The Root of the Problem
Alright. I’ve gone a little nuts, but I’m armed, so it’s okay. A cold cartridge laid upon a damp palm–a talisman of sorts–or snapped into the cylinder, like a slap to the kisser, promotes alertness and clear thinking. Keeps you awake, at least, and it’s better for the bowels than coffee.
So obvious the cause of this whole mess. Here in bed with me night after night. No, I’m not talking about my rifle, but my wife. Italian. Her ancestors were Roman. Roman. So? So read the Bible, shit head. See the root, the Latin root, of all this evil. Judas mighta sold out Jesus, but it was the Romans who strung him up, lynched him, and if you look at what Jesus was doing, among other things–busy guy–it was inventing a means to defeat an unbeatable Empire: non-violence. Scared the crap outta everybody, and not only that, it worked. Render that which is Caesar’s unto Caesar, indeed.
But that’s just a Testament, after all, penned by Greek Platonists and disgruntled Rabbis. I’m talking about History: Diaspora. The Roman conquest of Palestine. Exile. The whole kit n’ caboodle. The Beginning.
My wife’s fault, of course. Her whole family posing as these kindly, hard-working American types who merely know how to cook better than anybody else when all along they had the guilt, the GUILT for this whole mess perched like mute parrots on their strong, bronze ROMAN soldiers.
Next door, my in-laws where throwing their annual Christmas party. And what were they celebrating anyway, under all that Santa Claus mishegas, but the lynching by their ancestors of yet another loud mouth Jew? A Jew who spoke out once too often and too candidly. A Jew who didn’t know his place. Started to make more sense then. Their kindly “tolerance” toward me, the Jew in the family. Worse: the loud mouth lefty atheist non-aligned Jew, who wouldn’t know the meaning of family if he were a piglet at the teat. Hell I didn’t have a decent conversation with my own mother until at least three years after she was dead.
Started to make sense that it is all THEIR fault, not only that Middle East nightmare half a world away, but the harsh here-and-now reality that I, who want only to be left the fuck alone, am drafted into Judaism due to anti-Semitism bread of 2000 years of squatting from one hostile country to the next, culminating in the Slaughter Of All Slaughters (well, there were the Armenians, and the Native Americans, and the Africans who died en route to “democracy” and the Cambodians and–but hell, you know what I mean) by the Germans. And if you read Tacitus or any of those Imperial Roman courtier scribes, or even saw the movie, “Gladiator,” you know what the Romans did to those blond-haired, blue-eyed tree folk (no wonder they went all starry-eyed and metaphysical and loony; Kant and Beethoven were only the beginning).
Good god, the Romans fucked up EVERYBODY. And when they weren’t crucifying folks or shuffling populations hither thither and yon they were inspiring others–yes, even in DEATH–to do the same (hint, hint Britain; hint, hint, US of A). We won’t even mention the Catholic Church, which took the bag Paul swiped from Jesus and buried it under a mountain of neat Roman hierarchy. And where is the Pope located anyway, Mahwah, New Jersey? Bullshit. It’s all the Italians’ fault. No wonder these people overflow with gusto and joie de vivre and the wine and the food and the whole Fellini Life’s-A-Sexy-Freak-Fest thing. You’d be happy too if you’d spent 20 centuries getting away with murder and nobody–well, maybe the Greeks–blamed you for anything except “Rocky IV!”
So I loaded my rifle with those hollow-point, banana sized cartridges and went next door and damn if I didn’t mean business.
“Adam. Where were you? Put that thing down. The macaroni and gravy are ready.”
Think they can get out of it with ingenuous ethnic banter, eh? Calling spaghetti and tomato sauce “macaroni and gravy” when everybody in the world, from Martha Stewart to Chef Boy Ardee, knows it’s spaghetti and goddam tomato sauce!
“It’s your fault!” I raged. “It’s always all everything entirely and to infinity been your fault. And now you’re gonna pay!”
“What are you talking? Put that thing down, you’re frightening the kids.”
Oh, right. Yeah. I’d forgotten. My nieces and nephews, ages one to fourteen years. Innocents. But are they REALLY? Can we honestly say that a five-year-old Palestinian is “innocent” of terrorism? Or a six year old Israeli is “innocent” of racist imperialism (not to mention killing Jesus–but it was the Italians who did that; the Pope even admitted it was an inside job)?
“Nobody’s innocent,” I said, righteously. “And nobody’s getting outta here alive!”
I looked around at all the tschotchkes the these benevolent folk had collected from various cultures on their way to World Conquest: Christmas trees, wreathes and other doo-dads filched from the Celts or Gauls or whatever pagan tree-huggers were into all that forest-and-pine-cone crap; turkey and yams from Native Americans; pasta from the Chinese; Frank Sinatra lifted, bourbon, tux and all, from the Mississippi Delta. I wouldn’t be surprised to find on my mother-in-law’s bookshelf, secreted behind the all art and poetry, The Protocols of the Elders of Milan
Old–too old, in my opinion; so old she’s barely human, more of a metaphysical argument, a lingering dream–Aunt Delia leaned over and whispered to her slightly younger and more vigorous brother, Vincent, “Isn’t that the nice Jewish boy who married Maria? Does he have a job yet?”
“Shut up. The nice Jewish boy’s deer rifle is fixed upon the Family Jewels. In case you didn’t notice.”
“Adam, you’ve been drinking again!” said my wife. “What is this about?”
“What is this about? What is this ABOUT? About TWO THOUSAND YEARS is what it’s about. World conquest! Empire! The Middle East is burning my brain and it’s all your goddamn fault! Uh…ethnically speaking, honey. Nothing personal.”
“Oh, Christ. Is he going on about one of those commie things he read on the internet again?” said my brother-in-law. “Why don’t you just take that damn laptop away from the poor guy–it’s making him nuts.”
“Oh, I get it. I know what all this is about,” said old Uncle Vincent.
“You do?” asked the fifteen other Conspirators Against Universal Peace And World Stability.
“Yeah, yeah,” he sighed, wearily. “Let me tell you, if I knew it was gonna come to this, I wouldn’t have lived so long. Damn olive oil.”
“Red wine too,” his sister piped in. “And Garlic. The Italian diet is -”
“Shut up!” barked Vincent. Then he turned to me. “Okay. So you put two and two together. Congratulations, Einstein. You talk about two thousand years of suffering? Try two thousand years of listening to grievances and heart-ache. The fruits of Empire are sweet but they rot quick. Straight to the core. Did we know the wine would turn to vinegar? Does anyone? We thought we were heeding the Destiny’s call and all that Caesar crap.”
“Two thousand years? Vinny, I didn’t know you were that old! If you’re my younger brother, that must make me -”
“Shut up, Delia!” the chorus screamed.
“So you admit it!” I crowed triumphantly. “At last! I’ve hacked these centuries of wilderness down to their Latin roots! Why don’t YOU deal with the fundamentalists of Abraham and all his batty sons, for a change? Moses said this and Jesus said that and Mohammed said this other thing. Do I need to hear this? It’s your problem, old man, not mine.”
“Look, it was a long time ago,” said Vincent, lighting a Di Nobili. “So many battles, ‘police actions,’ cities put to siege. I can barely even remember conquering the Jews. All I do remember, and it’s very vague, is marching drunkenly and chanting “Hierusalem est perdita” or something like that, in Latin. Marching. Marching. Always marching. Then a lot of hacking and chopping and blood and women screaming and children crying and badda-bing-badda-boom — we had Palestine. We posed for a frieze with one of those, whaddya-call, candelabra things and some newly minted slaves. I’m not completely sure what happened next. A lot of bureaucracy, paper work, that kind of thing. Again, it was a long time ago. I’m not the robust Centurion I used to be.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Well, it was a heck of a battle. You people put up a damn good fight. But we were the Empire. Nobody fucks with the Empire.”
“That’s not what I mean. That is. I don’t know. I expected HISTORY, I expected -”
“Lights! Cameras! Action! Kaboom! Like CNN. And all you got was the fuzzy war-story of an old man. Welcome to the world. I know how it is. Think I wasn’t young too, once?”
My righteous outrage caved in upon itself like a black hole.
“It’s like this,” said Uncle Vincent calmly. “Kind of like what that nice Italian fellow, the chemist, Levi, said, ‘the Palestinians are the Jews’ Jews.’ Well, what were the Jews but Rome’s Palestinians? Always making trouble, always clamoring about your ‘right’ to the land you’d lived on for generations. Same old stuff about your god as all the other outposts of the Empire. So, like with everybody else, we let you have your god or gods or whatever your tribal customs demanded. Just render your money, loyalty, and when necessary, your bodies, to Caesar when he needed them, and you were okay. The others behaved themselves. Why not the Jews? It’s not like we didn’t warn you. But you were threatening the stability of the Empire. What with the suicides at Massada and your guerilla networks. We were like the Americans in Vietnam. Or the Israelis in Beirut. Finally, we had to close down the whole show. Break up the group and disperse you. Nothing personal, just politics. Good politics, in my opinion. After all, it did, temporarily at least, for Rome, solve that pain-in-the-ass Palestine problem…”
Cold bummer. Empty reality blues. I loosened my sweaty grip on the rifle.
“Mommy, why is Uncle Adam holding that big gun? And why is he sad?” asked my six-year-old, nephew, Donny.
“He’s just playing, Donny. He’s pretending.”
“Pretending to be what?”
“I don’t know. Some kind of terrorist or something. Like on TV.”
“He doesn’t LOOK like the terrorists on TV.”
“Enough talk, Donny. Eat. It’s Christmas.”
She filled his plate with macaroni.
ADAM ENGEL has lost his mind. Anyone in possession of his mind is kindly requested to send as text–no attachments, please–to firstname.lastname@example.org.