icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Blog

Kafkaesque

The flag at half-mast in front of the Supreme Court.

As the wolf attacks the sheep, so come we.

--Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, addressing a rally in April, 1928


Let me remind you of the old maxim: people under suspicion are better moving than at rest, since at rest they may be sitting in the balance without knowing it, being weighed together with their sins.

-- Franz Kafka


I had a nightmare that Judge K was elevated to the Supreme Court. He went for a fitting of his robe and they couldn’t find one large enough for his rage, his self-pity or his ego. His head and neck were swollen with German beer. His breath was putrid. His female law clerks, all carefully chosen by his stage managers, became his special darlings. Never, he promised them, would he put his hand over their mouths if they screamed, never would he silence them if they wished to speak. He was a modern married man, a father of two daughters, he reassured them.

Years ago, when I was in high school, my lawyer stepfather handed me a book about the history of the Supreme Court. As a refugee from a despotic regime, he was enamored of the court. I cannot remember who the Justices were at the time—certainly there were no women as President Reagan did not appoint Sandra Day O’Connor until 1981—but my stepfather was enamored nonetheless. He followed all the rulings, read them, and told me to read them. These dry briefs became the triggers for interesting discussions and for a short while I thought that I, too, might become a lawyer.

Most admirable were the surprise rulings, my stepfather said. He was left-leaning, had grown up during the progressive Weimar period, and defended communists at the beginning of the Nazi regime. Virulent anti-Semitic ideology pervaded the courts when he was a young lawyer. Judges who did not comply could be imprisoned or shot. But in America, there were no such executions, not literally anyway; judges and justices are permitted evolution and change. This is known as “ideological drift.” It usually takes place after the president who has appointed him or her is out of office. Indeed, several recent studies of the courts have confirmed that ideological drift is not an exception, it’s a rule. Interestingly, it can go both ways: liberal-conservative, conservative-liberal.

I suppose this is, possibly , too-hopeful news as I write this morning, a necessary story of cheer after an emotionally grueling week. The struggle to end the nightmare continues. We cannot rest.  Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment

Bugs

The movers were packing up my books. We had been waiting for five hours, they’d been stuck in Brooklyn on another job and then got caught in Good Friday traffic. They were relieved I understood and could wait. There was no choice; we had to be out of the apartment the very next day. So I sent my husband off to play a professional round of Table Tennis and tried to rest, but was too restless.

After culling my books over many weeks, whittling them down to books I needed for research or would read again for pleasure, I still had a lot of books. I had promised myself not to lift a single tome or pack up our kitchen. Kitchens are loaded with breakables, every item has to be wrapped separately. Books are heavy.

The movers were late, the boxes were there waiting, so I was tempted to begin, then stopped this thought. I knew my back wouldn’t survive, which is why we’d hired the movers to pack in the first place. I wouldn’t see a pool again for several days. So I tried to rest, selected Bill Evans on the Pandora app, stretched out on the couch, and started on the current New Yorker. Then I fell asleep. No dreams.

The bell rang at 5 p.m. Two guys, both 30-something, one from Peru, the other from Mexico. They entered the hallway running. I’d contracted for three hours of packing, they’d be done by 8 p.m. Great, I said. I was still so tired I couldn’t think of going anywhere, so I stayed and supervised, so to speak. I didn’t want to slow them down but I was interested. Two young guys, both handsome, both from the other side of our porous border. They must have a story, I said to myself. (This writer cannot resist a story.)

So where are you from? Did you go to college? Do you want to go to college? Okay, college isn’t for everyone. Oh, you are living with your aunt.

Phone ringing.

That’s my mom.

Oh where is she?

In Peru.

Okay great, you’re a good son. Always pick up the phone when your mother calls.

Laughter.

As you are packing my books, do you like to read?

Yes, no, sometimes.

What do you like to read?

I remember in high school, we read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” I really liked that story.

No kidding, that was the first story I taught my students at Oakland High School.
They loved it. So did I. That bug.

I feel like him some days. I wanted to be an ESL teacher, I had to drop out of school and earn money.

You’d be a great teacher, I said. Think about getting back to school.

This was the guy from Peru talking. The guy from Mexico looked a bit askance, and didn’t know nothing about any bugs.

It’s about being trapped, right? Trapped in a system?

Right, I said.

I thought of all the privileged young men and women I have met whose lives are like parachutes: soft landings, no bugs in sight.

There’s SUNY’s Empire State College, I told my young friend. It’s designed for working men and women. Don’t give up, I’ll write you a recommendation. I’ve got bug clout, I’m a prof at NYU. Anyone who likes Kafka deserves a recommendation.  Read More 
Be the first to comment