Apparently even the most awful tragedies, and the people they’d ruined, got a little stale after a while.
The phone rang. It was a familiar voice.It was Alan Greenspan. Paul O'Neill had tried to stay in touch with people who had served under Gerald Ford, and he'd been reasonably conscientious about it. Alan Greenspan was the exception. In his case, the effort was constant and purposeful. When Greenspan was the chairman of Ford's Council of Economic Advisers, and O'Neill was number two at OMB, they had become a kind of team. Never social so much. They never talked about families or outside interests. It was all about ideas: Medicare financing or block grants - a concept that O'Neill basically invented to balance federal power and local autonomy - or what was really happening in the economy. It became clear that they thought well together. President Ford used to have them talk about various issues while he listened. After a while, each knew how the other's mind worked, the way married couples do.In the past fifteen years, they'd made a point of meeting every few months. It could be in New York, or Washington, or Pittsburgh. They talked about everything, just as always. Greenspan, O'Neill told a friend, "doesn't have many people who don't want something from him, who will talk straight to him. So that's what we do together - straight talk."O'Neill felt some straight talk coming in."Paul, I'll be blunt. We really need you down here," Greenspan said. "There is a real chance to make lasting changes. We could be a team at the key moment, to do the things we've always talked about."The jocular tone was gone. This was a serious discussion. They digressed into some things they'd "always talked about," especially reforming Medicare and Social Security. For Paul and Alan, the possibility of such bold reinventions bordered on fantasy, but fantasy made real."We have an extraordinary opportunity," Alan said. Paul noticed that he seemed oddly anxious. "Paul, your presence will be an enormous asset in the creation of sensible policy."Sensible policy. This was akin to prayer from Greenspan. O'Neill, not expecting such conviction from his old friend, said little. After a while, he just thanked Alan. He said he always respected his counsel. He said he was thinking hard about it, and he'd call as soon as he decided what to do.The receiver returned to its cradle. He thought about Greenspan. They were young men together in the capital. Alan stayed, became the most noteworthy Federal Reserve Bank chairman in modern history and, arguably the most powerful public official of the past two decades. O'Neill left, led a corporate army, made a fortune, and learned lessons - about how to think and act, about the importance of outcomes - that you can't ever learn in a government.But, he supposed, he'd missed some things. There were always trade-offs. Talking to Alan reminded him of that. Alan and his wife, Andrea Mitchell, White House correspondent for NBC news, lived a fine life. They weren't wealthy like Paul and Nancy. But Alan led a life of highest purpose, a life guided by inquiry.Paul O'Neill picked up the telephone receiver, punched the keypad."It's me," he said, always his opening.He started going into the details of his trip to New York from Washington, but he's not much of a phone talker - Nancy knew that - and the small talk trailed off."I think I'm going to have to do this."She was quiet. "You know what I think," she said.She knew him too well, maybe. How bullheaded he can be, once he decides what's right. How he had loved these last few years as a sovereign, his own man. How badly he was suited to politics, as it was being played. And then there was that other problem: she'd almost always been right about what was best for him."Whatever, Paul. I'm behind you. If you don't do this, I guess you'll always regret it."But it was clearly about what he wanted, what he needed.Paul thanked her. Though somehow a thank-you didn't seem appropriate.And then he realized she was crying.
Most people aren’t happy. They sing songs like they are. Make up cute little stories. Post pics of the rare times when life wasn’t dreadful. Most people are stomaching this whole affair called life. Are these people complainers? Probably. Most are. But they’re also just blokes who’re too afraid to take a risk. So they live lives in a redundant cycle of complacent apathy. Then these people wallow around day after day in their unhappiness. The more you do that, the more you lose sight of the chances you could take to make things better.
The plane banked, and he pressed his face against the cold window. The ocean tilted up to meet him, its dark surface studded with points of light that looked like constellations, fallen stars. The tourist sitting next to him asked him what they were. Nathan explained that the bright lights marked the boundaries of the ocean cemeteries. The lights that were fainter were memory buoys. They were the equivalent of tombstones on land: they marked the actual graves. While he was talking he noticed scratch-marks on the water, hundreds of white gashes, and suddenly the captain's voice, crackling over the intercom, interrupted him. The ships they could see on the right side of the aircraft were returning from a rehearsal for the service of remembrance that was held on the ocean every year. Towards the end of the week, in case they hadn't realised, a unique festival was due to take place in Moon Beach. It was known as the Day of the Dead......When he was young, it had been one of the days he most looked forward to. Yvonne would come and stay, and she'd always bring a fish with her, a huge fish freshly caught on the ocean, and she'd gut it on the kitchen table. Fish should be eaten, she'd said, because fish were the guardians of the soul, and she was so powerful in her belief that nobody dared to disagree. He remembered how the fish lay gaping on its bed of newspaper, the flesh dark-red and subtly ribbed where it was split in half, and Yvonne with her sleeves rolled back and her wrists dipped in blood that smelt of tin.It was a day that abounded in peculiar traditions. Pass any candy store in the city and there'd be marzipan skulls and sugar fish and little white chocolate bones for 5 cents each. Pass any bakery and you'd see cakes slathered in blue icing, cakes sprinkled with sea-salt.If you made a Day of the Dead cake at home you always hid a coin in it, and the person who found it was supposed to live forever. Once, when she was four, Georgia had swallowed the coin and almost choked. It was still one of her favourite stories about herself. In the afternoon, there'd be costume parties. You dressed up as Lazarus or Frankenstein, or you went as one of your dead relations. Or, if you couldn't think of anything else, you just wore something blue because that was the colour you went when you were buried at the bottom of the ocean. And everywhere there were bowls of candy and slices of special home-made Day of the Dead cake. Nobody's mother ever got it right. You always had to spit it out and shove it down the back of some chair. Later, when it grew dark, a fleet of ships would set sail for the ocean cemeteries, and the remembrance service would be held. Lying awake in his room, he'd imagine the boats rocking the the priest's voice pushed and pulled by the wind. And then, later still, after the boats had gone, the dead would rise from the ocean bed and walk on the water. They gathered the flowers that had been left as offerings, they blew the floating candles out. Smoke that smelt of churches poured from the wicks, drifted over the slowly heaving ocean, hid their feet. It was a night of strange occurrences. It was the night that everyone was Jesus......Thousands drove in for the celebrations. All Friday night the streets would be packed with people dressed head to toe in blue. Sometimes they painted their hands and faces too. Sometimes they dyed their hair. That was what you did in Moon Beach. Turned blue once a year. And then, sooner or later, you turned blue forever.
I don't think immediate tragedy is a very good source of art. It can be, but too often it's raw and painful and un-dealt-with. Sometimes art can be a really good escape from the intolerable, and a good place to go when things are bad, but that doesn't mean you have to write directly about the bad thing; sometimes you need to let time pass, and allow the thing that hurts to get covered with layers, and then you take it out, like a pearl, and you make art out of it.When my father died, on the plane from his funeral in the UK back to New York, still in shock, I got out my notebook and wrote a script. It was a good place to go, the place that script was, and I went there so deeply and so far that when we landed Maddy had to tap me on the arm to remind me that I had to get off the plane now. (She says I looked up at her, puzzled, and said "But I want to find out what happens next.") It was where I went and what I did to cope, and I was amazed, some weeks later when I pulled out that notebook to start typing, to find that I'd written pretty much the entire script in that six hour journey.
It was strange how in that moment of tragedy, it had seemed so unreal, like an old-fashioned movie reel playing on a screen for my eyes only. The pain and broken heart were blocked off for a little while, leaving me numb with disbelief. Shock is what Dad called it. But after a while, the cruel reality started to seep into my tissues, and my body became a sponge, just sucking it all up until, finally, there was so much grief inside, I couldn't help feeling it.That's how it happened for me. First, the numbness right after she died, next the agonising pain and then the place I was at now—the land of perpetual depression.
This is the list you carry in your pocket, of the things you plan to say to Kay, when you find him, if you find him:1. I’m sorry that I forgot to water your ferns while you were away that time.2. When you said that I reminded you of your mother, was that a good thing?3. I never really liked your friends all that much.4. None of my friends ever really liked you.5. Do you remember when the cat ran away, and I cried and cried and made you put up posters, and she never came back? I wasn’t crying because she didn’t come back. I was crying because I’d taken her to the woods, and I was scared she’d come back and tell you what I’d done, but I guess a wolf got her, or something. She never liked me anyway.6. I never liked your mother.7. After you left, I didn’t water your plants on purpose. They’re all dead.8. Goodbye.9. Were you ever really in love with me?10. Was I good in bed, or just average?11. What exactly did you mean, when you said that it was fine that I had put on a little weight, that you thought I was even more beautiful, that I should go ahead and eat as much as I wanted, but when I weighed myself on the bathroom scale, I was exactly the same weight as before, I hadn’t gained a single pound?12. So all those times, I’m being honest here, every single time, and anyway I don’t care if you don’t believe me, I faked every orgasm you ever thought I had. Women can do that, you know. You never made me come, not even once.13. So maybe I’m an idiot, but I used to be in love with you.14. I slept with some guy, I didn’t mean to, it just kind of happened. Is that how it was with you? Not that I’m making any apologies, or that I’d accept yours, I just want to know.15. My feet hurt, and it’s all your fault.16. I mean it this time, goodbye.
An awfulness was deep inside me, and I couldn't fight it; forced into submission and taken hostage by it, I could only just lie there, let it wash over me, and let myself be consumed by it. If I cooperate, maybe it won't stay too long; maybe it'll let me go free. But if I fight it, it might stay longer just to spite me. So I decided to let The Feeling inhabit me as long as it desired, while I lay still, cautious not to incite me, secretly hoping it would leave me soon and bother someone else, but outwardly, pretending to be its gracious host. The most discouraging element of what I felt was my inability to understand it. Usually when I was filled with an unpleasant feeling, I could make it go away, or at least tame it, by watching a light-hearted film or reading a good book or listening to a feel good album. But this feeling was different. I knew non of those distractions could rid me of it. But I knew nothing else. I couldn't even describe it. Is this depression? Maybe once you ask someone to describe depression, he can't find the words. Maybe I'm part of the official club now. I imagined myself in a room full of people where someone in the crowd, also suffering from depression, immediately noticed me-as if he detected the scent of his own kind-walked over, and looked into my eyes. He knew that I had The Feeling inside me because he, too, da The Feeling inside him. He didn't ask me to talk about it, because he understood that our type of suffering was ineffable. He only nodded at me, and I nodded back; and then, during our moment of silence, we both shared a sad smile of recognition, knowing that we only had each other in a room filled with people who would never understand us, because they didn't have The Feeling inside them.
It was getting difficult to see exactly what was going on in the pool and a fourth officer jumped in as one came up with the unconscious form of the first cop. While others pulled the half-drowned man from the pool, three more wrestled Skorzeny to the surface and dragged him to the steps at the shallow end of the pool. He wasn't struggling any longer. Nor was he breathing with any apparent difficulty. The biggest of the three cops later admitted to punching him as hard as he could in the stomach and Skorzey doubled over. Another half-dragged him, still on his feet, shirt torn, jacket ripped, out of the pool and put a handcuff on his left wrist.Skorzeny pulled his arm away from the cop and, suddenly straightening, elbow-jabbed him in the gut, sending him sprawling and rolling back into the pool. Skorzeny turned toward the back fence and was now between the pool and a small palm tree. Before him were two advancing officers, pistols leveled. Behind him two more circled the pool. Skorzeny lunged forward and all fired simultaneously. The noise was deafening. Lights in neighboring houses began to go on.Skorzeny's body twitched and bucked as the heavy slugs ripped through his body. His forward momentum carried him into the officers ahead of him and he half-crawled, half-staggered to the southeast corner of the yard where another gate was set into the fiberglass fencing. Two more officers, across the pool, cut loose with their pistols, emptying them into this writing body which danced like a puppet. Another cop fired two shots from his pump-action shotgun and Skorzeny was lifted clean off his feet and slammed against the gate, sagging to the ground.En masse from both ends of the pool they advanced, when he gave out with a terrible hissing snarl and started to rise once more. All movement ceased as the cops, to a man, stood frozen in their tracks. Skorzeny stood there like some hideous caricature, his shredding clothing and skin hanging like limp rags from his scarecrow form. His flesh was ripped in several places and he was oozing something that looked like watered-down blood. It was pinkish and transparent. He stood there like a living nightmare. Then he straightened and raised his fist with the cuff still dangling from it like a charm bracelet.'Fools!' he shrieked. 'You can't kill me. You can't even hurt me.'Overhead, the copter hovered, the copilot giving a blow-by-blow description of the fight over the radio. The police on the ground were paralyzed. Nearly thirty shots had been fired (the bullets later tallied in reports turned in by the participating officers) and their quarry was still as strong as ever. He'd been hit repeatedly in the head and legs, so a bulletproof vest wasn't the answer. And at distances sometimes as little as five feet, they could hardly have missed. They'd seen him hit.They stood frozen in an eerie tableau as the still roiling pool water threw weird reflections all over the yard.Then Skorzeny did the most frightening thing of all. He smiled. A red-rimmed, hideous grin revealing fangs that 'would have done justice to a Doberman Pinscher.
Dad's death didn't hollow me out the way Helen's had. After all, everyone had assumed Dad was a goner back when he got kicked in the head as a child. Instead, he had cheated death and, despite his gimp and speech impediment, lived a long life doing pretty much what he wanted. He hadn't drawn the best of cards, but he'd played his hand darned well, so what was there to grieve over?
Most people think Marv is crazy, but I don't believe that. I'm no shrink and I'm not saying I've got Marv all figured out or anything, but "crazy" just doesn't explain him. Not to me. Sometimes I think he's retarded, a big, brutal kid who never learned the ground rules about how people are supposed to act around each other. But that doesn't have the right ring to it either. No, it's more like there's nothing wrong with Marv, nothing at all--except that he had the rotten luck of being born at the wrong time in history. He'd have been okay if he'd been born a couple of thousand years ago. He'd be right at home on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into somebody's face. Or in a roman arena, taking a sword to other gladiators like him. They'd have tossed him girls like Nancy, back then.
Anyway, it seems to me that the way most people go on living (I suppose there are a few exceptions), they think that the world of life (or whatever) is this place where everything is (or is supposed to be) basically logical and consistent.... It's like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you've got rice pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can't tell what's going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody's looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it's natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me that's just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin.
It was so awful! And he kept on looking at me and I knew I must get out of bed or he'd come and touch me. I did, too, but when I got out I wasn't me-I was a little white bunny. And he started out of the room and I had to go with him for fear he'd touch me. It felt so horrid, going out with him and looking back at mother there asleep."We went into the main part of the house, and one of the big front doors was open, and we went out through it. And then he gave a big jump, and so did I, and it took us clear up into the sky. We couldn't fly, but we kept jumping and jumping."Sometimes we stayed in the sky a little while, jumping from cloud to cloud, and the moon would get closer and closer and bigger and bigger, and its face would change and get horrible and grin at us until it seemed like its mouth was a mile wide and open, to swallow us up. And then we'd come down again and jump from one cliff to another, and the sea would be roaring down under us, and the waves all grey and cold and moving around and boiling like they were mad or afraid."We went all over the island and sometimes we jumped over the sea to the mainland and back again; and sometimes I tried to get away and run back to Mother - I thought she'd know me even if I was a bunny - but always, whichever way I turned, the hare was there in front of me, and his teeth were shining."We kept it up all night, and I was so tired and cold and miserable, and so scared. I didn't know whether he would ever let me go home or whether he would take me to Aunt Sarai. Then finally I did get away and the hare chased me!"She broke off, her voice rising again to a wail."It was so awful! I ran all over the island, into all sorts of queer little places that I never knew were there before - it seems so different after dark - and finally, when two or three times I'd been so tired that I thought I just couldn't go any farther, before he caught me, I saw the house in front of me and the front door still open and I started to run in, and then I thought - what if they'd planned it that way, and Aunt Sarai had come down from her portrait and was inside there in the dark, waiting for me?
Did you know one in three woman wind up in a mentally or physically abusive relationship?But the funny part is, it doesn't start off that way. It starts of wonderful, as close to everything you imagined something solid should be. Then little by little, the relationship changes, and you wonder if you're going crazy. You literally start to question your own sanity. One minute, the person you're in love with is kind and caring, and the next they're flipping out. The first few times you write it off, assuming they're having a bad day, but then it becomes a regular pattern of behavior. The person on the receiving end isn't oblivious to it but starts blaming themselves.Did you know mental abuse can make a victim feel depression, anxiety, helplessness, nonexistent self-worth, and despair? But that doesn't matter because your feelings don't count, and you don't realize they never will. Sometimes the abuser makes you think they count. Then you're back to thinking that you're the one who belongs in an institution, not them. But on the norm, your needs or feelings, if you actually have the fucking courage to express them-and most women don't-are ignored, ridiculed, minimized, and dismissed. You're told you're too demanding, or there's something wrong with you. Basically, you're denied the right to feel... anything.Sometimes you distance yourself from friends or loved ones. Sometimes you're not even allowed to have friends. Thought you've given this person your heart and soul, their behavior becomes so erratic, it's as if you feel like you're walking on landmines. But you continue to love them because they weren't like this when you're met, so it only seems obvious it's your fault. Then-there's the hysterical part and just how twisted this whole thing becomes-you start making excuses for their inexcusable behaviors in an effort to convince yourself it's normal. In an actual, damn convince yourself you're the one who;s made them become the monster they've turned into. A couple of ladies from an organization fighting against domestic abuse told me I allowed this to happen because 'I'm a product of my environment'. I mean really, how cliched is that? Did I ever tell you about my parents? Did I ever tell you how after my father left us, my mother continued pursuing assholes?Well, she did. She went through them like the world was going to end the next day. I get that being a single parent was hard for her. I do. But she definitely had a thing for picking up the local drunk at the nearest bar in order to help pay the next month's rent. They'd help for a while before they bounced out like my father did, but that never came without a price. She let them smack her around a bit if dinner wasn't cooked by the time they walked in the door, or if the house wasn't cleaned by the time they kicked off their filthy boots. They all looked different, but they came from a mold. Each and every single one of them was cut from the same piece of abusive wax,So, those women told me witnessing my mother's weakness drove my own, and her watching my grandfather beat my grandmother was what drove hers. They told me I was raised thinking it was okay for a man to do that to a woman. I was raised thinking self-worth was gained by catering to a man's needs at whatever cost. Ever if it meant degrading myself time and time again. But the apple can fall far from the tree. Fifty percent of children who grow up seeing that will never walk in their parents' footsteps, whether it's a boy watching his father beat his mother a young girl watching her mother get hit. But this apple landed on the tree's stump. This apple took the same path as her mother.
Sooner or later, all talk among foreigners in Pyongyang turns to one imponderable subject. Do the locals really believe what they are told, and do they truly revere Fat Man and Little Boy? I have been a visiting writer in several authoritarian and totalitarian states, and usually the question answers itself. Someone in a café makes an offhand remark. A piece of ironic graffiti is scrawled in the men's room. Some group at the university issues some improvised leaflet. The glacier begins to melt; a joke makes the rounds and the apparently immovable regime suddenly looks vulnerable and absurd. But it's almost impossible to convey the extent to which North Korea just isn't like that. South Koreans who met with long-lost family members after the June rapprochement were thunderstruck at the way their shabby and thin northern relatives extolled Fat Man and Little Boy. Of course, they had been handpicked, but they stuck to their line.There's a possible reason for the existence of this level of denial, which is backed up by an indescribable degree of surveillance and indoctrination. A North Korean citizen who decided that it was all a lie and a waste would have to face the fact that his life had been a lie and a waste also. The scenes of hysterical grief when Fat Man died were not all feigned; there might be a collective nervous breakdown if it was suddenly announced that the Great Leader had been a verbose and arrogant fraud. Picture, if you will, the abrupt deprogramming of more than 20 million Moonies or Jonestowners, who are suddenly informed that it was all a cruel joke and there's no longer anybody to tell them what to do. There wouldn't be enough Kool-Aid to go round. I often wondered how my guides kept straight faces. The streetlights are turned out all over Pyongyang—which is the most favored city in the country—every night. And the most prominent building on the skyline, in a town committed to hysterical architectural excess, is the Ryugyong Hotel. It's 105 floors high, and from a distance looks like a grotesquely enlarged version of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco (or like a vast and cumbersome missile on a launchpad). The crane at its summit hasn't moved in years; it's a grandiose and incomplete ruin in the making. 'Under construction,' say the guides without a trace of irony. I suppose they just keep two sets of mental books and live with the contradiction for now.
Most of the people I worked with in my old job were pretty cool. We used to go out drinking after lights out and the less pleasant members of staff would be the topic of our pub discussions. We had a laugh. Nothing too damning. No one called anyone a cunt or anything, even behind their backs. We let off steam because it helped us deal with the fact that it was Monday and we’d still got four days of that shit left before our Saturday morning visits to the psychiatrist. One after the other…. same warm, leather seat.
At this stage of the game, I don’t have the time for patience and tolerance. Ten years ago, even five years ago, I would have listened to people ask their questions, explained to them, mollified them. No more. That time is past. Now, as Norman Mailer said in Naked and the Dead, ‘I hate everything which is not in myself.’ If it doesn’t have a direct bearing on what I’m advocating, if it doesn’t augment or stimulate my life and thinking, I don’t want to hear it. It has to add something to my life. There’s no more time for explaining and being ecumenical anymore. No more time. That’s a characteristic I share with the new generation of Satanists, which might best be termed, and has labeled itself in many ways, an ‘Apocalypse culture.’ Not that they believe in the biblical Apocalypse—the ultimate war between good and evil. Quite the contrary. But that there is an urgency, a need to get on with things and stop wailing and if it ends tomorrow, at least we’ll know we’ve lived today. It’s a ‘fiddle while Rome burns’ philosophy. It’s the Satanic philosophy. If the generation born in the 50’s grew up in the shadow of The Bomb and had to assimilate the possibility of imminent self destruction of the entire planet at any time, those born in the 60’s have had to reconcile the inevitability of our own destruction, not through the bomb but through mindless, uncontrolled overpopulation. And somehow resolve in themselves, looking at what history has taught us, that no amount of yelling, protesting, placard waving, marching, wailing—or even more constructive avenues like running for government office or trying to write books to wake people up—is going to do a damn bit of good. The majority of humans have an inborn death wish—they want to destroy themselves and everything beautiful. To finally realize that we’re living in a world after the zenith of creativity, and that we can see so clearly the mechanics of our own destruction, is a terrible realization. Most people can’t face it. They’d rather retreat to the comfort of New Age mysticism. That’s all right. All we want, those few of us who have the strength to realize what’s going on, is the freedom to create and entertain and share with each other, to preserve and cherish what we can while we can, and to build our own little citadels away from the insensitivity of the rest of the world.