Thursday, September 29, 2016


I was in the seminary library
one afternoon, early on maybe
'63, and I'd, I guess, walked 
out with mussed hair and no 
care either, from an earlier 
shower or something. One 
of the big, fancy guys, Joe
Vouglas, in fact, who was
from, I knew, Plainfield, 
NJ, the old Plainfield of 
class and money, not the
dump there today, he
motioned me over (a few
of then were sitting around
the newspaper and magazine
carousels), and he said to
me, 'Hey. you look like one 
of those 'Beatles'. I had no
clue what he was talking 
about. It took a little while, 
maybe even a day or two,
to find out what he meant. 
It's funny how that sticks 
in my mind  -  showing both 
really how cloistered we were 
(as cloistered as we allowed
ourselves to be, I guess. He,
obviously, wasn't  - so I just
disproved my case) and, 
more, how distinct and 
precise are the recognition
factors we live by. In a 
year or so the whole 
world would know 
what they were. Even 
me. It was unavoidable, 
and that's like the 
culture-wash that soon
was to swipe over 
everything. It would be 
more and more difficult, 
I saw, to remain aloof
and insulated from things 
you'd not wish to be 
mingled with. It was 
just soon to be the way 
things were. Cultural
imperialism, the banalities
of pop-culture and the 
advertising that went 
with it. It was all 
un-Christian; I knew.
I knew that already, 
and could see its effects.
Where did that leave me, 
I wondered? What chance
did 'Christianity' or the 
proclaiming of any set 
ethos of practice and 
belief have against this 
vulgar and rude onslaught? 
Why would I even bother. 
It baffled me how the 
oldest religion in effect 
that we know of, the
grand Judaic 'promised 
land and chosen people', 
with all their mumbling 
and scriptural dissertation 
and high-minded seeking 
and dedication, their cadres 
of yeshivas and Talmudic
dissertation, would be the 
ones to so actively and 
with little compunction 
towards right and 
goodness, 'always' be 
the ones to propagate 
the shuddering sleaze 
that was ruining everything. 
The crude and the gross 
and the vulgar, it was 
always and everywhere
under their name. I got 
no sense from any of 
this. Had I been on
a cold, high mountain 
somewhere, their fine,
disgusting exceptionalism
would reach me.  And 
they took pride in their 
destructive ways, as if 
their 'business' acumen 
and achievement was a 
high honor; as if the more
cheesy grandeur and wealth
they could amass from all 
this destructive work better
accredited them in God's
eyes. Their God's eyes 
anyway. The one they
now could not approach 
directly. As a 12-year old 
and up, I also could not 
understand the Christian 
premise, as presented  -  
based as it was on the 
jocular aside, always,
that 'Jesus was a Jew.' 
What did that mean? I 
thought he both fulfilled 
and then destroyed all
those silly old covenants,
those acres and layers of 
covenant and command. 
To me, it was undecipherable 
how all of this was just 
thrown onto me, without 
any expectation of my 
inspection or even objection.
I was just being told instead 
that 'Faith' had to do it for 
me, 'Faith' had to suffice. 
I didn't need to understand; 
God's ways and God's
doings were supposed
to be obscure. Maybe 
so; but no thanks. To
me that was the height
of indignation and affront;
treating me like chattel.
Some 20 years later, I 
worked closely with a 
printing client who ran 
an art studio dedicated
to Judaic sculpture, 
fund-raising wall 
memorials, in schools 
and hospitals, where 
5000 dollars buys you 
an inscribed leaf on a
fund-raising wall tree. 
All very business like 
and formal, with the
'Art' factor of it being 
far secondary. What the
clients wanted, sorry to
say, was vanity  -  the
glitz and name-recognition
that would get their name
shown. The Hollywood star
in the sidewalk treatment, as
it were. Whether 500 dollars 
or 50,000, they wanted that 
back for their money, the
rest be damned. Like gold
rings and gold necklaces,
like the vulgarity of their
big cars and fancy homes,
they became caricatures of
themselves, all around. To
my eyes, long ago, that's 
what religion had debased
itself to. To his eyes, the 
grand compromise was much
worse  -  he'd sacrificed a
lower east-side, NYC biblical
'scholar' career for that. We'd
talk endlessly over the minutia
of Chasidic and Talmudic
scholarship, the differences
between the sects, the various
Jewish cults  the ancient
infusions of this or that
doctrine which had influenced 
and infiltrated the Pentateuch
and the rest. It became the
wall of factors by which I 
reflected back on my 
almost-done deal. We
went over the destruction
of ALL the temples we'd 
once wished to live by.
Memory is an awfully
funny and unique thing. 
It's sourced by the oddest 
items : for Proust it was a 
cake, for others the tolling
of a river bell, a train, boat, 
or ship. Still others, the 
moan of a cow, the sound 
of a tractor. Any of a 
hundred different things
ringing memory  -  a small, 
a taste, the way something 
felt in the hands. Memory 
therefore is always old, 
brought in from behind 
us, while we ourselves
are always concerned 
with going forward, 
moving somehow to 
all of that which is 
'before' us,  ahead, in 
front. These things 
differ, and they 
constantly clash. Until 
we find our own ways 
to mesh them with the
world around us.
Somehow the very serious
play-game of organized ans
preached religion just stopped
speaking to me. I felt I needed
to be more than a 'functionary', 
one following order from 
somewhere else about matters 
of faith and spirit and heart 
and soul. That big, vast part
of me was gone, had lost its
mooring, was already running 
off. And I was just barely 14.
In the seminary, each of use
was given a 'Spiritual Advisor.'
He was supposed to be the one 
we turned to with doctrinal or 
personal questions about where
we were headed, what we were 
doing, hoped to do and the rest.
Mine was a pip-smoking creep
named Fr. Carlton Brick. Yes, 
you got it, Carlton Brick.
A propagandist, and one no
different from any of what you 
find today in any local government
or board of education seating.
Not an original thought, not 
even a blanche of creativity or 
reflection. Just doctrine, just 
rote, just the today. A command.  
-  streamline the means, get 
the 'doing' done, but never 
question it. Pave the roadway,
but never talk about the path
that once was there.
Boy, was I a problem child.

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