Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 8

Doubtful I’ll be writing much for the next few weeks. Have some tea for me, would you?

A confused land in this section. Proceed with caution…

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 8

Beverly Hills, California 15 December 1972

She’d caught his attention the very first time he saw her; before a dance while walking to the campus dining hall. She was a few yards ahead of him and her legs were mesmerizing, yet so was her long, jet-black hair – which hung almost all the way down to her waist. She was wearing black tights and a black sweater, yet he noticed that the tights seemed to accentuate her legs’ every curve and sinew, and he simply couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she made her way to the dance. And even from halfway across the campus of the Westlake School for Girl’s he could hear outrageously loud music blaring from inside the dining hall – in this case King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man – and after going inside he kept a close eye on the girl, paying close attention to who she talked to as she started to mingle in the pulsing strobes.

After a few minutes of watching her and noting that no boys were drifting her way he decided to make his move – just as I Talk to the Wind started to play. He walked right up to her and held out his hands, and she seemed to settle easily into his embrace as they slow-danced through the number. By the end of the song the live band was setting up onstage, so Ted Sorensen leaned in close and asked Katharine Gold if she wouldn’t like something to drink. When she nodded enthusiastically they went out onto the commons and got a couple glasses of punch; with no real plan in mind they went and sat on a bench and talked for a while.

Katharine Gold was a peculiar sort, actually. Usually quite shy, when she’d seen this boy and the way his eyes engaged hers she’d immediately felt at-ease, so much so that she would recall, years later, that all her usual defenses had instantly slipped away. They’d talked and talked and in fact never returned to the dance-floor, content to sit and drift through these magic moments. And perhaps that magic was their common ground – because both recognized this kind of time for what it was. They’d read enough Shakespeare and Byron and Milton to know the score, and though – perhaps – both had doubted such moments in time were anything other than contrived contextual plot devices employed by unscrupulous writers, it didn’t take them all that long to understand that what was happening to them was indeed more than real enough.

Near the end of the evening she’d called her father to let him know that a friend would be driving her home from the dance, yet Ted took his time that evening, not racing over Beverly Glen at his usual breakneck pace – instead wanting to draw out their magic together, to make this moment last. By the time he turned right off Sunset onto Alpine he was already so smitten he could hardly concentrate.

“Turn right, into the next driveway,” she said then, pointing to an ornate iron gate flanked by walls of tall shrubbery.

And so turn he did, though in his trance still not yet realizing where he was. When he switched off the engine and went around to get her door, only then did he look up and take a measure of his surroundings – at the impeccable neighborhood and at her palatial house. Even by Beverly Hills standards this place was huge and he was instantly on guard, even as he held out his hand to help her out of his little Beemer.

“You better come on up. I’m sure Dad will want to meet you.”

And, quite uncharacteristically, Ted began to feel a little uneasy in his skin, even a little unsure of himself – because in his limited experience this place represented something quite unusual, even for him.

And as they approached the entry the massive front door opened, well before they got to the front porch, and Sam Gold stepped out into the ambiguous amber glow of flickering gaslights – and Ted’s heart just about stopped. Sammy Gold had been one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood of the 40s and 50s, and yet at the pinnacle of his career he had moved behind the camera and was now more well known for producing and directing only the biggest productions over at Paramount. And now here he was, his right hand extended in peace, yet when Ted took Sam Gold’s hand in his he felt just like an amoeba under a microscope.

Sam Gold was unlike any other man he’d ever met. He simply didn’t look the part of the doting father, either: urbane and articulate, he was slim and his short hair was bright white, combed neatly back. And while it was eleven at night Gold was still so elegantly dressed it defied description: ivory slacks and a light blue linen blazer, shoes that matched his slacks and that had to have been custom made in London…and Ted took it all in, processing what he saw, instantly calculating the odds of his surviving such an encounter whole and intact.

Yet after sizing the boy up Sam Gold took him by the shoulder and invited Ted into his home.

And into another world.

+++++

Saul Rosenthal came of age in a somewhat progressive reformed Jewish household, a fairly new tradition nonetheless though quite typical of Jewish communities in northern Europe during the first decades of twentieth century. His parents embraced confronting the unjust exercise of power with reason and compassion, and the two brothers – Saul and Avi – had learned to navigate through their adult lives in much the same way. Saul joined the Foreign Ministry soon after he graduated from University, while Avi, the more gifted mathematician of the two, naturally gravitated towards the exciting developments taking place in the university’s physics department. Both had been, of course, more or less infatuated with Imogen Schwarzwald for as long as they’d had hair on their chests, though both understood she enjoyed Saul’s company more.

Saul was the taller brother and he was considered the handsomer. He was a gifted athlete and an accomplished long distance runner all through school, and he simply took better care of himself. Where Avi was unkempt and often frankly neglectful of his self, Saul was always smartly dressed and clean. You might even say that Avi was better suited to the shadows of academia, while – perhaps – that’s why Saul was so well regarded in more refined circles. There is no doubt that this more polished demeanor contributed to Saul’s earning a posting to London soon after he joined the foreign service, in late 1933 – and this despite his religious background.

Yet almost immediately the European landscape shifted, as, of course, did Denmark’s.

And while some saw the shift for what it was, and what such a shift meant for the future of Europe, most Europeans outside of Germany simply turned away from the implications of Adolph Hitler’s meteoric rise to power. Even as the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei had grown more virulently anti-semitic in the late 1920s there was still a lingering disbelief in the air that all this could happen again, and that for all Hitler’s blustery talk he was simply nothing more than just another boorish, unwashed politician. The German people would soon come to their senses and turn back to the more progressive ideologies of the Republic. 

“They just have to, so just you wait and see…”

But there were many people, more often than not those raised within the lingering shadows of European anti-semitism, who took such men as Hitler – and the stated intentions of those close to him – with utmost seriousness. Avi and Saul Rosenthal were two such people; they watched and listened and learned all they could about Hitler’s rise to power and they soon saw it for what it was. They were also among the few who chose to act.

+++++

While Anders Sorensen sank deeper and deeper into his collective past, Tilly seemed to blossom as she more deeply accepted the traditions and customs of her new surroundings in West LA. And just one example of this dichotomy revolved around the holiday festivities at Christmastime. Anders was loath to recognize anything about the holidays beyond the simplest, most traditional expressions of Hanukah, while Tilly – during their first Christmas in Brentwood – put up a Christmas tree then went so far as to string lights around the eaves of her new home.

When, one evening after school, Ted asked her why she had felt the need to do this she had remarked offhandedly that she simply wanted to “fit in,” and besides, the festive atmosphere was all rather optimistic. And now, what with the war in Southeast Asia dragging on and on, she felt that more optimism was just what she and Ted needed most.

Yet when Ted made his monthly hop up to SFO on PSA he was as suddenly immersed in the ancient customs of a much more traditional Judaism, and now his “uncle” Saul was a more integral part of his father’s life. Yet as suddenly, when they went over to the Callahan house in Potrero Hills to celebrate Christmas Eve, he had to slip back into the uneasy space between the two religious traditions – and it was all somewhat confusing to Ted. Imogen hardly ever seemed to know how to react to Christmas, though Lloyd Callahan certainly got into the mood, yet Ted sensed that Harry had grown more and more ambivalent over the years, perhaps as the weight of the conflict within their little family took a toll on them all.

Yet Harry was a cop now. One of San Francisco’s finest. But Harry looked anything but happy. No one mentioned June, Harry’s old girlfriend, and when Ted asked Harry what it had been like in Vietnam all he got in return was a thousand yard stare. When the families gathered around the piano that Christmas Eve, Harry played Silent Night then ran upstairs to his old bedroom – and he didn’t come back down again, either. Yet it was Harry’s hands that had captured Ted’s attention; his hands, and the way they trembled and shook.

Maybe because there was something about Harry’s being a cop that really just didn’t fit – not that Ted knew any cops. Then again, Harry had joined the Army to fly helicopters then gone to Germany, and he’d only decided to go to the police academy after he got back from Germany. Had something happened to him over there?

Lloyd told him that after Harry’s return the Army called him up a few years later and sent him to Vietnam for some kind of special mission, so he hadn’t been over there the usual two years. Yet Ted sensed that Lloyd seemed to be apologizing for his son, almost making excuses for him after he left them sitting around the piano and the silent tree. But in the waning eve Ted had cast a sidelong glance in Imogen’s general direction and he’d recognized her downcast eyes – and then her shaking hands.

Who was these people reacting to? Her husband, his father? What secrets were crushing the love out of this house?

Then a thought came to Ted while they were driving back to the Little Dutch House after their Christmas Eve together. He’d been racing up Beverly Glen a few weeks before Thanksgiving and had been stopped by an LAPD motorcycle cop; he’d also not been completely deferential to the cop and watched, at first amused and then with growing alarm as the cop’s hands began shaking and his voice growing almost hysterically strident. What had at first been an innocuous encounter had grown, in the blink of an eye, into a life or death encounter, and he’d spent days after going over everything he’d said and done out there on the street, trying to figure out what had happened, and what he’d done wrong.

In the end it was the cop’s shaking hands that gave up the game. The cop had been using the power of his position to command a certain level of obeisance, and when Ted’s wasn’t forthcoming the cop took that as a challenge to his authority. Okay. Easy enough to understand, but there was more going on than just that. Again, Ted thought the shaking hands and tremulous voice were the key to it all, because he’d seen the same thing time after time growing up, usually whenever he’d encountered bullies on the playground. Because he’d noticed that when a bully came at him in school he could see the same kind of reaction: the bully’s hands and voice would shake, and the more you challenged them the more upset they became, but it didn’t take too much to figure out that these guys, these bullies, were really just scared. They were, in a word, cowards. The bullies he ran across at school were usually big, fat, and stupid, too – yet the motorcycle cop wasn’t. Then it occurred to Ted that the cop was hiding the depths of a certain kind of cowardice behind the implicit authority of his badge. And, oh yes, his gun, too. His hand had never left the reassuring comfort of that gun, and in Ted’s eye that made the cop a new, very different kind of bully. A more dangerous kind of bully.

So maybe that’s what it was about Harry Callahan that didn’t exactly fit the paradigm he had been constructing in his mind, ever since their last Christmas Eve together.

Neither Harry Callahan nor his mother didn’t appear to be the bully-type, at least they’d never acted like a bully around Ted or his family, so he immediately concluded that it was foolish to make bold, generalized statements like “all cops are bullies,” or “the motorcycle cop on Beverly Glen was a coward,” and neither of the Callahans acted like bullies. Yet as uncertain as he was now, there was one thing that had been made abundantly clear to Ted after his encounter with the motorcycle cop: if you didn’t have such power your life could be rendered meaningless in an instant by to those who possessed it.

And this was an important lesson to learn for a seventeen year old rich kid, a young man who had come of age in the lap of extreme luxury. He’d led a life shielded from this kind of reality by his mother, who took great care to shield him from the day to day life that other children experienced, especially kids raised in places like South Central LA – kids who lived just a few miles from their house in Brentwood. And who knows…maybe it goes without saying that when you grow up in one reality it’s almost impossible to understand what’s happening just a few miles away. 

Ted Sorensen watched the evening news as much as anyone else did. He went to a school that was quite literally tailor made to meet the expectations of the richest people in the richest city in America, the kids of movie stars and politicians and musicians, yet the students at his school all seemed peculiarly interested in ‘social justice’ these days, about discrimination and racism and more than anything else they wanted to understand Hate.

Ted Sorensen, you may recall, grew up in the shifting sands of the sixties. And don’t forget he came of age in Southern California, where good vibrations and strawberry fields colored the sidewalks, and where incense and peppermint almost covered the stench of more blood pooling under another Kennedy’s silenced eyes. And then, after Tricky Dick pulled a heist in the Watergate, the world knew the foxes were loose in the henhouse and suddenly there was nothing left to do but laugh at the absurdity of this life. So…everyone laughed, yet no one seemed to feel that anything was especially funny anymore.

What do you call that? Cynicism?

The cynicism of shaking hands?

Maybe. But something was different going on now. Like a rustling of leaves outside your bedroom window, something was stirring out there, something was waking up, coming alive. The sixties were dead and gone now, just like the blood on sidewalks at Kent State. Washed away, reduced to a footnote. Distance was making everything easier to swallow, even disillusionment – but for some, for kids like Ted Sorensen, this disillusioned landscape was nothing so much as it was a new kind of shadowland.

He ran into another bully at school after the new semester began. Another big, fat kid with piggish eyes and a vile tongue. This one didn’t push him around or try to pick a fight. No, this one spat words, and then the bully said that Hitler’s biggest mistake was not making sure that all the Jews were dead. Gas chambers and ovens had obviously not been enough…

Sticks and stones and all that makes a certain kind of sense, yet the hatred Ted saw in the bully’s eyes was unimaginable. He saw a cold, hard blackness in those eyes and he didn’t understand where it was coming from, why someone he hardly knew felt the need to say these things to him.

Ted was so utterly shocked by the outburst he hardly recognized that this bully’s hands weren’t shaking, that this boy’s hatred was a cold, dense place – and that quite suddenly he was in real danger. Again. 

Was Hate just another kind of power?

But if Hate was power, what was Love? 

As Ted Sorensen looked into the bully’s soul he knew only one thing – that this bully believed what he was saying. Things like Hate and Love were of little consequence in these shadows.

The only thing that mattered here was power.

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Adios for now.

1 thought on “Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 8

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