The Freedman Archives

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Autumn Leaves


October 25, 2004

Hey, buddy. How does late October find you? Are you one of the happy few, you and your band of librarians?

I've been reading Arthur Miller. Fall, it seems to me, is the best time to read Arthur Miller. The green world -- as well as the world of greenbacks and other media of exchange; or as Der Greenspan (overseer of The Great Account) would say, the world of fourth quarter earnings -- is turning mottled and brown, the evenings darken ever more quickly, we feel the chill in the brisk morning air, even as some of us anticipate a world of Lomanesque decline. In the fall we find ourselves turning naturally to mild philosophical meditation, reflecting in our vague way on the purposes of life, the passage of time, the petty affairs of humanity. For brief moments, we even view our own selves from a distance, sub specie aeternitatis (whatever the hell that means). In such a mood one might profitably reread parts of "Death of a Salesman" --or take up "After the Fall."

"After the Fall," like most of Miller's work, is urban, Jewish, and leftist, and like his best writing examines the work of the individual conscience when pitted against the uniform thinking of the mob.

You know, Brian, there are entire pages of Miller that read like something out of the confessions of my own tortured life: the life of a lawyer manque or the failed lawyer-as-metaphor.

"You know, more and more I think that for many years I looked at life like a case at law, a series of proofs. When you're young you prove how brave you are, or smart; then, what a good lover (at least some men do that); then a good father (assuming you propagate); finally, how wise, or powerful, or what-the-hell-ever. But underlying it all, I see now, there was a presumption. That I was moving on an upward path toward some elevation, where -- God knows what -- I would be justified, or even condemned -- a verdict anyway. I think now that my disaster really began when I looked up one day -- and the bench was empty. No judge in sight. And all that remained was this endless argument with oneself -- this pointless litigation of existence before an empty bench. Which, of course, is another way of saying -- despair."

Actually, I think that for many years I looked at life like a case at equity (rather than a case at law), a motion practice with one end: "psychosis by estoppel." Yes, I have become a psychotic in equity, and here I wonderfully am. A metaphorical lawyer and a metaphorical psychotic whose life is estopped in mid-stream.

You are well-acquainted with my interpretation of your life, "Buddy." We've talked about that before. I see you as a frustrated leader of men. By inclination and temperament you are a Top Dog. You are bossy, arrogant, and, fortunately for you, you possess sufficient abilities to permit you to release your Top Dog propensities, commanding your merry pack of librarians and support staff. You are fundamentally a pack animal, a role that suits you so long as you are at the head of the pack. The library is a suitable niche for you. You'll probably never be a Bob Strauss or a George Bush. Leadership on a grand scale is not in your future, as I see it. But for you, it suffices to lead something; to boss someone, anyone; to be the man who reports to the higher authorities; to run the show, any show. You discharge your propensities as you can.

Your life is "a dog's life" -- in the more agreeable sense of the term. Your life is a charmed existence of dominance and control of your fellows. You lead the pack, and the pack serves you.

That's something we have in common, in an odd sense: in a kind of metaphorical or semantic sense. I too am a pack animal. (I suppose all humans are; humans are social beasts.) But I'm not a Top Dog. My life is "a dog's life," to be sure. But in the less agreeable sense of the term. I am a lone wolf, an outsider, who craves the camaraderie of the pack but is unable to subordinate his individuality to the demands of the mob.

I am a dog in the Kafkaesque, persecutory sense. Franz Kafka's classic novel of paranoia and persecution, "The Trial," conjures up visions of an unreasoning society in which "innocent persons are accused of guilt, and senseless proceedings are put in motion against them." His protagonist is Josef K., a helpless library patron banned from his local library and ultimately transported to the loony bin (a veritable human dog-pound) for a psych exam for an unknown crime. His last words -- "Like a dog!" -- remind us that humanity is the first victim of a totalitarian state -- which is what, in essence, my friend, if not a dog pack? What is the prototype of the totalitarian state, if not a pack of wolves or a pack of wild dogs, beholden to The-Leader-of-the-Pack for security and protection. "The bloody dingos ate my humanity," as they say down under. Or, as an old joke asks: "What's the difference between a dog and a Nazi?" Answer: "The Nazi raises his arm, the dog raises its hind leg."

The image of the dog is one to which Kafka returns, as for example, in the story "Investigations of a Dog." Here Kafka describes the dog-as-outsider, alone and against the pack. "Why do I not do as the others: live in harmony with my people and accept in silence whatever disturbs the harmony, ignoring it as a small error in the great account, always keeping in mind the things that bind us happily together, not those that drive us again and again, as though by sheer force out of our social circle?"

For the human being who is bent on preserving his singularity -- as for the dog who lives apart from the pack -- the individual conscience is a tortured one, pitted as it is in embarrassed and fearful conflict against the uniform thinking of the mob. There is always but one end for such an individual -- despair.

"How much my life has changed, and yet how unchanged it has remained at bottom! When I think back and recall the time when I was still a member of the canine community," writes Kafka, "sharing in all its preoccupations, a dog among dogs I find on closer examination that from the very beginning I sensed some discrepancy, some little maladjustment, causing a slight feeling of discomfort which not even the most decorous public functions could eliminate; more, that sometimes, no, not sometimes, but very often, the mere look of some fellow-dog of my own circle that I was fond of, the mere look of him, as if I had just caught it for the first time, would fill me with helpless embarrassment and fear, even with despair."

You, Brian, are Top Dog. I am lone wolf. You command the pack. I command myself (perhaps too rigorously), and struggle against the pack. This is not idle word play. I think I've hit upon some fundamental psychological connection (and source of conflict) between us. You lead; I will not be led (either by my peers or by accepted wisdom).

"I'm doing my own investigation," as it were. By inclination and temperament I'm a scientist and a truth seeker. I lack sufficient abilities in the form of creative intelligence, drive, or courage to make any meaningful or universal contribution in any field. But I have found a niche -- or at least sought a niche, however socially maladaptive -- for my curious, questioning, investigative tendencies. My probing, my questions, and my curiosity will contribute as much to humanity as the olfactory "Investigations of a Dog," but I discharge my propensities as I can.

My last place of employment, the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld was a suitable niche for me. The corruption there was mild and minuscule; but the faint scent of rot has been enough to occupy this dog's nostrils for the last thirteen years. I'll never be a Sam Dash or a Ken Starr, pursuing presidents and property scams with equal fervor and fine impartiality. The career of an Inspector General is not in my future, as any sane person would know. But it's enough for me to investigate something, smell something, anything, even if that something is only a stinking bone hidden under a pile of mottled and brown leaves -- and make a report to the higher authorities. Isn't that the role of a dog? I believe it is. I believe that it is the role of a dog to proceed even in very sensitive areas.

Go ahead, Brian, tease me about my overactive sense of destiny, my theatrical sense of gravitas, and my initials, which are the same as Glenn Fine's (the current Inspector General at the Justice Department). Go ahead -- I'm a narcissist who unashamedly gravitates toward the grandiose. I'm out and proud.

We had a party -- a most decorous public function -- at my apartment building last week, October 19. Before the Fall ended, the building's managers wanted to have a get-together for the tenants: "A Party in the Lobby," as it were. The party was billed as "Octoberfest," and featured an assortment of hearty German fare. Sausage, German potato salad with bacon chips, and so forth. It was "tres formidable," as Fred Cohen (the French-speaking mohel) would say. (Or was it simply treif?)

I enjoyed it, actually. The food was good. The weather was mild enough for the hosts to set up some tables outside. I sat at a table with Stanley Schmulewitz, past president of the tenant's association. I was seated between Andrew Gerst (legal adviser for Councilwoman Carol Schwartz) and another fellow, Conrad Hilton, I think. Well, maybe it wasn't Conrad Hilton, but the kid's in the hotel business -- the hospitality trade, as they call it.

The table was crowded; there was no possible movement you could make that would make everyone better off. And it hardly seemed like fall; green spanned the entire courtyard.

Stanley Schmulewitz. What can you say about Stanley Schmulewitz? You've heard the expression, "Like the fifth wheel on a wagon?" Stanley Schmulewitz is, socially speaking, like the "fifth Stanley" at a party table. Four Stanleys are enough. At one point Schmulewitz raised a bottle of beer to his mouth, cigarette dangling from his lip, and said: "Here's to feeling good all the time."

The conversation was, as I recall, dominated by politics ("It's a tight race; Florida could decide the election again") and baseball--with a brief digression into the issue of rent-control. In truth, in mid-October, in an election year, what other conversational topics suit an informal social gathering? I wasn't in a talkative mood. I sat silently at the table the whole evening. I was at the party from about just after 6:00 PM till about 7:30 PM and I said nothing the whole time: NOT A F****** THING.

The following day I told my psychologist, The Mad Monk, about the party. I told her about how I said nothing at the party. I talked to no one. "Why? Why didn't you talk to anyone?" asked The Mad Monk. "How many times have you told me that if I went to a social event, I didn't have to talk -- that I could just watch, just observe? You said I could talk when I felt ready to talk." I swear to God this woman's like a bait-and-switch operator. She tells me I don't have to talk if I'm at a social function. That's the inducement. But that's all it is, an inducement. She really expects me to talk. How do I know? When I actually go to a social event and don't talk, she wants to know why I didn't talk. She's not a psychologist, this woman, The Mad Monk. She's a salesman. She's like the Willy Loman of psychologists.

But really, what do I have to talk about? There isn't all that much of a story to tell. Apart from my letter writing -- which in my mind seems to take place in its own separate universe, a point that the Metro DC Police made with some care and skill several weeks ago -- I really don't do much. I spend an appalling amount of time not just under the influence of television but in a falling-down TV-induced haze; television being for me "a form of self-medication, a way of fending off the pains of my own past as well as the continuing agony of my personal life"; my sibling relationship to the former Estelle Freedman was mostly unhappy, at times drastically so, yet we have granted the other a perverse loyalty (when we're not ignoring each other entirely); I putter around my one-room apartment where I have spent most of my adult life; and I, like Alan Greenspan, worry excessively about money, though Greenspan's turned it into a career. I just worry about money.

So, yes, I played the lone wolf at Octoberfest. Actually, that reminds me of an anecdote that Theresa Heinz Kerry tells about her first date with J.F.K. -- John Forbes Kerry. "I thought he was interesting, but . . . a specimen who'd been out in the woods a long time." She said, "He was like having a pet wolf who comes in and you say, "Yeh, cute. -- I needed to teach him a few things." Believe me, Brian, I need to be taught a lot!

From a social standpoint, John Kerry and I are comparable -- and it's not simply that we avoid the first person, "I." One of Kerry's friends said: "His looks say something about him that's different from what he actually is. He's very easy to hang out with. There isn't an excessive use of the pronoun 'I.' He's not the loner that he once was, he's not as aloof, he's more comfortable than he used to be, he's grown as a person--."

As I've said before, Brian, I'm everything you'd ever want in a friend, except for the talking.

Perhaps my social problems in adulthood can be attributed, in part, to my Rooseveltian upbringing. One biographer writes about FDR's childhood: "If anything, he was overprotected. 'Much of his time, until he went to Groton [an all boys school], was spent with his father and me,' [his mother] Sara wrote, and though she disagreed with the assessment, there were 'many people who pitied him for a lonely little boy, and thought he was missing a great deal of fun.' [A neighbor reported] that Franklin was unable to make the Hyde Park baseball team recruited from the great houses; that, because he spent so much time with his mother and father, he found it difficult to play with the other children; and that the children who knew him felt sorry for him."

Apparently, FDR was no Mike Shapiro. Michael Shapiro -- now a medical doctor who practices nephrology in Colorado -- was the star pitcher of The Lancers, my high school baseball team. Shapiro, whose pitching arm was major league, passed up the chance (the highly speculative chance) for a possible future cover story in Sports Illustrated in favor of authoring an occasional editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine. "Kidneys, kid, kidneys!"

I need a friend -- a buddy -- so bad. Somebody who'll teach me how to be a little less lupine (or at least a little less loopy) and a little more human. Last night I was walking past my neighbor's apartment. My neighbor is a young French guy. There's a mirror on the wall in the hallway, just outside my neighbor's door. As you know I never pass a mirror without saying hello. So I paused for a moment (in front of the mirror). And my neighbor's television was on -- pretty loud. It was the first game of the World Series. And I thought, "What does a French guy know about baseball?" And then I heard his buddy, an American, say, "Do you know what a curve ball is?" -- "Non." "Do you know what a fast ball is?" -- "Non." "Do you know what a change up is?" -- "Non." Just as I thought! (I'll tell you this, though, Brian. That French guy knows a lot about "extra innings." Believe me, he knows just about all there is to know about "extra innings.")

Anyway, a buddy's what I need. Speaking metaphorically, I'm like a Frenchman watching the World Series. I need an American Friend to teach me things.

At my last session with The Mad Monk, she asked me what you were interested in, what you liked. I said, "Brian likes baseball and soccer." "Do you like baseball and soccer?" she then asked me. "Not really." "So you have nothing in common. And you want to be friends with the guy?" "Well," I said, "I think he also likes opera." Opera and tight pants, I suppose.

Which reminds me. I was sitting at the table at the "Octoberfest," daydreaming -- sitting between Andrew Gerst and "Conrad Hilton," two tenants in my building. I was musing about the past: about my high school prom. Yes, I went to my senior prom. I went alone. I dated myself. I was sandwiched between Elliott Feldman (who's now a lawyer, by the way) and Perry Rubenstein (God knows what he's doing). Mike Shapiro was at another table, sitting next to Jim Kahn (Kahn -- now a stockbroker in Manhattan -- was sniffing his head off; Kahn's allergic to New Zealand sheep's wool).

I remember the following conversation from the prom because it's the only thing I said all night. Feldman said to me, "Why you wear those pants? I told you the seat is tight." I said: "Well, they made them too tight, but I can take a walk in them." So Rubenstein butts in, "Fags wear pants like that, I told you. They attract each other with their asses." "You calling me a fag now?" I said to Rubenstein. Then Rubenstein said, "Just I've known fags and some of them didn't even know themselves that they were. . . . And I didn't know if you knew about that." Rubenstein! It was rented formal wear, Rubenstein.

Actually, those are lines from Arthur Miller's "After the Fall." And, no, I didn't go to my senior prom.

In point of fact, while I was sitting at the outdoor table at the party the other night -- the party at my apartment building -- I was thinking "lone wolf thoughts." My thoughts went back to the summer of 1987. I was working at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson at the time. Craig the Embalmer and Daniel Cutler (now Daniel Cutler, Esq.) asked me to go to lunch with them. We -- The Embalmer, Cutler, Tom MacIsaac (like Jesse Raben, a future and past attorney), and Michael Wilson (now Michael Wilson, Esq.) and I -- went to lunch at a restaurant on Capitol Hill, called Bullfeathers. We sat at an outdoor table. Everybody ordered a hamburger for lunch: everybody except me. I ordered a pasta salad. I have to turn every occasion into a heroic struggle between the individual and the uniform thinking of the mob. Someone said: "This place is known for its hamburgers. We traveled all this way for a hamburger, and what do YOU do? YOU order a pasta salad." At least they didn't comment on my pants.

It was on that occasion that Daniel Cutler told me that I reminded him of the character Wolf Larsen -- captain of the seal-hunting "Ghost" in Jack London's novel, "The Sea-Wolf."

Jack London writes: "Sometimes I think Wolf Larsen mad, or half mad at least, what of his strange moods and vagaries. At other times I take him for a great man, a genius who has never arrived. And finally, I am convinced that he is the perfect type of the primitive man born a thousand years or generations too late and an anachronism in this culminating century of civilization. He is certainly an individualist of the most pronounced type. Not only that, but he is very lonely. There is no congeniality between him and the rest of the men aboard ship. His tremendous virility and mental strength wall him apart. They are more like children to him, even the hunters, and as children he treats them, descending perforce to their level and playing with them as a man plays with puppies. Or else he probes them with the cruel hand of a vivisectionist, groping about in their mental processes and examining their souls as though to see of what soul-stuff is made."

In any event, that was Cutler's comparison, not mine.

Be that as it may.

The campaign, you ask? How is the campaign going? Well this past week ends one phase of the campaign and begins a new one.

I received a letter dated October 20, 2004 from Lawrence K. Bloom, Staff Attorney with the Office of Bar Counsel. I had sent an employment inquiry to the DC Bar Counsel in early September. The Bar Counsel seems to have misread my letter, interpreting my inquiry as, partly, a complaint against Dennis M. Race. My letter, in point of fact, said nothing about lodging a disciplinary complaint against Dennis Race. That's interesting, psychologically. When the police read the letter they saw a threat; when the Bar Counsel read the letter they saw a disciplinary complaint. Now that -- THAT -- is externalization. Different people filter a message differently based on their orientation and experience. It's like I was saying to Mike Shirazzi the other day at the Brookville Supermarket (Mike's the manager): "Mike, I'm in a dark place." So Mike says to me: "Light bulbs are in aisle 3."

In any event, the letter from the Bar Counsel reads: "Dear Mr. Freedman: This office has completed its review of the disciplinary complaint that you filed against Dennis M. Race, Esquire. You state that Mr. Race, in connection with a civil matter, improperly terminated your employment because he determined that you had the potential to engage in violent activity. You also state that you are interested in employment with our office. Upon review, we do not find allegations of disciplinary misconduct warranting a formal investigation. We do not find a factual basis upon which to continue our preliminary inquiry, and as such, we are closing our file. Additionally, we thank you for your interest in employment with our office, however, we do not currently have a position available at this time. We thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. Sincerely, Lawrence K. Bloom, Staff Attorney."

So ends Phase I. Phase II is being set in motion with a letter that I mailed on Saturday October 23, 2004 to the District of Columbia Office of Inspector General.

The letter to the IG is loopy enough so that I sound crazy (especially the part I put in it about you, buddy--a picture of you sitting on the toilet), but not so disturbed that they'll be tempted to send me to the pound again.

Check you out next week, "Buddy." Still waiting for your call. The call of the wild, Brother-Animal, You!


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