Break His Bones:
The Private Life of A Holocaust Revisionist
As usual that year in Hollywood I was up at three-thirty in the morning to type, and at five-thirty I dressed and left the apartment and walked east along Franklyn Avenue. Three coyotes, their heads down, trailed across the parking lot where the bungalows used to be where Janis Joplin ended her last fun-filled night. I turned up Pinehurst Canyon toward the two-story duplex where Mother had the lower apartment. The pickup was parked in the driveway. I put the axes, the chain saws, the cold box and the rest of it in the bed. Mother would still be asleep in the front bedroom, and in the little back bedroom Alicia and Marisol would just be waking up. I drove across Hollywood Boulevard, turned south on La Brea to the Santa Monica Freeway, west to the Overland turnoff and there on the corner of Pico I found my two laborers waiting outside the coffee shop.
They threw their bags in the back and hopped in the cab with their lunches and we drove through Santa Monica and up along the coast under a low dark sky. Sometimes that year I’d go for weeks without getting enough work to keep things together. Other times there would be more work than I could handle, which is how it was that month. To our left the ocean was gray and quiet. In Malibu blond kids were putting on black rubber suits at the edge of the pavement, their surfboards still fixed to the tops of their cars. Overhead a single opening in the dark clouds revealed a patch of milky blue sky. It looked good enough to drink. The air between the earth and the bottom of the black clouds had a pinkish cast. A carnival had pitched its tents on the parking lot beside the Colony Market. The empty metal seats high up on the Ferris wheel hung there upside down, motionlessly.
I turned up Malibu Canyon, drove through the tunnel and down into Las Virgines, then up Piuma Road. To the east the sky was clear and sunlit. To the west just above the road the rain clouds were piling up heavily along the ridgeline. On the road, a couple hundred yards below, the pavement was bright with morning sunshine. Quail and rabbits scurried off the pavement ahead of me. It was beautiful, like the pictures in children’s fairy tale books are beautiful.
Just past Saddle peak Road I pulled over into a clearing in the scrub and parked. We carried our gear up the draw and around a small bowl onto a knoll. Val was designing a house to be built on the knoll and he needed the site cleared. The mesquite and sumac stood seven and eight feet tall. Bees swarmed in the new sunshine and lizards crawled the rocks looking for good places to sun themselves. Columns of red ants wound through the thickets. We kept moving and stamping our feet while we set up the job. Once the saws were working the ants would go underground.
I’d always said I was going to make my living as a writer so I never bothered to learn a real trade or profession. I don’t know what I really thought. I just always put the typing first and earning a living second. It didn’t matter what work I did so long as it didn’t interfere too much with the typing. For thirty years that was the way I looked at it. In thirty years I never got anything published but it never occurred to me that I’d taken a wrong turn someplace. I didn’t think about how I might not ever get good at it. I was all desire and need. I was little more than a teenager when I started and desire and need is what teenagers are.
When I started out I could hardly write a sentence. A paragraph was beyond me entirely. I had an ear for the way things get said but I couldn’t figure out how to get the language onto paper. I wanted to tell stories but I had no interest in plot. I kept hearing that stories have to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and since that’s what plot is I had a hard time conceptualizing what I was supposed to do. What a relief it was to discover after twenty or thirty years that you don’t have to plot, that you can just accumulate. You accumulate a little, throw away a little, accumulate a little more, throw most of it away, always going by the feel of the thing and after a while you have something that makes sense. You don’t get plot that way but you get structure and it’s all under ground, which can be a very good place for it.
Because I’d been in Korea I thought when I was still very young that I had something to write about. In that sense I was at the heart of the American literary tradition in the twentieth century. After a dozen years at it I had to admit I didn’t have anything to write about after all, so I trashed the manuscripts. That was a big day for me. Twelve years’ work into a trash bin in an alley off Hollywood Boulevard. Maybe I thought that kind of break would create a psychological tension that would help the writing. In a search for symmetry I closed down my business and filed bankruptcy. Throw it all away, that’s how I looked at it, but I still had a wife. You don’t just throw your wife away, so one day I put my clothes in a paper bag, picked up the typewriter and left and after awhile she divorced me. Same thing. The big problem with our marriage was that Pamela had a mature attitude toward it while I was like a thirty-three-year-old juvenile delinquent husband. Looking at it from another perspective, I’d chosen a mature, responsible woman to be my wife while she had chosen to marry me.
So I’d gotten rid of everything for the writing and I was free and ready for anything. I worked day and night at the typewriter. There was a kind of desperation to it. I was looking for something and I thought I could find it in the typewriter. What happened was that the writing remained a problem but I started hearing voices. That’s one of the things that can happen when you go for intensity. Who can forget Joan of Arc? First it was the voices, then the visions. I didn’t want to be grandiose about it, I was in Hollywood, so I thought about what I was seeing as being moving pictures. They weren’t much like anything being produced in the studios. There was a jumbled mix of the transcendent and the sordid together. Mostly sordid. When I started seeing the pictures I understood I was coming face to face with my subject.
That went on for about four years. One effect of watching the pictures was that I became so absorbed with them I was happily relieved of the burden of women, but after I calmed down a little there they were again, waiting, and it was really difficult to know which was worse, or maybe better. After that there was Vietnam, and then family life and the failure of family. It was all grist for the mill now. Being alone was grist for the mill. Working, looking for a woman, having or being had by a woman, the drinking, the writing, the aloneness. The effort with the writing to trace the route of public experience as it worms its way into the subjective life and how political philosophy and the moral life are shaped in the heart rather than with thought. All that was grist for the typewriter.
I never learned how to get published in the regular way so I started publishing myself. That was in 1978. I self-published a sixteen-page quarterly tabloid I called Smith’s Journal. Smith’s was autobiography about work, women and the issues of the day from a libertarian angle. I had found out how to integrate politics and the subjective life in the writing. I was happy. It was at that moment that Fate cursed me with a new insight. What else could it have been that sent me to the 1979 Libertarian Party presidential nominating convention in Los Angeles where Fate’s special envoy, the little prick with the white pointy beard and the devil eyes, pushed his the-gas-chamber-stories-are-not-true pamphlet on me? I’ve written reams of stuff since then and from that day to this the possibility for a career as a writer has grown increasingly less likely.
Clearing the building pad was going too slowly, so I drove down to Calabasas to a rental equipment yard to pick up another chain saw, then headed back up Las Virgines Canyon. I was half listening to a preacher talk about how God loves each individual and how He is always with each one of us. In this part of the country the preachers are all over the radio. They’re patriots on the one hand and preach the Good News on the other. Christ is come. Sometimes I pass the time trying to relate the seed of what they’re saying with what passes for religious experience generally. Very few Catholics or Jewish religiosos are on radio around here. The Evangelicals have swamped them.
The preacher was going on with great sincerity and intensity. He was shouting. He was grunting, screaming. I decided to go along with him. What could I lose? I made a conscious decision to go all the way with the preacher and for a moment I allowed myself to believe what he was saying. You can do that if you try. That’s what most people do try and not just with the preachers either. It’s like a giving-in. It wasn’t that difficult to give in to the idea, then the sensation itself, where I felt as if God were present in the cab of the pickup with me. For a moment I felt there was some presence, some One, to communicate with. Where was I? I felt good. Real good. I felt like I was not alone. I realized it would be possible for me to have that presence with me always. A presence whose demands I was familiar with, against which I could measure and guide my acts. All that was necessary to have Him with me always was to not doubt, to allow myself to experience profoundly what at that moment I was experiencing in a small way. All I had to do was to go all the way. Then thought reminded me that I have reached that place in my life where I no longer think it seemly to join belief to experience.
The next moment, thought grew restless. The warm deep sense of being in profound relationship to another remained, but thought began to turn over one idea after another. It was relentless. Thought never lets it alone. Never gives you any peace. Curiously then, I become aware that a moment before, thought had been quiet. It had stopped. Now it was working again, but for a moment it had stopped and during that moment without thought I had still been quite aware of everything happening in the truck cab and on the road before me. Somehow I understood again how awareness is different from thought because awareness has no story line, and the instant I recalled that, thought was gone again and the brain lay quietly inside the head as it was carried along in the cab of the pickup over the pavement at sixty miles an hour.
The eyes noted the morning mists lying softly over the brown fields. They saw through the hazy sunlight to the dark oak trees scattered across the round brown hills. I felt the cool air washing over the arms and face. Without thought I looked at the great expanse of sky stretching out before me then mind itself, something, rose up from me into the sky. From high above the valley I saw myself below, inside the cab of the truck, driving, gazing out at the hills and the black and green trees. Inside the cab I was aware of the road conditions, the occasional passing car, how I would soon arrive at the turnoff for Piuma Road. At the same time I was high above the road looking down at myself driving across the top of the land at the bottom of the sky. I wasn’t on the earth and I wasn’t in the sky. I was within the universe like everything else is within it, and I was at home where I found myself because in the moment there’s no up or down and no in and out and no place to go because no matter where you are the beginning and the end are already there.
As I turned onto Piuma Road I could feel myself filling up. I was going to spill over. There was a tremendous pressure of abundance all around. Not an abundance of this or that but abundance itself. The road was one I had driven a hundred times but it was like I’d never followed it before. I had never seen its beauty the way I was seeing it now. Nothing had changed. Every tree, every rock, every fold in the hillsides was just like it had been every other time. I’d seen all of it many times in the ordinary way but now the earth and everything it had produced was glowing and pulsing with light. The unique beauty of the land, the exquisite sensation of the air blowing across the skin, the welling up of abundance in the abdomen and the heart, the elevation that causes the mind to be everywhere at once, the flow of tears, the ecstasy, and I suppose that’s what it was, as if beauty itself were becoming unbearable but unstoppable too because beauty is in everything everywhere so long as it’s not ruined by opinion.
I pulled into the clearing at the job site and walked back to where I could hear the chain saws working. There wasn’t much for me to do. The Mexicans didn’t need me. I was standing there beside a mesquite when I felt something inside my pants bite the calf of my right leg. I slapped the place hard to squash whatever it was. I felt it crawl up my leg past the knee and bite me again. I rubbed my hand around over the spot to mash whatever it was. I felt the spidery legs scurry up the inside of the thigh. I started slapping and rubbing at it and then I felt whatever it was dart through the crotch of my undershorts from the inside of my right thigh and bite me on the inside of the left thigh, and at the same time, in the mind’s eye, I saw a trapeze performer sail fearlessly though the top of a circus tent. I pulled down my pants. Welts the size of quarters were bubbling up. I slapped and rubbed all up and down the legs and shook out my pants but I couldn’t find the animal. It was a mystery.
My friend James is an alchemist, a believer in body auras, out-of-body experiences, Scientology, God, reincarnation-you name it and James takes it seriously. He makes his living as a plumber and sometimes when he has to break up a concrete slab to get at the pipes underneath he’ll call me in afterwards to pour a new slab.
One day James and I were looking at a job in the hills above Silverlake when the talk turned to the uses of the intellect, and James said it’s doubtful that human beings really need their brains at all. I thought that was pretty funny but James was serious. He reads periodicals like Brain/Mind Bulletin and he’d come across an article where he thought a British neurologist studying hydrocephalics had written that individuals who have lost even 95% of their cranium to fluid can have IQs greater than 100. I finally had James where I wanted him. I told him to send me the article. I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Sometimes,” James said, “you’re a real butt hole.”
A few days later I got a photocopy in the mail of the article James was talking about. It was startling to read in a paper reprinted from Science that a British neurologist had used brain scans on hundreds of hydrocephalics to show that the inside of your skull can be filled to the top with water, you can have a brain the size of a peach pit, and you can still walk the streets like a normal person. And there was the anecdote about the English honors student in mathematics with an IQ of 126 who was socially competent and “yet the boy has virtually no brain. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.”
So you don’t have to have a big brain to be able to know the difference between a horse and a gopher or to know that you ride one and drown the other. I’d suspected as much for a long time. You can be a perfectly ordinary guy and still ask insightful questions about the Holocaust story, for example. You don’t have to be an academic or a media intellectual. There isn’t one hydrocephalic professor anywhere in the land who writes papers defending the gas-chamber stories. If there is, I’d like to meet him. At the same time, there are thousands and maybe tens of thousands of big-brain Ph.D.s who don’t know anything about gas chambers but who have been preaching and teaching them anyhow for forty years.
My friend James may be right about how much brain we really need to get along in the world.
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