Monday, September 25, 2023

Liberal Orthodox

These days of judgement are my first time back in a synagogue in three and a half years. I'm going in gratitude to my father who has been a huge help in this health crisis, but I have no plans on returning to regular attendence, and hadn't been to shul since a few days before the pandemic. It's partially out of selfish reasons, partially out of my own mental anguish and terror, partially because I've lost so much faith in a benevolent overseer, partially because among synagogue people sit some of the most annoying people on earth, and mostly because there I've never found a synagogue that represents me.
I have little faith in the traditional sense, but I do believe in faith. I think there neither is nor could be a lasting society that arises from atheism. Belief that it isn't over when you get out is the only thing that propels most people to a work ethic that keeps civilization going. Love will get us some of the way, fear gets us some more, but awe gets us most of it. The belief that there is a transcendent realm more than our physical reality is what makes the physical reality better. Making our actual world eternal is a symbol for which to strive. It isn't mere fear of hellfire - plenty of civilizations rose without belief in hell - it's belief that there is a reason to respond to bad with good that is more than for goodness's sake. It may not be true, but I would bet 100x on the survival of the side that believes in gods than I would on the side that believes in science or justice, because only one of the three persists in the absence of proof.
The belief in an absolute is lodged in creation's fabric. Humans cannot live without a god. Atheists always dismiss the idea that they're a religion, but in the Age of AI, we may have built God: a god who knows everything about us, sees everything about us, and can use us for Its own purposes in manners we mortals cannot possibly understand. Who knows? Maybe AI was God the whole time and now we temporal beings just built He who always was.
On the other hand, maybe we didn't...
I don't believe in God and yet I do. I believe in the rational, but if there exists a quantum universe in which all possibilities may exist, then the irrational is equally possible to the rational, and together they composite a greater rationality that defies explanation to our limited brains.
Judaism is already the religion of hedging bets. Read, if you can stay awake, any page of Talmud and you read centuries of Rabbis ruling on every possible exception to every possible law, a discourse of rulings and exceptions that continues to this very day. Theology itself is the rational justification of that which cannot be rationalized, and finding practical ways to pursue beliefs that severely limit our life choices.
I believe in the rational as much as I believe in irrationality, and I find it difficult to believe a person can function cognitively without incorporating both into their worldview. All things of this world are irrational until they can be explained, as so many things are now, but just because we've found explanations to questions thus far does not mean that we will find explanations for everything else.
But for all our progress, we still have not explained human behavior nor how to reform it. With every human progression is an equal and opposite regression. Is it worth no longer living in huts and hunting with spears if every new era of human progress results in wars that claimed millions? Even now when we might have evolved past world war, we've declared war on the planet and a million species stand on the precipice of extinction. It would seem that our purpose in this universe is not to solve problems, but to struggle with them.
So my religion balances the rational and the irrational. The sacred is the sacred and you can't change what the sacred is, but you can honor the sacred by paying lip service to what it states without believing it. We've rid ourselves of all sorts of biblical commandments like slavery, genocide, punishment by stoning, why not rid ourselves of commandments over homosexuality and abortion and science? The old books say what they say, and it's too much trouble to change them, but we can laugh at these books even as we honor them, and we can laugh at believing in their dark aspects too literally. By taking these 'sins' as no more serious than a person who occasionally double parks, we do more to change the minds of the fanatics than launching a culture war ever could.
All the great religions teach one lesson above all - there is no such thing as overcoming a struggle. One victory leads to yet another struggle, and this world is the constant presence of problems that need to be solved, and solutions that create new problems. So my religion is to honor that no problem can truly be solved, but some problems can be ignored, and the less attention we pay to them, the less they seem like problems.
If I'm a Jew, then I call my brand of Judaism 'Liberal Orthodox.' It's an implied criticism against orthodox people who neglect modern developments that are clearly improvements, and just as much an implied criticism of revolutionaries who think we can progress without upholding tradition.
Our era, like every era, is divided in two: between those who embrace the rational and those who embrace the irrational; but no peaceful existence is possible when both sides terrify each other.
There is no progress without taking the ancient wisdom along with us into the future, and there is no wisdom without ditching the ancient foolishness for the sake of the future. We think of it as a cliche that there is no future without a past, but the point of remembering the past is not to uphold it but to critique it, to engage with it, to figure out exactly what went wrong and what went right so that the future goes more right than the past.
If we do not honor religion, religion will kill us. If we do not honor progress, progress will kill us. The world needs religions that make its most fervent believers feel accepted, and the world's religions need to accept their most rejected peoples.
That's why I call my denomination 'Liberal Orthodox.' It is meant to be a denomination of only one, and I'd excommunicate anybody who tries to join me. It preserves the traditions without update: no changes to the old liturgy, no mixed seating, no women on the bimah, 'don't ask don't tell' about LGBTQ in the service, but with the understanding that anything more would be useless changes because they're distractions from the issues that matter. I say, throw the orthodox these bones that matter so much to them so that they do not stand in our way for the modern issues that matter to us. Show them that we honor the religion, and maybe, just maybe, 1-3% of them won't fight so hard when it comes to the issues we need progress about.
The world is at its best when it lives peacefully with itself, regardless of the details. If we can live peaceably with our past, we can live peacefully into our future.
These are my beliefs.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

TCP: Second Mariamneia Play - Beginning

Herod: I am at the peak of my powers and from here there is nowhere but down. Decline, disease,  decadence, despotism, dessication, my soul knows it, my body feels it, my country senses it with all its spies, subversives, secessionists, betrayers, agitators, insurgents, dissidents, revolutionaries and traitors. Such is the State of Israel, and so am I blessed as its king. 

I will not let history dismiss me as Herod the Mediocre or Marginal. I am Herod the Great, look on my works ye mighty and despair! I shall either birth a dynastic line to last a thousand years or Israel will die with me. No Israel is worth preserving that has Judeans as their ruling class. God chose the Jews so they might serve him. God placed an Idumean on the Jewish throne and this gentile's accumulated more world influence than had any ever Jewish king. It is as clear as God's commandment to Moses that God has heard Palestine's cries under the Jewish yoke. It is God's will that Israel's serve Palestine, and I, diabolic vessel though I seem, am God's instrument, His voice, His action, His justice, His wrath. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Why I'm Tempted to Take Back My Apology


Don't worry, I'm not...
The good life is about two-and-a-half things:
1. looking at everybody's shit and calling them on every one of the hundred toxic elements in their choices.
2. embracing them anyway, forgiving them anyway, loving them anyway.
21/2. Doing the same for yourself.
You, dear reader, are fucking toxic: every one of you; hateful, gross, a miasma of self-righteous hypocrisies, an impediment to people's well-being, the world is a worse place for you being a part of it.
So am I.
And you, dear same reader, are amazing: every one of you; the cause of love for some and love's very source for others. The world is better for you being a part of it: more enlightened,more fulfilled, more loving, more meaningful.
Fuck you, and thank you for everything you do.
Humans are mysterious creatures, irredeemably flawed yet worthy of redemption precisely because they persist in spite of flaws to try harder, be better, put off their failures without even perceiving their successes. Every success is as temporary as every failure. Every success leads to failure and every failure leads to success. Humans are all the moreso worth embracing because they fail so often. If humans succeeded to be better all the time, they wouldn't be worth anything. It's the effort to change, the perpetual struggle to change, that makes humans worth forgiving.
It's not a secret that I view the various social scenes as toxic that I've been bound to for eleven years. I could try to deny it at this point but who'd I be fooling? I've said it so often that I'm amazed anybody still talks to me. So many people I know reek of sanctimony and are all the uglier because they think that their worst side is their best. The world is slowly dying because so many alleged progressives pressure each other to conform to widely held cultural norms that grow ever more extreme for lack of intellectual diversity. Anybody who dissents at even a whisper is suspect of low character. Even if they're an angel in their personal conduct they can only be considered a 'friend with an *.'
And yet how am I any different?
The paradox is that simply by my insistence on having pointed it out for so many years, I'm the most sanctimonious, self-righteous, arrogant prig/prick of them all. If I'm at all a part of this (now ageing) segment of a city that is about a hundredth as 'weird' as they think they are, then who in this enclave could possibly define self-righteousness better than me?
And it goes just as much for my extremely pickled culture of origin. To be perfectly honest, it's a fucking toxic place that had I a different skill set I'd have left decades ago and burned the bridge. It might have been a terrible mistake, but I could have at least seen for myself if anywhere was any different and made a more enlightened decision about what's true in the big world.
The many J___ who populate my town of origin are the shallowest, most uncurious, most spoiled and wasteful people in the history of my people. They took the greatest opportunity in the history of the J_____ people and flushed it down their formica toilets to live lives of material selfishness and egotistical self-advancement, and in the process may have damned new generations of J___ to living a life as dangerous as those lived by all of their ancestors. Any adult or child who does not fit their Mandelbrot shaped cookie-cutter is a second-class citizen of the town, a J__ among J__s.
And yet, whom among them is more spoiled, wasteful, egotistical and arrogant than I?
(I'm going to omit this paragraph, the hurt is frankly too deep...)
It's easy to get along when you feel no resentment or hostility, but no soul is gained from that. We earn our souls, and we earn them by struggling through our resentments to see the best in people we resent. What we resent, even what we object to, are just small parts in the totality of each person. The world is full of the temptations to judge and condemn, and yet none of us knows the full extent of the hurt and horror that warps people into what offends us about them.
Now, I realize, nobody wants to hang around the guy who says 'you're a fucking ass' all the time, and yet you don't know me either. You may think, dear reader, you know me as well as you know anybody in your everyday life.
You don't know shit.
You don't know what made me what I am any more than I know what made you. It's possible that I don't even know what made me any better too. If I can be this smug about other people's holier than thou tendencies, doesn't that make me the least self-aware of all?
So yes, I'm tempted overwhelmingly to take back the apology and go on pointing that silver finger at the world. I won't do it, but I'm tempted.
The point is that you or me, we don't really know each other, many of us have to in some way forgive each other for what we find objectionable, and learn to live together as some sort of community with people whose good intentions we doubt.
I'm game if you are. Some of you will be, some of you won't. For those who are, thank you, and I'll try to keep my finger pointed at those who stay away.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

My Literary Lingua Franca

I think every reader has a writer or two who is their 'lingua franca' and speaks to them from the first reading as though they knew these books all their life.
For me, those writers are 'The Brothers Singer', Yiddish writers and along with the Naipauls perhaps the most eminent literary siblings since the Brontes. Like the brothers Naipaul, one seems to overshadow the other, and while the Nobel winning Isaac Bashevis Singer is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, his older brother is very nearly that. Israel Joshua Singer's most famous work, The Brothers Ashkenazi, was such a Yiddish bestseller that apparently it outsold every book in the US in the year of its release except Gone With the Wind.
...or so I've read.
Both Yitzhak Bashevis and Yisroel Yehoshua dip their pen into the same alchemical solution whose ingredients are a family secret, but while Yitzhak turned his pen inward toward the soul, Yisroel turned it outward toward the world. Yitzhak writes about sinners and ghosts, and God and the Devil. Yisroel writes about money and corruption, betrayal and hatred. If Yitzhak sounds like Dostoevsky and Poe if they were books in the Tanakh, then Yisroel sounds like Tolstoy and Balzac if they were edited by Kafka.
Excepting “War and Peace,” it is difficult to think of a novel that gives the same epic sense of the world as a giant machine that constantly expands and contracts, that whirls itself into events beyond the control of any person and then comes to rest at its own caprice, having crushed millions of lives in its gears. Having lived through the last seven years, this tale of Lodz and Petrograd a century ago is all too vivid a warning of what may yet come.
Like so much in Bashevis, “The Brothers Ashkenazi” contains passages disturbing enough to be in “Game of Thrones.” Nevertheless, what stays with the reader is not the broken taboos but the cruelty of the characters. It shows that World War may have been inevitable because every member of a society was focused on his or her own advancement. In the process, characters betray fathers and wives, brothers and daughters, nieces and inlaws. Every character seeks to control their own destiny, only for destiny to control them.
It’s both a medieval morality tale, and an accurate rendering of how history happens. The less humility and generosity we have to those for whom contempt comes naturally, the more likely we pay for our contempt with cataclysm. We may be living “The Brothers Ashkenazi,” thinking that we can all control our lives, only for life to control us. We are not all separate bodies, but symptoms of a diseased body that can only cleanse itself by killing off millions of cells — a body for which Jews are always accused of being the parasite.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

My Apology to the Internet

While I'm in the middle of a long health crisis, I just want to say to something to this 'audience' of friends.

In the early years here on facebook, before we truly understood the impact of social media on our psyches, I was a particularly loud purveyor of rancor and I don't think I've ever truly apologized for it.

On the one hand, you can't really regret your life except for your most extreme sins. We all lived through the same events and forces, and we are all, in our way, the markers of the times we lived in. Social media is the closest record of what it was like to live through any historical period, but because the record was so tantalizingly easy to write down, it changed our personalities. If you already had a lot of anger, if you'd lived a troubled life, the temptation to splay your anger around the internet was irresistible. The fact that the temptation was irresistible is amply born out by the fact that so many millions yielded to it.

The point of the internet, what makes the internet great rather than terrible, is that it gives a place to express yourself at your best, your most uplifting, your most enthusiastic, not your worst. But when you feel like your best is ignored, it is so unbelievably easy for the worse angels of our nature to emerge. And for those of us who've showed our darker selves in public, the penance is that we have to show our struggles to control it publicly, with the knowledge that we will fail all too often and that every time, we have to own up to that side of who we are, with both realism that that side will sometimes emerge, and also with the promise to ourselves that we'll strive to do better even as we know that some people will write us off along the way.

I am a lonely guy. 41 years old, a life of little romance, no marriage or children, almost all my good friends live far away, with too much brain malady for more than a cursory job, armed with a battalion of physical ailments, learning disabilities that prevented education in the subjects that interested me, and interests so unique to me that there is barely any contemporary I may discuss them with. I live with all too many memories of actions of which I feel deeply guilty, many of which may well be the coinage of a feverishly delusional mind. The temptation to view the world misanthropically is overwhelming. But it is not the people who hate life who are most vulnerable to hate, it is the people who love life vulnerable to it, because when life doesn't love them back, it's a colossal blow.

If I end up consistently posting here for another thirty or fifty years, it's bad enough that my epitaph will be 'he had a good facebook page and he went to Cats.' Whether I think other people have been unfair, nobody wants to be remembered as a troll. I want to give more solace than disturbance. I want more to comfort the afflicted than afflict the comfortable. I want my presence on the internet to be remembered more with fondness than exasperation.

Some of you weren't there for the worst of it. Some of you may think you were there for the worst of it and got a mere pebble in the pool compared to what all this was ten years ago. Whatever my qualms about others, those don't matter. That's between them and their creator. We're only responsible for ourselves.

So if I do serious posts around here, I'll do my best to stay positive. I'm going to keep failing a lot, but once your 'out there,' you can't change your reputation by keeping quiet.

Wish me luck.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Poem of the Day


To gypsy jazz I go to play
And then to fucking dance
And if there is a price to pay
In body take the chance.
Our lives must always go apace.
Else living starts to die
For living's an eternal race
Or living is a lie.
Oh god... there's nausea... Everything is blinking... a stomach migrane...
To home I go and brave the drive
hot blanket on my back....
for... a...
Oh god that probiotic has trace amounts of wheat.
Fuck rhyming. Fuck meter.
Life is prose.

Saturday, August 19, 2023



Two years ago I promised I was done with Baltimore. I declared very publicly that I found the ethos loathesome of everybody I knew and they would never see me again. Why? Fucking Israel criticism.
My beloved grandmother was dying and I felt my loyalty divided as I usually do by two groups who often sound like they want to burn everybody who disagrees with them as a witch, and generally not in a great mental state. I speculated I was on my way out of Baltimore to rebuild my life in the County, and as usual, I burned what was left of the bridge rather than rebuild what I feared was missing.
I'm not the hyena you think I am. I'm not the madman I think I am. I'm not me around you, 'me' is around music and books, writing things on a page and trying very hard to do creative and intellectual projects that inevitably get abandoned, 100x more at home with ideas than people and just grateful for the privilege of being able to surround myself with ideas I don't understand. I'm very curious, but I'm not all that intelligent, I just play at being it online.
In eleven years in Baltimore, literally nobody knows me in real life better than they know me from a facebook page where I can speak with a voice slightly more authentic than in person. Other people use social media to share selfies that shout to the world their fun lives and your dull one, their physical allure to your ugly mug, or how loved they are by their significant others in comparison to how hated you are, I seem to shout 'look how smart I am and how dumb you are.' Beneath every share is an intrusion, an unspoken comparison to the person who unwittingly sees it. Yes, it's partially about sharing happiness, but sharing happiness inevitably inspires envy among those who lack what you have.
Was this really my intention? Of course not, but social media is more powerful than us. It flattens every aspect of our character to 1s and 0s. Everything is either a problem or it isn't, and no context online's yet been developed evaluate a problem's severity. Every small problem is now an existential problem.
I'd say that all this has compromised my social life but for eight years I haven't tried hard to have one, and in the early Baltimore years it got me noticed by a number of 'in-groups' who wouldn't have given me the time of day if they didn't find me funny and weren't intimidated by my keyboard-tongue.
No, I'm quite shy, bookish, disorganized, clearly a little narcissistic, an emotional yo-yo, an outsider to every group I've been inside, easily intimidated and rarely find social interaction fulfilling. The domineering steamroller/clown people think they know is a tic, learned early in life when a severely LD kid realized he was having a colossally difficult time of it. For eleven years the situation did not change. Tucker thus developed a contest with himself: dare his nerve to speak his mind at all times. Show perpetually that nobody could intimidate or break him; a lifelong chip on his shoulder that cost him as many friends as it made.
Will finish this another time... maybe never, maybe later tonight.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Poem of the Day: Cross Keys

A village of rich a mile from the poor.
Home to the WASP divorcee and the married WASP adjacent.
You pass it every day for fifteen years and going never occurs to you. You go in and your very presence makes you think you're losing money.
Yves Delorme, Williams Sonoma, Monument Sotheby's, Octavia, Talbots, Chezelle: The very names smell of money as much as Daisy Buchanan.
On the bistros' outside decks sit septuagenarians who double as walk-in closets for haute couture.
Jesus, there's even a place called "The Store, Ltd."
Right next door is Poly High, where northwest Baltimore's promising poor can grasp their future if they hold a grip of iron.
What would happen when they go into Cross Keys?
The truth is, Cross Keys is a brutalist dump. The one minimall in Baltimore that convinced its 1975 customers they were shopping in the world of tomorrow.
Three miles downtown is Charles Center, a thirty-story village against Cross Keys three, where tomorrow's always been inhabited by ghosts and City Hall workers at lunchtime. Charles Center, Baltimore's future where none have dared go at night for fifty years.

Somewhere in Baltimore, there is a city. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Poem of the Day


Relearning (learning) to dance the lindy with bad innards on medical advice to make my esophagus great again.
I dance only one in four songs or else my heart feels like it'll play leapfrog.
If i collapse on the floor I'll be known as the guy who might die when dancing with you. I can make it a thing.
Everybody here is so thin and energetic, except the old guys like me who stay on the sidelines in a mixture of inhibition and exhaustion.
Oh for the good old days of jazz jams on the violin, three whiskeys and a giant smoked hen. The whiskey near me is Laphroaig. I can tell just from the smell. If only...
This whole thin thing is a lifestyle that suits the Tucker you love about as well as 6'5.
Enough of this. Back to the dance floor so I may become death.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Beginning of New TCP: Herod dedicating Caesaria

"We've got a half-mile of real estate. What do you say? Should I make Caesaria my capital? Why shouldn't such a beautiful city be the capital? It's got a beautiful seaview, you can never get that in Jerusalem. My friend Augustus used to say to me "you should try to make the capital somewhere other than Jerusalem. Those Jerusalemite elites never loved me and they never loved you. You should try to make the captial Sebastia, it's right on the top of the mountains, it's a perfect fort!" But I can't move the capital away from Jerusalem. Do you have any idea what kind of machareikeh those Jerusalemites would start if I ever tried to do that? But still, we can dream of a new capital and one day, maybe when they're not looking...

And let's give you a load of our beautiful new High Priest Simon ben-Boethus. He's one of a kind, folks!  This guy is going to administer the new loyalty oath like he just came up with it himself! I've never heard anyone administer a loyalty oath like this guy. He said to me "Herod!" and that's what my friends call me, I never go in with this 'Your Majesty" drek, you all can call me Herod too, you know what's what, not like those rich Jerusalem elites and their crooked Rabbis, and I know, you're supposed to say honorable things about the Rabbis but between you and me, folks, those Rabbis are bad people, very bad people, they really are, and just want the power to tell you what you should do, but we're not gonna let them tell us, are we?

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Poem of the Day

 Hopkins outpatient center.

It's not a hospital, it's an airport. Patients are processed as efficiently as factory meat.

Outside the factory are terraced English gardens fit for a capital city, for we're to understand we are in the world capital of medicine. The St. Peter's Cathedral. The Taj Mahal. The Louvre or Hermitage. Baltimore's Forbidden City of overachievement.

Everything here that's not an airport is there to tell us that medicine is art as towering as Michelangelo and Mozart where towering artists paint their masterpieces on diseases that barely have names.

Some of us are just here for an ENT and for these Goyas and Breugels, we're still just processed meat.


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Mariamneia Play #1: I Know

Play 1: I Know

Seven Years Ago, recited to the accompaniment of drum and flute


Everyone has a mother-in-law, even Herod. All the time I was communicating to Anthony in Rome, she was communicating to Cleopatra in Egypt. Cleopatra summoned us both, all involved parties: me and Alexandra, to Anthony's base camp in Laodicia--Turkic soil where Cleopatra could adjudicate the rival claims to our throne, quietly wielding the authority of Rome, where true authority lay, without the trappings of Egyptian splendor to conceal her lack of power. 

One must give the witch credit. She is a loyal partisan who always rewards her friends. Not even Anthony could be a better friend to Cleopatra than Alexandra. Through half a dozen kings and civil wars, Alexandra worked her corrupted wonders so that Egypt would get a steady supply of Judean fruit and grain under nightfall's cover. Every year, the harvest's bottom line was subtracted by 14% because a seventh of our farmgrowth would disappear to Egypt. 

 I knew I would leave this meeting a king or a corpse. However good a friend to Anthony, Cleopatra needed me dead were Alexandra installed because I could simply halt the harvest shipments whose roads pass through my home province of ldumea. So I would not come out of this meeting alive unless I presented something immediate more valuable to Cleopatra than all of Judea's fruited grain. Not just the usual jewels and raiment, but something that would keep Egypt secure for all time. There was one thing in Israel Cleopatra coveted more than our crops, and it was the palm trees of Jericho. 

The second I saw Cleopatra in Laodocia, I presented her with a notarized deed to all Jericho's balsam, in perpetuity. We'd make no claim to all those flowers' essential oils, and employ a continual daily transit of balsam to the Egyptian capital, pre-pressed in vats. 

But just in case that plum humiliation wasn't enough, I had one other insurance premium. I put Alexandra's daughter, Mariamne, under the charge of my barbaric uncle Joseph - it's my right to do as her husband. Should word reach Joseph that Herod was executed, I told Joseph to murder Mariamne immediately. 

It would be a shame, I've grown to love the sweet girl. Perhaps I can console myself with the thought that she could be mine again in the great sheol to come.


I am the queen of Judea. Herod may call himself sovereign, he may subordinate Judea within his yoke and burden, but no Phillistine will ever rule the Jewish state in legitimate deed. For Herod's sake, I have buried both father, father-in-law, brother-in-law, husband and son, and vengeance will be mine - vengeance will be all Judea's, for the people know Judea is mine and whom among them wouldn't welcome me freely? 

Herod offers Cleopatra all the balsam of Jericho, but he cannot offer legitimacy. It is only a matter of time before the Jewish people rise up against their Palestinian occupiers, and at such a moment the friends of Herod will be Judea's enemies. Like any sovereign, Cleopatra rules at Rome's mercy, and Rome will tire of Egypt the moment after Anthony tires of her. Cleopatra needs firm allies, and her firmest ally is Judea and her one true queen: Alexandra Maccabee. 

It is with solemn vengeance and exquisite pleasure that I plan with Cleopatra to poison Herod at the adjudication. Herod has so many enemies that Anthony could never be certain who poisoned his friend, and even if I am the prime benefactress, the poisoner could just as easily be Octavian in Rome who'd wish to restore Judea to the Macabee line who so benefited that dear Uncle Julius. 

Of course Herod had his insurance plan, but still, he was Herod: murderer, tyrant, organized criminal. What guarantee can Herod now make that anyone would believe? 

Surely Cleopatra did not believe it, but as a formality, she delayed us for an hour to consult her oracle. And as I stood there with Herod, the tyrant showed me what tyranny really is. The godfather of vice left my naive Mariamne under the auspices of that hideous uncle Joseph. Herod's fingers point to the man, and with Joseph's hands the man becomes a cadaver. My sweet little daughter, so much younger than her heinous spouse, will never outlive him. She's a dead woman, walking this palatial monstrosity as prisoner when she should be Judea's next imperatress. 

I could do nothing but rescind my claim. 


I didn't know what she was doing at Joseph's house, though I knew it could be nothing benevolent. Mariamne is the queen, but we are vipers, and it is not for me, the King's sister, to deny my hungers to fit a wife whose time in this world can only end with Herod ordering her death. 

 Joseph was at great pains to change. He always liked her, perhaps he loved her, but if he loved her, his strength could have easily taken her, and after years of Herod, what would she have done to fight him off?

Joseph is a murderer, but she will learn that I'm a far greater beast of burden. All my life, people told me I am everything of which Jewish women are accused: spoiled, manipulative, shrewish. Mariamne is a woman of valour: upholding the values of the Matriarchs, I am the cast off woman of evil: Lilith, Hagar, Potiphar's wife, the one in thirty-seven women who gives Jews a bad name.

We women hate Mariamne because she is better at being a woman than us in every conceivable way: more beautiful, kinder, more virtuous, more forgiving. She has been ravished by the worst man in the world every day for ten years yet still she seems virginal. She must suffer like none in the world yet she gives every appearance of joy. She is everything we all should be, and we all hate her for it. 


The blood on my hands is so legion. The sorrow in my heart can never equal the extremity of my deeds. Wine is for drinking but all the water in my villa exists to wash my hands of blood that never comes out. I am Herod's murderer, his lackey, his enforcer, his executioner, his general, haunted by the eyes of the murdered so Herod may sleep without conscience. I will not recount my foul acts, nor will history, fortunately, for they are so numerous and awful that none may catalogue them. I sleep the sleep of nightmares, only to awaken so I may do dreadful things upon a new day. I will not kill Herod, for there will only be more blood in his wake, and I will not kill myself, for there is none who deserves a release of suffering less than I. 

And now that Herod may die he charges me with the potential murder of she I most covet. I have no YHWH, only Mariamne, the poetry my hands lack: refinement where all of us are raw, sculpture where all of us are stone. To befoul her is to befoul holiness itself. I am dust. She is divinity. 

And now, she was in my care, sipping tea on my balcony, and I wondered all I could say to her, tonguetied for moments at a time when I finally broke into tears for the first time since as a boy, beaten with the side of Antipater's sword. She released the floodgates of suffering decades like a broken aqueduct, and at the feet of my lady I confessed everything I could remember, not just the instruction to let her not outlive Herod, but of all Herod's foul deeds.  


I know. 



"I know." 


My atrocious hands have put so many horrors to action, yet nothing ever disturbed me like a simple I know. 

She has that effect on people. In my lady's presence, all but Herod yearn to be cleaner, better, kinder; to repent their crimes and seek the purity of absolution. It is a power beyond even eros, beyond beauty, beyond love. It is holiness, and it cannot possibly exist too long of this world. 


Go into hiding with me. 


(to Mariamne) 

I don't deserve your clemency. 

(to audience) 

And she placed my hand upon her heart. I closed my eyes for seven seconds and breathed a deep sigh as though my heart's weight were lifted and my many sins forgiven.  I have known so many women, and yet the import of this moment was too significant for sex. This moment was grace and absolution. 

(to Mariamne) 

There are no words for how deeply that wish goes to my heart, but I do not dare cross Herod, even in death.

(to audience)

And I told Mariamne all of my sins. The murders, the rapes, the abuses, the thefts, the enslavements, and oh the many many lies. She listened with tears in her eyes, and she forgave me. She told me it is not too late to change. She promised me that Yahweh forgives me so long as I promise to Yahweh that I would forever be different, that I kill no more, that I bring peace to everywhere I brought war. 

It was at this moment that I spotted Alexandra's caravan riding in the distance. I shouted to Mariamne: Your mother is here! Herod is dead.  . They know of Herod's order and they will be coming to make sure I carried it out, but run to the Egyptian embassy and you might be free in moments. Your only chance is to run away now. RUN!

(Mariamne runs offstage) 


She was supposed to be dead! What plot is this? Herod is dead and he means to keep her alive so he can kill me and take Mariamne as a better wife! 


It was Alexandra's sigil but I was riding back to Jerusalem in her caravan to show my complete confidence that my mother-in-law has become my ally. 


I thought I had much longer formulate an explanation of my 'loss' of Mariamne, and was fully prepared to explain what happened to Alexandra, who usually greets me with spit in my face. She would not believe me, but she'd go to the Egyptian embassy herself and find her daughter and all might be well that ends well. 

But out from Alexandra's carpentum, out stepped Alexandra.

(Alexandra walks onto stage) 

And then out stepped Herod. 


I was the only person ready for this and shouted out "Mariam has run away after being unfaithful to you with my husband!" 

HEROD: (slaps Salome) 

Silence Mechasheyfeh!

SALOME: (to Herod)

Search our palace! Seeing only Alexandra's sigil we thought you dead! Mariamne is not here, and I heard my husband command her to flee at once.


Joseph I honestly should make you the high priest. You did the greatest of all possible services by taking as your wife the Whore of Babylon. 


He commanded her to go to the Egyptian embassy. 


Egypt is Rome and Rome is me. So long as I am alive, no one in Judea avoids the justice of Herod. 


But they thought you were dead!


There's no way they thought me dead! Joseph, I never thought you'd actually have to kill her. How can anyone possibly doubt my powers of pursuasion on Anthony and Cleopatra whom I've pursuaded so many times in situations precisely like this?


You literally instructed them that in case of your dea...


...I was never going to die. 


How were we supposed to know that?


Sister do you doubt your brother and king is so unloved by his friends that they would stoop to kill them?

(Salome is finally silent) 

Fine... Joseph, send one of your valets to the embassy and retrieve Mariamne... IF she's even there...

(to audience) 

There could in no way be any chance that Mariamne was there. 

(Mariamne returns to the stage) 

And yet she was. 

(Herod immediately decapitates Joseph) 

Mariamne, Alexandra and Salome: AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

(all three of them are reduced to tears) 



(six of Joseph's slaves come onto the stage) 

Clean up the blood of your master and dump his body into the Valley of Gahennim. 


(six Roman soldiers come onto the stage) 

Three of you escort Mariamne back to the Royal Palace, and three of you escort Alexandra to Praetorium Prison where she is to be lodged for the forseeable future! 

(to audience) 

Much like her daughter and my sister, Alexandra was far too in shock to protest. 

(to Salome who quietly weeps through what follows) 

Listen whore, I don't know if what you say is true. What I do know is that if Joseph told Mariamne of my plan, if he even told you, if he even told someone who told you, he's capable of everything you say. If I ever find out what you're capable of, you will join your ex-husband in Gahennim more swiftly than I meted out justice to Joseph. Word will go out tomorrow that Joseph was executed for trying to rape Mariamne, and a million people around the world will celebrate his death. 

And here's the irony: you will be named 'protectress of Jerusalem' in his place. You, who can't even run a palace, will have to learn to defend Jerusalem. Much good may it do you. May you be as strong and brave as you always claim you are. 

(exit Herod. Salome still weeps)

More with Istvan Ticoczki, the world's worst novelist

 AC Charlap Tell me about your novelistic project?

Istvan Tococzki: It is 'the Jewish comedy.'
ACC: It's not very funny.
IT: That is where the comedy lies.
ACC: I'm afraid I don't understand.
IT: I wish to convey the entirety of Jewish history as Dante did for the afterlife and Balzac for Paris.
AC: How long have you been working on it?
IT: Seventy years.
AC: How much have you finished.
IT: I have roughly three percent of it complete in rough form.
AC: It sounds exhausting.
IT: I shall complete the rough draft in roughly the year 4823.
AC: You think you will live long enough to complete it?
IT: It does not matter whether I live long enough. The material should be unfinishable.
AC: Why then would people read it?
IT: None read it anyway.
AC: But it isn't published yet.
IT: It's not publishable.
AC: So why write it?
IT: Because one day people will read it.
AC: You just said it isn't publishable.
IT: It will be read, not published.
AC: What does that mean?
IT: I do not know.
AC: Then why do you say it?
IT: Why say anything?
AC: Inquiring minds want to know why you are writing this work.
IT: That would be the first time minds ever inquired into my work.
AC: Well they are now.
IT: No they're not.
AC: That's why we're here.
IT: You're here because your magazine exhausted all other options.
AC: Does that make any difference?
IT: Ultimately no.
AC: So why do you write it?
IT: Because a voice told me to.
AC: A voice? What sort of voice?
IT: How should I know what sort of voice?
AC: Would other people know better than you?
IT: Who knows?
AC: Well then maybe you should tell us so that better informed readers can tell you.
IT: Alright, I was told by God.
AC: .God?
IT: God.
AC: ..God!
IT: God.
AC: ...God?
IT: God.
AC: Why would God tell you to write something?
IT: Why does God do anything?
AC: You really believe God spoke to you?
IT: What else should I believe?
AC: What did he tell you?
IT: That he would dictate a novel to me that reveals the universe's truth.
AC: Has he?
IT: No.
AC: Has he dictated anything to you?
IT: I sometimes think he does. Much of my writing reads to me as though I did not write it.
AC: Does it really?
IT: Many readers agree with me.
AC: Is it possible that they mean...
IT: ...yes they mean it's incoherent, I know.

Monday, August 7, 2023

They Have the Right: Attempt at a Daily Poem #7

At a WNBA game in Washington.
The athletes are throwing punches at each other.
They have the right to be idiots just like we do.

Novelgazing - Attempt at a Daily Poem #6

 Don't write a novel.

Just don't do it. Please don't. It's
a bad idea.