Regular enemies are common and easy enough to acquire. Everyone earns them eventually, I imagine, and they come and go. Arch enemies, though, they are special, they are a different kettle of fish. Your arch enemy is your lifelong antagonist, your intractable opponent, against whom conflicts resolve in draws or, at best, incomplete victories, and always temporary. He or She is your structural equal but ethical opposite, emotionally transcending mere dislike and hatred into harsher realms, unnamed and ineffable, tinged with begrudging respect. Who has an arch enemy in this day and age?
I sometimes imagine an encounter with my arch enemy, in part, I think, because such an episode would impress my 13-year-old son.
Our two families would be out in public somewhere, maybe an outdoor concert by James Taylor, or Weird Al, or if I’m feeling especially cheeky, the Five Neat Guys. He would see me, consider my presence, and then stage a confrontation over the din of picnickers and Frisbees.
“Joseph Samuel Berman,” he would call in a loud, clear, high-pitched voice, which I imagine is the voice that J.K. Rowling described for Lord Voldemort. “Son of David, son of Reuben. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, now living in suburban Boston. Failed as a doctor, now a science editor.”
My wife and Maxwell would look at me in utter confusion, and perhaps a frisson of fear.
“I’ll handle this,” I mutter both to them and myself. I exude an assurance my family does not recognize as I stand to face him.
His blond hair is cut flat, his tanned legs poke through gym shorts, the sunglasses hide cold eyes. I consider responding in kind, which I could do, but instead I choose to be gallant and coy.
“You have the advantage of me, sir,” I say.
“I suggest you do not forget that.”
“I haven’t yet,” I reply.
The conversation continues pointlessly for a round or two, and eventually we stand down.
“All right, who was that?!” asks my wife.
“Uh, well, yes,” I begin, returning to a version of my more-or-less typical self. “You know how Doctor Who has the Master, and Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarity?”
“He’s your arch enemy?!” Maxwell interrupts, his eyes widening.
“We only met for the first time just now.”
“How did you get to be arch enemies?”
This is where the imaginary conversation gets difficult.
These days I have been listening to, of all things, the soundtrack to the Rocky Horror Show, in all of its iterations. Back in the day, if you wanted a Rocky Horror experience, you waited until after hours, collected a date or a few friends, and headed to the movie theater, which for me was a suburban multiplex in Mountain View, California, during my college years, or the Uptown Theater at Lake and Hennepin, when I was back home in Minnesota. The movie begins with a pair of highly-glossed lips (those of Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta) moving in sync to the lyrics of Science Fiction, Double Feature, being sung by Richard O’Brien (who invented the whole show, and who played Riff Raff). Now, of course, the visuals and songs are available ’round the clock on the Internet, free of charge, and I have been availing at hours that are not necessarily midnight.
As I have discovered, the song is only superficially about B-movies from the 1950s featuring Michael Rennie and Fay Wray, and King Kong and tarantulas, and all the others. No, the song is really about nostalgia for lost times and lost innocence. Listen to the smooth guitar chords and that sweet saxophone, marvel at that lonely voice without even a body to its credit, at least in the movie version, but ah, those painted lips and white teeth. The past is aglimmer and glorious, and unreal and unobtainable. It sings its song, and then fades away…
I was (and probably, remain) too uptight and reserved to actually get up and dance during the Time Warp number, but one of my favorite memories is taking a date to the show and having her jump out of her chair and do exactly that—and then come back and sit next to me, in triumph, when the number was over.
Nostalgia can be very, very dangerous.
I think it drives our politics, too. “Make America Great Again” is an appeal to nostalgia for a time that may or may not have ever existed, as it leaves the details to the mind of the observer. Or victim.
Today’s news feed announces that Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks she has at least five more years to go on the Supreme Court. God bless you, Ruth. Please keep doing what you do. And stay in good health.
My wife and I have two sons, ages 13 and 1. For those of you who prefer others do the math, that’s a 12-year age gap. I don’t necessarily recommend such a gap in one’s children, but I won’t argue against it, either. We don’t have much (or any) sibling rivalry in the household, nor is there any pretense of treating both boys equally. One is approaching adolescence, the other is approaching locomotion on two feet and eating solid food. One thinks I’m hopelessly out-of-touch and awkward and embarrassing, while the other seems to want my constant attention and calms himself merely from me lifting him off the floor. We have our games, Nathen and me, including me building a tower of toy blocks and him knocking it down, and me rolling a toy car across the carpet and him crawling over to get it, and then bring it back. We’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
August, 1986, at Temple Israel, Minneapolis, Minnesota, my grandparents Reuben and Isabel are commemorating their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. The celebration five years previous had been very elaborate and involved only the immediate world (as the family liked to joke), but my grandparents deemed fifty-five worthy as well, and so many of us gathered for the Friday night services, where the years and the family would be acknowledged. I remember sitting in the congregation and looking around at us all, and realizing that the usual family members, including me, were interspersed with new people. There were boyfriends and girlfriends, new husbands and new wives, and some new children, and the absence of many older parties. The rabbi, in his talk, hints at one of the more violent and sadder departures of the past year. To me, the revelation was that my family was not a static entity; it kept changing. It changes still. The trick is to…well, I’m not sure what the trick is. But I manage anyway.
That’s the post for the today. Please write back, especially if you see yourself in any of the stories recounted, but everyone is welcome.