21 Aug 2013: Leon

Still awake, upset deeply over getting screwed (suspended) by Facebook. Not going to be able to work out first thing, probably, tomorrow, will have to try to get back on track Friday with a sensible bedtime and more or less forced lights out tomorrow evening. Unlike insomniacs I can gradually through prayer and meditation slide into at least a light sleep which ‘like an after-dinner sleep, ‘dreaming of both’ youth and age’ as in Measure for Measure according to the disguised Duke Vincentio:

… Thou hast neither youth nor age:
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both;

This quote, which I remember not so much from the play as from TS Eliot’s quotation of it in the header of an early poem, is from one of Duke Vincentio’s most moving speeches in which he tries to prove to Claudio (about to be put justly but unfairly to death) that life and death are but dialectical illusions built upon each other, and that we are not even a single coherent self:

Thou art not thyself;
For thou exist’st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust.

The cancer patient can certainly understand. His “grains” are cells, and each one is without a soul, merely issuing out of dust. Which reminds us of the strangely nihilistic Catholic text of Ash Wednesday:

Remember, man, thou art dust, and unto dust wilt thou return

which the good Father would intone as he made the sign of the cross in burnt cork on the foreheads of Catholics the first Wednesday of Lent (yes, it was cork: remember, I was an altar boy).

But since I can’t, more properly won’t sleep, then here is a story.

The True Story of Leon

Leon had a newsstand at the end of the surface train line in our wealthy bedroom community. One of the few Jewish merchants in a Gentile community. Restrictive covenants earlier in the century had not only forced homeowners in Gentile suburbs not to sell to blacks but also had forced them not to sell to Jews.

I had a girlfriend, my first serious girlfriend, that summer of 1968 but the tragedy of it was she was Jewish and Orthodox and I was Gentile and Catholic. We’d make out in Grant Park. I took her home to meet Mom. Mom liked her, but her Mom threw a rod as soon as my first serious girlfriend told her that I was Gentile and Catholic. Her Mom sent her to Israel when she found me in the woodpile.

My Mom liked Leah, though. My Mom liked most girls I brought home unless they were hippy types. My Mom said, you and Leah can use our deck to have a pah-tee in her New York accent. That made Leah laugh since to her surprise, my Mom was a Gentile in a very “Gentile” town who sounded like her New York relatives.

When first we came through the turnstile when first I brought Leah home to meet the folks, Leon emerged from his newsstand and said, he nice boy. Leah said “he is a nice boy”. I just turned red.

I believed Leon based on his age to be a Holocaust survivor since he didn’t like my kid brother and his more Nordic posse. Leon would shoo them away, saying, you nice boys now get out. I believe they reminded him of the Nazis, perhaps menacing his father.

When I emerged from the turnstile with the lady who became as certain classes of Brits would say my lady wife, Leon said nothing.

Years passed. I emerged from the subway turnstile alone because my first serious post-divorce lady friend lived in the bedroom community on weekends with her Mom and Dad. She like I was, was Catholic and a blonde beauty of Dutch provenance.

Leon said nothing but came out in the sunshine silently to stand near me as I waited for her car.

By then poor Leon was aged looking like I am getting under the siege of my fell disease of cancer. I think he must have been right about the first one. I am a nice boy.

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 4.58.08 PM

Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life:
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art,
Servile to all the skyey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou keep’st,
Hourly afflict: merely, thou art death’s fool;
For him thou labour’st by thy flight to shun
And yet runn’st toward him still. Thou art not noble;
For all the accommodations that thou bear’st
Are nursed by baseness. Thou’rt by no means valiant;
For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provokest; yet grossly fear’st
Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself;
For thou exist’st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;
For what thou hast not, still thou strivest to get,
And what thou hast, forget’st. Thou art not certain;
For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,
After the moon. If thou art rich, thou’rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear’s thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;
For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant. What’s yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid moe thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

– Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


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