Herzog by Saul Bellow


  In the confinement of the metal booth the sweat burst out instantly on his neck.

  "Where've you been, Mose? The old woman called last night. I couldn't sleep afterwards. Where are you?"

  "Elya," said Herzog, using his brother's family name, "don't worry. I haven't done anything serious, but I'm down at Eleventh and State."

  "At Police Headquarters?"

  "Just a minor traffic accident. No one hurt.

  But they're holding me for three hundred bucks bond, and I haven't got the money on me."

  "For heaven's sake, Mose. Nobody's seen you since last summer. We've been worried sick.

  I'll be right down."

  He waited in the cell with two other men. One was drunk and sleeping in his soiled skivvies. The other was a Negro boy, not old enough to shave. He wore a fawn-colored expensive suit and brown alligator shoes. Herzog said hello, but the boy chose not to answer. He stuck to his own misery, and looked away. Moses was sorry for him. He leaned against the bars, waiting. The wrong side of the bars-he felt it with his cheek. And here were the toilet bowl, the bare metal bunk, and the flies on the ceiling. This, Herzog realized, was not the sphere of his sins. He was merely passing through. Out in the streets, in American society, that was where he did his time. He sat down calmly on the bunk. Of course, he thought, he'd leave Chicago immediately, and he'd come back only when he was ready to do June good, genuine good. No more of this hectic, heart-rent, theatrical window-peering; no more collision, fainting, you-fight-"im-'e-cry encounters, confrontations. The drone of trouble coming from the cells and corridors, the bad smell of headquarters, the wretchedness of faces, the hand that turned the key of no better hope than the hand of this stuporous sleeper in his urine-stained underpants-the man who has eyes, nostrils, ears, let him hear, smell, see. The man who has intellect, heart, let him consider.

  Sitting as comfortably as the pain in his ribs would permit, Herzog even jotted a few memoranda to himself. They were not very coherent or even logical, but they came quite naturally to him. This was how Moses E. Herzog worked, and he wrote on his knee with cheerful eagerness, Clumsy, inexact machinery of civil peace.

  Paleotechnic, as the man would say.

  IF a common primal crime is the origin of social order, as Freud, Roheim et cetera believe, the band of brothers attacking and murdering the primal father, eating his body, gaining their freedom by a murder and united by a blood wrong, then there is some reason why jail should have these dark, archaic tones. Ah, yes, the wild energy of the band of brothers, soldiers, rapists, etc. But all that is nothing but metaphor. I can't truly feel I can attribute my blundering to this thick unconscious cloud. This primitive blood-daze.

  The dream of man's heart, however much we may distrust and resent it, is that life may complete itself in significant pattern. Some incomprehensible way. Before death. Not irrationally but incomprehensibly fulfilled. Spared by these clumsy police guardians, you get one last chance to know justice. Truth.

  Dear Edvig, he noted quickly.

  You gave me good value for my money when you explained that neuroses might be graded by the inability to tolerate ambiguous situations. I have just read a certain verdict in Madeleine's eyes, "For cowards, Not-being!" Her disorder is super-clarity. Allow me modestly to claim that I am much better now at ambiguities. I think I can say, however, that I have been spared the chief ambiguity that afflicts intellectuals, and this is that civilized individuals hate and resent the civilization that makes their lives possible.

  What they love is an imaginary human situation invented by their own genius and which they believe is the only true and the only human reality. How odd!

  But the best-treated, most favored and intelligent part of any society is often the most ungrateful.

  Ingratitude, however, is its social function.

  Now there's an ambiguity for you!... Dear Ramona, I owe you a lot. I am fully aware of it. Though I may not be coming back to New York right away, I intend to keep in touch. Dear God!

  Mercy! My God!

  Rachaim olenu... melekh maimis....

  Thou King of Death and Life...

  His brother observed, as they were leaving police headquarters, "You don't seem too upset."

  "No, W."

  Above the sidewalk and the warm evening gloom the sky carried the long gilt trails of jets, and the jumbled lights of honky-tonks, just north of 12th Street, were already heaving up and down, a pale mass in which the street seemed to end.

  "How do you feel?"

  "I feel fine," said Herzog. "How do I look?"

  His brother said discreetly, "You could do with a little rest. Why don't we stop and have you looked at by my doctor."

  "I don't think that's necessary. This small cut on my bead stopped bleeding almost immediately."

  "But you've been holding your side. Don't be a fool, Mose."

  Will was an undemonstrative man, substantial, shrewd, quiet, shorter than his brother but with thicker, darker hair. In a family of passionately expressive people like Father Herzog and Aunt Zipporah Will had developed a quieter, observant, reticent style.

  "How's the family, Will-the kids?"

  "Fine... What have you been doing, Moses?"

  "Don't go by appearances. There's less to worry about than meets the eye. I'm really in very good shape. Do you remember when we got lost at Lake Wandawega? Floundering in the slime, cutting our feet on those reeds? That was really dangerous.

  But this is nothing."

  "What were you doing with that gun?"

  "You know I'm no more capable of firing it at someone than Papa was. You took his watch chain, didn't you? I remembered those old rubles in his drawer and then I took the revolver too. I shouldn't have. At least I ought to have emptied it. It was just one of those dumb impulses. Let's forget it."

  "All right," said W. "I don't mean to embarrass you. That's not the point."

  "I know what it is," Herzog said. "You're worried." He had to lower his voice to control it.

  "I love you too, W."

  "Yes, I know that."

  "But I haven't behaved very sensibly. From your standpoint... Well, from any reasonable standpoint.

  I brought Madeleine to your office so you could see her before I married her. I could tell you didn't approve. I didn't approve of her myself. And she didn't approve of me."

  "Why did you marry her?"

  "God ties all kinds of loose ends together. Who knows why! He couldn't care less about my welfare, or my ego, that thing of value. All you can say is, 'There's a red thread spliced with a green, or blue, and I wonder why." And then I put all that money into the house in Ludeyville. That was simply crazy."

  "Perhaps not," said W. "It is real estate, after all. Have you tried to sell it?" Will had great faith in real estate.

  "To whom? How?"

  "List it with an agent. Maybe I'll come and look it over."

  "I'd be grateful," said Herzog. "I don't think any buyer in his right mind would touch it."

  "But let me call Doctor Ramsberg, Mose, and have him examine you. Then come home and have some dinner with us. It would be a treat for the family."

  "When could you come to Ludeyville?"

  "I've got to go to Boston next week. Then Muriel and I were going out to the Cape."

  "Come by way of Ludeyville. It's close to the Turnpike. I'd consider it a tremendous favor. I have to sell that house."

  "Have dinner with us, and we can talk about it."

  "Will-no. I'm not up to it. Just look at me.

  I'm stinking dirty, and I'd upset everyone. Like a lousy lost sheep." He laughed. "No, some other time when I'm feeling a little more normal. I look as if I'd just arrived in this country. A D. p. Just as we arrived from Canada at the old Baltimore and Ohio Station. On the Michigan Central.

  God, we were filthy with the soot."

  William did not share his brother's passion for reminiscence. He was an engineer and technologist, a contractor and builder; a balanced, reasonable p
erson, he was pained to see Moses in such a state. His lined face was hot, uneasy; he took a handkerchief from the inner pocket of his well-tailored suit and pressed it to his forehead, his cheeks, under the large Herzog eyes.

  "I'm sorry, Elya," said Moses, more quietly.

  "Well-was "Let me straighten myself up a bit. I know you're concerned about me. But that's just it. I'm sorry to worry you. I really am all right."

  "Are you?" Will sadly looked at him.

  "Yes, I'm at an awful disadvantage here-dirty, foolish, just bailed out. It's just ridiculous. Everything will look a lot different in the East, next week. I'll meet you in Boston, if you like. When I've got myself in better order. There's nothing you can do now but treat me like a jerk-a child. And that's not right."

  "I'm not making any judgments on you. You don't have to come home with me, if that embarrasses you. Although we're your own family... But there's my car, across the street." He gestured toward his dark-blue Cadillac. "Just come along to the doctor so I can be sure you weren't hurt in the accident. Then you can do what you think best."

  "All right. Fair enough. There's nothing wrong.

  I'm sure of it."

  He was not entirely surprised, however, to learn that he had a broken rib. "No lung puncture," the doctor said. "Six weeks or so in tape. And you'll need two or three stitches in your head.

  That's the whole story. No heavy, lifting, straining, chopping, or other violent exercise. Will tells me you're a country gentleman. You've got a farm in the Berkshires?

  An estate?"

  The doctor with grizzled backswept hair and small keen eyes looked at him with thin-lipped amusement.

  "It's in bad repair. Miles from a synagogue," said Herzog.

  "Ha, your brother likes to kid," Dr.

  Ramsberg said. Will faintly smiled. Standing with folded arms he favored one heel, somewhat like Father Herzog, and had a bit of the old man's elegance but not his eccentricities. He had no time for such stuff, thought Herzog, running a big business. No great interest in it. Other things absorb. He's a good man, a very good man. But there's a strange division of functions that I sense, in which I am the specialist in... in spiritual self-awareness; or emotionalism; or ideas; or nonsense. Perhaps of no real use or relevance except to keep alive primordial feelings of a certain sort. He mixes grout to pump into these new high-risers all over town.

  He has to be political, and deal, and wangle and pay off and figure tax angles. All that Papa was inept in but dreamed he was born to do. Will is a quiet man of duty and routine, has his money, position, influence, and is just as glad to be rid of his private or "personal" side. Sees me spluttering fire in the wilderness of this world, and pities me no doubt for my temperament. Under the old dispensation, as the stumbling, ingenuous, burlap Moses, a heart without guile, in need of protection, a morbid phenomenon, a modern remnant of other-worldliness-under that former dispensation I would need protection. And it would be gladly offered by him-by the person who "knows-the-world-for-what-it-is." Whereas a man like me has shown the arbitrary withdrawal of proud subjectivity from the collective and historical progress of mankind. And that is true of lower-class emotional boys and girls who adopt the aesthetic mode, the mode of rich sensibility.

  Seeking to sustain their own version of existence under the crushing weight of mass.

  What Marx described as that "material weight." Turning this thing, "my personal life," into a circus, into gladiatorial combat. Or tamer forms of entertainment. To make a joke of your "shame," your ephemeral dimness, and show why you deserve your pain.

  The white modern lights of the small room were going round, wheeling. Herzog himself felt that he was rotating with them as the doctor wound the medicinal-smelling tapes tightly about his chest.

  Now, to get rid of all such falsehoods...

  "I have an idea my brother could do with some rest," said W. "What's your opinion, doctor?"

  "He looks as if he's been going pretty hard, that's true."

  "I'm going to spend a week at Ludeyville,"

  Moses said.

  "What I mean is complete rest-bed rest."

  "Yes, I know I seem to be in a state. But it's not a bad state."

  "Still," said Herzog's brother, "you worry me."

  A loving brute-a subtle, spoiled, loving man. Who can make use of him? He craves use. Where is he needed? Show him the way to make his sacrifice to truth, to order, peace. Oh, that mysterious creature, that Herzog! awkwardly taped, helped into his wrinkled shirt by brother W.

  HE reached his country place the following afternoon, after taking a plane to Albany, from there the bus to Pittsfield, and then a cab to Ludeyville.

  Asphalter had given him some Tuinal the night before. He slept deeply and was feeling perfectly fine, despite his taped sides. The house was two miles beyond the village, in the hills. Beautiful, sparkling summer weather in the Berkshires, the air light, the streams quick, the woods dense, the green new. As for birds, Herzog's acres seemed to have become a sanctuary. Wrens nested under the ornamental scrolls of the porch. The giant elm was not quite dead, and the orioles lived in it still.

  Herzog had the driver stop in the mossy roadway, boulder-lined. He couldn't be sure the house was approachable. But no fallen trees blocked the path, and although much of the gravel had washed down in thaws and storms the cab might easily have gotten through. Moses, however, didn't mind the short climb. His chest was securely armored in tape and his legs were light. He had bought some groceries in Ludeyville. If hunters and prowlers had not eaten it, there was a supply of canned goods in the cellar. Two years ago he had put up tomatoes and beans and raspberry preserves, and before leaving for Chicago he had hidden his wine and whisky. The electricity of course was turned off but perhaps the old hand pump could be made to work. There was always cistern water to fall back on. He could cook in the fireplace; there were old hooks and trivets- and here (his heart trembled) the house rose out of weeds, vines, trees, and blossoms. Herzog's folly! Monument to his sincere and loving idiocy, to the unrecognized evils of his character, symbol of his Jewish struggle for a solid footing in White Anglo-Saxon Protestant America ("The land was ours before we were the land's," as that sententious old man declared at the Inauguration).

  I too have done my share of social climbing, he thought, with hauteur to spare, defying the Wasps, who, because the government gave much of this continent away to the railroads, stopped boiling their own soap circa 1880, took European tours, and began to complain of the Micks and the Spicks and the Sheenies.

  What a struggle I waged!-left-handed but fierce.

  But enough of that-here I am.

  Hineni!

  How marvelously beautiful it is today. He stopped in the overgrown yard, shut his eyes in the sun, against flashes of crimson, and drew in the odors of catalpa-bells, soil, honeysuckle, wild onions, and herbs. Either deer or lovers had lain in this grass near the elm, for it was flattened. He circled the house to see whether it was much damaged.

  There were no broken windows. All the shutters, hooked from within, were undisturbed. Only a few of the posters he had put up warning that this property was under police protection had been torn down. The garden was a thick mass of thorny canes, roses and berries twisted together. It looked too hopeless-past regretting. He would never have the strength to throw himself into such tasks again, to hammer, paint, patch, splice, prune, spray. He was here only to look things over.

  The house was as musty as he had expected. He opened a few windows and shutters in the kitchen. The debris of leaves and pine needles, webs, cocoons, and insect corpses he brushed away.

  What was needed, immediately, was a fire. He had brought matches. One of the benefits of a riper age was that you became clever about such things-foresightful. Of course he had a bicycle-he could ride to the village to buy what he had forgotten. He had even been smart enough to set the bike on its saddle, to spare the tires. There was not much air in them, but they'd get him down to the Esso station. He carried
in a few pine logs, kindling, and started a small blaze first, to make sure of the draft. Birds or squirrels might have nested in the flues. But then he remembered that he had climbed out on the roof to fasten wire mesh over the chimneys-part of his frenzy of efficient toil. He laid on more wood. The old bark dropped away and disclosed the work of insects underneath-grubs, ants, long-legged spiders ran away. He gave them every opportunity to escape. The black, dry branches began to burn with yellow flames. He heaped on more logs, secured them with the andirons, and continued his examination of the house.

  The canned food had not been touched. There was fancy-goods bought by Madeleine (always the best of everything"), S. S. Pierce terrapin soup, Indian pudding, truffles, olives, and then grimmer-looking victuals bought by Moses himself at Army surplus sales-beans, canned bread, and the like. He made his inventory with a sort of dreamy curiosity about his onetime plan for solitary self-sufficiency- the washer, dryer, the hot-water unit, pure white and gleaming forms into which he had put his dead father's dollars, ugly green, laboriously made, tediously counted, divided in agony among the heirs. Well, well, thought Herzog, he shouldn't have sent me to school to learn about dead emperors. "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: st Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" But self-sufficiency and solitude, gentleness, it all was so tempting, and had sounded so innocent, it became smiling Herzog so well in the description. It's only later you discover how much viciousness is in these hidden heavens.

  Unemployed consciousness, he wrote in the pantry.

  I grew up in a time of widespread unemployment, and never believed there might be work for me. Finally, jobs appeared, but somehow my consciousness remained unemployed. And after all, he continued beside the fire, the human intellect is one of the great forces of the universe. It can't safely remain unused. You might almost conclude that the boredom of so many human arrangements (middle-class family life, for instance) has the historical aim of freeing the intellect of newer generations, sending them into science.

 
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