Portnoy in Middle Age (Lucien Freud)
Editor’s Note: And though it’s nonsense, it has method. Michael is, as far as I know, one of the few contemporary essayists with a penchant for traditional Satire. Or, as he calls it, pulling our foes with their noses through the mud. What follows is an example.
I went ahead as usual and jerked off into my sock. I had taken the dirty socks into bed with me at night so as to be able to use one as a receptacle upon retiring, and the other upon awakening.
Phillip Roth Portnoy’s Complaint
Whereupon it came to pass, upon a gloomy autumn morning or perhaps already upon winter, that one of the receptacles, this time only partly saturated because of a hole in its nether regions, dropped down and under a floorboard. The latter had been wrenched loose by the bedstead’s lower left leg during a particularly violent session, yet slipped back into place once the juvenile jerker recovered his senses and restored the steaming old cot to its original position.
Upon which decades went by. After Philip’s phenomenal literary success, his parents moved to decidedly superior quarters, and their former flat saw new tenants come and go, mostly of a declining social order. Until Larry Goldstein, a celebrated Big Bagel real estate shark, bought the asbestos-infested building for a token dollar. His brilliant scheme was to have it pulled with a controlled detonation like the one used on 9/11, though this time legally, and then erect a new apartment block for select Third World invaders with large litters and fat social aid cheques.
The condemned building’s salvageable parts made up an important component of the ploy, particularly since wood has become such an expensive commodity. Which is the reason why the aforementioned shark struck a deal with some Wal-Mart-owned Chinese paper mill who bought the tonnes of old floorboards on behalf of the New York Times. This because that intellectually-sublime-and-unwaveringly-honest journal has been hit, like so many other mainstream publications, with a galumphing loss of readers and, consequently, a frightful shortfall of advertising revenues. Small wonder thus that the smutty old tart’s owners were happy like hell when their embattled bookkeepers found means to reduce the staggering costs of printing paper.
When the demolition of the old building began in earnest and the floorboards were ripped loose by a bunch of underpaid downtown wrestlers, there toiled among them a former Harvard Professor of philosophy fallen on hard times. Reports as to the collapse of his brilliant career are sparse, but a rumour persists that he had his e-mail hacked into by a foreign secret service in league with Alan“Water-Board” Dershowitz. Who, horror over horror, was thus informed that a hitherto politically correct and entirely unsuspected colleague wrote in fact, though under a penname, critical essays for that dastardly on-line ogre TOO. And this free of charge, and decidedly so. Which, needless to say, only added to his terrible guilt.
Well, you can imagine the rest. As is common fare in Western academia, and not only there, a mixture of dirty rumours, hideous insinuations and downright lies where set into motion. Dignitaries like Hideous Heidi of the $PLC or Abe’s Defamation League joined the fray, so vicious and devastating under the usual solemn unctuousness that it threatened to ruin not only the good Professor himself, but his family and friends as well.
Thus he packed up and left.
A noble response, no doubt, though he did not reckon with the secret networking of his foes when looking for a new employment. Because wherever he called, whatever door he knocked on, whenever he presented his excellent credentials, all he encountered was regret, indifference or downright contempt. Once, after carefully planned safety measures, he met with an old colleague in a part of town where his enemies were seldom treading. There, over a stale beer and an even staler hamburger, he listened silently to the others lengthy and dejected discourse. Which boiled down to one simple truth. Namely that the still untainted institutions of higher education wouldn’t have hardly a vacancy for years to come, and that all other Universities expected you to play the learned prostitute and teach the academic hogwash as decreed by their alien paymasters. That, or otherwise forget it.
So he forgot it. Hence the job with the demolition outfit.
Now simple grassroots believers like myself know that fate, or destiny, or perhaps just our personal Angel, give us occasionally a hard time to improve our character qualities, and then dispense with a spot of good fortune that will help us to apply them in a wise and useful manner.
Which happened when our ex-Prof stepped into one of the empty flats. Wielding chisels and a heavy claw hammer in the once finely manicured hands, he briefly reconnoitred the place to get a basic idea of time and effort involved. In a rather small room that looked out at the equally destitute façade of a neighbouring building, he was at first repelled by a fetid odour that lingered in the air, but then noticed faded inscriptions on the grimy and much ravaged wallpaper. Still a committed idealist with strong Professional instincts, he imagined one of the room’s many former occupants as a youthful romantic who had penned down a few mind-blowing aphorisms, perhaps of his or her favourite poet. But when he bent closer and read the words, he was only struck by their mind-numbing banality.
How easy life is when it is easy, and how hard it is when it is hard.
Or their unreserved stupidity.
Anything can happen to anyone, but it usually doesn’t. Except when it does.
Shaking his head sadly at the abominable depth of human inanity, he came suddenly across a sentence that made his hair stand on end. Because this one he had read before, and never forgotten its unbelievable callousness, its sheer depravity, its total nihilistic denial.
There are no uncontaminated angels!
While still pondering the monstrous adage, his foreman, a pompous Sikh with an enormous turban, yelled at him to move his lazy WASP ass or be gone, and he started to toil in earnest. Strangely haunted and as if to escape an evil spell, he began with the small room first. After lifting an already loose floorboard, he saw the sock. For a moment he stared at the perfectly conserved garment, observed the large hole caused most likely by an untrimmed big toenail, and wondered fleetingly about the waxen grey substance that seemed to have seeped out of it. The fetid odour intensified suddenly, and he shrunk back and only asked himself how on earth the offensive old thing could have ended up where it did.
For the rest of the day he slogged and sweated and swore, unthinkingly as it were, while a blurred yet oddly insistent idea lingered at the back of his mind. Which developed substance as the hours passed by. So much so that he went after work to the adjacent apartment building, this one equally run down and most likely earmarked for demolition as well. Here he found an old geezer with lanky grey sidelocks, a long beard and tattered black hat who sat on a rickety bench next to the worn entrance door and warmed himself with a bottle of cheap vodka. And who was willing, against a few bucks only, to spill his beans. After some preliminaries, like cursing a cruel fate that had deprived his parents of the opportunity to be persecuted in Hitler’s Third Reich, and which accounted for the fact that he lived a dog’s life instead of mightily milking the dumb Germans like everybody else, he came to the point. Young Philip had lived here indeed, and he remembered him well. A thin and gangly lad of clearly degenerate inclination, the narrow face sallow and pimpled, stingy black eyes with a decidedly wicked glint, and heavy dark shadows underneath which made him look positively depraved if not seriously diseased.
At this point the former Prof jumped up as if stung, cried Eureka!, and hurried back to where he had toiled for most of the day. There he lifted the revoltingly reeking old sock from its former hiding place, dropped it carefully into his now empty lunch box, closed it air-tight and slid it into his worn satchel. That done, he returned to the old geezer.
Whose name, he learned, was Norman Goldschmuck, formerly in charge of Guaranteed Genuine Torah Scroll Auctions at the Stern Gang Yeshiva, but long since dismissed for ludicrous reasons that nonetheless engendered five years in the slammer. As the Prof listened with silent fascination, he marvelled at the old man’s former occupation, and how nicely it might fit into his own slowly blossoming scheme. He sat down and opened the lunch box for a first sight and sniff, then explained his plan. Norman licked his frayed lips, wetted them some more with vodka and followed the discourse most eagerly.
A magnificent idea, he whispered finally after suspiciously looking left and right, and perfectly feasible in the present climate of artistic deconstruction where giant sums of illicit cash are employed to discredit and undermine whatever is left of the great Christian-European heritage. Though it would be problematic to get a reliable authentication of the artefact as such, he added, since the times were past when you could sell, solely on the power of your beatific reputation based on a few holocaustic hints, the most outrageous fakes to goyim and Chosen Ones alike. And certainly not for the sum the Prof had in mind. Though there might be, he whispered with a twinkle in his old magpie eyes, a solution for this particular problem.
The Prof went home as if on wings.
Where he explained to his dazed wife and children what was afoot, and then asked their permission to go ahead. Which they finally gave with a troubled heart, because prerequisite for financing the whole plot had to be a pawning of the last family heirloom, a First Edition of Tristram Shandy hand-signed by its author.
Thus fortified with a fistful of dollars, the Prof set out. Mindful of curved daggers and liberal judges, he maintained a safe distance while inviting the pompous Sikh to move his frazzled brown ass towards the Ganges and beyond, then hurried on and collected Norman Goldschmuck for a spot of social upgrading. Which commenced with an Italian barber who reduced the old man’s fuzzy grey pelt to a short stubble and a very British looking moustache, both improved with a touch of chestnut tint. Next came a nearly new outfit, complete with highly polished fake Guccis, a double-breasted pinstripe suit, a Fedora one number too big, a coarse overcoat of dubious origin and an elegant art noveau walking stick from a Chinese knick-knack shop.
While on their way to Norman’s shyster friend, the Prof wanted to know if the latter might not balk or even give the ploy away, since it quite obviously intended to screw some high-powered sponsor connections. Which surprised his new associate considerably. Didn’t the good Professor know, he enquired with a superior air, that it was required for every observant Jew to yell Kol nidre on Yom Kippur, and that this sacred obligation to take advantage of the goyim to kingdom come could be extended, though without yelling, to the Chosen Ones themselves if there weren’t any un-chosen ones around?
As it is, the good Prof hadn’t heard about the second part yet, but agreed unequivocally that this was a most sensible thing to do.
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