Category Archives: work

Let Us Now Praise Famous Women

I recently discovered a painter named Artemisia Gentileschi. She painted herself into Judith Slaying Holofernes. She’s the woman on the right, in light brown, methodically–almost surgically–decapitating Holofernes, the Babylonian army commander. The painting resembles Caravaggio’s painting of the same subject. Indeed, Judith and Holofernes was a popular subject for painters of the late Renaissance. Artemisia’s was only one among several, but it is perhaps the most arresting. It’s coldblooded and portrays an act of calculating vengeance upon a national enemy. If she’d painted nothing else, Artemisia would have had her immortality.

I never studied her even though I studied High Renaissance and Mannerist painting in my last year at Hunter College. My teacher, Janet Cox Rearick, was an authority on High Renaissance and Mannerist art, and I fell in love with the period and its paintings. (I even considered staying an extra semester to add an Art History minor or double major to English degree. That would have made me unemployable in two disciplines).

In fact, I had not heard of her until recently. There’s even a film about her early maturity, Artemisia: getting kicked out of a Roman convent school, learning to paint the male anatomy in defiance of the rules against such proceeding, her meeting with Agostino Tassi, her father’s painting collaborator, and what passed between Tassi and herself.

What did pass between them? Was it rape, as the common wisdom says? Or was it seduction that became a passionate affair that went sour when Artemisia learned about the man she’d come to love: a serial adulterer who’d even had his wife’s sister. Artemisia’s father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi, had Tassi arrested and tried for rape–but even in the film, matters were not so simple. It’s an old story–Tassi may have raped her, but it was Artemisia herself who was put to torture with thumbscrews for painting naked men to study male anatomy. She lived some years of her life with a somewhat disreputable husband who spent her money as quickly as she could earn it. She migrated to England in 1638 and became Court painter to King Charles I. She died in 1652 or 1653, in her sixties–not an inconsiderable accomplishment given the longevity of the age.

Like many painters of the period, she favored Biblical subjects: not only Judith but also Susanna and the [extremely lecherous] Elders; Queen Esther with Ahasuerus; Jael and Sisera. She did several versions of Judith and Holofernes: a series of women who were disbelieved but vindicated, or who often took the law into their own hands.

Once she found out about the truth of Agostino Tassi, she never saw him again. Who could blame her?

Tassi himself died in 1644. Even though he was found guilty and was sentenced to prison, he never served a day behind bars, and continued to receive commissions. Artemisia herself kept working, but after her death she suffered a decline in her reputation. Only in the last 20+ years have her name and work enjoyed a comeback. Her works–or her personally made copies–hang in great museums around the world.

 

Selling Life Insurance

Well, not selling the stuff, but trying. A failed career. It was awful. My only success was attained through an act of total dishonesty.

I lost my job on April 19, 1982. It was, of course, traumatic, even though I’d hated the job and the awful human being for whom I worked. Everyone who worked for Herb had been carried out in the proverbial body bag: if not before me, then not long afterwards. There was always some reason he could concoct: incompetence, dishonesty, etc. One guy had his calls to his consulting clients cut off. It was not a happy place.

And when my time came, I was told it was not “worth the struggle.” I was not worth the struggle even though I’d proved my worth. The fact was the company was going broke because it lost a major client. I got a shitty severance package and was told with huge magnanimity that I could use the office copier to run off resumes. At the same time I was badmouthed to prospective new employers. It was no-win.

Of course I cracked up. I needed my mother to pay our rent, and had then listen to her complaints that nobody needed a three-bedroom house for us and our two kids, even one that was falling down around us. Each month I got whining and swearing that I was trying to impoverish and kill her. Each month I needed my wife to push me toward the phone to make a call that never became less awful no matter how I approached it. My health became precarious. My wife’s became almost as bad. My kids were at the receiving end of emotional, though never physical, abuse. I was a wreck.

Finally I decided to try to sell. I’d been in advertising and figured I could bullshit my way into someone’s home. So I took the tests to join the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. I cleared all the hurdles–even assembling the names of people who didn’t want to talk to me as prospects. I burned a few bridges in the spring and summer of 1982, even among neighbors and friends who wound up being not so neighborly or friendly when they figured out (in about 30 seconds) the nature of my errand.

But I compiled the list that would get me to the company phones. Which meant two weeks in MetLife’s training program on 23rd Street in Manhattan. Hell, they would even put us up in apartments that were part of Stuyvesant Town around 20th Street and First Avenue. That in itself was bizarre. Stuyvesant Town belonged to MetLife before they sold the development to Helmsley-Spear. It was bizarre because it modeled exactly its “sister” development in the Bronx, Parkchester. And Parkchester is where I’d grown up. So being in a place like “home” was both familiar and unnerving.

I met my roommate the first night after I got my keys: a much younger guy who was a stoner who sold extermination services. It took me a week before I smoked pot with him, but because I was, by the following Sunday night, totally depressed, I succumbed and hated it. I’d outgrown drugs if not liquor. The trainees had a couple of nice parties among ourselves, and of course I hit on one of the other trainees, an attractive girl with short black hair named Donna (I still remember her last name but I will not use it). I of course felt terribly guilty. I should have bought myself a Purity Ring to go along with my wedding band. I could have sold them both when the time finally came in 1997.

I got back from my weekend at home on Sunday evening and when my roomie showed up, he was furious. He’d gone to the Giants game at the Meadowlands, figuring he’d get laid in his friend’s trailer at the tailgate party. And he didn’t. So he sat down and began rolling joints of sensamilla. I hadn’t smoked grass since 1970. But I didn’t give a shit. So when he lit up I automatically held out my hand and he passed over the stick. After a couple of tokes and I couldn’t see straight. I got up and room swayed. Or was it me? Gee…it’s like relearning to swim or ride a bicycle…you never quite forget.

The roomie passed out on the couch and I put on the TV. Yes, the apartment came with a color TV too. What came on was Midnight Blue with a close-up of one guy sucking off another. I wanted to throw up. I figured reality was bad enough and went to bed.

Then I was shipped back to Jersey, to the field office in Clifton. In the meantime, my wife had become violently ill with an  intestinal bug or obstruction, and had to go into the hospital. So I had to ferry the kids to preschool and day care, then go out on my sales calls or rounds, come back for the kids, then collapse in a chair with a glass of cheap Scotch in my hand. I was assigned to Paul, my sales manager, who wore tacky chocolate brown suits but could sell anything to anyone. Some guys were just born for it. I was not.

My first clue that something was way wrong with my latest vocational choice came when I asked my rabbi if he had any referrals. He seemed reluctant, but then gave me the name of a classmate from Jewish Theological Seminary. Even if I remembered his name I would not use it. The rabbi alluded vaguely to health issues. I called up the rabbi in Scotch Plains and asked if we could meet. He seemed only too happy. Happy? For an insurance call? Oh boy….

When I got there, he and his rebbitizen were gracious and charming. They made coffee and broke out the Entenmann’s. And then I met their son. He was the reason for the insurance call. He was born with spina bifida. Not too many years before he would have died. Instead, he hobble-walked with canes. He was not much more than a baby, two or maybe three. My heart fell out of my body. I wanted to cry but I was there to sell.

In training school they’d stressed to us how important it was to sell whole life insurance because that would bring in the highest commission and make MetLife the biggest bucks. Snoopy was moving up from Pedigree to Cesar. I would see something like 55% of the policy’s cash value as my cut. But while I didn’t know what the rabbi earned from his congregation, I could not do this to him. Rule One was that one Jew does not screw another. So we sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee and eating the Entenmann’s. And I told them the truth.

“They want me to sell you whole life. Nice for them, nice for me, but for what you need, the premium would be unaffordable. I want to sell you term life instead. You’re pretty young, so you can get $100,000 in term, one policy for each of you, with the other as beneficiary, for about $33 a month each. If God forbid something happens to either of you, the survivor is going to need money, and a lot of it, because of your son. Can we do this?”

A man who can memorize pages of Talmud, a man with a wife who had a degree in Hebrew education, could understand what I was saying, so they assented. We began filling out the applications, and they both passed me checks for the initial premium.

I left, feeling really good and proud of myself. I’d done a mitzvah. I’d put money in my own pocket without having to fuck anyone over. And then I got back to the office to have the policies and checks recorded. And the General Manager ripped me a new asshole. Why? Because I was supposed to sell them whole life, not term. When my “pool” broke at the end of training, it would sound like an afterbirth hitting the floor.

Splat.

From then on I was out strictly for myself. I failed more than I succeeded. I tried to work off baby lists and, in one case, tried to insure a newborn in his own name with his father as beneficiary. Sure, the kid would grow up having insurance worth a small fortune for pennies on the dollar, but I felt like a ghoul betting the kid would live to grow up.

I tried to write a policy on a 69-year-old man for $100,000. He was in good health but he and his wife also had enough sense to see what I was up to. No sale, no deal.

And then my job got waved in my face. Sell or die. So I became ruthless. I got an appointment, again off a baby list, with a couple all the way up Route 23 in Hamburg, New Jersey. It was over an hour each way. When I got there, sure enough, there was the couple and a cute baby. And the father was a total schmuck who was too vain and thick to see what I was doing.

He had term insurance from Johns Hopkins. I persuaded him to lapse his Hopkins policy in favor of my whole life policy. Not because he needed it but because I needed it. I was already chasing computer jobs, a new field back in 1983, but I wanted to leave on my terms, not MetLife’s. I almost made it.

The fool signed my application and handed me a check. It was for whole life. I thanked him and I left.

And all I felt was a kind of existential nausee. I wanted to take a shower. I’d fucked this guy out of a useful policy by sweet-talking him. I used all the tools they taught me, all the crap at my disposal, and it had worked. What a guy.

I got to the office the next morning, really proud of myself, and booked the application and check. I got back-slapped. Whoopee.

And a week later the General Manager fired me. I was too far behind to make the cut. Whew. Yes, whew.

Two weeks later I got a job with Victor Technologies in Jersey, writing software manuals.

I ran into my sales manager in A&P one evening a few weeks later. He said “You wanna know what happened to the app you wrote on that guy in Hamburg?”

“Sure.”

“He got turned down flat. He lied to you. He had a string of drunk driving convictions as long as your arm.”

I almost fell down laughing. Guilt? Oh, not so much I couldn’t handle it. But some minor degree of sorrow for this moron who hung his family out to dry because he listened to me, using my golden tongue to sell him something he did not need.

I’ve never forgotten it, thank God. I hope I never have to do something that underhanded again.

Footnotes: My ex-boss Herb had a heart attack about 18 months later. Another of his former victims said “Heart? How could anyone tell without an electron microscope?” And his partner, about as nasty and physical a drunk as I’ve ever met, made a pile of money in some ventures or the other, became a multimillionaire, but one night shot his wife while she was sleeping, then turned the gun on himself. Allegedly he was afraid of going broke. I’ve been broke for years, and I don’t even notice it all it all that much anymore.

It’s high time

I can’t travel every well because of podiatric and money issues, but I’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street protests since they started and began to spread. The opponents denounce the protesters as un-American, anarchistic, bums, grubby, spongers who never had to meet a payroll…well, you can name a few yourself. You can add to your vocabulary from Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the crowned head off all political morons, Rush Limbaugh.

The marchers point their fingers at the great investment banks that pay their officers insanely high salaries and even more insane bonuses.

I recall the “Pilgrimage of Grace,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilgrimage_of_Grace), an appalling episode during the English Reformation of Henry VIII that amounted to a popular uprising against the privileges of the nobility and the Church. Let’s say it didn’t end well for the people protesting. It’s stomach-turning to read about but it’s a valuable lesson about telling truth to power.

As far as the protests, I’m perhaps a bit too old to appreciate zombie V for Vendetta masks and make-up, but I can understand signs protesting confiscatory student loans, the tax structure, and the salaries those people on the 38th floor pay themselves. I can appreciate joblessness because I’ve been out of my occupation since May 2010 and there is no door left to pry open.

I’m on a job board where there is a repeated question (I paraphrase): “Briefly describe how you would change the economy more quickly without a revolution.”

The answer is really simple: You can’t. This is not Revolution No. 9, it’s overthrow. I prefer it without force and violence, but I can’t stop it either. Nor would I wish to.  This country has fucked over students, seniors, working Americans who have lost their stake in our democracy. I’m not seeking a Communist state or Cuba (except for the cigars), just a recognition that whatever we’ve been doing, it isn’t working anymore, and when it works it’s work for fewer and fewer people.

Will Beg for Fame: An author seeks an audience

Walker Evans subway portrait, 1930s, New York

Walker Evans subway portrait, 1930s, New York

Here is a naked and shameless bid for attention. I would publish it in the so-called Episcopal Blogosphere but I’m by now pretty well convinced that I’m not part of said Blogosphere, and simply do not fit anyone’s preconceived ideas of how I’m supposed to write.

I don’t write theology. I write memoir.

I don’t write mediation or prayer. I write me.

Maybe I don’t write sufficiently or within the hidden lines signified by “Read publication before submitting,” because I’m arrogant enough to really believe that unless I’m writing for the National Steamfitters’ Monthly or American Rifleman, quality alone might just be interesting.

I wrote a story about my faith journey. Began life as Jew. Changed to Catholicism in middle age. After considerable struggle and self-doubt, made myself at home in the Episcopal Church.

It’s not interesting.

I sent the story to several Episcopal online publications and others on a general spiritual nature. I was met with indifference. “Not for us.” Really. A story about the journey from Judaism through other forms of Christianity and into the Anglican communion, and reasonably well-written, is Not For You.

You may of course reject anyone you wish but there is a strange code in the world of publication, be it literary, scholarly, or religious, and it’s the same code: Don’t ask and dont’ tell. Don’t ask for feedback and don’t offer it. “It’s not for us.” “Why” is an inappropriate response to being told you really can’t write. Because that, mes amis, really is the message. “Not for us” is a not-very-clever subterfuge.

It doesn’t wash. Any of it.

Putting the thing somewhere else in the blog isn’t a substitute for someone else validating  you and your work.

The meaning of the Walker Evans photo…a couple of guys down on their luck in the subway back in the 1930s. Maybe they’re starved for attention, too, or maybe they’re just what I could find on 4 hours’ sleep in a college library.

Anyway, I’ll work for food and write for my name on a byline. I’d just like someone to sort out for me the hidden language of publication so I can cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashion.

I must be missing on more cylinders than I knew I was supposed to have.

Lent II: A brief anatomie of Stress

In the interests of fairness and plagiarism (hey, it’s my work here), I wrote this as a comment on my dear friend Jane’s blog, Acts of Hope. She talked about renouncing stress for the Lenten season and I had a problem. Well, so what else is new?–so my reply is reprinted here with edits.


Lent is also the time to speak what you feel in order to free up the breathing apparatus and the damaged soul. Therefore:

Welcome to the culture of murder.

Many of us who have labored in unrewarding vineyards for years know this as a truth. Stress kills. I believe it is intended to do so. It is the human perversion of instinct and reactions to threat. It is threat in the name of control. It exists to thin whatever herd there is.

David Mamet did not tell lies in Glengarry Glen Ross about the corrosive effect of a culture of Gimme and Fuck You. Nor did Joseph Heller make up stories when he presented an ad agency in Something Happened where the boss reveled in seeing his employess bent over with fear from spastic colons. Fear, you understand, increases your precious Productivity before it causes a fatal heart attack at age 45.

This is not a new idea. The first Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, “Dagger John” Hughes, said of his priests “I won’t have any men in my diocese who I can’t control!”

At least he was honest. Really.

Stress is not a God-given attribute of the human spirit. Fear, however, may very well be: and the corporate principalities of business, education, and the Church are goads to push us to and then beyond our limits by playing to the flight/fight response that is the human animal’s (or animal animal’s) response to what we call fear.

Stress can be manufactured from fear if it’s done in controlled doses. This is most purely visible in commission sales jobs but you can find it in any total environment: the aforementioned Church, academe, or business. Sales personnel are pushed unmercifully to “produce,” meet quotas, forced to adhere to rules of administrative happy horseshit. Faculty are held to the publication fetish. Even non-tenured faculty live and die by their student evaluations, effectively a popularity contest and only secondarily a judgment about whether they learned anything.

Instead of revolting against our environments, usually because we’re “mindful” of economic motives, we shut up and internalize our distress. We look down on ourselves as cowards and prostitutes who “do it for the money” (it’s not really a lie), and we turn against ourselves via the aforementioned spastic colons, insomnia, alcohol and drug addiction, sexual rampages (as long as an orgasm lasts you’re not worrying about your next car payment), spending money we don’t have, and temper tantrums that hit the people nearest to us because we can’t tell our bosses to go screw themselves (can we)?

I don’t believe anyone but ourselves cares a damn about our relationships, either to God or to other people. All that matters to the stress-maker is that you grab the oar and keep pulling. And it’s always Ramming Speed.

I know: breathe. That’s not a choice, it’s autonomic. What about the choices we can actually make?

Welcome to Lent, then. Again.

Economic wisdom, USA

When money gets tight, when times call for courageous action, the solution we choose is to FIRE EVERYONE. Right. Increasing the number of people on the Unemployment line will help you stay afloat. It’ll help the economy to put a few million more people out of work.

There must be a logic here that this non-economist can’t possibly figure out. “We’re going to destroy our country’s economy in order to save it.”

For whom?

Coming to terms: some disconnected notes on suffering

Cliques and Homeys

I am a Jewish deserter, Roman Catholic defector, and practicing Episcopalian, but have so far managed to stand clear of the Episcopal blogosphere. This entry, along with several others, properly belongs there. Of course it will not get there because maybe three people read this stuff. Even a cri de coeur like this goes largely unnoticed. I might just as well be as invisible here as I am to the job market and to anyone but the legal authorities.

So I am outside one of several circles where I don’t belong. In a long life I’ve had more than one occasion when it became clear to me that I was set apart. Maybe that was my own doing, maybe that was my fate or the will of God, but there it is. The kid who when they chose up sides for pickup baseball games was told to play Left Out. I’m not joking. Neither were they.

Recently the Rector in my parish, who knows too well the despair that has lived in me forever, suggested not the stodgy and aloof translations of The Book of Job that I read before (King James and New Revised Standard Version) but a rather immediate (shall we say) version that is part of a Bible called The Message, versioned by a scholar named Eugene Peterson. She even gave me a leather-bound copy of the entire Bible, with my initials on the cover. Talk about moved….

And I read Job again. They used to say that watching Edmund Kean playing Shakespeare was like reading old Willie through flashes of lightning. See, Peterson may have done his scholarship but the translations are not scholarly or remote. In his rendering of Job, the language is direct and occasionally nasty. Everyone kicks sand in everyone else’s face. Job has at his comforters, the comforters have at Job, and ultimately God comes out from behind the curtain and discloses himself as the ultimate Star Wars Emperor, the manipulator of an unjust universe.

The Portrait of God

Signorelli, The DamnedBack in 1979 , a novelist named Stanley Elkin published a collection of stories he called The Living End. It was a funny but brutal glimpse of theology as only a disconsolate believer could envision it. The protagonist…well, here is the synopsis from Powell’s Books:

A quintessential Elkin protagonist, Mr. Ellerbee — until he is senselessly killed during a liquor-store holdup — is a good husband, a good boss, and an overall good sport who cares greatly about his fellow human beings. After a whirlwind tour of the afterlife, Ellerbee finds himself in Hell for a litany of minor offenses, including taking the Lord’s name in vain, keeping his store open on the Sabbath, and thinking that Heaven looks like a theme park. And so begins Elkin’s hilarious, imaginative vision of life after death.

The synopsis is accurate but leaves out a few details and nuances. One is the vision of Heaven that Ellerbee is vouchsafed before his condemnation: a series of cliches made real, of angels with wings, little black kids singing “O dem golden slippers!”, and endless puffy clouds.  Another is St. Peter’s casual dismissal of Ellerbee: “Go to Hell.” Yet another is Elkin’s description of Hell as “the ultimate inner city.” (Trust a guy who summered in North Jersey to see Hell resembling Paterson or Newark.) Ellerbee links up with the guy who shot him and they form as much of an alliance as two of the damned can manage. And then Ellerbee, after a long but unmeasured stay in this misery, loses it. He turns and invokes “the real sonofabitch God,” the “grand guignol martial artist” and several other uncomplimentary names, daring him to get right into his face and damn him personally. The insults become so white-hot that God ultimately descends into Hell and does as he’s asked.

Elkins’ God turns out to be a petty jerk. Ellerbee once had a passing case of The Hots for the wife of one of his employees. Now God yells at him “You had a big boner!” even though Ellerbee, faithful husband, didn’t make a move. Then the charges of staying open on the Sabbath (whose is not clear), and finally the coup de grace: “You thought Heaven looked like a theme park!”  But Ellerbee is satisfied. At least now God has done the work himself. He’s proven his pettiness and meaninglessness. He employs no surrogates. No Jesus, no Holy Spirit or Casper the Unfriendly Ghost, no Tim La Haye: just the real deal God-the-Freudian-murderer-father putting the whamma-jamma on him.

I loved reading the original version of the story, which appeared in New American Review back around 1972.  I like it more now because I have been the lead in my version of the movie for longer than I wish to remember.

Elkin invokes Job’s God via all the versions but he’s seen most clearly in Peterson’s. The entire testament is a long way up from the Hip Hop Prayer Book, a politically correct butchery of English, but it throws into relief the profoundly inexplicable Biblical hauteur and nastiness of a Deity who proclaims he runs the world and who are we to question him?

Well, it is not a lie, is it? For any believer, God is indeed in charge. But Peterson’s God-in-translation is a high-handed schoolyard bully, both the unquestioned leader and sole member of the pack. Like the Czar in an old Wolfschmidt vodka magazine ad, he can bend iron bars with his bare hands. He can command the sea monster, and make the winds blow. And looking backward, that’s not just Peterson’s God, it’s God as revealed in any version of Job: arbitrary and beyond having to answer to anyone. In the face of such might we can only accept. Or we can follow Elkin’s Ellerbee into Hell. God questions, we answer. It’s like a job interview with Donald Trump.

If we lay down for such authority, maybe God will clean the pus out of our scabs and give us back what he took from us. Maybe the beatings will stop if our morale improves.

It amazes me how little I know (“Of course, I could be wrong”) that emphasizes the precipitating event of this appalling story: that God lends his power to Satan on a bet. He and Satan act like a couple of cheap gamblers in the backroom of a Deadwood whorehouse. God lets Satan take from Job not only his possessions but also the lives of his 10 children. And then he lets Satan afflict Job with some sort of skin and or nerve malady that makes him literally stink like a giant pustule. Clinically it might be smallpox, but what matter? Job is a plaything, and God has put Satan in charge for just long enough to get out of Job precisely what he thinks of a universe without justice.

Nobody is dishonest in the book. Stupid, yes. Dishonest, no. The three comforters come across as Thumpers parroting the Big Book or 12 & 12 at an AA meeting, and Elihu–“the kid”–is thicker than the first three. They actually believe the trash-talk they spew about punishment always being in proportion to sin. “C’mon Job, own it up, your sins were so bad that God punished you this way.” But Job steadfastly denies guilt, reinforces his innocence, and reaffirms more than once that he is being unjustly punished.

No wonder the great Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez wrote of Job in terms of the undeserved suffering of the poor not only in South America but anywhere. He might just as well turn his attention to the growing cadre of the poor in this country as well. The ranks are expanding every day.

“Shall Not The God of Justice Do Justly?”

In my own life and all around me I see people losing their occupations, their homes, their retirements, and in some cases their lives. We’re starting to hear about the weekly suicide or murder-suicide. But then we hear “Maintain faith!” It is easy to preach faithfulness and a life of service if you stand in a position of having something. If no one has touched your privilege, your stuff or your family, you can afford to be faithful and even holier than thou. If you are in a position of being among the dispossessed, such pleas may be met with scorn and abuse.

Is there in fact payback for sin? Of course. No joking. The question is when the payback finally stops, when God has had enough, when we have had enough, or whether Hell exists on earth if nowhere else. I paid for my sins. I paid for my faithlessness, I paid for and with craziness (haven’t you heard that mental illness is both a punishment and a sin? where were you?) that drove me into wrong choices, I paid for the alcohol I used to drown the guilt. I paid with joblessness and insomnia.

I paid for abandoning Judaism even though it had become an empty shell of legalisms and acrimony that taught me that the locks were forever changed.

But it all stopped. The catting around, the lushing it up, the indecision about which stone I would use to rest my head. All gone. And what I got instead was the proverbial Jello I could try to nail to the wall.

I have come to believe that even once a sin is behind us, the punishment goes on, driven by its own momentum. I have come to believe that punishment, pain itself, exists apart from what we think of as a balanced world of reward and punishment.

My punishment? God forgive me for saying this, but (here’s the Credo) I believe in my heart that I was not supposed to get sober nine years ago, or to quit screwing around. I believe that God intended me to drink myself to a slow death, die of some STD, or get shot by a jealous husband (or my own wife). And so the price of my defiance: I have lost more jobs than times you’ve gotten laid (is there a virgin out there over 12 and ugly?). Some of the grief I endured came from my hand-holding with evil and some was simply the operation of evil itself.

Do I sound “normal”? Are you kidding?

Do I feel “normal”? Define that.

I have been in a psychiatric hospital. That was not my doing. I have been to jail. That was. And all this happened to me after I became a presumably reformed, sober, and believing character. You tell me: what am I supposed to think? That the God-driven universe is 100% benign and that I am loved? Or that some people are singled out for what the Nazis used to called “special handling.” There’s no Why. There just Is. And it’s my personal miracle that, given what I believe, I am still alive and able to say this.

I’ve lived the last nine years of my life as a Dostoevsky character. Not Raskolnikov (I am not violent and I don’t own an ax). Maybe not even Prince Myshkin, a.k.a. The Idiot. Certainly as one of the Possessed (or The Devils, if you like that translation better). Maybe I’m one of the Karamazov brothers, or maybe even the Grand Inquisitor. Your guess is probably better than mine.

For reformed I am. Or have been. And still misery has come, pounding into my head like an icepick migraine.
  • Lifetime alimony to a perpetual grudge-holder.
  • An eroded skill set that no longer allows me to function in a profession where I made my living for over 20 years.
  • A series of celestially-ordained marriages to a bestiary of fiends who managed my financial and professional life: Gustavo Mellander, George Daniel Miller, Herbert Wendell, Lester Stockel, Marie Hirsch Gittes, Larry Gandy (the most singularly evil and frightening man I ever worked for), Edwin Meir, Lara Kraft (that’s not a misprint), Kim Hansen, David Owen, Candace Argilan. One among them threatened me with a lawsuit if I didn’t retract the truths I told about him on an earlier blog.
Right now I am approaching the Golden Age of 65 and while I can’t say I’ve given up, exactly, I don’t necessarily hold out much hope except when the common decency of human beings takes me by surprise. Virtue always shocks me. Maybe that’s good. It’s been suggested that I’m supposed to be one of those people who develops holiness from suffering. Maybe that is what I was supposed to get from Peterson’s translation/revision of Job: that God indeed is arbitrary to the naked human eye, but functions according to a plan I cannot see. Maybe my acceptance of the plan I cannot see will help me keep my chin up. Maybe I can get this glow around my head like an icon in a Robert Lentz holy card.

I don’t feel particularly holy at 7:30 on a Saturday morning after writing this for two and a half hours. I am resentful, broken, tired, and scared shitless and back into insomnia. Someone I know speaks of the inhabitants of the Land of Broken Toys, and yes, that is where I am right now. I wish I could follow the advice of Job’s wife–“Curse God and die”–but I can’t and I won’t.

But he’s going to have to prove to me–one of his creations–that he isn’t really a vicious little twit.

Along with Job, my patron saint, I want to be damned face-to-face, or I want to be allowed to make my living, pay what I owe, and maintain myself as a functional and believing member of the society I chose and the Church to which I was directed.

If you value truth you finally have it.

Maybe I need to start my own blogosphere.  Or maybe, like Wicked John in the old Southern Black folk tale related to Stagolee, I have to be handed a torch and told to go start a Hell of my own. I can populate it in ten seconds with the Recession-shattered, superannuated, and articulate. It could be a really interesting place if you get off on the smell of sulphur.