“Pay no attention to these bitter skeletons,” said the skeleton. “They died loaded up with resentments and now, on top of it, the skeleton of the dumbest Jewish kid in Peekskill is being treated like a celebrity by his idiot son with the fancy words. Fuck ’em, you know what I’m saying?”
“You both suck, momzers,” opined one of his dead neighbors, impugning both our sexuality and our legitimacy.
I’ve been thinking more about your riddle, and the difference between vigilance to the point of paranoia about the potential dangers of a social situation and feeling basically safe in your own skin and confident in your judgments when things start heating up.
“Well, I grant that you’ve done a lot of work on staying out of conflicts, though it comes at the cost of not being able to hold a job and not fighting with pieces of shit who desperately demand to have their lights punched in,” said the skeleton.
It works for me, as long as the dough holds up, my life is somewhat less angry these days. Anyway, I was thinking of how you can be quite friendly with someone who it will emerge, only over time, is quite a bad person. By “bad” I mean an intolerable side that emerges over time and queers the deal.
The person still has all their good features, these just get occluded by something intolerably foul. You used to chat amiably with your neighbor Shep, who you found to be a droll, likable man with a quick wit, easy to bullshit with.
“Yeah, he was a very nice guy, I always liked running into Shep when I walked Sassy. The neighborhood kids he was fitting with Danish anal extenders and gently buggering loved him too. They were crying when the cops took him away, when their mothers told them there would be no more parties at Shep’s.”
That reminds me of a guy I was friendly with after mom died. He reached out, offered to hear about mom, surmised she must have been a great woman to have raised such a mensch. He promised to try to keep his big mouth shut long enough to listen to stories of this wonderful woman, if I was willing to tell them.
“He reached out with flattery during a time of need,” said the skeleton.
Yes, that was his way. He was a practiced flatterer. A bit full of himself, and a little immature in some ways, but a basically good guy.
“This former friend you don’t talk to any more and are about to assassinate in print, a good guy? OK, I’m all ear holes,” the skeleton turned his head to show where an ear had been.
He was very helpful when I was trying to figure out how to get my student-run program off the ground. He encouraged me to write a manifesto, laying out my beliefs, how the program would advance these beliefs, what my theory was, how I proposed to test it, how the program’s success could be gauged. He was a big help at a key time.
“A big help encouraging you to launch a doomed pipe dream,” said the skeleton.
Anyway, I noticed, over time, that virtually every time we’d get together he made some reference to child molestation. I was working on a program for kids ages 7-11 and he kept making comments about child sex. The first few went by without notice or comment, but he got my attention when he spontaneously invented a theory under which a person like me, working with kids in a free-wheeling creative program, could be prosecuted for a crime he dreamed up: vicarious child pornography.
A person was guilty of this heinous imagined felony by facilitating or allowing the creation of material, by children, that could be deemed, by a randy pervert on the bench, as intended to arouse sexual desires in other children or in an adult. This came to his mind after he watched a beautifully animated sequence of two clay figures kissing and merging to form a heart.
“You’ve got to be careful with that,” he said, describing his imagined law against an adult allowing a third-grader to express certain abstract feelings with clay and drawing.
I pointed out that the kids self-censored themselves, that it was one advantage to having seven year-olds and ten year-olds working in the same workshop. I can point over to the younger kids any time the older ones begin pushing the limits and they get the point immediately.
“You’ve got to be careful,” he said again, having another small glass of single malt.
There was an adopted son who was no longer talking to him or his angry, critical wife. It perplexed him that this boy they had raised, a young man with his own children now, hated them so much he would not even return their calls. It was impossible for him to believe the love they had always shown him had turned to this.
“I think I see where this one is going,” said my father’s skeleton.
One spring afternoon, over lunch, in a crowded outdoor restaurant, he asked me why I thought it was that pedophiles were so universally despised, in an unmentionable category of their own among hated criminals.
“Most likely because they prey on the most vulnerable and defenseless victims imaginable and ruin their lives at the moment they are most impressionable. They put their own need for sexual gratification above the lives of the little souls they destroy. That’s pretty bad, no?”
This fellow was brilliant. Sekhnet had memorably characterized the full-grown arrested adolescent as a brilliant child. “You have to remember that he’s a child, a brilliant child, but a child.”
“She really does have a talent for putting a person into an ingenious nutshell, doesn’t she?” said the skeleton.
I had great difficulty following the course of this brilliant child’s conversation of the next hour or so. I kept trying to focus on what exactly he was saying, asking for clarification several times, but it was impossible to get any sense of where he was going, beyond a generalized discomfort with how universally hated, among all malefactors, adults who loved and had sex with children seemed to be.
“Isn’t it possible that if the adult truly loves the child, and is always gentle and loving, that the child wouldn’t be harmed at all by the relationship?” he asked at one point.
I allowed, for the sake of argument, that this was theoretically possible, but even assuming that ten percent, even fifty percent, of pedophile relationships fell into this category, you’re talking about millions of kids fucked up for life for the sexual pleasure of artless adult child fuckers. I left aside the obvious point that a loving adult has many better ways to show love to a child than making that kid a sexual partner. Every other way you can think of, pretty much, outside of something like enlisting them to join you in torture and murder, is better.
When we somehow wrapped up the conversation, he could not stop thanking me. Nobody had ever allowed him to talk about this subject, it was so taboo, nobody could hear five words about it without stopping him. I told him I was willing to discuss anything, in theory, but that I still really didn’t know what the hell we’d just been talking about.
“See, that’s the moment I’m talking about when I ask how we can recognize them. You had a moment when you hadn’t yet done the math; he already knew the math, had the final figures all worked out. It would take you a little while, a few hours, a day, maybe a week, before you realized why this conversation was so important to him, before you made the connection to the irrationally angry adopted son who hates him, etc. He was already there, waiting with his teeth out, a sharp blade in each hand,” said the skeleton.
You’re right. What happened next put that beyond any doubt. He went from overflowing gratitude to casually asking me what I thought of Edward Snowden and Bradley Chelsea Manning. I told him whatever else could be said of either of them, they seemed to have acted out of conscience and done a valuable service to the public and for democracy.
It was as if I’d dropped a match into a lake of gasoline. This otherwise nuanced and philosophical man went bat shit insane. He harangued me with such ferocity about the treachery of these two self-involved traitors that his wife, a complete harridan who had joined us moments into this conflict, felt compelled to break in and tell him that he had to let me speak.
He would not, he did not, he could not. My premises were all completely fallacious!! He roared. He raged. I managed to cut in to ask him to tell me what those fallacious premises were, but he was beyond listening. He screamed, quoting now obscure sociologists of his college days, berating me for my ignorance of their teachings. He cited the holdings of once-famous now obscure court rulings on treason which all proved, beyond any doubt, that I was categorically and completely wrong. And worse than that, fucking arrogant.
“Jesus, why didn’t you tell him to shut the fuck up and get out of there?” said the skeleton.
I was dumbfounded, and also in the back of his car, speeding along the highway. There was no place to go. He was yelling so much it would have been futile to have tried to yell over him to get him to pull over. I had to just wait to get where we were going and get the hell away from him.
“See, that’s why I asked how do we recognize them before we’re in the back of their speeding car, bound for wherever they are speeding off to,” said the skeleton.
I wasn’t worried in any kind of existential way, but I was shocked and hurt. It was literally sickening to be abused this way, after being casually asked my opinion, which I had couched in the most diplomatic of terms. It didn’t take long before the intense burning started in the center of my chest.
“Oh, boy,” said the skeleton, very familiar with this burning in the center of the chest. He had felt it every time his tiny, enraged mother rattled the drawer where she kept her cutting whip.
“That’s precisely what I’m talking about, Elie, that’s the exact thing I was always defending against– that terrible burning in the exact center of your chest. You know what that feeling is? It’s fighting off the death that is clutching angrily at your heart, to be treated so cruelly by someone you did no harm to, for the crime of being blameless.”
I noticed the quiet in the cemetery. None of the other dead folks had anything smart to say about this.