George Orwell, in his last, best novel 1984 , pictured his anti-hero, an unsuccessful rebel in a paranoically repressive society, frequenting after his release from a “cure” for “thoughtcrime” which maimed his body and broke his spirit a small out-of-the-way cafe where there always seemed to be an inconspicuous table free for him and always another cup of free gin-substitute available on request. In the wondrously evil empire which Orwell depicted in his book, this was only a position made open for him (like a refusenik in preGorbachev Russia) to hold him, a social supernumerary, while awaiting his final betrayal of his idealism. One day while sipping free gin under the wallsize portrait of Ronald Reagan the battered survivor of psychiatric torture had a waking vision, or perhaps a daydream, he hadn’t been sure of his mental landscape recently, and in the vision he saw as it were a massive enemy arrow driving south on the continent of Africa, south to the very tip of South Africa, so that it seemed there was no escape from it, when suddenly two arrows of the friendly forces leaped forward from Angola — whose proWest guerrilla leader has been welcomed to Washington repeatedly in the last four years — and from Mozambique — where a devastating famine has forced the regime to adhere to a truce with South Africa even tho So. Africa violated the truce the day it was signed — and, acting like a giant pincer, broke in two the enemy arrow going south and crumpled it to pieces.
Just then the Videoscreen interrupts with a news flash about a brilliant military victory in the battle for Africa: trumpets blare and the news is repeated. In the last line of the book, thru tears tasting of gin Winston Smith realizes he finally loves Big Brother.
Recipients, this letter is written in the Franklin Street Cafe, halfway between my seedy rooming house and fashionably residential Lake Merritt, at the outskirts of Oakland’s downtown financial district. I am sipping my daily free double espresso, washed down with Koala Springs orange & mango juice carrying a red stamp with legend Imported From Australia, and when I run out of either one I am given a free refill.
Nor is the rest of the menu denied me: without my asking, Micha the owner, Jackie her niece, or Anna her sister-in-law will bring me pastries, sandwiches, soups, what-have-you. Micha and I have had words on several occasions about her stubborn refusal to accept payment; you’ll go broke on my appetite, I say, and she looks me dead in the eye & says I’ll do what I want, so I am forced to concede at least that her & my interests coincide.
Friends, I have even gone so far as to submit a poem to these three Korean women protesting unconfined sense of masculinity when waited on by so many submissive, smiling maidens, and they respond by complaining I don’t drop by often enough or stay long enough. Au comble de mes plaisirs séduisantes, Madame has today left me in my table in the corner by the floor-to-ceiling window/wall in complete control of the two women remaining : as she left for the day she smiled & said, See you tomorrow.
May tomorrow never come, I murmur in the mind. With Faust I ask the moment to linger awhile, knowing that admitting to the Tempter that I am not bored consigns me to the eternal flames, especially where I ask it purely to prolong a mental pleasure. Voici je reste, watching the leather-skirted dusky-hued native Oakland women stride by on their stiletto heels, these career women who pleasure my eye by attaining unprecedented heights of cosmetic glamor, while holding a letter from a friend of three decades — the 60s, 70s, and 80s, they seem to emerge like 3 distinct eras — summarizing my situation in terms which occasionally rise to eloquence.
So who cares? The promise fades. Humor blackens, and the concentration wanders. Michael Meo becomes an object of concern, of pity, and finally of indifference. He must use a manner “calculated . . . to grate on [the] nerves and personally offend your sensibilities right away” so as to appeal to logic rather than “vapid and banal sensitivities.” Who cares about listening to logic, laced with insults? There is plenty of logic in the world — it’s mass-produced in Silicon Valley, compressed on tiny chips, and sold to everyone. It doesn’t offend us. We’re indifferent to it except as it serves a higher purpose[emphasis added — MM]. What is needed is not logic but love, Mr Spock. The question is not who cogitates, but who cares !
Now the answer is, we care for you, not because you insult us and reject us, but because we love you. You apparently do not find yourself a worthy recipient of this love. You resist it, reduce it to financial support, reject it. You force your family to reject you in an attempt to reform your behavior, then beat them over the head with their rejection. You revel in it. It satisfies, perhaps, your own self-evaluation.
These weighty words from the guy who when in 1983 I was arrested (3 times) for swimming in Lake Merritt in order to, as I explained it at the time, protect the constitutional right of posterity in Oakland to bathe in navigable bodies of water denied them by the municipal code of Oakland, went and photographed half the shoreline of the lake to prove No Swimming signs were not posted and then drove 35 miles to the Alameda County Jail to deliver them to me, and then — there’s more — found when he went back to the parking lot that he’d locked himself out of his own car and had to call his wife Alison to ask her to bring a spare set of keys and ask his best friend in graduate school, Caas (he’s Dutch & I think that’s the spelling but I could be wrong : pronounced ‘Case’) Gispen to drive her out to Santa Rita in his car, only to learn when the car finally pulled up that his daughter had just vomited over the front seat. . .
What a friend!!