Herzog by Saul Bellow


  I planned also to consider the whole question of models, of imitatio, in the history of civilization. After long study of the ancient regime I was ready to risk a - the learned badinage - I was trying to take stock of my position. I understood that Madeleine's ambition was to take my place in the learned world. To overcome me. She was reaching her final elevation, as queen of the intellectuals, the cast-iron bluestocking. And your friend Herzog writhing under this sharp elegant heel.

  Ah, Shapiro, the victor of Waterloo drew apart to shed bitter tears for the dead (slain under his orders). Not so my ex-Missis. She does not live between two contradictory Testaments. She is stronger than Wellington. She wants to live in the delirious professions, as Valery calls them trades in which the main instrument is your opinion of yourself and the raw material is your reputation or standing.

  As for your book, there is too much imaginary history in it. Much of it is simply Utopian fiction. I will never change my mind about that.

  Nevertheless, I thought your idea about milleniarianism and paranoia very good. Madeleine, by the way, lured me out of the learned world, got in herself, slammed the door, and is still in there, gossiping about me.

  It was not terribly original, this idea of Shapiro's, but he did a good clear job.

  In my review I tried to suggest that clinical psychologists might write fascinating histories. Put professionals out of business. Megalomania for the Pharaohs and Caesars. Melancholia in the Middle Ages.

  Schizophrenia in the eighteenth century. And then this Bulgarian, Banowitch, seeing all power struggles in terms of paranoid mentality coma curious, creepy mind, that one, convinced that madness always rules the world. The Dictator must have living crowds and also a crowd of corpses. The vision of mankind as a lot of cannibals, running in packs, gibbering, bewailing its own murders, pressing out the living world as dead excrement.

  Do not deceive yourself, dear Moses Elkanah, with childish jingles and Mother Goose. Hearts quaking with cheap and feeble charity or oozing potato love have not written history. Shapiro's snarling teeth, his salivating greed, the dagger of an ulcer in his belly give him true insights, too. Fountains of human blood that squirted from fresh graves!

  Limitless massacre! I never understood it!

  I took a list of the traits of paranoia from a psychiatrist recently -I asked him to jot them down for me. It might aid my understanding, I thought.

  He did this willingly. I put the scribbled paper in my wallet and studied it like the plagues of Egypt. Just like "DOM, SFARDEYA, KINNIM" in the Haggadah. It read "Pride, Anger, Excessive "Rationality," Homosexual Inclinations, Competitiveness, Mistrust of Emotion, Inability to Bear Criticism, Hostile Projections, Delusions." It's all there-all! I've thought about Mady in every category, and though the portrait isn't yet complete I know I can't abandon a tiny child to her. Mady is no Daisy. Daisy is a strict, moody woman, but dependable. Marco has come through all right.

  Abandoning the letter to Shapiro-it raised too many painful thoughts, and this was precisely the sort of thing he must avoid if he was not to lose the benefit of a holiday-he turned to his brother Alexander.

  Dear Shura, he wrote, I think I owe you 1500 bucks. How about making it a round 2000. I need it. In the process of pulling myself together.

  Shura was a generous brother. The Herzogs had their characteristic family problems, but stinginess was not one of their traits. Moses knew that the rich man would push a button and say to his secretary, "Send a check to screwloose Moses Herzog." His handsome stout white-haired brother in his priceless suit, vicuna coat, Italian hat, his million-dollar shave and rosy manicured fingers with big rings, looking out of his limousine with princely hauteur. Shura knew everyone, paid off everyone, and despised everyone. Toward Moses his contempt was softened by family feeling. Shura was your true disciple of Thomas Hobbes. Universal concerns were idiocy. Ask nothing better than to prosper in the belly of Leviathan and set a hedonistic example to the community. It amused Shura that his brother Moses should be so fond of him.

  Moses loved his relatives quite openly and even helplessly. His brother Willie, his sister Helen, even the cousins. It was childish of him; he knew that. He could only sigh at himself, that he should be so undeveloped on that significant side of his nature. He sometimes tried to think, in his own vocabulary, whether this might be his archaic aspect, prehistoric. Tribal, you know. Associated with ancestor worship and totemism.

  Also, as I have been having legal troubles, I wonder whether you could recommend a lawyer.

  Perhaps one of Shura's own legal staff who would not charge Moses for his services.

  He now composed a letter in his head to Sandor Himmelstein, the Chicago lawyer who had looked after him last autumn, after Madeleine put him out of the house.

  Sandor! Last time we were in touch, I wrote from Turkey. Of all places!

  And yet that suited Sandor, in a way; it was Arabian Nights country and Sandor himself might have come out of a bazaar, for all that he had his office on the fourteenth floor of the Burnham Building, up the street from City Hall. Herzog had met him in the steam bath at Postl's Health Club, at Randolph and Wells. He was a short man, misshapen from the loss of part of his chest. In Normandy, he always said. He had probably been a sort of large dwarf when he enlisted. It must have been possible to get a commission in the Judge Advocate's branch though a dwarf. It made Herzog uneasy, perhaps, that he had been discharged from the Navy owing to his asthma and never saw action. Whereas this dwarf and hunchback was disabled by a mine near the beachhead. The wound had made a hunchback of him. Anyway, that was Sandor, with a proud, sharp, handsome face, pale mouth and sallow skin, grand nose, thin gray hair.

  In Turkey I was in sad-condition.

  Partly, again, the weather. Spring was struggling to come in, but the winds changed. The sky closed over the white mosques. It snowed. The trousered, mannish Turkish women veiled their stern faces. I never expected to see them striding so powerfully. Coal had been dumped in the street, but the laborers had not appeared to shovel it, so the furnace was out. Herzog drank plum brandy and tea in the cafe, and chafed his hands and worked his toes inside his shoes to keep the blood going. He was worried about his circulation at that time. To see the early flowers covered by snow increased his gloom.

  I sent you this belated bread-and-butter note, to thank you and Bea for taking me under your roof. Acquaintances, not old friends. I'm sure I was a terrible house guest.

  Sick and angry-broken by this lousy grief. Taking pills for my insomnia but still unable to sleep, going about drugged, and the whisky gave me tachycardia. I should have been in a padded cell.

  Gratitude! I was deeply grateful.

  But the politic gratitude of weakness, of the sufferer, furious underneath. Sandor took me over.

  I was inept. He moved me into his house, far south, ten blocks from the Illinois Central.

  Mady had kept the car, claiming she needed it for Junie, to take her to the zoo and the like.

  Sandor said, "You won't mind sleeping next to the booze, I guess," for the cot was unfolded beside the bar. The room was full of Carmel Himmelstein's high-school crowd. "Get out!"

  Sandor cried shrilly at the adolescents. "Can't see through the goddamn cigarette smoke! Look at these Coke bottles filled with butts." He turned on the air-conditioner, and Moses, still red with the cold of the day, but with white circles under his eyes, held his valise, the same valise that now lay in his lap. Sandor cleared the glasses from several shelves. "Unpack, kid," he said. "Put your stuff here. We eat in twenty minutes. Good chow.

  Sauerbraten. Bea's specialty."

  Obedient, Moses set out his things-toothbrush, razor, Desenex powder, sleeping pills, Ms socks, Shapiro's monograph, and an old pocket edition of Blake's poems. The slip of paper on which Dr. Edvig had listed the traits of paranoia was his bookmark.

  After dinner, that first night in the Himmelsteins' living room, Herzog began reluctantly to understand that in accepting Sandor's hospitalit
y he had made still another characteristic mistake.

  "You'll get over this. That's all right. You'll make it," said Sandor. "I'll put my dough on you. You're my boy."

  And Beatrice, with her black hair and her pretty pink mouth which needed no rouge, said, "Moses, we know how you must feel."

  "The bitches come and the bitches go," said Sandor.

  "My whole practice, almost, is these bitches.

  You should know how they carry on, and what happens in this city of Chicago." He shook his heavy head and his lips came together with the pressure of disgust. "If she wants to go, fuck her! Let her go! You'll be okay. So you were a sucker! Big deal! Every man is a sucker for some type of broad. I always got clobbered by the blue-eyed kind, myself. But I had the sense to fall in love with this beautiful pair of brown eyes. Isn't she great?"

  "She certainly is." It had to be said. And it was actually not too difficult. Moses had not lived forty-odd years without learning to get through these moments.

  Among narrow puritans, this is lying; but with civilized people only civility.

  "I'll never know what she saw in a wreck like me.

  Anyway, Moses, you just stay with us for a while.

  At a time like this, you shouldn't be without friends. Sure, I know you have family of your own in this town. I see your brothers at Fritzel's. I talked to your middle brother just the other day."

  "Willie."

  "He's a fine fellow-very active in Jewish life, too," said Sandor. "Not like that macher, Alexander. Always some scandal about him. Now he's connected with the Juice racket, and next with Jimmy Hoffa, and then he's in with the Dirksen bunch.

  Well, okay, your brothers are big shots. But they'd make you eat your heart out. Here nobody'll ask any questions."

  "With us you can just let yourself go," said Beatrice.

  "Well, I don't understand this thing at all," said Moses. "Mady and I had our ups and downs from the start. But things were improving. Last spring we discussed the marriage and whether we were getting along well enough to continue-a practical question came up: whether I should tie myself up with a lease. She said that as soon as she finished her thesis we'd have a second child...."

  "I'll tell you," said Sandor. "It's your own frigging fault, too, if you want my opinion."

  "Mine? What do you mean?"

  "Because you're a highbrow and married a highbrow broad. Somewhere in every intellectual is a dumb prick. You guys can't answer your own questions-still, I see hope for you, Mose."

  "What hope?"

  "You're not like those other university phonies.

  You're a mensch.

  What good are those effing eggheads! It takes an ignorant bastard like me to fight liberal causes.

  Those silk-stocking Yale squares may have a picture of Learned Hand in the office, but when it conies to getting mixed up in Trumbull Park, or fighting those yellowbellies in Deerfield or standing up for a man like Tompkins-was Sandor was proud of his record in the case of Tompkins, a Negro in the postal service whom he had defended.

  "Well, I suppose they were out to get Tompkins because he was a Negro," said Herzog. "But unfortunately, he was a drunk. You told me that yourself. And there was a question as to his competence."

  "Don't go around repeating that," said Sandor.

  "It'll be used the wrong way. You going to blab what I told you confidentially? It was a question of justice. Aren't there any white drunks on civil service? Not much!"

  "Sandor-Beatrice. I feel terrible. Another divorce comou again, at my time of life, I can't take it. I don't know... it feels like death."

  "Shush, what are you talking!" said Sandor. "It's pitiful because of the kid, but you'll get over it."

  At that time, when you thought, and I agreed, that I shouldn't be alone, perhaps I really should have been alone, Herzog wrote.

  "Look, I'll handle the whole thing for you," Sandor assured him. "You'll come out of all this dreck smelling like a roast. Leave it to me, will you?

  Don't you trust me? You think I'm not leveling with you?"

  I ought to have taken a room at the Quadrangle Club.

  "You can't be left to yourself," said Sandor. "You're not the type. A human being! A mensch!

  Your heart has been shat on. And you have about as much practical sense as my ten-year-old, Sheldon, you poor bastard."

  "I'm going to shake this off. I'm not going to be a victim. I hate the victim bit," said Moses.

  Himmelstein sat in his wing chair, his feet tucked under his short belly. His eyes were moist, the color of freshly sliced cucumber, with fine lashes. He chewed a cigar. His ugly nails were polished. He had his manicure at the Palmer House. "A strong-minded bitch," he said. "Terrifically attractive. Loves to make up her mind.

  Once decided, decided forever. What a will power.

  It's a type."

  "Still, she must have loved you once, Moses," said Bea. She spoke very, very slowly-that was her manner.

  Her dark brown eyes were set within strong orbital bones. Her lips were pink and vivid. Moses did not want to meet her gaze; he would have to hold it long and earnestly and nothing would come of it. He knew he had her sympathy but that she could never approve of him.

  "I don't think she loved me," said Moses.

  "I'm sure she did."

  It was the middle-class female solidarity, defending a nice girl from charges of calculation and viciousness. Nice girls marry for love. But should they fall out of love, they must be free to love another. No decent husband will oppose the heart. This is orthodox. Not utterly bad. But a new orthodoxy. Anyway, thought Moses, he was in no position to quarrel with Beatrice. He was in her house, taking comfort from her.

  "You don't know Madeleine," he said. "When I met her, she needed a lot of help. The sort only a husband can provide..."

  I know how long - endless - people's stories are when they have grievances. And how tedious for everyone.

  "I happen to think she's a nice person," said Bea. "At first she looked stuck-up and acted suspicious, but when I got to know her she turned out to be friendly and very nice. Basically, she must be a good person."

  "Shit! People are nice, most of them. You've got to give "em a chance," said Sandor, sallow and handsome.

  "Mady planned it all out," said Herzog. "Why couldn't she break off before I signed the lease?"

  "Because she has to keep a roof over the kid's head," said Sandor. "What do you expect?"

  "What I expect?"

  Herzog stood up, struggling for words. His face was white, his eyes dilated, fixed. He stared at Sandor, who was seated like a sultan, the small heels gathered under his bulging belly. Then he became aware that Beatrice with her pretty, luster-less look was warning him not to anger Sandor.

  His blood pressure was liable to shoot up dangerously when he was crossed.

  Herzog wrote, I was thankful for your friendship. I was in a state, though.

  One of those states in which one makes great, impossible demands. In anger people become dictatorial. Hard to take.

  I was trapped there. Sleeping next to the bar. My heart went out to poor Tompkins. No wonder he hit the bottle when Sandor took him over.

  "You're not going to fight for the kid's custody, are you?" Sandor said to Herzog.

  "Suppose I do?"

  "Well," said Sandor, "speaking as a lawyer, I can see you with a jury. They'll look at Madeleine, blooming and lovely, then you, haggard and gray-haired, and bam! there goes your custody suit. That's the jury system. Dumber than cave men, those bastards-I know this isn't easy for you to hear, but I better say it. Guys at our time of life must face facts."

  "Facts!" said Herzog, faint, groping, outraged.

  "I know," said Sandor. "I'm ten years older.

  But after forty it's all the same. If you can get it up once a week, you should be grateful."

  Beatrice tried to restrain Sandor, but he said, "Shut up." He then turned to Moses again, shaking his head so that it gradually sank toward his di
sfigured breast, and his shoulder blades jutted behind, coracoid through the white-on-white shirt. "What the fuck does he know what it is to face facts. All he wants is everybody should love him. If not, he's going to scream and holler. All right! After D-D ay, I lay smashed up in that effing Limey hospital- a cripple. Why, Christ! I had to walk out under my own power. And what about his pal Valentine Gersbach?

  There's a man for you! That gimpy redhead knows what real suffering is. But he lives it up- three men with six legs couldn't get around like that effing peg-leg.

  It's okay, Bea-Moses can take it.

  Otherwise, he'd be just another Professor Jerk. I wouldn't even bother with the sonofabitch."

  Herzog was incoherent with anger. "What do you mean?

  Should I die because of my hair? What about the child?"

  "Now, don't stand there rubbing your hands like a goddamn fool-Christ, I hate a fool,"

  Sandor shouted. His green eyes were violently clear, his lips were continually tensing. He must have been convinced that he was cutting the dead weight of deception from Herzog's soul, and his long white fingers, thumbs and forefingers worked nervously.

  "What! Die? Hair? What the hell are you babbling! I only said they'd give the kid to a young mother."

  "Madeleine put you up to that. She planted this, too. To keep me from suing."

  "She nothing!

  I'm trying to tell you for your own good. This time, she calls the shots. She wins, and you lose. Maybe she wants somebody else."

  "Does she? Did she tell you that?"

  "She told me nothing. I said maybe.

  Now calm down. Pour him a drink, Bea. Out of his own bottle. He doesn't like Scotch."

  Beatrice went to fetch Herzog's own bottle of Guckenheimer's 86 proof.

  "Now," said Sandor, "stop this baloney. Don't be a clown, man." His look changed, and he let some kindness flow toward Herzog. "Well, when you suffer, you really suffer. You're a real, genuine old Jewish type that digs the emotions. I'll give you that. I understand it. I grew up on Sangamon Street, remember, when a Jew was still a Jew. I know about suffering-we're on the same identical network."

 
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