My friend, who is in my opinion spread too thin to consider entertaining, announces that she is hosting a Seder. Her daughter’s pal is so distressed by the violence of the tale that he has written his own Haggadah. The boy has a single mom and so my tender hearted friend volunteers. My response, to the hostess’s surprise, is that the barbarism that we are guilted into remembering bothers me too. When we get around to the plagues I distract myself by remembering the sweet Seders when the kids were little, with charades, coloring books and grape juice boxes. We’d just brush off the first born son thing altogether. Now the kids have started college and are too old for us to keep it from. We admit that freeing the Jews from slavery is by dint of the murder of children. Two nights we say it. Even the mildest Jews--who do one day when the conservative (and above) would do two days--do two days for Passover. Pesach is a very persistent holiday.
We attend a reading and discussion with writer Walter Kirn about his latest non-fiction work Blood Will Out. It has always fascinated me that crime writer Janet Rule had a long personal relationship with Ted Bundy; Kirn’s story of his friendship with “Clark Rockefeller” is just as extraordinary. “Rockefeller” is actually Christian Gerhartsreiter a native of Bavaria who made his way to the U.S. when he was seventeen. His impression of the American upper-crust was formed by watching Thurston J. Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. Gerhartsreiter donned a number of posh personas and while he was presenting himself as a baronet, he committed a murder (probably a double one but only one corpse was discovered) in San Marino. The body was hacked into three parts and then Gerhartsreiter engaged in a game of Trivial Pursuit near the backyard burial site. The freshly dug earth was explained to be the result “plumbing work”.
The book, is, in part, an atonement for Kirn’s social ambition. Kirn confesses that when he learns of the imposter’s arrest he hears the ca-ching sound. Conversely, he says he’s ashamed to have put himself and his family so at risk. There is a hardness about Kirn which he himself attributes to the phony Rockefeller experience. “You too,,” he guarantees us all, “will cross paths with a conman who can see straight into your soul!”, I don’t necessarily ascribe to this. Dad succumbed to proffered friendship and ended up with phony watches and a vacant lot on other side of the road from the Salton Sea. Perhaps this has sharpened my radar, for except the Lububvitchers and the Volvo—which I was eventually able to register--I have not been taken in. My daily dose of Judge’s Judy and now again Milian insures that chances are I won’t be.
A member of the audience ask about Gerhartsreiter’s pathology which raises Kirn’s hackles. “Don’t make excuses for a murder.” Nothing mitigates the choice to do evil. This inspires another one of those Pollyanna vs. the Irish Catholic conversations on the way home. This romantic banter is interrupted with a few moments of black hatred-- Jam up on the 110, probable Dodgers. Oh for one of those houses on Househunters International where we can chew around, without traffic, the nature of evil.
Himself says I think too Jewish. “You want to send everyone to therapy.” I just can’t stomach my evil purely unadulterated. With violent individuals, you may have to go back a couple generations but there must be physiological, psychological or sociological markers. Or can there really be “none of the above?” Does an individual who is sound mentally and physically, who’s not been a victim of affluenza or other societal ills, look at the angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other just say, “What the hell?”
Does society totally get off the hook? Is evil the result of damage or like God or love, an integral piece in the landscape of ineffable? Is it true, like Walter Kirn predicts that it is impossible to exist without encountering evil? Perhaps scientists will unravel the mysteries of malevolence. Maybe evil will be curable, like TB or polio, Until then there’s that boy who rewrote the Haggadah.