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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

incurious, really.


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?"


"Hello, Charley."


"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.)


"You're sure?"


"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

started already?"


"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

trussed ankles.)


"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."


(A pause.)


"Well--goodbye, Geo."


"Goodbye, Charley."


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

to her.


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

them again!)


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

Valley beyond.


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:

brute force.


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

George fantasies.


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


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

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