Socrates did not even cry when in Kindergarten he caught his finger in the hinges of the classroom door cutting it right down to the bone. His mother brought him to a plastic surgeon. They only gave the child a local anesthetic.
Sometimes it feels like Abba went to play eighteen holes of golf one morning and never returned. He joined a country club in Norwich. Two highway stops south of New Congregation, it was another one of the wealthiest towns in New England. New Congregation, Connecticut is some twenty or thirty miles south of Manhattan. It is an affluent town in America. Huge houses sit on sprawling yards of mowed lawns, winding streets curve their way through acres of deciduous forest. This is where Socrates Cohen-Cooper was born and raised. There are very few minorities in the area, maybe one black family and three Jewish families. There are no synagogues, no rabbis; no kosher eateries. The school system does not observe the Jewish holidays. The Coopers said they chose to live there because the schools were good. Mama and Abba were born in the 1940s. Mama was from Long Island. Her father inherited a home heating company from his Greek immigrant father-in-law. They started in coal and over the years eventually moved to oil. Abba was born in Manhattan. His father had his own print type setting company. Papa had been in the war. He fought in Normandy on Omaha Beach under General Patton during D-Day. He was wounded when bomb shrapnel hit him in the ass. He had to lie down in the bunker and play dead because of the German storm troopers on the beach. For his heroism he received a Purple Heart. But his brother, Socrates, for whom I am named, always lived in Thessaloniki. Because of certain disagreements, Papa changed the surname from Cohen to Cooper; not to hide the Semitic-origin of the etymology—every one faced anti-Semitism in those days— but to make clear the family was bifurcated. Of these Salonican cousins, all were eventually shipped to Auschwitz where they died in the gas chambers. In the spring of ’43, Socrates was sent to slavery in the Warsaw Ghetto. Then, after the war, incommunicado with his brother in America—probably relating to that same argument over Marxism—Socrates returned to Greece rather than immigrate to the United States. He was killed in 1946, while taking up arms against the British-backed forces.
Shmuel Cooper had the idea to wait until both Jonathan and Socrates already had their Bar Mitzvahs before he decided to announce his atheism: a moral decision he had apparently made years earlier, but had the respect to not make a big deal of, lest he upset Mama who, was herself not tremendously religious. After administering everybody vitamins and Ritalin, Mama packed the school lunchboxes with ham sandwiches, juice, cookies and apples. The Cooper’s rabbi was a female. She had been from the first generation of Jews, ever, to have permitted such a thing in the American rabbinate.
Abba had worked for the National Broadcasting network all Socrates’s life. Soc was only about ten-years-old when Abba became Executive Vice President of adult talk radio. Among Abba’s most important clients was the conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh claimed that there was no such thing as homelessness. That year, Abba had Limbaugh come over to the brown house to chat before returning to Manhattan to have dinner. Limbaugh arrived in a limousine. Abba had mama order Crown Royal for the soon-to-be media icon. It was Limbaugh’s drink of choice. Waiting for dinner, they all sat in the living room. Abba told Rush Limbaugh that Socrates was the most knowledgeable kid when it comes to the Civil War. This was true. So Rush Limbaugh and Socrates chatted about that for a while. He asked Socrates the cause of the war and he told him slavery. The war was fought to free the slaves. Rush Limbaugh agreed. He claimed that left-wing academics were revisionists who claimed that slavery had nothing to do with the actual raison d’être for fighting the American Civil War. They claimed it had to do with taxes. Later that week, Rush Limbaugh mentioned my name on the air, saying that one of his producer’s kids, Shmuel Cooper, was the most knowledgeable kid about the Civil War.
Abba: Socrates, come in here I want you to meet somebody.
Mama: (following Abba around, awkwardly and embarrassing Abba). Honey, go over there. (A nervous pause, she nods in agreement with herself, as if to say, ‘okay, I’ll go back to cutting vegetables or whatever else I have to do as part of the general task of preparing the hors d’oeuvres, which is my unspoken, oft complained-about, duty on this planet).
[Socrates enters the room].
Rush Limbaugh: Well, hi there.
Socrates: Hi Mr. Limbaugh. (Shaking his hand. Then he grabs a seat. He leans forward to prepare engaging in lively, intelligent discussion.)
Rush Limbaugh: My dad tells me you know a lot about the Civil War.
Socrates: Yes sir.
Rush Limbaugh: When did it start?
Abba: What, the fascination?
Rush Limbaugh: Why?
Socrates: Because the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter in North Carolina.
Rush Limbaugh: Exactly! Hey, smart kid.
Socrates: Yeah. (He snagged a pretzel stick from the table and dipped it in some cheese). I was just reading about Charlottesville, and how there was a huge battle there and Fredericksburg and Antietam Creek they fought on a bridge. They said that there were more casualties than Gettysburg.
(Rush Limbaugh looked fraught.)
Rush Limbaugh: I’m going to talk about this on my show.
(Rush Limbaugh took the slicer and carefully pulled it over the cheese wedge like a surgeon with a scalpel, applying it to a wheat cracker.)
Unlike the brown house, the cream house was located on the east of town. It was back in the woods near Connecticut’s border with New York State, where architects like Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) built houses. Socrates would zip around the streets in his cherry red Audi A4. Their house was just down the street from Socrates’s new school, the Martin Luther School. He had taken the aptitude test, and despite trying to fail so that he could stay at public school, was accepted to the school. They were especially enthusiastic about his musical talent. He was playing a lot of guitar then: in some bands and privately and the Martin Luther School wanted him for jazz band and then there was the after school blues band but he had to quit after the first year because the instructor, a grey-haired English teacher who called himself, Mad Dog, did not know how to put his guitar in tune and constantly argued about it with Socrates. Socrates then joined the newspaper where they made him editor-in-chief. Jazz band though—jazz band was an experience like no other. It was widely expected, first-chair guitar—which belonged to Socrates—would have ample opportunity to showcase his forte. But come midyear, the instructor who—lived in a house behind the cream house (he had recently moved in, replacing the former inhabitants, among whom was actually an old chum), had been famous in the ‘70s for co-writing and recording an easy-listening pop hit which was always getting played on FM; and due to some disease, could not grow any hair whatsoever on his head, body or face—began to berate Socrates, regularly: “You’re not playing the notes on the sheet properly”; “You’re not voicing those chords right”; “You’re always late!”; “Turn down the volume on your amplifier…” As an independent studio class, Socrates had to learn with Mr. Minbauch one-on-one in keyboard skills. Socrates was not the world’s greatest pianist. They read music for both hands in both clefs, learned to voice various harmonies, and explored other basics of music theory. Minbauch was strict, “You’re not even practicing!” he complained.
“I have no keyboard at home to practice on.”
“How can any serious musician not have some kind of a keyboard to practice on?” asked the middle-aged, music industry veteran, who was just now cutting his teeth in high school academia.
“My mother threw away my grandparent’s Acrosonic upright when we moved recently from the brown house to the cream house—and anyway” he continued, “there were cigarette-burns on the keys from my dad, and the thing wasn’t even close to being in tune.”
“I have an electric Fender Rhodes piano.” said Mr. Minbauch. “I can sell it to you for $400.”
“That sounds about right” shrugged Socrates humbly; sarcastically he jested, “perhaps I can have my parents finance it come Hanukkah.” Mr. Minbauch smiled, exposing his yellowish-white teeth—(white like the ivory of a piano key, and just stained yellow, like keys on the old Acrosonic). Despite their working together, Socrates and Minbauch, and the business transaction about the electric piano that actually did finally happen, the air remained usually unnerving between the music instructor and his pupil. Socrates always showed up for rehearsal. The band would play such songs as “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” arranged by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, “Birdland” by Joe Zawinul and “What is Hip?” by Tower of Power. The berating continued until Socrates threatened to quit. One day while packing up his gear after a rehearsal on the stage—behind the closed curtain—after all the bandmates had departed for their next class, Minbauch startled Socrates when he returned backstage from his office.
“What are you still doing here?”
“I wanted to stay after and practice a little.”
“Take your stuff and go. This is the auditorium stage, not your own personal practice studio.” he began collecting and shuffling the sheet music from Soc’s stand.
“I don’t need any more of these credits, I am quitting jazz band.”
Suddenly, approached Minbauch, who stood some six feet to Socrates’s five and three quarters of height, towered over the student where he sat on his stool. Minbauch kicked over the music stand and reached down, yanking Socrates’s tie. He slapped him lightly.
“Listen!” he said. He put his face in his and, did it look ugly. “Where do you want to go to college?”
“I—I, umm…” Shocked on the exterior, Socrates was laughing to himself at the insanity.
“Where the fuck do you want to go to college?” hollering now, the skinny, bald-headed teacher stamped his foot on the wooden stage. He was wearing a white turtle-neck shirt tucked into black corduroy pants with cuffs at the bottom.
“The Urban Conservatory.”
“Is that right?” sneered Minbauch.
“Look” Socrates stood up. “I’ve spoken to my parents and I want to quit.”
“If you do that you are making a huge mistake. It is bad for me, it is bad for the school and I promise Socrates” he said, “it will be bad for your future.”
And thus Socrates struggled on, playing guitar the way he preferred, and being threatened occasionally.
Every day he attended that school—the Martin Luther School— there was some weed in his pocket. (Or he kept it in his guitar case, pretending he was a great jazz musician from a bygone era). In those early years, it was usually low-grade, flattened dark green flakes with lots of seeds. Usually he had a dime bag. Among his suppliers were Jonathan (who always had the high-grade nuggets without seeds), the black drummer from the jazz band, the quarterback of the football team, and random other individuals from around the town who frequently loitered before the Starbucks opposite the train station or the Mobil gas station. Socrates drove to school. He was given the red Audi A4—which formerly his mother drove, which she had replaced with the BMW luxury sedan—once he turned sixteen and had passed his driving exam. At school, Socrates wore dress code which consisted of khaki slacks and blue or white oxford shirts with an optional sweater in the winter. The sweater had to be black, grey or blue. The shirts would have to be neatly tucked in, with a tie, and a closed-button collar. On top of the other clothes, the uniform called for boys to wear blazer coats, which, they were permitted to remove when seasonable. The school was co-ed; the girls wore blue or white blouses with black skirts or khaki pants. What protected Socrates was the drug use. It protected him from juvenile anti-Semitism. There were two young men in his class who were the target of frequent ridicule. One was Joshua Roze. He was stocky with greasy black hair and an olive complexion; a large narrow nose with a bump and a brown mole on his cheek. He spoke with a lisp. He had known the others in the class longer than Socrates had. One of the guys, his name was Paul Panning, was tall and lean with light brown hair and wide long Nordic nostrils. His Vietnam veteran father was in the NFL when he was in his 20s and he was currently the groundskeeper at the Martin Luther School. In the classroom, they all sat at a round table in the morning waiting for the teacher to enter so that the lesson could start. Paul and some of his boys would goad Joshua and mimic his New York accent with sardonic hyperbole; with a pitch, as to mimic the poor kid’s mother. The whole group would die laughing. Roze would just sit there looking embarrassed—but not surprised. Sitting in silence, frustration, his face blushing, he was a mild, mild teenage mess of confusion: should he laugh along; be culturally offended; emotional feelings of sentimentality, injured? Finally, one time he said:
“Shut the fuck up Paul. Huh. Nobody asked you to speak.”
But this was only a joke. The not-quite-desperate requests for cessation just went ignored. Despite all this, they were a circle of friends they were, all on the lacrosse and football teams, and Roze was a pretty decent athlete. But overall, their sport teams were failures, especially compared to the public high school. When the teacher would show up for the history class – she was a tall, thin, Southern bell with a thick old-time drawl – she’d hear the situation and her face would turn red. “Paul, stop it.” Is all she’d say, before launching ahead with the lesson. Then she would smirk, playfully and not look at Roze’s eyes. There was also both the strangeness and strange case of Daniel Bloom. They nicknamed him ‘Moose’. He had a goofy, anti-social personality. The main bully assigned to this one was my personal buddy – an acquaintance through sports leagues – Hank Gould, a broad shouldered and potbellied kid whose face blushed and had acne. He attacked Moose at lunch, not during class. It is true the boy was a bit less coordinated and a touch less athletic than the rest of the class, perhaps he received grades which were just lower, his parents made just slightly less money—the teachers liked him less. Hank would start the game off by laughing and pointing and yelling, “Moose! Moose!” Hank’s dad was a stockbroker on Wall Street. Then they, two of the other kids, a short, pudgy, freckled boy who was adapted and had an adapted sister and Joey—a tall and lanky boy with curly blonde hair and a spike through his ear and tongue; he was the class drug addict. They would chase after Bloom and tackle him. Punch him in the ribs. Pull on his shirt.
“Ah! Don’t tear my shirt.”
He would tug the arm loose, his eyes nervous and squinting in subtle plain—thinking about his mother and what she would say when he returned home in this condition.
Lucas, the most Aryan bloke, introduced Socrates, a third-generation, American-Romaniote, to more people than he had ever met: prep school hippy-chicks, rich, white kids who snowboarded and rock-climbed and listened to bluegrass and took drugs and danced at festivals; who sometimes went to church, who, when radical, wore dread-lochs, or at least short haircuts covered by collegiate ball caps. One of the people he introduced to Soc was named Jason, he was from Fairfield. He was a scrawny brunette boy. He stood about five feet and five inches, and always had a crewcut, which showed his early receding hairline. You might say he was almost ugly for par. His last name was something like, Waters. I admired the thing. Quiet, withdrawn, small, he was beautiful. A sad air, the kid loved, loved, loved to smoke, drink ale. Yes, and listen to funk and reggae music. He had a big family, of whom he spoke of frequently—and they all lived in a medium-sized house in a Connecticut beach town. One day in the autumn they went outside for lunch break—(it always seemed asinine that young adults at prep school, still received a recess)—and took a Frisbee up on the yard to make a game. It was the three of them: Lucas, Jason and Socrates. That day, for some reason, they could not arrange to leave school grounds privately in their cars. Soc’s was probably accosted from him during one of his mother’s punishments. Jason probably complained of their being a lack of gas in the tank and Lucas just stood there like a dumb idiot, not really saying anything at all. It was a nice day, but I should add that it was also quite windy. Socrates took his pipe and Jason put some weed in it. It was a blue and orange glass bowl. They each took a hit. Socrates coughed, then, as if out of nowhere, the teacher who was appointed to lunch duty walked out on the grass. They called him “Murph.” Probably six feet or just taller, he towered over the three, Lucas being the tallest. Murph’s blonde-hair waved in the wind; he was a Canuck, originally—an athlete, a coach. Socrates stuck the bowl in his pocket.
“What did you just put in your pocket?” he looks at Soc, straight face, he had a big lower lip, it stuck out slightly more than his upper lip.
“It’s a pipe.”
“Were you smoking it?”
In defeat, Soc shook his head to say ‘no.’
“Was anyone else with you?” probed the inquisitor.
The other two walked away.
He said “Come with me now!”
The next stop was straight to the headmaster’s office, Dr. White. White was fat and seemed to always be wearing an athletic jumpsuit, crimson red – the color of the sports uniforms. It was apparent—at least to Socrates—Dr. White resembled Richard Nixon. The headmaster’s cheeks were permanently rosy and he had a huge nose—not long—but with giant, wide nostrils. Socrates thought they were going to swallow him as he sat in front of the desk in the office. Murph stood between Socrates and the door in a military posture. His feet slightly apart, his hands crossed, palms up, behind the small of his back; I guess this means he was standing at attention—curious to see how his commanding officer, the headmaster, would handle this instance of out-and-out riffraff. Was somebody about to get physical?
“Cooper, Cooper, Cooper…” he said shaking his head at Socrates. “What are we going to do with you?”
Soc stayed silent; in his mind the dimensions of the office were floating about in space, a psychedelic hallucination—these sobering events, getting caught had actually increased the effects of the marijuana.
“Where’d you get the pipe Cooper?”
“At a store.”
“Don’t know the name.”
The room begins to spin in a subtle way so as not to make him dizzy and he begins seeing images projected against the wall in black and white of bombs falling. The paddle on his ass.
“Where was the store?” asked White.
“In the city.” Socrates said.
“What were you doing there?”
“I went there last weekend to see a concert with Lucas.”
By the look on his face he did not seem to immediately recognize the name, Lucas. And after all, being the headmaster of the Martin Luther School—it would be impossible to match every name and face of every student who passes through the halls.
“This has been used recently.” he said, smelling the glass blown bowl. “It is warm. There is still residue.” He proceeded to give a lecture on the severity of the incident. And then he told Socrates he was suspended for two weeks. When Soc got home he listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and sat on the porch outside his room; he was alone in the house. He identified with the anti-hero of the rock opera, slightly, and liked to believe that the authorities under whose aegis he was now being apprehended, could be likened to the fascist soliloquy delivered as a musical sermon by the character, Pink, (played by Bob Geldof) in the opening scene of the film—“In the Flesh?”
The summer before college, actually in the same month that he went off to school, September 11, 2001 happened. Socrates woke up in the morning planning a lonely road trip. He’d drive the car from the town where he lived, all the way to Amherst, or North Hampton, Massachusetts, which is where his friend had been living, along with his lover. She was a short, Italian girl named Bianca Maria Sole. Later on she would do her Master’s thesis with Kurt Vonnegut, and then attend Columbia University for medical school. But they had broken up before that point: I think during an argument he had said something rude to her, something racist. Her complexion was not unlike Socrates—even darker. You can imagine how the Jews of Rome were forced to convert during some unrecorded and clandestine ceremony or by force in the years leading up to and directly following the Fourth Century; originally taken to Europe as traders, then in the manacles of captivity. It is not like her family had anything to openly confess, to admit. There was only one Messiah, to them. Looking at her sweet brown face I could get a sense for my people’s genius and resilience, despite having lost the war for Judea and Samaria to the Emperor Titus Caesar and later to Hadrian—the Holy Temple in Jerusalem having been sacked. In Rome, Italy, Jewish graffiti still remained scratched onto the catacombs of the ancient city, the sweat and blood of Jewish hands built the ancient Coliseum. Socrates had never been to Italy, but his parents told him about it—the rest he learned in textbooks.
On September 11, 2001, when he woke up he went upstairs and Abba and Mama were both in the kitchen nook where two loveseats and a lampstand sat before the television. The TV screen in that room was relatively small, not like the larger television screen in the television room which was downstairs where the bookshelf was and the pool table, and you had to squeeze in between the pool table and the wall, awkwardly just to get across the room to dad’s office, where there was a sliding door to a porch which he shared with Jonathan and Jonathan’s room was down there in the corner. (Or worse, when playing billiards, in order to get certain shots on the table, there was no room to extend the cue-stick all the way without it hitting the walls of the den—and so certain shots were impossible, an automatic handicap). The leather sofa from the brown house was placed away from the action regarding the billiards table and the bathroom and Jonathan’s room; Socrates’s room was to the right of the action in the corner and like I said, it was placed directly beneath his parent’s room. When Abba smoked his cigars, no matter whether the sliding doors to his porch were open and especially in the winter time, you could smell it throughout the whole house because smoke frequently came through the holes for the ventilation slide which was like an old-fashioned garbage chute.
As I was saying, on September, 11, 2001, Socrates woke up and went upstairs to the kitchen where mom and dad both were and there were confused looks on their faces. NBC news was on as it usually was (my dad’s cousin’s husband Nathan Petty recently became the CEO of a newfangled media merger with a software giant who, at the time was pretty much monopolizing the operating systems of PCs). But today it was the non-cable NBC news as usual, I think that it was channel 6, and mama began to talk to Socrates. This alone was rare because in those days Mama didn’t really talk to Socrates. And everyone was very apprehensive about the approaching college semester all the way in Hawaii, or in Boston, which was very expensive. There might have also been underlying marriage stuff between them, that at the time he could not have imagined—or dared to make it his business. So as I was saying, she looked at her youngest son and her face was like a ghost and she said: “An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center.”
“Oh my God.” said Socrates, pouring some coffee. “Were there like people in there?” He all but mumbled, he could not help but mumble. Then Abba said, “Another [he took a pause] plane just went into the World Trade Center. It’s the other tower. Damn it!” Abba just starred at the television screen and sipped his coffee. It was unusual for him to be home at this hour, probably instead in Norwich playing golf—or perhaps there was something else going on in his life that I did not know about.
“How can they get firehoses up that high?” wondered Mama.
“There are people trapped in those buildings. The towers will collapse.” said Abba.
“How in the hell will they be able to remove the plane from the building?” Mama placed her hand in her lap and took a seat.
“Well, I’m going to go out for a while.” That day Socrates planned to drive all the way to Amherst, Massachusetts and back to meet his friend at the hippy commune
“Those fucking Muslim terrorists. That’s who’s doing this!”
“Where are you going?” asked Mama.
“Just to town.”
Socrates was already walking out of the room, down the hall and down the stairs back to his quarters with the image on the television screen of America burning not even fixed in his mind. Mama and Abba, one generation older, were quicker to realize the gravity of the situation. Socrates, being increasingly anti-social and preoccupied with music did not entirely understand.
In the junior and senior English curriculum at this private school, they did not teach The Diary of Ann Frank. They had also replaced readings of Kafka with Diary of a Madman by Nikolai Gogol. Around the years when Socrates was at the Martin Luther School, Abba was always travelling. When he stopped long enough to talk about himself he shared with you how he had developed – along with his almost unhealthy passion for the sport of golf – an interest in literature; and presumably it was a subconscious reaction to Socrates. The two hardly ever saw each other anymore, let alone conversed; however, perhaps through surveying classic literature, Shmuel Cooper, could be young again. Socrates—a passionate poet and musician—was not such a dedicated student that through a peep at his curriculum, his father could connect with him on some unspoken, ontological level. Shmuel, who was always reading a paperback for the airplane—usually a contemporary novel, perhaps something by Elmore Leonard—had just decided to taste the “classics.” Despite the set of illustrated Shakespeare volumes passed down from his parents, Abba was not from a particularly scholarly home. It was said by Grandma Cooper that Shmuel’s Papa, his mother’s father who was a tailor in Manhattan and had emigrated from Austria, studied the Talmud every chance he got. But there was not much room for European culture in an immigrant home, threatened by the specter of two world wars, a depression, cold war, and wars in the Pacific. Literature was not a particular concern of his ancestry, which had emigrated from Greece. Abba went to Long Island University, where it is more than likely he took out student loans. He did not even graduate the business school there and, instead, when he reached the age of eighteen was off for Reserve Duty, so as not to get drafted to go to Vietnam, and in doing so, missed attending his own graduation. Years later, he would be granted special audit status at Harvard Business School through the public media firm he was working for—but only for the matter of about a month. In this era, he said he enjoyed reading The Prince, by Machiavelli. As he did with golf, he talked frequently, in these years, about literature. In earlier years he had read John Cheever, John Irving and John Updike; Tom Wolfe, Jerzy Kosinski, Herman Wouk and Phillip Roth. Now, it was what he called “the classics.” But none of the authors whom he read: Kafka, Camus (which Socrates recommended to him The Stranger), Fowles, Somerset Maugham, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, but none of these did he like as much as Ayn Rand. He loved her novels and her philosophy so much, you could say not only did he subscribe to, but he studied and practiced her philosophy known as ‘Objectivism.’ ‘Objectivism’ was about the art of selfishness; which in academic terms, amounts to something like humanism on steroids. He talked, about, Rand, constantly; reading to his family from her books at the dinner table and other occasions. Ayn Rand wrote the novella, We the Living, and the two commercially successful novels, Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead. Abba used to smile with a Cuban cigar hanging out of his mouth and say “Ayn for mind…Ayn for Mind.” That was his mantra: a cheesy apothegm. One night at dinner, while they ate, the three of them, Mama, Abba and Socrates, sat around the kitchen table while Abba read from The Fountainhead: the part where Howard Roarke is working on Dominique Francon’s stone quarry. I don’t know why he liked that particular passage so much. He bought very old, expensive, signed copies of editions of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and gave money to research organizations and think-tanks that focused on ‘Objectivism’. One of them may have been called The Atlas Society, but I do not totally recall. Everyone in the family read the books, except Jonathan. As well as the Atlas Society, Abba belonged to the Ayn Rand Institute and donated money to them. Rand was a Russian immigrant; a self-proclaimed atheist. The philosophies which she wrote about in her books in the ‘50s laid the groundwork for the neo-Libertarian movement which was speedily approaching. She claimed to be an Aristotelian, or at least that’s what Abba said but Socrates had no idea what he meant by that. Shmuel even had Rush Limbaugh read The Fountainhead and he said that Rush Limbaugh told him he didn’t like it, he told Shmuel he found it “verbose.” One of Abba’s favorite singers from the ‘60s was Marvin Gaye.
When Socrates graduated from the Martin Luther School, Abba gave him a framed print of a Rudyard Kipling poem. That day they had a fight. Socrates shattered the glass on the frame and left it in front of his father’s door.
Socrates drove all of the way up to his friend’s house in Amherst, the day of September, 11, 2001. He said ‘hi’ and went inside to make the quick purchase. He began to drive out and gunned the gas down a long driveway when suddenly the axel went out of control, turning the car in a way he hadn’t aimed with the steering wheel. There was too fast a roll, it was too much gas; the Audi rolled out of control over a curb, tearing off a wheel. The car would need repair; it would be in the shop overnight. ‘So,’ thought Socrates, ‘I am going to be in town a night or two, maybe I can sleep over at my friend’s house’. Having broken up with Bianca Maria Sole, the friend was actually single and living alone in a room in this house with other people his age; one black dude who always wore a baseball cap and a couple, slightly older with long dreadlocks. When the car was fixed, Soc started to drive it home. He was on the freeway. Driving along by himself, he had even selected a tape to listen to for the ride. On the way there—after receiving news the country was under attack— he had taken a large dose of Adderall and smoked some marijuana. He was listening to a cassette of a Grateful Dead concert in the early ‘90s from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—Star Lake Amphitheatre—in which the songs segued consistently one into the next; and in this particular performance there was an especially colorful texture; and at one point, the hint at some electronic sound effects. In between a moody number in a dark minor key and a bright diatonic two-chord vamp, live musical space is created and one of the musicians selects a patch from a drum sequencer/synthesizer that sounds like the buzzing of an electronic machine. He had borrowed the tape from Jonathan. This was still playing when he picked the car up from the mechanic and slowly headed for Connecticut. He retraced his listening habits. Prior to the erstwhile-mentioned cassette tape, he had inserted a compact Diskman into the tape deck—a media converter. He had been listening to a CD of Wes Montgomery first. Actually the title was “Movin’ Wes”, released on vinyl in 1964 it was one of those later Montgomery albums with flashy brass and slick string arrangements—meant to attract a jazz-sympathetic, middle-class (white-bred) pop-culture audience. Back on the trail, Socrates was flying down the road, leaving Massachusetts. Two sirens suddenly flashed in his rearview mirror, telling him to pull over, the state patroller said through the loud speaker, “puller over.” He pulled over. A female officer walked up to the window of the car and asked for “license and registration.” He leaned over to the passenger’s seat and opened the glove department, praying that she would not find anything incriminating. But like a fool he had the tuber ware of weed and hash stashed there in the glove compartment. So when he opened the little door, the thing fell out.
“What is that?” the officer asked, but he did not respond. She reached through the door and took it and opened its lid. Then she said, “Step out of the car. Take off our shoes.” And he did.
“Empty your pockets with the linings hanging out so I can see them.” He did this too. Then she said, “Turn around and place your hands on the vehicle.” They don’t tell you exactly why you are being arrested when it happens. They don’t read you your Miranda Rights unless you ask, and Socrates did not want to hear it. He was 19, so he knew he was not really a minor and that would be a game changer in terms of the legality of the matter. First the frisking, then the metal handcuffs. She, the female officer, drove me Socrates in the patrol car, alone. And they both thought about the terrorist attack on the way, the date was September 12, 2001. He asked a simple question, she gave a simple answer. The first cell in which he was placed, he shared with two other inmates: dried blood caked the head and face of an adolescent-looking Hispanic kid; the other inmate was an older, African-American man. The guard sat at his desk on the opposite side of the bars. Soc’s arresting officer was not present in this scene. The African-American guard, who had his legs crossed, resting on the desk, had before him a small television set with a VCR. He watched old black-and-white Cowboy and Indian movies.
“Can I offer someone a Koran?” he asked, reaching into the top drawer of the desk and pulling out a paperback volume. The older black guy raised his right hand for the guard as if to say ‘okay, I’ll take it.’ The guard pushed the Koran through the bars and handed it to the old guy.
“As-Salaam-Alaikum, my brother.”
“Does anybody need to go to the bathroom?” the guard asked.
The Hispanic kid raised his hand. The guard took the key chain from his belt loop and unlocked the door. The kid got up from his position, sitting cross-legged on the floor, with his back against the wall, and the guard led him out of the holding cell to the latrine. About an hour later a woman’s voice was heard calling into the cage from another room in the precinct, “Cooper, Socrates?” she called. It was none other than the arresting officer, the blonde-haired, female state trooper with her dark aviator sunglasses removed. Along came another guard. They led him into a lone cell with a toilet and a folding wooden bed for sleeping, after doing the intake. There were no bars, but a glass wall so that the prisoner, being detained therein, may be identified by somebody standing on the outside. An hour after sitting in the cell, the officer approached the cell and began speaking through an intercom from behind the glass wall.
“Your dad’s coming. He is driving from Connecticut.” said the officer. It must have taken him three or four hours. He made the trek though. He showed up, and Socrates had been asleep in the cell with a scratchy blanket over him. His head was on the wooden board. Abba walked into the room with the officer on duty and the officer turned the key in the lock, sliding the impenetrable glass window open.
“Your dad’s here.” said the jail guard. Socrates could see for himself. Abba did not say anything for most of the night. They went to a motel and got a room. They were to appear in court there in Amherst, Massachusetts the next day, and anyway, Abba would be too tired to drive home at that hour. But no doubt, you could feel the stress. This time there would be little forgiveness for Socrates’s disobedience. Abba kept on reminding him how he had to drive all the way to Amherst, Massachusetts through the night, where he never had been; he’d say it over and over in the months to follow. They went to court the next morning after getting breakfast at McDonald’s. At the breakfast table, Shmuel had with him the Boston Globe newspaper which was inundated with the latest on the terrorist attack.
“People are still missing, trapped in the rubble. The emergency rooms are packed to capacity Socrates. Nobody knows the numbers…”
He was tense, sipping coffee. I couldn’t help but look at the paper. In the pictures, what remained of the buildings was pathetic. A sharp leaning structure, randomly still standing from its base; everything else destroyed, dust, debris and an American flag.
“We’re going to smoke them out of their holes…”
There was a photo of then-President George. W. Bush standing amidst the wreckage, holding a megaphone and reassuring the citizens there would be bloody revenge. It looked strange, as if he were desecrating the victims—standing in their ashes.
“They hit the Pentagon, too. Those damn rag-heads…”
This was the first time they had gone to breakfast together in many years. When Socrates was six or seven, Abba would wake him up early on Saturday mornings during the winter and ask whether he wanted to get breakfast and they’d go to Friendly’s. Soc would get scrambled eggs and bacon and toast and a special Friendly’s milkshake. They always had the same waitress. She had curly dark brown hair and a tattoo on her ankle. But then abruptly, this stopped. When he was 13 or 14, and he was playing basketball in the rec league and Abba was an assistant coach, they’d go out to eat at Lou’s Kitchen after the game that morning; the dudes and their dads. Nobody else was Jewish but the Coopers. They were proud to be accepted. Of course during his years playing golf, much of this changed. What else Abba did with himself when he went out, Socrates never knew exactly. So, at the courthouse, one of the adults working in the clerk’s office was listening to the Grateful Dead—a live performance from the late ‘90s—there in the office, it was strange. Soc ended up having to pay a fine. The next stop was to have his car restored from where it had been impounded. When he was arrested, the officer had called a second state trooper to come get the car and drive it to the yard. Someone much bigger than him had been driving it. He got back in it and slid the seat back to its original position. The cigarettes were still in the car. He rolled down the window and lit one up. He ejected the music that was playing in the tape cassette when he got pulled over. Now it was painful to hear. They drove along, father and son, in their respective cars. Along the highway they were always in sight of one another. Soc’s newly repaired car still had some things wrong with it. He pushed the tape to CD converter into the tape deck and put on the first disc of the double live Pink Floyd album. The music was recorded live during a relatively recent tour (1994)—the final tour with Roger Waters and David Gilmour still together; Socrates had wanted to attend the performance at Yankee stadium, but he was too young. He played the music softly this time. It was Socrates who led the way in the dinged-up cherry red Audi A4; he was careful to drive straight while nervous—maintain the speed limit and keep Abba— in his BWM Boxster, or was it a Jaguar?—in sight. Afraid to commit to purchasing an automobile, whatever he was driving, it all depended on the year. Soc had his car in sight the whole time—through the rearview mirror. The ride went quick. When they got home Mama ignored him. They both left him alone. Socrates found the Adderall stash – the blue 10mg’s – and prepared to repair his soul—or just to apply the same bandage he always used. He opened the cedar top, steel string guitar from the case his father bought him for his high school graduation and began practicing his repertoire from the manuscript book of musical notation.
What Socrates referred to as ‘home’—the cream house was not the ideal place for him. The energy there was shaky, if not acrimonious. Abba did not really work anymore; he just spent his days playing golf and was always in a bad mood. Socrates went back to working at the music store but was eventually let go. So he started working at the record shop and in a couple of months that too backfired. So, he went to work at a restaurant in town. It was a fancy French Bistro. He began as a busboy and never moved up. He was still living with his parents but there was much talk of getting rid of him. The days felt empty. There he was alone in that big house. He’d wake up in the morning and make coffee, grab the bong, turn on the TV. Maybe, he’d write music, or snort the Adderall and listen to hours and hours of music and record it making new recorded anthologies called mix tapes. He loved writing out the names of the songs on various song lists. Sometimes he discovered interesting selections in the town’s public library. One day he went to the library and who was working at the front desk but an old friend from The Martin Luther School, Kat Brown. She checked out his books or CDs and said, “Hey, how are you?” Kat’s hair was dirty blonde or light brown however the light touched it, or the chemicals. She had thin brows and blue eyes. Always a serious look in these eyes, like she was stressed or deep in thought about some very serious matter. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She was slightly short and insecure. She had a slightly big chin. She was wearing a white blouse and the buttons were open around her neck. There were slight spaces between her teeth and this was my favorite feature of hers. So they got to talking, just small talk, you know? ‘How’s it going?’ ‘What are you doing home from school?’ ‘Do you want to get together and do something?’ ‘Sure.’ So they made plans to go out. They went to the movies and smoked in the car first, parked in the lot—her idea. By the second date, she came over his house, early evening-ish and they hopped into bed and peeled off their clothes. She had one little tattoo on her abdomen. One summer, Socrates had the house all to himself and it was his birthday. Kat came over. They slept in his parent’s bed and went in the Jacuzzi. In the morning they awoke and went to the nearest grocery store where they bought eggs and bacon. They took her car for a spin. They bought magic mushrooms and ate them there that afternoon and got so high, there sitting by the pool, that they were too high to…even; and they sat around the breakfast nook each of them in their own loveseat and watched, on one of the sundry digital satellite cable stations, the Brian de Palma film, Mission to Mars (2000), starring Don Cheadle and Tim Robbins, about a group of astronauts on Mars and I felt as though the science-fiction action, racing on the large television screen, was happening in real life. Despite the sublime catharsis, and still tripping on mushrooms, Kat drove home.
“It feels like being in a spaceship.”
And the car pulled out of the driveway. She went away to college and Socrates stayed back again in New Congregation.
Early that winter, in the year of 2002, mama and Abba finally got around to kicking Socrates out of the house. Things went from being a little sour to all out rancid when he found the key to the safe that was hidden underneath Mama’s ocean of shoeboxes in the changing section of the walk-in closet in her room. This was the only time something like this had happened except when $20 went missing from Mama’s purse. Abba used to leave large billfolds in a dresser drawer outside his bathroom. He would go to sleep usually around the hour of 11 pm. with the door to his room not shut completely. He’d be snoring and mama would be watching television across the hall and Soc would go in there and take some money. The last time this happened was during the day, and in the safe box he found a gold watch band, but no watch. So anyway, Socrates looked up pawn shops in the phone book and found one in the slums of the city of Norwalk, Connecticut. He pawned the watch for $500. He was confronted on the matter only days later.
“Socrates,” we have a problem here mom said when I walked in one time.
“What?” I said walking hurriedly in the other direction.
She calmly left her room and approached my nervous station in the kitchen. Her hands were folded patiently below her breasts.
“The watch which Rush Limbaugh gave to dad went missing.”
She gave me one chance.
“Do you know anything about it?”
“I’m giving you one chance here Socrates.”
She walks away. Socrates turns on the television and sits in the usually cozy loveseat. He could not concentrate, his mind raced. He pushed the severity of the situation out of his consciousness in a nullification of realization. He got out of his seat and paced around a little. He could hear mama and Abba chirping away in the next room. It was serious. They were both home. He slid the sliding door open that led from the breakfast nook out onto the looking porch which was built on a cliff and had a swimming pool square there in the center, and the grill was against the wall with the light that mom cooked on. He’d have friends over and we would open the freezer where there was a big plastic bag of filet mignon, just about always, and he’d fire up the grill myself and throw the steaks on and show them all about how good he had it. But in reality, he did not have it so good. Shmuel Cooper had laid a snare for him. All that his parents did for illusion to project social and financial success was for Soc just an illusion. I was expelled from it. Socrates was in his room. He had had an argument with Abba.
Two police cars showed up. The detective rang on the doorbell and Socrates opened the door. He questioned Soc who denied everything. Socrates slipped away from the officers and went down the hall that was in mama and Abba’s bedroom where their respective toilets were (his and hers) and mama’s wardrobe which was extensive and ever-growing.
“I took the watch.”
Socrates did as he usually did—Socrates’s psychosis. He retired to his room and turned on the stereo, opened the door a crack and lit a cigarette. There came a knock on his door. “Open up!” demanded Abba. Socrates ignored it, turned on the music. “Open the damn door. I am going to beat you to a pulp Socrates!” In fear, Socrates opened the door. He felt a slam across his face—the cold metal hunk of the watch. Shmuel Cooper retreated with a grin on his face. He had simply gone to the pawn shop and bought it back.
At the time, everyone was waiting to see how the United States would retaliate for the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Osama bin Laden had issued his first video message to the United States and al Qaeda was just becoming a household name. One night in the winter, after arguments between Kat and her father, her parents had caught Socrates squatting in their mansion and they, Kat and Socrates, were waiting in her room. The snow was falling outside. Both mama and Abba showed up in mama’s ivory-beige BMW luxury sedan. Dad’s Porsche, or Jaguar, or Boxter would not be able to stand the conditions (Abba leased). The snow was so thick that their car got stuck in the girl’s family’s driveway. Socrates had been in Kat’s room crying on her shoulder. She looked embarrassed, like she had forgotten about him already. As if one part of her felt bad for him because he was going off to rehab, and another part was saying ‘toughen up you little sissy’. She walked him out through their laundry room. Soc kept a sweatshirt to remember her by. She returned to college, and married a Marine cadet who was later deployed in Afghanistan and promoted to Lieutenant. I went home to pack my bags in silence.