Paul and Helene and Narcissus

HELENE by Darwin
by Darwin Leon


For Helene, mere appearances, which she judged good or evil according to her prejudices at the moment, were almost everything. For fear of feeling diminished, she could not afford to entertain her own contradictions to understand the underlying crisis or hypocrisy of humankind, that perfection is impossible, that her ideal of herself did not and could not exist, that it was not really her ideal in the first place, but was merely a conventional reaction imposed on her by society’s dissatisfaction with the human condition, that of being born into the sin of individuality contrary to society’s falsifying ideals.

Helene’s saving grace was her respect for intelligence and creativity in others as expressions of the absolute power everyone worships in different forms. She had for herself the creativity and intelligence of a wild creature, a thing that she feared and endeavored to discipline by playing a contrived role lest she go stark raving mad. In fine, she was no narcissist as popularly defined; she was histrionic. The world was for her a stage, and she perceived herself as an actress upon it although she complained that she could not perceive herself as she really was. And she was a fine actress thereupon, a natural born saleswoman as long as she managed to repress her duplicity with faith in her product, which she placed, above all, on a pedestal. The Product no matter what she was selling was none other than Helene, whosoever she might really be.

Paul, on the other hand, withdrew inward to his grandiosity, hence is another sort of narcissist himself, a self-stimulating narcissist, an introverted narcissist, a true narcissist in the sense of the myth of Narcissus, the Bewildered or Confounded One. The classical Narcissus did not desperately crave approval, he did not need others to worship him. Indeed, he spurned the water nymphs and the echoes that would have allured him with their charms were it not for their imperfections. He would know no other but himself, so the pleasures of sexuality born of the need to propagate the species were absolutely introverted in him, to his ultimate doom.

In truth one really loves his self in others, so Narcissus lives on in us all, but not to his full extent. Tragically, no other but Narcissus, divided as an in-dividual, could reflect Narcissus hence the insoluble problem for him was that no other, which he vainly sought in his reflection in the pool, was good enough for him, because he himself was flawed; whenever he touched his own image, the image was distorted before his eyes.

If only he had placed his hopes in others, Narcissus would have been a male Madame Bovary, falling in love with his high hopes projected unto one woman after another, none of which would satisfy him, but at least the command to go forth and multiply would be fulfilled.

In the final analysis, that of his dissolution in the reflecting pool, the prophesy of the blind seer came true, that he would live as long as he did not know himself, for he perished when he discovered he was nothing without another besides himself. That is, the self alone is nothing at all.

Wherefore Paul’s grand experiment in unconditional love, which he thought was an intentional, philosophical endeavor, was his last unwitting attempt to save himself from his own doom, that is to say, from knowledge of the essence of his being, which was nothing without any relationship at all with another. According to his hypothesis based on the Doctrine of Hypocrisy or the underlying crisis of human beings, any other, the first woman he encountered who was willing, would be good enough to that end in itself.

That other for him was destined to be Helene, whom he by chance or by the wiles of the three fates who reside behind the moon met on Miami’s People Mover. Helene was perfect for his purpose despite her superficial flaws. Every friend has flaws, and every friend is free to have them, for the root of “friend” is “free.”

She happened to be the light of his life, a reincarnation of the flame of the Western World, and it was his good fortune that she was the only one who would put up with him.


My Helene’s Tree Prophet

Graphic by Darwin Leon







Helene did not know Paul’s acquaintance and consultant of sorts, a man around Lincoln Road Mall sometimes known as Richard the Tree Prophet. Nor would she have wanted too meet him, for Richard was everything in a man Helene despised, a despicability summed up by the word homeless.” As far as she was concerned, any man without ample money and a home to live in was worse than worthless, and this great nation of ours would be even greater if they were loaded into trucks and liquidated, for the expense of keeping them housed was not worth their insults to manhood and especially fatherhood.
Yet Helene, as director of fundraising for the Miami Association for Battered Women, expressed a quite different sentiment for the flat broke and broken women at the nine women’s shelters operated under her organization’s auspices. Her sympathy was indeed with the weaker sex. She had been battered within an inch of her life by so-called gentlemen; that is to say, rich and powerful men. She deified such “gentlemen” because they had terrorized and chastised her throughout her life. She had been a good girl for them, and in the end she herself had been left without a mansion to live in, hence she actually had to work hard for a regular paycheck – Helene was by nature a hard worker, born and groomed to serve men, but women seldom get excellent references for working their domestic tails off for their families. After her fall from the heaven of her gods, she said she lived in her $1,500 month rented condo as a matter of choice; she said she liked it very much, but in fact the smallish one-bedroom apartment was as beneath Helene’s accustomed way of living as sleeping under a bridge would be for her principal hero, George Bush, Jr.
As far as poor Richard was concerned, he was comparatively well off. He had his mental disability check every month, and his so-called life on the street was, when you got right down to it, much better than life in the shelter he had been tossed out of one day during a bout with a fifth of demon rum. He hardly considered himself homeless, thereafter, for he had nested himself and his few possessions in a big tree overhanging the canal, sleeping in a hammock by night and pulling up fish and cooking them in the mornings. He supplemented his income collecting and selling coconuts, and making little dolls out of palm fronds, a big hit with the kids – unbeknownst to Helene, Richard was the faceless, contemptible homeless man who had been stripping the young palms outside her condominium building.
Furthermore, Richard supported his love affair with booze by attending all the art openings where free drinks were served throughout the city. He glanced at the art and engaged in small talk with art patrons, but the main attraction was the open bar, where he drank prodigiously of everything from cheap table wine to designer vodka. Much to his indignation, in addition to being called Richard the Tree Prophet he was dubbed ‘The Man Who Comes To All The Art Openings’. On one occasion he passed out on his feet, keeled over backwards, was declared dead when Emergency Services arrived, but then came to with a jolt and has not missed a single art opening since.
Richard was not out of his element around art. His brilliant mind, dampened by alcohol, had not rendered him entirely incoherent, and the spirits helped inspire him to write several books of rather good Impressionistic poetry, mostly on the subject with which he was best acquainted: Love. Unfortunately, however, poetry readings did not go well for him, as he had lost his front teeth and spat out his words with ample spittle; he sounded like Bugs Bunny, which ruined his chances of striking the right public mood – alas, Governor Bush had cracked down on the false-teeth fund for impoverished people, and the private collection taken by friends had fallen way short of the exorbitant customary price for partials demanded by local dentists..
The poetry of love had brought Richard to Florida on a Greyhound bus from Tennessee. He had a good job in Nashville until his woman sent him out for a bottle of Black Label on Saturday night. They began to argue while polishing it off. She smashed the bottle over the back his head. He turned around and slapped her one. She called the police. He was arrested and charged with battery. She got a restraining order pending the court date. She called him over to get his clothes out of the house, and reported his violation of the restraining order when he showed up. He evaded the police and fled her and the state, hence wound up with the rest of the poor white trash that blows around the most civilized nation in world.
Paul had met Richard at the decrepit old ‘Potemkin Library’ in Collins Park, a virtual day care center frequented mostly by vagrants. Richard sauntered up to him while Paul was reading an entry on Occassionalism in a dictionary of philosophy.
“Hey, excuse me, sir, I’ve seen you around here a lot. I wonder if you would do me a favor. My check is coming this Friday, and….”
“Excuse me,” Paul interjected, “I’m as broke as you are, and I’ll be on the street unless I get a job right away.”
“No problem. My name’s Richard, I’m from Tennessee.”
“I’m Paul, from my mama’s womb, been traveling ever since.”
“Are you going to find a job in that book?”
“Just avoiding reality and realizing that I’m not to blame for it.”
“I hear you. Hey, if things get bad, you can get a place to stay and food real easy, some money too.”
“How’s that?”
Richard explained that all one had to do was to buy a pint of booze, swig it down in front of the CVS store on Lincoln Road, smash the bottle on the sidewalk and start yelling incoherently. “The police will come and process you. Bemoan your addiction to alcohol, plead for help, say you want to stop drinking, and you will find out how to get into rehab. If you follow the procedure and also play the mental disability game, you will wind up with shelter and food and a social worker, who can get you some money for your mental disability.”
“But I don’t drink, smoke, or use other drugs, and I’m not mentally disabled,” Paul responded.
“That’s beside the point, and you’ll be better off, showing how you quit drinking but are still incapacitated,” Richard said with a big grin.
“Oh, I get it.”
“What do you like to do?”
“Write. I’m a writer.”
“I knew it! I’m a poet. You can find a copy of my recent poetry book at Books and Books. I’m about to get a big contract with a publisher. Get yourself on the program, man, and write whatever you like.”
“I appreciate the information, Richard. I sure wish I could give you a few bucks for that info right now. I’m having a bad run of luck. I’m unlucky in money and love lately.”
“Love? That’s my favorite subject. What’s the problem?”
“Ah, well, never mind, I can’t talk about it.”
“Shush!” a library patron yelled.
“Hey, shut up over there!” shouted another.
“Come on, it’s best to consult a stranger on these things,” Richard insisted. “Let’s go outside and you tell me what’s up.”
Paul, always glad to talk to someone in hopes of getting an interesting story, followed Richard outside and sat down with him on the front steps.
“It’s a woman.”
“What is she like?
Paul described Helene briefly and in very general terms, taking care not to mention anything that would identify her, nor did he mention her feminist cabal to take over Miami politics.
“She got mad and dumped me because I did not know it was her birthday last week.”
“Never, ever, forget a woman’s birthday,” Richard sagely advised.
“I didn’t forget it. I didn’t know it was her birthday. I left my cell at home, and she left an e-text message on it that it was her birthday that day. I spoke with her on a regular phone during the day, but she didn’t say it was her birthday, having supposed that I got the earlier message. I got home and found out it was her birthday, and tried to reach her by phone several times, leaving several messages, but she had turned off her phone. I went by her place. Her lights were on – she said later that she was not at home – she never leaves her lights on when she goes out – but there is no intercom system so I could not get in to knock on her door. Two days later I got an e-text message from her. She said I was an abusive man and that I had stalked her on her cell phone.”
“Okay, so you did not forget her birthday, but you were still wrong,” observed Richard, “for not having your cell phone with you, in which case you would have known. Instead of pestering her, you should have simply apologized and gotten her a little gift. I make nice little dolls out of palm tree fronds,” he offered.
“But that’s not all. I saw her Wednesday, on the street, riding her bike towards me. She was wearing her tight exercise outfit. We stopped and chatted. She invited me up to her place. She likes to watch television a lot, so we were watching LOST, which is entirely pointless so one doesn’t have to think because trying to figure it out would drive you crazy. She was nice at first, but started drinking wine, and got belligerent on the third glass.”
“You let her get into the third glass? Sounds like you made another mistake. You should have taken advantage of the wine, had your way with her.”
“Yes, what, that’s the question. What did you really want to do with her? Visualize the scene. Was she sitting down?”
“On the couch.”
“How did she look to you?”
“Well, she looked sexy, come to think of it. Her dress was up a bit above her knees, which were slightly parted, and her face was flushed.”
“So what happened?”
“We got into an argument, or rather she attacked me.”
“What should you have done if you had followed your feelings?”
“Now that I think of it, I should have gotten down on my knees in front of hers and…. Never mind, she’s not that kind of girl.”
“How would you know if you don’t try?” Richard quizzed.
“She’s a prude. She is slighted by the slightest sexual innuendo. She is very intimidating and I can’t keep it up for long when she’s like that.”
“What is said is one thing, what is done is another. So what was the argument about?”
“She started screaming at me, said that I had abused her on her birthday, that I was no gentlemen. She yelled at me to get out and to never contact her again.”
“I said she was behaving foolishly, and I tried to explain how I felt. She said she did not care about how I felt or what I said, that she cared about what I did.”
“There you go. You should have been on top of the situation by then.”
“And she said she would never forgive me for what I did, abuse her on her birthday, the most important day of her life. Then she went on and on about how I was no gentleman, so I said the kind of gentlemen she probably loves are the ones who beat the hell out of her then rape her to make amends. And I left.”
“That’s it?”
“Yes. What do you think?”
“I think you’re on a one-way street. She’s selfish, and that’s her right, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you should forget her. There’s nothing in the relationship for you. She’s a taker, not a giver.”
“Well, when I asked what sort of a man she liked, she said she was so sick and tired of giving all her life that she wanted a giver and not a taker.”
“So you’re too late – she’s a taker now. Take my word for it if not her word. She doesn’t give a damn about you or your opinion on anything at all. When it comes to social class, she looks down on you like you were common scum. The only thing she likes about you is your creativity, and she will do her best to stifle it in the end, so you will not be able to get it up for any woman again. Don’t waste your time, because if you want anything from her, you will get hurt.”
“But I don’t need anything from her. And she’s fun to hang out with when not drinking, and she feeds me good food.”
“A sexual relationship would probably be orgasmic dynamite, probably too much for you,” proclaimed the tree prophet. “You would wind up a as limp rag, never fully satisfying her, and she would laugh and shame you, or you would die of a heart attack.”
“I love her because underneath it all I know she is like me, and I love myself a lot, so there is nothing I really want except myself, but it would be nice to have company. The differences between us are superficial, the products of our conditioning.”
“Okay, then. But expect nothing from her. If I were a writer with your feelings I would beat around my bush until I found an attractive and affectionate woman who likes to converse and does not bicker, someone who is sincerely interested in your interests, and hopefully financially independent so she doesn’t have to work and can be your companion.”
“Find? Where would I find a woman like that?”
“Your heart is in the right place. Read some of my poetry. My work is very romantic and spiritual. Thanks for telling me your story. I’m going fishing now. See you later.”


Helene’s Histrionics



Helene’s Histrionics

Chapter from HELENE, Living Novel

By David Arthur Walters

I am that I am, I-am-I, I am Me-Me, My Idol, My Self-Replicating I-Doll. I love Me before all that all may love Me, the All-One, before all others, and preferably only Me Alone, or else. I am the Subject of subjects, the Point of Existence, the I-god, and I, unlike the object-god, am located at the Centre of the universe and everywhere at once because I am the Centre and the Surround. I am the Sun about which My All revolves, and the Brightest Star in My Heavens, the Light in every eye, the One that outshines the others and blots them out at high noon. I am the Morning and the Evening Star, the Sun that rises and sets on the world yet stands still. And I am The One and the only Daughter of My Father within, with whom I am One, He who provides Me with heat and light, and My Mother is My Immaculate Space, the Womb where everything conceived is all about Me. My Life is a Praise-Seeking, Popularity Contest that I must and always will win in the end for My Will shall be done in My Heaven and on My Earth. My World is Video Game roundly applauding My Every Move. Life and liberty without Me has no merit, wherefore My Life is the Pursuit of My Self on My Stage, the Pursuit of My Eternal Life, Absolute Liberty, and Unadulterated Attention. No Wrath can be greater than Mine when I am scorned, or when another is compared favorably with Me, for I am a Jealous I. Behold My Gold Star on My Trailer! Bow down before ye enter or ye shall surely hit thy head! The World is My Mirror and My Mirror is My stage, wherefore rate My Shows well or feel My Rage. What others think of Me defines them, so let them think well of Me, and if My Critics don’t comply with My Truth, that I am the Most Beautiful of them all, then let them be damned to hell, for I really don’t care about anyone who does not serve My Purpose. I take everything personally because everything is Mine and the really Big Shew is all about Me. Behold! The world stage is My Space, My I-Space, My Face Book, My Superficial Super Face and Farce. My Persona, My Personal Project, projects Me. My Mask effortlessly amplifies My Glorious Being so the whole world may wonder at the Mystery of Me, the Very I who am I, the Nothing from which Being flies. Behold! I am I. (The IAMI Chronicles)


“Helene is right,” declared Paul’s old friend, Dr. Sagwell, after hearing Paul out over martinis at the Di Lido on South Beach. The doctor, down from New York on vacation, was a third-generation Freudian analyst with a lucrative West End practice. “You’re the narcissist, and not she as you have described her, at least not in the classical sense. She is, apparently, an histrionic personality.”

“Histrionic Helene?”

“Yes, a somewhat hysterical drama queen. It’s too bad she’s away – I wish I could meet the light of your life.”

“That she is. She has taught me a great deal about myself and the possibility of unconditional love. As for drama, I think women were created to make scenes. They seem to live on their emotions. Aren’t they all hysterical?” Paul posed a rhetorical question, twirling the olive on the toothpick in his martini.

“Many are, when provoked. Women typically have little choice but to act out their frustration dramatically when confronted by dominant male power; that is, to put on a show instead of actually castrating a man.”

“Ouch! After I read about a woman who had done just that, and then drove away with her husband’s penis in the glove compartment, I was afraid to go to sleep when my first wife was awake. She once grabbed a knife and came at me when I got drunk – I had torn a door off its frame. When things were going well between us, she said she thought of using the opportunity to cut me in my sleep, and I feared I might lose my tool, although that might have done me some good considering what I did with it after the divorce.”

“I don’t blame you for fearing her, for one should not tear down doors nowadays. Cheroot? It’s Cuban.” Dr. Sagwell extracted two cigars from the front pocket his cream-colored blazer, and offered Paul one.

“No, thanks, I quit smoking, or rather smoking quit me, but thank you.”

“You are very welcome. You know you don’t have to inhale.”

“I must inhale.”

“All right, then, if you must not, but I am going to smoke, if you don’t mind.” Dr. Sagwell put one cigar back in his pocket, and lit the other.

“Mmm, smells good. You know Fidel banned smoking in public.”

“No! What got in to him?”

“He’s a control freak, of course. They say he and Chavez are lovers, and that Fidel posed in a red dress for him. Anyway, I always figured it was better to bash things than people. Things are worthless, really.” Paul put the olive at the end of the toothpick in his mouth, laid the toothpick in the ashtray, and grimaced slightly. The memory of his first wife pained him – history is a big mistake, he thought.

“You were behaving hysterically when you ripped the door down, somewhat like the woman who smashes glasses when she gets upset. Better not to bash anything or anybody, Paul, you know that. It’s better to be kind to people and not to frighten them. Anyway, times have changed, and the physical symptoms of the war between the sexes along with them.”

“If there were really a war between the sexes, we wouldn’t be here. What we have are battles.”

“Well put,” Dr. Sagwell declared, and took a long pull on his cigar – Paul noticed that it was about eight-inches long, counting the ash, and perversely imagined that his Freudian friend, who regularly conducted “psychological research” in Upper West Side gay bars, was sucking on a brown cock. “I mean to say that men don’t have the upper hand they once had,” Dr. Sagwell resumed after blowing three perfect smoke rings. “Hysteria is no longer a term of diagnostic nomenclature. It was once used to refer to the conversion of psychological conflicts into such physical symptoms as paralysis of a limb, sleepwalking, and the like. Now it’s a pejorative term for the excessive emotional venting of so-called feminine frustration. Liberal males are often referred to as hysterics, cowards who would defend themselves with neurotic government regulation.”

“So the stereotypically hysterical women had a hysterectomy, and hysteria is no longer in the manual,” Paul said smilingly, rather pleased by his rephrasing of the doctor’s academic manner of speaking.

“Yes, Paul, the wandering-womb disorder has been converted into HPD.”

“HPD? Oh my goddess!” Paul’s eye was caught by the bikini-clad bathing beauty passing them by on her way to the pool.

“Histrionic personality disorder – a disorder often confused with narcissism. The histrionic person is a sort of drama queen.”

“Please elaborate, Doc,” Paul requested as he gazed at the beauty’s undulating hips. Her nicely rounded, Sun-browned buns seemed to make a complete circle in her wake as she placed one high-heeled sandal directly before the other, making her way forward with head held high. She had that curious expression on her face, not quite deadpan, but rather zombie-like, or more like a vampire. She must be a model, he speculated to himself. Paris Hilton’s lithe, nude body suddenly came to mind – she’s the only live wire among them, he reflected, envisioning her naughty smile.

“Your Helene wishes to be the center of the world,” Dr. Sagwell nodded benignly. “She craves approval and admiration, and, consequently, is obsessed with keeping up appearances, especially her own. The obsessive-compulsive disorder often appears with HPD. Indeed, OCD appears as her compulsion to play the same part over and over again.”

”She’s a clean bug – everything must be spotless. Dirt calls out to her from behind refrigerators and from inside air-conditioning ducts. She says that what I call cleaning is not really cleaning, just pushing the dirt around. She strives to keep herself clean and attractive at all times, even when she is cleaning out ducts. She’s like the movie star depicted trekking through a dense jungle, clean as Ivory soap, fully made up and with hair set. She reminds people of Jean Harlow.”

“They said Harlow had more beauty than brains.”

“Not a bad thing to say about a woman if she has lots of brains. Helene’s very intelligent, that’s for sure. However, she just does not have her brains cleanly organized, even though for her cleanliness and order is everything. She does look like Harlow sometimes; especially in white surrounded by white, which I think is her favorite color. She uses several gallons of bleach every month.”

“Aha, she would like Russian Suprematism,” Dr. Sagwell, a collector of modern art, denoted. “Malevich’s white square on a white background. White is not a color, you know, it’s all colors in equal proportion, the death of all colors, purity.”

“I know. She’s no square. She’s curvaceous, like the petal of the white Narcissus.”

“And that is the shape of Moby Dick, the great white whale that pulled Ahab to his doom, just as Persephone was pulled to Hades when she plucked the narcotic flower.”

“Ahab is gone for good, but Jonah rose again,” Paul took the cue, “just as Persephone rises every season to fertilize the earth. Helene’s a beauty; at least she is my star. I think the name means beautiful, the shining beauty, or something like that. Helene’s the one who moved a thousand ships to war.”

“As a matter of fact, the histrionic person is naturally more attractive than others. She may be quite successful in show business or some other showy type of work – they can be great salesmen, entrepreneurs, and might even preside over large companies. Unfortunately, speaking of lithe bodies, the histrionic person’s excessive concern with her appearance may take the form of anorexia.”

“What kind of friends would the typical histrionic woman have?” Paul wondered what category he was in.

“Well, let’s see…. The histrionic woman often tends to associate with friends whose uncomely appearance accentuates her beauty; she is personally insulted if they are compared favorably with her. Not that you are ugly, Paul, but you are a bit of a slob.”

“Just the usual white trash that blows down to Florida for the winter,” Paul said, nodding towards the bleary-eyed and disheveled panhandler stumbling along the boardwalk and yelling curses intermittently. “So the wandering womb has wandered afar, perhaps to take up a professional acting or sales career.”

“Indeed, and in that career she careens from role to role, wandering far and wide. Beware, she can be extraordinarily seductive.”

“But she rejects sexual advances.”

“Then she has something in common with Narcissus. Perhaps the mirror no longer flatters her. How old did you say she was? She might need more confidence in her body as she ages, or rather in her lovemaking ability. Still, she keeps you on the hook, eh?”

“Tell me more about the histrionic personality.”

“The descriptions are redundant,” Dr. Sagwell declared after taking another pull on his cigar, “but I’ll go on pedantically if you please. The histrionic is flighty, emotionally shifty and shallow, and tends to panic. Easily bored, she cannot sit still, she is impatient and demands novelty at all times. She does not have the patience to follow procedures for long, to concentrate on mathematics, for example, or, for that matter, to hold a regular job for long, for the master-servant relationship does not suit her grandiose notion of herself.”

“I think you’ve got her pegged. Funny, I really get a kick out of her. She is somebody, an eccentric.”

“So are you, my friend. Since she craves approval, she cannot stand the slightest criticism, flies into a rage over the slightest slight. And she tends to blame others for anything that goes wrong – and a lot does go wrong, for her protagonist role requires crisis after crisis, one tragic scene after another. That is very exciting of course.”

“She drinks plenty of wine.”

“Ah, I would like to share a few glasses of fine wine with her – I’m sure the experience would be enormously entertaining.”

“Her wine has gotten cheaper and cheaper, so I think it’s the alcohol she’s after,” Paul stated.

“Aren’t we all? But then there’s the culture.”

“She will only drink out of the right kind of glass.”

“Good. A histrionic person may use alcohol or prescriptions drugs to bolster her sense of power, her self-esteem – illegal drugs will not do since they are contrary to the authority she complies with for its approval.”

“Yes, that’s my Helene, all right. She said anyone who smokes a joint or toots a line of coke can’t be a friend of hers, although she says she tried coke once and liked it so that would be her drug of choice if she did drugs other than the prescribed pills she pops.”

“If she is as you have described her, she matches the general definition of the histrionic personality. We’ve all got a bit of that in us. It’s all the rage today, the culmination of modern individualism.”

“She cannot help the way she is. She is only manic in public – she says she is terribly depressed when alone.”

“She is deeply wounded and battle scarred. Be careful, Paul, for the deeper a relationship with a excessively histrionic person, the more pathological it can be. But I think you can handle it as a narcissist.”

“How rude! I daresay I am not a narcissist!” Paul haughtily emphasized, feigning indignation although he felt only slightly insulted.

“Ah, there you go, my friend, with your own histrionics.”

“So what’s the prognosis, doc?”

“Not good. The social trend, with its self-esteem movement, feel-good religions, the therapeutic faith of the self-help cult, fosters and bolsters the histrionic disorder associated with narcissism or extreme ego-centrism.”

“Yeah, but people can change. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in business.”

“This is a hard case to crack, Paul. It’s nearly impossible to get them into psychotherapy unless they believe it’s their own idea and that it will boost their self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem for its own sake does not improve performance. If someone actually believes the world revolves around them, why should they change?”

“I knew a dancer once, the most arrogant and vain person I’d ever met, totally caught up with himself in the mirrors, always upstaging the rest of the company on stage. Man, what a show off! On Christmas Eve, his girlfriend came around to the studio, asked him to close his eyes because she had a present for him. He did, and she pulled a ball peen hammer out of her purse and smashed him three times in the face, breaking his jaw and giving him a concussion. She was sentenced to five years in prison, and it took him a long time to heal, with jaw wired shut and all. After that, he was the nicest sort of fellow around, a humble, sympathetic fellow, always ready to help out.”

“What in the world did he do to her?”

“She was a Born Again. He took her to a Dianetics meeting, where she said she was brain-fucked by Satan himself.”

“Hmm, that is most fascinating – thanks for telling me that story.”

“So maybe a big shock will cure histrionic people. I would not want to see Helene hurt – she’s been beaten down by the rich bastards she married – but when she gets depressed, she is easier to get along with. ”

“Maybe she is easier to dominate when she is down, so you prefer that? To beat hysterical women to humble them, or even to give them a good slap as in the old movies, is no longer Kosher – scientific shock therapy is seeing a comeback, however, because it really works.”

“What about group therapy? She loves groups.”

“Group therapy provides an audience and aggravates the tendency to put on a show.”

“What about drugs? Her M.D. gave her a prescription for Zoloft but she wouldn’t get it filled.”

“Maybe there is nothing wrong with her, maybe she’s just under-medicated!” Dr. Sagwell exclaimed with mock exasperation. “As I said, it is unlikely for someone with the histrionic personality disorder to submit to therapy in the first place, and drugs that purport to alter the personality are rejected out of hand. Anti-anxiety drugs are acceptable, anything that elevates the feeling of power. Again, a few drinks might do the trick. Would you like another martini?”

“Three martini’s a crowd,” retorted Paul.

“I’ll have another,” Dr. Sagwell said and flagged a waiter. “Your South Beach portions are much too small. Cognitive behavioral therapy might do your friend some good. One histrionic analysand of mine, a man, practiced focusing on mathematics and symbolic logic, and that helped. Art therapy is useful if disciplined, but then again that can reinforce the obsessive-compulsive habits. We are dealing with deeply ingrained characteristics here, with so-called bad habits. I would recommend several years of deep psychoanalysis.”

“I’ll bet you would.”

“I regret she is out of town. I would be charmed to meet her, I’m sure.”

“She is extraordinarily charming. You should see what happens when she grandly enters a ballroom and walks across the floor. Before she heads for an exit, she has in fact become the center of that little world. It is amazing how the power gravitates toward her – every potentate in the place head towards her for an audience.”

“Then she might make good use of her habits, make peace with her eccentricity and become a successful star, or the head of her own company, but even then the interrupting bouts of depression will not go away, for her heady flights will cause her balloon to burst with the slightest prick. Perhaps you could hold her down, as you are in love with her, and make mad passionate love to her.”

“I used to think of that. I was afraid that I would not perform well for her, that I would come before I came, and she would laugh at me, put me down. But she has put me off so many times that I have grown cold on the idea. Sometimes I think she is a lesbian.”

“She probably thinks you are gay by now. You both might prove otherwise. Believe me, she is bringing you out of your narcissism, Paul. She does not get the attention she does without knowing something about people. She has social skills. She knows you are a narcissist. Her social perspicacity recognizes your retreat into writing as an art for the sake of art for what it is, a preoccupation with yourself. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?”

“Never, but sometimes I get horny when I am writing, and have to take a Vaseline break.”

“There you go, and with a modern convenience – Dali would be proud of you. You once wrote that what one writes about really does not matter, that no matter what the subject matter is, the art produced is a self-portrait.”

“Yes, but of course the art may do more to conceal the self than to reveal it – in any event, may it be finely done. Besides, who really wants to know himself, as the Delphic oracle advised? I am thinking of writing a story about a portrait painted so true to the self that its subject takes his own life in horror.”

“Ah, shades of Dorian Gray, the beautiful youth with a rotting soul. But I recall that he murdered the artist who painted his portrait – stabbed him in the neck several times, I believe, and lost no sleep over it. And his remorse over the actress Sibyl Vane’s suicide was merely momentary, for the hedonistic narcissist lacks empathy – he must distract himself from his self with his art of living, which might include committing every sin known to man and piling up treasures from the four corners of the earth.”

“But no matter how pretty his portrait, it is bound to express his cruelty in one way or another, to reveal the awful secret of his soul,” Paul added, impressed as always by his friend’s literacy. “Yes, the picture changed after it was painted, I recall, and revealed cruelty around the mouth, and then dripped blood, did it not? Alas, I forgot that my story had already been authored.”

“It is a prehistoric story. You might write it another way.”

“I don’t think of myself as a writer. Writers are a lot of scribbling scratchers. I am Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know. Authors are augmenters, founders, fathers, impregnators.”

“My, oh my – so writers are just scribbling scratchers, and authors are self-moved creators. Paul, just admit it – you are a narcissist through and through. You don’t care about your subject matter or substance, or humankind for that matter, but only for the illusive unity you see in your reflections, in the illusory unity of your individualism. Helene saw right through you, and perhaps it’s the style of your vanity that she understands and admires…. Oh, dear, please do not grimace like that, my friend. I mean no offense.”

“I appreciate your analyses, but this one is too close to home. I don’t like being analyzed by a friend when the portrait drawn is that of a selfish bastard.”

“I did not call you a bastard. If an author is a founding father etymologically speaking, at least you are your own father. Still the truth should be told to one who loves the truth. You have often said that every great author loves the truth.”

“That depends on what it corresponds with. I prefer my truth to be consistently coherent with the high regard creative critics have for authoritative authors.” Paul was yet again amused by his phrasing as the vodka loosened his tongue, and he thought he might author an experimental novel in a drunken state, or author an illustrious epic while stoned on opium if he could get his hands on a cache of the lustrous green waxy paste. “I’ll have another one too, with two olives, please,” he announced to the waiter, who had tardily arrived.

“Ruthless Tamerlane loved the truth – however it could only be told by the elders of a special tribe – anyone else was beheaded for its telling.”

“Ha! They should have told him not to go north, like Napoleon did after him. I must say that his towers of skulls were certainly truth in advertising. Truth sets the soul free inasmuch as it kills the beauteous form celebrated by Oscar Wilde, who said Form was the beginning and the essence of everything, and set Beauty ahead of Truth and Morality. I remember that it was the truth about Love – that it needs illusion – that killed Sibyl Vane; for when she gave up acting to love Dorian Gray, he found her simple love revolting, and he callously spurned her. It was her dramatic portrayals of heroines that he loved, and not her substance, although her physique, like his, was most beautiful to behold. In any case I am insulted that you would side with Helene’s perspective, that I am somehow immoral, and your implication that I am perverse like Oscar Wilde and his self-portrait, Dorian Gray; that I am, in a word, a narcissist. What is your motive, anyway? Was Freud right in his pessimism? Your diagnosis seems sadistic to me.” Paul’s face was turning crimson; he felt like assaulting his old friend – the alcohol was taking its toll. There was some truth in the doctor’s friendly analysis, enough to twinge his conscience – Wilde said the conscience makes egotists of us all.”

“There, there, I meant no insult. Still, you might be right about my motive, for there is a god and a devil in each of us.”

“Dualism is the more logical explanation of holy ambiguity, as the Zoroastrians knew very well,” Paul could not help noting. “Theodicy is casuistry compounded, the most absurd excuse for hypocrisy ever conceived to justify the Vanity of vanities.”

“Freud, as your Intellectual Excellency must know, placed love’s headquarters in the ego, and thus libido explains not only the id but everything, with the pleasure principle. Freud’s concept of narcissism held that the motivating power of libido or love-energy was withdrawn from objects and placed in the self. The narcissist is psychologically immature: he is an adult baby. Of course the narcissism of the child is necessary for its development as an integrated individual, and the adult is never rid of narcissism – indeed, our culture cultivates it in everyone, and having fun or pleasure, the pursuit of happiness, is the sole aim of life nowadays. But the pleasure principle failed to account for the will to destruction, so Freud posited a death instinct or destructive principle. I apologize for giving you offense, but such is human nature, and it is our nature to overlook faults in our friends, Paul, and even to love them for their faults, for what is the category of one by itself but nothing notable in itself?” Dr. Sagwell calmly put down his cigar and clasped his hands together in a church-steeple, a habit formed during the conduct of his séances.”

“Okay, that’s really a mouthful. But the sadist in you may not destroy my ego, leaving me with hardly a stick of the raft over troubled waters to cling to. The ego is a fiction – the ego does not otherwise exist, nor does the superego and id. You may enjoy that familial trinity if you will….”

“Why familial?” Dr. Sagwell interjected curiously.

“Chant the name of the id or mother, the superego or father, and the ego or son, amen. But never mind that. I hit the bottom of Being long ago. I, sir, settle for Nothing. Nothing is good enough for me. In fact, Nothing is perfect. Just think about it if you can: Nothing is permanent and non-denomination. Yes, I have faith in Nothing, not in Being. The rest is Art, so put your pleasure in the capital Ego if you wish, but I shan’t. Note well that my Nothing is capitalized.” Paul was wounded: he was quite the skeptic, more than capable of making bad of good and good of bad, but he could not stand nor make good of negative criticism himself, and, when his touchy ego was touched, he withdrew into his sacred Nothing to lick his wounds with vacuous ignorance.

Dr. Sagwell frowned with patronizing concern for his friend. “If only you could see yourself.”

“My self is, is, it is nothing! And that’s good enough for me.”

“Perhaps we should change the subject to something more trivial.” Dr. Sagwell was not about to change the subject – he was enjoying the mental calisthenics, and he believed the exercise would do his friend some good. “You have a beautiful mind, Paul, and, as always, I want to take advantage of it. For me, you are therapeutic. Anyway, there is nothing immoral about narcissism, although it is not appreciated when taken to the extreme. After all, narcissism is the norm: Every one is fascinated by his own self, and each secretly harbors the notion that he is the best person in the world, well-deserving of its acclaim from time to time.”

“But I don’t think I am a narcissist! My god does not say, ‘Thou shalt love Thyself alone.’ I do not love my self alone. I have a great deal of empathy for people, at least in the abstract – I seldom give beggars a quarter, but I am sorry for them. I certainly hate seeing people suffer, except in fiction, and I switch channels when they are hurting on the news.”

“Paul, again, I speak of the classical sense of narcissism. And I mean no offense, so please rest easy. We need fuzzy logic for fuzzy terms. These labels have fuzzy edges, and we all have our share of the elusive definitions, no matter how abnormal our bit parts make us seem to be. Think of it this way: a histrionic personality is an extroverted narcissist rather than an introverted one.”

“By classical narcissism, don’t you mean the Freudian sense?” quizzed Paul, after taking a deep breath and relaxing back into his chair.

“No, I mean the mythical sense of Narcissus, the beautiful son of the nymph, Liriope.”

“Liriope – what a lyrical name. Narcissus was the fruit of her rape, eh?”

“That is the gossip. Ovid simply said she declared the mighty river-god, Cephissus, to be the father of the child, conceived on the banks of the river that goes by that name.”

“You are certainly are well-versed,” observed Paul.

“Ah, my boy, you are well versed yourself. Would you like to hear a sonnet from Millay? South Beach brings it to mind – it is so lovely hear.”

“Yes! Please recite one!” Dr. Sagwell had introduced Paul to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry many years prior; now he gathered himself together, took a deep breath, and recited:

When Man is gone and only gods remain
To stride the world, their mighty bodies hung
With golden shields, and golden curls outflung
Above their childish foreheads; when the plain
Round skull of Man is lifted and again
Abandoned by the ebbing wave, among
The sand and pebbles of the beach, - what tongue
Will tell the marvel of the human brain?
Heavy with music once this windy shell,
Heavy with knowledge of the clustered stars;
The one-time tenant of this draughty hall
Himself, in learned pamphlet, did foretell,
After some aeons of study jarred by wars,
This toothy gourd, this head emptied of all.

“Thank you Doc, that is truly lovely. You amaze me. What an amazing memory you have for lines, and a well-rounded education, too. I know you studied acting at the university – maybe you should have taken up the stage.”

“I did not like the limelight – I’m too much of a narcissist. It takes one to know one, my friend, and I am one myself, as I tried to warn you many years ago, when I got out of advertising and found my dear self in psychoanalysis, but you did not know what I meant. I don’t need to tell you that we must do our best to acquire and maintain a well-rounded education, based on our historical cultural foundations, of course, and to do that we must remember these things well. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, by the way, is a work of great beauty and substance, a happy conjunction that the poet, incidentally, noted his Narcissus lacked.”

“Come again?”

“Ovid’s version of the Narcissus myth upheld the correspondence theory of truth, the notion that truths affirmed must be verified objectively to be true. Narcissus was beautiful, but the beauty he loved was not his own substance or self but merely his reflection in the pool. He loved form over substance, the insubstantial form he could not embrace in itself, for its abstract beauty was destroyed by his slightest touch – his delusion could not stand reality, hence the blind seer had told his mother at the outset that her child could not survive the recognition of his self, and would live long only if he failed to recognize himself.”

“What is the self?” Paul asked, a bit tipsily. “Is it a myth? Does it exist at all, in the sense of substance? And what is substance without form, or matter without something material in hand, except nothing? Is not the self a vain concept, and otherwise than that, nothing at all? How can it be experienced, except by reflection, flying ahead of every fleet-footed thought that would recognize or apprehend it?”

“Paul, it’s a good thing these martinis are small, because I can see we have a ways to go to get to the bottom of things.” Dr. Sagwell sighed. “The self is a myth, but that does not mean there is nothing to it – otherwise I would be out of business!” he laughed. There is a great deal of truth in the myth,” he reflected, “although we might not know precisely what that is, given the ambivalence and ambiguity of our nature – every affirmation is upheld by a denial.”

“So the truth is what we say it is? Was Narcissus the only one who believed he was beautiful?”

“Everyone believed he was truly beautiful, especially his most trusted friends. But his beauty was sacred, untouchable, and when admirers wanted carnal knowledge of his bisexual beauty, when they reached out to him, he vanished into the woods, and then he found his reflection in the pool when he stopped to drink of it. He did not know that he was in love with his own reflection. He would willingly have died to unite with it, but that unison would have destroyed his body and its reflection. And in the end it was his fate to die as foretold, for when he touched the pool and his image was distorted, he realized he loved his own shade, had been deceived by his own reflection, but his image returned to order, and he was doomed to be consumed by his passion.”

“From nothing he came and to nothing he went.”

“Precisely, Paul, and I find that quite comforting.”

“But how can you, as a Jew?”

“As a Jew I have a choice, and I choose no afterlife. And by temperament I am more of an orthodox Buddhist than a Jew.”

“I’ll drink to that.”


“Sigmund Freud was keen on the classics,” Paul catered to the doctor’s profession.

“But it was Anna,” Dr. Sagwell reflected, referring to Freud’s daughter, who had mentored him briefly, “who got me keenly interested in Narcissus.”

“She introduced you to Marilyn Monroe?”

The good doctor, disturbed by the sudden mention of the star’s name, fumbled with his cigar, shook his head negatively and said, “I regret that I mentioned that to you. Please never write about it. I would rather let all that rest in peace, her death being a black day for psychiatry. But since you mentioned her, it occurs to me that your friend Helene has certain characteristics in common with her. I hope I have a chance to meet her some day. You said she is in New York? What is she doing there?”

“She went up to see if she could obtain funds from her children’s trust.”

“So they are well off, but what about her fortune?”

“Yes, according to the trust provisions, they are both prospective multimillionaires, but their father had made no definite provisions for Helene. She sacrificed her alimony when she married her second husband, whom she believed to be wealthier than he.”

“But of course. What about him?”

“He turned out to be con man, and he in turn, indicted after pulling off an Enron swindle, left her high-and-dry in a Texas hospital near the President’s ranch, beaten to a black-and-blue pulp. She returned to their Ft. Lauderdale mansion and got a retraining order, but the estate was seized by the court. She was ordered off the premises, and landed in South Beach.”

“Fascinating!” exclaimed Dr. Sagwell. “And I presume she seems undaunted?”

“How did you know? Seems is the word. She acts the part of the stoic noblewoman. She suffers terribly when alone, but she holds her head up high in public. Her social life seems to be one grand accident, of which she is the leading lady. She does her level best to make a go of it alone. I am proud of her, but want her to make a living at socializing because it is too much of a farce as it is, so many of the cast are phonies, really.”

“Has she any professional acting experience?”

“Well, no, but when she is bragging about the great reception she receives everywhere she goes, even at the scenes of her automobile accidents, I humor her and suggest that she take a screen test and few acting lessons as well, so she will become not only famous but rich as well.”

“And her response?”

“She agrees. My facetiousness goes over her head. To admit otherwise, or to suggest that she is a frustrated hysteric, would knock her off the high horse she likes to ride. ”

“I don’t think so. She would patch herself up and get back on. She knows she is histrionic, just as she knows you are a Narcissus,” Dr. Sagwell declared.

“All right, I am confused. What’s the big difference, anyway?”

“Unlike the histrionic personality, who needs an admiring audience, Narcissus did not need anyone at all. Indeed, he rejected his lovers, withdrew from society and loved himself alone.”

“But is not that the case with us all? For whom do we really love when we love another but our own self, and what else is life but that love?”

“My point is that the mythological Narcissus did not need other people to supply him with admiration. He was born beautiful, he was virtually the god of beauty, much admired and desired by the loveliest members of both sexes, but he would not love any one of them. Indeed, he could not stand his many admirers, or rather none of them were as beautiful as he was, and he wanted and must have the best to himself, namely himself, so he withdrew from them and pined away over what no subject can have in itself, his own self as an object, for the only way one can know and love oneself is through others, wherefore he withered up and died for the lack of a self. On the other hand, the egotistical people commonly called narcissists cannot bear to be by themselves. They cannot live alone, although they usually wind up alone because people cannot bear their vanity. Although they seem to love themselves, they are driven by self-contempt to seek the praise of others. And keep this in mind, that….”

Paul was no longer listening. He had eaten only four olives all day, was woozy from the vodka, felt like vomiting, and he suddenly leaned over and did so, which attracted attention and disgust all around, for South Beach may be famed for its hedonism, but it is no puking Oktoberfest beer hall, especially not on the Di Lido Hotel’s beach patio.

“Paul, what’s the matter?” Dr. Sagwell was concerned, reached over and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder.

“Oh, I was hungry and I feel sick, I’ve got to, I’ve got to….” Paul tried to get up but slumped back in his chair, then leaned forward again.

“No, no, don’t try to get up, relax, breath deeply, don’t worry, it’s all right. We’ll get some food in you pretty soon.”

“Oh, oh, I’m sorry, oh God, it’s the blackness, got to get to the bathroom, please….”

Dr. Sagwell went to Paul’s side, gently pressed him back in his chair, and helped him put his feet in another chair.

“Paul, listen to me, you’re going to be all right but you’ve got to take it easy for a few minutes.”

“The blackness, it’s the blackness, the uh….”

Paul went limp. Dr. Sagwell stood over him and raised Paul’s eyelids wide with his thumbs and did not like what he saw. He took his cell phone from his beach bag and dialed 911.


Photo Credit: Betty Davis & George Brent in Dark Victory (1939)

Helene’s Boundaries


Print by Darwin Leon



David Arthur Walters

Helene was resolved to never, ever speak to Paul again. That would not require much resolve, she thought, because she could really care less about him, despite their five-year “friendship.” Why should she? She was herself her first and main concern.

Paul was attractive to Helene for his intelligence but he was a loser in her opinion, “just a street person.” His horrible childhood had caused him to retreat into the darkened corners and cellars on the fringes of society, either to read books in his room or to drink beer at the pub. His mind was admirable but his body repulsed Helene, even though he was far better looking than the hoggish looking hedge fund operator she had been married to – high society had wondered how she, a beautiful, finishing school graduate, could have married such an ugly creature.

Paul, besides being hairy and sporting a beard and otherwise being sloppy like the absentminded intellectual that he was, had very little money; he wanted to study and to write so did not want to work full time and support a household. His health was deteriorating and he had no health insurance or life insurance. Indeed, he was lucky Helene would give him the time of day, let alone invite him over for dinner every once in awhile to practice her excellent cooking skills. She had let Paul know shortly after she met him that she wanted to marry again, but only to a “clean-cut, very generous” man, so that left him out even thought he was generously affectionate. He pretended to himself that he did not get the picture she had of him; he got it but he did not want to be in it.

Given the circumstances, she would not let him lay a hand on her; she turned into a frozen tuna whenever he showed affection, at the beginning of their relationship when he still imagined she was sexy. If he accidentally touched her, she cringed as if on the verge of being brutally beaten again by a husband. She let him know her feelings about sex—it was in itself a filthy, dirty, disgusting act, she said, and it would “never happen” between them. Paul soon lost interest in seducing her, not so much because of her prudish pretenses but because he discovered from a bartender that she got drunk in his bar on occasion, and picked up all sorts of men for very brief encounters. And he knew she had a longstanding relationship going with a wealthy 75-year-old man, who flew her to his side all over the world every few months or so. Besides, Paul had a steamy relationship going with a 60-year old Russian pole dance teacher who looked half her age—she was a good example for her students, who tried to look sexy while she was actually sexy, the sexiest woman in the world as far as Paul was concerned.

In sum, Paul considered Helene and himself to be just friends. He did not realize what dear friends they would become over the next decade, and how that friendship would mold them into good people. For once and for all, he wanted to be a friend true to the root of the word itself, i.e. free. He would do his best to be her friend no matter what she did. To be her friend he realized he could set no conditions given her many boundaries—hence his experiment in unconditional love. She had in fact warned him time and time again of her “boundaries,” and whosoever violated them could not be her friend. He had better not, as she put it, “cross the line” with her, for she had been brutally abused by her former husband and was in the process of getting even with him.

“I am a vindictive person,” she proudly stated one night while showing him the photographs of her battered body—she had mounted the photos in her family photo album. “He put me in the hospital for two years, and I’ve turned his hard drive over to the F.B.I. He’ll rot in jail for a long, long time when I get done with him!” It would not be long until he was confined at Clinton Prison in upstate New York thanks to the hard drive she turned over to the F.B.I.

The reader should know by now that there is no arguing with Helene when she has gone beyond her second glass of wine. When contradicted, confronted, or frustrated, she assumes an arrogant and haughty attitude, and, if her interlocutor persists, she flies into a tempestuous rage. She views others according to their uses; that is, her relationships are based on interpersonal exploitation. Seemingly devoid of empathy, she is either unable or unwilling to acknowledge their feelings or to identify with their needs. Moreover, she is envious of others or thinks they envy her. Indeed, she wants nothing more than admiring attention from others, to be treated favorably, as a special, unique person, worthy of every priority, wherefore she tends to exaggerate her talents and achievements and to be obsessed with fantasies of unlimited fame, fortune and power.

Furthermore, when inebriated, Helene is a hardcore right-winger who believes the last President Bush was the greatest president in U.S. history – Vice President Cheney is her arch-hero. She habitually resents blacks, Hispanics, Jews and gays, and despises homeless people. But when sober, she is rather the contrary of self-glorification and mean-mindedness: she is self-effacing, sincere, charitable, and empathetic albeit with a trace of militancy—the sight of a wounded soldier is most likely to cause her to burst into tears, patriotic tears that she generously calls to the attention of others so that they not be wasted on herself.

She might even pass for a liberal when sober, although she, a student of speechmaking, is still unwilling to give President Obama, a man of color, the slightest credit for the tax benefits she has received as a result of his liberal advocacy or for his florid rhetorical flourishes, although she likes nothing more than to be admired by a black man, and has even said, “Once you go black, you can’t go back, that’s why every Southern family has a secret.” Above all, with her natural blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin, she loves to shine like the Sun in a crowd of black men, where the extension of the slightest courtesy or compliment renders her day exceedingly glorious.

Paul had drawn up a list of rules to follow to be Helene’s friend:

1. Never disagree with Helene or contradict her. Listen intently to everything she says and express agreement with it although you may not believe a word of it. Be exceedingly patient, accommodating and understanding to keep the peace. Above all, never criticize the Bush administration.

2. Flatter her constantly. Appear to be awed by her looks and by everything she does. But never offer intimacy. Do not make remarks that might in any way detract from her self-image. Especially avoid using the word ‘fat’ in any context. Never talk about harsh reality unless casting her as its star.

3. Be very generous: Give her something unique, something she cannot get anywhere else – your unconditional love.

4. Be independent. You may want something from Helene, but do not need anything. Take what you really want if you can, but do not be upset when you do not get it. Just walk away or give her the silent treatment and wait for her to come around.

5. Remember: Helene cannot be fixed because she doesn’t want to be fixed. Any attempt to heal her or cure her of herself will surely alienate her. She may ask you for help and advice, but she will always do exactly the opposite simply to prove herself superior. You may help her more by recommending that she do the opposite of what she should do in a situation.

6. Last but not least, when she cooks, do what she says, just shut up and eat.

On the other hand, when her drinking bottles of white wine, Helene did her best to cross what she perceived to be Paul’s lines, that is, to somehow offend his sensibilities. To do that, she assumed the role of a blonde, blue-eyed, Nazi. On one particular night, around the bottom of her second glass, she started in on the homeless people, how awful they were and how they were all mentally ill and how decent society should expunge them, concentrate them in camps for the mentally defective. Paul did not flinch, mainly because the farther away he himself became from being homeless, the less sympathetic he was with their plight. In fact, he feared that he, like Ronald Reagan after he met Nancy, was becoming a neo-conservative.

Well into her third glass, Helene lit into the Jews, and said she was sick and tired of their cowardly whining about the Holocaust, as other peoples had suffered and did not make such a big deal about it, and she expressed her spite for Israel’s persecution of Palestinians. She knew that Paul’s father had been a Jew and had lost half his family in the Holocaust, so she figured Paul would be offended, but Paul knew what she was up to and let it slide, though he believed remembering the Holocaust was important to the future of the human race – but he did not have much faith in the State of Israel, as he thought it was turning Jews into their worst enemy: right-wing fascists or virtual Nazis.

And then she lit into gays, notwithstanding the fact that she loves one prominent gay man as her best friend in the world.

“I am sick and tired of all the gays on CNN,” she said, pointing at a man appearing on the television. “They don’t have what it takes. They have to sit down on toilets.”

“How do you know he is gay?” asked Paul.

“Just look at his big mouth,” she said, smiling maliciously.

“Well, he does not have a goatee.”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“A goatee around the mouth looks like a woman’s….”

“Stop! I don’t want to hear it!”

Helene went on to the blacks—in accord with her training at Southern Belle Finishing School, she skirted the N-word, but the denigrating implication remained constant. She commanded Paul to change the television channel because there were too many black people on CNN. Paul complied, but then there were black people on the next four channels including Fox News, much to the expressed disgust of Helene.

“Change the channel! No, not that! Change it! No! There, you see, they’re taking over now that they’ve got themselves a president!”

She was finally satisfied with the program on penguins around the South Pole.

Rather than play along with her any longer, Paul decided to change the subject and to exceed one of her boundaries, to “kick her in the shin,” as he called it, and even, if necessary, to write off his unconditional love experiment as a failure, although he doubted that would happen.

Since Helene frequently pointed out that she had been brutally beaten by her former husband, Paul asked her why he beat her.

“It must have been something I said,” she flippantly said.

“Maybe getting a man to beat her was her way of conquering him. A gentleman would not be thus defeated – perhaps gentlemen marry shrews to prove their mettle,” Paul thought, deciding to keep that politically incorrect idea to himself.

“Helene,” he said out loud, “I hate to change the subject, but have you ever heard of Carrie Nation?”

“No. Is she black?”

“No. Carrie Nation was badly abused by her husband, and she was commanded by God to go out and rid the nation of the leading cause of abuse. In fact she went down to Miami and spoke on the subject before the largest crowd in its history.”

“I’ve never heard of this woman, this Carrie Nation, and if she had spoken down here I would have known about it from my involvement in women’s shelters. You must be making her up.”

“It was a hundred years ago, in 1908. Carrie saw what was causing most of the wife-beating and immorality, so she grabbed an ax and started smashing saloons. Eventually the dangerous drug was prohibited.”

Helene’s eyes flashed as her face reddened. Paul had obviously pushed the wrong button: Helene drank wine every day, and she would not brook any criticism of alcohol.

“Alcohol is not a drug!” she exclaimed. “It’s perfectly legal.”

“Is marijuana a dangerous drug?”

“Yes. It invariably leads to the use of hard drugs.”

“You have said many of your friends smoke pot.”

“They’ve exceeded my boundaries, so they are not my friends anymore. If they use drugs in front of me I will report it to the police, and I have many friends in the police department.”

“Helene, do you really believe marijuana use leads to the use of hard drugs?”

“It does. I have seen statistics. The numbers don’t lie like liberals.”

“Most kids today are introduced to drugs through their parents’ medicine cabinets.” (Paul knew very well that Helene used sedatives).

“That’s a lie concocted by the liberal media!”

“When I was a kid, we had our mothers’ diet pills and sedatives available, but most of us used alcohol. When the Mexicans turned me on to pot, I did not like it at first, nor did I like cocaine or acid – I was introduced to those drugs because of alcohol, as once you drink, you might as well try other things. The principal of my grammar school recommended me to AA when I was in the fifth grade.”

“I don’t want to hear it! You are wrong!”

“Helene, I wrecked two marriages with my drinking. Fortunately my families went on to better things without me. As a professional you must know that the consumption of alcohol is the chief cause of abuse. What we need around here is another Carrie Nation.”

“How dare you! Get out of my house! You are an abuser! Get out!”

Helene glared at Paul furiously and grabbed her empty wine bottle by the neck. He stepped quickly through the door, and heard the bottle smash into it behind him. Helene had resolved never to speak to him again, and Paul resolved to honor her resolution. But there is something more to the both of them than what we have seen thus far in this living novel, something underlying in their human nature that will give the lie to their resolutions and neuroses, bring out their true selves and bring them together for good.

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General Peace and Happy Hats


Return of Reason by Darwin Leon




“Madame Huong, my name is Walter Davidson, and this is my good friend, Helene Hartmann.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Madame Huong said, her face beaming. “Thank you for coming to our peace exhibit. Would you like some Russian tea?”

“That would be nice,” Helene accepted.

“Mary, bring some tea for our guests,” Madame Huong directed a member of her staff. “Are you here for the peace meeting?”

“Well, no, we are appreciating your art,” declared Helene.

“We must appreciate peace.”

“It’s very sad, really.”

“And beautiful,” Helene added.

“Art happens when your tears connect with my tears.”

“I was recommended to you by Martin Berdinger,” I explained. “He said to mention general peace and happy hats, so I thought I would drop by your opening.”

“Martin! He is a good lawyer – he helped me with my estate planning.”

“Excuse me,” Helene said, “I’m going to walk around a little more, and enjoy your art.”

“We are having a peace meeting here, at eight. We can stop the violence, and we must stop it so we can live in peace and harmony.”

“We did not know about the meeting, and have made other plans,” I said, noting to myself that anti-war peace was obviously out of vogue, a least in hedonistic South Beach – the exhibit hall was deserted.

“We must plan for peace,” Madame Huong persisted. “We must unite in peace and harmony.”

“May I call on you tomorrow?” Helene asked. “I believe we may agree on one or two of your works.”

“Of course – I will busy at the peace demonstration on Lincoln Road until four, so come after five.”

“Good. I’m going to look around, Walter, do take your time.” Helene sauntered off.

“Madame, how much is the art here worth? My guess is five million.”

“Your guess is good. Five million is the insured value,” she responded. “But we are not here for money. We are here for peace.”

“But of course,” I agreed and nodded at the suited fellow at a computer behind a counter adorned with VISA and MASTERCARD ‘Accepted Here’ signs. “But sometimes we must make war to defend ourselves. Even Mahatma Gandhi agreed with that.

“Why war? War produces nothing. We must not fight each other. We must fight for unity. We must fight for peace. We must fight violence. We must fight our vices and weaknesses.”

There it is again, I thought, the ubiquitous word, “fight.” There always has to be a fight instead of a persuasion or conversion. The hundreds of millions of war dead prove that there are all sorts of unities to fight for, and that not even a world war to end all wars can end wars. The other side of unity is division, and without division there is no such thing as unity except in Nothing.

“Who is going to protect peaceful people like you, Madame, from rapists, murderers and thieves? Evil is multiplying in your world today. The police and soldiers protect you. Someone wants to break into your gallery, steal your art, and rape and kill you if you are there. Maybe someone just hates the peace movement, or enjoys hurting people. But the police protect you. The police and soldiers must guard the peaceful ones as the circle widens, until everyone drinks of the loving cup. They might have to kill people to defend you, to support your peace movement.”

“Soldiers and police come to see me and they go in peace. Man has a good heart. All people really want peace. If given a choice between war and peace, people will choose peace.”

“But Madame, history proves that people choose war because they love violence.”

“We must fight our weakness. We must fight against war.”

“But how can you fight war without war?”

“Just say no to war. Just stop the violence. Just stop it, that’s all. We can just stop the violence. Think peace. Everybody must think peace. There will be peace.”

“Your art is amazing, Madame. Still, the war pieces are very depressing, and drown the peace pieces in an ocean of blood.. But maybe it’s good to remember the violence, just like the Jews remember the holocaust, so people will want the opposite, and not deny the horror and bring it about again, thinking such things can never happen.”

“The holocaust was a long time ago,” Madame Huong retorted dismissively – I detected a jealous twinge in her tone. The Jews keep talking about the holocaust. They must get over it. We must come together under one tent and forget the Jews and separations. We must think about the future. We must think peace.”

“The Vietnam War has also been over a long time. I guess you are just sick and tired of hearing about the white man’s holocaust – he doesn’t care about Asians. Still, I wonder if it does any good to show violent images no matter what they are about. I think people get sexually and violently aroused by pornography and violent images.”

“It’s not the violence I hold up. I hold up the nobility. I hold up the noble faces of the victims looking up at the sky in pain and crying blood. I see myself in their faces.”

“You are noble,” I tried to flatter her.

“Not just me. Everybody is noble. We must all get together, come to meetings, and think peace and act for peace. We must end the separations and hatred. Here, take this,” she ordered, holding out a black Magic Marker. “Now write something on this painting. Don’t worry. Go ahead. Write something, whatever comes to mind.”

I was at a loss for words, but finally scrawled, “I am sick of war.”

“You must sign it.”

I spontaneously signed, ‘General Peace.’

“There, now, your name is General Peace.”

“Professor Berdinger said you had happy hats to market. What are they?”

“He means our peace helmets. General Peace of the World Peace Force needs peace helmets so his troops will be protected from bad vibrations. They can tune into peace and make themselves happy. We have developed a prototype. Mary,” she called to her assistant, “please take General Peace to the dressing room and show him our happy hat.”

“So you are General Peace.” Mary sang matter-of-factly as she led me to a back room. The buxom, long-haired young woman was wearing a pink T-shirt upon which an image of a large peace sign made of hemp was emblazoned; her designer tennis shoes and low-cut jeans were fashioned with a raggedy look; she wore no makeup and smelled of Ivory soap. I got the impression from her confident bearing and gait that she was a professional woman who dressed-down, like a hippie, to suit peace demonstrations. Her hips fascinated me inordinately, having a hypnotic effect as her rear swayed from side to side like a pear on a pendulum as I followed her down a long hall to the rear of the building. I was feeling slightly ecstatic, and wondered if the Russian tea had been spiked with something. She entered a combination on a keypad by the door at the end of the hall, and gestured into a room awash in pink light.

“Come in,” she beckoned. “Please sit down. Good.” She extracted a key hidden deep in the valley of her bosom and used it to unlock a shiny hatbox, apparently made of black plastic, sitting on the table. She took out a rainbow-hued, diamond-like helmet and handed it to me. It appeared to be made of a brilliant, translucent crystalline substance, veined with thin silver wires. I examined it closely: the crystals were tetrahedrons.

“The red is dead, the rainbow is rising, let there be peace and prosperity in the world,” Mary sang. “Here, let me put it on you,” she said, and leaned over me.  There was something very appealing about her. She was short of stature, and when she approached me to put the helmet on my head, I felt tempted to bury my face in her T-shirted bosom, put my arms around her, grab her bottom and give her a hug.

“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, that’s how people feel about you after you wear the Peace Helmet There, now” she placed the helmet on my head. “That’s it. Enjoy. The red is dead, the rainbow is rising. Be happy.”

“O my god, oh, uh, ah….”

“What does it feel like, General Peace? Do you feel good?”

“Oh, yes, yes, it feels like, it feels like I’m going to, I mean….”

“Like an orgasm, like your whole body is going to cum?”

“Yes, yes, oh yes!”

“Yes, relieve yourself of yourself. Let yourself go. The rainbow is rising.”

“Oh, man, I feel so good,” I moaned. I was in a state of continuous relief, of perpetual peace, if you will, and everything was crystal clear. Mary had levitated: she was hovering slightly above me, basking in an aura of multi-colored light. I noticed that she had no navel but thought nothing of it. Indeed, as I let myself go, or came, so to speak, it was as if I was some other I, as if someone were thinking and feeling for me, playing my body like a musical instrument.

“General Peace,” Mary proceeded with a singsong, “People shall assemble throughout the world as one in many to invoke your peace. They shall call upon you to lead them on the way to supreme peace, and you shall come, and your mouth shall speak glad tidings, your hand shall write good news, and your feet shall bring peace upon Earth. The peoples shall cry with joy, for sorrow and sadness shall be nevermore, and joy and gladness shall be evermore. The nations shall recognize their wrongs and come unto you for peace. Their leaders shall close their mouths and open their ears, and you shall fill their minds and hearts with eternal peace. Tyrants shall hang on your every word, lay down their weapons and have them destroyed or converted to peaceful uses. Earth shall be perfected and shall serve up her abundance according to the generosity of every one towards every other.”

“Earth shall be perfected and shall serve up her abundance according to the generosity of every one towards every other.” I repeated spontaneously.

“Hunger and disease shall be no more, and the desire for joy, peace, love, and eternal life shall be satisfied in mutual service.”

“Hunger and disease shall be no more, and the desire for joy, peace, love, and eternal life shall be satisfied…” I reiterated.

“You are General Peace.”

“You are General Peace.”

“No, you are General Peace.”

“I am General Peace.”

“Yes. You shall marshal the forces of peace and lead the lords of liberation with words of power from the source of oneness. You shall focus consciousness on peace and love. You shall make the Unknown One known. You shall command the reconstruction company, and the world shall be home again to the homeless. Say this: I shall make the world home again to the homeless”

“I shall make the world home again to the homeless.”

“Say I feel the joy of service, and I am crystal clear.”

“I feel the joy of service, and I am crystal clear.”

“Joy is in service, not in selfishness.”

“Joy is in service, not in selfishness.”

“The red is dead, the rainbow is rising.”

“The rainbow is rising.”

“All right, General Peace,” Mary confirmed, alighted on the floor and took the helmet from my head – it was glowing with color, as if a prism had cast spectral rays upon it – and put it back in the gleaming black hatbox.

“What happened? Everything was so clear, but what was it that you were saying?” I started slipping out of crystal clarity into the usual confused consciousness.

“You were happy. You will remember everything soon enough, offer it to the world, and the words of power will have good effects.”

“It should be a bestseller. I remember feeling very good. I remember the rainbow, and you seemed to be floating towards the ceiling. I don’t believe I ever felt so good. I still feel good, joyful, and very peaceful.”

“The feeling will last for a few days. But please keep quiet about this until the marketing campaign begins.”

“That’s a real happy hat you’ve got there, lady.”

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