Maps in a mirror, p.31

Maps in a Mirror, page 31

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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“Mr. Cloward, we are directed to prepare programming for minorities as small as ten thousand people—but no smaller. Even for minorities of ten thousand the programming is ridiculously expensive—a program seen by so few costs far more per watching-minute to produce than one seen by thirty or forty million. However, you belong to a minority even smaller than ten thousand.”

  “That makes me feel so special.”

  “Furthermore, the Consumer Protection Broadcast Act of 1989 and the regulations of the Consumer Broadcast Agency since then have given us very strict guidelines. Mr. Cloward, we cannot show you any program with overt acts of violence.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because you have tendencies toward hostility that are only exacerbated by viewing violence. Similarly, we cannot show you any programs with sex.”

  Cloward’s face turned red.

  “You have no sex life whatsoever, Mr. Cloward. Do you realize how dangerous that is? You don’t even masturbate. The tension and hostility inside you must be tremendous.”

  Cloward leaped to his feet. There were limits to what a man had to put up with. He headed for the door.

  “Mr. Cloward, I’m sorry.” The Aryan followed him to the door. “I don’t make these things up. Wouldn’t you rather know why these decisions are reached?”

  Hiram stopped at the door, his hand on the knob. The Aryan was right. Better to know why than to hate them for it.

  “How,” Hiram asked. “How do they know what I do and do not do within the walls of my home?”

  “We don’t know, of course, but we’re pretty sure. We’ve studied people for years. We know that people who have certain buying patterns and certain living patterns behave in certain ways. And, unfortunately, you have strong destructive tendencies. Repression and denial are your primary means of adaptation to stress, that and, unfortunately, occasional acting out.”

  “What the hell does all that mean?”

  “It means that you lie to yourself until you can’t anymore, and then you attack somebody.”

  Hiram’s face was packed with hot blood, throbbing. I must look like a tomato, he told himself, and deliberately calmed himself. I don’t care, he thought. They’re wrong anyway. Damn scientific tests.

  “Aren’t there any movies you could program for me?”

  “I am sorry, no.”

  “Not all movies have sex and violence.”

  The Aryan smiled soothingly. “The movies that don’t wouldn’t interest you anyway.”

  “Then turn the damn thing off and let me read!”

  “We can’t do that.”

  “Can’t you turn it down?”

  “No.”

  “I am so sick of hearing all about Sarah Wynn and her damn love life!”

  “But isn’t Sarah Wynn attractive?” asked the Aryan.

  That stopped Hiram cold. He dreamed about Sarah Wynn at night. He said nothing. He had no attraction to Sarah Wynn.

  “Isn’t she?” the Aryan insisted.

  “Isn’t who what?”

  “Sarah Wynn.”

  “Who was talking about Sarah Wynn? What about documentaries?”

  “Mr. Cloward, you would become extremely hostile if the news programs were broadcast to you. You know that.”

  “Walter Cronkite’s dead. Maybe I’d like them better now.”

  “You don’t care about the news of the real world, Mr. Cloward, do you?”

  “No.”

  “Then you see where we are. Not one iota of our programming is really appropriate for you. But ninety percent of it is downright harmful to you. And we can’t turn the television off, because of the Solitude Act. Do you see our dilemma?”

  “Do you see mine?”

  “Of course, Mr. Cloward. And I sympathize completely. Make some friends, Mr. Cloward, and we’ll turn off your television.”

  And so the interview was over.

  For two days Cloward brooded. All the time he did, Sarah Wynn was grieving over her three-days’ husband who had just been killed in a car wreck on Wiltshire Boulevard, wherever the hell that was. But now the body was scarcely cold and already her old suitors were back, trying to help her, trying to push their love on her. “Can’t you let yourself depend on me, just a little?” asked Teddy, the handsome one with lots of money.

  “I don’t like depending on people,” Sarah answered.

  “You depended on George.” George was the husband’s name. The dead one.

  “I know,” she said, and cried for a moment. Sarah Wynn was good at crying. Hiram Cloward turned another page in The Brothers Karamazov.

  “You need friends,” Teddy insisted.

  “Oh, Teddy, I know it,” she said, weeping. “Will you be my friend?”

  “Who writes this stuff?” Hiram Cloward asked aloud. Maybe the Aryan in the television company offices had been right. Make some friends. Get the damn set turned off whatever the cost.

  He got up from his chair and went out into the corridor in the apartment building. Clearly posted on the walls were several announcements:

  Chess club 5-9 wed

  Encounter groups nightly at 7

  Learn to knit 6:30 bring yarn and needles

  Games games games in game room (basement)

  Just want to chat? Friends of the Family 7:30 to 10:30 nightly

  Friends of the Family? Hiram snorted. Family was his maudlin mother and her constant weeping about how hard life was and how no one in her right mind would ever be born a woman if anybody had any choice but there was no choice and marriage was a trap men sprung on women, giving them a few minutes of pleasure for a lifetime of drudgery, and I swear to God if it wasn’t for my little baby Hiram I’d ditch that bastard for good, it’s for your sake I don’t leave, my little baby, because if I leave you’ll grow up into a macho bastard like your beerbelly father.

  And friends? What friends ever come around when good old Dad is boozing and belting the living crap out of everybody he can get his hands on?

  I read. That’s what I do. The Prince and the Pauper. Connecticut Yankee. Pride and Prejudice. Worlds within worlds within worlds, all so pretty and polite and funny as hell.

  Friends of the Family. Worth a shot, anyway.

  Hiram went to the elevator and descended eighteen floors to the Fun Floor. Friends of the Family were in quite a large room with alcohol at one end and soda pop at the other. Hiram was surprised to discover that the term soda pop had been revived. He walked to the cola sign and asked the woman for a Coke.

  “How many cups of coffee have you had today?” she asked.

  “Three.”

  “Then I’m so sorry, but I can’t give you a soda pop with caffeine in it. May I suggest Sprite?”

  “You may not,” Hiram said, clenching his teeth. “We’re too damn overprotected.”

  “Exactly how I feel,” said a woman standing beside him, Sprite in hand. “They protect and protect and protect, and what good does it do? People still die, you know.”

  “I suspected as much,” Hiram said, struggling for a smile, wondering if his humor sounded funny or merely sarcastic. Apparently funny. The woman laughed.

  “Oh, you’re a gem, you are,” she said. “What do you do?”

  “I’m a detached professor of literature at Princeton.”

  “But how can you live here and work there?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t work there. I said detached. When the new television teaching came in, my PQ was too low. I’m not a screen personality.”

  “So few of us are,” she said sagely, nodding and smiling. “Oh, how I long for the good old days. When ugly men like David Brinkley could deliver the news.”

  “You remember Brinkley?”

  “Actually, no,” she said, laughing. “I just remember my mother talking about him.” Hiram looked at her appreciatively. Nose not very straight, of course—but that seemed to be the only thing keeping her off TV. Nice voice. Nice nice face. Body.

  She put her hand on his thigh.

  “What are you d
oing tonight?” she asked.

  “Watching television,” he grimaced.

  “Really? What do you have?”

  “Sarah Wynn.”

  She squealed in delight. “Oh, how wonderful! We must be kindred spirits then! I have Sarah Wynn, too!”

  Hiram tried to smile.

  “Can I come up to your apartment?”

  Danger signal. Hand moving up thigh. Invitation to apartment. Sex.

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  And Hiram remembered that the only way he could ever get rid of the television was to prove that he wasn’t solitary. And fixing up his sex life—i.e., having one—would go a long way toward changing their damn profiles. “Come on,” he said, and they left the Friends of the Family without further ado.

  Inside the apartment she immediately took off her shoes and blouse and sat down on the old-fashioned sofa in front of the TV. “Oh,” she said, “so many books. You really are a professor, aren’t you?”

  “Yeah,” he said, vaguely sensing that the next move was up to him, and not having the faintest idea of that the next move was. He thought back to his only fumbling attempt at sex when he was (what?) thirteen? (no) fourteen and the girl was fifteen and was doing it on a lark. She had walked with him up the creekbed (back when there were creeks and open country) and suddenly she had stopped and unzipped his pants (back when there were zippers) but he was finished before she had hardly started and gave up in disgust and took his pants and ran away. Her name was Diana. He went home without his pants and had no rational explanation and his mother had treated him with loathing and brought it up again and again for years afterward, how a man is a man no matter how you treat him and he’ll still get it when he can, who cares about the poor girl. But Hiram was used to that kind of talk. It rolled off him. What haunted him was the uncontrolled shivering of his body, the ecstacy of it, and then the look of disgust on the girl’s face. He had thought it was because—well, never mind. Never mind, he thought. I don’t think of this anymore.

  “Come on,” said the woman.

  “What’s your name?” Hiram asked.

  She looked at the ceiling. “Agnes, for heaven’s sake, come on”

  He decided that taking off his shirt might be a good idea: She watched, then decided to help.

  “No,” he said.

  “What?”

  “Don’t touch me.”

  “Oh, for pete’s sake. What’s wrong? Impotent?”

  Not at all. Not at all. Just uninterested. Is that all right?

  “Look, I don’t want to play around with a psycho case, all right? I’ve got better things to do. I make a hundred a whack, that’s what I charge, that’s standard, right?”

  Standard what? Hiram nodded because he didn’t dare ask what she was talking about.

  “But you obviously, heaven knows how, buddy, you sure as hell obviously don’t know what’s going on in the world. Twenty bucks. Enough for the ten minutes you’ve screwed up for me. Right?”

  “I don’t have twenty,” Hiram said.

  Her eyes got tight. “A fairy and a deadbeat. What a pick. Look, buddy, next time you try a pickup, figure out what you want to do with her first, right?”

  She picked up her shoes and blouse and left. Hiram stood there.

  “Teddy, no,” said Sarah Wynn.

  “But I need you. I need you so desperately,” said Teddy on the screen.

  “It’s only been a few days. How can I sleep with another man only a few days after George was killed? Only four days ago we—oh, no, Teddy. Please.”

  “Then when? How soon? I love you so much.”

  Drivel, George thought in his analytical mind. But nevertheless obviously based on the Penelope story. No doubt her George, her Odysseus, would return, miraculously alive, ready to sweep her back into wedded bliss. But in the meantime, the suitors: enough suitors to sell fifteen thousand cars and a hundred thousand boxes of tampax and four hundred thousand packages of Cap’n Crunch.

  The nonanalytical part of his mind, however, was not the least bit concerned with Penelope. For some reason he was clasping and unclasping his hands in front of him. For some reason he was shaking. For some reason he fell to his knees at the couch, his hands clasping and unclasping around Crime and Punishment, as his eyes strained to cry but could not.

  Sarah Wynn wept.

  But she can cry easily, Hiram thought. It’s not fair, that she should cry so easily. Spin flax, Penelope.

  The alarm went off, but Hiram was already awake. In front of him the television was singing about Dove with lanolin. The products haven’t changed, Hiram thought. Never change. They were advertising Dove with lanolin in the little market carts around the base of the cross while Jesus bled to death, no doubt. For softer skin.

  He got up, got dressed, tried to read, couldn’t, tried to remember what had happened last night to leave him so upset and nervous, but couldn’t, and at last he decided to go back to the Aryan at the Bell Television offices.

  “Mr. Cloward,” said the Aryan.

  “You’re a psychiatrist, aren’t you?” Hiram asked.

  “Why, Mr. Cloward, I’m an A-6 complaint representative from Bell Television. What can I do for you?”

  “I can’t stand Sarah Wynn anymore,” Hiram said.

  “That’s a shame. Things are finally going to work out for her starting in about two weeks.”

  And in spite of himself, Hiram wanted to ask what was going to happen. It isn’t fair for this nordic uberman to know what sweet little Sarah is going to be doing weeks before I do. But he fought down the feeling, ashamed that he was getting caught up in the damn soap.

  “Help me,” Hiram said.

  “How can I help you?”

  “You can change my life. You can get the television out of my apartment.”

  “Why, Mr. Cloward?” the Aryan asked. “It’s the one thing in life that’s absolutely free. Except that you get to watch commercials. And you know as well as I do that the commercials are downright entertaining. Why, there are people who actually choose to have double the commercials in their personal programming. We get a thousand requests a day for the latest McDonald’s ad. You have no idea.”

  “I have a very good idea. I want to read. I want to be alone.”

  “On the contrary, Mr. Cloward, you long not to be alone. You desperately need a friend.”

  Anger. “And what makes you so damn sure of that?”

  “Because, Mr. Cloward, your response is completely typical of your group. It’s a group we’re very concerned about. We don’t have a budget to program for you—there are only about two thousand of you in the country—but a budget wouldn’t do us much good because we really don’t know what kind of programming you want.”

  “I am not part of any group.”

  “Oh, you’re so much a part of it that you could be called typical. Dominant mother, absent and/or hostile father, no long-term relationships with anybody. No sex life.”

  “I have a sex life.”

  “If you have in fact attempted any sexual activity it was undoubtedly with a prostitute and she expected too high a level of sophistication from you. You are easily ashamed, you couldn’t cope, and so you have not had intercourse. Correct?”

  “What are you! What are you trying to do to me!”

  “I am a psychoanalyst, of course. Anybody whose complaints can’t be handled by our bureaucratic authority figure out in front obviously needs help, not another bureaucrat. I want to help you. I’m your friend.”

  And suddenly the anger was replaced by the utter incongruity of this nordic masterman wanting to help little Hiram Cloward. The unemployed professor laughed.

  “Humor! Very healthy!” said the Aryan.

  “What is this? I thought shrinks were supposed to be subtle.”

  “With some people—notably paranoids, which you are not, and schizoids, which you are not either.”

  “And what am I?”

  “I told you. Denial and repress
ion strategies. Very unhealthy. Acting out—less healthy yet. But you’re extremely intelligent, able to do many things. I personally think it’s a damn shame you can’t teach.”

  “I’m an excellent teacher.”

  “Tests with randomly selected students showed that you had an extremely heavy emphasis on esoterica. Only people like you would really enjoy a class from a person like you. There aren’t many people like you. You don’t fit into many of the normal categories.”

  “And so I’m being persecuted.”

  “Don’t try to pretend to be paranoid.” The Aryan smiled. Hiram smiled back. This is insane. Lewis Carroll, where are you now that we really need you?

  “If you’re a shrink, then I should talk freely to you.”

  “If you like.”

  “I don’t like.”

  “And why not?”

  “Because you’re so godutterlydamn Aryan, that’s why.”

  The Aryan leaned forward with interest. “Does that bother you?”

  “It makes me want to throw up.”

  “And why is that?”

  The look of interest was too keen, too delightful. Hiram couldn’t resist. “You don’t know about my experiences in the war, then, is that it?”

  “What war? There hasn’t been a war recently enough—”

  “I was very, very young. It was in Germany. My parents aren’t really my parents, you know. They were in Germany with the American embassy. In Berlin in 1938, before the war broke out. My real parents were there, too—German Jews, or half Jews, anyway. My real father—but let that pass, you don’t need my whole genealogy. Let’s just say that when I was only eleven days old, totally unregistered, my real Jewish father took me to his friend, Mr. Cloward in the American embassy, whose wife had just had a miscarriage. ‘Take my child,’ he said.

  “ ‘Why?’ Cloward asked.

  “ ‘Because my wife and I have a perfect, utterly foolproof plan to kill Hitler. But there is no way for us to survive it.’ And so Cloward, my adopted father, took me in.

  “And then, the next day, he read in the papers about how my real parents had been killed in an ‘accident’ in the street. He investigated—and discovered that just by chance, while my parents were on their way to carry out their foolproof plan, some brown shirts in the street had seen them. Someone pointed them out as Jews. They were bored—so they attacked them. Had no idea they were saving Hitler’s life, of course. These nordic mastermen started beating my mother, forcing my father to watch as they stripped her and raped her and then disemboweled her. My father was then subjected to experimental use of the latest model testicle-crusher until he bit off his own tongue in agony and bled to death. I don’t like nordic types.” Hiram sat back, his eyes full of tears and emotion, and realized that he had actually been able to cry—not much, but it was hopeful.

 
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