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By Christopher Isherwood 2 страница
such a remark. The fact remains that Mr. Strunk himself, to judge from a
photograph of him taken in football uniform at college, used to be what
many would call a living doll.
But Mrs. Strunk, George feels sure, takes leave to differ gently from
her husband; for she is trained in the new tolerance, the technique of
annihilation by blandness. Out comes her psychology book--bell and candle
are no longer necessary. Reading from it in sweet singsong she proceeds to
exorcise the unspeakable out of George. No reason for disgust, she intones,
no cause for condemnation. Nothing here that is willfully vicious. All is due
to heredity, early environment (Shame on those possessive mothers, those
sex-segregated British schools!), arrested development at puberty, and/or
glands. Here we have a misfit, debarred forever from the best things of life,
to be pitied, not blamed. Some cases, caught young enough, may respond to
therapy. As for the rest--ah, it's so sad; especially when it happens, as let's
face it it does, to truly worthwhile people, people who might have had so
much to offer. (Even when they are geniuses in spite of it, their masterpieces
are invariably warped.) So let us be understanding, shall we, and remember
that, after all, there were the Greeks (though that was a bit different, because
they were pagans rather than neurotics). Let us even go so far as to say that
this kind of relationship can sometimes be almost beautiful--particularly if
one of the parties is already dead, or, better yet, both.
How dearly Mrs. Strunk would enjoy being sad about Jim! But, aha,
she doesn't know; none of them knows. It happened in Ohio, and the L. A.
papers didn't carry the story. George has simply spread it around that Jim's
folks, who are getting along in years, have been trying to persuade him to
come back home and live with them; and that now, as the result of his recent
visit to them, he will be remaining in the East indefinitely. Which is the
gospel truth. As for the animals, those devilish reminders, George had to get
them out of his sight immediately; he couldn't even bear to think of them
being anywhere in the neighborhood. So, when Mrs. Garfein wanted to
know if he would sell the myna bird, he 'answered that he'd shipped them all
back to Jim. A dealer from San Diego took them away.
And now, in reply to the questions of Mrs. Strunk and, the others,
George answers that, yes indeed, he has just heard from Jim and that Jim is
fine. They ask him less and less often. They are inquisitive but quite
But your book is wrong, Mrs. Strunk, says George, when it tells you
that Jim is the substitute I found for a real son, a real kid brother, a real
husband, a real wife. Jim wasn't a substitute for anything. And there is no
substitute for Jim, if you'll forgive my saying so, anywhere.
Your exorcism has failed, dear Mrs. Strunk, says George, squatting on
the toilet and peeping forth from his lair to watch her emptying the dust bag
of her vacuum cleaner into the trash can. The unspeakable is still here--right
in your very midst.
DAMNATION. The phone. Even with the longest cord the phone company
will give you, it won't reach into the bathroom. George gets himself off the
seat and shuffles into the study, like a man in a sack race.
"Hello--is that--it is you, Geo?"
"I say, I didn't call too early, did I?"
"No." (Oh dear, she has managed to get him irritated already! Yet how
can he reasonably blame her for the discomfort of standing nastily unwiped,
with his pants around his ankles? One must admit, though, that Charlotte has
a positively clairvoyant knack of picking the wrong moment to call.)
"Of course I'm sure. I've already had breakfast."
"I was afraid if I waited any longer you'd have gone off to the
college.... My goodness, I hadn't noticed it was so late! Oughtn't you to have
"This is the day I have only one class. It doesn't begin until eleven-
thirty. My early days are Mondays and Wednesdays." (All this is explained
in a tone of slightly emphasized patience.)
"Oh yes--yes, of course! How stupid of me! I always forget."
(A silence. George knows she wants to ask him something. But he
won't help her. He is rubbed the wrong way by her blunderings. Why does
she imply that she ought to know his college schedule? Just more of her
possessiveness. Then why, if she really thinks who ought to know it, does
she get it all mixed up?)
"Geo--" (very humbly) "would you possibly be free tonight?"
"Afraid not. No." (One second before speaking he couldn't have told
you what he was going to answer. It's the desperation in Charlotte's voice
that decides he isn't in the mood for one of her crises.)
"Oh--I see.... I was afraid you wouldn't be. It is short notice, I know."
(She sounds half stunned, very quiet, hopeless. He stands there listening for
a Nob. None can be heard. His face is puckered into a, grimace of guilt and
discomfort--the latter caused by his increasing awareness of stickiness and
"I suppose you couldn't--I mean--I suppose it's something important?"
"I'm afraid it is." (The grimace of guilt relaxes. He is mad at her now.
He won't be nagged at.)
"I see.... Oh well, never mind." (She's brave, now.) "I'll try you again,
may I, in a few days?"
"Of course." (Oh--why not be a little nicer, now she's been put in her
place?) "Or I'll call you."
TWENTY minutes later, Mrs. Strunk, out on her porch watering the hibiscus
bushes, watches him back his car out across the bridge. (It is sagging badly
nowadays. She hopes he will have it fixed; one of the children might get
hurt.) As he makes the half-turn onto the street, she waves to him. He waves
Poor man, she thinks, living there all alone. He has a kind face.
IT is one of the marvels and blessings of the Los Angeles freeway system
that you can now get from the beach to San Tomas State College in fifty
minutes, give or take five, instead of the nearly two hours you would have
spent, in the slow old days, crawling from stop light to stop light clear across
the downtown area and out into the suburbs beyond.
George feels a kind of patriotism for the freeways. He is proud that
they are so fast, that people get lost on them and even sometimes panic and
have to bolt for safety down the nearest cutoff. George loves the freeways
because he can still cope with them; because the fact that he can cope proves
his claim to be a functioning member of society. He can still get by.
(Like everyone with an acute criminal complex, George is
hyperconscious of all bylaws, city ordinances, rules and petty regulations.
Think of how many Public Enemies have been caught just because they
neglected to pay a parking ticket! Never once has he seen his passport
stamped at a frontier, his driver's license accepted by a post-office clerk as
evidence of identity, without whispering gleefully to himself, Idiots--fooled
He will fool them again this morning, in there, in the midst of the mad
metropolitan chariot race--Ben Hur would certainly chicken out--jockeying
from lane to lane with the best of them, never dropping below eighty in the
fast left lane, never getting rattled when a crazy teen-ager hangs on to his tail
or a woman (it all comes of letting them go first through doorways) cuts in
sharply ahead of him. The cops on their motorcycles will detect nothing, yet,
to warn them to roar in pursuit flashing their red lights, to signal him off to
the side, out of the running, and thence to escort him kindly but ever so
firmly to some beautifully ordered nursery-community where Senior
Citizens ("old," in our country of the bland, has become nearly as dirty a
word as "kike" or "nigger") are eased into senility, retaught their childhood
games but with a difference: it's known as "passive recreation" now. Oh, by
all means let them screw, if they can still cut the mustard; and, if they can't,
let them indulge without inhibitions in baby-like erotic play. Let them get
married, even--at eighty, at ninety, at a hundred--who cares? Anything to
keep them busy and stop them wandering around blocking the traffic.
THERE'S always a slightly unpleasant moment when you drive up the ramp
which leads onto the freeway and become what's called "merging traffic."
George has that nerve-crawling sensation which can't be removed by simply
checking the rearview mirror: that, inexplicably, invisibly, he's about to be
hit in the back. And then, next moment, he has merged and is away, out in
the clear, climbing the long, easy gradient toward the top of the pass and the
And now, as he drives, it is as if some kind of auto-hypnosis exerts
itself. We see the face relax, the shoulders unhunch themselves, the body
ease itself back into the seat. The reflexes are taking over; the left foot
comes down with firm, even pressure on the clutch pedal, while the right
prudently feeds in gas. The left hand is light on the wheel; the right slips the
gearshift with precision into high. The eyes, moving unhurriedly from road
to mirror, mirror to road, calmly measure the distances ahead, behind, to the
nearest car.... After all, this is no mad chariot race--that's only how it seems
to onlookers or nervous novices--it is a river, sweeping in full flood toward
its outlet with a soothing power. There is nothing to fear, as long as you let
yourself go with it; indeed, you discover, in the midst of its stream-speed, a
sense of indolence and ease.
And now something new starts happening to George. The face is
becoming tense again, the muscles bulge slightly at the jaw, the mouth
tightens and twitches, the lips are pressed together in a grim line, there is a
nervous contraction between the eyebrows. And yet, while all this is going
on, the rest of the body remains in a posture of perfect relaxation. More and
more it appears to separate itself, to become a separate entity: an impassive
anonymous chauffeur-figure with little will or individuality of its own, the
very embodiment of muscular co-ordination, lack of anxiety, tactful silence,
driving its master to work.
And George, like a master who has entrusted the driving of his car to
a servant, is now free to direct his attention posture elsewhere. As they
sweep over the crest of the pass, he is becoming less and less aware of
externals--the cars all around, the dip of the freeway ahead, the Valley with
its homes and gardens opening below, under a long brown smear of smog,
beyond and above which the big barren mountains rise. He has gone deep
down inside himself.
What is he up to?
On the edge of the beach, a huge, insolent high-rise building which
will contain one hundred apartments is growing up within its girders; it will
block the view along the coast from the park on the cliffs above. A
spokesman for this project says, in answer to objections, Well, that's
progress. And anyhow, he implies, if there are people who are prepared to
pay $450 a month for this view by renting our apartments, why should you
park-users (and that includes George) get it for free?
A local newspaper editor has started a campaign against sex deviates
(by which he means people like George). They are everywhere, he says; you
can't go into a bar any more, or a men's room, or a public library, without
seeing hideous sights. And they all, without exception, have syphilis. The
existing laws against them, he says, are far too lenient.
A senator has recently made a speech, declaring that we should attack
Cuba right now, with everything we've got, lest the Monroe Doctrine be held
cheap and of no account. The senator does not deny that this will probably
mean rocket war. We must face this fact; the alternative is dishonor. We
must be prepared to sacrifice three quarters of our population (including
It would be amusing, George thinks, to sneak into that apartment
building at night, just before the tenants moved in, and spray all the walls of
all the rooms with a specially prepared odorant which would be scarcely
noticeable at first but which would gradually grow in strength until it reeked
like rotting corpses. They would try to get rid of it with every deodorant
known to science, but in vain; and when they had finally, in desperation,
ripped out the plaster and woodwork, they would find that the girders
themselves were stinking. They would abandon the place as the Khmers did
Angkor; but its stink would grow and grow until you could melt it clear up
the coast to Malibu. So at last the entire structure would have to be taken
apart by worker s in gas masks and ground to powder and dumped far out in
the ocean.... Or perhaps it would be more practical to discover a kind of
virus which would eat away whatever it is that makes metal hard. The
advantage that this would have over the odorant would be that only a single
injection in one spot would be necessary, for the virus would then eat
through all the metal in the building. And then, when everybody had moved
in and while a big housewarming party was in progress, the whole thing
would sag and subside into a limp tangled heap, like spaghetti.
Then, that newspaper editor, George thinks, how funny to kidnap him
and the staff-writers responsible for the sex-deviate articles--and maybe also
the police chief, and the head of the vice squad, and those ministers who
endorsed the campaign from their pulpits--and take them all to a secret
underground movie studio where, after a little persuasion--no doubt just
showing them the red-hot pokers and pincers would be quite sufficient--they
would perform every possible sexual act, in pairs and in groups, with a
display of the utmost enjoyment. The film would then be developed and
prints of it would be rushed to all the movie theaters. George's assistants
would chloroform the ushers so the lights couldn't be turned up, lock the
exits, overpower the projectionists, and proceed to run the film under the
heading of Coming Attractions.
And as for that senator, wouldn't it be rather amusing to… No.
(At this point, we see the eyebrows contract in a more than usually
violent spasm, the mouth thin to knife-blade grimness.)
No. Amusing is not the word. These people are not amusing. They
should never be dealt with amusingly. They understand only one language:
Therefore we must launch a campaign of systematic terror. In order to
be effective, this will require an organization of at least five hundred highly
skilled killers and torturers, all dedicated individuals. The head of the
organization will draw up a list of clearly defined, simple objectives, such as
the removal of that apartment building, the suppression of that newspaper,
the retirement of that senator. They will then be dealt with in order,
regardless of the time taken or the number of casualties. In each case, the
principal criminal will first receive a polite note, signed "Uncle George,"
explaining exactly what he must do before a certain deadline if he wants to
stay alive. It will also be explained to him that Uncle George operates on the
theory of guilt by association.
One minute after the deadline, the killing will begin. The execution of
the principal criminal will be delayed for some weeks or months, to give him
opportunity for reflection. Meanwhile, there will be daily reminders. His
wife may be kidnapped, garroted, embalmed and seated in the 'living room
to await his return from the office. His children's heads may arrive in cartons
by mail, or tapes of the screams his relatives utter as they are tortured to
death. His friends' homes may be blown up in the night. Anyone who has
ever known him will be in mortal danger.
When the organization's 100 per cent efficiency has been
demonstrated a sufficient number of times, the population will slowly begin
to learn that Uncle George's will must be obeyed instantly and without
But does Uncle George want to be obeyed? Doesn't he prefer to be
defied so he can go on killing and killing, since all these people are just
vermin and the more of them that die the better? All are, in the last analysis,
responsible for Jim's death; their words, their thoughts, their whole way of
life willed it, even though they never knew he existed. But, when George
gets in as deep as this, Jim hardly matters any more. Jim is nothing now but
an excuse for hating three quarters of the population of America... George's
jaws work, his teeth grind, as he chews and chews the cud of his hate.
But does George really hate all these people? Aren't 'they themselves
merely an excuse for hating? What is ( George's hate, then? A stimulant,
nothing more; though very bad for him, no doubt. Rage, resentment, spleen--
of such is the vitality of middle age. If we say that he I.; quite crazy at this
particular moment, then so, probably, are at least half a dozen others in these
many curs around him, all slowing now as the traffic thickens, going
downhill, under the bridge, up again past the Union Depot.... God! Here we
are, downtown already! George comes up dazed to the surface, realizing
with a shock that the chauffeur-figure has broken a record: never before has
it managed to get them this far entirely on its own. And this raises a
disturbing question: Is the chauffeur steadily becoming more and more of an
individual? Is it getting ready to take over much larger areas of George's
No time to worry about that now. In ten minutes they will have
arrived on campus. In ten minutes, George will have to be George--the
George they have named and will recognize. So now he consciously applies
himself to thinking their thoughts, getting into their mood. With the skill of a
veteran he rapidly puts on the psychological make-up for this role he must
No sooner have you turned off the freeway onto San Tomas Avenue
than you are back in the tacky sleepy slowpoke Los Angeles of the thirties,
still convalescent from the Depression, with no money to spare for fresh
coats of paint. And how charming it is! An up-and-down terrain of steep
little hills with white houses of cracked stucco perched insecurely on their
sides and tops, it is made to look quaint rather than ugly by the mad,
hopelessly intertwisted cat's cradle of wires and telephone poles. Mexicans
live here, so there are lots of flowers. Negroes live here, so it is cheerful.
George would not care to live here, because they all blast all day long with
their radios and television sets. But he would never find himself yelling at
their children, because these people are not The Enemy. If they would ever
accept George, they might even be allies. They never figure in the Uncle
The San Tomas State College campus is back on the other side of the
freeway. You cross over to it by a bridge, back into the nowadays of
destruction-recon-struction-destruction. Here the little hills have been
trucked away bodily or had their tops sliced off by bulldozers, and the
landscape is gashed with raw terraces. Tract upon tract of low-roofed
dormitory-dwellings (invariably called "homes" and described as "a new
concept in living") are being opened up as fast as they can be connected with
the sewers and the power lines. It is a slander to say that they are identical;
some have brown roofs, some green, and the tiles in their bathrooms come in
several different colors. The tracts have their individuality, too. Each one has
a different name, of the kind that realtors can always be relied on to invent:
Sky Acres, Vista Grande, Grosvenor Heights.
The storm center of all this grading, shoveling, hauling and
hammering is the college campus itself. A clean modern factory, brick and
glass and big windows, already three-quarters built, is being finished in a
hysterical hurry. (The construction noises are such dint in some classrooms
the professors can hardly be heard.) When the factory is fully operational, it
will he able to process twenty thousand graduates. But, in less than ten
years, it will have to cope with forty or fifty thousand. So then everything
will be torn down again and built up twice as tall.
However, it is arguable that by that time the campus will be cut off
from the outside world by its own Larking lots, which will then form an
impenetrable forest of cars abandoned in despair by the students during the
week-long traffic jams of the near future. Even now, the lots are half as big
as the campus itself and so full that you have to drive around from one to
another in search of a last little space. Today George k lucky. There is room
for him on the lot nearest his classroom. George slips his parking card into
the slot (thereby offering a piece of circumstantial evidence that he is
George); the barrier rises in spastic, mechanical jerks, and he drives in.
George has been trying to train himself, lately, to recognize his
students' cars. (He is continually starting these self-improvement projects:
sometimes it's memory training, sometimes a new diet, sometimes just a
vow to read some unreadable Hundredth Best Book. Ile seldom perseveres
in any of them for long.) Today fie is pleased to be able to spot three cars--
not counting the auto scooter which the Italian exchange student, with a
courage or provincialism bordering on insanity, rides up and down the
freeway as though he were on flit Via Veneto. There's the beat-up, not-so-
white Ford coupe belonging to Tom Kugelman, on the back of which he has
printed now WHITE. There's the Chinese-I Hawaiian boy's grime-gray
Pontiac, with one of those joke-stickers in the rear window: THE ONLY
ISM I BELIEVE IN IS ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM. The joke isn't a
joke in his particular case, because he really is an abstract painter. (Or is this
some supersubtlety?) At all events, it seems incongruous that anyone with
such a sweet Cheshire-cat smile and cream-smooth skin and cat-clean
neatness could produce such gloomy muddy canvases or own such a filthy
car. He has the beautiful name of Alexander Mong. And there's the well-
waxed, spotless scarlet MG driven by Buddy Sorensen, the wild watery-eyed
albino who is a basketball star and wears a "Ban the Bomb" button. George
has caught glimpses of Buddy streaking past on the freeway, laughing to
himself as if the absurd little sitzbath of a thing had run away with him and
he didn't care.
So now George has arrived. He is not nervous in the least. As he gets
out of his car, he feels an upsurge of energy, of eagerness for the play to
begin. And he walks eagerly, with a springy step, along the gravel path past
the Music Building toward the Department office. He is all actor now--an
actor on his way up from the dressing room, hastening through the backstage
world of props and lamps and stagehands to make his entrance. A veteran,
calm and assured, he pauses for a well-measured moment in the doorway of
the office and then, boldly, clearly, with the subtly modulated British
intonation which his public demands of him, speaks his opening line: "Good
And the three secretaries--each one of them a charming and
accomplished actress in her own chosen style--recognize him instantly,
without even a flicker of doubt, and reply "Good morning!" to him. (There is
something religious here, like responses in church--a reaffirmation of faith in
the basic American dogma that it is, always, a good morning. Good, despite
the Russians and their rockets, and all the ills and worries of the flesh. For of
course we know, don't we, that the Russians and the worries are not really
real? They can be un-thought and made to vanish. And therefore the
morning can be made to be good. Very well then, it is good.)
Every teacher in the English Department has his or her pigeonhole in
this office, and all of them are stuffed with papers. What a mania for
communication! A notice the least important committee meeting on the most
of subjects will be run off and distributed in hundreds of copies. Everybody
is informed of every-thing. George glances through all his papers and then
tosses the lot into the wastebasket, with one exception: an oblong card
slotted and slitted and ciphered by an IBM machine, expressing some poor
bastard of a student's academic identity. Indeed, this card is his identity.
Suppose, instead of signing it as requested and returning it to the Personnel
office, George were to tear it up? Instantly, that student would cease to exist,
as far as San Tomas State was concerned. He would become academically
invisible and only reappear with the very greatest difficulty, after performing
the most elaborate propitiation ceremonies: countless offerings of forms
filled out in triplicate and notarized affidavits to the pods of the IBM.
George signs the card, holding it steady with two fingertips. He
dislikes even to touch these things, for they are the runes of an idiotic but
nevertheless potent and evil magic: the magic of the think-machine gods,
whose cult has one dogma, We cannot make a mistake. Their magic consists
in this: that whenever they do make a mistake, which is quite often, it is
perpetuated and thereby becomes a non-mistake.... Carrying the curd by its
extreme corner, George brings it over to one of the secretaries, who will see
that it gets back to Personnel. The secretary has a nail file on her desk.
George picks it up, saying, "Let's see if that old robot'll k now the
difference," and pretends to be about to punch another slit in the card. The
girl laughs, but only a split-second look of sheer terror; and the laugh itself is
forced. George has uttered blasphemy.
Feeling rather pleased with himself, he leaves the Department