My adoptive parents, unfortunate folks they were indeed, and I never adjusted to each other sufficiently to form a positive relationship. I was a disaster of a child with tons of rejection hostility and a mile long self esteem deficit. They were utterly dysfunctional, to put it mildly.
Whatever I thought, said or did was wrong. They could not accept that I resisted what they tried to teach me about how to be a person. I could not accept their definition of a person. You usually can’t bridge a gap like that. In our case, the gap was never bridged. Whatever I did manage to accomplish in my life came to them as an incredible surprise. How could anyone as messed up as they saw me to be ever become a successful person at any level in any pursuit? Amazing! But they didn’t want to give up on getting me to fit their mold. That fit was impossible for me. It was also impossible for another child they adopted and simply destroyed. The story of how it unfolded probably doesn’t explain a damn thing, but I am enjoying writing it nonetheless.
In stage one surrender it was decided that I must be mentally unbalanced to be unable to see the rectitude of what they were telling me about life and propriety. The obvious remedy was for me to spend time in an environment in which I would be “straightened out”. There was an Aunt Ester who had an arrested development son, Dickey the Obese. She sent him off to the Oak Ridge Military Academy at age 14. Since she vouched for its beneficial effects upon Dickey the sloth, it was decided that Oak Ridge could be just the right place for me. Off I went. No sooner had I unpacked than Dickey the Obese appeared at my door with a diatribe on the subject of what I must do and not do in order to make the grade at Oak Ridge and not disgrace “our” family. Disliking him instantly as a matter of principle, I tuned the sonofabitch up on the spot. He ran to the authorities, called his mother, who called my parents and there ensued an interstate colloquy on the subject of whether I should be cashiered then and there or given a chance to “adjust” at some other speed. I remained there for a tad more than 4 months before they decided, based upon more than sufficient evidence, that I had no future there. It broke my heart because I was really enjoying the local pool hall, winning soft drinks and fried pies daily rather than attend class.
The excuse for my being “reassigned” was that I was approaching my thirteenth birthday and had to be back in Charleston to be flogged by some poor rabbi in preparation for my religious theater performance ushering me into the world of real men. Those who shared bar mitzvah prep classes with me deserve special merit in the hereafter. I was not a religious believer, scholar, enthusiast, or follower in any sense of any of those words. My experience with clergy, even at that young age, left me filled with loathing and hostility. It is claimed that I remain to this day the first 12 year old to tell a Charleston rabbi to kiss my ass.
I did manage to get through the manhood ritual, in my fashion, much to the chagrin of my so called relatives who resented my being claimed to be a member of their family simply because my “parents” could not have children of their own. At least it would be the last time I had to see them for quite a while. I did attend Cousin Bernard’s wedding where I continued to promote my excellent standing by consuming two bottles of “champagne” and ralphing all over the floral decorations up on the alter. Having no downside social risk, there was no need to behave in any acceptable manor.
The nicest thing about my childhood was that I loathed my “family” just as much as they hated me. That equilibrium enabled avoidance of any sense of loss. As for rejection, I had dealt with that before being adopted. Hostile? Aggressive? Incorrigible? You bet your sweet ass!
Later on, in retrospect, it seems to me that all the things I liked to do that were frowned upon and the cause of infliction of punishment were normal things that kids in my age group did on a fairly regular basis. The problem, however, was that the “family” insisted that Jewish people didn’t do such things. Jews didn’t drink, smoke, hunt, fish, shoot pool, stay out late with tough kids, join groups that were not sponsored by a Jewish organization, date non Jewish girls, enjoy a lot of sex, fly airplanes etc. The Jewish kids I grew up with were real sissies. Their interests were clothes, cars, getting money from their parents, talking about sex but never getting any except maybe over at Miss Kitty Blair’s whore house on Queen Street where their dads sponsored their first sexual encounters with actual other people.. None of them ever thought of going to work after school or on weekends and holidays (except maybe in daddy’s store). When I got after school, weekend and summer jobs I was yelled at for making my father seem like his business must be failing. According to him, Jews didn’t do manual work. That was for goyim (non Jews).
Back in Charleston, I continued throughout high school to pursue my own interests, no matter the high school curriculum. I had my own social groups according to favorite activities. There were the hunters- campers-hikers, the fishermen, the pool shooters who also smoked heavily and drank a lot of beer. These were also the kids who worked, whose parents had no money for recreational spending. Instinctively I wanted to be one of them.
I got a summer job while in high school driving a Dr Pepper truck. Harry McMinn, a Texan, had the Dr Pepper franchise for Charleston County. He knew my father because they shared work forces. Dad’s business was a winter business and Harry’s season was summer. They shared the same work force with a few exceptions, like Harry’s nephew Jim. When I applied for a job Harry hired me on the spot because of who I was. Then he assigned me to do the book keeping. I told him I didn’t know how to do that. He was nonplussed. He thought all Jews were born knowing how to cook/keep books. I explained to him that I wasn’t born a Jew, etc, and got a job driving a Dr Pepper route. As the new guy in town I naturally got the worst route they had.
Instead of a city route with nearby stops and good volume, I got out county customers with many miles between stops. This was back in the day when a soft drink bottle was a 2 cent deposit. Nobody threw them away. They were all glass and heavy by the case. Plastic bottles had several years before they would appear on the scene. The equipment on the truck consisted of a plain old hand truck and me. I got into really fantastic shape that summer, even better than usual.
Every little retailer handled Coke and Pepsi, the best selling soft drinks in South Carolina. They had to stock those. But they didn’t need Dr Pepper. You had to “sell”, not just deliver Dr Pepper. A typical stop involved walking into the store and greeting Mr. Whatshisname, then walking back to the cooler to check out the inventory in it, into the back room to do the same. Then you went back to the cooler and got a cold Dr Pepper, up to the counter and paid for it, and proceeded to chat with Mr. Whatshisname. The most he was ever going to buy in one visit was maybe five or six cases. To get that kind of sale you had to convince him that it really did look like Dre Pepper was selling well from the look of the cooler and the back room full of empties. He would say that those weren’t all Dr Pepper empties back there and send me back there to straighten up the whole back room and report back again. After about 15 minutes straightening out his empties back there and arranging the Dr Pepper empties in Dr Pepper cases as well as the other brands in their cases and stacking all of them neatly, I might get an order if I acted just right and didn’t give him any reason to assign me other store chores. I took the empties to the truck; brought the cases ordered into the back room: rearranged the cooler being careful not to put more Dr Pepper bottles in it than he thought appropriate (I had all kinds of notes on each of these little stores so I didn’t confuse one with another and make anyone angry); and present a handwritten bill for payment on the spot. Sometimes he would say he was cash short and would pay me next time. Then I had to go through a song and dance about how my boss would make me make up any shortage out of my own pocket each day if I came back with anything uncollected. That always worked.
With several miles between each little country store, I still managed 20 stops a day. Later, when I did get a city route because someone quit, I did over 30 stops a day and almost got beat up by the other drivers who didn’t want to work that hard. One of them was Harry’s nephew Jim who loved to hunt hogs – wild boar. These were to be found in Graham County North Carolina, up in the Smokies around the Nantahala Valley. He loaned me a rifle one weekend and off we went for a four day hunt. It was an incredible experience, must better than any overnight hike in the boy scouts. We did it on foot with no dogs, just stalking animal trails until we found some. As you walked there in those days you might come close to some illegal bootleg liquor still. You knew you were in the wrong place because two guys would suddenly appear with guns to greet you and “sort you out”. If you managed to convince them that you were not the wrong sort, they would sell you some damn good hooch in a Mason jar or fruit juice jug. It was good and about 140 proof (70 % alcohol). .You could get fucked up in very little time on that shit.
We never did get a hog on that first trip and maybe that was a real blessing, but I did hear a lot of good stories, most of them probably pure bullshit, and I got to drink some mean mountain hooch for the first time in my life. Dad knew I was going hunting and there was a stern lecture about how that was something Jews just didn’t do, but I went anyway. I had some good bullshit stories to tell when I came back, but they had to wait until school started in the fall. I could never tell that story at home.
I had another high school friend, Peter Donnerstag, a Jewish kid that was somehow rescued from the Belsen concentration camp. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle in Charleston and we met in school. We had only two things in common but that was enough. Eventually in that relationship I would hear what he could remember of the concentration camp and losing his parents and that his real original name was Berlinsky. I told him mine was Muldoon and the situation seemed oddly compatible for that at least. Our common interests were drinking cheap wine, classical music and philosophy.
We always convened at his house, because the Solomons didn’t approve of either, plus they certainly didn’t approve of us guzzling cheap wine in these discussion sessions. His parents were immigrants and very free about high school age kids drinking wine or beer during visits that were otherwise thought appropriate. By the 10th grade I knew more about Immanual Kant and his pals than any college grad. Very few 10th graders discussed the morality of suicide while buzzed in those days. Peter enjoyed hearing me sing and attended all my voice recitals. He never had a girlfriend and somewhat resented my spending time trying to get laid instead of delving into “intellectual” bullshit, drinking cheap wine and listening to good music. We went to Middlebury College together, he to study German literature and me in the French and Italian schools. Again he got upset that I spent so much time getting laid that I had little time for him, and our friendship went into the freezer for a few decades. He had expected a ride home from Middlebury, but I got involved with a girl from Pittsburgh and drive her home instead.
Peter decided to extend our common interest in mysticism through his adulthood and came under the influence of one Swami Paramhansa Yogananda, celebrated for the phenomenon of his body not rotting for over a year following his demise (so the story said) which was seen as divine confirmation of his genuine spiritual pre eminence. Peter joined his Self Realization Society, sending me the Swami’s collected writings which I actually read.
By then I was well into guns and flying and regular sex, and the Swami’s otherworldliness and renunciation of material comforts and possessions just didn’t fit my pistol.
Peter and I crossed paths much later when I was in law school working as a law clerk for Professor S C Oppenheim who was then the grand panjandrum of Antitrust law in the USA. He was then the chairman of the ABA Section of Antitrust law and took me with him to its annual meeting in Washington. I was provided a per diem allowance for food, lodging and local miscellaneous expenses and did whatever he told me to do. One assignment was to go to the Department of State Protocol Office and ask them to provide me with a seating chart for the luminaries at the head table for the big banquet. They fucked that up royally. When banquet time came along, all the men were on one side of the table and the women on the other side of the chairman’s seat. Oppie would never believe that the State Department was that stupid and castigated me for weeks for fucking up that assignment by winging it myself instead of following instructions.
At that time I learned from someone in Charleston that Peter wan non longer just plain old Peter Donnerstag, but had risen to become Swami Peter Donner, high panjandrum of the Temple of the Golden Lotus out on Northwestern Highway in D.C. I made contact and he insisted that I made the trip a visit to their Ashram. There I stayed and in the evenings was a member of the audience during assorted programs about the glories of self denial; the awful poisonous attributes of the material world; the impact upon the quality of life that was available if I were to renounce ownership of anything and everything and follow Swami Yogananda and Swami Peter into the mystical world of Hinduism and selling trinkets on the street to help support the Ashram. They were a rather dirty lot, which really didn’t bother me even though a bit of deodorant would have made a big difference. They claimed to eat no meat and to live on frugal vegetarian meals, drinking only water.
There was a real fancy French restaurant in Georgetown, the Rive Gauche, still there, that was said to be frequented by the Kennedys. The poor management of that establishment had sent an invitation to Professor Oppenheim to bring his dinner party there as the guests of the management, which would of course get around and bring in more of that convention’s business. Oppie had no desire for that kind of place at all and gave me the invitation suggesting that I take some of my friends there for a nice evening. I took Swami Peter and several of the berobed brethren. We walked in (after making reservations in my name) to the surprise and amazement of the restaurant staff. They must have thought that I was some State Department hack entertaining some low level slobs from the Indian embassy that evening.
That evening the holy vegans ate exquisite European gourmet dishes without regard for any influence that could possibly restrict their gluttony. We also consumed several really delicious bottles of wine. When the bill came I simply handed them the invitation I had been given by Professor Oppenheim. They went berserk, insisting that I must have stolen it. Rather than make a scene or risk a false arrest situation, they took the information from my driver’s license and we then left. The holy veggies were sick for a few days from their journey through real paradise. I have not seen Swami Peter since then and suspect that he may no longer walk the earth.
In those high school and college days I had another friend with whom I shared our wonderful music teacher Vernon Weston. John Hodge and I would listen to every recording of every piece we liked, noting the slightest nuance difference in styles. By then we would have consumed enough wine that we could sing the arias and duets. Our favorite was from Verdi’s DON CARLO entitled “Dio che nel alma in fondere”.
We so enjoyed each other’s musical tastes that he offered me his sister, but she seemed rather uninterested in that proposition. There was another girl in our little group with whom I was secretly involved in my own mind. Her name was Gwen. We came close, but there was no future in a serious commitment between us. With her I would by now be the father of about ten children, having bred myself into poverty like so many Irish Catholics.
The children would be really great people, having grown up with a sense of grace that they would have received from their mother. I have since learned that grace is a magic and indispensable attribute without which life is far less meaningful and joyous. I was not taught grace. It was for so many years an unknown term.
My self loathing, of which I remained unaware, continued for at least a few decades. It was a painful trip overcoming it and accepting the realities of life with grace. Since shedding that burden my life is far more rewarding for its own self. There is so much loving psychic revenue. There is so much love. There is Belinda.
By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
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