Loving the Blacks, and Loving the Jews More
The pathetic self-hate of the old American elite started early, as this 1980 satire makes clear.
by Cholly Bilderberger
BOOK-IN-SEARCH-OF-AN-AUTHOR (AND A PUBLISHER):
Scion of a leading family somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, Bannister Trumbull is troubled through his years at Groton and Harvard by a growing sense that Negroes and Jews are nicer.
“They are just…nicer,” he says to his mother, a dead ringer for Abigail Adams and noted for her good works. Brushing back her hair in a characteristic gesture, she says simply, “I know,” and turns again to her embroidery.
His father is equally supportive. “We were Abolitionists before the word was coined,” he tells Bannister proudly. “We yield nothing to any Higginson, to any Peabody, when it comes to genuflection to the fact of Black superiority.”
“And Jews?” Bannister asks softly.
“They go without saying,” his father says with beautiful brevity, and Bannister is reassured. Both his parents have rebuked him, if ever so gently, for stating the obvious. These early scenes have an Edith Wharton tang to them, delicate, truly refined insights into the genuine American-New England acceptance of reality. They are reassuring hints of the presence of the past in these people.
Even Bannister’s ultraliberal friends (he will have no others, for him they don’t exist) are rather overcome to the extent of his powerfully maturing sense of enriched growth. One of them, a dynamically homosexual Harvard jock, cautions him against all work and no play. “They are better,” he says earnestly, “but that shouldn’t prevent you from coming to Europe this summer with me.”
“If I went to Europe with you,” Bannister says firmly, “I wouldn’t be here, with them.”
“You were the most promising stroke in the history of the Harvard crew,” the jock says, “but you gave it up.”
“They need me,” Bannister says.
After graduating, Bannister moves into the ramshackle house of Abraham Furstweingerstein, the brilliant Hebrew scholar and acknowledged Renaissance man of gigantic humanism who lives in an amusing Victorian mansion on the outskirts of Rahway, New Jersey. There he learned the meaning of compassion as he and Herr Furstweingerstein talk day and night of the great riddles of life and the profound depths of the Jewish insight. Babla, the scholar’s beautiful daughter, keeps house after a fashion for the two philosophers, and Bannister is often disturbed by a growing awareness of her full, ripe figure.
“Rebecca at the well,” says Herr Furstweingerstein, noticing Bannister’s preoccupation. He fashions an imaginary hourglass with his hands, prods Bannister in the ribs and winks suggestively. Bannister blushes furiously and wishes he could be as earthy. We are reminded of both Rabelais and Herrick.
There are many brilliant guests at the Furstweingerstein house, and a number of rather faceless young men, whom Babla identifies as members of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization.
“If you were a man instead of a miserable goy, you’d be one of them,” she tells Bannister with hauteur.
Crushed, Bannister applied to the leader of the faceless young men for membership in the organization.
“You can’t really join,” the leader tells him, “but you can help us.”
Overjoyed, Bannister asks how.
“You can carry messages,” the leader replies cryptically, and then asks his advice on plastic surgeons in the area. “I’m about ready to look like Paul Newman in Exodus,” he says frankly, “and I want it done right.” Bannister promises to look into it.
From then on, Bannister finds himself quite busy, going almost daily to New York and Washington to deliver large manila envelopes to a wide variety of prominent persons in and out of government. He is told to make these deliveries personally, and is surprised that he is actually received by such figures as Cyrus Vance, Donald McHenry, James Reston, Robert Strauss, Ted Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley, and each and every member of the United States Congress and Supreme Court.
“It’s fascinating work,” he writes to his mother, “and really quite thrilling to see how widely the Jewish message is being understood and respected.”
He hopes his post will raise him in Babla’s eyes, but she continues to ignore him. He consults Herr Furstweingerstein, who tells him, “The heart of a Jewish maiden like Babla is not so easily won. Let me tell you about the legend of famous King Arthur — whom we identify as a Reform Jew, by the way — when he pulled the sword Excalibur One from the rock from which no one else could obtain it. You should read the whole story someday. Anyhow, you must emulate this deed. Do something tremendous and Babla will be yours. Maybe.” This is a powerful scene, reminiscent of Elie Wiesel at his most incandescent.
Bannister despairs of finding anything tremendous. But then, in a display of confidence, the resident Mossad leader selects him for a key job. “You have proven yourself, in a very minor way. We are pleased to make you the network courier. By the way, the surgeon you found has done a remarkable job, don’t you think?” Bannister wasn’t aware that the operation had taken place, but he assures the leader that he is Paul Newman reborn.
In private, Bannister jumps for joy. He knows the importance of the network courier, the man who takes the day’s news directly to the heads of the news departments at the major television networks. (Sometimes he gets an approving nod from John Chancellor or David Brinkley, even from Walter Cronkite.) “I shall be playing a key role in molding American thought,” he writes his mother.
Now Babla can’t refuse me, he thinks and rushes to tell her the tremendous news.
“I don’t think it’s so wonderful,” she says bitingly. “What are you but a glorified messenger boy?”
He tries to point out the true significance of the job, but she remains scornful. “Stop groveling. You look like Quasimodo in A Night at the Opera.”
“He was in The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Bannister says absently.
“Racist!” she hisses at him. “Are you trying to take one of the Marx brothers’ greatest triumphs away from them and give it to a bunch of Catholic anti-Semite baiters?”
“No,” says Bannister nervously. “Listen, what must I do to win you?” he whimpers.
“That is for me to know and for you to find out,” she says with superb chutzpah, and flounces out. This scene has reminded some readers of William Styron at his malicious best. There are also undertones of John Updike’s rich mockery.
Despondent as usual, Bannister seeks Herr Furstweingerstein’s advice once again, but finds the old philosopher growing impatient. “I told you to do something tremendous, and you try to make it be a messenger boy. Is that tremendous? No, that is not tremendous. What is tremendous? Doing something big is tremendous. Founding Israel is super tremendous. Can you do that? No, it’s already done. What’s left? Bringing in a big fish, like I brought in Edmund Wilson, that’s tremendous. Even those bastards on Commentary had to give me that. Even today I’m known as the man who hooked Edmund Wilson. Yes, I know what you’re going to say. ‘There are no more big fish like that left, they’ve all been hooked.’ True, but that doesn’t mean that the world won’t pay something like a glittering price to sharp swords. Take Nazis. Finding Nazis here and there is tremendous. And still possible! Can you find a Nazi here and there?” He pauses, his noble old eyes moist with emotion.
“I can try,” Bannister says, but his heart sinks.
“Good boy,” Herr Furstweingerstein says, patting him on the back. “Good hunting.”
“A Nazi here and there, a Nazi here and there.” The refrain keeps going through Bannister’s mind, but he can’t think of one.
Conscious of a lack in his home, Herr Furstweingerstein invites Ward McAllister Plantagenet, an impoverished poet, to join the family circle. “He’s changed his name and bobbed his nose,” Herr Furstweingerstein tells Bannister, “but underneath he’s all Jew and several cubits wide. I’ll stake my personal, autographed copy of the Torah on this one.”
“The joke’s really on him,” Ward tells Bannister in strict confidence. “I’m Jewish all right, but I’m also Black — family tradition, if you can call it that, has Paul Robeson as my grandfather — and that’s where my loyalties really lie. In the meantime, this is as good a berth as any. Repeat any of this and I’ll have you banished to Israel.”
Bannister doesn’t understand how anyone can be “banished” to Israel — a contradiction in terms, like being “banished” to heaven — but he keeps his mouth shut. “Ward is everything one could hope for,” he writes his mother. “If the Jew is the evolutionary crown, the touch of Black is the jewel in that crown.” His mother copies this sentence in her day book and folds a sprig of lavender between the pages. “Beautiful sentiments must be preserved,” she tells her husband, who nods approvingly.
Ward is strikingly indifferent to Babla, but she chases him openly, and he finally deigns to become her lover. “The things one has to do for bed and board,” he groans to Bannister. “She’s haired like a Shetland pony. We’ll have grisly children — there ought to be a law against what we’re doing.” Bannister considers all this superb Jewish humor. “The days here sing with wit,” he writes his mother. “It’s like being with Isaac Bashevis Singer day and night. What the ghetto life in Poland must have been! The joy in Chagall’s pictures! What people they are! I’m learning Yiddish.”
Nevertheless, he burns inwardly with his unrequited passion for Babla. He is jealous and confesses this very human feeling to Herr Furstweingerstein, who tells him not to be ashamed. “Jealousy can creep in anywhere, even into a kibbutz in Israel.” Bannister stares at him unbelievingly, and the old man supplies graphic illustrations.
Babla is soon pregnant, and Ward decides to leave. “She’s really the bore of bores,” he tells Bannister. “I’ll leave her to you.”
“She won’t take me,” Bannister says, and then blurts out the whole story of his unsuccessful courtship, ending with his inability to find a Nazi.
“Can’t you invent one?” Ward asks. “Don’t you know anyone who’s said something naughty about Jews?”
“Only my Uncle Harold,” Bannister says in shame. “I don’t like to think about it.”
“What did he say?”
“That Golda Meir was a typical Jewish hag, and that Israel should be demilitarized. He… ”
“You have enough right there. Denounce him immediately. By the way, what does he do?”
“He’s a banker.”
“Perfect. They’ll do the rest.”
In his condition, it doesn’t take Bannister long to understand that Uncle Harold is a threat, and he tells the Mossad chief about him. The latter, looking less like Paul Newman all the time, but surer that he does, takes copious notes and finally tells Bannister that ” … this could be big. This Uncle of yours may well be someone we’ve been after for years. I think he knew Hitler’s bootmaker.”
Bannister feels a bit of a chill, but the chief won’t elaborate.
Next day the New York Times denounces Uncle Harold editorially, and William Safire writes a firey column about the “WASP banker who seeks to undermine the Israeli Army, the Puritan hypocrite who beds down with the PLO on weekends.”
Uncle Harold is drummed out of business and society, and flees to Maine, where he drowns under rather mysterious circumstances. Bannister, who has had second thoughts, wants to ask the Mossad chief if Uncle Harold was executed, but can’t bring himself to do so. “How do you get through the Paul Newman who isn’t there to what lies underneath?” he asks himself helplessly.
That evening Herr Furstweingerstein gives him a long lecture on the origins of the American Revolution and the role of the Jews in it. “We now know that without the Jews there would have been no Revolution,” he says. “James Madison — does the name ring a bell? — says as much in his private diaries. You’ll read them as soon as I’m through with the editing.” Normally such tidbits would have excited Bannister’s admiration — even awe — but he suddenly finds them unreal.
Next morning, Babla, how hugely pregnant, offers herself. “You have shown some spark of morality in exposing your uncle,” she tells him. “Not much, but enough so that I shall give you the chance of marrying me and becoming a father to Ward, Jr.”
A few short weeks ago, Bannister would have jumped at the chance, but now he mumbles something about needing time to think, and withdraws to wrestle with his outsized but rather confused conscience. On the one hand, there is Babla and Israel and Jews in general and the evolutionary crown. On the other, there is Uncle Harold dead and Babla and Israel and Jews in general and grave doubts about the evolutionary crown.
He falls into a deep sleep and has a horrible dream in which Babla, naked and astonishingly hirsute, drives him from the house. Herr Furstweingerstein, gotten up like George Washington, brandishes a sabre at him. He has no place to go, and loiters pathetically near the house. It is winter and he is waiting for the reconciliation with the Furstweingersteins which never comes. It is Christmas Eve and snow falls on his tattered overcoat as he stands shivering outside the sprawling house, where hundreds of Paul Newmans are dancing the hora, and his lips move in a fresh avowal of hope and dedication. He awakes shaking and soaked with sweat, filled with Dostoyevskian despair.
Driven, perhaps, beyond his limits, Bannister runs amok. He strangles Herr Furstweingerstein and guns down the entire resident Mossad unit. He then shows his handiwork to Babla, who goes mad on the spot and commits suicide by suffocating herself with Herr Furstweingerstein’s yarmulke, a family heirloom of considerable historical importance. The unborn Ward, Jr., perishes with her. It is, as an open letter in the New York Times from Elliot Gould, Barbra Streisand, Neil Simon, Jane Fonda and Billy Graham says, “the Holocaust all over again.”
Bannister is jailed and sentenced to death after a very short trial. His parents never again mention his name and he is struck from the Harvard Alumni roll. “It’s like he was never there,” whispers the homosexual jock in the night to his mate. “Those babies mean business.”
In his last interview with Barbara Walters (never shown publicly), Bannister seems remarkably calm. “I have a dream,” he says, “a dream in which there are no Jews, no Israel… ” At this point in the interview, Barbara fainted and fell heavily on the sound equipment, terminating the recording. The tape was later sent to Israel, played once to a closed session of the Knesset and then burned secretly before the Wailing Wall, and the ashes put in an urn and placed in the Holocaust Chamber of Official Horrors.
The book is essentially Dostoyevskian, and the large — the gigantic questions it raises are left unresolved in the best tradition of the Russian master’s style. In his view of high art, it is enough to raise the questions and leave their resolutions to the readers. So at the end of Bannister Trumbull’s turbulent descent, we are left looking back, as with the Karamazovs, on revelations of dark places of the human soul; and we are awed by the lengths to which man will go in his quest to know himself and solve the riddles of his world and the universe.
* * *
Source: Instauration magazine, May 1980