by Jeffrey Murrell

Chapter 2 (part 2 of 2)

Hanging around with Max was actually just like hanging around with any other friend for me, except that he was a hell of a lot older and richer than any friend whom I've ever had before. Max gave me a rare insight on how the rich live - that is, how they really live, and not how some live as reported by a certain Australian gentleman who apparently had nothing more productive to do for his fellow human beings in the 1980s and 1990s than to host made-for-television catalogs of their most painfully unobtainable whims and wants. Leading those sorts of lifestyles, I think, was a reputation that Max was really quite desperate to avoid. He didn't want to appear to be of substantial means, even though he was. His sister, Beatrice, on the other hand, was an old queen who wanted to drive a new Cadillac each year and to go out to the most expensive restaurants whenever she could. Max would sit for hours and tell me stories of her extravagances, and he would be just as amazed by them as I was. He couldn't understand why she spent so much money. I would tell him that it seemed logical that she had to spend a lot of money, as the peerage that her station in life brings around would naturally require her to do so in order to maintain any respectability among them. "Why not? I would spend as much as I could, too!" I would say when he asked what the hell I would do with a few million dollars.

Max was some sort of investor by profession. He took other people's money and manipulated it and, hopefully, increased it with various stock-purchasing strategies. He was apparently quite good at it from what I could deduce from his war-stories about the mistakes other investors were always making. It made sense to me. He would delight in giving me all the latest on how his stocks were doing, good or bad as it may have been. I couldn't have cared less, but I listened and humored him, trying to change the subject whenever possible.

About investments, he loved to tell me all about our landlady, and what foolish things she did in the past concerning her real estate acquisitions (things that took place way before I was born). I would love to listen to these stories. His favorite was about when she told him just exactly how she went about the task of selecting properties to invest in. This was just a couple of years after he had moved into his apartment (back when it had a fresh coat of paint on the walls). She told him that she would enter a place that was up for sale and, if it was a good buy, she would have an ethereal sensation in her legs, up to about the mid-calf. He explained that she revealed this to him in a very mystical, melodramatic - yet deadly serious - way. He would chuckle at this story. "She's so retawded!" he would say about her. Actually, we reached the conclusion that she was, in fact, mentally retarded, or at least her genetics were prone to retardation, as all of her natural children were mentally impaired to an extent. (Her older son, Ronald, was mildly retarded, and she would go on and on about how she couldn't figure out what to do with him. This was really strange of her to say, because Ronald was a man in his fifties, married and with a kid in college!)

Max seemed to know just about everything there was to know about every prominent family in New Orleans. He could go on in detail about why this family was going broke, or why that family was finally moving away. He knew just who owned which restaurant, and even how much it cost when they bought it. "I wish I had the money that they're losing!" he'd say about failing enterprises. He loved to tell me all about the man who built Longview House and Gardens out in Metairie, and how that gentleman ordered that the house be torn down and reconstructed in a certain portion of it where there was located a certain bathroom from which the main garden could not be viewed through the window by the king while seated on his throne in the morning. Max could tell you the specific history of each house in the Garden District within a two- or three-mile radius; so-and-so lived in that one for such-and-such amount of time, and the so-and-sos who live there like to throw loud parties in the summer - things like that. He especially liked to blab the prices of the homes in the area that were for sale or just recently sold. I don't know how he would find all this out. Sometimes the landlady would hear about it from other property owners in the area and tell him, but it was rare when she'd catch on to something before he would, it seemed. (She'd usually come around his way for the latest money-gossip, in fact.)

Max knew a lot about a lot of things. This was the result, naturally, of seventy-two years on earth. But it wasn't just that; Max was an intellectual powerhouse. He was a very bright man when it came to money and numbers. He had keen powers of observation - after all, that's basically all he ever did, just watch other events unfold for other people. He would see what misery occurred for others, he would catalog it somewhere in his brain, then he'd dredge it up thirty or forty years later while sharing a beer with a neighbor or a Japanese tourist (even though the latter usually couldn't understand). And in this process, I feel he picked up on something very real and cruel. Maybe it was back when he suffered the loss of his failed, mystery relationship, I can't really say for sure. (The same sort of thing happened to an old step-aunt of mine, and she was kind of a hermit, too - but not nearly as self-deprivating as Max was.)

Assuming that it was that loss, what is it that he must have learned from the experience which so profoundly affected him? It happens to others all the time (it happened to me). Sometimes, I wonder if Max just wasn't one of those people who, being so very intelligent and rational, blow a circuit that can't be mended over time when some cruel aspect of reality hits. Maybe he caught onto some secret about life that we all wish we had, yet the majority of us are just too dull to grasp. Well, I don't know if I'd want to know it, considering what happened to my old friend, Max. (Nor would I want to see through some people's clothes if I had x-ray vision like Superman - there are a lot of unusual, scary figures hidden beneath all that fashionable fabric!) Max knew all too well that life is just a long, unfortunate and very torturous process that we all must go through for some strange reason. He got his teeth kicked in pretty hard, and instead of continuing to make the best of it and trying to eat anyway, he decided that he would pass on nutritional pursuits altogether, and just avoid any other bad tastes in life. So, if it was due to some insight of his, I think it is certainly one of those things that everyone needs to quit chasing. As far as I'm concerned, that would be the biggest secret of life, and it's best kept secret! It might not just be the result of a single, failed relationship, it may come as the result of many happenings and trials. I don't know how it really happened to Max, but fortunate is he who is stupid enough to be able to avoid it!

"I'm not a Hawvawd grad . . . " Max would always say to people if he bumbled on some fact or problem. But a degree from an Ivy-League school like Harvard is as required to get the most difficult problems straight as it is to catch chicken pox! In addition, you sure don't need one to be able to figure out the needs that are required in life to feel truly fulfilled - or perhaps I should say that you don't need one to figure out what results when those needs go without being met. The habit does not the monk make, and, similarly, there are plenty of happily stupid Ivy-League grads out there who are enjoying life and who are totally oblivious to all the suffering which life is heaping all around them. These are the diametrical opposites to Max and all those like him in the world.

You've heard of those people who aren't afraid of death? Max was, as a result of his personal philosophies, definitely one of them. In fact, for being so agnostic, I was surprised to learn that he viewed death as his knight in shining armor who would come and rescue him from it all someday. He had made life so miserable for himself (because of the misery of living itself) that he couldn't wait to get it the hell over with. "And, Max, what will you say to St. Peter if, in fact, you do end up in his line up there in front of the pearly gates of heaven, and all your atheistic notions turn out to be crap?" I would ask him, and he would respond everytime with, "I'll say, 'Gentlemen, I was wrong.'" And, of course, it did no good to try to tell him that it would be too late then, and St. Peter would probably end up saying something like, "Too bad, Mr. Friedmann. We're going to have to send you to hell for a while to think about all those doubts that you had about us while you were on earth!" Max would just crack a smug grin and hiss, "Well, I'll just tell them that it can't be any woirce than that place down there!"

Poor Max! Poor, miserable, lonely Max. He only had two things on his mind it seemed: sex and stocks. He liked to intermesh the two subjects, actually. I don't know if Max had ever been with a woman really, although he probably had more than ample opportunity in his lifetime to do so. At seventy-two, he wasn't bad looking at all, and he was still in great shape from what you could tell just by looking at him. It's too bad he was such a heavy smoker, though he did get quite a bit of exercise when he went walking all over creation. He wasn't bald, he wasn't fat, but he wasn't Mr. America, though. (He showed me some pictures of himself from his younger days - he was a really handsome dude back then.) So he was a good looker, he was smart, he was loaded, and I'm sure he would be a lot nicer in the company of a lady than he ever was with me or his family. I wondered for a time what there was about him or what he was missing that he didn't have more girlfriends in his day. Well, as I said, he was quite a skinny fellow - no Mr. America. Of course, it could be that Max had just been too fussy about his women. That doesn't seem too likely to me though, considering Max's obsession with things sexual. Besides, most of the guys I've run into, Mr. America types included, don't make it a main point to date only center-fold girls (and, conversely, I haven't run into many gals who are necessarily looking for a Mr. America, either). But then again, a guy with Max's money and familial social connections would probably be expecting to have some slick, center-fold girl hanging all over him, wouldn't he? (We should all consider ourselves fortunate these days if we manage to find a nice, decent, fun person with whom we can share our intimate secrets, and with whom we won't share things like venereal warts and AIDS!) With the dividend of time that Max received from his self-imposed state of simplicity, I can't believe he didn't go out more and do more social things. Most of the people with whom I'm reasonably well acquainted have managed to lock themselves into exhausting, time-depleted schedules. They have no time for love. They have no time to share with anyone in a meaningful, healthy and desperately-needed relationship. School and work, or work and work - everybody I know seems to be robbing themselves blind of one of the most precious aspects of being human; that is, sharing your human experience with others, with another. They would all kill to have the spare time that Max had in order to go out and do fun things. Oh, well. Isn't that just the way things seem to go most of the time? You want what somebody else has and doesn't want, but you still can't have it, anyway!

But about Max, sex and stocks; he liked to view a pretty young woman in about the same terms as Karl Marx viewed labor - as a commodity. Labor, according to Marx, is the only commodity which can produce more value than the labor which was required to produce it. A pretty young woman, according to Max, is the only commodity which always puts out less than what was required to produce her. In addition, pretty young women, according to Max, are the only commodities that can accumulate in great number, yet not lead to a market crisis, as their value remains constant (in other words, pretty girls are a dime a dozen, yet they're certainly not). Max liked to point out, though, that the conflict aspect of Marx's accumulation-crisis-conflict theory did manage to manifest itself in one way or another when it came to pretty young women in a "market" scenario. Of course, the logic of Marx's general theories concerning Capitalism in the19th century, though rational in the beginning, inevitably fell due to factors such as corporate monopolies and the emergence of labor unions. Max's theories, however, have yet to be disproven - who ever heard of too few pretty girls putting out more than enough? (This, as opposed to the traditional market-crisis scenario where you have too few workers producing more than enough, which leads to a depression because there aren't enough employed people out there with money to spend on all those cheap things being produced by those few who have the jobs.) And in Max's girl-commodity theory, even though there are plenty of pretty girls and plenty of people with money out there to blow on them, even though those girls stay so expensive, depression will still inevitably result because, in the end, those who had the money to spend on all those not-so-cheap things find themselves either too broke or too smart to continue playing the market!

My father once made an astounding assessment of old Max when I was telling him a little bit about my misadventures with him. My father called him an "old fruit." I thought about it for a little while, and it made perfect sense then - Max was gay. Of course! How could I have missed it? My father was usually always right about those kinds of notions, too. For instance, I had a step-cousin a long time ago who, as my father predicted when the child was only five or six years old, turned out quite gay. I don't know how he knew my step-cousin would turn out gay - especially when my cousin was so young. But my father had almost a sixth sense about these things. I, on the other hand, have always been very inept at identifying such qualities as a person's religious or sexual orientation. (Max always made fun of how long it took me to figure out that he was Jewish.) I don't know why - it seems that everyone else is able to point out who's gay and who's Jewish. I'm never sure unless a homosexual tells me he or she is homosexual or bisexual (or whatever), or unless a Jewish man is wearing a yarmulke. In some ways, certain people have treated me as if my lack of ability to detect these things is some kind of disability. I don't think it is, though. Actually, it probably makes my life a whole lot easier because, frankly, I'm sure I save time by not wasting energy caring about such things.

Well, I had to really pry to get Max's personal life out of him. He loved to talk about girls with me, and share in such belittling masculine behavior as that. But when joking about sex and female body parts and the like, he would always throw in really lewd references about male body parts, too! It didn't make me feel uncomfortable or anything like that, but I did think it was a little peculiar in such contexts. As it turns out, this long-lost lover of Max's was a sailor-man from Chicago who was stationed in New Orleans that long time ago. It was your typical, tragic love story. The fact that it was a homosexual love tragedy doesn't make it any less tragic - at least not for me, anyway. This was, after all, way back before the sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuality and bisexuality were freakish topics which were barely heard of in any but the remotest circles of conversation. It's hard enough for heterosexuals to find good love, even these days. But for a homosexual to have found, then to have lost, that special someone back then somehow seems a profound statement of just exactly how hard it is to be human. There are so many obstacles for those of us who are called "normal" (I can't imagine how very difficult it all must be for those who aren't). A lot of people would say that it serves them right because homosexuality is not normal, and to expect to get along with people, you have to go with the flow and not make waves and get everyone else wet. When I hear the word normal, images of bell-curves are conjured up in my mind, and that magic word, average, lights up and haunts me. With that in mind, I, too, have to say that homosexuality isn't normal. Homosexuals are a minority, demographically speaking. As far as that goes, I have to say that human intelligence isn't normal, either! We humans are a minority in the great collection of living things on earth, and we are the only group of creatures who are intelligent, as far as we can tell (and we seem better able to tell such things than all the other members of the animal kingdom). Does this make us abnormal, as in the sense of the word which is used by all those people who say, "It serves them right . . . "? Of course not.

I suppose it all depends on a number of complex factors that govern one's line of thinking. Those who are of biblical persuasion have only one choice of answers available to them - answers such as the one provided in Romans, 1:25-27 of the New Testament:

"They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator - Who is forever praised. Amen."

"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

This is all that a believer of biblical text needs to refute homosexuality as unnatural and indecent. It even tells him or her why it happens and what the result is (Isn't that convenient?) And who's going to refute them? Nobody can, because no one among us can verify or deny anyone else's religious beliefs - that's why they're so powerful.

For those who aren't so biblically swayed, a wealth of theories is available to provide choices for answers. Personal tastes aside (concerning what's decent and what's not), one theory, the Inclusive-Fitness Theory, states that homosexuality is a very natural part of human sexuality. This one is very well thought out and, when viewed in a certain light, it makes a hell of a lot of sense. According to this theory, homosexuality may be an evolutionary condition which exists to alleviate over-population problems in a species (as homosexuality has been observed in other species besides human beings), and to also provide for a continuance of sexual behavior within the species at the same time. I doubt if Reverend Malthus would have been able to appreciate this theory or others like it, but it seems to provide a modern answer with some degree of viability for what seems to be evolving as a more modern controversy with every day that passes.

Whatever your particular line of thinking may be, it seems that this is just one of so many countless things put before us by whatever powers may be out there to create bumps on the road of life - bumps that seem like there's no way for mortal man to overcome them. Bumps that seem to be there for no other reason but to bruise our poor, tired feet. Bumps that must be tripped over for some purpose or reason or excuse unknown by us so far.

It seems Max may have been trying too hard to make up for too much in terms of abnormality - he was trying too hard to be average, something he was not. He was a very smart man, as I've said, and he knew full well the advantages and conveniences of being "just an average guy." But Max wasn't; that was his real problem. He rejected what he really was, and he missed out on so very much because of that.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]