Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28, 2013--Bomb, Bomb, Bomb . . . Us

Iran revealed recently that they purchased new-and-improved centrifuges that will allow them to more rapidly produce enriched uranium. They continue to contend for non-military purposes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't said anything publicly about this . . . yet. But we know that these new centrifuges make it more likely that Iran will reach his so-called red line--a point in time when the Iranians will have enough potentially fissionable material to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

This is important because there seems to be an understanding between Netanyahu and President Obama that once that red line is broached it is very close to the time that the U.S. and and Israel will move to attack Iran's nuclear production facilities. Say, late this spring.

In the meantime, the U.S. and five other nations are attempting to get Iran one final time to the negotiating table this week in Kazakhstan to see if they can be convinced or threatened to curtail their nuclear program and to quit pretending that it is for peaceful purposes.

It may not be politically correct in liberal circles to say they seek to have atomic bombs, but let me say it here that that is their intention.

With all the oil they have they need nuclear power plants? If that were the case the U.S. and others in the West would help them build and fuel them.  Even though Iran might not use nuclear weapons against israel and maybe to have an atomic bomb is just to boost national pride and to be paid more attention to--à la North Korea, which we would ignore if it weren't for the fact of their growing nuclear might--does anyone really want to take the chance that Iran would never deploy atomic weapons against their neighbors?

As a result of the U.S.-led boycott, the Iranian economy is in state of collapse and their currency, the rial, has lost much of its value. Rampant inflation is the result.

Under these circumstances one would think Iran, acting rationally like Libya previously, would renounce its nuclear program, look for face-saving deals, and get the boycott lifted so their economy could recover. One would think.

But thinking again, here's another scenario to consider--

The ayatollahs in charge actually want the US and Israel to attack and bomb their country.

Nothing unites a people more than when they feel external threat. Look at the grit and determination Brits showed during the Nazi bombings; look how we in America united behind a hitherto unpopular president after the 9/11 attack. There are many other examples.

If we bombed them all dissent would in an instant disappear. The country would be united as never before, and the ayatollahs would not have to worry about dissidents or others within their country who would like to return to the days when Iran was secular, at peace, and had good relations with most of the countries of the world, including the United Staes and those in Europe.

If true, this makes a very complicated situation even more troublesome.

My timetable for all of this to unfold--late spring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013--Deficit Fact--It's Shrinking

It's an indisputable fact: the budget deficit is getting smaller.
In fiscal year 2010, which was President Obama's first full fiscal year in office, the budget deficit was $1.3 trillion. In fiscal year 2013, the Congressional Budget Office projects it will be $845 billion. That's a 35 percent decrease in terms of dollars, and it's even bigger—41 percent—if you're tracking the deficit as a share of the GDP. The percentage drop is even bigger—roughly 50 percent—if you start from fiscal year 2009, which overlapped the final year of the Bush presidency and the first year of Obama's.
But when Bloomberg News commissioned a survey asking Americans whether they believed the budget deficit was growing or shrinking, just six percent answered the question correctly. Ninety-four percent had no clue. And 62 percent actually thought it was getting bigger.
So the next time you hear a poll about how Americans think it's important to shrink the budget deficit, keep in mind that 94 percent of us don't even know that it's getting smaller.
This goes for members of Congress too--they hardly have a clue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26, 2013--Let the Sequestering Begin!

Bring it on. Let's get this out of our system.

Most congressional Republicans for years now have been wanting to slash spending and even reduce the federal government to a size--to quote the ever quotable Grover Norquist--so that what remains of it "can be drowned in a bathtub." So let's allow the sequester to occur later this week and then let the public (including conservatives) see what it's like to have their government severely reduced. And watch, as a result, their precious 401(k)s melt away as the stock market tanks as foreign investors in American securities bail out.

Let's see how the public feels when their kids' teachers are put on furlough, cops are laid off, Medicare reimbursements stall, and Social Security checks don't arrive. Let's see how the flying public feels about slower airport security checks and dramatically reduced plane schedules because air traffic controllers have been furloughed. Let's see how parents and college students pay for tuition after draconian cuts in federal student aid, including low-interest loans. Let's see how we do if we experience a natural disaster and FEMA doesn't have adequate resources to respond. And let's see what happens if the Pentagon has to respond to an international crisis but doesn't have the money to pay for the deployment of troops or ships.

These fiscal hawks will be happy if people living in poverty (mainly children) loss their food stamps or can't get treated by Medicaid. They'll be gleeful that the 47 percent that they believe prefer welfare to work can't get their prescription drugs filled and that those on unemployment insurance will have to panhandle on street corners if they can't find work or are too "lazy" to try. Including granny. As Ron Paul said during one of the Republican debates, if they can't take care of themselves, let them die.

So, let's have it out. Reasonable voices from both sides are feeling that they are being held hostage by radical elements in their own parties, so let's let the radicals have it their way. It may be that the only way to purge the system of them is to see what happens to the fabric of American life if they are able to shrunk government to Norquist's pigmy size.

We've been having a theoretical, ideologically-driven debate for years, for decades. Liberals claim that to reduce government as the sequester would require, over time, will will harm our economy; lead to more unemployment; cut back services that people need and have come to depend on while social and fiscal conservatives claim that the federal government, through profligate spending, has spawned a nation of unproductive "takers" and such an unsustainable national debt that the only solution is massive, across-the-board spending cuts.

This so-called debate (really, both sides talking past each other) cannot be resolved in theory (though, in my view, the preponderance of real evidence supports a robust but limited role for government). So, we should allow the cuts to take place and monitor the consequences. If everything continues to work pretty well, score points for Tea Party followers; if the economy stumbles further and services are cut in ways that effect much of what people feel they need and what is necessary to defend ourselves, the drown-the-government-crowd will be discredited.

So, as painful and risky as it might turn out to be, I am in favor of permitting all the spending reductions currently on the chopping block.

If things turn out to be a version of unlivable, we can always restore the most essential cuts and make them retroactive, acknowledging that even if this were to happens the Rand Pauls will rant on, but their case will have been greatly impeached.

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25, 2013--Take Me I'm Yours (Concluded)

Ten days after my surprise birthday party, on a sweltering June evening, still struggling with the guilt that clung to me like a second skin from my aborted liaison with Kim, and still confused and smarting about the party itself—how unexpectedly thoughtful it was of Lydia to go to all that effort to organize it and make it so special while at the same time flaunting that leather-clad Ludavicio of hers in front of me and everyone I knew--even before I was fully able to mobilize my well-honed capacities to rationalize the unpleasant and ignore the painful, I found myself on the third Thursday evening of the month at the Brooklyn College Writers Workshop.
I had been teaching in the college’s evening division where all the students were at least my age.  Many were recently discharged, deeply troubled Vietnam War vets and most of the others were what we in the education profession at the time called “returning students,” mainly women who had taken time off from school to work and raise families before embarking on a college education.  The students, thus, had richer life experiences than their instructors, me very much included--draft-deferred and childless as I was; and in recognition of this we arranged to give them college credit for that “life experience.”  
A number of them were aspiring writers, some with considerable talent and much to write about; but since there was no place in the regular curriculum where they could get their work read or critiqued, they sought me out about forming the Workshop as part of the extra-curriculum.  They approached me to serve as its “faculty advisor,” not because they thought I might be able to somehow advise them or offer that critique, in spite of my brief list of publications, but rather they needed me to sign off on the forms required in order for a “club” to be assigned a room on campus for its meetings.  They told me that that was all I was required to do—I did not have to attend much less participate—in fact they not so subtly recommended that I not be there.  Signing the forms was enough.  But since I knew wine would be available and likely even assorted drugs (it was the late 70s), I told them I would be there each month to fulfill the responsibilities that the college required of faculty advisors, chief among them to assure the administration that no intoxicants of any kind would be present.
Since they had not been able to find any other faculty member willing to sign whatever they placed in front of him, even though I suggested that on occasion I might show up, with a shrug they agreed to allow me to “advise” them.  And so I did what I could, being sure never to miss a meeting.
For the first few sessions I slouched at the back of the room in a seat behind the circle of chairs they arranged for themselves; and though I did not participate, I never failed to take a swig from the circulating jug or a toke on the stream of joints that kept pace with the rotating wine.  I also listened carefully as they read and reacted to the poems and short pieces of fiction they had been working on during the month between meetings.  Since the content was so heavily drawn from horrific war experiences, torrid love affairs, or abusive childhood and adult relationships, and with the wine mixing so quickly with the weed, most of the critiques, such as they were, were comments like, “Man, that’s heavy” or “Too much.  That’s just too much” or “That really gets to me” or “I hear you” or “Really, I feel what you’re saying” or merely “Cool.”
And so by the third meeting of the Workshop, thinking that I would receive a similarly sympathetic reception, I shyly brought something of my own to read, indicating that I wanted to participate by moving forward to join the circle. 
Amos Otis, a thrice-wounded Vietnam vet who served as chair that evening, nodded his huge bowl of an Afro in my direction as a form of welcome and as the signal to lead off, even before anyone had had their first toke or swallow.
Choking back unexpected nervousness, they were after all just students, I stammered out by way of setting a context that I had been working on a novel with the tentative title, Pearl and His Brother and the Dirty Books.  “You know, I think, that I’ve had a few stories published and some poems.  All in out-of-the-way places.  Nothing major yet, but I’m hoping if I can get this novel done and somehow find an agent and publisher, well that would be helpful to me here.  I mean in getting a full-time teaching position and eventually tenure.” 
With that latter comment a few in the group cleared their throats, I thought perhaps out of impatience or maybe as a comment about my mentioning tenure.  I knew them well enough by then and should have realized that this would not go down well—some had already participated in sit-ins in the dean’s office, protesting what they considered the college’s racist admissions practices and thus would not be sympathetic to my academic aspirations.  I was therefore thankful when the wine began to move from participant to participant and finally got to me.  To calm me and to help put a stop to my blathering I drained what remained in the bottle; and Otis again nodded at me, this time accompanied by a grunt that indicated I had better start reading.  Which I did, but with one final comment, actually a form of a plea, “Remember, this is just a first draft.” I looked up from the handwritten pages shaking in my hands in an attempt to catch someone’s eye, and added, “It’s very drafty.” 
No one even smiled at my attempt at humor and so I dropped my head and began to read:
There is that scar, a thin hairline though bulbed at one end in a white skin-drop that never tans.  It is 16 years since he sliced along the wrist string of tendons with the new Exacto knife while shaping the wooden elephant because the instructions insisted he carve toward himself, and not whittle away from himself with less control as he had for years with the sharpest blade of his bark-handled Scout knife.  And with the of-course first clumsy stroke in this new technique the razor sharp blade had slid off the elephant’s haunch to slice without blood into nearly two inches of raw flesh, so much like veal cutlet.  The carving set then remained untouched in the great scooped out radio cabinet, the ideal place to store unused toys and under them hide his growing collection of dirty books.
When I paused for a moment to catch my breath, something I needed to do since I had attempted to read the opening paragraph of Pearl poetically, as a single breathless line, I heard what I thought to be someone else choking in a manner that sounded to me, as the faculty advisor, to be more serious and perhaps dangerous than the familiar result of inhaling too much marijuana smoke.  This gasping was emanating from Patty Moriarity who was sitting directly across from me, and she was decidedly not in any danger nor had the circling joint yet gotten to her—she was chocking from laughter.  Uncontrollably.  And clearly at me because, as she sat there convulsed, rocking back and forth, she pointed at me; and while sputtering managed to choke out a few disconnected words, “’Skin-drop’? . . .  ‘Dirty books’? . . . “I love the ‘veal cutlet’.”  Tears flowed down her freckled cheeks, “Zazlo’s killing me.  This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.”  I was cringing, thinking whatever happened to “That really gets to me.  I hear you”?
Hyperventilating, it appeared as if Patty was on the verge of passing out, but she managed to say, “It’s so funny . . . I mean brilliant . . . Really . . .  Funnier than anything I’ve read in years.”  Someone passed her a cup of water.  She drank it down and it helped her gain control of herself.  “I swear if this doesn’t get you tenure when it’s published there’s no justice.”  Some of the other Workshop members mumbled in agreement and a couple even applauded softly.  Otis gave me two nods, which was his way of thanking me and indicating it was time for the next presentation.
I sat there in my chair quivering, wet through my clothes and reeking with nervous sweat.  I knew enough not to say a word, to hide my misery and confusion in stillness and silence.  And in that way, not capable of hearing anything else that was read by other participants, I managed to get through the rest of the evening.  I did not, though, pass up either the proffered wine or joints.  They helped get me to 9:00 when we were required to give up the room that, through my authority, I had been able to secure for the group.
I didn’t move, not lifting my head in an attempt to remain invisible until everyone had drifted away, most arranging to carry on as they did each month at the Emerald Isle Bar on nearby Flatbush Avenue.  When I finally did begin to rouse, the only person remaining was Patty Moriarity.
She had come across the room and was standing very close, directly in front of me, and looked down at me as I tried to make an even tighter ball of my body.  In husky Brooklynese, she said, “That really was somethin’ Zazlo.”  I didn’t flinch.  “I meant what I said.  I love your kind of writing, ironic, and know how difficult it is to produce.  I hope you’ll bring more next month.  Most of what goes on here is pure bullshit.”  At that I raised my head to 45 degrees and looked at her waist.  “I mean, so they got their asses shot off in Nam or were fucked by their fathers.”  I was by then looking directly at her.  “Just spillin’ your guts doesn’t do it.  It’s all about findin’ a voice, a real one, and developin’ a sense of distance, including with irony, don’t you think, from experience.” 
I was shaking my head in agreement but restrained myself from confessing that I had not been attempting in Pearl to be, in any way, ironic.
“Don’t get me wrong, I too do a lot of gut-spillin’ of my own,” she snorted at that and at the same time lit up an unfiltered Camel.  She inhaled deeply and with a barely audible sigh let the smoke slide from her nostrils. 
I had never before looked closely at her—she generally hung back in the group and had not as yet read anything or added much to the discussion.  But as the smoke rose to envelop her face I made a quick assessment—probably mid-forties; rather tall (perhaps as much as five-eight); blonde streaked hair chopped off at her chin; what some might describe as a lived-in face, or what I would call an Irish face with a hint of a thin scar threaded through her left eyebrow; and packed into a tight satin blouse and short black skirt, obviously, again as some might say--Patty was clearly stacked.
Still sitting in the chair, but fully straightened up, I offered tentatively, “Actually, I think some of the poetry is not that bad.  Last month, for example, I felt the poem Howie Rappaport read about his father being killed when he was a child had at least a hint of the ironic distance you seem to value.”  I added quickly, “As do I.  I agree, I value it too; it is essential when writing about these kinds of, how to put this, subjects.”
“You mean when they’re really spoutin’ clichés.” 
I couldn’t with integrity disagree with that, and so I asked, “But what about you?  Patty isn’t it?” 
She was smirking at me as if to say, “Don’t fuck with me Zazlo.”
“Sorry, of course I know who you are.”  I tried to shift the subject, “But what do you write about? You haven’t brought anything to the group yet.  From what you’ve said tonight, I’m curious, actually eager, to see some of your work.  Even the gut-spilling kind.”  With that we exchanged our first genuine smiles.
“One never knows, does one,” she shot back at me with a wink; but immediately her face darkened, “Though I’m workin’ on somethin’, a poem that might qualify—it’s about my Ex, that prick-bastard.”  When referring to him that way she literally turned her head and spat on the classroom floor.  But just as quickly recovered and said, without any sign of embarrassment, again with a twinkle in her voice, “As soon as I work some irony into it I promise to bring it in.”
I finally stood up, and since she did not back away from me—it’s fair to say she held her ground--we almost touched; and in a voice that I lowered to, I hope, convey both understanding for whatever that “prick-bastard” had done to her and to indicate how much I wanted to see some of her writing, I said, reaching out to touch her hands, which surprised me by their coolness “I hope you will.  I really do.  I’m sure you’ll find the voice you’re seeking,” I couldn’t even now manage to restrain myself from being so damned pedantic, “and the poetic distance so essential, as you said, to fine work.” 
She then broke away from me and darted for the door.  Over her shoulder she looked back at me with a toss of her smoke-sheathed head and blunt-cut hair, and said, “I live in Flushing, Queens two buses from here, and have to run.  I’ve got a sick 12 year-old waitin’.  But I’ll be back in July, maybe even with somethin’ for you.”
With that she was gone, though I must admit that the lingering image of the voluptuous contour of her back was as appealing to me as the rest of her had been.  And as I dragged myself though the thick air toward the parking lot, to retrieve my car and drive myself home to Lydia, I couldn’t get Patty out of my head much less her unexpected, yes disturbing reaction to my work.  Clearly she had provoked me in enough ways that I needed to do some quick revisionist thinking about my painfully-emerging novel, maybe I had stumbled into something with it; and also, I realized, I needed to give at least as much thought to Patty herself.  I just couldn’t get the sound of her voice to go away nor could I stop thinking about her body—neither the front nor the back.
*   *   *
It was a dreamy, half-stoned drive through the liquid air of Brooklyn.  As I wove my way among the late evening traffic, it was difficult to push myself beyond thoughts of Patty—the final toss of her head as she ran toward her buses remained like the frozen ghostly image seared onto the TV screen after the power has been turned off.  But I needed to shake those thoughts and that image of her out of my mind because I wanted instead, while the impressions were fresh, I wanted to replay the tape, still in my head, of her response to what I had presented. 
Here I had been working, I thought, in a serious, hopefully literary mode on a novel, thinly disguised autobiography to be sure, of my/Pearl’s development from boy to man—sort of a contemporary Jewish bildungsroman set of course in the Brooklyn of the 1950s and 60s.  And within that well-explored genre I had been attempting to insert all sorts of narrative and stylistic references and allusions, including the rhythmic beat of the prose to, what else, On the Road.  I thought it a sly idea to make my/Pearl’s journey limited in geography, in contrast, more from Brooklyn to Manhattan than from coast-to-coast, in order to emphasize the innerness of that journey.  In effect, just like Jack’s. 
But in its first public airing, it caused Patty to collapse in laughter.  I kept reminding myself, though, especially when trapped by the out-of-synch traffic lights along Ocean Parkway, that she (that flip of hair) thought it--how did she put it--“brilliant”?  So perhaps I would do well to revisit the manuscript, what I had written, nearly 300 hand-written legal-size pages, in an attempt to read all of it through the lens that Patty (that halo of smoke) provided.  Maybe, I fantasized, I had subliminally, through the transformative magic of the unconscious, added a satiric gloss to the prose, and maybe by applying that surface I had revealed the ironic underlay of what was most seriously at issue.  In the tradition of the best of, forgive the oxymoron, America’s serious humorists?  Could that possibly be?  Patty, could it be?
But I was quickly pulled from my reverie and the thoughts provoked by what Patty had perceived by the sight of Lydia storming back and forth, arms folded across her chest, on the back porch as I pulled into the garage.  I had seen that storm before and knew I was in for a long and unpleasant night.
*    *    *
Without even a summary greeting she stamped her foot and said, “It’s almost midnight.  Where have you been?”
“You know, at the college.  It’s the third Thursday of the month, when we have the Workshop.  And,” looking with a theatrical gesture at the illuminated dial of my watch, “it’s only 10:15.”
“As far as I’m concerned it might as well be midnight,” she snapped back at me and yanked the back door open, almost tearing it from its hinges, and marched into the kitchen.  It swung shut on its spring before I could catch it.   Alone on the porch I had a fleeting thought—Get back in the car and head for Flushing or the beach or the city.  Somewhere.  But not in there with her.  If you go inside you will have only yourself to blame for what happens.  But that thought fled quickly; and like a puppy I followed her inside without even taking a half step back toward the garage.  Not much of Kerouac was to be found on that back porch.
She stood at the sink, both hands gripping it so hard that I feared she would shatter the porcelain.  “I can’t believe him.”  She faced away from me and I was not certain if this was intended for me to hear or who “him” might be.  “The nerve.  After what he did to me.  Or should I say what he didn’t do to me.” 
She kicked the door beneath the sink and it popped open and slammed into her calf.  “Fuck!” she shouted at it and, I was certain, at me.
I had by then been sobered up from whatever was lingering in my system from the Workshop ingestions and tried to appear sympathetic, “That must have hurt.  Did you cut yourself?  Do you want me to take a look at it?”  I was bending in her direction to examine her bare leg.
But as I caringly leaned toward her, Lydia took a swing at me as if to defend herself and, missing me, as I snatched my head back, screamed, “Too late.  If you wanted to be a doctor you should have gone to med school.  Then maybe you would have made something of yourself instead of sitting around all day hunched over your stupid papers.”  At this I would have responded if I hadn’t heard the same thing from her at least a hundred times before.   I did though at least turn to leave, muttering to myself, “Humid . . . hot . . . shower.”  I was also wanting to find a place to be alone for ten minutes to reestablish my equilibrium, wondering, as I left the kitchen, if Patty too was right then stepping into a shower of her own out there in the heat of Queens.
I dragged myself up to the second floor shedding my clothes as I took the steps and entered the shower stall almost as fast I was able to adjust the water.  It flowed over me and I began to return to myself, perhaps recapturing some of that high, feeling it was so good, so good.  “Ahhhhh.”
“I know you couldn’t care less,” it was Lydia.  She had followed me into the bathroom, something she had never done before, and I could see her opaque outline through the plastic curtain, “but I need to talk to someone, and tonight you’ll have to do.”  I opened the tap further, thinking maybe the increased stream of water would create enough white noise to make what she was saying unintelligible.  
But it didn’t help as she raised her voice enough to cut though the rush of sound.  “I’m sure you have your own thoughts about who I’m talking about,” even in the cacophony I could catch the edge to her comment, “but I’m talking about Dr. Luven.  Remember him?  The quack?  I made you see him before we got married.”  I did indeed remember him and his Orgone Box and the bed with the tennis racket. 
“The nerve of him to call me now.  Today.  After how many years?  Five?  I forget.  How long have we been married?  I forgot that too,” she snorted.  That pierced the curtain and the cascading water as if the room were otherwise silent.  “Not that he did anything useful for you either.”  I felt myself instinctively covering my private parts and turned to face the tiled wall.
“He has a daughter, not that I would know how he managed to produce one he has such a limp dick.”  Sobered up again, I wondered if she was speaking figuratively.   “She wants to study modern dance, can you believe it, and he had the nerve to call me.  Me!”  She slapped at the curtain so hard that it swung in to where I was huddled and it stuck fast to my wet back.  I didn’t move.  “I told him where she could go.  And him too.  That phony piece of shit!”  She had moved to the bathroom sink and I could hear her repeatedly opening and slamming shut the medicine cabinet.  
“Will you come out of there already?”  She gave the mirrored door one final slam and I heard the sound of broken glass crashing into the sink.  “Shit!” she shrieked, and stomped back to where I still was in the shower.  “There’s something we need to talk about.”  I looked up toward the ceiling in the false hope that I might find a window there through which I could crawl and, naked, find my way back to the car and head for Queens. 
But she had ripped the curtain open and threw the one dry bath towel at me.  It hit me in the back and fell into the tub where it immediately became soaking wet.  Seeing this, Lydia snickered at me, “Get yourself out of there and roll around on the rug if you have to dry yourself.  I’ll be waiting for you downstairs.”  She added threateningly as she spun toward the door.  “And I mean right now.  Not just now.”
Still in her control, like an automaton, I got my terrycloth bathroom from the bedroom closet and, wrapped in it, with head bowed in submission--the Workshop felt then as if it had occurred a year ago somewhere on another planet--I shuffled back downstairs where I found her perched on the now iconic Spanish sofa.
Without any attempt to set a context Lydia spurted, “Speaking of that Luven, it’s time for you to see another shrink.  I know you keep saying that you don’t want to share any of your inner life, whatever that means,” she dripped sarcasm, “with anyone or anything other than whatever it is that you keep scribbling on those grimy yellow pads.”  She was referring to my novel.
“Fine, but then there’s me.  Me!“  She gestured at herself so violently that she slammed her fist into her bony sternum.  I smiled secretly when she caused herself to wince.  “We’ve talked about this before,” in truth she had done the talking and I the listening, “we tried to get you taken care of by Luven.  That capon.  But still there is nothing happening.  And I mean nothing!”  This time she was able to stop herself from striking her chest again.  “So I’ve made an appointment for you to see Dr. Merkin.”
“You what?” I at last shouted.  “Your shrink?”
“Correct.  You’re seeing him on Tuesday at 11:00.  I even gave up my appointment.”
I couldn’t believe this.  She hadn’t even consulted me to see if I had scheduled any office hours with my students on Tuesday.
She had moved on from the Bioenergetic Luven because his technique, after five years of seeing him, did not produce the results she had been seeking—in spite of all the body work she still wasn’t getting “there.”  So she switched to the “eclectic” Boris Merkin, who, she said, in his eclecticism, not only paid attention to the body, but also spent many sessions during which he helped his clients explore the psychodynamics of their upbringing, especially the relationship between fathers and daughters and the transferential issues common between male psychiatrists and their female patients.  He had even written papers on the subject that had been prominently featured in The Psychoanalytic Review.  Lydia had shown me some of the offprints, pointing out how relevant his research was to her own life as a first-born and the issues involved in her being treated by a male therapist. 
I of course was now wondering, even though I too was my parents’ first child, “What does any of this have to do with me?”  But only said, “I think Tuesday at 11:00 will work for me.”
*    *    *
To my considerably surprise, I came to enjoy seeing Dr. Merkin.  My first impression, though, was not positive—of him or of me. 
In regard to him, and I admit this is profoundly superficial, to me Dr. Merkin looked more like an accountant than anyone’s idea of how a real analyst should appear.  Dr. Luven, by contrast, in spite of the way he dressed, at least had the appropriate middle European accent, serious hair, and had studied in Vienna and Berlin under Wilhelm Reich and other psychoanalytic pioneers.  Merkin, by contrast, was a graduate of Brooklyn College—at my initial session the first thing I did was check his framed diplomas—and Flower Fifth Avenue Medical School, at the time the only commutable “safe” med school for Ashkenazi Jews recently moving on from the city’s outer-borough ghettos.  In addition, he had a hair problem—his head was rimmed by a two-inch wide band of inauspicious fuzz which looked as if it had been affixed by glue to his always-perspiring head; and he wore baggy suits that only accented the lumpiness of his formless body.  Then, when he stood, which was rare, he barely came up to the height of my chest.  All of this, far from ideal.  I thought that at least he should have grown a beard. 
In addition to my own initial doubts, I wondered what Lydia saw in him, considering her fixations on bodies and their mysterious functions.  He did not set a good example for any of that.
Then in regard to myself, I also was not impressed—what was I doing there in the first place?  And why had I so passively allowed her to decide I needed more treatment; why had I allowed her to select my therapist—assuming that I would agree to see one, which was, I needed to admit, a non-discussable and foregone conclusion—why did I allow her to schedule a time for me to see him without asking in advance if it was convenient?   Good questions all.  But there I was in any case on a late-June Tuesday, precisely on time at 11:00 AM at his office right off Grand Army Plaza, taking over Lydia’s regular appointment.  I was even found lying on his cracked-leather couch, with a box of Kleenex tissues on my chest as if I were a side table.  What, I thought, was portended by the fact that he so automatically plopped them there?

But well before that thought could develop, he laid out what he called “the rules of the road”: 

“It is not often my practice to treat two members of the same family.”  Up to that point I had never thought of Lydia and me in this way—to me “family” meant my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  “But in your case,” he continued, “I feel that having a limited number of sessions with you,” I was relieved to hear him mention they would be limited in number, “might be helpful—in fact, if you prove to be honest and work hard I feel that you will benefit—but more than that it will be helpful to your wife.”  Another term that I was not used to employing.  “It is no secret to you,” that was an understatement, “that I have been working with her now for almost five years.  Even by classical analytic standards that is a considerable amount of time.”  And I was about to add, “money,” since I wrote checks for all of his fees—Lydia had for most of that time either been taking dance cases or performing in junior companies for pittances that barely covered her expenses—in fact in three weeks she was again going to be out of town at Connecticut College for their annual modern dance festival.  “So, after careful discussion with her and our together deeply probing her feelings about this arrangement, she, and now I have agreed to allow you to work with me.”  I was so glad to learn that my therapy, limited though it was decided by the two of them to be, had been so deeply analyzed—again I quickly calculated how much the discussion about that had cost me
“I even took the time to see my own supervising analyst—I haven’t been to him in years: he is a great man,” how much more would that cost I wondered, “and he counseled me that if I take certain precautions, especially being careful to manage any potential transference issues that might emerge, that it would be permitted.” 
Everyone was getting into my act I thought.  And as a result of that feeling, which I analyzed on my own, thank you, by looking squarely at how I was reacting to what he was saying, not well I acknowledged, I came to conclude that I was an unsuitable candidate for whatever it was that he had in store for me after he finished laying out the rules. 
“And so we will work together for a month.  I should quickly add, because I want to get us to work,” he checked his watch, “that there is often value in placing such limits on therapy (of course truth requires me to say that the concomitant potential benefits are equally limited)—it will force you to be efficient in your use of our valuable time.”  Not just valuable, I thought, unable to shut off the meter that was ticking in my head, but also expensive.  “Above all, in this unusual circumstance of treating spouses,” another concept foreign to me, “it is essential, I emphasize essential, that what happens here, what is discussed and shared, will remain completely and totally confidential.”  I thought I heard the hint of a Germanic accent when he articulated, carefully syllable-by-syllable, com-plete-ly and to-tal-ly.  As a post World War II baby I knew from that how seriously he meant me to take these orders. 
“Are we in agreement?” he asked in conclusion, sounding again more like the Brooklyn boy he was.  I pulled a tissue from the box, feeling I should get all of my money’s worth of services and goods, and nodded with sufficient vigor that he would be able to see me through his thick glasses.  It was not difficult to get me to agree not to discuss any of this with Lydia—I could always put the blame on her Merkin when she picked away at me, demanding that I tell her everything.
And so we began.  His technique was so different from what I remembered of my tortuous time with Dr. Luven.  Over the course of the month, in place of body work, he had me talk about early memories, my feelings about my family, my actual family, especially about my father and his relationship with my mother.  I sensed that he was probing here to see if there were any echoes of that “resonating,” my word, within my “relationship,” his word, with Lydia.  He was particularly interested in what he called “dream material”—insisting that I keep a pad by the bed so I could record even fragments of dreams before they were lost to consciousness.  To this I keenly agreed, thinking maybe I could work some of this into my novel—as a window into the unconscious and my authentic self, particularly if I could weave some irony into the way I transformed the material into narrative.
So, in spite of my hesitations and Merkin’s demeanor, I came to look forward to my time with him.  I even, on occasion, found I made actual use of his tissues, especially in the next-to-last session when a dream about which I had scribbled 2:00 AM notes involved what he, and I eventually as well, suspected revealed very early, hitherto hidden memories of something sexually untoward I had glimpsed going on between my father and one of his sisters. Yes, of course, it was Madeline.
At the final Tuesday session, Lydia by then was up in Connecticut, two days before the July meeting of the Writers Workshop—Patty was again preoccupying my mind—Dr. Merkin, before I could share material from another dream, asked me if this time I would sit in a chair facing him.  I of course did, being sure, since I had no idea what to expect from this radical change in routine, to bring the Kleenex with me. 
When I was seated he slid a pad and drawing pencil across to me.  “Please,” he said looking directly at me, “on this pad, draw a picture of a woman’s vagina.”  I was stunned, but not enough to deflect me from wondering why he asked me to draw a women’s one—didn’t that go without saying?
A what?” I finally asked, somewhat incredulously, “What do you want me to do?”
“I think you heard me clearly enough.  If we had the time, this is unfortunately the final session, we could spend much valuable time analyzing your reaction to this.  But now, with our limited remaining moments, please, as I asked you to do, draw a vagina for me.  On the pad,” which he tapped with the stem of his pipe. 
Drawing was something I prided myself in doing well, even if I was untrained, but this assignment was so unexpected and emotionally ladened that I worked hesitantly, in truth not doing a very good job at all.  What I produced was more a cartoon version of a vagina than one that was naturalistic, with finesse or shading. 
But I also quickly had to confess to myself, certainly not to Dr. Merkin, that I had not had enough experience studying actual vaginas to enable me to produce one in perspective, with verisimilitude.  I knew enough by then from my experiences with therapists, limited though they were, that to share and then deal with this properly would likely take months or even years.
“That’s quite incomplete,” he said to me when I paused.  “Please proceed.  You have produced just the barest outline.”  He again tapped the pad; this time with his eyeglasses.  “To me it looks more like a clamshell standing on end than an anatomically correct vagina.”
“Well,” I attempted to defend myself, “you didn’t tell me how specific you wanted it to be.” 
Very,” he said sternly. 
Feeling admonished I picked up the pencil again and fiddled some more with my drawing, adding some squiggles around the outer edge of the image in a feebly attempt to represent pubic hair.
I’m not interested in that,” he almost growled.  I want you to deal with the inside.”  I didn’t move.  “I gather you were a pre-med in college.  Isn’t that correct?” I nodded without looking at him, “So, for example, where’s the urethra?  Not that I care that much about it.  Much more important,” he pressed on, “more germane, considering the problems—forgive me, I should have said ‘issues,’” he was now taking great care to be professionally precise, “With the most significant issue in your family,” I again thought, what does any of this vagina business have to do with my “family” “I am asking, of course, about the clitoris.  Where’s the clitoris?  You forgot to include it.”
“Oh that,” I said, attempting to sound as nonchalant as possible.  “Why, it’s right over here.”  And with that I drew a small oval in the middle of the clamshell.
“Well actually,” he said, “that’s not quite correct.  It’s higher up.”  He took hold of my hand, in which I still grasped the pencil, and directed it to the top of my vagina.  “There,” he emphasized, “There.”
I sheepishly erased the first oval and inscribed a second one where he had placed my pencil in the anatomically more correct location.
“Good,” he said in a softer tone, which helped to calm me.  “I have asked you to do this, of course, because it has to do with the most important issue still unresolved in your relationship with your wife.  Lydia.”  He had not previously used her name.  “The fact that you are clearly unfamiliar with the location of the clitoris,” he waved me off as I rose to object, “which in fairness I should add is not uncommon with pre-Masters-and-Johnson men of your generation,” this generational allusion made me feel decidedly middle-aged that I wanted so much to be able to retreat to the sanctuary and comfort of his analytic couch, “But this suggests,” he was relentless, “why you have been unable to satisfy your wife, Lydia, to--how shall I best put this--to bring here to resolution, to fulfillment.”
I knew of course that this was where we were destined to arrive—forget all the prior visit’s interest in intrapsychic, intergenerational problems.  Or as he would have preferred to express it, “issues” within my family.  I had been sent to Merkin, as I had been sent to Luven, so that Lydia could “get there.” 
He went on, “I of course am familiar with her prior treatment with, I forgot his name . . . “
“Dr. Luven,” I said, “Dr. Arthur Luven.  I saw him too.  Three times.  Like you, he also put a limit on my sessions.” 
I thought it would tweak him to be compared to that--Lydia’s term--quack.  But he was imperturbable.  “I understand,” he said without evident emotion, “But my point is that his techniques lacked nuance.  They were too much about mechanics.  Plumbing, if you will.  He is in my view insufficiently eclectic.” 
Then what, I wondered, was all this drawing of urethras and clitorises?  More plumbing, no?   But as if he had read my mind, he quickly added, “Yet then again, some of it is just that.  We are also animals, no?  Biological? So we need also to know about these anatomical matters and must learn how to use them in our pursuit of an authentic and happy life.”  He had me there.
“And so, here we are,” he inhaled deeply, sucking on his pipe, which was unlit, and looked over at me.  Just as at my last session with Luven, I hoped we were about to run out of time.  I did not respond or move since I was also attempting to stifle any revelations that might escape from my body language.
I successfully out waited him and so, under time pressure, he was forced to say, “We do not have the time for me to tell you all that you need to know about the differences between clitoral and vaginal orgasms.”  Orgasms again--I was flashing back to my days with Luven.  “Suffice it to say that the former potentially leads to the latter.”  I was so distracted and confused that I could not sort out which he had mentioned as the former and which the latter.  I continued to sit there as immobile as possible, not saying a word, counting the ticking of his Regulator clock.  “And,” he said, “a woman’s full fulfillment requires you not to stop, feeling satisfied with yourself, when she, Lydia, your wife has reached merely the former.”  I still said nothing while staring down at my vagina cartoon so as to appear to him to be making sure, by studying it so intently, that I would have a clear memory, after my treatment was concluded, of at least what was inscribed there.  
“OK,” he said.  Clearly we were almost out of time; and he popped out of his chair with more alacrity than I would have imagined possible, considering the considerable pull of gravity on his stump of a body, “Where does this leave us?”  It was clear that he meant this now to be my final opportunity to say something.
After a few uncomfortable moments, in a way that I hoped would be light spirited and perhaps even amusing, I pointed at the clock, and offered, “I suppose, this leaves us out of time.” 
I tried a smile, which clearly didn’t work since he said, “Not very amusing Lloyd.  We have been engaging in serious business here, and I had hoped for more from you.”
“Well,” I said, restored to meekness, “I suppose I could try again.”
He peered at me, clearly wanting me to say more.  And so I did, “With Lydia, I mean.”
“That’s more what I was hoping to hear.”  He clapped his hands to signal the end of our session and the termination of my treatment.
I rose slowly and said as I turned to leave, “Thank you Dr. Merkin.  I’m sure this will prove to be very helpful to me.”  And without his needing to do any more chastising, I corrected myself, “I mean to us.”  He did not respond.
But as things turned out, my prediction about the “me” and the “us” would soon prove to be more the former than the latter.
*    *    *
Two days after my final session with Dr. Merkin was a Thursday, the last Thursday of July and I was among the first to arrive at the Writers Workshop.  I did not bring anything of my own to present but was keen to see if Patty would read something of hers—she had indicated she was working on a poem and would bring it in if she could find the right voice for it.  Otis was there busy rolling a half-dozen joints that would help sustain us through another stifling night in our un-air-conditioned meeting room.  Howie was pulling the corks out of on two big jugs of cheap raffia-wrapped Chianti.   That too would help.
Others drifted in and shared what we at the time called Black-Power handshakes--Dean Mason was there, a demolitions expert who had his left arm blown off in Vietnam when attempting, while high on LSD, to defuse a land mine—he wrote surprisingly wistful poems about various forms of loss set in turn-of-the century rural French Indochina; also there was Ralph Santiago, an Air Force vet, who had been shot down over the South China Sea and somehow managed to survive in the shark-infested water for almost a week before he was miraculously rescued—he wrote short stories which were more a hallucinatory series of shouts seamlessly braided with epithets than coherent narratives set, as best as anyone could tell (they were that difficult to unravel and he refused to talk about them), in Manhattan’s barrio where we thought he had grown up; and also there was Loraine Nostra, one of the gut-spilling abused, who tried being a lesbian for a while )and wrote about that) in an attempt to redefine her life—she wound up a year later living with and eventually marrying Ralph; and then there was blubbery Bobby Richman, barely eighteen, veteran and survivor of a very different kind of warfare—his own battle against the most nouveau-riche upbringing the borough of Brooklyn was capable of imposing (there were many contenders for that distinction).  Bobby took this as his inspiration and wrote about that aspect of his life in an epic poem, Kiddihood, with more precocious talent and even genius than the rest of us combined could muster.  He lyrically shared images of his mother’s “vinyl universe,” of “collectable” Staffordshire figurines and plastic slipcovers from which he extracted metaphoric truth, proving, back to Blake once more, that the universe could indeed to be found in a grain of sand or, in little Bobby’s case, a yard of flocked wallpaper.
But no Patty.  Which sent me straight into a funk.  With Lydia still up in Connecticut and after my sessions with Dr. Merkin, especially the last of them, I felt ready for another try at adventure.  Or at least a Borough of Queens version of one.
Otis declared that we had a quorum, though we hardly needed one considering the business in which we were engaged—none whatsoever--and indicated by just beginning to read that he had something to present.  A poem called Motherfucker.  I think, actually, as I reflect back on that year, that all his poems had the same title.
Since it, like the rest of the series, was not distinguished, I will refrain from quoting from it or from the discussion that followed—suffice it to say, since that discussion was so brief and thus will not divert us, it included  Howie saying, “Far out”; Ralph offering his ubiquitous, “Too much”; and Lorraine spitting, “Men!”
And it was thus a great relief to me that, just as the last “motherfucker” ricocheted back at us off the black board, Patty slipped into the room and sat down where I had previously hid--behind the inner circle of chairs.  It was obvious that she was agitated and, with a sigh of relief, grabbed at the perfectly-timed bottle of wine as it reached her.  I watched as she took a long drink, which appeared quickly to help settle her.  She shrugged off a crocheted sweater, which she wore even in this heat, and let it fall at her feet.  She was wearing beneath it a blue spandex tank top, which, I could not help but notice, her breasts stretched almost to its elastic limit.  And using the traction offered by her rubber-soled shoes she pulled her chair and herself, inch by inch, into the circle.  I also noticed that she had a tightly folded paper in her hands, which were visibly shaking.  I thought I understood why.
Then, like Otis, without any introductory comments, before anyone else could seize the floor, Patty began to read, in a voice full of timbre from years of smoking, drinking, and who knows what else:
There will be no more songs at midnight
nor moans of life transporting
or lives with meaning.
These, this was for another time
when there were lilacs in our dooryard
and you chanted songs to me.
This, these have shed their echo
and I am left
with nothing but this moon . . .
There was more, but just this fragment was enough to intoxicate me; and, I sensed, the entire room of the wounded and left behind—the allusions (to Whitman?--I was still incapable of not being pedantic); the sentiment; the, yes, voice so different from anything I, in my stereotypical categorizing, had in truth been expecting.  This was gut-spilling, true--I recalled her telling me about her prick-bastard Ex--but with an ironic, subtle vengeance. 
And with that, as if on cue, the lights in the classroom, and from what we could see across the campus, all of these lights blinked off and we were left in total darkness and an uneasy silence broken only by the scream of the sirens set off by the emergency lights that flashed on to mark the exits.  I was concerned about what flashbacks the Nam vets might be experiencing.
After a tense moment, illuminated by only the glow of now multiple joints circling to help calm the many scarred nerves, I moved across the room and eased myself into the chair next to Patty.  Bobby, who had been in the bathroom, burst back in and breathlessly reported that he had heard from one of the college’s security people that the whole city, maybe even the entire country was blacked out—just like it had been in 1965.  For him, it was a great adventure; for the rest of us at best an inconvenience.
In the nearly utter blackness, I heard Patty mutter caustically, “Wouldn’t you know it.  This really makes my day.”
I leaned over toward her, breathing her in, and said as gently as I could, “That was amazing.  You accomplished just what you said you wanted to achieve, you . . . “
She cut me off, no longer thinking about her poem, “How the fuck am I gonna get home?”  The spell was broken--she again was Patty from Queens.  “Billy, my kid will think the world is ending.”
“I’ll get you there,” I said, attempting to sound strong and assuring.
“But don’t you live in an entirely different direction?  Maybe the buses will be runnin’.  I’ll be OK.  Trust me, I’ve had to get through much worse things than this.” 
I did trust that and, thinking again of the things she alluded to in her poem and at the June meeting, I offered, “Not on your life.  I’ll drive you and then I’ll go home.
“But it’ll be dangerous.  The traffic lights will be out and I live in a dangerous neighborhood in the middle of Queens.  There was all sorts of lootin’ the last time this happened.  Two people got shot.”
But without real protest she allowed me to lead here out into the hallway, holding on to my hand, which I hoped was not trembling for what could have been many reasons, as we were guided along by the flickering emergency lights.
We quickly found the car and were soon heading diagonally across Brooklyn, seeking the Interboro Parkway, which would take us up toward Queens.  She slouched against her door and smoked one cigarette after another, not saying a word.  I put on the radio and we pulled in reports from around the country—it was indeed another massive power failure, and New York City was again totally paralyzed.  
But thankfully the traffic was lighter than I had expected so to relax us I put on WRVR, my favorite jazz station.  Wouldn’t you know it, Miles Davis immediately filled the car, his mellow sound mixing with Patty’s raspy breathing. 
She began to sing along with him--
Can't get out of this mood
Can't get over this feeling . . .
But now I'm saying it,
I'm playing it dumb,
Can't get out of this mood . . .
I thought I heard her say plaintively, before the final line, “This coulda been written for me”--
Heartbreak here I come.
At that she chuckled, “I already been there.  Not plannin’ to go back again.”
We could have been anywhere as we glided along deserted streets in a car full of the sweet breath of her exhaled smoke, drawn along, as in her poem, by a humidity-rimmed moon.
She had been directing me through unfamiliar streets as we got closer to the depths of Queens where she lived.  In “Archie Bunker Land,” she joked as the asphalt-tile clad two-family houses sprang into view, lit by my headlights, as we probed our way into the heart of that--she was right--raw landscape.
*   *   *
On her doorstep, Patty said to me, “You’re not goin’ home tonight.  You saw all those kids up to no good along Kissena Boulevard.  It’s getting worser by the minute.”  From inside her house, like all the others piled one atop the other, I heard what sounded like manic pounding.  Noticing this, Patty said, “Oh, that’s just Billy,” as if that were sufficient explanation.  It was, at least for the moment.  “You can call your wife from here.  You’re married, right?  If the phones are workin’ you can let her know.”
“We’ll, she’s out of town and I wouldn’t know how to reach her even if I wanted to.”  That last admission just slipped out and so I quickly added, “They’re probably blacked out there too.”
“So,” she said, swinging the door open, “then there’s no problem.  You can sleep on the sofa.”  I was beginning to feel intrigued by the unfolding situation, even though everything made good sense--it was dangerous and I really didn’t know my way around Queens, especially with all the lights out; and then, with her son Billy there, her invitation felt just thoughtful and totally innocent.   The perception of which, the practicality, released an immediate wave of disappointment—with the city blacked out and Lydia out of town, and out of range, with Patty’s poem and her husky singing along with Miles still mixing in my mind, not to mention the lingering high from the marijuana and wine and the lurking sense of danger, who needed, who wanted innocence.  If only Billy would evaporate, who knows what . . .
“Billy,” Patty came to a version of rescue, screaming at him, “Get that out of here, will you.  Dr. Lazlo’s gonna be sleeping on the sofa tonight.”  Billy sat in the middle of the living room surrounded by lit candles and a professional-seeming drum set.  That explained the pounding I had heard.
“Do I have to, Ma?  I’m scared and don’t want to sleep all the way up in the attic.” 
“That’s where his bedroom is,” Patty explained to me in an aside, “I made him move up there after his father walked out so I could have some privacy for my studyin’ and writin’ and whatever; and wouldn’t have to listen to him drummin’ all night.”   Privacy sounded like a good idea to me too, particularly when it came to whatever she meant by the “whatever.”  In the threatening city I was feeling adventurous and bold.
Billy reluctantly and with considerable attitude hauled himself up out the chair and began, piece by piece, to drag the various drums and cymbals up the steps to the third floor, moping and sighing with every dramatic step. 
Patty poured herself a tall tumbler of Bourbon and for me some white wine, still chilled from the silent refrigerator.  She collapsed onto one of the chrome chairs at her kitchen table, signaling to me to join her.  Which I did.   She again shrugged off her sweater.  Even in the candlelight her electric blue tank top shimmered as it were animated by her deep breathing and swelling chest.
“It’s in the past,” Patty mused, as if to herself, “but it’s at times like this that I think about Matty.  That shit.  What he did to me and his only livin’ breathin’ son.”  I began nodding, the version that I hoped communicated understanding and compassion. 
“I was no angel, that I’ll confess, but will spare you the details,” though I craved them.  “He on the other hand, after he came home from the war, all strung out, all he did all day was drink.  The VA had a good detox program; but, no, he was too much of a man,” she sneered, “to admit he had problems much less be willin’ to put himself into one of those groups where he’d have to talk about what he did over there and what that did to him.  He kept tellin’ me he could stop any time he wanted to.  Sure.  ‘No fuckin’ big deal,’ he said to me every time I nagged him about it, but I knew where all this was headed.” 
She paused to gather herself, “I have the scars to prove it.”  And with that she popped out her upper plate of teeth and, holding it before her, showed it to me as evidence of how life at the end had been with him.  I kept nodding and slid my chair closer to her so I could take hold of her hand.  I began to stroke it. 
I couldn’t believe how sexually stimulated I became even with her still holding her teeth out as if they were an amulet of her pain.  She began silently to allow tears to form and shuddered.  I put my other arm around her, softly kneading her tense shoulders.  She leaned against me but quickly, snapping out of her spell, pulled away, saying lightly, “Can I get you a refill?  I sure could use another.”  She emitted her trademark throaty laugh.  “And then let’s get you to sleep.  Right?”
What was I supposed to say to that—“Sure, good idea, it’s getting to be past my bedtime.  I need to get up early in order to . . .  actually to do nothing.”  I wasn’t the least bit tired and sensed that neither was she.  It was only about 9:00 and Billy was now drumming away even more violently from his room up in the attic as if to drive away the demons let loose in the city by the blackout.
Sensing I was neither tired nor eager to let go of her so soon she proposed we look for my jazz station on her battery-operated radio.  I showed her where to find it—106.5 FM, still broadcasting, with auxiliary power, from the crypt of Riverside Church.  Now they were broadcasting John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman out into the ruby night.
Somehow we found ourselves clinging to each other and moving together to their thick, desolate sound in a sort of mongrel form of dance.  In truth, using what passed for dancing as an excuse to just hold onto each other. 
Though I can barely carry a tune I found myself singing along with Hartman, obliterating every nuance of all his held notes--
You are too beautiful
for one man alone
one lucky fool to be with
when there are other men
with eyes of their own
to see with . . .
Patty snorted, “Just perfect,” I thought she was about to make ironic fun of my attempt at singing, “Perfect.  ‘Too beautiful,’ for a dog like me.”  And with that she began to sob.  Her tears in an instant wet right through my shirt.  I felt them drench my chest.  There was no comforting her now; but in the midst of her tears she still managed to add, almost choking from laughing while crying, “Not that this isn’t also a comment about your singing.” 
This broke the second spell of the evening and we both, still embracing, tumbled onto the sofa where we quickly found ourselves naked making love.  Unlike with Kim, there was thankfully no flaccidity this time.  We fucked for what seemed like forever to the cacophonic mix of both Coltrane’s Elvin Jones and Bobby Moriarity on drums. 
I didn’t think even once about Lydia except when Patty “got there,” with thunderous vengeance.  But I did find myself wanting to say, “Thank you Dr. Merkin for showing me the way.”
*    *    *
I slipped out of Patty’s house just as the sun began to rise and retraced my diagonal path across Queens back into Brooklyn, through the cemeteries, via the Interboro Parkway.  With no promises exchanged or expectations about what might happen next, we had said goodbye at 3:30 AM when she left me on the sofa to go up to her bedroom where she wanted Bobby to find her when he awoke.
I again found myself imagining how it might feel to be like Jack, on the road.  From my overstocked brain, I recalled his line, “Burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”  Stars Patty and I had seen together as we cut through the black streets and then later the candles as we shuddered with pleasure in each others arms, aware also of the spidery sadness lurking at the center of our lives.
So perhaps, I thought, unhappiness aside, though maybe, I caught myself acknowledging, unhappiness front and center, I had in fact stumbled onto the appropriate subject matter and voice for Pearl and His Brother and the Dirty Books.  Twenty years after Jack I was revisiting in spirit, and to some extent in substance, what he had so brilliantly accomplished.  He had both defined and put a coda on his generation of ultimately disillusioned seekers.  Also imbued by despair and unhappiness.  But, as Patty had discovered and taught me, my appropriation, also despairing, had a chance to work because I had set it in the spirit of my time, among the successor generation, and had found a way to add the essential coloration of irony.
Thus self-inspired, it was with great anticipation that I found, when back on my porch in Brooklyn, along with the power restored, a thick envelope waiting from Black Sun magazine, where I had sent the first chapter of Pearl, thinking that they would welcome it.  They had, recall, published some of my earlier fiction, in fact my only published story, and to see a part of Pearl in print, even in the modestly-mimeographed Black Sun, would encourage me to believe in it, press on with it.
But before I could settle onto the sofa to savor what was inside, I noticed the light flashing on the answering machine.  It was Lydia, asking if I could go up to her studio on the third floor and retrieve from her dance album something that had been written about her a couple of years ago in the Brooklyn Eagle, a review of one of her performances, her only such notice thus far, that would be helpful to her, she felt, up in Connecticut where José Limon was auditioning her and others for his company.  She sounded uncharacteristically buoyant and left a phone number where I could call and read to her the part that mentioned her “supple and passionate movements”—that’s the part she wanted to be able to cite.
I left the envelope on the end table and lugged myself up to the studio where I found it right on top of a pile of papers and notebooks she had stashed in a file drawer.  She frequently looked at the photos of herself contained in it so I was not surprised that it was so easy to locate.  From the attic I called the number she left and read the sentence in question onto the tape of the answering machine.  There was even a grainy picture of the troop in which she had performed, and the younger Lydia did in fact look like the supplest of them.  The passionate part, though, did not come through as clearly.
As I bent to return the album to its place in the cabinet, eager to get back down to the Black Sun letter, I noticed, peeking out from a disheveled pile of folders and papers, a leather-edged book with Diary in gold script etched on the dark brown cover.  Without thinking, while sitting on a stool for a moment to catch my breath before returning to the living room, I picked it up and thumbed through it, fanning the pages aimlessly from front to back, stopping at various times to glance at what was written there in Lydia’s familiar handwriting. 
It was mostly notes about dance classes and rehearsals.  Very matter-of-fact material, it seemed more like a list of things to jog her memory than reflections on events or perceptions or feelings—“Took class with Ruth.  Had problems with pliés.  Need to practice them more.  Feet need to be stronger.  Work on it.”  Things of that sort. To exhort herself to greater effort.
But then, more tempting, I saw that there were also entries about sessions with Dr. Luven.  Over one or two of these I did shamelessly linger; but they too were mundane and to my, yes, disappointment did not mention me or much about what they discussed—not that discussing was such a big part of his technique.  So she wrote, for example—“Orgone Box again today.  No blue light.  No energy flow.  So he had me do Bed Work.  Did get some reaction.  Hopefully more next week.”  But then next week’s entry was more of the same, though laced with more feeling and underlining—“Nothing again.  Fucking nothing!  This is not working!”  It was almost as if I could hear her angry voice leaping from the pages.
And then toward where the diary broke off, more in the present, amidst the dance notes, there were entries about sessions with Dr. Merkin.  These I spent some time reviewing, even forgetting the letter downstairs, since I had so recently seen him and his technique was more classically psychoanalytic—mostly talk.  This suggested that perhaps her entries would be more detailed.  More revealing. 
Some of the earlier ones were in fact full of dream material.  I suppose this was where Lydia kept her notes so as not to forget them.  Considering the limit placed on the number of sessions I was allowed, I used just a bedside pad and pencil—no need to inscribe them in such a formal way.  And as another way to record my dreams, I could always fictionalize versions of them in Pearl
But her notes from the last few months, those from just before I had taken over her time for a month were of a very different sort—they were much more narratives in bulleted form.  So about two months ago she wrote—
Wore black knit dress . . .  Merkin commented how good I looked in it . . . so I wore it again . . . no bra this time.  [Slow to catch on, I wondered, what’s all this about?] . . . no panty hose either . . .  remembered to insert diaphragm  . . .  hate it but . . .  for first time he wasn’t wearing his jacket . . .  also no tie . . . he too was ready . . .  [For what?, still naïve, I asked myself.  I wasn’t yet getting it.]  . . . two fingers in my cunt . . . [What in her?  What, cunt?] . . .  nothing at first . . . it began then . . . better than last time [I restrained myself from flipping back to her notes about the prior session] . . . but still yet not what I wanted . . . [I knew very well what that was] . . .  so he ate me . . . bit on my clit . . . [About the location of that he was, I knew, quite the expert] . . .  and I came and came and CAME and  . . .
There were more such entries, with many italicized and underlined words.  I merely glanced at the next few, with my heart thumping.  It was clear from these that Merkin’s own version of body work had become their routine:  Lydia would describe what she was wearing; if she brought along or had put in her diaphragm; how long it took before Merkin would get down to the business of cunnilingus; how many times she CAME; and, of the greatest significance, the anatomical site of her orgasms.  Most times, it appeared that the eclectic Merkin managed to get her fully there.
I of course was furious to have discovered this prima fascia evidence of Lydia’s, not to mention, Merkin’s betrayal. 
That prick bastard Merkin.  So well-named—look it up.  No wonder his fucking “rules of the road” so rigidly forbade me from discussing anything with anyone, especially Lydia.  I could only imagine what she would have thought, how she would have inwardly mocked me, if I came home from the vagina session, for example, and told her about the clamshell incident.  What she would have thought of me?  I could only imagine.
I was sputtering, but quickly realized this was in truth no real surprise.  I reminded myself of Ludavicio?  That Ginny gigolo.  I bet if I hadn’t been so furious and had been able to read more thoroughly through Lydia’s Diary I would have found all sorts of explicit notes about the things they had done to each other.  I could also only imagine that.
Half my rage was because the surging reality of this discovery had imposed itself on the memory of all the magical things Patty and I had just experienced through our blacked-out night.  These were pushed so far back in time that they felt now as if they had been merely part of an almost forgotten dream.  The delicious tactile reality of it had been substantially obliterated. 
That cunt Merkin.  That bitch Lydia . . .
And then, thankfully, I remembered that there was the letter.  I raced downstairs to devour it, craving its news to take me away from all of this sordidness.
*    *    *
“Professor Zazlo” it began.  Not a good sign, I was already squirming on the sofa since neither the “Professor” nor the “Zazlo” part, much less the lack of a “Dear” filled me with much optimism.  From having published me in the past I would have expected a simple “Dear Lloyd.”   And from that formal greeting things only got worse:
There was the blah-blah about how much pleasure it had given them some years ago [more than I was happy to acknowledge] to have been able to publish my first story and blah-blah how they, since their founding [“founding” did not seem to me like the best way for them to be thinking about the “launch” of a journal that was mimeographed in someone’s bedroom], since that time, the editor wrote, they sought to be among the first to publish the works of young writers who held the promise blah-blah of developing into major literary figures who embodied “unique visions and innovative styles.”  [I knew from this set up where this was leading.]  
“So it came as a great disappointment to us,” Chauncey Biddle continued [yes, that was his name], “to find you, after all these years [again with the “all-these years”] to be producing work so conventional, so derivative.”  [But Patty had said . . . and I had come to believe that . . . so why  . . . ?] 
Mercilessly he went on to say that though in my accompanying cover note I had indicated my debt to Kerouac and how in my revisiting and reimagining his “epic” I had attempted to “resituate” it in place and time while infusing it with an contemporarily-appropriate “tincture of irony” [Chauncey’s quoting me back to myself was such that, even in my misery, I sounded to myself, via this echo, pretentiously puffed up like a pseudo-literary hen]; but, as he went on, as if flinging the “tincture” thing back at me wasn’t enough, he continued to quote me when I wrote to them about what “was missing from Jack’s ominously serious, yet, for its time, brilliant achievement”—this lack of “angular self-reflection” I had called it [something more for me to choke on]—was something I had endeavored to include in my own text.  Blah-blah.
Though this was more than enough for me to have to choke down, he had a bit more to say and did not choose to restrain himself—“You wrote to us about how the structure of your novel is made up of ‘a braided strand of narrative elements,’ which, you claim, resembles the way ‘memory is constructed and recalled.’  But then, as we looked even casually [only casually?] at your actual text, we found that it so lacks cleverness, much less anything inspired by, how did you put it, your ‘ironic muse,’ that all we found was you dancing on surfaces.  You cannot write about the ‘inner life’ [he had here taken to lecturing me], again this is what you tell us is your intention, while never burrowing the depths beyond mere inches.”  [Though I was not impressed by the “burrowing mere inches” part—it didn’t quite parse—I was desperately afraid, I was, and that he . . .  was right.]
So I was glad when he concluded with the inevitable kiss-off since I needed, I crushingly realized, to, how else to put this, I desperately had to do . . . something.
“What you submitted from Pearl and His Sister [sic] and the Dirty Books is just too turgid and affected, not a good combination, for us to even consider it for publication in Black Sun.” 
There was not even the obligatory, “We wish you well with your future endeavors and welcome the opportunity to review anything else you might wish to submit to us in the future.”  And then he signed it using both of his phony WASP names.
That piece of shit rag!” I shouted to the empty house.
*    *    *
How I found my way there to this day I do not know.  But there I was by my battered self, looking out over the East River, past the ragged southern edge of Manhattan, on toward the setting New Jersey sun.  Sitting out at the end of a broken-down pier.  Even that image I sensed was exhumed from my reverberating literary consciousness.
And then it came to me—yet again it was from Kerouac.  There was no escaping him, even though I supposed I had come to the waterfront to put an end to either my ambitions or myself.  But there he was waiting to, what, yank me back or push me overboard? 
I was game for either.
Kerouac, who, twenty years earlier, had found himself also at the end of his road in quite similar fashion.  But of course his broken-down pier was in Manhattan; mine was still anchored on decaying piles in Brooklyn.
Back then he had written:
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier [see what I mean?] watching the long, long skies over New Jersey [all I had been able to come up with was, “the setting New Jersey sun”—Chauncey was indeed right about me] and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge [I could have helped him make that better—“huge”?] over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it [pretty good stuff, no?  And wasn’t it Capote, that jealous swish, who had called this “typing”?], and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry . . .
And as I too began to cry, I remembered something else Jack had written—
Nobody knows what’s going to happen . . . besides the forlorn rays of growing old.
So then there will be more . . .