Chapter Twenty Three
I started writing when I became aware that I was thinking about the same things over and over and that I couldn’t stop. At first I told myself I was writing to try find myself. I wrote and wrote and looked all over the place but never found myself or found out what it was. There was thought, there was the body, and all the stuff on the planet. It all came along and went along and there was little I could do about it. In the end, I decided I was going to have to get along without it. Then, when I kept writing anyhow, I told myself I was trying to make art.
There was also the dreaming where I saw the same dreams again and again and of course I couldn’t make those stop either. I was twenty-one years old. Amost half a century ago. In those days the thinking and the dreaming was about Korean and my mother and father. It was mostly about Korea. I had no complaints about Korea. I’d volunteered and once I was there I’d liked it well enough, the mountains were very beautiful, but afterwards in the hospitals there was the thinking and the dreaming and it was always the same and they wouldn’t stop.
One noonday at the Camp Cook hospital in California I was coming awake after surgery when I became aware that some of the guys were standing around my bed laughing. Then I became aware that I was sobbing and yelling for the machine gunners and trying to sit up and shouting that if we didn’t get the machine gun in place it was all over for us. Then I saw that doctor Silverman was there too. He was telling me it was okay, that I didn’t need the machine guns anymore. He was saying that it would be best if I did not try to sit up or move around too much. After a moment I began to understand where I was, the desperation passed, and I heard Vasquez who had the bed next to mine laughing and saying:
“I tol’ you before, Smeeth. Forget about those Chinks. You got the Mexicans after your ass now.”
It wasn’t long after that when I started the writing. I’m seventy-two years old now and I still write about what thought attaches it to as I go about my daily round, and sometimes I still write about what I see in the dreams. I worked my way through the dreaming a long time ago. When I was a kid I believed thought was one thing and dreaming another. Later I understood that they are both thought. While I seldom dream any longer, or seldom dream anything interesting, when I’m awake thought never stops, just like it never stopped when I was a kid. Dreaming is a good, built-in thought program. I used it for twenty years, maybe longer. After awhile, if you watch carefully how thought works in dreams, and you are able to more or less stand aside from it, the dream program winds down.
The thinking that goes on when you’re awake is something else again. Everyday thinking is a program built in so deeply that it never winds down. Oddly, if you pay attention, day thinking is full of dream pictures too but you miss most of them. Buddhists talk about how if you stop the thinking at least part of the time you’ll understand something you didn’t understand before. Buddhist ideas have been seeping into our porous culture at an accelerating rate for most of the century, which I think is to the good. I think the Buddhists are right when they tell us it is beneficial to not think when it’s not necessary, which is most of the time. It’s clear to me that there is much too much thinking going on among those who govern us, Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, and too much institutionalizing of thought. How else can we explain the endless catastrophes?
I find Buddhist talk about Buddhist theory very alluring. I’m infatuated with reading the Buddhists, or some of them. If I had to choose between reading the Buddhists and reading the revisionists, the Buddhists would win hands down. As a matter of fact, they won hands down a long time ago. Buddhists talk alluringly of non-attachment and subjective freedom, yet wherever Buddhists are a majority in the population they are unable to give up their attachment to the tyranny of Buddhist hierarchy, under which the ideal of subjective freedom is neither here nor there.
Thought recalls the night in 1968 when I deserted my ship, an old Victory, in Satchel, Thailand. I carried the suitcase in one hand, the typewriter in the other, and walked into the little town square where a platform or stage had been set up illuminated by strings of naked light bulbs. Young monks with shaved heads wearing saffron robes lounged on the illuminated deck drinking fruit waters and eating ice cream and laughing. I remember how healthy and strong they looked, how fine their shaven heads were, how at ease they looked lying there.
The ideal of non-attachment and subjective freedom has taken hold, not in the East among the Buddhists, but among those peoples in the West who were among the last to commit themselves to Christianity and the first to find a way to start leaving it behind. It’s in post-Christian culture where the ideal of non-attachment has taken root. Not only are we trying to overcome our attachment to the concept of the tyrannical State and Church, but to the tyranny of men over women, the rich over the poor, the schooled over the ignorant-in short, the tyranny of the past over the present. It’s probably not going to work. In real life we remain oblivious to the moment and sacrifice everything to the authority of the past, or to what we imagine the future might be.
Four years ago I was so deep in debt I could no longer see the sky. I had no hope of paying what I owed. I would have to file bankruptcy. After I did that, what would I do? I was sixty-six years old. Where would I get a job? The job I had as a revisionist activist was a lot of work but there was no pay. People have to contribute or you’re a dead duck. What would I do with my mother? She was ninety-four and bedridden. My wife had cancer. She had just finished her chemotherapy and radiation treatments and maybe she was in remission but how was I to know? What about the insurance? How was I going to pay for it? Our oldest daughter was in San Diego State University. What with student aid and working, she could get by. Paloma was only ten. She was more or less healthy and she’d do okay, but what about her future?
There was my career as a writer, of course, but I had failed at that. I was still at it forty-five years after I started and I was still failing at it. Now that I was writing about revisionism it was pretty certain that I would go on failing to the end. The one chance we had was to go to Mexico. We had a half-finished house in Baja that we had been working on for about ten years at fifty dollars a throw. Now I was so broke I didn’t have enough money to rent the truck we needed to take our stuff across of the border. I had to call people who were contributors to my newsletter, some of whom over the years had become friends, and ask for enough money to get me out of the country. There were no doors in the house, no windows, no roof over the bedroom and so on. I borrowed enough money to close the place up against the weather and the passers-by. I didn’t have enough money left over to file bankruptcy and had to go hat in hand for that too. I understand now that Baja is the end of the trail. There’s nowhere else for us to go. Sometimes thought recalls my father working as a carpenter’s helper, a boilermaker’s helper, doing odd jobs. The last years of his life running the little clubroom in South Central Los Angeles for the Boilermakers union. I have never been able to pull myself out of the working class I was born into. I don’t think I ever really tried.
David Mamet tells us that in theater you reveal character by having your character respond to very different events in one predictable way again and again. I had never thought of it so simply. My behavior as a writer fits Mamet’s theory of character very well. Without ever giving up the writing or ever thinking of giving it up, at every turn where I have had to make a decision whether to put the writing first or something else first, I’ve gone with something else. Usually it was a woman. Now my working days are behind me. I’m seventy years old. Did I already say that? The soldiering, the police work, the bulls were never in the picture after the first run. There won’t be any more bookstores or art galleries. No more jobs loading trucks, or working in dairy plants or in the studios in Hollywood. No more long shoring. I’ll never get my seaman’s papers back so there’ll be no more ships. I can’t work in construction any longer, or do concrete again, or any of the rest of it. It’s all over.
Because it’s certain that I will not have a career as a writer, I don’t have to worry about that. But I do have to find a way to make a living writing, which is not the same thing as a career and is much easier to do or so they say. I have not found that to be true. No one in America makes a living writing about how the gas chamber stories are an ugly joke. I knew that at the beginning. Nevertheless, when I turned fifty, that’s what I chose to address as a writer. What would I do with success? Alicia doesn’t understand why I have so much trouble making a living writing when so many others are able to do it so easily. Watching the soaps on Mexican television she suggests I should study Spanish and write for Mexican TV. When she makes that suggestion it’s as if someone has injected the brain with a deadly bacteria soup.
Speaking of brains, Alicia is worried about mine, my seso as the Mexicans have it. “You write things that make everybody despise you,” she says, “and now your faculties are failing. What do you think is ahead of you?”
“My faculties are not failing.”
“You take your daughter out to buy tortillas and you leave her standing on the Boulevard and come home for a nap and you do not think your faculties are failing? What do you think is happening to your faculties?”
It’s true that I’m absent-minded. I forget things. The shoes, the car keys, the daughter. Alicia notices everything, unfortunately. Sometimes I don’t know what day it is, or what week, and she’ll say: “It is your faculties, Gordo. They are failing. It makes me worry.” I’m almost always right about the month, which is a good sign.
Upstairs in the office I mislay correspondence, forget to return calls, get the numbers mixed up in my checkbooks. This afternoon I mislaid letters from the advertising managers of campus newspapers at Stanford and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Are they lost permanently? How many more papers will I lose today? I brought my mail up here about an hour ago, opened it, and immediately lost the letters from Stanford and NJ Tech. How did I do that? It’s not just the memory, there’s other stuff. One night I fainted right in front of Alicia. It was kind of interesting. We were downstairs in the bedroom. I stepped into the bathroom to brush my teeth and there I watched myself, as if I were somehow looking down from above, fold up in sections like an accordion being closed and settle onto the floor.
One afternoon I was here at the computer when I started feeling light-headed. After about twenty minutes I couldn’t sit up without holding on to the table I use for a desk. I called Doctor Horcasitas around the corner and told him to send the chemico over to take blood. I carry a chemistry/toxicology request in my wallet and am supposed to get the blood drawn when the event is actually happening to see if some chemical change is taking place in the seso that can be identified. I’ve done it twice but nothing was found, except the second time it was discovered that I had an intestinal bug that eats holes through your gut so I got some pills for that. That afternoon the chemico wasn’t available. It was Saturday and he was off somewhere having a beer. I went in the room next to the office and lay down on the bed and held on and after a couple hours I was okay. If I could choose between having to hold on for two hours and losing consciousness, I’d rather lose it.
Sometimes I worry about being a writer and running the Campus Project and CODOHWeb and The Revisionist and the rest of it when I don’t have the energy I used to have and when I can’t remember everything. The truth is, Thomas and Widmann run CODOHWeb and let me have the credit, so I’ve worked that one out pretty well. And Brewer runs The Revisionist so that’s taken care of too. I put in my two cents worth when I think it’s necessary. Thought still remembers some things, and sometimes new stuff appears, or new twists on old stuff, so the writing is still okay, the kind I do. And it’s not like I have a great talent that’s going to waste, or that I wasn’t absent-minded before. When Paloma was a baby I left her on the floor of the Bank of America at Hollywood and Highland and the little Guatemalan guard had to run up Hollywood Boulevard after me. That bank is closed now. Now they sell T-shirts there and trinkets to tourists.
That was twelve years ago, longer, and here I am in Baja still taking care of business, more or less. How much memory do you need to challenge a taboo in the 21st Century? How much memory do you need to argue before the professors that intellectual freedom is a good, not a danger? How much memory do I need to argue before chancellors and presidents of universities that a free press is more conducive to a free society than a controlled press, or that an open society is to be preferred to a closed one? What do I have to be able to recall to be able to argue that the taboo against a free exchange of ideas about one historical question is regressive and represents a return to an old culture of tyranny? The gas chambers stories are here now, the taboo against open debate on the gas chamber stories is here now, and I’m here now. As Tina Turner might say: What’s memory got to do with it?
Last night Alicia and I went out to eat pork tacos and drink a little wine. It doesn’t sound like much of an evening, but when you live in Popotla it’s about as much evening as you’re going to get. Alicia looked pretty good. After 25 years and an extra twenty or thirty pounds she still looks good to me. She talked about the family for awhile, her mother is dying of cancer so she talks about family a lot, and then I told her in the best Spanish I could muster about the campus project for this academic year. I explained how I have decided to go head to head with a special interest group that has a yearly budget of tens of millions of dollars and the ears of governments and corporate big shots around the world. An organization that has the media and the professors cowed to the point where they are afraid to stand up for their own ideals, which are my ideals too.
“Gordo,” Alicia said, “when are you going to find something to do that will not make trouble? Do you think nothing bad is ever going to happen to you? I know you do not think about it because your head is in the clouds. You sit upstairs in that cave where your work looking at your computer and you think that is the world. In your old age you have forgotten what the world is and what it can do to you. I worry when you go out that you are going to forget where you live. You know how you are. You lock your keys in the car. You lose your eyeglasses. Yesterday you forgot your daughter. You drove right by her. You left her standing on the corner like an orphan.”
“I am a little absent-minded,” I said. “It is not serious.”
I had some pork between my teeth so I stood up and walked to the cashiers stand to get a couple toothpicks. In Baja they don’t put toothpicks on your table, you have to look around for them. Twenty, thirty years ago the pork didn’t get stuck between the teeth all the time. Now everything gets stuck in there. It’s a real bother. It’s gotten so bad that I go to a dentist regularly for the first time in my life. When I was a kid in South Central and you had gaps in your teeth, you just had gaps in your teeth and there was the end to it.
When I returned to our table, Alicia leaned toward me and said: “Gordo? Please do me a favor.”
“I do not know if that is necessary.”
“I am not joking. Please close your fly.”
I felt around under the table. It was open all right. I zipped it up.
“You know,” I said, “when we were at the house, I was sitting on the bed putting on my shoes, and I saw that my fly was open. But then I forgot. One moment I knew it was open, the next moment I forgot it was open. It is interesting.”
“Gordo, it is not interesting. Your fly is telling you something you need to hear. Listen to it. Your fly is telling you that you are too old to go on doing what you do. Gordo, I want you to get out of this business you are in where everyone is mad at you. How can you argue with professors and presidents of universities when you cannot remember to keep your fly closed? Before you leave the house everyone in your family checks your fly. Even your daughter. Do you know what it means to a fourteen year-old girl to have a father who goes out on the street with his fly open?”
“She thinks it is funny.”
“She laughs, Gordo, but she does not think it is funny. She wants you to have your fly closed up when she goes out with you.”
“Okay. You are right. I am going to pay more attention to the fly.”
“I watch you going around the house bumping into doors, looking for your glasses, and I say to myself, ‘My Gordo is thinking. I hope he is thinking about something he will get paid for.’” She reaches across the table and puts her hand over my hand. This isn’t the first time I have heard this particular line from my wife. I drink a little wine and listen. She says: “I know your working days have flown away, but maybe, if you think about it, you can still find work, something that is not too heavy for you to carry. Work that is appropriate to your age.”
“My work is not that heavy. It is a bother, but it is not that heavy.”
I lean back in my chair and signal the waiter for another glass of red wine. Thought has started reflecting on the work. At the curbing there’s a four-piece banda playing its rinky-dink music. The music and singing are pleasant. When the band finishes a tune I hear the deep heavy movement of the ocean in the night as it comes in on the shore and retires, moves in on the shore and retires. On the surface of the water there is the broken reflection of the white moon. Thought, inaudibly, says that’s how it is with tyranny. Thought, without forming the words at first but connecting two disparate images, displays to me the idea that intellectual liberty is a mere moonbeam playing on the surface of the great sea of tyranny and taboo that fills our psyche and our culture. The moon’s quick beam of light is beautiful on the surface of that swelling darkness, and when I first notice it something haunting moves in my heart, as if I understand that there is something profound about to be illuminated in that darkness. I get the connection immediately, I know what it is I want to be revealed, but I know too that I will turn away from it and it is that recognition, that I will turn away from freedom again and again, that haunts me so.
Moonbeams and unzipped flies-I’m working on them. They aren’t problems to be solved, they’re life’s work. Unless life is a problem. The cows don’t think so, which caught the attention of Whitman one summer noon, but oftentimes the rest of us think so. Thought has fixed it so that we understand we have a life but soon won’t and we see that as the problem. I see it as the problem. Contrary to what I heard a Mexican evangelical say at my mother’s funeral, death is not a victory. It signals a great loss. There are no victories for me. The day is coming when memory will stop, desire will end, and I will end, whoever that is.
Recently, a man who read my Confessions On-line posted his reaction to it so all those who visit the biggest Holocaust revisionist Website in the world can contemplate his reaction to how I live my life, which I appreciate.
A few weeks ago I read Bradley Smith’s Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist and I just can’t seem to get it out of my mind. Whenever I think of Bradley Smith now I think of that scene in Papion in which Steve McQueen is brought before the judges and they accuse him of having wasted his life. Papion (Steve McQueen) answers, “Guilty!”
This is not to say that revisionism isn’t an important job-it is, but the way in which Bradley Smith has led his life really leaves me puzzled. I’m sure he’d say it puzzles him too! The best-known revisionist in America admits to being on a radio talk show drunk-too drunk to understand a question a caller asked him. He admits that he accidentally got his wife pregnant like some dumb high school kid who forgot to use a rubber. He writes that he fell off his bicycle after leaving a bar drunk. I just don’t get it!
Bradley Smith continues to live his life like a 70-year-old kid. I suppose it disturbs me so much to see this because most of the people I know involved in revisionism live lives exactly like Smith’s. And I wish them all the best. But their all-too-human flaws seriously detract from the importance of the issues at hand. I’m sure we’ve all done unworthy things in our lives, some more than others. The problem with discussing these things on a Website devoted to revisionism is that many people now sitting on the fence will be unable to differentiate between the man and his ideas.
An honest, heart-felt letter. I understand the writer’s disappointment with me. Reading my stuff, it’s only natural for a sober man to ask: “Where is learning, where is discipline in there? Where are the attributes of the leader-the one to raise up a great movement among his people, to call on them for great sacrifices, to lead them in the accomplishment of great deeds?”
That man just isn’t around here anywhere. No learning, no discipline, not much time left. There is only the sense that it is better to be free and open than closed and imprisoned, better to have my fly zipped up when I leave the house than have it open, whether I’m with Paloma or not. At the same time, I ask my worried readers to contemplate the happy circumstance where even a commonplace, poorly read, and undisciplined man can play a role in reinvigorating one of the great ideals of his culture-intellectual freedom. Is it not a matter for joyous celebration to discover a great cultural ideal that the most ordinary man can recognize as his own-on his own? An ideal that does not require a professor to explain it, a zealot to promote it, or a tyrant to protect it?
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Additional information about this document
|Author(s):||Bradley R. Smith|
|Title:||Break His Bones, The Private Life of a Holocaust Revisionist|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 2012, 7 p.m.|