Issue 67, Fall 1976
Even when I ran into Grinaldi, my psychiatrist, seated on a bench with a pigeon on his head in Washington Square Park, or eating dinner in Bickford’s among the old men who lived in single rooms, he had an air of calm and certainty that re-assured me. I saw him as a rebel. His phone number was unlisted and he was afraid of the authorities. He had no license to practice, but none was technically required. His psychiatric magazines were filched for him by friends and patients from libraries and medical waiting rooms. His life was a thin thread,but he carried it off.
I was almost eighteen. The draft board was breathing down my neck.
“When I came to this country from Sicily,” he told me during a session, “I ate out of garbage cans to keep alive. When the Communists and the Jews tell me that man is basically good, I have to laugh—”
“The Jews,” I said. “Did you say the Jews?” My heart was pounding. Grinaldi’s face flushed and then he laughed, “Yes,the Jews.”
“I’m Jewish—I mean I’m not in a religious sense, I’m a pacifist and a socialist—but. . .I’m Jewish.”
“Yes, I know, Bruce.”
“You’re not anti-Semitic?”
Grinaidi laughed and shook his head. "Jesus," he said.
“What does that mean?”
“Take it easy, Bruce. A great many Communists are Jews. Everybody knows that. I’m stating facts. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg—”
“Are you in favor of capital punishment?” Hestood up.
“God damn it,” he shouted, “will you get off your high horse, please? Just sit down and listen for a minute. You,Bruce, do not hear, do not see. You, Bruce Orav, argue and negate. You have the answers to everyone else’s problems but not your own. In short. Professor, A for intellect. Zero for belief.”
"True, but you’re changing the subject—"
“I am not changing the subject. You said you were a pacifist—”
“Yes, I am—”
“Sure, and I’m a horse’s ass. What are you going to do
about the Army?”
“I’m not going!" I screamed. "Not in a thousand years!"
He popped two ice cubes into his scotch and downed it. He stared at me with a smile. “You don’t want to be a soldier?”
He smiled. “I think you’d make an excellent soldier. In fact, you’d make a terrific commanding officer.” He spoke slowly, and he leered at me.
“What—what the hell are you talking about? I’m non-violent—”
"Non-violent! I believe in peace!rdquo;He drew out each word. “Oh no you’re not. You’re boiling. You take all that anger with you on the battlefield, Bruce and you’ll be a credit to Uncle Sam.”
“You son-of-a-bitch,” I said.
“Hey,” he laughed. “Hey, listen to that! Do you hear yourself?”
“Your voice! The resonance and tonal quality! Usually you sound like a weak sister! Why can’t you always make it forceful like that?”
My head was spinning. “I can’t follow you, I can’t follow you—”
“Bruce,” he said, “do you believe your mother is basically good?”
“That bitch! I could slit her throat!
"My mother is one per cent of the world.”
“I rest my case,” he said.
“Anyway, I don’t want to get killed ...”
“Oh well, why didn’t you say so?”
“Because it’s more complex than that."
“Sure it is. Have a drinkee, Bruce. Won’t hurt ya. You got a lot to learn, Bruce. You want it all nice. You and F.D.R. and the fags and Adlai.”
Selective Service. All the school counselors, the advisors,the neighbors, the shrinks, would say soothingly, “After you finish your stint in the Service—"
“What do you mean, after—” I wanted to scream—“Iwon’t be alive after!”
I carried my Selective Service letter in my jacket pocket. Along white envelope, it contained my 1-A classification. I didnot know how to get rid of it. I was afraid that my Communist connections would become known to the draft board and that they would induct me immediately out of revenge. I couldn’t leave the letter in my room. One of my enemies might enter when I was out, find the letter, and inform the board of my Communism. I was afraid, too, the letter might fall out of my pocket at a demonstration and be picked up by the F.B.L who policed the picket lines.
I lit a match to the letter in the kitchen sink.
I placed the ashes in my pocket and walked around with them.
I went out one midnight and. when no one was looking,emptied the ashes from my pocket into the grate in the street. I looked around angrily at the suspicious types who might be watching. My God, I thought, there is really something wrong with me. But I felt better about the ashes.
But then I wondered if the draft board tapped my room. I talked aloud to myself all the time.
I began to whisper in the room. Damn it. it was hard not to talk aloud. I moved my lips silently and the words struggled to get out.
I paced around my room. I clicked my teeth shut on a word. I slammed my fist against the wall. The annual civil defense drill was coming up Thursday. The sirens would sound, the streets would be cleared. Every year the Catholic Worker crowd—Dorothy Day. Ammon Hennacy—got their names in the paper as they were carried off from Battery Park protesting. Thursday was the day. If I took part, the draft board would be convinced of my sincerity as a pacifist. I would be on TV and in the New York Times. But I would have a jail record. What if I trembled in front of the cameras? What if they placed me in a cell and took away my glasses? I wouldn’tbe able to read. What if the TV reporters asked me for a statement and I was unable to speak? Confrontations always made my heart pound and reduced my words to gibberish. I might forget I was a pacifist and scream “Fuck capitalism” or “FreeSacco and Vanzetti” in my confusion. What if a guard hit me? If I was a pacifist. I couldn’t hit back. Or what if he really hurt me? They could do anything they wanted to you in jail and call it an accident. One day at a Communist rally. I had meant to tell the comrades that I was going to the bathroom. Instead I said I was going “backstage.” They had stared at me. I was so befuddled I broke out in a sweat.
I sat down on my cot and tried to read Esquire and tossed it aside. Time to read theNational Guardian, article by article,to deepen my Marxism. Oh shit, why was it so boring, so deadly, why was each paragraph torture? How could people with a vision of paradise sound like a machine cranking along a parched road? Anna Louise Strong writing about being re-leased after years in a Communist Chinese prison—how pleased,how proud she was that the Socialist system proved its virtue by releasing her! Anna Louise, all smiles, in her maidenly dress. New England glasses, grateful for imprisonment and for release. Was she guilty—yes and no. Yes when they jailed her, no now that she was out. Whatever they said was fine. Let’s see, who’s been expelled from the American C.P.? Oh, Nat Binder, the visionary working class leader as of last Thursday, now a vermin, an agent of imperialism, a capitalist stooge. I had always thought he was a creep. Oh Kumar Goshal, fuck you, oh Cedric Belfrage, why are you people so hard to like? You’re supposed to be saints, God damn it, and you’re not even passable.
I thought of my father’s face when he would hear of the arrest. Now he would know I was serious, that I wasn’t kidding,that I wasn’t afraid of my shadow like him. But I would need a pair of jeans and a workshirt to get arrested in, wearing a suit would look ridiculous. Oh Christ, where would I get the money to buy the jeans? I had spent my weekly allowance already. I would have to call my father and plead with him,and he would be suspicious. He always wanted me to wear a suit and a tie so that I could find a good job.