The Freedman Archives

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Underground Man


October 12, 2004

Hey, buddy. What's up? Working hard? Being chief executive is hard work, so the nation's been told recently. George Bush has the grudge-meister Osama bin Laden to worry about. What bleak realities occupy your workday thoughts, my friend?

To paraphrase the opening of FDR's Fala speech from the '44 campaign: Well, here we are together again -- after eight days -- and what days they have been! I am actually more of a letter writer than I originally thought, which is a fact that seems to annoy some people. In fact, in the mathematical field, there are several employers out there who are more letter-rich than when I started in to deal with the messy situation that was dumped in my lap back in April of this year.

It's been a long day's night, and I've been working like a dog. Yes, the campaign continues. This past week I got two more responses to my job inquiries. I received a letter from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, dated October 5, 2004: "Thank you for your letter of September 23, 2004, inquiring about employment opportunities at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Unfortunately, we have no positions available at this time. I appreciate your interest and I wish you the very best of luck in your job search." (Patricia Mullahy Fugere, Executive Director). I guess when your client pool is a class of people who sleep on grates in the street, you have a different perspective on desperate people who occupy precarious situations. I think the folks at the Legal Clinic for the Homeless can spot a screwee -- a hapless victim-- when they see one. Speaking metaphorically, I suppose a polio-stricken, wheelchair bound president has a special feeling for society's underdogs. (Different rules of empathy apply to wheelchair-bound Corporation Counsels, apparently).

I also got a letter from People For The American Way (a constitutional rights advocacy organization), dated October 6, 2004: "Thank you for your interest in a position on the staff of People For The American Way. We do not currently have any openings for an attorney. However, we appreciate your interest and wish you success in your job search." (Dibby Johnson, Director of Human Resources).

The race for President of the United States ends Tuesday November 2, 2004, barring a replay of the year 2000 election year debacle. And when do you think my campaign will end? Not bloody soon, I suspect. According to the rules of the game as I've set them up, the campaign will end when Dennis Race contacts me to rehire me, or when you contact me to arrange lunch or other social activity. Crazy, huh? Yea. Right. As if the electoral college makes any more sense than the rules of my game! Like Al Gore, Dennis Race may learn that you can win a judgment in one forum (namely, The Reeve Center), but ultimately lose later on, in a different forum.

I have a lot of time on my hands. I feel like a prisoner at the start of a forty-year sentence. "Sure, it might take me 20 years to chisel a tunnel out of this place, one scratch at a time, with rat-like determination. But, hey, that'll still put me 20 years ahead of the game." I might have to spend a few years writing letters, but I'm not going anywhere and my rent is paid for. If it takes that long to get my old job back or to be friends with you, buddy, what the hell -- my right hand is used to the exercise. Just hand me the scratch paper.

What is done cannot be undone, or should not be undone without restitution. I've been hurt, buddy. I've been maimed. And you want me to return to the library, status quo ante maim?
No way. No how. I've paid my dues. I suffered. My summer was ruined. For what? Because I suffer from depression -- "the black dog," as The Prime Minister used to call it? Because I'm angry at people who've wronged me in the past? Because I refused to do what I had no legal duty to do? Because I did something that I was never told not to do?

The library ban. It was all so sudden. It was a sudden loss. The loss of my library privileges was like a life cut short in its prime, "Buddy."

Well, here's the story.

I'm not returning to the library on October 21. I'm still carrying a lot of pain about what you did, Brian. People say I'm spiteful and vindictive. Well, your behavior, Mr. Brown, can be equally irrational at times. Your decision to ban me from the library was a tad nutty; it was a gratification of the perverse, no less neurotic than my current campaign.

William said, "Mr. Freedman, we think you should take a break." How about if we extend that break a little. By a few weeks, a few months, a few years. After six months of my feverish letter writing, let's just see who "breaks" first -- you or our mutual friends at Akin Gump.

To put things bluntly, buddy, I -- not you -- will decide when I will use a public facility, if I have a right to use that facility. (Maybe you should post a sign at the entrance to the Cleveland Park Library: "Normals Only: People With Black Dogs Not Allowed." That would suit you, wouldn't it?) I may have had no power about when I got thrown out, but I'll bloody well exercise some power over when I return and under what conditions I return. Yea, I'm carrying a lot of pain. Let me say once again, returning to where we started six months ago: "People will pay for my pain."

Brian, do you remember the opening line of that story you once told me: "I no sooner laid down my umbrella to open up my briefcase, and the next thing I knew . . . " Big surprise!

Funny thing. My father always used to say about Hitler, "He told the whole world what he planned to do in that book of his, 'Mein Kampf,' then everybody acts surprised when he actually goes and does it!"

Back in April I wrote: "People will pay for my pain." And what do you do? You immediately proceed to inflict pain. What did you think would come of that? You know me as well as anyone. You know I can carry a grudge -- for years, even; you know I can be vindictive and spiteful; you know I am quick to feel ill used, to blame and accuse others; you know that I can be intensely sadistic and masochistic; you know I'm creative and "le grand fuck" is my forte; you know I'm nonviolent; you know I'm a letter writer. All I can say is, in what grade did you study first grade math? Didn't you ever learn that 1 + 1 + 1 equals, well, what does it equal, Brian? You need to learn a thing or two about the mathematical field.

People say to me, people come up to me at campaign rallies, at stump speeches, at Town Hall meetings -- they ask, they want to know, "But aren't you just hurting yourself by not returning to the library? You know how much you like it there. You like the resources -- the books, the newspapers, the magazines. You like the people, you like the sense of community. You like the branch librarian. What good can come of not returning to the library on the date you were told you were permitted to return? Aren't you only injuring yourself and no one else?"

Well, it's like I told John Ashcroft a few months ago. I told the A.G. that I hear voices. I hear the voices of Dostoyevsky characters. One of my favorite Dostoyevsky voices is that of Underground Man. Underground Man was a rat person.

The rat imago is used repetitively by some analytic patients who have been overstimulated and continue to be; beside themselves with rage and frustration, they long for a discharge to escape the traumatic state of too-muchness. The psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold describes some of the concomitant ego and superego regressions of soul-murder victims as part of the reaction to trauma. These victims, rat people included, are quick to feel ill used, to blame and accuse others, to project their rage; this can give their feelings and thoughts a paranoid cast, hidden and latent or strikingly overt. An alternative that can coexist is intense masochism.

Dostoyevsky's "Notes from Underground" captures the atmosphere of the lives of rat people. The Underground Man characterizes himself repeatedly as a "mouse" (he is predominantly masochistic, but his sadism is a constant presence) who lives "underground" in a kind of prison cell, a cloacal rat hole. He gnashes his teeth and longs to bite, suffers from toothache and finally claims to enjoy turning sadism into masochism: "I got to the point of feeling a sort of secret abnormal, despicable enjoyment in returning home to my corner on some disgusting Petersburg night, acutely conscious that that day I had committed a loathsome action again, that what was done could never be undone, and secretly, inwardly gnawing, gnawing at myself for it, tearing and consuming myself till at least the bitterness turned into a sort of shameful accursed sweetness, and at last -- into positive real enjoyment! Yes, into enjoyment, into enjoyment!"

The Underground Man vents and courts spite -- the mouse has identified with the rat, has been endowed with the tooth and bites himself: "I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased . . . I refuse to consult a doctor from spite . . . I am perfectly well aware that I cannot 'pay out' the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well -- let it get worse!" Later the man describes himself in the third person, his "I" split-off: "There in its nasty, stinking underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and, above all, everlasting spite."

Such is my immortality, too! Everlasting spite.

I'm a hater, Brian. A nonviolent hater, to be sure. Yes, let's be sure about that! But I'm a hater nonetheless. It's part of my psychopathology. It's part of my disability. "People will pay for my pain." That pronouncement, coming from an Underground Man -- the Underground Man's pathology being what it is -- that pronouncement MUST be protected by The Americans with Disabilities Act. At least I would think so. Restricting the library to "Normals Only?" I don't think that's legal. Haters have a right to use the library.

Sigmund Freud was a hater. K.R. Eissler writes: "In examining the orbit of Freud's emotional responses, it is impressive to take note of its wide circumference. It is particularly important that the circumference of emotions also contained within it the emotion of hatred. Freud belonged among those who did have the ability to experience strong hatred."

Like Freud, Richard Nixon was a hater. So was Winston Churchill. Oddly enough, both Nixon and Freud had an "enemies list." (Incidentally, Freud and Nixon also both liked dogs. I don't know if Freud's wife wore a cloth coat, though.) "Freud set up once a list of persons he hated. It contained seven or eight names. People in general deny the presence of such an affect, unless they feel protected by group support. Thus there was hardly anybody in the West who would not have felt free to express hatred against Hitler, but it is rather rare for a person to aver a hatred that is the result solely of his personal inclinations. Since other geniuses have left no known record of people they hated, one cannot determine whether the figure of seven or eight persons on Freud's 'hate list,' as he called it, ought to be appraised as high or low."

Funny thing about Freud, Nixon, and Churchill. They were all disposed to depression; they were susceptible to losing themselves in psychological "dark places." From time to time each of these men occupied "a dark place" of the soul.

Depression and hatred can be related.

William Manchester has written the following about Churchill's "Black Dog," as Sir Winston called his depressive spells: "In a profound sense, he himself always remained the underdog. All his life he suffered spells of depression, sinking into the brooding depths of melancholia, an emotional state which, though little understood, resembles the passing sadness of the normal man as a malignancy resembles a canker sore. The depressive knows what Dante knew: that hell is an endless, hopeless conversation with oneself. Every day he chisels his way through time [like a rat, as Shengold would point out], praying for relief. The etiology of the disease is complex, but is thought to include family history, childhood influences, biological deficiencies, and -- particularly among those of aggressive temperament -- feelings of intense hostility which the victim, lacking other targets, turns inward upon himself [like Underground Man]. Having chosen to be macho, Churchill became the pugnacious, assertive fighter ready to cock a snook at anyone who got in his way. That was why he began carrying a Bren gun in his car when he became prime minister, then took bayonet lessons, and insisted that his lifeboat on the wartime Queen Mary be equipped with a mounted machine gun. But in peacetime he often lacked adequate outlets for his aggression. The deep reservoir of vehemence he carried within him backed up, and he was plunged into fathomless gloom."

Manchester goes on to discuss what a psychological boon Hitler was to Churchill late in life. Yes, a boon! It can be so much fun to hate. I know from personal experience; in my late thirties I felt I was going nowhere in life. I felt adrift, aimless. Then, in late October 1991, my prospects were dramatically altered. Dennis Race entered my life and I turned the termination -- "The Termination" -- into a career in itself. The Termination gave new meaning to my life. I had found an object to hate other than myself.

Manchester writes of Churchill: "Nothing could match the satisfaction of directing his hostility outward, toward a great antagonist, a figure worthy of massive enmity. But as the years rolled by and he approached old age, the possibilities of finding such an object became remote. The strain began to tell. Anthony Storr writes: 'In day-to-day existence, antagonists are not wicked enough, and depressives suffer from pangs of conscience about their own hostility.' Then Churchill's prospects were dramatically altered. Adolf Hitler entered his life. It would be fatuous to suggest that the Nazi dictator's only significance for Churchill was as an answer to an emotional longing. Churchill was no warmonger. He was a statesman, a humanitarian, a thinker in cosmic terms; he would have been profoundly graceful if Hitler had strangled on his own venom. But the Fuhrer's repeated lunges across the borders of peaceful neighboring states did arouse a Churchillian belligerence far beyond the capacity of ordinary men. His basic weakness became his basic strength. Here, at last, was pure evil, a monster who deserved no pity, a tyrant he could claw and maim [again, like one of Shengold's rats or, even more, like Shengold's image of the talon-endowed Sphinx] without admonishment from his scruples. By provoking his titanic wrath, the challenge from central Europe released enormous stores of long-suppressed vitality within him. In the beginning Hitler responded in kind. He, too, was a hoarder of rage, and he was a great hater. He may have felt that Britain's prime minister met an ache in him, too. As it turned out, he needed Churchill the way a murderer needs a noose."

Are you better off than you were six months ago, Brian? Are you more secure? Has anything really changed? I can tell you "frankly and boldly" that nothing has changed for me. Mind you, even a psychological cripple can, like some paralyzed Superman, hurl thunderbolts from his mental wheelchair. Those thunderbolts are my letters. Didn't you ever hear of "protected speech?" Didn't you ever hear of the preferred position of the First Amendment? Maybe we should have lunch with Floyd Abrams. He could teach you a thing or two.

I am still in a dark place. Yes, I suffer from depression. "I am a depressed American." "I am in a dark place." It's a statement of fact. Metaphorically put, of course, but a fact. I simply stated a clinical fact back in April. And you proceeded to attack me, call the cops on me, punish me, ban me, as if I had blasphemed against all things holy.

Well, I don't mind attacks, and my family don't mind attacks, but my Black Dog (depression) does mind. My friends, "I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself, such as that old worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my [black] dog." Depression is not a crime -- it deserves no punishment.

Check you out next week, buddy. Send my regards to the Governor. "Opera is for fags." That's a joke, Brian. Can't you take a joke? Apparently not.


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