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Chapter 4(1 / 2)

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Ass! Idiot! Wild boar! Dumb mule! Slave Lousy, wallowing hippopotamus! Wilhelm called himself as his bending legs carried him from the dining room. His pride! His inflamed feelings! His begging and feebleness! And trading insults with his old father–and spreading confusion over everything. Oh, how poor, contemptible, and ridiculous he was! When he remembered how he had said, with great reproof, “You ought to know your own son-–”why, how corny and abominable it was.

He could not get out of the sharply brilliant dining room fast enough. He was horribly worked up; his neck and shoulders, his entire chest ached as though they had been tightly tied with ropes. He smelled the salt odor of tears in his nose.

But at the same time, since there were depths in Wilhelm not unsuspected by himself, he received a suggestion from some remote element in his thoughts that the business of life, the real business–to carry his peculiar burden, to feel shame and impotence, to taste these quelled tears–the only important business, the highest business was being done. Maybe the making of mistakes expressed the very purpose of his life and the essence of his being here. Maybe he was supposed to make them and suffer from them on this earth. And though he had raised himself above Mr. Perls and his father because they adored money, still they were called to act energetically and this was better than to yell and cry, pray and beg, poke and blunder and go by fits and starts and fall upon the thorns of life. And finally sink beneath that watery floor–would that be tough luck, or would it be good riddance?

But he raged once more against his father. Other people with money, while they're still alive, want to see it do some good. Granted, he shouldn't support me. But have I ever asked him to do that? Have I ever asked for dough at all, either for Margaret or for the kids or for myself It isn't the money, but only the assistance; not even assistance, but just the feeling. But he may be trying to teach me that a grown man should be cured of such feelings. Feeling got me in dutch at Rojax. I had the feeling that I belonged to the firm, and my feelings were hurt when they put Gerber in over me. Dad thinks I'm too simple. But I'm not so simple as he thinks. What about his feelings? He doesn’t forget death for one single second, and that's what makes him like this. And not, only is death on his mind but through money he forces me to think about it, too. It gives him power over me. He forces me that way, he himself, and then he's sore. If he was poor, I could care for him and show it. The way I could care, too, if I only had a chance. He'd see how much love and respect I had in me. It would make him a different man, too. He'd put his hands on me and give me his blessing.

Someone in a gray straw hat with a wide cocoa-colored band spoke to Wilhelm in the lobby. The light was dusky, splotched with red underfoot; green, the leather furniture; yellow, the indirect lighting.

“Hey, Tommy. Say, there.”

“Excuse me,” said Wilhelm, trying to reach a house phone. But this was Dr. Tamkin, whom he was just about to call.

“You have a very obsessional look on your face,” said Dr. Tamkin.

Wilhelm thought, Here he is, Here he is. If I could only figure this guy out.

“Oh,” he said to Tamkin. “Have I got such a look? Well, whatever it is, you name it and I'm sure to have it.”

The sight of Dr. Tamkin brought his quarrel with his father to a close. He found himself flowing into another channel.

“What are we doing?” he said. “What's going to happen to lard today?”

“Don't worry yourself about that. All we have to do is hold on to it and it's sure to go up. But what's made you so hot under the collar, Wilhelm?”

“Oh, one of those family situations.” This was the moment to take a new look at Tamkin, and he viewed him closely but gained nothing by the new effort. It was conceivable that Tamkin was everything that he claimed to be, and all the gossip false. But was he a scientific man, or not? If he was not, this might be a case for the district attorney's office to investigate. Was he a liar? That was a delicate question. Even a liar might be trustworthy in some ways. Could he trust Tamkin–could he? He feverishly, fruitlessly sought an answer.

But the time for this question was past, and he had to trust him now. After a long struggle to come to a decision, he had given him the money. Practical judgment was in abeyance. He had worn himself out, and the decision was no decision. How had this happened? But how had his Hollywood career begun? It was not because of Maurice Venice, who turned out to be a pimp. It was because Wilhelm himself was ripe for the mistake. His marriage, too, had been like that. Through such decisions somehow his life had taken form. And so, from the moment, when he tasted the peculiar flavor of fatality in Dr. Tamkin, he could no longer keep back the money.

Five days ago Tamkin had said, “Meet me tomorrow, and we'll go to the market.” Wilhelm, therefore, had had to go. At eleven o'clock they had walked to the brokerage office. On the way, Tamkin broke the news to Wilhelm that though this was an equal partnership, he couldn't put up his half of the money just yet; it was tied up for a week or so in one of his patents. Today he would be two hundred dollars short; next week he'd make it up. But, neither of them needed an income from the market, of course. This was only a sporting proposition anyhow, Tamkin said. Wilhelm had to answer, “Of course.” It was too late to withdraw. What else could he do? Then came the formal part of the transaction, and it was frightening. The very shade of green of Tamkin's check looked wrong; it was a false, disheartening color. His handwriting was peculiar, even monstrous; the e's were like i's, the t's and. I's, the same, and the h's like wasps' bellies. He wrote like a fourth-grader. Scientists, however, dealt mostly in symbols; they printed. This was Wilhelm's explanation.

Dr. Tamkin had given him his check for three hundred dollars. Wilhelm, in a blinded and convulsed aberration, pressed and pressed to try to kill the trembling of his hand as he wrote out his check for a thousand. He set his lips tight, crouched with his huge back over the table, and wrote with crumbling, terrified fingers, knowing that if Tamkin's check bounced his own would not be honored either. His sole cleverness was to set the date ahead by one day to give the green check time to clear.

Next he had signed a power of attorney, allowing Tamkin to speculate with his money, and this was an even more frightening document. Tamkin had never said a word about it, but here they were and it bad to be done.

After delivering his signatures, the only precaution Wilhelm took was to come back to the manager of the brokerage office and ask him privately, “Llh, about Doctor Tamkin. We were in here a few minutes ago, remember?”

That day had been a weeping, smoky one and Wilhelm had gotten away from Tamkin on the pretext of having to run to the post office. Tamkin had gone to lunch alone, and here was Wilhelm, back again, breathless, his hat dripping, needlessly asking the manager if he remembered.

“Yes, sir, I know,” the manager had said. He was a cold, mild, lean German who dressed correctly and around his neck wore a pair of opera glasses with which he read the board. He was an extremely correct person except that he never shaved in the morning, not caring, probably, how he looked to the fumblers and the old people and the operators and the gamblers and the idlers of Broadway uptown. The market closed at three. Maybe, Wilhelm guessed, he had a thick beard and took a lady out to dinner later and wanted to look fresh-shaven.

“Just a question,” said Wilhelm. “A few minutes ago I signed a power of attorney so Doctor Tamkin could invest for me. You gave me the blanks.”

“Yes, sir, I remember.”

“Now this is what I want to know,” Wilhelm had said. “I’m no lawyer and I only gave the paper a glance. Doies this give Doctor Tamkin power of attorney over any other assets of mine-money, or property?”

The rain had dribbled from Wilhelm's deformed, transparent raincoat; the buttons of his shirt, which always seemed tiny, were partly broken, in pearly quarters of the moon, and some of the dark, thick golden hairs that grew on his belly stood out. It was the manager's business to conceal his opinion of him; he was shrewd, gray, correct (although unshaven) and had little to say except on matters that came to his desk. He must have recognized in Wilhelm a man who reflected long and then made the decision he had rejected twenty separate times. Silvery, cool, level, long-profiled, experienced, indifferent, observant, with unshaven refinement, he scarcely looked at Wilhelm, who trembled with fearful awkwardness. The manager's face, low-colored, long-nostriled, acted as a unit of perception; his eyes merely did their reduced share. Here was a man like Rubin, who knew and knew and knew. He, a foreigner, knew; Wilhelm, in the city of his birth, was ignorant.

The manager had said. “No, sir, it does not give him. “Only over the funds I deposited with you?”

“Yes, that is right, sir.”

“Thank you, that's what I wanted to find out,” Wilhelm had said, grateful.

The answer comforted him. However, the question had no value. None at all. For Wilhelm had no other assets. He had given Tamkin his last money. There wasn't enough of it to cover his obligations anyway, and Wilhelm had reckoned that he might as well go bankrupt now as next month. “Either broke or rich,” was how he had figured and that formula had encouraged him to make the gamble. Well, not rich; he did not expect that, but perhaps Tamkin might really show him how to earn what he needed in the market. By now, however, he had forgotten his own reckoning and was aware only that he stood to lose his seven hundred dollars to the last cent.

Dr. Tamkin took the attitude that they were a pair of gentlemen experimenting with lard and grain futures. The money, a few hundred dollars, meant nothing much to either of them. He said to Wilhelm, “Watch. You'll get a big kick out of this and wonder why more people don't go into it. You think the Wall Street guys are so smart-geniuses? That's because most of us are psychologically afraid to think about the details. Tell me this. When you're on the road, and you don't understand what goes on under the hood of your car, you'll worry what'll happen if something goes wrong with the engine. Am I wrong?” No, he was right. “Well,” said Dr. Tamkin with an expression of quiet triumph about his mouth, almost the suggestion of a jeer. “It's the same psychological principle, Wilhelm. They are rich because you don't understand what goes on. But it's no mystery, and by putting it in a little money and applying certain principles of observation, you begin to grasp it. It can't be studied in the abstract. You have to take a specimen risk so that you feel the process, the money-flow, the whole complex. To know how it feels to be a seaweed you have to get in the water. In a very short time we'll take out a hundred-per-cent profit.” Thus Wilhelm had had to pretend at the outset that his interest in the market was theoretical.

“Well,” said Tamkin when he met him now in the lobby, “what's the problem, what is this family situation? Tell me.” He put himself forward as the keen mental scientist. Whenever this happened Wilhelm didn't know what to reply. No matter what he said or did it seemed that Dr. Tamkin saw through him.

“I had some words with my dad.”

Dr. Tamkin found nothing extraordinary in this. “It's the eternal same story,” he said. “The elemental conflict of parent and child. It won't end, ever. Even with a fine old gentleman like your dad.”

“I don't suppose it will. I've never been able to get anywhere with him. He objects to my feelings. He thinks they're sordid. I upset him and he gets mad at me. But maybe all old men are alike.”

“Sons, too. Take it from one of them,” said Dr. Tamkin. “All the same, you should be proud of such a fine old patriarch of a father. It should give you hope. The longer he lives, the longer your life-expectancy becomes.”

Wilhelm answered, brooding, “I guess so. But I think I inherit more from my mother's side, and she died in her fifties.”

“A problem arose between a young fellow I'm treating and his dad–I just had a consultation,” said Dr. Tamkin as he removed his dark gray hat.

“So early in the morning?” said Wilhelm with suspicion.

“Over the telephone, of course.”

What a creature Tamkin was when he took off his hat! The indirect light showed the many complexities of his bald skull, his gull's nose, his rather handsome eyebrows, his vain mustache, his deceiver’s brown eyes. His figure was stocky, rigid, short in the neck, so that the large ball of the occiput touched his collar. His bones were peculiarly formed, as though twisted twice where the ordinary human bone was turned only once, and his shoulders rose in two pagoda-like points. At mid-body he was thick. He stood pigeon-toed, a sign perhaps that he was devious or hid much to hide. The skin of his hands was aging, and his nails were moonless, concave, clawlike, and they appeared loose. His eyes were as brown as beaver fur and full of strange lines. The two large brown naked balls looked thoughtful–but were they? And honest–but was Dr. Tamkin honest? There was a hypnotic power in his eyes, but this was not always of the same strength, nor was Wilhelm convinced that it was completely natural. He felt that Tamkin tried to make his eyes deliberately conspicuous, with studied art, and that he brought.forth his hypnotic effect by an exertion. Occasionally it failed or drooped, and when this happened the sense of his face passed downward to his heavy (possibly foolish?) red underlip.

Wilhelm wanted to talk about the lard holdings, but Dr. Tamkin said, “This father-and-son case of mine would be instructive to you. It's a different psychological type completely than your dad. This man's father thinks that he isn't his son.”

“Why not?”

“Because he has found out something about the mother carrying on with a friend of the family for twenty-five years.”

“Well, what do you know!” said Wilhelm. His silent thought was, Pure bull. Nothing but buff!

“You must note how interesting the woman is, too. She has two husbands. Whose are the kids? The fellow detected her and she gave a signed confession that two of the four children were not the father's.”

“It's amazing,” said Wilhelm, but he said it in a rather distant way. He was always hearing such stories from Dr. Tamkin. If you were to believe Tamkin, most of the world was like this. Everybody in the hotel had a mental disorder, a secret history, a concealed disease. The wife of Rubin at the newsstand was supposed to be kept by Carl, the yelling, loud-mouthed gin-rummy player. The wife of Frank in the barbershop had disappeared with a GI while he was waiting for her to disembark at the French Lines' pier, Everyone was like the faces on a playing card, upside down either way. Every public figure had a character-neurosis. Maddest of all were the businessmen, the heartless, flaunting, boisterous business class who ruled this country with their hard manners and their bold lies and their absurd words that nobody could believe. They were crazier than anyone. They spread the plague. Wilhelm, thinking of the Rojax Corporation, was inclined to agree that many businessmen were insane. And he supposed that Tamkin, for all his peculiarities, spoke a kind of truth and did some people a sort of good. It confirmed Wilhelm's suspicions to hear that there was a plague, and he said, “I couldn't agree with you more. They trade on any thing, they steal everything, they're cynical right to the bones.”

“You have to realize,” said Tamkin, swaking of his patient, or his client, “that the mother's confession isn’t good. It's a confession of duress. I try to tell the young fellow he shouldn't worry about a phony confession. But what does it help him if I am rational with him?”

“No?” said Wilhelm, intensely nervous. “I think we ought to go over to the market. It'll be opening pretty soon.”

“Oh, come on,” said Tamkin. “It isn't even nine o'clock, and there isn't much trading the first hour anyway. Things don't get hot in Chicago until half-past ten, and an hour behind us, don't forget. Anyway, I say lard will go up, and it will. Take my word. I've made a study of the guilt-aggression cycle which is behind it. I ought to know something about that. Straighten your collar.”

“But meantime,” said Wilhelm, “we have taken a licking this week. Are you sure your insight is at its best? Maybe when it isn't we should lay off and wait.”

“Don't you realize,” Dr. Tamkin told him, “you can't march in a straight line to the victory? You fluctuate toward it. From Euclid to Newton there was straight lines. The modem age analyzes the wavers. On my own accounts, I took a licking in hides and coffee. But I have confidence. I'm sure I'll outguess them.” He gave Wilhelm a narrow smile, friendly, calming, shrewd, and wizard-like, patronizing, secret, potent. He saw his fears and smiled at them. “It's something,” he remarked, “to see how the compeition-factor will manifest itself in different individuals.”

“So? Let's go over.”

“But I haven’t had my breakfast yet.”

“I've had mine.”

“Come, have a cup of coffee.”

“I wouldn't want to meet my dad.” Looking through the glass doors, Wilhelm saw that his father had left by the other exit. Wilhelm thought, He didn't want to run into me, either. He said to Dr. Tamkin, “Okay, I'll sit with you, but let's hurry it up because I'd like to get to the market while there's still a place to sit. Everybody and his uncle gets in ahead of you.”

“I want to tell you about this boy and his dad. It's highly absorbing. The father was a nudist. Everybody went naked in the house. Maybe the woman found men with clothes attractive. Her husband didn't believe in cutting his hair, either. He practiced dentistry. In his office he wore riding pants and a pair of boots, and he wore a green eyeshade.”

“Oh, come off it,” said Wilhelm.

“This is a true case history.

Without warning, Wilhelm began to laugh. He himself had had no premonition of his change of humor. Ms face became warm and pleasant, and he forgot his father, his anxieties; he panted bearlike, happily, through his teeth. “This sounds like a horse-dentist. He wouldn't have to put on pants to treat a horse. Now what else are you going to tell me? Did the wife play the mandolin? Does the boy join the cavalry? Oh, Tamkin, you really are a killer-diller.”

“0h, you think I'm trying to amuse you,” said Tamkin. “That's because you aren't familiar with my outlook.” I deal in facts. Facts always are sensational. I'll say that a second time. Facts always! are sensational.”

Wilhelm was reluctant to part with his good mood. The doctor had little sense of humor. He was looking at him earnestly.

“I'd bet you any amount of money,” said Tamkin, “that the facts about you are sensational.”

“Oh–ha, ha! You want them? You can sell them to a true confession magazine.”

“People forget how sensational things are that they do. They don't see it on themselves. It blends into the background of their daily life.”

Wilhelm smiled. “Are you sure this boy tells you the truth?”

“Yes, because I’ve known the whole family for years.”

“And you do psychological work with your own friends? I didn’t know that was allowed.”

“Well, I'm a radical in the profession. I have to do good wherever I can.”

“Wilhelm’s face became ponderous again and pale. His whitened gold hair lay heavy on his head, and he clasped uneasy fingers on the table. Sensational, but oddly enough, dull, too. Now how do you figure that out? It blends with the background. Funny but unfunny. True but false. Casual but laborious, Tamkin was. Wilhelm was suspicious of him when he took his driest tone.

“With me,” said Dr. Tamkin, “I am at my most efficient when I don't need the fee. When I only love. Without a financial reward. I remove myself from the social influence. Especially money. The spiritual compensation is what I look for. Bringing people into the here-and-now. The real universe. That's the present moment. The past is no good to us. The future is full of anxiety. Only the present is real–the here-and-now. Seize the day.”

“Well,” said Wilhelm, his earnestness returning. “I know you are a very unusual man. I like what you say about here-and-now. Are all the people who come to see you personal friends and patients -Coo? Like that tall handsome girl, the one who always wears, those beautiful broom-stick skirts and belts?”

“She was an epileptic, and a most bad and serious pathology, too. I'm curing her successfully. She hasn't had a seizure in six months, and she used to have, one every week.”

“And that young cameraman, the one who showed us those movies from the jungles of Brazil, isn't he related to her?”

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