guilty in indiscriminate punishment.”
    • The key phrase here is ‘usual progress.’ And with it, just a little more light is shed on H’s conception of human nature.
  • “…and a war ensued, which in its consequences overthrew all the alliances that but twenty years before had been formed, with sanguine expectations of the most beneficial fruits.”
    • This stands as parallel to – or forewarning of – the suggested alliances that would exist between confederacies or individual States should disunion occur.

 

In Paragraph 18, H begins to draw together his ultimate conclusion.  In this paragraph, he invites the reader to agree with him through another series of rhetorical questions:

  • “From this summary of what has taken place in other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own, what reason can we have to confide in those reveries, which would seduce us into an expectation of peace and cordiality between the members of the present confederacy, in a state of separation?”
    • H’s first rhetorical question – in this series of three, which make up the paragraph – is narrow, as its focus is solely on the examples of ‘other countries, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own.” He expands on this in the next…
  • “Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape?”
    • H broadens the scope of his rhetorical interrogation by moving beyond ‘other nations, whose situations have borne the nearest resemblance to our own,’ to now include ‘society in every shape.’
    • The choice of words, so freighted with disdain, are striking in their depiction of his view of human nature and any and all resultant ‘societies.’ These words – ‘fallacy and extravagance,’ ‘idle theories,’ ‘imperfections, weaknesses and evils’ – are no doubt calculated to arrest not only the intellectual attention of the reader, but indeed his emotional attention.
  • “Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the inhabitants of the glove, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?”
    • Although given in question form, H in fact leaves no room to question his analysis. The reader is not invited to consider H’s views and then, even if reluctantly, to agree with him.  The analysis is given as fact.  The question, really, for the reader to consider, is weather they will agree with H on what to do about it.  By ending this paragraph with a rhetorical question, the reader is allowed to reach the right conclusion – H’s conclusion – ‘on his own.’
    • H cleverly paints the opposition’s picture in Utopian terms. Both H and any informed reader would know the Greek origin of the word ‘Utopia’, which means “no place.”  In other words, it is a fantasy, a ‘deceitful dream’ which can not possibly exist.  This is the effect of closing the ¶ with the words ‘happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue.’

 

Paragraph 19 serves as the answer to the rhetorical questions offered in the preceding ¶:

  • “Let the point of extreme depression to which our national dignity and credit has sunk – le the inconveniences felt every where from a lax and ill administration of government – let the revolt of a part of the State of North Carolina – the late menacing disturbances in Pennsylvania and the actual insurrections and rebellions in Massachusetts declare!”
    • H now answers his rhetorical questions with a series of exclamatory 3rd person imperatives.
    • My history is too weak to know to what he refers in NC; PA, I thought, was a reference to the “Whiskey Rebellion.” But that is dated 1791-4 and this essay 1787; so again I stand in ignorance.  MA almost certainly refers to the aforementioned “Shays’ Rebellion.”  In any case, the point is clearly and ably made.  There is already violent discord among commercially connected neighbors.  The opposition cannot even pretend to current state of tranquility.

 

Paragraph 20 is the final paragraph of this essay.  In it, H states once more his view of human nature before giving his proposed solution to the problem via a quotation:

  • “So far is the general sense of mankind from corresponding with the tenets of those, who endeavor to lull asleep our apprehensions of discord and hostility between the States, in the even of disunion, that it has from long observation of the progress of society become a sort of axiom in politics, that vicinity, or nearness of situation, constitutes nations natural enemies.”
    • In this long periodic sentence, H once again makes mention of the nature of man (‘the sense of mankind’), before briefly outlining the opposing argument, and then finally disposing of it by noting that his own position has ‘become a sort of axiom in politics.’
    • We should also note the assonance of the repeated N’s in his final four words: ‘constitutes nations natural en’ We might even fancy that this gives the closing a strong negative sound, as in ‘No!’
  • “An intelligent writer expresses himself on the subject to this effect – ‘NEIGHBORING NATIONS (say they) are natural ENEMIES of each other, unless their common weakness forces them to league in a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy, which disposes States to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors.’1 This passage, at the same time points out the EVIL and suggest the REMEDY.”
    • H, once again, stakes for himself the position of the ‘intelligent’ man. But by giving his own position in the words of another, he reinforces it with a further degree of authority.
    • His final sentence states succinctly what he has, by now, already stated at (great) length, many times over. Namely that the problem is clear.  Equally clear, is the course to be taken.

 

The full text of Federalist No.6 can be found here.

  1. The quotation, per H’s own citation: Vide Principes des Negotiations, par L’Abbe de Malby. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
10 June, 2018

Right, so I’ll just carry on writing about dead people then, shall I?  I mean, Anthony Bourdain, man.  Look, I’d be lying if I said I was a huge fan of this guy or that I’m taking his death pretty hard.  I mean, he’s not Dio.  When Dio died, I wore the same black Dio shirt every day for a week.  This is not on that level.  And yet.

And yet, the guy certainly had an impact on my life.  What I mean is, cooking is very central to my life; to who I am, I think.  And he changed the way I think about cooking.  Maybe not so much to the point that I’d say he’s a major influence on me.  But I think I’d say he was part of a constellation.

Let’s take a ride in the Way-Back Machine.  Obviously I’ve been cooking for myself ever since I moved out of my parents’ house.  But I didn’t really start to think about cooking until Jared and I moved into our apartment on Orchard Street.  That’s when I started experimenting.  That’s when I started picking Jared’s brain.  That’s when I started taking recipes from my mom and discussing ideas with my dad.  That’s when I started listening to chefs and food writers on NPR.  And that’s when I read Kitchen Confidential.

In the immediate wake of Bourdain’s death, the big takeaway from his breakthrough book seems to be his writing style and the way he opened people’s eyes to the theretofore hidden world of professional kitchens; the culture, the way of life, the language, the filth, the sounds, the fun, the work, and yeah, the food.

But that wasn’t my big takeaway.  It wasn’t Jared’s either.  For Jared, it was the idea of montre au beurre.  Basically, the idea that it’s physical impossible to use too much butter.  To which I say, Amen.  But for me, the big takeaway was this: you can do a lot with a little.

He has this part in the book where he goes to work at an Italian restaurant.  And he talks about how he was educated in the French style, where everything is a big deal, everything is a process, everything has a bunch of ingredients.  And then he gets to this Italian joint, and they’re making dishes with like three ingredients and they’re incredible.  But the key is, everything has got to be good.  It’s gotta be fresh, high quality.

But this idea that you can make the most amazing pasta pomodoro with just spaghetti, tomatoes and basil – that was new.  And this was before I met Vinny, before I ever tasted his mom’s red sauce.  But it’s something me and Vin talk about all the time.  It was the guiding principle last time I was in, when he took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

We bought some sausage from a butcher.  We bought some nice bread from the bakery.  We looked at the produce in the market.  And then we – well, he, really – made a very excellent and very simple dinner.  And it was just, I mean, you guys, you don’t know what you’re missing.  The kid is naturally gifted in the kitchen, in a way that I am most certainly not.

But we have the same philosophy.  The key ingredient is love.  And that’s something that Bourdain was selling too.  That when people put their heart into their food, it’s only ever always good.

Something else stood out from that chapter about the Italian restaurant.  It was that you can always learn new things.  Like I said, the guy had been classically (i.e. French) trained.  And for a long time, that was the way; everything else was second rate.  But he went into that gig willing to put that attitude aside, ready to soak up what new information they had to offer.

Which is also something I do.  I do that in all walks of life; or I try to.  I’ve written about that before.  Trying to learn everything I can from Murphy about not just his job, but the whole engineering business he works in.  Trying to learn all I could about economics from that guy Christian who lived here for a few months.  About psychology and the practice of social work from Josh and Jared.  Learn anything you can from whomever you can.

And that’s true in the kitchen too.  I love watching other people cook, love asking them questions.  Joschka and I do that now.  We’re always sharing techniques, recipes, new information.  And it never gets old.1

So maybe I didn’t learn any dishes from Bourdain.  I have only one of his recipes in my little app.  It’s for a beouf bourgignon.  And I’ve never actually made it.  But my approach, my philosophy; a lot of that comes from him.  Not all of it, but a lot of it.

Something else hit me too, when I learned of his death.  And this had nothing to do with cooking.  No, what hit me was, it took me back to that apartment on Orchard Street.  One day, Jared’s copy of Kitchen Confidential showed up in the bathroom.  At first, I’d just read a chapter here and a chapter there.  But I quickly realized, holy shit, this guy is a fun writer!   And before long, I’d read the whole book.

All of it.  In that bathroom.  And it took me back to that time, to that place.  And maybe it’s a funny thing to say, but you know what?  I kinda fucking loved that bathroom.  That was my favorite bathroom I’ve ever had.  Is that even a thing?  Am I the only person who has a favorite bathroom?

Like, there’s two kinds of people.  People who read in the bathroom and people who don’t.  And you know immediately who’s who when you go over someone’s house for the first time.  Because that’s when you see if they have books and magazines in there or they don’t.

And to all you people who don’t: What’s up with that?  No, really.  What is actually up with that?2

Anyway, we always had books and magazines on the windowsill across from the terlit.  And that’s where Kitchen Confidential showed up in my life.  On that windowsill.  Like, I can still see it, you know?  It was almost as if whoever designed that building, intentionally made that windowsill just big enough for books and magazines.  I say ‘almost as if’ because it was a tenement building, and I wonder now if it was even originally built with bathrooms in every apartment.

And speaking of windowsills, I remember also how when we first moved in, the other window – the one at the far end of the bathroom – would leak when it rained.  I mean, sheets of water coming through, you guys.  Which, yeah, classic Chinatown.  But also, can we get that fixed?  I feel they took their sweet time fixing that.  Because classic Chinatown.

And the shower was spacious, which was nice at the time, and nicer now when my current shower/tub doesn’t even have a curtain.  OK, sidenote.  This is like a thing in Germany.  Some people just don’t have shower curtains.  Which means you need to sit down in the tub and “shower” by holding the showerhead the whole damn time.  Honestly, it takes all the joy out of it.  It’s like work now.  Anyway.

But it was a funny bathroom.  Like the kitchen in that apartment, it was very long and very narrow.  I believe the technical term is ‘railroad kitchen.’  Well, I guess it was a ‘railroad bathroom’ too.  But the point is, it was a great room to spend time in.  It was a great room to read in.

I loved that kitchen too.  We had a chopping block set up opposite the counter.  And the place was so narrow, that you could just pivot on your heels and work both spaces at the same time.  Everything was at your finger tips.  And you could just create.  With a glass of wine and some music.  It was a kitchen, a studio and a lounge, all in one.  I miss that kitchen.

And that apartment.  That apartment where, one year, after Jared’s birthday, he was so drunk that Rob had to literally carry him up the stairs.  That apartment where, every year on Rob’s birthday, he would come over and the three of us would drink a bottle of scotch.  That apartment where Jared and I watched four seasons of Dr. Who and grumbled the whole time about how David Tennant was no Christopher Eccleston.  That apartment where we had a big wooden bookshelf in the living room, overflowing with tomes.  Where Jared and I would drunkenly watch old WCW matches on VHS and marvel at how Dean Malenko could carry any nobody you like to the greatest match you’ve ever seen; where we’d watch Bret Hart fight Ricky Steamboat again and again; where we’d sit on the couch with a glass of scotch and just talk.

That apartment where within three days of meeting her, Charlotte was sleeping on my couch; and that was just the beginning of a story that’s still running.  Where Niki and me would cook English food, get drunk and watch Sherlock.  That apartment where I spent all of Hurricane Sandy alone with a bottle of Tullamore Dew.  Where I wrote my thesis.  And where, not for nothing, I had a weeklong fling with a 20-year-old French smokeshow.

That apartment from where all the best Chinese food was just around the corner.  And on the way to where, after a morning of reading Homer with Daitz, I’d stop by Prosperity Dumpling and grab five pork-&-chives for a buck.  (Talk about things I miss!)  That apartment where I spent the last years of my twenties and the first of my thirties.  Where I once tried baking a brioche without a mixer, so Jared, Rob and I just passed the bowl around for hours, taking turns mixing with a wooden spoon until we couldn’t feel our arms anymore.

That apartment I’d walk home to every day after work, all the way from 31st between 6th and 7th, watching the city change from Midtown to Downtown to Chinatown.  Where you could always catch the D, on-time, in all its express, 35 minutes to One-Six-One and Yankee Stadium glory.  Getting out at Grand Street – never missing my stop, thank you very much – after falling asleep on the way home from one of Amber’s backyard bashes.

Walking the ten minutes from that apartment to Katz’ Deli for a Matzah-ball soup when I was sick.  Walking over the Williamsburg bridge for a night out at Duffs or for a bit of day-drinking with Niki.  That apartment where I taught myself French, where I would spend countless evenings laying in bed, in the dark, listening to Montréal Canadiens games on the radio, “studying” la langue française.

That apartment where, one Sunday afternoon, I sat down in the black leather easy-chair I had in my room, and started watching The Walking Dead; I never did get out out of that chair that day.  That apartment where, after a rough breakup, I watched Fawlty Towers and every single episode of all nine seasons the X-Files; in like three months.  Where after passing my Greek reading comps, I watched every single episode of all of the Star Treks.3  And where, while studying for my Greek reading comps, I listened to John Sterling call Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit on the radio.4

That apartment where, really for the first time, I started to write my own music.  Where Justin would come over and write music with Jared.  That apartment where I would come home drunk from something, where Jared would come home drunk from something else, and we would just drunkenly listen to Dio.  And really, is there anything better?

That apartment we shared with Chutzpah the Mouse.  That apartment from where Jared and I would go around the corner to Lolita, where our bartender friend Ally would pour us a shit-ton of whiskey and then round the bill off to $20.

The last time & place I lived with my best friend, and my last apartment in New York fucking City.  That apartment.

All this and more came flooding back to me, when I read about Anthony Bourdain’s death, when I remembered reading Kitchen Confidential in that bathroom…

So, changing gears, can I just say, Fuck Nazis?  And also fuck cancer.  Because always fuck cancer.  But also, I think it’s important to say, from time to time, fuck Nazis.  So say it with me now.  Ready?  1, 2, 3, FUCK NAZIS!  Good job, you guys.

So the reason I mention all this is, two weeks ago I went to my first ever protest-march-whatsit.  Here, the word is Demo; short for Demonstration, obviously.  Which I guess now is a German word.  But anyway, I did that.  Which, also, very late shoutout to my boss-ass bitch5 of a mom who went all the way down to DC for the Women’s March, back whenever that was.  Respect.  Well, now, finally, I’ve gotten in on the fun.

First some backstory.  Here in Germany, the nationalist, right wing, generally racist party is the AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland).  And those cunts – I use the word in solidarity with Sam Bee – won 13% of the vote in the last election and now have seats in the Bundestag, the Parliament.  Gross.6

Anyway, the AfD had planned a big rally in Berlin two Sundays ago.  Not of actual Berliners, mind you.  You couldn’t find enough AfDers in this town to have a proper rally.  Because we’re7 awesome.  But they planned a rally.  And they actually paid to bus and train people in from all over Germany for it.  And they were all, “We’re gonna have ten thousand people!”  Well, they managed five thousand.  So, haha, fuck you, cunts.

Well so, Berlin was like, “Not in our backyard, bitches.”  And there were all sorts of counter-rallies planned.  And in glorious typical Berlin fashion, the biggest counter-rally was just a rave.  Yes, a rave.  An electro-dance party in the Tiergarten.  And they were like, “Yeah, we’re just gonna dance you down and drown you out with our loud bass.”

Obviously that’s not the counter-rally I went to.  No, so Zibs sent me a message that her and Jan and Felix were going to a counter-protest and did I want to come.  Uh, yeah, obvi.  So we met up in front of the Reichstag and listened to some speeches to start off with.  And then it was off to the actual protest.

The AfD clowns were staging their main rally at the Brandenburg Gate.  So what we did was to basically surround them on three sides and just yell at them.  And I’ll get to that bit shortly.  But first I gotta fill in a little more background.

So earlier, I described the AfD as a nationalist, right wing, generally racist party.  Which they absolutely are.  We don’t have anything like it in the states.  But there’s a wing of the Republican party that matches up pretty well.  The Trump wing, not to put too fine a point on it.  Anyway, it’s one thing to be right wing, nationalist and generally racist.  It’s still another thing to be actual Nazis.

Side note, except, or is it?  Because see, the actual Nazi party is illegal here.  So is displaying a swastika flag.  Which, not for nothing, to my American eyes is an uncomfortable repression of freedom of political speech.  But also, we didn’t have Hitler.  So, Germany’s gonna do what Germany’s gonna do.  Anyway, all this to say, if you were an actual Nazi, the AfD is probably where you’re gonna hang out.

Nevertheless, when I woke up last Sunday, I was not really comfortable casually throwing around N-word8 to describe any and everybody who might be associated with AfD.  But when I showed up, the first thing Jan said to me was, “So, Dave, are you ready to shout at some Nazis?”

So I asked him.  Is that where we’re at?  The AfD are straight up Nazis?  And he said yes.  And Zibs said yes.  Well, OK, they’re the Germans.  They’re politically active.  I trust them.  If they say – at the very least – that for today’s purposes, for the purpose of this rally and counter-rally, that the AfD are Nazis, well, fuck it.  They’re Nazis, the bastards.  So I said, yes, let’s give those Nazi bastards hell.

Which we proceeded to do.  We re-gathered at the entrance to the Tiergarten, directly across from the Brandenburg Gate, where we could see those cunts and where they could absolutely hear us.  And we spent the next few hours shouting them down.

Chants included, “Hau Ab!” (Go Away!) and “Nazis Raus!” (Nazis Out!).  And also, Ganz Berlin Hasst die AfD!”  (All Berlin Hates the AfD!).  Although there was apparently a second version of this chant from the ravers: “Ganz Berlin Basst die AfD!”  (All Berlin Basses the AfD, in reference to the loud bass they were using to drown them out.  Cool).

There were horns and whistles and all kinds of flags.  Communist flags.  Political party flags.  Rainbow flags.  One flag was just a giant hand, middle finger extended.  Also, there were a lot of middle fingers extended.  It was cool.

And It also made me just the slightest bit uncomfortable.  Because here’s the thing.  I don’t like mobs.  I think they’re ugly and dangerous.  Mobs take on a life of their own.  Emotion trumps reason.  Which is why you need effective police, btw.  To keep the people separated.  To prevent violence.

This, to my mind, was the big failing of Germany in the late 20’s and early 30’s.  The police didn’t do their job.  So Nazis brawled with communists.  Nazis intimidated would-be voters.  When the police do their job, this doesn’t happen.

At one point, somebody yelled – and I forget the German, but basically – “The police protect fascists!”  Well, yeah.  That’s their job.  And they should protect fascists.  They should also protect communists, and greens, and everybody else.  It’s literally their job.  If you’re suppressing the right of fascists to freely (and peacefully, which is key) express their political views, then what kind of democracy are you running?

But that’s my point.  Somebody yells, “Police protect fascists.”  Somebody else yells Ganz Berlin hasst die AfD!”  And yeah, OK, we hate Nazis.  But also, hate?  I looked over at one point, and watched the woman next to me.  And her face was contorted in this violent expression of, well let’s call a spade a spade, hatred.  And a part of me was like: Wait a second, isn’t this what we’re against?

But it’s complicated, innit?  Because like I said, Fuck Nazis.  But, I dunno.  Can we not be dispassionate about this?  Can we not just outnumber them 10:1 and just say “Boo!”  Or better yet, outnumber them 10:1 and just be a silent, impenetrable wall?  Can that not be enough?  Do we actually have to hate them?  Do we have to label every last one of them a Nazi?  Or is my head in the clouds, munching on a pie in the sky?

But it’s complicated.  I had a very uncomfortable exchange with an acquaintance recently.  She was complaining about how in certain parts of Berlin, any shop you go into, the staff are speaking English.  To the point where they only speak English.  And look, I get it.  I myself have complained that “I didn’t come to Germany to speak English with a bunch of ex-pats.”

But there was something in the way she was saying it.  “My mom is old.  What about the old people?  Shouldn’t they be able to go into a shop in their own country and speak their own language?”  Which, I mean, on some level, I’m not unsympathetic to that.  But also, English is a world language.  No, it’s the world language.  It would kill you to learn enough to order your food or drink item, to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?

I grant you, yeah, it’s annoying.  But is it worth kvetching about?  OK, kvetching, maybe.  But elevating it to one of the real problems facing Germany?  Come on.  So I said – and maybe I shouldn’t have – but I said, “Well, if that’s how you feel about it, you can always vote AfD.”

And she looked at me with more than a little distress, and she said, “Dave, come on, I’m not a Nazi.”  But.  She didn’t say ‘but.’  But it was there.  Almost like, “I’m not a Nazi…but…maybe the AfD isn’t wrong about everything.”  Now to be clear, she definitely didn’t say that.  All she said was, “Dave, come on, I’m not a Nazi.”  But me – and yes, this is highly subjective – I felt like that ‘but’ was very much there.

So I said – and again, maybe I shouldn’t have – but I said, “But…Deutschland für die Deutschen.”  (Germany for the Germans).  This was followed by an uncomfortable silence, and then we moved on.

And look, I want to be clear.  This girl is in no way a Nazi.  She’s young, she’s open minded.  Hell, she knows I’m Jewish.  And we’ve spent more than a little time talking about all the Yiddish/Hebrew words that have found their way into German; and she thinks that’s all very cool.  She’s a good kid.  And just so there’s not even a shadow of a doubt, not a Nazi.

But that’s my point.  Not everybody associated with the AfD is a Nazi.  And by the way, I can’t imagine that she would ever vote AfD.  But she has this concern.  And it’s a concern that those AfD cunts make real political hay out of.

But do you see the reason I’m telling this story?  I don’t like painting everybody who votes AfD as a Nazi.  I don’t like going to a rally and ‘hating’ these people.  Which isn’t to say that some of them are not in fact Nazis.  Surely some – even many…fuck, even most – of them are; or at least might be.  And there’s no room for Nazis in our political discourse.

But just because Fuck Nazis – and let’s be clear, Fuck Nazis – but just because Fuck Nazis, are we supposed to hate our fellow man?  Are we supposed to use the law to curtail their freedom to express their political views, no matter how heinous?  Personally, I don’t think so.

What we are supposed to do, I think, is outnumber the shit out of them.  To show them, through peaceable numbers, that there are far more of us than there are of them.  Which we did, btw, and I’ll come to that shortly.

But to come back to that lady standing beside me, who wore so much hate on her face as she shouted down those Nazi cunts, maybe dial it back a little.  Maybe.  When the police are doing their job, you can afford to take the emotional high road, is what I would argue.

But also, I’ll never be a German.  I don’t own this country’s history the way a German does.  And the attitude here seems to be, don’t give those Nazi cunts so much as in inch.  Because not only will they take a mile, they’ve already taken it once.  And that, I think, is the divide.  I don’t know if I can ever personally bridge it.

Fine.  So I said, to me, the thing to do is, outnumber them 10:1.  Show them there’s more of us than of you, and there always will be.  Well, we did that.  Five thousand of them.  Twenty-five thousand of us.  And that was just in the immediate vicinity.  Apparently, there were counter-rallies all over Berlin, in places where the AfD would never see the faces or hear the voices.  And when you add it all up, according to what I’ve read, the counter-protesters numbered as much as 75,000.  That’s 15:1.

You wanna express the idea of “Nazis Raus!”?  Wunderbar.  Show me, don’t tell me.  Well, we showed ‘em.  We showed those Nazi cunts.

But the battle continues.  Because they will continue to fight.  They will continue to hate refugees and Muslims and Jews and gays and whoever else they blame for their plight.  So we have to keep on fighting too.  But I hope we can keep our heads about us.  I hope we can remember that hate is ugly, even when our opponents are Nazis.  I hope we can be better than them.

So.  Will I go to the next anti-AfD rally?  You bet your bottom dollar.  But not with hate in my heart.  Pity, maybe, if I can muster it, for these poor bastards who can’t see beyond their own backyard, beyond their own town square.  Disgust, if I can’t manage pity.  But not hate.

Because there’s more of us than there are of them.  And if we can just remember that, and act accordingly, then those Nazi cunts don’t stand a chance.

זײַ געסונט

  1. Just today, we had a whole conversation about stews and braises.  Basically, he asked me why I do so many of them.  And my answer was basically, economics.  With a stew or a braise, you get a lot from a little and it goes a long way.  Plus it keeps your stock supply moving. []
  2. My roommates here – and you know I love these cats – they have zero reading material in the bathroom.  They are not bathroom readers.  And just like, why? []
  3. I still maintain that DS9 is far-and-away the best of the Treks. []
  4. I had a ticket to that game.  And I had to pass it up, because I was studying.  So instead of remembering being there for Jete’s 3K, I remember sitting at my desk, in that apartment. []
  5. Hi, Ma.  Just so you know, “boss-ass bitch” is a good thing.  It refers to strong women who kick ass.  You can confirm that with any millennial. []
  6. Not for nothing, in light of all this, I can’t not remember my (now late) Uncle Art asking me if there was anti-Semitism in Germany.  I always told him I’d never experienced any.  And on a personal level, I haven’t.  But yeah, there is.  And here it is.  I’d like to think he’d be pleased to know I showed up to stand against it. []
  7. Apparently I can include myself amongst Berliners now.  I was told recently that by bitching about Deutsche Bahn (the rail service) and by reading a book and drinking a beer on the train I’m basically a real Berliner. []
  8. Funny that Germany also has an N-word and it’s not the same as our N-word. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
28 May, 2018

With each passing year, the world is just a little more different than the world into which I was born.  Some of that is about technology, sure.  Some of it is about the environment or politics.  But also, on some very basic level, it’s simply about the people who are in this world.  And, more to the point, the people who aren’t.  Among the latter group may now be numbered my Uncle Art, né Arthur Levine and finally Mr. Arturo LeMay.

Which – and OK yes, I’m getting off track kind of early here – is a bit ironic.  The name, I mean.  Because Art was a pretty religious dude.  No, that’s not quite right.  I don’t think he was particularly religious.  He didn’t keep kosher, so far as I know.  I’m not sure how many holidays he “celebrated” in the religious sense of the word; although he was at every Seder of my life until this year.

But he went to schul three times a week.  He was very pro-Israel in that old-school, unquestioning sort of way; the way which my generation – and those younger than me – are finding increasingly difficult to be.  And the dude could beast through a page of Hebrew like it was nobody’s business.  Though I don’t actually know if he could understand the language.  But he could read it off the page, and he could do it with the oldschool Yiddish pronunciation, where all the final tav’s sounded like “S”s; not the way people my age were taught.

The point is, his Judaism – however secular it might have been – was a huge part of his identity.  So yeah, I always found it more than a little ironic that he would change his name.  Because “Levine” is a pretty big deal name in Judaism.  It’s of the priest class, right up there with Cohen.  It’s not a Euro-Yiddish invention like Lindenberg (Mountain of the Linden-Tree), my mother’s maiden name; or Starr, and who even knows what the origin is there.  Levine – the Levis – goes all the way back to the Torah.

So why would he give that up for the totally non-Jewish sounding LeMay?  Because he liked the way it sounded.  But it was a very Art thing to do.  He could be eccentric like that.  The dude had his own way of making sense of shit.  Like anti-Semitism.  More than once he said Jews could be more anti-Semitic than gentiles; ‘self-hating Jews’ was, I think, the term he used.  But he also said that Arabs couldn’t be anti-Semitic.  Because the Arabs are themselves a Semitic people.  So there you go.  In Art’s world, there were anti-Semitic Jews and non-anti-Semitic death-to-Israel Arabs.

Or the fact that although he’d be at schul every Saturday, he’d insist he wasn’t religious.  Called himself a ‘fraud.’  Sure Art.  You read Hebrew.  You practically lived at the synagogue.  But you weren’t religious.  As you wish.

He was the the last Patriarch standing.  That’s a bit weird to think about.  All the grandparents were already gone.  So Art was the last of that generation.  That’s fucking weird, I’m sorry.  To look at my parents, my aunts and uncles and realize, shit, they’re the patriarchs now.  Or matriarchs.  They’re the grandparents now.  The Olds.  Which knocks me back a generation too.  That knocks me into the Aunts & Uncles generation, rather than the Children & Cousins generation.  With Art’s passing, I became a generation older.  I’m just realizing this as I’m typing, btw.  So, you know, thanks for that, Art.

So now it’s Shelly and Don, on my mom’s side.  Shelly sits at one head of the Seder table and Don at the other.  And this year, I had to read the big Hebrew spiel.  Art’s part.  The part that actually says, in Shelly’s homemade Hagaddah, “Uncle Art reads:”.  Surreal is the word I’m looking for.

Anyway, what about the man himself?  What about Arthur “the atomic bomb saved my life” Levine?  Lemme start by saying he was a tough motherfucker.  The short, red-headed Jewish kid from the Bronx who volunteered to carry the big Browning Automatic Rifle in the army.  The dude who took over his father’s business and made it big.  The dude who ran marathons.  The dude who went back to college – cut short by the war – and got a degree from Columbia when he was already a million years old.  Those are some pretty serious achievements.

Soldier.  Businessman.  Athlete.  Student.  All of those words describe Arturo.  But the word I would choose, if I had to pick just one, would be this.  Storyteller.  That man could spin a yarn.  Let’s start with the whole “the atomic bomb saved my life” spiel.  We’ve all heard that one a gazillion times.

When I was a kid, there was one major school of thought on our use of The Bomb in WWII, and one minor one.  The major school of thought was that it ended the war sooner and saved untold lives.  Along with that was the notion that by seeing the power of those early bombs in 1945, later world leaders were sufficiently scared into never pushing the button.  The minor school of thought was that even if this were all true, the bombs were so terrible as to be unjustifiable by any argument.

Those were the arguments I heard when I was young, when I was in school.  Nowadays, the latter argument seems to be more in vogue.  To the point that the term “war crime” is even trotted out to describe their use.

My point here, though, is that Art was one of the last people entitled to a different view by direct personal association.  Because he was ticketed for the invasion of Japan.  So when the war ended shortly after those two terrible detonations, it meant that rather than dying on a beach, he would spend a couple of years cooling his heels in the Philippines.

And you know what?  I don’t know if he thought the bombs were a good thing.  I don’t know if he thought we did the right thing in using them.  Maybe he did.  I don’t know.  But he always believed that The Bomb saved his life.  And that is almost certainly true.  And there aren’t many people left now who can say that.

So yeah, the stories.  My favorite thing about Art in the later years was the car trips to Passover and Thanksgiving.  We’d drive over the Tap and pick him at his home “upstate” and drive him up to Connecticut with us.  And he’d just tell stories the whole way.  Stories about how he nearly married some Jewish dame in the late 40’s, but didn’t, “because she was fat.”  Or the one about the rich oilman relative, who may or may not have killed an “Irishman,” who may or may not have screwed Indians out of some land, who may or may not have sold dry goods to settlers moving West, but who definitely was cut out of the family because “he didn’t keep kosher.”

There were stories about his time in college.  About his military training.  About how his, I want to say father, moved from one of the Baltic states to Germany (Frankfurt am Mein) because they needed a Rabbi; and then moved to America.

I once asked him if he could speak Yiddish.  He couldn’t.  I asked him if his father could.  “He could,” he said.  “But he didn’t like to.  If somebody addressed him in Yiddish, he’d answer in Yiddish; to be polite.  But he always said, ‘I’m an American.  I speak English.’”   And that was Art too.  Proudly Jewish.  Staunchly pro-Israel.  100% American.

Art had a million stories.  And not one of them was self-aggrandizing.  You knew he had to have been one tough SOB, because only tough SOB’s volunteer to carry the BAR.  But when he talked about his military training, it was always about how it affected his schooling, or about how some other guy outperformed him.  He wasn’t religious, he was a “fraud.”  But he went to schul more times in one week than I’ve been in the last decade.  He talked about business trips to Asia but he never let on how successful his business was.  He talked about about business trips to Puerto Rico, but never mentioned that he could understand Spanish quite well and could even speak it a bit.

He had a sister, Ferna.  She had Down Syndrome.  She was in an institution or a home or something; not totally sure on the deets.  The point is, yeah, of course other people visited her.  But he visited her every single week.  And you know what you never heard stories about?  That.

A few years back, we were over his house.  And he had this room full of old junk.  Mementos, pictures, awards, all that kind of shit.  Anyway, I found the damnedest thing.  It was a framed letter to a rabbi on his mom’s side of the family, so a Coblenz; maybe it was an uncle, I’m not sure.  The point is, it was a personally addressed letter from FDR thanking this rabbi for some small service.  I’d need to see the letter again.  I don’t know if he had served on some religious council, or given some kind of advice or what.  But it was a thank-you letter from Franklin fucking Delano fucking Roosevelt.  I mean, come on, that’s kind of a big deal.  Yeah, well, he never spoke about that either.

So as I’m writing this, I’m texting back and forth with my mom, asking for little clarifications here and there.  And she reminded me that I have a couple of recordings of him from the last years.  I have one on my phone, where I asked him a few questions and just let him go.  It’s only about two minutes.  But sure enough, it’s the whole “the atomic bomb saved my life” spiel.

And so, just two little things I want to add to that story.  There was no glory in it, no joy.  He simply said, “I was fortunate.”  He also said he enlisted because “the army paid for six months of NYU.”  What a good Jewish boy.  The goal wasn’t war, it was an education.

More important than that though, is simply the fact that I have his voice.  Because people don’t sound like that no more.  See, he had this oldschool Bronx accent.  And let’s be clear here.  Not the stereotypical “New York” accent from old movies.  Not “dese, dem ‘n’ dose.”  Not “I’ll meetcha at tree’o’clock on toity-toid ‘n’ toid.”  No, it’s far more subtle, but also far more real.

Mel Blanc once described his choice of voice for Bugs Bunny as being a cross between a Brooklyn and Bronx accent.  Because Bugs was a wiseguy, and that’s where wiseguys came from.  And if you think you can tell the difference between a 1930’s Brooklyn accent and a 1930’s Bronx accent, I think you’re full of shit.  But whatever is the Bronx part of Bugs Bunny’s voice, that’s what Art sounded like.

And I gotta tell y’all.  It’s beautiful.

And maybe it doesn’t matter to other people.  Maybe it only matters to me, because I’m interested in language.  But when Art died, that sound died with him.  That voice died with him.  There ain’t nobody left in my life who sounds quite like that anymore.  But I’m sure as shit glad I can still go back and listen to it now.

But maybe it doesn’t just matter to me.  Because I know I’ve heard my mom talk about the way Carol’s booming “Hi!” could fill a room.  My point is, you don’t just remember the person.  You remember how they sounded.  It’s really a sort of Proustian experience.  A sort of auditory madeleine.  He says having never read Proust.

But yeah.  I can still hear Carol’s warm and grand greetings; which, btw, was also Herb’s warm and grand greeting.  I can still hear Ida’s glottal stops, how she would pronounce ‘dentist’ as den’ist.  I can still hear Steve’s absolutely classic Brooklyn.  Just as I can hear Daitz’ baritone “Well, Dave…”.  Or how, on the phone, Mike sounded exactly like my dad.

And it makes me treasure the sound of those who are still around.  My dad’s very subtle but unmistakable Brooklyn which 30+ years on Long Island haven’t dimmed; totally different than Steve’s btw.  My mom’s sharp, elbows-out Brooklyn when she gets mad; totally different than my dad’s.  Jay’s ‘Vinny Baggadonuts’ Brooklyn, different from all of them.  To say nothing of Margaret’s again totally different Sicilian-Italian Brooklyn, which yields the wonderfully hypercorrective vodker.

So, always when people die, come the inevitable questions of regret.  Art had his.  He regretted never marrying in general, and, towards the end, never marrying Linda specifically.  Man, Linda was a character.  I didn’t know her well, so keep that in mind.  But she had this gracious southern accent; I don’t know from where.  And she had all these wacky southern idioms, all of which escape me at the moment.  But she was probably Art’s best friend.  And I’m fairly certain they were a thing at some point.  It never worked out though.  She had MS, which may have had everything – or nothing – to do with it.  In any case, she died quite a few years back.

But towards the end, you could tell he missed her.  And you could tell he was lonely, which was tough.  In the last few years, he would talk about how he wished he’d gotten married.  To which my dad would invariably reply with something along the lines of, “Trust me, Art, you’re better off.”  But it was just a joke to try and make him feel better.   And he appreciated the sentiment.  He’d play along.  But yeah, that was kind of sad.

On the other hand, he loved his family.  He was close with Cookie, I know.  And my mom would always call him.  But – for me at least – he wasn’t an easy guy to get close to.  “Demonstrative” is not a word that comes to mind.  Which should not be mistaken for not caring.

He was always asking about Germany.  Always asking if I was happy.  If I enjoyed teaching.  And, not for nothing, always asked if there was anti-Semitism in Germany.  Because the Jewish identity was always central with him.  And now, as I write this, I’m wondering if that also didn’t play a role in him and Linda never really getting together.  Because when he talked about the fatty he didn’t marry back in the 40’s, he never failed to mention that she was, if nothing else, Jewish.

Oh!  And the worst insult in his book – at least towards another Jew – was that they were “of the shtetl.”  Shtetl is the Yiddish word for the backwater ghettos which Jews used to inhabit in Eastern Europe before…well, you know.  But if somebody was “of the shtetl,” they were low class, uneducated, uncouth, worthy of derision.  It’s witheringly brutal and wonderfully oldschool.  My cousin Jay (Mike’s son) is the only person of my generation whom I know that still uses it.  And even then, it’s always ironic and spoken with an old-timey Jew-y accent; either preceded or followed by an “Oy!”

So yeah, regrets.  I regret that I didn’t know the man better.  I regret that I didn’t get more of his stories down by recording.  Because already the finer details escape me, and I can only paint them with broad strokes.

But these are small things.  The dude made it all the way to 91.  Lived at home, just until the very end.  Drove his own car until he was 89 or 90.  Which, OK, may not have been the best idea.  Ran his business right up to the end.  Was mentally with it until the end.  When I was home in March, he knew exactly who I was, knew I was living in Germany, The Whole 9.  So what if he asked the same questions 20 times?  He knew who he was asking them to, and they were on point.  We should all be so lucky.

I feel like I’m walking around with dead people in my back pocket.  Hm.  There’s probably a better way to phrase that.  What I mean is, there are people – dead people – who are always with me.  Daitz, right?  For as long as I read Homer – which will be as long as I live – Daitz will always be sitting across from me, nudging my pronunciation, carefully noting the verb tense and debating my interpretations with a deep, gentle, “Well, Dave…”.

My grandfather will always be the measure by which the Starr family judges itself.  Whether that be the love of music, the love of learning or just curiosity about the world.  If he’s not around to be the patriarch anymore, he’s very much the spirit animal.  Nobody who knew him doesn’t still get emotional when he comes up.

And now Art.  By way of a slight detour for the goyim, the Hebrew word for the number ‘five’ is chamesh.  From this, we get the word chumash, which means “The Five,” meaning the five books of Moses, the Torah.  The use of the article matters here.  When we say a Torah, we mean the scroll, whichever one happens to be in the ארון קדש – the ark – at your local schul.  When we talk about the Torah, we mean the content, the thing generally.  All this to say that a chumash is not a Torah, but it is a bound-book edition of the Torah.

All this to say, I have Art’s chumash.  Well, really, Cookie’s chumash, which Art gave to her as a gift, which she then gave to me.  He inscribed it too, you know.  He wrote:

                                                                                                            February 26, 2005
To my Niece “Fran”
I hope you enjoy this Chumash.  Happy Birthday.
Love
Art

Two things about this are great.  First, “Fran” in quotes?  So her name is Francine, but she goes by Cookie.  So like, if you were gonna put a name in quotes, wouldn’t it be “Cookie”?  But he always called her Fran.  So in Art-World, her real name is Francine; obviously the shorter “Fran” deserves quotes.  Classic Art.  Also, “enjoy”?  I mean, this book is great for a lot of things.  Cultural connection.  Learning.  Family heirloom.  Whatever you want.  But enjoyment?  Uh, not so much.

Whatever.  The point is, it came from Art.  And this is the book that I work with.  Every day.  Remember my whole Operation Read the Whole Fucking Torah in a Year thing?  The Torah that I’m reading is Art’s chumash.  So he’s with me.  Every day, when I sit down to read, Art’s there too.

Daitz and Homer.  Art and Torah.  One more dead guy in my back pocket.  If this keeps up, I’m gonna need bigger pants.

So that’s the end.  No, that’s not quite right.  It’s an end.  You say goodbye to the man.  And lemme tellya, I’m so glad I got to see him one more time, this last time I was in.  So glad I got to say goodbye.  Even if I didn’t say the word “goodbye.”  Because I’m pretty sure what I actually said was, “Take care of yourself and listen to your doctors.  I expect to see you at Passover next year.”  But that’ll have to do.

So yeah, it’s an end.  It’s the end of his life.  It’s the end of an era, even.  It’s a different world without him.  It’s passed just that much more from the hands of his generation to the hands of the next.  But he did his part to shape this world, and my life in it.  And whatever I do with my life, it will be what it is for his having been a part of it.

So I raise my glass to you, Arthur Levine.  Rest in Peace, Arturo LeMay.  You bloody well earned it.

Let me end this with a wish, with a hope.  It is my wish that, for many years to come, I will have the great honor at our Passover Seder of reading the Hebrew bit in the Hagaddah marked, “Uncle Art reads:”.  And I hope that one day, there will be a child; a child not yet born.  And I hope that child will see the words “Uncle Art reads:” and ask, “Who is Uncle Art?”  Because on that day, I will say, “Come ‘ere, kid.  Lemme tellya a story…”

זײַ געסונט

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
15 May, 2018

Oh hey, Writer’s Block.  What’s up?  Ugh, you guys.  I’ve tried writing a post – the same post – twice already, and just…I’m not feeling it.  So I’m officially ditching it and starting a new one.  Maybe I’ll circle back at the end though and try to recapture some of it though.  Not that you, dear reader, would know the diff if I didn’t tell you.  So why am I telling you?  Because it’s my blogue and I can ramble if I want to.

Anyway, Germany.  No matter how much I like this country and its fine people, there’s always gonna be some shit that’s just straight up weird, you know?  And by weird, I mean, yeah, every culture is different and they’re all valid and blah blah blah.  But listen to this and tell me if you don’t think it’s fucking weird.

So a couple of weeks back, I went for one of my walks.  I ended up in Friedrichshagen, which is adorable and one of my favorite spots in this neck of the woods.  There’s a Japanese joint I really like there as well as what passes for a good Vietnamese spot in this town.  It was at this Vietnamese outpost that I stopped for a late lunch after several hours of strolling.  I got a bowl of Pho, which was quite good for Berlin, but wouldn’t even make the menu at Pho Grand.  Such is life.

Anyway, after this lovely meal, I mosey up the block where I encounter a little gelato shop.  Well, remembering how nice it was to have a bit of gelato back when I was in Florence, I decided to get a little desert.  I mean, a little gelato never hurt anybody, right?  Well, it hurts me if it has lactose.  So I ask what they’ve got that’s lactose free and the lady behind the counter gives me my options.

And at first, it seemed like I was getting the answer I was hoping for.  Namely that they had both a chocolate and a raspberry that were lactose-free.  Great.  So I ask the lady if I can get a small half-chocolate-half raspberry.  And that’s where things got weird.  Cos the lady looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Halbkugeln geht nicht bei uns.”  We don’t do half scoops.  And I’m like, how do you say “Can’t…or won’t?” in German?

Like, what the actual fuck is that?  I mean, what exactly is stopping you from taking half a scoop of one and half a scoop of the other and jamming them into the same tiny little cup?  Sure, I get that they won’t be exactly halves.  And, yeah, maybe that offends your German sense of…what, even?  Exactitude?  I ain’t exactly asking you to go in the back and concoct an entirely new flavor, just for me, you know?  And I’m not asking for extra ice cream.

I’m literally asking for the same total amount of product for the listed price.  And you know what even?  Fuck the listed price.  If you need to charge me an extra twenty cents for asking for something “off-menu,” so be it.  Although, even that, honestly would be weird.  But just flat out being all, “Yeeaaah, sorry, we don’t do half scoops”???  Oh, and not even “sorry.”  Just straight up, “We don’t do that, [implied] you monster.”  Like, that can’t be normal.

Except, apparently, that’s totally normal.  Here, I mean.  Apparently it’s totally normal here.  It’s obviously not normal.  What I mean is, I’ve told this story to like three people here; three Germans.  And it was the same reaction each time.  Every time I get to the part where I ask for half-&-half, their eyes go wide and the look at me like I’ve just kicked their dog.  I can see it in their faces.  Oh gods, you’re going to take her side, aren’t you?

“So she says – get this – she says, ‘Halbkugeln geht nicht bei uns.’  Can you believe that?”  And they all said the same thing.  “Dude, this is Germany.”  As if that were sufficient as an explanation.  I try to reason with them.  I try to make them see where I’m coming from.  They can’t.  Because Germany.

They have a saying here.  Kunden ist König – the customer is king.  Unless the customer asks for two half scoops.  Then apparently, the customer is a mad king and needs to be protected from himself.  It’s weird, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, Saturday I went for another walk. I didn’t really have a plan.  Just, it was a nice day.  So why not grab a brew and stroll?  Well, so I do that, and it’s lovely.  I got back to my Infinite Monkey Cage podcast.1  For some reason, it feels like a summer podcast to me.  My first time here, in 2015, I listened to it a lot whilst exploring.  So it evokes that – this – time of year for me.  I’m rambling again.

Well, as my walk is winding down, I notice that it’s about 4pm and also that I haven’t really eaten anything yet.  Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, when you consider I couldn’t be bothered to get my ass out of bed before noon.  But I was hungry, is the point.

So I pass a döner shop and awkwardly pause to look in the window.  It looks good, but there’s another one up the block, so I decide to check that one out too before making a decision.  I dunno why.  Not like they’re gonna be vastly different.  Meanwhile, I say that, and sure enough, the second one doesn’t look quite as good as the first.

What I mean by that is, the huge rotating döner in the window of the first shop looked crispier.  Which I like.  Because first of all, I feel like if it’s crispier, then it’s less likely to be super greasy and therefore a bit easier on my not-so-iron gut.  But also, when it’s crispy, you get that nice little crunch.

OK, now I sound like Billy Crystal in the Princess Bride.  You know, with the MLT – Mutton, Lettuce and Tomato, when the mutton is nice and lean…

Right, so I decide I want to go back to the first shop.  The only problem is, I’ve now lingered in front of both their windows; long enough for the guys behind the counter to see me.  And like, that’s awkward.  I mean, it’s not awkward for the more well-adjusted among us.  But I’m like, Great, Döner Guy #1 is gonna be all, “Oh, now you want my sammich only after deciding you didn’t want the other one more?”  And then I’d have to re-walk past the second shop with my purchase from the first shop in hand.  So then Döner Guy #2 could be all, “Oh, I see how it is.  My sammich isn’t good enough for you?  So you bought one from my competitor and are walking past my shop with it, what, to rub it in my face?”

Am I overthinking this?

Anyway, I decide to walk around the block the long way.  That should buy me 5-7 minutes, by which time, hopefully, both Döner Guys will have forgotten about my awkward window shopping.  Except, on the other side of the block, I find a cemetery.  So obvi I need to go check that out.

And at first, it’s just your usual cemetery business.  Nothing’s very old, mind you.  The oldest stones might be from late 19th or early 20th century.  But that’s OK.  It’s still nice and peaceful.  And it reminded me of the time me and Niki went to a cemetery.  That was either one of our last “dates” or one of our first “friend activities.”  We made up stories for some of the people.  And this one guy, Ruben (or Rueben?), Niki actually found a picture of his family.  Crazytown.  Probably not any Rubens in this joint though.  Not a very goyish name.

Well, as I’m looking at these stones I’m noticing the dates.  And it gets my mind going.  Because a great many of the people buried in this cemetery lived through the Nazi times.  And for me, it’s impossible not wonder about that.  Who were they?  What did they do?  Were some of the Nazis?  Did some of them resist?  Did most of them just go with the flow?  The shit these people must have lived through.  And why?  Because they happened to be born at a certain time, in a certain place?

And that’s when things took a turn.  Because then I came to a most interesting part of the cemetery.  Most interesting indeed.  Here, there were not the usual upstanding gravestones.  More square plaques, almost flat in the ground.  And I start to notice, all the death dates are 1945.  These stones are very Spartan, I should say.  Just a name (or “unknown”), a birth date (if known), a death date (if known), and then at the bottom “1939-1945.”

So is this a military part of the cemetery?  There’s nothing to indicate branch of service, rank or anything else.  But all the stones are of equal size, make, layout.  And it’s got the war dates.  So what’s the deal?  I start to look closer, and some of the people died in their 20’s and 30’s.  But some are definitely teenagers.  And a lot of them have death dates of April-May ’45.  So now we’re talking Battle of Berlin?

But so far, I can’t find any sign or plaque that gives actual information.  So after reading a bunch of the first stones I stumble across, I make my way to the front of this little area.  (I had entered from the back of it).  And there I do find a plaque.  But all it says is, 1st and 2nd World War.

Hey?  First also?  I turn around, and sure enough, at the front of this area, all the stones – which are otherwise identical to the ones above described – show the dates 1914 – 1918 across the bottom.  Well now that’s interesting.

So what is actually the deal here?  Did this start as only a cemetery for WWI soldiers; if indeed actually soldiers?  Was it expanded after the second world war?  Or was it all done at one time, later on?  Were bodies exhumed from both wars and reburied here all together?  I don’t know, because I can’t find any information.

But there’s layers of history here, beyond the obvious.  One just has to look at the names.  What I mean is, while many of the names are clearly German, a whole bunch are also Polish.  Which means there are even more stories here.

First, we need to remember that a huge chunk of western Poland was part of Germany up until Versailles.  So Polish names in the WWI section shouldn’t be so surprising.  And Berlin, after all, is quite close to the border.  So at least for these guys – the ’14 – ’18 gang – it’s probably safe to assume they were German citizens of Polish descent.

But what about the Polish names in the WWII section?  Were they also German citizens, long settled in or around Berlin?  Could they have been POWs or other Poles forced to fight, forced to defend Berlin in the last days of the war?  Was that even a thing?  Or did they see themselves as “German” as the guy buried next to them?  And if so, what did they make of the war, of German aggression against Poland, of the Nazi position that the Slavs, the Poles, were subhuman?  How could they take up arms in defense of that regime?  Questions.  But no answers.

And then, going back to the WWII stones, the ones showing deaths in April-May ’45.  The dates are very clearly Battle of Berlin, and I think it’s a safe assumption given where they’re buried.  Right in the path of the advancing Red Army.

But even then, what does that tell us about them?  Almost nothing.  The Russian Army was brutal.  “The Big Red Rape Machine” would be un unflattering but historically not inaccurate epithet.  So even if you hated the Nazis, do you take up arms willingly, when these guys are knocking down your door; knocking down your house; knocking down your whole block?  Do you defend your family, even as you pray for the end of the Nazis and all the madness they’ve wrought?

Or were some of these guys true believers?  The younger ones especially would have known nothing else.  They would have been indoctrinated almost from birth.  How many of them willingly gave their lives for The Führer?  Again, questions.  No answers.

And another point of interest.  While all the WWII stones that I inspected showed 1945 death dates, some of them were as late as September, October, November.  The war was already over.  How did they die?  In POW camps?  As war criminals?  From wounds or sickness sustained in battle?  How does somebody die 4, 5, 6 months after the war is over and still get buried beside the fighting dead?  (Again, assuming these are the fighting dead).  More questions.  Still no answers.

And then, finally, some answers.  But answers that beg more questions.  All the way in the front of this little area, I find a plaque with the following inscription:

In diesem Grab ruhen über 60 unbekannte Frauen und Männer, die infolge von Kriegseinwirkungen verstorben sind.  Die Toten wurden im Jahr 2009 vom St. Laurentius-Friedhof in diese geschlossene Gräberanlage des kommunalen Friedhofsteils Rudower Straße verlegt.

In this grave rest over 60 unknown women and men, who died due to the effects of war.  The dead were lain here from the St. Laurentius Cemetery in this separated grave area in 2009, by the Rudower Steet community.2

Well, the only thing I know for a fact after reading this is that this special section was only dedicated in 2009.  The cemetery itself is St. Laurentius, so I gather that before ’09 all these people were buried elsewhere in the same cemetery.  Oh, and women also?  I didn’t see any lady names, but then I didn’t inspect every stone.  And also, this plaque seemed only to be about the 60 unknowns.  What about all the “knowns”?

And what about the Kriegseinwirkungen – the “effects of war”?  Did they fight?  Or were they just poor civilian bastards who bought it in the Battle of Berlin?  From shelling or bombing or gods know what?

Indeed, now that I think about it a second time, was this plaque for the “unknowns” who were under “unknown” stones or was this a separate 60 people who didn’t even get that much?  So that was good for like two answers and a shit-ton more questions.

So much of this was unexpected and unexplained.  But the most unexpected, and the most wanting for explanation were the final two stones I found, set apart from all the others.  Just two.  The stone themselves looked just like all the others.  Name, birthdate, deathdate.  Only instead of the war dates across the bottom, were these words: NS – OPFER.  Nazi Victim.

Well, shit.  What does that mean?  Political victims?  Resistance fighters?  Jews?  Probably not Jews.  I can’t imagine any Jews would find their way into this cemetery.  But then again, who knows?  I mean, maybe.  So what was their “crime”?  Why were they victims of the Nazis?  Again, no answers.  But whatever the reason, here they lie.  And for them, for these two poor bastards, I’ll give their inscriptions.  It seems worth it.

GOTTFRIED KILIAN
* 7.10.1892
+ 6.8.1940
NS – OPFER

ERICH JANITZKY
* 21.7.1900
+ 21.6.1938
NS – OPFER

I don’t know what you did, fellas.  But you pissed off those Nazi bastards enough to get yourselves killed.  So here’s to you.

Anyway, that was my detour to the cemetery.  I grabbed my döner on the way home.  From the first shop.  And it was quite good.  Not too greasy and with a little bit of crunch.  Just how I like it.

A few weeks ago, my friend-former student Margit asked me if I would do a bit of tutoring with her daughter.  I’ve written about Mag before.  She’s awesome.  Half buddy, half my Berin-mom.  Total wiseass.

I had written a whole thing about this, but I wasn’t happy with it.  So here’s the short version.  The tutoring itself was great.  Super easy.  Sarah, her daughter, is very smart, very good with English.  But more than that, we just had fun.  Not just me and Sarah.  But also Margit, her husband, the other two kids; even Sarah’s French boyfriend visiting from France.3  They’re just good people, you know?

But good people can also be boring people, amirite?  No fear here though.  Everybody in that family is a total wise-ass.  And I mean that as a compliment.  They’re all very sweet.  You walk in the door, and you know right away there’s a lot of love in that house.  But everybody’s just giving everybody else shit all the time.  I fit right in, is what I’m trying to say.

Mag is also taking classical guitar lessons.  So I asked if I could try her axe.  She gladly let me.  It’s a great instrument.  I ran through a couple of Bach preludes and the Sor variations.  Thoroughly enjoyed that, I tellya.  But even more fun was the Edith Piaf.

See, the kid is also studying French and has a bit of culture.  So during the tutoring time, she was goofing around with Je ne regrette rien.  So I’m like, “Hey kid, come here and sing this with me.”  So we sat together and jammed out on that for the fam.  Crazy fun.  Seriously.

Like, Mag is already one of my favorite people.  And not just in Berlin, either.  I think I said last time, she reminds me a lot of my mom.  Which, when I told her, I think she found alternately flattering and annoying.  Annoying if only because who wants to be thought of as a mom by their friends?

But flattering because this.  We went out for drinks around Christmas.  And we wound up at some not-so-cheap (for Berlin)4 German restaurant on Unter den Linden.  And she insisted on paying for the whole thing.  So next time we met up, we went to a Vietnamese spot.  Whereupon I insisted on paying.  At first, she wasn’t having it.  But I reminded her that she had paid last time and that it couldn’t have been cheap, so really she didn’t have a choice.  At which point she relented, and said, “You know, your mom did a good job with you.”  Which I’m not writing here to brag.  Only because I know my mom reads this shit and I thought she’d like to hear the compliment.  All to say, I think Mag is OK if I happen to notice some similarities between her and one Cindy A. Starr.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of this whole family.  Add a few more to the list of awesome people I’ve met in this town.  I mean, I’m still always wondering how much of this is luck, you know?  What if I went to a different city?  What if I worked in a different school?  No Anne.  No Margit and fam.  No Jan and Zibs.  No J-Dawg.

Would there be other awesome people?  As awesome as these people?  Maybe.  I dunno.  What I do know is, I think I’m pretty fucking lucky here.

Could I still kvetch?  Sure.  But it’s baseball season.  Why would I?

זײַ געסונט

 

  1. Highly recommended, btw.  It’s a BBC science/comedy pod. []
  2. My translation.  It may not be perfect, but it’s close enough. []
  3. He had virtually no English and even less German, so it was a good opportunity to speak some French; though I did get my wires crossed quite a bit. []
  4. Which means cheap anywhere else. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
24 April, 2018

Right, so this is weird.  Writing on a weeknight, I mean.  It’s gonna be an unusually short post, I think.  See, I’ve done all the Hebrew I care to do for the day.  And I’m not feeling up to hitting the Greek or cracking on with the Federalist Project.  But watching TV doesn’t really appeal to me either just now.  I want to do something that passes for productive, so why not write a bit?

So I did a mitzvah1 on Sunday.  Not intentionally, mind you.  And the whole thing was really rather surreal.  So strange was it, that I feel I need to write it down.  Here’s what happened.

The weather being just swell on Sunday, I set out on of my long walks.  And as I’m walking down Seelenbinderstraße, not ten minutes from my apartment, I see this strange-looking man ahead of me, further down the street.  “Strange looking” is perhaps a rather cruel way to put it.  It was clear that he was struggling with some sort of physical handicap, at the very least.

Now in New York, you would immediately think “troubled homeless guy.”  But as we shall see, things are a bit different here.  Anyway, I see this guy ambling towards me.  But I’m listening to a podcast and just doing my thing, so of course, I’m just kinda hoping to pass this guy without any kind of interaction.  Which is a polite of way of saying, I was hoping this guy wouldn’t stop me and ask me for change.

Either I’m that much of an asshole, or that’s how New York has got me conditioned.  Or both.  Anyway, that’s where I was at.  Judge if you must.

Well, of course he waves me down as I’m passing him.  Damn.  Well, even my asshole-ocity has its limits.  So I stop and take out my headphones, prepared for the inevitable asking for change.  Now, mind you, I’m listening to an English-language podcast, so my ear doesn’t tune in to his German right away.  I didn’t quite catch what he said, but it was clear he wasn’t asking for money.  “Wie, bitte?” I ask him to repeat himself.  And whatever he said, it’s very clear that he’s got some kind of physical disability; possibly a mental one on top of that.  He repeats:

Kannst du mich nach Hause bringen?”  Can you bring me home?

Oh, fuck.  I mean, yes, obviously.  But shit.  Sorry, let me clarify.  Not, “Shit, I don’t need this inconvenience.”  I mean, “Shit, that’s kind of heartbreaking.”  Can you bring me home.  Well, yeah, obviously.  Which is what I said: Ja, natürlich.  And I give him my arm.  Which he takes.  I know, how romantic.  And we start to walk.

I ask him where lives.  And he tells me the name of his street.  Which I didn’t know.  And so, I’m kinda like, Welp, I hope it’s not too far.  In hindsight, I should have known it couldn’t have been that far.  Because clearly this guy wasn’t built for cross-country, you know?

Anyway, there I am, walking down the street, with this old dude on my arm.  And I notice he’s carrying this wicker basket.  Well, I’m a curious guy.  I sneak a peak down at the basket.  And all he’s carrying is three SternisSterni – Sternburg – is a beer.  In fact, it is the single cheapest beer in all of Germany.  It’s kinda like their PBR.  Either you love it, and it’s your number-one go-to beer, or you turn your nose up at it.  Personally, I’ve never had one.  No real reason, I just haven’t.  But they also make a Radler, and I’ve certainly had plenty of those.

Anyway, I look down, and I see he’s got a basket of nothing more than three beers.  And I had two very opposite reactions to this.  On the one hand, there was something a bit heartbreaking about it.  Like, clearly this guy had left his home at great difficulty to himself, just to buy three not-very-good beers; which was probably all he could carry.  On the other hand, I kinda felt like this guy really wasn’t all that different from me, and I kinda wanted to give him a hug.

I was thinking this until I was interrupted by the sound of the three glass bottles beginning to clink against each other in the basket.  It took me, honestly, longer than it should have, to realize that the reason these bottles were clinking was because it was too heavy for him and his arm was starting to shake.

Shit.  Get your shit together, Davey.  So I got my shit together.  I stopped our walking and reached for the basket.  “Darf ich das tragen?”  Can I carry that?  He handed the basket over with not a little relief and we started walking again.  So now I’m walking with an old man on one arm and a wicker basket full of beer on the other.

I tried to make a bit of small talk.  I asked him how long he’d been living here.  He didn’t understand me.  I asked again, and he didn’t understand again.  So I gave up.  I hope this doesn’t sound dickish, but my German’s not that bad.  So I kinda chalked it up to maybe some mental disability.  So we just walked in silence.

And now I’m thinking, this is Germany.  Land of the Brothers Grimm.  Maybe this dude is fairy godmother in disguise and he’s testing strangers.  Maybe the last three people he asked to walk him home ignored him.  Maybe when I get him home, he’ll turn into the fairy godmother and grant me a wish or some shit.  Or, you know, not.

Then I had a darker thought.  Or a brighter one, depending on your point of view.  Because, again, I realized, this is Germany.  And how lucky for him that he lives in Germany now, where they do an excellent job of taking care of their people; excellent social safety net in this country.  But man, what if this was the 1930’s?  This guy would have been sterilized at the least; at the worst…well, you know.  But it’s not the 30’s.  It’s now.  And he has his own apartment and he can go out and buy beer.  In New York, this guy might be sleeping on the sidewalk outside of Penn Station.

Anyway, we finally get to his building.  Now he makes a bit of small talk.  Something along the lines of, “We’re almost there.  Number 22.”  OK, that’s not really small talk.  Whatever.  So he fishes out his keys and goes to unlock the front door.  That wasn’t so easy to watch.  His hands were all shaky and shit, so it took him a few seconds to slot the key.  And you could see that the metal plate around the lock was scratched to shit.  So yeah, that’s life for this guy.  Getting the key into the front door is a new adventure every day.  Fuck me.

We get inside and I ask him what floor.  Because everything here is a walkup.  I thought he said first floor.  It was the second.  And for a second, I was thinking, Shit, how’m I gonna get this guy up the stairs?  But he just grabs hold of the railing and starts climbing.  No problem.  Right, good.  But I stay close behind him, just in case.

Anyway, we get to his front door.  He opens it up and I give him his basket back.  He thanks me kindly and that’s that.

So yeah, that was that.  Like I said, very surreal.  But he was a very sweet man.  The thing that sticks with me most though, was his initial question.  Kannst du mich nach Hause bringen?  Can you bring me home?  I don’t know why, but that really got to me.  Just, I dunno, when you have to ask that to a complete stranger.  That’s rough.

Anyway, that happened.

The other thing I want to touch on in this post is my future.  Look, I’ve said a million times by now, I love my job.  And today was another great day.  I don’t feel like getting into it here, but maybe I’ll touch on it in my next full-length post.  Just that, I developed a new way of teaching some difficult material, and it seemed to be a big hit.  That was cool.

But the point is, no matter how much I love what I’m doing right now, I don’t actually know if I want to do it forever.  And that’s all things being equal.  But all things aren’t equal.  Bad shit is happening at home, and I’m often feeling like I’m not doing anything to fight it.  And I should be.  So what can I do?

Well, some months back, I got this crazy idea that wouldn’t it be cool to be a lawyer and do civil rights or immigration or something like that.  You know, help the people who are most defenseless and most under attack.

Well yeah, that would be cool.  But, I mean, I’m 37.  Am I too old for law school?  Could I hack it?  Is law school – never mind breaking into actually practicing law – a young man’s game?  Well, I didn’t want to make any mention of this until I had a chance to speak with someone who’d been through it.

So while I was home, I asked Adam about it.  Adam is my oldest continuous friend; we’ve been friends since the fourth grade; what is that – nine years old?  And he’s an attorney.  So if anyone would know, it’s him.

Right.  So I ask him.  And before I can even finish the question, he’s like: Yes.  Yes!  Do it!

Really?  Really.  So we discussed it at some length.  And he’s of the opinion that I’m not at all too old and that I absolutely could do it, and people older than me have done it, and he’d always thought I’d make a good lawyer.2  Which was amazing to hear and very encouraging.  Like, before that conversation, I thought maybe I was crazy for even considering this.

And Jared was there for the conversation.  And he says, “David, I think this is a wonderful idea.  And just so you know, when I finish my PhD [he’s doing a PhD now], I’ll be 39 or 40.  So of course you can do this.”  Which was equally great to hear and just as encouraging.

Of course there’s one major problem here.  Namely, how the hell could I hope to pay for this?  I mean, do I really want to take on even more student debt?  And it’s not like I’d make a whole lot of money if I did this.  Civil rights and immigration lawyers are not exactly well paid.  Which, to be clear, doesn’t matter to me.  I wouldn’t be doing it for money.  Just to say, do I want even more debt when I’d hardly be making enough to service said debt?

So that’s something I need to figure out, obviously.  And also, I’m not quite ready to leave Germany.  I’m not quite ready to put a bow on this whole experience I’m having over here.  To say nothing of the fact that I’m not done growing as a teacher.

To that last point, maybe you’re never done growing as a teacher.  But for example, when just today I tested a new methodology of my own device and saw it to be a success, well, who knows what else I can come up with before all is said and done?

But then, as far as that goes, here’s another thing.  And I’m almost ashamed to put this down, because I’m afraid it’s going to sound a bit arrogant.  But that’s not how I mean it.  So now I’ve had two students tell me they think I’m wasting my time and my talents at this job.  That I should be doing something bigger, more challenging, whatever.

And I dunno.  Am I too overqualified for what I do?  I hate to think that.  Like I said, I think it sounds arrogant.  And look, I’m not blind to the fact that most people who do what I do don’t have M.A’s in dead languages.  Most people who do what I do aren’t roping in French and Latin and Ancient Greek and Hebrew.  Most people who do what I do aren’t finding time to teach Shakespeare or rhetorical stylistics.

But you know what?  Just because you know a lot of shit doesn’t mean you’re good at communicating it.  All that stuff is great, but if people don’t leave my class being better at English than when they started, well, I’m not a good teacher, am I?  Now, I do think people leave my class better than when they started.  And I do happen to think I’m good at what I do.  But I also know I can be better.

And that’s what I’m focusing on right now.  Trying to be better every day, trying to be better for every class.  However good I might have been for the last student, I’m trying to be better for the next one.

So I try to remember all that when a student tells me, “Du verschwendest dein Talent in der Schule” – You’re wasting your talent in the school.  But when she says, “Du bist zu großer Angsthase” – You’re such a scaredy-cat3 – well, you gotta think about that too.  Don’t you?  I mean, I’d hate to think the reason I didn’t pursue a PhD, or don’t go to law school – if I don’t – is because I was too comfortable doing what I was doing or I was too scared to try.

So I’ve got all that going on in my head at the moment.  But six months ago, if I thought about the future, I couldn’t see anything beyond that day.  Now though, now sometimes at least, I think maybe I have a goal.  And that goal would be law school, and then civil rights or immigration law.

In any case, for now, I’m going to try and extend my visa.  I know I’m not ready to leave in November, when this incarnation of my visa expires.  I want to do this for at least another year.  But after that?  We’ll see.  If nothing else, I can at least be trying to save money, to ease the financial burden if I do decide to go down that road.

A quick note to my parents, who are hearing about this here for the first time.  I very much wanted to talk to you guys about this while I was in.  But I didn’t want to bring it up until I’d had a chance to discuss it with Adam.  And I didn’t see him until the Saturday before I left.  And after that, there wasn’t time to sit down and properly chat.  By which I mean, with wine.  Obviously.

Anyway, that’s enough for this post.

זײַ געסונט

 

  1. מצוח : The word technically means “commandment.”  But when, in English, we say “to do a mitzvah,” it means “to do a good deed.” []
  2. That last part has been true for a while.  He’s been telling me for years he thinks I’d make a great (or at least good) lawyer. []
  3. Angsthase – literally, “scaredy-rabbit.”  Sometimes you gotta love this language. []

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.