Break His Bones:
The Private Life of A Holocaust Revisionist
It’s Saturday morning and we’re driving North from Hollywood through the San Joaquin Valley to look for a house to rent that we can afford. We couldn’t take a chance on driving the old Nova so I borrowed Mike’s credit card and rented a car. We have Paloma with us. Marisol stayed home to look after Mother.
Alicia is worried about leaving Hollywood because she’ll have to give up the housekeeping jobs that she’s cultivated so well over the years. It makes her nervous to think that she’s going to have to depend on me to make enough money for both of us and for the kids and my mother too.
“You understand,” she says in Spanish, “that you are not a man who gives his wife confidence.’
“I have an advantage being a writer. I can work anywhere. It is all the same to me.
“The disadvantage in you being a writer is that you do not make a profit. If you can’ not make a profit being a writer in Hollywood, how do you think you are going to be able to make a profit out in the country?”
“The work is taking a turn for the better. I think we are going to be all right.
“What worries me most is that I have no faith in you.”
“We will be all right.”
“Where is the money? Where’s the profit? When I listen to you talk about money it is like listening to how birds fly toward the horizon.”
“That is an interesting image.”
“Gordo, I want you to think about profit. Your daughters can not eat birds that never land.”
“I am thinking about profit.”
“You are not a man who thinks about profit. I don’t know what you think about.”
The owner of the apartment we live in Hollywood is selling it so we have to move. Mother has lived there seventeen years. The owner bought the house in 1972 for thirty thousand. It’s on the market now for four hundred fifteen thousand, which illustrates where things are in Los Angeles for working folk and what we can look forward to in the years to come. Individuals who invested a few thousand dollars in a house fifteen years ago now have small fortunes at their disposal. The working poor who look back and imagine they could have bought a house themselves fifteen years ago curse their shortsightedness. But they were the working poor then too and it wasn’t in the cards for them to buy a house.
We’re four adults and one child living on the first floor of a two-story duplex. There is one bedroom, and in the back beside the bathroom there is a little sewing room just big enough for a single bed and that’s where Marisol sleeps. Marisol is seventeen now so she counts as an adult. Mother sleeps in the bedroom while Alicia and the baby and me sleep in the dining room. At five hundred dollars a month it’s a deal. But we need three bedrooms and they go for about two thousand in our part of Hollywood. Some of the other parts of Hollywood are too dirty and too dangerous for young women or children to live in.
We drive north through Bakersfield, which is destroying a good part of the south Valley, then northeast through the oil fields and the scrubby countryside that turns slowly and beautifully into farmland and orchards and vineyards. The morning is hot now but the rental car, unlike our Nova, has air conditioning. What a luxury. Paloma is still torpid from being wakened so early so she’s quiet and Alicia and I talk about how it might be for us living in a small town in a house that’s right for us and that we can afford.
Alicia says: “If we move up here I can work in the fields. All my family has worked in the fields but I never have. It would be a new experience. It would be security for us. I think I would like it.”
“It did not occur to me that you might say that.”
“Where is the problem, Gordo? I have a lot of surprises waiting for you.”
“You’re forty-three years old. You have never done that work. It is harder than you think.”
“It would be hard for you, Gordo. Everything is hard for a man your age. Maybe I would like it. I think I would like it. I have cleaned houses for thirty years. Do you think I do not get bored cleaning houses?”
“This is a bad time of life for you to start getting bored.”
“Gordo, when you teach yourself how to make a profit, life will be more interesting for both of us.”
“My life is not going to get any more interesting if I can help it. If it gets more interesting than it is now I could be in a lot of trouble. That is what the Chinese say. There is more to life than how interesting it is.”
“Do you want to know what Mexicans say? When you have two daughters you need a profit. I want you to organize your thoughts, Gordo. You think you have an interesting life now. Interesting is nothing. When we move to the country and I have given up my jobs in Hollywood and you still can not make a profit, you are going to discover the difference between what is interesting and what is profound.”
I am struck by how she had distinguished between the two concepts. I think about it. We fall quiet. We drive through Portersville, Lindsay, Exeter and Farmersville to Visalia. It’s very hot, up in the nineties. We spend most of the afternoon in Visalia getting a feel for the town. We think we can live here. We drive back to Exeter and spread out a blanket in the little town park. There isn’t a sound anywhere. The sun is falling toward the horizon. It’s almost as hot as it was at noon. While I settle down for a snooze, Alicia set’s out to chat up a couple Mexican women and get the local dope on the costs of renting a house in Exeter.
When I wake up in the muggy twilight Alicia is sitting on the grass picking through Paloma’s hair for lice. It’s a scene I’ve seen a hundred times in villages all over the Far East, and Mexico. I don’t say anything. There’s a stillness over the park unlike any I have known for a long time. Even Paloma seems to sense it. We all sit here without speaking, placid as cows. I feel a wonderful contentment and somehow a sense of homecoming.
Alicia says: “You can die of loneliness in a place like this.”
A couple days later, back in Hollywood, I deposit Mother’s social security check in the Bank of America on Hollywood and Highland. She has me withdraw two hundred dollars from her account. When I give her the cash she says: “I want you to stay out of this two hundred dollars. You’re going to need it one day and you’re not going to have it. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
I’m not sure but I decide to take a flyer. “Is it for your coffin, Ma?”
“That’s right,” she says. “It’s going to cost money to bury me and you’re not going to have any, if I know you. I gave you a thousand dollars once before to bury me. What you did with it, I have no idea.”
“That was fifteen years ago, Ma. And besides, you didn’t die.”
“I can’t do everything right on time. Now listen to me. I’m going to put this money in the top dresser drawer and I’m going to put some more with it every month. I don’t want you or anyone else to touch it. Explain that to all the Mexicans around here, will you?”
“And don’t sure-Ma me either, Bradley. I’m serious about this. I don’t want this money to go the way of all the rest of it. Now, wheel me to the dresser. This may be the last time for a week I’ll have any privacy. Here. Take this.”
She tries to hand me the two hundred dollars but she can’t control her arm and she throws the twenties across the front room carpet.
“Goddammit,” she says. “Pick those things up. And while you’re down there, fix my left foot. That heel hurts like a tooth ache.”
I can’t bend over very well anymore so I get down on my hands and knees and pick up the twenties, put them in my pocket and start to adjust her foot on the pillow.
“Take that money out of your pocket.”
That annoys me but I don’t say anything. I put the money on the table where she can reach it then adjust the foot. I get up by holding onto the arm of her chair, then wheel her into the bedroom to the dresser and when she tries to put the money in the drawer her arm throws it across the floor again.
“I really wish you’d stop doing that, Mother.”
“I’m not in the mood for jokes, damn it. Now pick it up and put it in the drawer. Make yourself useful.”
“You need a younger son, Ma. I’m almost sixty years old. I can’t get up and down off the floor very many more times this morning. Besides, what kind of coffin do you think I can buy for two hundred dollars? Do you know how much it costs to bury someone today? This isn’t 1934. I need two, three thousand dollars or you might not like very much what happens to you.”
“I’ve told you more than once, I don’t want to be cremated and I mean it. Those coffins aren’t much use, I suppose, but I don’t want to be cremated.”
“I’m not going to cremate you, Ma.”
“Well, I don’t want you to.”
“If you don’t have any money, how are you going to buy a coffin? Will you tell me that?”
“Come on, Ma. What do you want to do? Go on about it? You die, I’ll get the coffin. You do your part, I’ll do mine. I’ve got three or four hundred Mexican nephews now. Half of them are either carpenters or carpenter’s apprentices. You’re going to have a coffin, one way or the other. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“I never thought I’d live to see the day that you would talk to me about a Mexican coffin.”
Alicia dreams that the real estate agent came by to say he can’t sell the house and that we can live in it for another year.
“It made me feel very contented,” she said. “You should have seen how relaxed I became.”
It’s summer now so Marisol is home from school. When Alicia goes off in the morning to clean a house she drops Paloma off at pre-school and Marisol picks her up at noon. I type in the garage until 10 o’clock then go in the house and get Mother up, make her breakfast then go to the office. When I’m ready to leave Marisol likes to say casually: “Do something to make some money today, will you?” It’s kind of funny, but there’s a little something behind it, too. Marisol is in love again and doesn’t want to leave Hollywood. She sees our money problems as being my fault, so I’ll be instrumental in tearing her away from her boyfriend.
Marisol has been complaining about a varicose vein in the calf of her right leg. She says it hurts and it’s ugly. The vein does pop out there pretty good but I haven’t taken her seriously about it hurting. She’s very conscious about her good looks and doesn’t want anything to mar her beauty. One morning when she wraps an elastic support around the calf of her leg before walking to school I decide to take her to my doctor.
Ried looks the leg over and says there’s nothing for it but a little surgery. “You haven’t done anything wrong,” he tells Marisol. “It’s just bad luck. A bad throw of the dice.” He’s a little jokey, like he always is. Eighteen hundred, a couple thousand dollars and he can find somebody to fix it up for us.
“Oh, good,” Marisol says.
I don’t say anything.
Ried doesn’t make his Nazi jokes this time. When I go in alone to see him he always wants to know if I’m still working for the Nazis or if I’m still writing my Nazi book. He thinks it’s funny but it makes me edgy in front of his nurses. Being a Jew, he doesn’t think what I write is funny but he thinks his joking about it is. It is kind of funny about the nurses. The last time I saw Ried about something we were talking about money when he said, rather out of the blue, that he hopes I take my Nazi friends for everything they have. I must have looked surprised because he looked up at me and said seriously: “I really mean it, Bradley. I hope you take those Nazis for everything they’ve got.”
It wasn’t clear to me exactly what he meant, even though he said it twice. It was the first time his joking about the Nazi business left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe because it was about money. Maybe because he said he meant it. I decided I wanted to talk to him about it. I talked to him once before about revisionism and why I’m working with it but like every well-informed Jew I know, or used to know, he sees no value whatever in what I’m doing. After ten years of joking, his jibe about Nazi money is the first to make me feel uncomfortable. The implication is that I am specializing in soliciting money from people who hate Jews, maybe even because they hate Jews. I don’t get over it. It nags at me.
I haven’t done anything about Marisol’s leg. Where would I get two thousand dollars for something like that? If Ried says two thousand it would probably be three. Every morning I look at the leg to see how it is. The vein is always there, the thickness of a pencil, popped out about an inch long on the calf. Sometimes she has the elastic support wrapped around it, sometimes she doesn’t. Neither of us has said anything more about surgery.
This morning I get Mother up and dress her, give her her medicines with the frozen orange juice, fix her toast and coffee and while we sit at the kitchen table I read her an article from an old issue of Vanity Fair about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She’s one of Mother’s absolute favorites. The author tells how in the 1960s Jackie’s fortune was about twenty million dollars. In her circle that isn’t much of a fortune but by putting her affairs in the hands of the right man it was now estimated to have increased to 200 million. Now when she is with the Kennedys she doesn’t feel, as the writer has it, like the poor relation.
When I get to the place where Jackie’s fortune went from twenty to two hundred million I feel a rush of envy so powerful it stuns me. It’s a tidal wave of emotion that inundates the kitchen and sweeps over the entire house. I begin seeing things. I see us there in the kitchen but we’re beneath the ocean too. The kitchen and Mother and everything looks normal except that Mother’s hair is waving upward in the current. Some fish come in through the closed window and swim around aimlessly.
I hardly pause in my reading, but after the envy I feel a torrent of rage pour in behind it. How the hell did this society get arranged so that one woman, without putting her hand to anything in particular, could end up with a two hundred million dollar fortune while a couple hundred million people like myself have to work all day and worry all night about how we’re going to pay the rent on our houses and apartments? What the hell were the Founding Fathers thinking about? No wonder revolutionaries preaching the slaughter and oppression of the rich are greeted with open arms in one country after another. Poverty is nothing, but the rich living side by side with the poor while grasping onto their riches is enraging. Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out, like it says on the T-shirts. Nothing personal.
Later Jackie O. took a job editing books for a New York publisher. Her specialty was autobiographies where the rich and famous reveal the secrets of their lives. The secret of their lives is that they’re rich. Screw ‘em all. All over the world mothers and their babies are starved and slaughtered and smashed into the earth while the Jackie O. play at working for forty-five thou a year because they don’t have anything to do. No wonder Jesus was so impatient with the rich. Money touches something awful in the human soul. A little cell of cancer, oh so eager to be exploited.
How would I have felt about Jackie O. if she’d dropped me a note saying she was interested in my book? What if she’d invited me to lunch to talk over a book contract and I’d been able to watch people watch us eating lettuce sandwiches and drinking a nice little bottle of white? Wouldn’t I have forgotten for the moment the injustices of the unequal distribution of wealth here and abroad? Wouldn’t I have ravaged my imagination to nail down what the little luxuries might be that would soon become available to me but might not if I didn’t play my cards right? Wouldn’t I have done all that and plenty more? Wouldn’t I have?
It wasn’t long ago when I was ten thousand dollars in debt and sinking. There was no way I could find to make a living writing about the gas chamber hoax. I couldn’t do real work anymore because I couldn’t stand up more than an hour at a time. I couldn’t work a job where I had to sit in one place all day either. I was a fragile guy with a fragile back and now I had a year-old baby. In desperation I mailed out a solicitation begging for money, promising I would use part of it to get college speaking dates to talk about Holocaust revisionism. Within a month I’d gotten enough money to pay off my debts. One man alone sent me 2,000 dollars. I couldn’t believe it. When I saw the check I started to cry. I was in the Cherokee station post office in Hollywood the morning I opened the envelope. I must have looked pathetic standing there at the counter bawling into my mail.
I’ve known for a long time I can’t make a living writing about the Holocaust story. I can’t make money publishing my book either. I don’t understand why I committed myself to it. I can’t make money with the book because I can’t get an agent or a publisher either one. No publisher will touch it. Some agents take the time to write me insulting letters when they reject the manuscript. I’ve had agents insult me on the basis of only a query I’ve sent them. I can’t promote it and sell it myself because it takes money to promote and sell books. Every day I sit down to work on the manuscript knowing I won’t be able to find a publisher for it.
I’m living a not-for-profit life. Where I got the idea that I could earn a living bad mouthing the Holocaust story is a mystery. It’s idiotic. You can’t make money writing about what I write about. You have to solicit money to be able to write about that. You do what the Cancer Society does, or the Heart Fund, the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. Soliciting money is a job in itself. You go to the people who are most likely to believe that you’re doing valuable work and you ask them to help you. They’re smarter than you are so they already have the money. They already know you need help. Lots of it. Soliciting money is simple, but it isn’t easy. I’m doing the best I can. Meanwhile, and thank God as they say, I have a wife who knows how to clean houses.
Two years ago I promised Alicia I wouldn’t start any more projects I don’t get paid for. Last month I went to Mike’s house in Northridge to ask him to promote some paid speaking engagements for me but one thing led to another and by the time we were shaking hands good night I had agreed to produce a series of interviews with revisionists for public access TV. It’s a project where nobody will get paid for anything. Ever. It wasn’t even his idea. It was mine. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m trying to think how I can explain this one to Alicia.
It’s going on midnight and I’m sitting in the rocking chair in my shorts reading The Los Angeles Times Book Review by the light from Mother’s crooked neck table lamp. I read that a certain male moth can smell only the pheromone of his own mate, but can detect that particular odor five miles away. What a terrible talent that one must be. No matter where you go or what you’re doing your old lady is giving you a nose-full. Then I’m aware that thought is telling me that that’s the way I am about work that doesn’t pay. If there’s an idea anywhere on the horizon that needs to be done but won’t pay diddly, I’m the one who’ll sniff it out.
The house is quiet. Everyone’s asleep. Alicia and Mother are snoring, each in her own way. I’m finished reading but I’m not ready to go to bed. Thought’s darting around in a dozen directions at once, like a room full of flies. Then, somehow, there’s a moment when the mind becomes still and I’m aware that I’m seeing the image of a white planet out in blue space, self-contained, lifeless, cold. There’s nothing in the image that quickens my interest, yet while I gaze at the dead white moon I feel as if the situation were changing. I wonder idly-what situation? And in that unhurried moment I understand that I am going to back out of the public access TV project. I don’t make a conscious decision to back out. I become aware that a decision has been made. However it happened, I feel a wonderful sense of relief. Somebody else will have to introduce holocaust revisionism onto public access television. I’m going to get serious about the money. The next time I do some work I’m going to get paid for my labor. It’s not a novel idea. I didn’t invent it myself, but it’s an idea I’m happy with.
In the morning I’ll tell Alicia the good news. I’ll leave out the parts about the bee and the planet.
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