Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Me and Adolf and George



In the dream I am driving in a car at high speed, barreling down a highway and glancing at my rear view mirror. Close behind a car is after me, driven by gang members. If they catch me they’ll kill me, not quickly either. I don’t remember how I’ve offended them, but I’m driving for my life.

There is a river ahead. Over the river is a drawbridge such as I remember from my days on the road in the bayous of Louisiana, and the red light on the side of the ridge has begun to flash and the barrier arm has begun to descend.

I gun the engine, balls to the walls, the barrier sending sparks off the roof of my car as I shoot past, but the road has already begun to rise. I have to get enough speed to jump the bridge leaf before the gap becomes too wide to jump across. If I’m off by a second I’ll do a header right into the leading I Beam of the opposite bridge at a good 90 miles an hour.

The instant my car is airborne I realize it in my gut – I’m fucked. I’m not making this.

The car drops into empty space and noses down towards the shallow river far below and I’m resigning myself to death. Suddenly something grabs it from behind and I’m slammed against the seat belt as the car flips and swings backward and makes a gentle pass through the air. It comes to rest, suspended. I glance up and the gang that was chasing me isn’t so lucky. Their car careens overhead and noses over like a brick. I see their doomed faces staring at me out the window as they plummet past.

As my dangling car gently rotates I see what’s happened, there was a thick steel cable dangling out like a vine on a cliff and my right rear wheel snagged it on my way down. I’m okay for now.

As I open my eyes a voice like god seems to whisper in my head - “Accommodate.”

I’m lying in the dark looking up at the ceiling and its three thirty five in the morning. Accommodate? As I speak the word my life seems to swim past me and I can feel all of my past and the place where I’ve arrived in my life right now and I’m not happy with it. But there’s that word, that advice from a deeper place – accommodate.


It’s 1972, about August in College Park Georgia, and my friend DeEtta and I are on our way to meet a psychic. We did stuff like that. His name was Paul Neary, the brass sign on his door said “Spiritual Counselor”, which technically he was. At the time I was a fledgling seeker of truth, impatient and spiritually ravenous. I began modestly enough by taking yoga classes at the local YMCA. The instructor was a big burly, jolly Irishman, whose name I’ve forgotten. He was energetic and full of life and he could bend us through those poses. He was a fitness professional, not a guru. After one of the classes I asked him if he believed in reincarnation, he did, and where could I find out about my past lives?

While we were talking this little guy came up, who looked like Woody Allen if Allen had just stuck his finger in a light socket. He had that worldly wise face and a wild corona of gray hair around a bald head like a Franciscan monk. He was introduced to me by my teacher as “one the greatest psychics in the country". Paul Neary only charged a modest $15 for a reading, and I set up an appointment. DeEtta came along to observe. He told her she’d have to wait outside in the hall and set up a separate appointment. I made a tape recording of the reading, the first of two which I still have today. I played the tape for her on the bus home.

He predicted my future, stating that I was on the Sixth Gate with the Father, a kabalistic term I’ve since learned the meaning of. It means you’re near your last incarnation. You can grab the brass ring in this life and not have to come back. But – he said – this life was about acquiring and learning the proper use of power. There was great deal of money and social status and power around me in my future and material success, but disaster in relationships. I was a very dominant and possessive man who had abused power in the past and would in this life also. I would fail with women because of my strong male dominance and possessiveness. I would be divorced at least twice. That worried me. He said maybe I could change it. “Find someone exotic and interesting. Make sure she’s a growing person. Maybe you can alter it.”

Now. Take all the predictions in the above paragraph – put them at one end of a spectrum. Now imagine the far opposite end – that’s me now.

WTF?

So I lay in the dark, and glance at the alarm clock and I know this word – accommodate – is my unconscious trying to make sense of the colossal belly flop that is my life. Why did things turn out so differently? What does it mean?

I read a conversation once between Mossad agent Peter Malkin, a Nazi hunter, and Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann ran the camps for Nazi Germany. He escaped Nuremberg and was eventually hanged in Israel for war crimes. He had the blood of millions on his hands. And did he see himself as a monster? Not at all.

He said to Malkin he had been given a job to do. He hadn’t chosen the job, it was assigned to him and he couldn’t say no. He was an efficient man. A good bureaucrat. He defended himself by saying that he had nothing against Jews, he liked Jews personally and had even secretly slipped into Israel once as a tourist to see Jerusalem. If he had been assigned instead to run Germany’s railroads, he said, he would have done so with perfect German efficiency and professionalism. As fate would have it, he was assigned to run the camps. He did. With perfect efficiency and professionalism, traditional German work ethics. What should he have done?

It’s a good question. Germany’s Kreigsmarine sailors and the Luftwaffe’s pilots are proud war veterans. They are remembered by their country in the same way Confederate soldiers are remembered in the deep south, though the world is better for their defeat in both cases. Many Nazi veterans found new jobs after the war with the new Bundes Kreigsmarine and Bundes Luftwaffe until they retired with honor or eventually “Flew West” as the old fighter pilots used to say. Everybody flies west sooner or later. If Eichmann had been a railroad manager he might have disappeared with clean hands into retirement and eventually flew west with nothing to feel bad about. But like Judas Iscariot, history had chosen him for infamy. How does that work? Is your sense of yourself as good really true all the way through or are you just more lucky in the choices - as well as the limits - life put in front of you?

Is there a timeline somewhere in which I became a mighty man of wealth and status, and a bully who left behind a string of broken marriages and resentful children, but maybe became a man of some substance, but with a great karmic debt left yet to pay? There is comfort in mediocrity, because you might live out your life without doing anything very good or very bad. That isn’t the vision I had for myself as a young man. What happened?

Accommodate.

That’s what I did.

I had an explosive violent temper when I was a young man. I learned to control it with an effort. I got into heated arguments with people and spoke my honest mind and shoved my ignorance into people’s faces. Somewhere along the way I learned to fear people’s opinions of me and shrank from giving offense. I learned to work around people with a soft word. I learned to keep my opinions to myself. I became very adaptable and remain one of the most easy going people I know. If that’s a virtue, I guess I have it. But I don’t love it.

Eichmann makes a good case for himself. What haunts accommodating little ol’ me is that if I had been in his place I wonder if I would have had the courage to do differently. You’re not being chaste if nobody wants you. You’re not being humble if you have no accomplishments, or embracing poverty if you just aren't sharp enough to get rich. I wonder how much of my lukewarm decency is only a contextually forced veneer, and the rest is random chance that mimics choice. And if this is true, and it does seem to be – who am I really? What if they made me run the camps, what would I do?

There’s a story I’m working on which has a lot to do with something I heard in an interview with Christopher Hitchins. He was talking about his research on George Orwell. George Orwell spent time in Burma when it belonged to the British Empire and its people were the chattel of the wealthy colonialists. Especially the women. Burmese women are still very exotic and beautiful and even now in great demand as sex slaves. Orwell regarded himself as a decent man, a champion of the common man. But he was also young and introverted and unsuccessful with women and racked by male desire. He did not believe in slavery. But to be a lonely young man alone in a room with a strange, small, dark woman who has no rights at all, who has no power or authority to resist whatever you whisper in her ear or stand over her and demand. All you have to do is walk across that room, just stand up and walk and put your hand on her breast. No more. A stern nod towards the bedroom and she will follow you and simply surrender without a so much as a sigh having seen it all before. Orwell knew if he stayed in Burma that moment would come and he would sink under it. And the first time he would despise himself. And the second time much less so. And by the third time it would seem perfectly normal and his natural right as an Englishman. He knew if he stayed there he would lose his soul. He fled the slave women of Burma. He made that soulful choice. He didn’t have to.


C. Sanchez-Garcia

7 comments:

  1. There are a lot of Eichmanns in the world and very few Orwells.

    If there were more Orwells and fewer Eichmanns, the trains would not run, the post would not get delivered and your plumbing would overflow.

    If there were more Eichmanns and fewer Orwells, well... we know how that ends.

    The puzzle with life is that you never really know which one you're going to be until you absolutely need to choose.

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  2. As usual, Garce, you are a very hard act to follow. Great post.

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  3. Remittance Girl! Now there's an Orwellian name, no the book is still on my list but I haven't read Remittance Man yet. I get the idea though. I have read some pretty strange stuff by George Bataille recently though, thanks to you.

    I had rather hoped you;d come by since I always think of you and Orwell together. I agree with what you say about being forced to choose. This is the situation in fiction and in real life that has always cut close to me, the person being in that situation where he/she/it is being forced to make a life changing choice, and so often the choices are never between good and bad, but between bad and worse.

    Garce

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  4. Hi Jean!

    Its good to have you back. You'll have to tell us about Cuba, that must have been something.

    Garce

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  5. Hey Garce,

    "You’re not being chaste if nobody wants you. You’re not being humble if you have no accomplishments, or embracing poverty if you just aren't sharp enough to get rich."

    I'm not sure that I agree. Humility, chastity, and a lack of materialism are not behavioral characteristics, but qualities of the mind, heart or soul (whatever you want to call it). I think that if you are poor and content with your lot, it really doesn't matter if you could be otherwise. There's no a priori virtue in renunciations - that's your old indoctrination talking.

    "Renunciation" incorporates the notion of unwillingness. I believe that the path to spiritual growth, and inner peace is not renunciation but release. There's a subtle but important difference. If something isn't working - if it's making you suffer or causing stress - let it go, willingly, knowing that you'll be happier without it. That's release. It makes you feel better, not worse.

    The only reason humility is "good" is that it encourages compassion and reduces your feeling of separation from the rest of humanity. Chastity is beneficial only to the extent that it relieves you from desperate, frustrating needs or an obsession with the flesh. I know this isn't what traditional Christianity teaches, but it makes sense to me.

    Accommodation isn't a sin or a failing. It's a spiritual gift.

    And would you really rather have been a rich, powerful bastard?

    And do you really believe your current life is somehow less worthwhile?

    Bollocks!

    (Hugs - Lisabet)

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  6. Hi Lisabet!

    Woo! I got you thinking, didn't I? I owe you some noodles too.

    Pull up a chair.

    (Para 1) I agree with what you say about qualities of mind. I guess I'm being a bit glum, but I always feel like you (generic You not thou) not sure about your virtues if there's no context to test them. Then they're just masks. It would be nice to struggle with temptation once in awhile like George Orwell and then do the right thing. I do think people renouce the wrong things. My big criticism of religion and religious people is that too often they experience their belief system emotionally without being changed by it. Whether its mysticism or theism, a belief system isn;t valuable unless it makes you a bigger person, not just setting taboos and limits.

    (para 2) Which goes back to what you;re saying I think, "renunciation" implies unwillingness. If we renounce things unwillingly, like going on a diet, sooner or later the flesh will defeat us because the flesh refuses to just wither. These days what I'm really thinking about - I don;t have an answer - is how do I work with my karma instead of resenting or fighting against it? How do I just stop expecting myself to be someone I never became and be content with what there is to love? There is a zen to the writing process in that when shaping a story we take random elements of our own experience and incorporate them with imagination and create something new. We're using chaos and found elements and that's exactly what nature does.

    (para 3) What I remember about my 13 years of celebacy is that although i was terribly horny and lonely I was also very liberated in my relationships with women. Chastity as you point out has that quality. Humility is only valuable to the extent it unites us with others, or what use it? Just false pride. A mask.

    Garce

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  7. Hey Garce,

    1) I believe that true virtue doesn't need to be tested. It just is. And it doesn't matter whether somebody else (or even you) acknowledge or recognize the virtue or not. It's the outcomes - inner and outer - that matter. Is the inner outcome peace? Is the outer outcome compassion?

    2) I don't know how to stop fighting karma. However, I'm pretty sure that the process of fighting is just creating more karmic entanglements. Of course, that's like going on a diet and trying not to think about that banana split you crave.

    3) "Humility is only valuable to the extent it unites us with others, or what use it? Just false pride." I agree completely!

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