Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Second As Farce

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“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
― Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
- Wouldn't it be nice if it were so.
- That history had a direction. 
- And a simple, repeating mechanism, like the tick of a clock. 
- This particular claim of direction to history is exceptionally wrongheaded. Satire following tragedy, as a technique of art, was first practiced in the tetralogies of ancient Greek theater: three serious plays followed by a comedy. Concluding with comedy had a specific function: to allow the audience to learn from the preceding tragedies without getting stuck seeing the world itself as tragic.
- Leaving the world undefined, their own individual actions unconfined.
- Yes. And if the nature of the world, not of a man-made art, is tragedy followed by comedy, openness goes out the window. Openness can go out a window if the window's open.
- Why not? This weekend I had the chance to relive a scene that the first time was, not by any means tragic, but let's say somewhat serious, and the second time...
- Farce.
- I had returned from years wandering Europe to a Los Angeles where I was born and raised but where I knew no one, was a complete stranger. I had ten dollars. What to do? A girl sitting next to me at Starbucks suggested, I was Jewish, right? Try the rabbis. I could start with the one at her temple, she knew him, and she wrote down on a paper napkin the name of the temple. I immediately went to see the rabbi, the first of a half dozen or so visits to temples and rabbis. 
- What did he say?
- If I wasn't a member of his congregation he couldn't get involved.
- Involved in your life?
- Yes.
- Nice guy.
- The next two rabbis, believe it or not, said the same. Resources were scarce. 
- Lifeboat morality. Load on too many people and the boat sinks.
- At one particularly rich temple the rabbi takes a closer look at me, says: you're still young. The rabbis at Jewish center in Century City are young too. He goes off for a minute, returns telling me to wait: he's called the rabbis, they're coming there to see me. 
- Do they come?
- Yes, a couple of them, wearing wide brimmed hats and black suits. They tell me to go to the Jewish Center when it closes around midnight. 
- I remember this story.*
- At about one in the morning I was led into a room where five rabbis sat. I was asked about my life, ending with the question, Was I a child molester?
- So that story is really true?
- Mostly.
- And did they have any ideas about what you should do, other than look somewhere else for children to molest?
- One of them asked me for a member of my family they could call. They'd try arbitration. Call if you like my brother in New Jersey, I said, but don't blame me. For what? You'll see.
- And your brother told him he was 'tired of you'.
- Yes. The rabbi said, that's that. Good luck. Oh, yes, there was something more he could do for me.
- What was that?
- He had a sleeping bag I could use, sleeping outside the religious club on the sidewalk, or any place of my choice I elected to sleep.
- As our president would say, Sad! But better than nothing.
- Do you think? Now earlier this week, waiting on my bike at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny for the light to change, a tall man came up to me and asked if I was Jewish. 
- Yes, I am.
- Both parents?
- Yes.
- What are you doing? Where are you coming from?
- I'm riding my bike, as you see, coming from Starbucks.
- Where are you going?
- I haven't decided. What about you? Where are you going?
- That's something I think a lot about.
- What is your profession?
- I'm an investment baker. But my real job is collecting souls.
- I see. Is there a special place, some kind of vault, you store your collection of souls?
- What do you do?
- Nothing much. I write on the internet.
- Where on the internet? Your own site?
- Yes.
- You're a blogger.
- If you like.
- What do you write about? What are you doing Friday?
- Nothing.
- Come to my temple.
- You won't be able to do any rituals on me.
- Come to dinner after temple. 
He writes down the address. My soul, I warn him, is a slippery thing hard to take hold of. There's no chance of him catching it. Come, he says. 
- And this guy was from the same organization, that group of rabbis that asked you if you were a child molester, called your brother, and offered you the sleeping bag so they or others could walk over your warm sleeping body in some doorway as they arrived to work the next morning.
- Yes. Proselyting Jews. Their newest temple was down the street from where he'd stopped me to talk.
- You went to the dinner. And?
- I acquiesced to undergoing the ritual hand washing before meals, which however I botched by reaching for the soap - not allowed! - and had to start over again. The man who invited me hadn't arrived yet. I was shown to a seat at table, one of many arranged in a large 'U'. I try to start conversations with the men to my left and right: on the right, my guide to hand-washing, a man my age with a deeply lined face, wearing a tailored light blue suit, untypically lean for this crowd serious about their food. On my left, a retired used car dealer. Neither wants to talk. Across sits a row of silent old women. A prayer is said by a rabbi, and the meal begins. 
- I'm sorry, but what's so funny about this meal?
- Wait. The investment banker arrives. He makes a speech advising good deeds. In the bank of god there is no better investment. You'll be paid back with interest in good fortune. A self described Kentucky Hill-Billy Jew stands and makes a speech telling the story of his conversion and travels to Jerusalem. Then another rabbi, the head rabbi present, stands to tell the story of what he personally was up to lately: a great good deed, navigating complex government bureaucracies, helping to get to a famous Jewish financial criminal sentenced to twenty-two years in jail the equipment he needs to perform his rituals. 
- This guy is the one who operated the pyramid scheme that made tens of billions of dollars disappear? You must have been remembering the sleeping bag.
- I was. It seems some good deeds banked with god bring a greater return than others.

Further Reading:
Beverly Hills Jews
* Back In L.A.