Break His Bones:
The Private Life of A Holocaust Revisionist
The other night I dreamed about the number eighteen. At first there was only the number, then there was the understanding that I had eighteen minutes left to live. Eighteen minutes to prepare myself to die properly, with a little style. I knew that wasn’t enough time, not for me. Then I realized it wasn’t minutes, that I had eighteen hours to make the proper arrangements. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it right in eighteen hours either because I’m just not ready, and when I woke up the body was swamped with fear.
The next day after work I parked the pickup in Mother’s drive and went inside to have a chat and pick up my wash. In her front room she was in the wheelchair at the card table eating off the tray Alicia had prepared. The front of her dress was stained from breakfast and lunch. Her left hand was making involuntary movements from side to side. Sometimes she would press it down on her thigh, sometimes she would hold it with the other hand.
“Well,” she said, “what did you get done today?”
“I worked on the Topanga Canyon job,” I said. “It went pretty well.”
“Are you going to have any money this week? We need a grocery marketing done around here.”
“I’ll be able to do a marketing. No sweat. Then I may take a little trip. I feel like I need a little adventure.”
“What are you talking about?” Mother said. “Your adventuring days are over. Who do you know who’s fifty years old and talks about having a little adventure?”
“You think it’s all over with me, eh?”
“It’s been all over with you for years.” She looked at me sideways and laughed. There was food in her mouth. “You’re so absent-minded you just haven’t noticed. Anyway, don’t talk to me about having a little adventure. Just do the marketing. Make yourself useful around here.”
“All right, Ma.”
“A little adventure. If you only knew how asinine that sounds.”
In the dining room the paper bag was on the sewing machine with my wash that Alicia had folded neatly inside. There was some mail and I put that in the bag, said goodbye, locked the front door, turned off the porch light and walked down the hill toward my room.
I was taking off my boots when the telephone made the special ring. It was Jenny. After Pamela, Jenny had filled up my life. Not right away but after awhile. We were together almost ten years. We had raised her two kids. It had been over for a year or so. That night we chatted about this and that and then she said, “Bradley, you know how Princess has all those allergies? The way she scratches and chews at herself all the time?”
“I’m afraid she just feels miserable all the time.”
“She’s so insouciant it’s hard to tell how she really feels. But if I was a dog and I had to spend all my time scraping my belly across the asphalt in the alley I don’t think I’d feel real good about my life.”
“It’s hard for me to say it,” Jenny said, “but maybe it’s time for Princess to go to dog heaven.”
“I think you’re right. She’ll like it up there too.”
“I don’t feel comfortable saying it.”
“I think her time has come. One day we’re all going to have the same problem. She’s no good the way she is and you’re never going to be able to fix her.”
“She’s a good barker,” Jenny said. “It’s nice to know she’s here at night-now that I’m alone.”
“Well, she is a good barker. She’s getting good at the biting too. The other day when I went over there to meet the washing machine repairman she’d already bitten him twice.”
“Not that he minded all that much. He’s Mexican, you know.”
“Don’t try to be outrageous, Bradley.”
“I’m really upset about this.”
“The problem for me is, I feel guilty about taking her to the pound.”
“That’s only cultural you know. It’s not real. The Vietnamese, they have a different culture, so they eat the dogs. Have you noticed how few dogs are running loose in Hollywood these days and how sleek the Vietnamese look?”
“Is that true?”
“When you get Princess to the pound, pretend she’s something to eat, something you feel you have the moral right to kill. Pretend she’s a cow. You’ve always been fond of cows and you eat them too. If you pretend she’s a cow you’ll be able to off her and not have any real feelings about it.”
“I see,” Jenny said.
“Or you could give her to a Vietnamese child and make the kid promise he won’t eat her. The kid will promise you. The Vietnamese are so polite they’ll promise you anything and after he eats her you can say he promised and it isn’t your fault.”
Jenny said, “I feel like I need a dog that barks.”
“Listen, I think I’ve got it. Take your cow to the pound and while you’re there pick up a barking dog. If you get it home and it doesn’t bark good you can take it back and trade it for one that works. This is something you don’t want to be sentimental about.”
“I feel bad just thinking about it. Bradley, will you take her to the pound for me?”
“Sure I will.”
“Scratch that. This is something I should do for myself.”
“All right. Here’s the way to handle it. When you take one in, see it for the cow it is. When you take one out see it for the dog it is.”
“Bradley, why are you talking so crazy?”
“The other way is to see the dog you take in to the pound as having reached the end of its suffering, while the dog you take out will discover an unexpected happiness living at your feet. That way you’ll increase the level of dog happiness on earth, on balance. In Los Angeles anyhow.”
“All right, Bradley.”
“Pretty good thinking, eh?”
“Thanks for your help, Brad.”
“Sure. When you need help, it’s always good policy to call a writer. Writers have answers for everything.”
Jenny said: “Bye, Brad. It’s been a pleasure.” She said the words with such an effusion of charm that they almost knocked me over.
I undressed, got in the tub and pulled the shower curtain across it. It hadn’t been a real conversation. Every real conversation I have with Jenny now is something of a tragedy. I stood under the shower and in my imagination I said, “Jenny, that’s the difference between how a humane liberal talks and the way your typical Holocaust revisionist bigot talks. There’s just no comparison.”
I laughed a little thinking about it.
When the telephone made its special ring again it was Marrissa.
“Oh,” she said, “I’ve been trying to get you for days. Where have you been? I call and call and you’re never there.”
“When I’m typing I pull the plug on the telephone and the rest of the time I’m working.”
“But why haven’t you called me? Do you know I’m leaving for school in a few days? I’ve been home all summer and you’ve hardly seen me.”
“I thought you still had a couple weeks.”
“Bradley, I’m leaving Wednesday night. I’m going to New York for a week, then I start school.”
“I didn’t think about you for a couple weeks, then just yesterday I made a note to call you.”
“You didn’t think about me for two weeks? You asshole.”
Her voice turned away from the telephone. “Mommy,” I heard her say, “Bradley says he didn’t think about me for two whole weeks.”
I heard Jenny’s voice say, “Marrissa, I don’t want you to talk to Bradley that way.”
“Mommy says I shouldn’t call you asshole.”
“Marrissa,” I heard Jenny say, “You’re not being funny.”
“I’ve only got until Tuesday,” Marrissa said. “Then you won’t be able to see me for months, maybe a whole year.”
“I thought you had until Wednesday.
“I’m leaving Wednesday. Don’t you understand? You have to see me before then.”
“All right, kid. Name the hour.”
“Tuesday morning. We can drive to the beach. I know a neat place to have breakfast. It’s really nice at the beach in the mornings. You’ll like it.”
“You won’t forget me, will you, Asshole?”
“Now, Marrissa,” I heard Jenny say. “I mean it.”
“I won’t forget you.”
“Call me before Tuesday.”
“I’ll call you.”
She was whispering and giggling. “Goodbye, Asshole.”
“Now you just stop that,” I heard Jenny say.
When I hung up the receiver there were tears in my eyes.
Monday afternoon I was in from the Canyon early when Marrissa called. She said, “Mommy wants us to take Princess to the pound.”
“It’s your responsibility. You’re the one who brought her home in the first place.”
“That was eight or nine years ago. Don’t you ever forgive anyone anything?”
“Come on, Brad. I don’t want to do it by myself. Please?”
I showered, walked to Mother’s, got the pickup, drove over to Jenny’s for Marrissa and Princess, and then headed across the Cahuenga pass toward the Valley.
Marrissa said, “I’m not sure if what we’re doing is moral.”
“We’re only going to kill an animal. What could be more commonplace?”
“But I don’t know if it’s really right or not.”
“I didn’t know you were having those kinds of problems. Are you starting to think about things? Is that what those private schools do to girls?”
Marrissa said, “I’ve thought about things all my life.”
“Yeah, I guess you have. When I was your age I didn’t think about anything. One experiment you can make right now is in your imagination visualize all the animals that are being slaughtered in this city at this moment. So we can eat them. Thousands of cows, hogs, sheep, lambs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, quail. Animals we won’t even be able to imagine on short notice. That’s what Princess is, another little animal with scabby skin that can’t imagine anything. Get rid of her.”
“Those other animals, it doesn’t feel the same as killing a dog.”
“You’ve just put your finger on one primary philosophical methodology. Identify your feeling accurately, reflect on it, prepare to suffer a little anguish, and you won’t go astray in your thinking. You may go astray in your ethics class but you won’t go very far astray in your real life. Killing animals is similar to aborting fetuses. It’s disgusting but it doesn’t seem to matter much morally.”
“I’d have an abortion if it was necessary.”
“My little girl.”
“Well, it’s the Christians who are transfixed by the horror of abortion. They think they’ve read someplace that God doesn’t like it. If I were God they’re’d be a lot of things down here I wouldn’t like. That’s the difference between God and people. People are sensitive and caring. God just goes along doing whatever He wants, no matter how much disaster He trails out behind Him. I’ve never understood why people have such respect for God. They talk about God’s love, but what they really respect is His power. What’s power without sensibility? God’s like a big animal. He does anything He wants because there’s nobody to stop Him. It’s the Christians who talk up morality all the time. God takes things as they come.”
“Mommy says you’re the most moral person she knows.”
“Your mother has always been on my side.” I felt a little uncomfortable. I fell silent. Marrissa was silent too; stroking Princess absentmindedly while the dog gazed up at her adoringly. I took the Sherman Way exit and headed west toward the pound.
“Bradley, are you going to do another issue of your paper?”
“I think so.”
“Why do you want to publish something that makes people feel bad?”
“Did you feel bad about something you read in the paper?”
“I don’t think of myself being Jewish. I just don’t have those feelings at all. I feel like everybody else. Like an American.”
“Did your mother feel bad about something I wrote?”
“I think she struggled with it. Mommy definitely feels Jewish.”
“I feel an obligation to publish it. There’s a lot of lying going on about the gas-chamber stories. Straight-out lying. I stumbled onto it. A lot of stuff is being covered up that shouldn’t be covered up. People are being accused of crimes they didn’t commit. I don’t like it. I’m going to write about it and I’m going to go on publishing what I write. I don’t know how far the lying goes but I think it goes right to the top. I don’t know how important any of it is but I’m going to go straight ahead with it. I’m doing the right thing, within the context of my life.”
“If you’re not sure it’s important, why would you go on writing things that hurt people’s feelings?”
“Marrissa, do you mean why would I write things that might hurt Jewish feelings?”
“That’s what you do, isn’t it?”
“What if your mother was German rather than Jewish, and you were told all your life that she had done horrible things when she was young, then you discovered that some of the things you had been told were false but people went on saying them anyhow?”
Marrissa didn’t say anything.
“What if you were told all your life that your German father had been a monster when he was young? What if it had been pounded into you year after year after year and then one day you found out that one, just one of the monstrous acts you had been taught to believe he had committed, he hadn’t committed? You found out by accident, because you had always been a true believer in your father’s monstrosity and guilt, but you found out? Do you think you’d let it slide?”
“I’ve never thought about how Germans feel.”
“Think about it now. Put yourself in the place of a German girl. How would you feel?”
“I still think I wouldn’t write something that made others feel bad.”
“That’s not fair, Marrissa. After all the war hate against the Germans you still see in the movies, on the television, that you read in the papers and in books and magazines. Has there ever been anything to compare with it? Have you ever heard of any society in history so obsessed with making a whole people felt bad?”
“I’ve never thought about Germans one way or the other.”
“I can understand that. One of the things a writer does is look at the others in the same light that he uses to see himself. That’s one of the things that separate artists from others. It’s natural for a Jewish kid to grow up trusting Jews and being suspicious of Germans. When you get older the time comes to start seeing through the implications of all that. If you want to.”
“I don’t think I like what you’re doing,” Marrissa said. “I can’t prove it’s wrong, but I don’t think I like it.”
“Everybody says you’re wrong about the Holocaust. Everybody.”
“Not the Holocaust, Marrissa. The gas chambers. I am absolutely not wrong about the gas chambers because I’m only asking questions about them. I’m asking, is this piece of information about the gas chambers accurate? This particular gas-chamber story, does it make sense? Is there any real evidence to support it, or am I supposed to take somebody’s word for it? I’m told it’s bad taste to ask questions about the gas chambers. I don’t think so. Not bad taste, not good taste. Not moral, not immoral. I ask questions about the gas chambers to find out what’s going on there. I’m not sneaking around about it either. You should look into your reasons for not liking it that I’m asking these particular questions when you’ve never thought that it was wrong to ask any of the other questions that I’ve gone around asking. Then you should look into the reasons your professors don’t like it either. If you do, you’ll get a whiff of what obsessive conformity and sniveling evasion are all about. You’ll see professorial bowing and scraping before received opinion that’ll turn your stomach. You’ll discover…”
“Why are you getting mad?”
“That’s not mad. That’s intensity.”
“I just don’t know what to think,” Marrissa said. “I don’t have the information to say that you’re wrong, or that you’re right either.”
“I understand that.”
“I have this gut feeling though.”
“Well, what do you think, Kid? Right or wrong?”
“Wrong, Asshole.” She put one hand to her mouth and laughed until tears came from her eyes.
When I turned into the parking lot at the pound Marrissa said she didn’t want to go right in. We walked along Sherman Way leading Princess with a piece of clothesline.
I said, “Your mother taught me something about dogs I’ve never forgotten. Now I’m going to pass it on to you, her only daughter.”
“One day in the kitchen Princess was pleading with Jenny to pet her, to show her a little attention, so Jenny went along with it. Petting dogs isn’t her strong suit. But she petted Princess and looked into her eyes for a long moment. Then she said, `When you look into a dog’s eyes it’s always the same. You just know there’s nothing there.’”
“That’s what she taught you about dogs?”
“It doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“That’s not the point to understanding, to make you feel better. The purpose of understanding is understanding.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” Marrissa said. “Will you go shopping with me after the pound?”
“After we have your dog killed? Sure. We’ll kill the dog first, then we’ll look around for something to buy.”
We walked along silently for awhile. The afternoon traffic was heavy and the air was full of its exhaust. Princess took an interest in everything in her quick neurotic way.
“Want to hear a dream I had? All right? You’ll love this one. I dreamed a decision had been made that I was to be burned at the stake. I think Mother was in on it. I accepted the decision as a matter of course. It wasn’t something that was presented to me for my consideration. A decision had been made. The post was already in the ground, the wood was piled up around it and there was some way to light the fire. I climbed up on the wood and stood with my face to the post. There wasn’t anyone there to tie me up or see to it that I didn’t run away. It was the honor system. At first I did pretty well. The fire came up over my shoulders. It seared the left side of my face until the skin glistened, but when the smoke got too thick I turned my head to the side to get a little fresh air. I’d get a little air to the left, then I’d turn and get a little to the right. It was as if I were willing to be cooperative, to carry out the decision that had been made for me, but I didn’t have enough character to see it through. I didn’t have quite enough of the right stuff. Then the wood was all used up. The flames died out, the smoke drifted off, and there I was. I’d failed to finish what I’d started. But I still felt the obligation to carry it through, and that’s when I woke up. I was awake but I could still see myself there in the dream. I was out under some trees gathering firewood.”
“Oh, my God,” Marrissa said. Then she said, “It sounds just like you.”
“At first I saw the dream as a comic event. Now I see the pride and the self-indulgence in it.”
“I wish I had dreams like that.”
“I’m bored,” she said.
In the pound there was a line of people waiting to destroy their animals or to save an animal. It was the same line. It was like something God would have thought up. When it was our turn I said we had an unwanted dog. That’s the expression they use. A teenage girl was clerking behind the window.
“Shall we destroy her immediately?”
“Sure,” I said. Just then Princess stood up and put her front paws on my thigh and licked my fingers. I felt the heart tug. Marrissa laughed nervously.
A young couple was standing in line behind us. They didn’t have an animal with them so I supposed they wanted one. When the young man saw Princess licking my fingers he asked Marrissa, “What are you going to do with your dog?” There was an edge to his voice.
“We’re destroying her,” Marrissa said.
“Why are you doing that?” the young man said tensely.
Marrissa started making excuses and twisting from one foot to the other. The clerk handed me the destruction slip and told me to follow the yellow line through a glass door out to a courtyard. Marrissa pushed against my back to hurry me along.
“Did you hear what that guy asked me?” she said. “Why did he think I’m doing it to my dog?”
She imitated his tense masculine voice. “Why are you doing that to your dog, lady?”
“Oh, I really don’t know,” she answered in her own schoolgirl voice. “I just thought it’d be kinda kinky.”
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