Pitch?black, sweat?wet and foaming, the two matched horses struggled in the mire of the coal mine, searching for firm footing on the ramp leading out. I jumps down into the pool and unhitched them, and as the scrambled up and out, gobs, of wet black muck sprays down all around me, one landing with a SMACK on the exposed portion of my neck. Disgusted, I reached to wipe it away?
"OWW! Roy, you hit me in the eye. I was kissin you awake."
Berry. I'd hit her in the eye. Where were we? In her car, in my hometown. I said, "I'm sorry. I didn't know where I was."
"We're here. I came as far as I could on your directions. You've got to show me how to get to your house. Look??it's snowed here. Isn't it terrific? The first snowfall of the year:'
It was terrific. Black of tree limb snuggling up white of snow, all clouded in the gray of moist November. Thanksgiving. That was it. Despite our growing ROR, Berry and I were going to my house for Thanksgiving. She'd picked me up that morning at the door of the House E.W., after I'd worked all night and had driven us to my home, in the Siberian Provinces of upper New York State. The tundra. Whaling town, whoretown, bartown, churchtown, it had reached its peak in population just before the American Revolution, and was now supported by two cement plants that nightly covered it in cement dust, the cement workers supporting the whores, bars, churches, Lions, Elks, Mooses, and all the other remnants of man's bestiality to man.
"Your town is so quaint," said Berry.
"Buying condoms wasn't easy"
"What made your farther move up here from the city?"
I remembered my father telling me how he'd struggled to make it as a dentist in the City after the war, he and my mother sleeping on the rollaway that doubled, during the day, as the waiting?room couch, and I remembered my mother telling me how pleased he was, after the first day in his office in this small town, when he came home like a kid with a new toy holding eighty?five dollars in cash in his hand and, remembering how he loved golf, I said, "Money, fear, and golf."
"Yeah. Of being a nothing in the City."
Halfway up the main street, as I struggled with the confusion brought on by the Chamber of Commerce desecrating the memories of my youth by switching the buildings around so I didn't know what went with what anymore or which place I'd had my first beer or my first kiss or the first time I'd gotten the shit beat outta me by the Italians for going out with their sister even though their sister had wanted to go out with me, I saw a sign in the second?floor window of an old building, the snow failing to hide the peeling paint:
My father's sign. Twenty?seven years there. Wanted to be a medical doctor, and the Jewish quota in the thirties in the City med schools had fucked him over. He and his generation had built the Houses of Gods, to ensure to assure. Sad to see, that little sign. Tears came to my eyes. How much easier it was for me to feel sad, and show it, when I wasn't with them, with him cheerily whistling "Some Enchanted Evening" and restlessly swinging his arms back and forth and trying to live his dreams through me.
And so no tears came to my eyes when I saw them at home. Seeing me with Berry immediately raised everyone's hopes for my marriage. Despite my mother's reputation for breaking up relationships?the most blatant example being a Thanksgiving years before when, after dinner, she'd announced to my spinster cousin's beau that "Now it's time for you and me to talk turkey, Roger," and she'd stayed locked up in they den with him for an hour, and after she got through with him no one ever saw Roger again?she started right in on me. I was forced by fatigue to take a nap, and I excused myself from all their questions and lapsed into vivid daytime dreams. I awoke from that deep sleep that has you cheek to cheek with your owns drool on the pillow, and at dinner my mind was soil coated with sleep. I'd been up all night in the E.W. too often the past several nights, trying to deal with the ocean of humanity rolling and surging under my eyes. My mother resented my having taken a nap and my being tired, but Berry's being there diluted my mother's raging attention, and the yell level stayed at mezzo .
After dinner, things began looking up. The 18 1/2 minute gap on the latest White House tape had just been revealed, and what pleasure it gave us all! Four generations of Baschs buzzed with the news of the Rose Mary Reach. Spurred on by the news photos Rose Mary Woods spread?eagled between the foot pedal of her tape recorder and the phone behind h as if awaiting a quick roll in the hay with Nixon, we laughed and chortled together that now, finally, Nixon was going to get his. Good for us! Good for America! From the very tiniest Basch, my brother's four?year-old daughter, who was learning to play with her toy phone by picking it up and spread?eagling herself and screaming RO?MARY REACH RO?MARY REACH, my brother, who seemed to despise Nixon even more than the rest of us, past my father, who was interested in the technical aspects of the erasure, foreshadowing the panel of experts who would show, beyond shadow of a doubt, that "there were four to nine consecutive manual erasures" and who'd conclude that "the event could not have happened by accident," and finally, to my grandfather, the only one of his generation left, who smiled a wise smile and said only, "After all these years, to see this, is a wonderful thing."
During a lull in the conversation my grandfather stood up and said to me, "Well, now, Doctor, now I get free advice. Let's go."
We went into my room and sat down, and he said, "Nah, I don' wanna talk with you about advice," and he pulled his chair up opposite me and leaned over the way old men do, and I remembered his wife, perenially sitting in back of him, an echo over his shoulder, now dead.
"So you know," he said, "you're the oldest grandchild, and I remember the day you were born. I hoid the news in Saratoga. I was president of the Italian American Grocers of Manhattan. We had our convention dere dat year."
"A Jew as president of the Italian American?Grocers?"
"Yeh. The whole t'ing was Jews. You're an educated man, I'm asking you?would you buy from an Italian? They bought their spaghetti from us. After Polish and Yiddish, next I Joined Italian. Den English. Basch's Italian American Grocery, that was me, then. I got 'black hand' letters from the Mafia, the works. Even in Kolomea in Poland, we were grocers. My father made all his money during the war with Japan: he bought up hides, and people said to him you're crazy what you buying these hides for, and he said never mind, and when war came, they needed them hides."
"Boots for the soldiers. To get to Japan. Ah, my healt's not too bad?a little trouble with the legs. But I want to know if I got something bad, 'cause dese days, dey can cure. I knew dis Italian?Ninth Avenue, nice boy. Oiy did dey cut him?a scar here to here, and here to here. But den, he ran around like a chicken. Not like some people?a little growt, and what do they say? Too busy, too busy. And den bang, dead. I'll fight like hell to live." He paused, and moved closer, until his knees almost touched mine and I could see the little clouds of cataract smothering his eyes. "Dat goil of yours she's a nice goil, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is."
"So what are you waiting? You don't got another one, do you?"
I tried not to let on that I had another one. r
"So why wait? Be a mensch! I never waited. Sure, you couldn't wait den, but you know your grandma never wanted to marry me, never? You know what I did? I got a gun, and held it to her head, and I said, Geiger, marry me or I kill you. How about dat, eh?"
We chuckled, but then he got sad and said, "You know, in all dem years with her, I never went with another woman, never. Believe me, chances I had. In Saratoga. Chances plenty."
I felt bad about what I was doing with Molly.
"You're a smart fella. You see people from the Noising Homes all the time, in your hospital, right? Dey bring dem dere?"
"Yes, Gramp, they do."
"I never wanted to leave Magaw Place, never. I had my Club, my friends. When Grandma died, your father forced me to leave, to dis Home. A man like me in a place like dat. Sure, it's not bad in some ways-people to play poker, the shul right dere, it's all right."
"It's safe too," I said, remembering how he'd gotten mugged:
"Safe? What do I care safe? No, dat don't worry me. Never did. It's no good. The noise?we're in flight path to Kennedy, would you believe? Dey treat you worse den a dog! All I did, all my life, and now dis. People die every day. It's a terrible, terrible . . ."
He started to cry. I felt desperate.
"It's a bad t'ing, dis. Who visits? Talk to your father, tell him I don't want to stay dere like an animal. He'll listen to you. I loved Magaw Place. I'm not a baby, I could have stayed?there myself. You remember Magaw Place?"
"Sure, Gramp," I said, my mind filled with plush purple couches in a dark vestibule and the creaking metal?slatted elevator and then the childhood thrill of running down the long peculiar?smelling corridor toward Gram and Gramp's door, which would be thrown open and filled with their embraces. "Sure."
"And your father forced me to move out. So talk to him?dere's still time for me to move from dat home. Here?a little gels from me, for your office, Dr. Basch."
I took the ten?dollar bill, and sat there as he got up. I knew how terrible it was. My father, adrift with the question of how to handle a single elderly parent, had found his solution in the standard middle?class ethos: "ship them to the gomer homes." Cattle in boxcars. I was mad. At the time he'd done it, I'd asked him why, and all he'd say was, "It's the best thing for him, he can't live there alone. The home is nice. We saw it. There are a lot of things there for him to do, and they take care of them there pretty good." How much my grandfather had gone through, and how little was left for him now. He would turn into a gomer. I knew, even better than him, where the ride from the nursing home would end. An ominous thought came to me: as he began to get demented, I'd visit him in the home, a syringeful of cyanide like a bar of candy in my pocket. He wouldn't be a gomer, no.
We rejoined the others. Things were cheery and bright. My mother, sensing my ambivalence about medicine, marched out a story: "You're never satisfied, Roy. You're like my great?uncle Thaler, my father's father's brother. The whole Thaler family were merchants in Russia?solid steady work, selling cloth, food, I think they even had the whiskey license in the town. But my great?uncle wanted to be a sculptor. Sculptor? Who ever heard of that? They laughed. They told him to be like all the rest. And then once, in the dead of night, he snuck into the barn, stole the best horse, and rode away, and no one ever saw or heard from him again."
Several hours later Berry deposited me again outside the doors of the E.W. of the House. As I entered the waiting room at midnight and said hello to Abe, I gave thanks that during Thanksgiving with my family I'd been able to get some sleep.
The policemen were sitting at the nursing station, as if awaiting my midnight arrival, and Gilheeny boomed out his opener: "Happy holiday greetings to you, Dr. Roy, and I expect that in the lap of your family, with your girlfriend in the lovely red Volvo, you have had a wonderful time."
I found myself relieved that they were there. I asked whether they'd had a good Thanksgiving as well.
"Red is a fine color," said the bushy redhead. "There is a continuity to the unconscious processes, at home, at play, at work, according to Freud and resident Cohen, and the continuity of the red of the Thanksgiving cranberry and the potential red of human bloodshed we observe nightly on our beat is pleasing to our senses."
"This Cohen is talking to you about the unconscious?" I asked.
"As Freud discovered and as Cohen points out," said Quick, "the process of free association is liberating, enabling the darkness of the child?policeman light up with the understanding of the adult. See this lead billy club?"
I saw it.
"The crack of this lead stick on the elbow is a more sure and fail?safe blow, much to the consternation of those writing TV thrillers," said Quick. "To crack an elbow with the understanding of the childhood unconscious is almost free of guilt."
"He have only Cohen to thank," said Gilheeny, "for teaching the technique of the free association."
"Cohen and that master of the Jewish race, Freud. And we have high hopes for you, Roy, for like a racehorse, your track record is among the best."
"You are a man who looks great on paper," twitched Gilheeny, "humane yet athletic. The Rhodes will of 1903 says, I do believe, to choose 'the best men for the world's fight,' does it not?"
We were interrupted by a shriek from the Grenade Room:
GO AVAY GO AVAY GO AVAY . . .
My heart sank. A room?116 gomere. Even to put on the semblance of a BUFF before TURFING upstairs was, at that point, too much.
" 'Do not presume,"' said Gilheeny, " 'one of the thieves was killed; do not despair, one of the thieves was saved.' "
"Augustine, of course," said Quick.
"Where the hell did you learn that?" I blurted out, without thinking, and then blushed at the implication that these policemen were just two dumb lanky Irishmen.
"Our source for this was a remarkable firebrand of a minuscule Jew. A veritable Herzl," said Gilheeny, ignoring my rudeness.
"His name will be familiar, it is inscribed in the hearts of all, and above the lintel of room 116, the room named after him."
"Grenade Room Dubler?" I asked.
"The complete intern. Dubler knew all the fundamentals and tricky shortcuts that made him a medical wizard. Without question, in our knowledge of twenty years in God's House, Dubler was the best"
"Well, I'd like to hear about him, but I've got to go see that gomere," I said, picking up my bag to go, yet wanting to hear more about this enticing and eccentric Dubler.
"No need, man," said Gilheeny, putting a fat hand on mine, "no need. We all know her?Ina Goober, an archetype, and we have already put on as much of a BUFF as we could. She is with your pal Chuck at this very moment."
"You treated her?" I asked in some amazement.
"She is beyond treatment. She needs nothing but a new nursing?home bed, as hers has been sold. There is no need for you to see her, for she is virtually on her elevator ride up."
They were right. Chuck came out of room 116, put his bag down on the desk, and said, "Hey, Roy. how you doin'? Great case, eh?"
"Terrific. How'd it go with her?"
"Just great. She thought I was Jackson, the black tern she had last year. Not only that, she sees LeRoy; in Outpatient Clinic, and she thinks I'm him too:"
"LeRoy is another person of the black skin color?" asked Quick.
"No foolin'. So she has us all, and she gets us all confused. That's OK, man, 'cause I. never did meet a gomer who could tell two black doctors apart. You know how it is. So long. An' be a WALL."
"Before we hit the beat tonight," said Gilheeny, "there is time to tell one further story of Grenade Room Dubler. After making ties of axial friendship with us, in repayment for the transfer of knowledge from his brain to ours on an encyclopedic range of subjects, Quick and myself offered to educate your man Dubler in the more pornographic side of our beat. He became excited in the sexual anticipation, and one night we picked him up at midnight at these very doors telling him that we had arranged for him to do all manner of dirty things with a 'woman of the night,' if you get my meaning?"
"The great Gilheeny was at the wheel, and I was in the shotgun seat," said Quick, "and Dubler in the back, when in the area called the Strip, amidst the sailors and the seamen, we stopped the car and let an acquaintance of ours, one Lulu, jump into the back seat with Dubler. Lulu was the epitome of hot sex and cheap thrills."
"Instructing Dubler beforehand that he could do anything he wanted with Lulu and that the rearview mirror was not to be used by us, we turned on the radio and drove randomly about, our eyeballs blinking back at the bright lights."
"Dubler and Lulu began to go at it," said Quick. "His hand went to a breast, which responded in banner fashion. After much hesitation, the New Jersey Grenade bolstered up the courage to slip a hot hand up under a high skirt. Up and up and up the thigh it went, as we watched in the rearview mirror."
"Suddenly it hit something hard," said Gilheeny, "hard and long, in the shape of an erect male organ of the XY?chromosome species."
"There was a sharp explosion from the little Grenade. We stopped the car, Lulu jumped out one side, Dubler out the other. It was days before we could cease to do the only human thing, laugh."
"Dubler forgave us, but slowly."
"And only after we suggested that this had been part of our education of him, since we are, in some sense, textbooks, of a different sort, in ourselves."
"For what is learning if not the exchange of ideas?" asked the redhead cheerily. "Now we must go. For your willing ear and prospectus of what you might teach us, we will make sure, on your eight?hour shift, that we take all drunks, accidents, gunshots, and abusive hookers away from the House of God and across town to the E.W. at Man's Best Hospital, MBH. You should have an easy night, and good night."
"Why do you hang out here instead of at the MBH?" I asked. "And why are you being so nice to me?"
"Man's Best Hospital is not a friendly place. It is filled with overachievers lacking in the human qualityof humor. In an instant it would commit a Crazy Abe. As a Jew, you know it is filled with red?hot and serious Gentiles. As Catholic policemen, we know it is filled with red?hot and serious Protestants. The odd Jewish tern there is a discredit to his roots. We know, for example, that Grenade Room Dubler, as well as yourself, were rejected by MBH for internship slots, in spite of your highest qualities on paper and in the flesh, and each rejected because of your 'attitude'."
"How do you know that much about me?" I called after them as they were disappearing through the automatic doors, thinking that only the computer that matched me for my ternship knew that I'd listed the: MBH ahead of the House of God, and had gotten turned down there. The computer matching was reknowned for its secrecy. "How come you're so sure?" '
Gently, wafting back through the whoosh of closing doors and settling on an imaginary hook in air as gracefully as a magician's silk scarf, came the reply:
"Would we be policemen if we were not?"