[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds
Chapter 10: The Family
Even if it had a ways to go before it would attain the clean and comfortable standards of European passenger rail, Amtrak would, I hoped, make it. I enjoyed riding the train. It snaked its way slowly out of the station, lurching through switches and clattering over cross tracks. I watched hundreds of dirty cars and freight yards march past my window as we picked up speed through small tunnels and overpasses covered with colorful graffiti. Urban decay gradually gave way to more rural vistas as the north-bound Valley Express picked up speed. I had a two-hour ride ahead of me before I arrived in the town where my parents, the Capes, lived. For a few days I would have a chance to escape the broiling heat that was stifling the city, and I could relax in a more rustic setting. I was looking forward to the visit for several reasons.
I had pulled out my Tacitus to while away the next couple of hours but after a few pages of distracted reading I dropped the book back in my tote bag and let my thinking roam. I could of course not get Yukiko out of my head, and this in itself disturbed me. She was already occupying too much emotional space and crowding my mental world. Even at this preliminary stage in our relationship I somehow knew that we would soon be more than just casual friends, and the idea simultaneously thrilled and agitated me. Could I possibly become another Su-Lien? And – for Heaven’s sake — where did this undeniable attraction (was that even a strong enough word?) for a woman, even a woman of such supernal loveliness as Yukiko, suddenly come from?
As the train sped through green fields and thick stands of trees lining rivers and lakes my desultory musings stumbled across the topic of my parents. Yes, I was glad I was going to see them for a few days. Although we stay pretty much in touch by phone and e-mail, it was several months since I had visited. Mom, whose name was Christy, doesn’t like the city and rarely comes down, and Dad (Crispin) is always busy enough for three men.
Over the years a lot of my clients had been curious about my childhood and upbringing, wanting, apparently, to believe in the explanatory stereotype of family abuse and dysfunction as requisite etiology for prostitution. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.
How do we become what we are?
I come from a solid upper middle-class family of responsible and loving parents and achieving children. My older brother, Craig, is a corporate attorney in the city and my older sister, Valerie, is an anesthesiologist who lives in Oakland. I love my mother, who was my best friend; and I love my father without reserve. Not the way so many of the girls I knew at college did (“I love my Father but …”). In the privacy of my own thoughts I referred to them as ‘love-buts’. No, I loved my father period! No buts, ands or ors. I was a ‘love-period’. Nobody ever laid a hand on me in anger or discipline. All of us kids were encouraged by example, but never coerced by threat, to become readers and learners, and we all went to the best private schools and the colleges of our choice. Both Craig and Valerie had been supported financially as well as emotionally through college and professional school, as had I for both B.A. and M.A. I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood and my family. Take just one small example of what the family tone was like: after Craig came along Mom, who had done a minor in anthropological linguistics, said she was tired of all these velar plosives – Cape, Crispin, Christy, Craig. It was time to move forward in the mouth. “What we need are some labials!” And so big sis became Valerie and I got stuck with Mazarine. According to the story, Dad had merely remarked, “Cool!” “No,” Mom emended, “you mean ‘boss’, don’t you, honey?” He thought for a minute before coming back, “Bitchin’, mama baby!” And then, this urban family legend continues, true to their word they went off to bed and made Valerie.
In short, I was that unfashionable adult of the new century who was not a victim of priest, parent, pedagogue or police – except that in the bizarre social calculus of contemporary American life this very deficit ought no doubt ipso facto to constitute incontrovertible authentication of my status as victim: I am a victim because I am not a victim. Welcome to the whacky world of malice in blunderland.
Does my family know what I do for a living?
Yes. No. Maybe.
Mom certainly does. After I’d been in the life a few years I just blurted it out one night when she and I were chatting in her kitchen over glasses of good Chardonnay. She calls herself a Libertarian (“To the extent that I’ll put a label on myself!”), but this was bit de trop even for her.
“Are you serious, Mazarine?” she said. She looked not so much shocked as incredulous.
“I am, Mom. Very.”
For once she was speechless. “I … I don’t know what to say,” she confirmed.
“Then let me say something. I gave this a lot of thought before I got into it.”
She downed some Chardonnay and was all ears. “I imagine you did, dear,” she said.
“You know about my job situation after I finished the M.A., so I don’t need to fill in the background for you. As a way to make some decent money it was not going in the direction I would have liked. I’m sure you can appreciate that. Right?”
She nodded in agreement. “So, you mean you’re not a copy editor any longer?” Was there a hint of mockery there?
“Mom, puh-leaze!” I said, rolling my eyes.
I went to the refrigerator, took out the wine and filled up both our glasses. After returning the Chardonnay, I began.
“I want you to know that what I’m going to say is not something I dreamed up afterwards in order to justify taking the plunge. It was an entirely rational decision, and it was prompted by basic economics. Like anybody else, I sell a service.”
“Like ‘anybody else’?” she said. This time there was no mistaking a trace of puzzled amusement in her intonation.
“Look at it this way,” I went on. “People object in clichés. Exhausted clichés, I might add. Three of them: it’s immoral, it spreads disease, and – the most heated objection – it exploits women. Each one is so vacuous it always surprises me that otherwise intelligent people try to argue them with a straight face. They’re trivially true, bland statements of human realities valid in a lot of contexts.”
“Oh? And how exactly do you mean that?”
“To discuss the issue dispassionately you have to realize it’s a business. The point is to maximize profits.
“If you’re a communist you’re going to have problems with this fact and see prostitution as immoral, not because of the prostitution but because it commodifies – to use a favorite piece of academic jargon — pleasure and generates private profit. And that’s anathema to those economic illiterates. In theory. A good deal of Cuba’s foreign exchange, for example, derives from its position as Europe’s whorehouse, a kind of Caribbean Thailand for hard-currency tourists. And that great communist Castro says the girls fuck because they like it and not because they need the money.
“But a Christian capitalist will see immorality because he thinks physical pleasure is sinful. Of course, once you let everybody get his pet lick in, what’s immoral is pretty multifaceted: coffee, smoking, drinking, gambling, hunting, Nikes, abortion, death penalty, war, carbon dioxide emissions, eating meat, and on and on. And all this evil produces huge profits for entrepreneurs and taxes for governments. Stacked up against horrors like that, prostitution seems fairly benign to me.
“Yes, prostitution does spread disease. So do all kinds of intercourse that don’t involve money, inside marriage and outside. Not to mention the common cold, kissing, and poor personal and public hygiene. A reasonable person can take precautions against all of them. What more can I say?”
Mom was looking very pensive but she didn’t say anything.
“The most intense anger seems directed against ‘exploitation’. Women and women’s bodies are ‘exploited’. It’s a favorite red herring of the wearied left and duped right that still stinks to high heaven. I’ve never fully grasped what is meant here.
“How about the man who digs ditches? Isn’t his body being exploited? Or how about the woman professor who prostitutes her mind in front of generations of students? Should we deplore her exploitation too and make it illegal? It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how a victorianizing society obsessed with protecting supposedly helpless women in general or women professors in particular could slip into a taliban mode and proscribe all women’s work. And for good measure, the way they look too.” I took a sip of wine. “Bring on the burqas!”
“I admit I hadn’t ever thought about it in exactly those terms,” Mom said thoughtfully.
“And that’s part of the problem. All studies on prostitution that I’ve ever read point out that the picture of the innocent woman captured and forced into prostitution is clearly the exception. It exists, yes, all over the world. Even here. But to deal with cases like that, we don’t need laws against prostitution — just vigorous enforcement of existing laws on kidnapping and enslavement. Whether she’s an uneducated street walker or a classy hooker working on graduate degrees, she does it for one simple reason: the work is easy, the money is great, and profits are maximized. And that should be self-evident in a capitalist society. The irony is that it obviously is in a communist society like Cuba. It beats working at MacDonald’s for six bucks minus 25% the state and feds rake off — by any other name, in other words, the pimps.
“No, it’s not prostitution that exploits women, but its illegality. The lack of a legal framework that exists for other forms of small business in this country forces the women to go extra-legal to protect themselves from corrupt police and unregulated pimps who ‘own’ them; it promotes a kind of vicious de facto slavery. If prostitution were legalized, I believe that most of this corruption wouldn’t find purchase in the business. And by regulating it like any other business, governments at all levels would score big time from tax collections just as they do from any small business. In any event, it sure isn’t going away!
“So, it’s not about morality and it’s not about health. It’s all about money. If it’s legal to sell the pleasure of cancer-causing cigarettes, why not sell carnal pleasure? Why shouldn’t women have the right to decide how to make money and maximize earnings from whatever they are good at, even if that includes prostitution? Nobody can force any woman to be a prostitute, but if that’s how she wants to earn money, why not? How is her using her body in this way any different from an athlete using her body in that way? Or a very bright woman using her mind to earn money? Play to strengths!”
I didn’t think Mom was buying this. She said nothing, just finished her wine.
“I need to sleep on this,” she concluded, got up, gave me a hug and peck on the cheek. “You sleep tight, baby.”
She didn’t bring it up again with me later that visit, but I believe she talked to Dad about it. He never confronted me on this, but when I left he gave me one of his solid hugs and added, “You take care, honey. If you ever need us, you know we’re always here for you. We’re you parents.”
My Dad. Crispin Cape, M.D., F.A.C.S.
A very, very special kind of guy.
I don’t believe in astrology and the phases and alignment of the planets and all that stuff, and I don’t read the daily horoscopes. But I have wondered over the years if Dad’s way of looking at the world was not somehow determined by the fact that he was born the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Whatever the reason, he’s one of the few people who, I believe, really tried to do more for his country and other people than he expected from them in return. He was a patriot without the quotation marks.
In the late fall of 1988 just before I went off to college he asked me to go for a long walk with him in the forestland that abutted our property. It was a trek we had made together many times during my childhood and teen years, but this time he wanted to “talk about important things” rather than just “enjoy the nature around us.”
“You’re old enough now,” he began as we crossed a small stream that was the rear property line, “to be aware of how things are.” This was coded phrasing for him, and it referred to the divisions in the world, unfair, as he always pointed out, but there nonetheless.
“That’s true,” I agreed.
“I’ve never told you about Viet Nam, but now I want to.”
After he had finished medical school and a year of residency he was all set, in 1968, to enter a residency in general surgery. Instead he enlisted in the army to serve in Viet Nam.
“But you didn’t have to, did you?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I didn’t have to.” He paused a moment. “But it was my duty.” There were not quotation marks around the word duty either.
“How do you mean?”
“People my age were going to Viet Nam to be horribly damaged and even die, and people my age were going to Canada and Sweden to avoid that. I wanted to do my share.
“As it turned out, I couldn’t have gotten better training in general surgery, and when I returned to the states three years later I was a shoo-in for a very fine residency in reconstructive surgery. And that led, ultimately, to cosmetic surgery.
“I’ve been very, very lucky, Mazarine. The things, the money, the cars, the educations for you kids, all of that … it all came at a cost. A truly horrible cost.” And this is when he got that thousand-yard stare in his eyes I saw for the first time that afternoon. He was back in the field hospitals. “I learned what I learned and became what I became because a lot of young men had their faces blown off. I never paid them for what they gave me. Nobody ever really did. But I’ve earned a great deal of money because of them, because of their suffering.”
He stopped and turned to look at me, with great intensity. “We must never, never forget that, Mazarine. I hope you will remember it all of your life. What we owe to those young men.”
That’s it. We walked for another hour or so without a word, listening to bird songs and observing the forest. But I never did forget that afternoon or what he had said. It made a deep impression on me. It’s certainly one of the reasons I don’t cheat on my taxes. The government gets it share of every penny I earn, on Aspasia’s books or off.
My parents instilled in me a lot of their own common sense about the world and its flaws, and, I hope, some of their essential decency. By the example of their own lives each of them helped to inoculate me against the ideological viruses that seemed to find such fast and fertile footholds in the unthinking minds of many of my contemporaries in both high school and the university. I was never seduced by the silly siren song of communism (Dad, sighing: “It will never last, Mazarine. It can’t. It’s basic assumption is that the vast majority of humans are by nature altruistic, and that is a false assumption.”) and I did not grow up in a pampering hothouse that allowed for the luxury of venomous hatred for America and all things American (Mom, huffing: “Those morons should all read Plato’s Crito and write a monthly essay on that dialogue.”).
I thought of myself as a grounded person, well adjusted, not burdened by childhood scars. I didn’t see myself as messed up. Furthermore, I certainly hoped I was not entertaining any serious illusions in this regard.
The train was starting to decrease speed, and shortly we pulled into the quaint little fifties-style station that served the community of Akers Pond. Since it was a Monday morning, there weren’t a lot of people riding away from the city and only a few individuals got off the train. Both my parents were on the platform waiting for me. They waved, and I felt a small lump in my throat. I threw myself into Mom’s arms and then hung my arms around Dad’s neck.
“It’s so nice to see you, honey,” Mom said.
“It’s been too long,” Dad added.
“Well, I’m really glad to be here.”
Dad hefted my little suitcase and we walked over to the nearby parking lot and got in the car. We went to a pancake place that had been in town since the beginning of time and had a leisurely, hi-carb lunch.
Dad dropped us off at the house and then continued on to the hospital. He is an adjunct professor at the university in the city but does most of his procedures here in town. After I got settled into my old room and chit-chatted with Mom, I went for a short walk. Everything was so quiet, so unhurried. The contrast with the city struck me: only the occasional sound of a truck passing on a distant highway, a car going by on the road in front of the house, the purling sound of water flowing in the brook, the background creaks and snaps of insects, birds. Tranquility, almost mesmerizing in its sluggishness.
The week sped by. We went out to eat a lot, drank good wine, talked late into night. One afternoon Mom and I went to the cemetery and put fresh flowers on the grave where Grandpa now rested next to his wife. I finished the Annals of Tacitus and decided I’d start in on the Symposium when I got back to the city. Latin and then Greek. Sweet as it was to be with my parents, by Friday I was getting a little antsy and was ready to leave, and on Saturday Mom and Dad drove me to the station to catch the 14:14 that would put me back in the city before five and my apartment before six. We hugged, and Mom, like me, let a few tears drop.
“I love you both so much,” I choked.
They both nodded. “We love you, too, Mazarine.”
They kept waving until I could no longer see them.
I had nothing to read on the way back. My thoughts drifted back to my grandfather, Mom’s dad, who had died about half a year ago at the age of 89. He’d been an old-time country doctor all his life, not retiring until he was in his mid-seventies. He’d enlisted on December 8, 1941, and served in the Pacific campaign as a medic. In 1945 he’d applied to medical school, got in, and graduated four years later. He’d practiced in our town for thirty-five years.
In addition to being a doctor, he was also a very learned man. In retrospect I think the reason he never went in for some big specialty was so he would have some free time and be able to read. He was a great reader and he told me he had always enjoyed studying for its own sake. Somewhere I still have his exercises in Latin composition from school. In his house he had a huge library, over and above all his medical texts, and we three kids were always welcome to it. I still remember the little stools one had to stand on to reach the higher shelves which were, as a practical matter, out of range for a child. It was in the course of browsing in this vast library that, I think, my life-long passion for books, reading, study, art was first awakened. In particular I recall books he had of old prints illustrating scenes from the bible and folktales. In later years I came to appreciate that these were the striking drawings of Gustave Doré.
My grandfather had been an amateur botanist his whole life, and he had huge herbarium of dried and pressed plants carefully labeled in his small, exquisite hand. Date and location of collection, common and Latin names, and any other relevant information would be noted on each page. He also had many botanical illustrations of great beauty and accuracy, and these, I am sure, helped foster my own interest in realism and craftsmanship in art (I do not recall ever having seen illustrations from any of his medical text, and that may well have been because he thought them inappropriate for a child). Since his library originated at a time before color photography had made its way into general publishing, such illustrations as appeared in his books were mostly based on ink drawings, and to this day I find such art emotionally most gratifying, like those magical ink sketches of Dürer and Rembrandt. For all of this, I am forever indebted to my grandfather and his interests.
My general mental picture to this day is of him sitting in his favorite easy chair in his large study and living-room with a book or a newspaper in front of him, billows of cigar-smoke circling his head and spiraling slowly up to the ceiling. At six o’clock every evening he would turn on a radio and listen to the latest news, and he didn’t get a TV until the early seventies.
He liked the outdoors, and as a youth he had been active in swimming and gymnastics. Many times he would walk with Craig and Valerie and myself to a large lake near where we lived, and then we would go swimming and diving. The trip to the lake took us through the forest, and on the way he would point out plants to us, comment on the songs of birds, show us where edible berries were hidden, and in general keep up an informative flow of talk about everything under the sun.
When he and Grandma were visiting in our house he was in the habit of reading aloud to us before we went to sleep, and this always gave us all great pleasure. He would come up to our bedroom, and I still recall – pleasantly — the smell of cigar smoke emanating from his clothes. Craig would come into Valerie’s and my room and sit at the foot of one of our beds.
It is a curious thing that the influence of all his academic and intellectual interests did not manifest itself in me for many years in terms of my formal schooling. I was a very indifferent student, and that did not change until I hit ninth grade and had the good fortune to have a dynamic Latin teacher and a very strict algebra teacher.
In retrospect I have to consider myself quite fortunate to have had such a grandfather during my years of growing up – another one of those things that benefited me hugely but for the arrangement of which I can claim no personal credit – I was just lucky.
Everyone should be so blessed!
The train was slowing and screeching.
All in all, it had been a great visit, and I was very glad I had gone up. As we came to a full stop in the station I felt revitalized, recharged, all set to go again. There would be appointments from Miche on the answering machine and a full schedule for the coming week.
I descended onto the platform, the dripping August heat hit me like a body blow, and I had the happy thought that I would soon see Yukiko.