was a meeting that Brad neither sought out nor tried to avoid. Jasmine wanted Brad to meet her father but Brad
had not been enthusiastic. He was apprehensive
about meeting a man who had written four unpublished novels and who considered
himself a failure even though he was a real estate millionaire.
But they ran into each other one afternoon in
“For a young man of your age, you have an encyclopedic knowledge of literature.”
“I wouldn’t say that. I had a conversation with a Greek scholar the other day and I felt like a complete ignoramus. I know absolutely nothing about Greek literature.”
“Jasmine tells me you are planning to write a novel. Don’t write a novel. By the time you reach my age, novels will recede in importance until they have the status that poetry has today. In my grandmother’s time, every respectable woman and a lot of men still wasted their time writing bad poetry. In the future everything will be dominated by computers and television and movies will take the place of popular novels. Don’t waste your time writing bad novels or even good ones.”
Larry was a man who drank heavily and yet was not an alcoholic. He had quit drinking many times and had spent much of his life drinking only three or four drinks a day. It was clear that he was in one of his heavier drinking periods. He preferred hard liquor to beer or wine and drank from a tall glass with ice in it. After Brad described his wish to find a woman who was his equal Larry said, “Women go to men with power, they always will. You’re fighting a lost battle, if you’ll pardon the overused metaphor. Sure, when they’re young they pretend to be fascinated with literary types but it’s just a pose. They’re really attracted by power.”
Brad said, “I’m looking for a woman who isn’t attracted by money and power.” He added, without conviction, “I think it is still possible to find a beautiful, intelligent woman who loves life and isn’t concerned with power and status.”
“If you had had a normal upbringing, the nature of women would be obvious to you. Sorry, in advance, for mixing metaphors but with all your experience you’re still as blind as a bat caught in the headlights.” He grinned malevolently, as if he had just thrown a bomb at literature, and emptied the glass of dark liquid. The ice fell forward against his nose. “I guess I’m tired of literature. It’s been an evil mistress.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway. Most young men have no problem whatsoever finding a beautiful woman. They just learn to see beauty in women who have various defects that they attach no importance to. They see the beauty hidden in fat women, skinny women, tall women…. You’re still attracted to the projection of your own vanity and you’re dominated by the eyes of the world that judge you based on the quality of the woman you’re with. You’re deluding yourself by thinking you’re searching for something higher and purer. If you write novels about your experience, well, you and your novels will simply be regarded as eccentric by your contemporaries.” He poured whiskey into the empty glass.
Brad said, “Why shouldn’t men and women marry because they are of the same intelligence, creativity, physical health, beauty…” He waived his hand. “Isn’t that what has been called love in the past? It doesn’t seem like such a radical idea to me.”
“I came to the truth of love backwards, I suppose the way most people do. I mean it’s normal for most men to be frustrated in school and to develop a nasty sense of competition from a sense of inferiority. Whenever a beautiful woman came my way, even if I had to pay for her, I did. I got her any way possible. Because I was in love with vanity. The way most men are. I wanted the eyes of the world to drool over my car and my woman and everything else. You’re different. You had so much success in school that your vanity became invisible to you. You can’t be a star quarterback and then a world class mathematician without becoming absurdly self-centered and vain. I don’t deny your truths but I’m not sure you’re worthy of them or even if you really want them.”
like this man but he felt as if he might learn something from him and so he
didn’t excuse himself and walk out. He
just sat there trying to think of something to say. He looked across the coffee table at a rumpled,
arrogant millionaire who pretended to think of himself as a failure.
A drunk, sitting in his bachelor’s pad, which was a $150,000 mansion
“We’re far apart.” He paused to drink some more whiskey. “You’re very far from almost everyone and therefore your novel will never be liked by any but a tiny minority. First of all, your mother is a famous fundamentalist Christian evangelist and yet you embody everything that is rational. You are a world class mathematician! I can’t think of anything less average than that. And on top of it you were the star quarterback in an upper middle class high school. Women threw themselves at you from the time you were a small boy! And then you won a very prestigious mathematics prize. Not only did it give you a superstar status among certain females but it gave you a big chunk of money and money draws women just as all forms of power do.”
Brad didn’t bother to correct him. The Fields medal came with a prize of about $15,000 dollars.
Larry said, “Look, like I told you, it was one of the biggest surprises of my life that as soon as I made my first million dollars and bought my first Mercedes, women began to chase me like a pack of starving bloodhounds. I couldn’t believe it. It took me years to regain my equilibrium. I thought I related very well to women before that but I just couldn’t get back to normal. I couldn’t believe that I could have been so mistaken about women. I mean I thought I was a real charmer and I had lots of girlfriends but as I said, they were women with various flaws and I never realized the extent that I only attracted women who couldn’t do any better than me. It turned out that all of my so-called charm and looks were, irrelevant. But it’s funny. In a very strange, subconscious way, I already knew it. Deep down inside, all of us pimply faced, underdeveloped boys know it and expect it to be that way. I was exceptional because I thought I had found a way around it but in truth I was just a user of women and flitted from one to another by sowing a tissue of lies and deception. I walked out on them after promising to marry them or shamelessly seduced their girlfriends, aunts and even mothers. Of course without the consent and encouragement of the women it wouldn’t have been possible. And they were always tainted with seventy pounds of extra fat, small breasts, stupidity, acne or some other goddammed thing that made people like you disgusted with them. But you! You want to be loved for yourself, for who you are. What you don’t realize is that you are almost completely determined by the society around you and not your personality. You are a digit, like everyone else, and certainly you are a 9 but your value is determined by where you stand relative to the other placeholders in the number. It means that a 20 or even a 10 is more valuable than a 9 standing by itself and a 200 or 10,000 doesn’t even notice a 9.”
Brad had two choices. The first choice was to get as drunk as this world-weary man who was so much better read than Brad and could outtalk him even after two pints of whisky. This way he wouldn’t feel any more pain than Larry did. His second choice was to laugh at the insults and invective of Larry’s rant, which Larry pretended to himself, was ironical and humorous. He chose the latter. Larry was obviously on a rant.
Brad asked, “Why don’t you want me to read any of your novels?”
“Do you know
why I don’t want you to read my novels? Because
I feel that if I can’t get any publisher in the land to publish them, I don’t
have the right to foist them on anyone. But yes, I can tell you what they’re about.
They’re about my vision of the
Brad was curious about where Jasmine’s ideas came from. He said, “Jasmine said I should ask you about your ideas about Negroes. She says you aren’t really prejudiced but you have to explain it. She couldn’t.”
“Well, I’m not prejudiced, in the ordinary way at least. In the South, we are aware of the problem because we’ve lived with it for three hundred years. We weren’t in favor of slavery. I’ve written about all of this in my novels.”
“But you won’t let me read them.”
“No, I won’t let you read my novels. They’re too shocking, too radical and too crazy. I wouldn’t push them on anyone. If no one wants to publish them, I really don’t want anyone reading them either. Especially someone like you. My novels are trying to tell the truth and they have nothing to do with what makes people happy or what people tell themselves everyday and all day long to keep themselves sane or to keep themselves from peering into the abyss of human existence. I don’t want to deprive them of the mantras that keep them normal and that help them to say the right things to their so-called friends and colleagues. They wouldn’t want an off-color joke to slip out or an unacceptable idea either, and so they don’t want the ideas in my novels entering their minds and certainly they don’t want to get into the habit of thinking for themselves.” He gave Brad a sidelong look that had a hint of wounded pride in it and said, “They wont publish me because I talk about race and Jews and I say things they don’t want to hear about. Did you know, for example, that Karl Marx himself wrote a book called A World without Jews? That’s right. In a very real sense, Karl Marx was an anti-Semite and in a sense, he was not Jewish. Sure, the Jews claim him but he was not a practicing Jew and his father converted to Protestantism and Marx was not raised as a Jew. Also, he married a non-practicing Protestant woman and so his children were even further from Judaism.”
Brad asked, innocently, “Do you consider yourself to be an anti-Semite?”
“Yes and no. Remember that Nietzsche was, in a sense, an anti-Semite. But he was also an anti-Christian. Judaism is a danger just as Catholicism is a danger. If large numbers of people do not consider themselves to be citizens of the country they live in and refuse to assimilate with the surrounding population then you have a problem whether they’re Mormons, Hottentots, Muslims, Jews or atheists.”
“What about Negroes? Jasmine said you were the one she learned her prejudices from.”
“I am not prejudiced.” He glared
at Brad and took a long drink from his glass.
His said, and his voice was softer than usual, “Jasmine’s a free agent. I tried to teach her to stay away from Negro
men because the average Negro man cares about little else other than sex and
getting as much sex as he can and especially getting as many white women as
he can. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m
prejudiced. Martin Luther King was
shot just six months ago and I was just as appalled as everyone else was. He was a kind of saint and maybe the only kind
The truth was that Larry liked Brad but was appalled by his inability to grasp his singular opportunity to take over the world with his superior intelligence, physical courage, stamina and beauty. He would have preferred to see Brad as a communist revolutionary to what he saw as a bad imitation of Hamlet throwing himself at the ridiculous problem of finding an ideal wife and partner before he could bring himself to act in the real world.
Brad said, “Well, you have to admit that a lot of white men have the same view of women as Negro men do. I don’t see what difference it makes if Jasmine falls for a Negro who is trying to exploit her body instead of a white man who’s doing the same thing.”
“It’s a typical response of a white man in the North. It’s a liberal response. You are telling the truth, in a nominal sense. I’ve warned her of that aspect of white men too. Not that she listens to me anymore. Or at least she pretends not to. But the problem with black men is far worse. We Southerners have seen it close up for far too long. I’m going to tell you something shocking. First I have to say that of course lynching is not my idea of the way to solve the problem. But what I’ve learned is that whenever there is a phenomenon in the world that I don’t understand, like lynching, I had better accept that phenomenon as a fact of life that can’t be denied. I mean lynching arose from behavior that caused lynching. Remember that in the nineteenth century, people were given twenty-five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. I’m sure you’ve heard of Jean Valjean. In the eighteenth century those same offenses were punished by death. And you probably know that the all-too-numerous executions were normally preceded by hours of the most gruesome tortures until the victims begged to be put out of their misery by a coup de grace. And yet human beings continued to commit crimes even in the face of hideous punishments. Those punishments were needed to keep the fabric of society together.” He raised his glass and said, “Now all we have is wire tapping.” He looked at the telephone and took a sip of whiskey.
Brad said with a smile, “Well, I suppose you’re trying to say that lynching is no longer necessary.”
“You’ll get the drift of what I’m saying sooner or later. You’re a smart guy. Most people just listen long enough to categorize me and then they stop listening. Look. I told you that I think Martin Luther King is a modern day saint. But how many men that you know judge women by the content of their characters and not for what they look like?”
“OK. The same is true for friends. Isn’t it almost an axiom that people chose their friends for their social accomplishments, for what they can get from them? Isn’t it almost a joke to say that people should choose their friends for their personalities or their intellectual achievements, I mean, for the content of their characters? Haven’t you found that, basically, you have friends because you made the football team or are editor of the college newspaper? Metaphorically speaking?”
“It sounds like you’re just building a case for the status quo. Idealism is just a useless self-delusion based on people’s need to feel good about themselves. A tragic self-sacrifice.”
“Or maybe it’s a hypocritical ideology adopted so that some people can get ahead in the world at the expense of others. What is Women’s Liberation going to do except allow middle class and upper class women to push lower middle class men and working class men out of the middle class jobs they would have got on ability or ambition. Instead, women will get the jobs because they have connections or because there are quotas, etc. Have you ever considered the Head Start program? Just consider the name Head Start. Why should some Negro kids get a head start in the race of life? Maybe an equal start but why a head start? What is the blindness that even allows these benighted liberals to come up with such a benighted name for a social program that is supposed to be for equal opportunity. Head Start?”
“It still sounds like you’re building a case for a conservative political ideology.”
“I’m not building a case for anything, I’m just stating the truth. I’m apolitical, like you are. I’m trying to say that you can’t erase racial prejudice when everyone is basically prejudiced about just about everything. Only the most benighted or saintly people make friends or marriages based on friendship or love. Jews marry Jews, rich people marry rich people, middle class people associate with each other, Negroes associate with each other.”
Brad said, “Jasmine has some pretty cliched views of Negroes.”
“She has had
a lot of experience with them. They’re
a lazy, ignorant, shifty lot of people and that’s what people who have no
experience with them don’t know and so it sounds like prejudice when in fact,
it is simply the truth. A great number
of them are stupid too. They will ruin
the entire public school system, which I consider to be the crown jewel of
our government services, and not the military or, God forbid, the Post Office. All four of my novels have warned of this.
Jews are a huge force behind the movement to integrate the schools.
The Jews are an admirable people but they too are benighted and hypocritical. They fly to the suburbs and private schools
and even to
Brad noted that his favorite word seemed to be benighted and that he enjoyed using it. He was clearly on a rant and Brad knew that he had no capacity to stop him. He said, “Well, I’ll admit I’ve had little experience with Negroes. But I have had experience with, well, Jewish women.”
and gave a dismissive laugh. “Don’t
get me wrong. If Jasmine married a
Negro who graduated from
to realize that the Jews are the people of the Book. They are perennial outsiders and so they are
naturally sympathetic to outsiders. I’m
not saying they are always wrong or bad or evil. But what I am saying is that they are born to idealism and socialism the way
you and I are born to play football or tennis.
One way or another, they will never let you forget that they are the
Chosen People. And no, as incredible
as it may seem, I repeat, I’m not
anti-Semitic. But I have to tell the
truth about Jews too. It’s another
reason I can’t be published. The
Brad said, “You don’t seem to be anti-Semitic to me. I mean I don’t know you that well, of course, but I’ve met anti-Semitic people who are obsessed with Jews in the sense that they are always pointing them out by their physical characteristics and always denouncing their ideas or behavior simply because they are Jews even though it is obvious that they aren’t doing anything different from anyone else.”
put. Any one hundred percent Jewish-American
go getter who thinks Zion is the name of a drive in movie theater is of no
concern to me and I don’t care if he’s got a nose the size of Jimmie Durante’s.
And I don’t care if Jimmie Durante or Groucho Marx are Jewish.
Because, in the sense that I’m talking about, they aren’t Jewish. Hell, even the Jewish crime syndicate isn’t
really Jewish any more than the Mafia is Sicilian. I’m talking about something that decimated
really understood the other, looking across the gap of just twenty-five years,
or a single generation. He looked at
Brad with a sense of despair and hopelessness.
He said, “I suppose you are
“War grows out of peoples just like diseases do. Being against wars is like being against disease. It’s instinctive and natural but futile. It’s just like I’ve been saying about prejudice and all the rest of it. You are against it but you all do it. Everyone is war-like, selfish, petty, self-seeking, clannish and yet they are against war.”
Brad said, rather irrelevantly, “Maybe I’m not as far from you as you think. My friends usually think the women I find pretty aren’t pretty.”
Larry lookup up at Brad uncomprehending, then smiled. “You’re a very smart guy. You’ve still got time to learn.”
Brad got up. He had agreed to see his mother who had just returned from a crusade. Larry said, “Whatever you do, don’t write any novels.”
“I’ll try not to.”
They shook hands and Brad went out into the dappled sunshine of the