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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
The Love Life of a Jewish Gary Cooper
by Peter Freund
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"I did it to hurt him, no question about that. For Béla I was a whore. He went as far as saying it to my face. Whore? All right, whore I'll give you. So I went to his buddy Philippe Baum's lab at the university and I knew Philippe's kink, the rest was easy. I had heard Philippe's story a hundred times, if I heard it once. I heard Béla tell it, I heard Philippe tell it to Béla, I heard faculty wives giggle about it. Philippe could only have sex if danger was involved. His entire sex life unfolded in his lab, where with doors unlocked he would have women perform acts on him minutes before the arrival of the students. That was it. I don't know how he got this way, I have my ideas on the subject, but to tell the truth I don't give a damn. For me Philippe was but a tool to give Béla his comeuppance. And did it ever work! Just as Philippe started panting in the throes of his pleasure, the door opened and in walked Béla with the dean's wife just as I knew they would. Béla rushed at us, pulled me up by my shoulders, my teeth almost did to poor Philippe what men fear most, and then and there Béla hit me across my right cheek with a ferocity I had never suspected in him. I hated him that moment, I loved him at the same time. The dean's wife walked over and tried to comfort me, while shooing my husband away. That was it. We split up and I saw him one more time, he behaved the way I should have realized he would behave, but I always underestimate the meanness of men. That is why I am still rotting in this God-awful city at the edge of Transylvania, while my ex-husband and his buddy are sipping lemonade in some Tel-Aviv café or other. There is no justice. There never was."

"If you ask me, Klári is a whore. I should have stayed away from her. I still can't understand how she got me to marry her. She bedded every blade of grass in town. My dean, she fucked my fucking dean, of all people! It must be that foul Transylvanian town, Arad, heavy, pretentious, dirty. The Hungarians let it rot right there on the shores of the muddy Maros. The Romanians, when they got it back after the Second World War, decided to make it into the one thing it was never meant to be, a cultural center. They created a university there. But then you try and find a Romanian who knows any chemistry and is willing to leave Bucharest to teach Hungarians in Arad. So they staffed the place with people in trouble, political trouble. The professor had been in the Iron Guard during the war and he was best relegated to some inconspicuous position. He was a first rate chemist and a decent guy where I was concerned. Maybe he learned something from his past, maybe he got chastened, or maybe he was just playacting, but I would be less than honest, were I to complain on his account. With me he was a gentleman. And who would be his assistants, but two Jews from Lugos, my buddy Philippe Baum and I.
     "There was nothing to do in Fifties Arad. Go to the Russian movies, the one about Stakhanov exceeding his norm, or Michurin deflowering his flowers, or Popov inventing his radio? Read the newspapers and learn about the cow that gave more milk or the bull that got her with calf? Listen to the radio? No, all you could do was work and fuck. I worked with Philippe on a new family of polymers with possible industrial applications and this kept us busy during the day. After work I ran home and mounted Klári right there in the kitchen. She would protest, but if you ask me, she loved it.
     "As to Philippe, I guess I should have paid more attention to his numerous recitations of woe. He did get a rough deal, no doubt about that. I guess it all started with that ill-fated engagement to Eva Vincze, the year the war ended, before the communist takeover. I was there, all of Lugos Jewry was invited at the Vincze villa on the bank of the Temes. They made a mighty handsome couple. Philippe had the good looks of a Jewish Gary Cooper and he had brains too. The guests had started indulging in the delicious buffet laid out by the bride's family and the French champagne purchased in Temesvár, some forty miles away. The toasts were about to start. The rabbi wanted the couple to step on the podium specially erected for the occasion. For a while the tall groom stood on it by himself, somewhat ill at ease, while the rabbi bid him to be patient 'You know women, they're always late, there's nothing to be done about it' and he was partially right. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to be done about it. The bride had disappeared. They looked for her in the living quarters, in bathrooms, on the street, everywhere. Guests were nervously giggling at first, then they relaxed and started laughing. In the end the rabbi asked Philippe to step down from the podium. The Jewish Gary Cooper did so and clumsily tripped falling on his face like a Jewish Cary Grant. Big waves of roaring laughter now washed over the assembled guests as a dazed Philippe limped out of the room. Eva Vincze had eloped with Andris Weisz, with that jerk. Some start!
     "During our student days in Bucharest, Philippe, equipped with Ola Gummi brand condoms was a regular at the brothel on the Chaussée. That was the full extent of his love life, not a single date, not one kiss. There were girls aplenty and they loved Philippe, but he had no interest in them, none whatsoever. That Vincze girl sure did a number on him.
     "In Arad Klári and I managed to get a small walkup in an old apartment building from Austro-Hungarian days. As a bachelor, all that Philippe could manage was a room in the apartment of Katalin Szombathelyi a married woman with a three year old son, whose husband was in a labor camp for political reasons.
     "Strapped for money, Katalin Szombathelyi offered Philippe room and board, she was a fine cook. Slowly Philippe took over as man of the house. They dined together, then put the little boy to bed and the long provincial winter evenings were spent by the tall green tile stove chatting, anyway at first. Katalin, a striking woman, a Hungarian Ingrid Bergman, put the Jewish Gary Cooper at ease and for the first time since the Lugos elopement he started talking about his utter devastation at the hands of his fiancée. No one had eloped at the Szombathelyi engagement or at the wedding which followed it, but a by no means lesser devastation was just as intensely visited on that married couple. Jancsi Szombathelyi, the groom, was a loudmouth and a womanizer. The latter devastated his wife, the former landed him in labor camp.
     "Before long Philippe started making love to Katalin Szombathelyi. For the first time in his life the Jewish Gary Cooper was in love. They used to come over to our place and they looked happy, truly happy. But looks can be deceiving. The woman could not well divorce her husband while he was laboring in a camp, but Ingrid promised Gary she'd ask for a divorce from her Paul Henreid as soon as he came home.
     "The Paul Henreids of the world always manage to survive and return, that's how they are typecast. Jancsi Szombathelyi was building the canal which was to connect the Danube before it forms its delta to the Black Sea. The fete was to be achieved by slave labor. They dug and dug the tract of the canal, but when time came to let the water in, the communists chickened out. The engineers were unanimous, you let the water in and with all due respect to Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, all of Dobrogea, a good ten percent of the country would be flooded. Now they could blame that on some imperialist conspiracy, but at least those in power would know the truth and they could use it against each other in their Byzantine games. They opted for abandoning the project and sent the slaves home.
     "Back in Arad, Jancsi Szombathelyi correctly assessed the situation: while he was away someone had been sleeping in his bed. That much he had expected. No one would cast Ingrid Bergman as the Holy Virgin. What irked Jancsi Szombathelyi was not the fact that in his absence a man had been fucking his wife, but the equally true fact that a handsome Jew had been at it. Jancsi demanded that his rival leave the apartment immediately, or else he vowed to 'kill the bastard'. A tearful Katalin appeared in Philippe's room and suddenly demoted him from Jewish Gary Cooper to Jewish Humphrey Bogart. She sent him packing with no more than a 'We'll always have Arad.' What do Humphrey Bogarts do when their Ingrid Bergmans stay with their Paul Henreids? They go to their Claude Rains. Middle in the night Philippe showed up at my place. I sat up with him through the night. It wasn't 'the beginning of a beautiful friendship', Philippe and I were buddies since our Lugos childhood days. Moreover, a small detail, not important as yet, but with serious consequences yet to come, I was a married man, main difference between Claude Rains and me. Anyway, I talked and talked to Philippe the whole night. He wanted to kill himself, go to the lab and swallow cyanide. I talked him out of it and the result? Henceforth he could only have sex if danger was involved, if a sudden and possibly violent termination of the act appeared imminent. Much good did it do me, but I do not hold Philippe a grudge, had it not been him, Klári would have come up with someone else, she had no problems in this respect. I got what I had coming for marrying that whore. There is no justice. There never was."


"My best friend Béla Kelemen saved my life. I was about to end it all over what? Over a broad for laughing out loud. Now I know better, all I want is my cock sucked, no questions asked. For years it took an element of danger to get me going, but that has ended with that horrible business with Klári, some bitch, she staged that whole situation to drive a wedge between Béla and me. Fortunately he came to see reason and here in Israel we are still friends and still work together and now the field has been leveled, we're both unmarried. I have no trouble getting women, I bring them home, bed them, have them suck me off a couple of times and then I go to sleep. The ideal woman, as far as I am concerned is the one who is gone by the time I wake up. If she steels a sock or some money, I don't care, I have nothing of value in the house, just as long as I don't have to deal with the bitch when I get up. My friend Béla isn't all that different, come to think. After he caught Klári in my lab he threw her out of his place, he did the right thing if you ask me. But of course she showed up a month later begging him to take her back. He said sure, all is fine and forgotten, took her in and fucked the daylights out of her. Next morning the movers showed up to take his furniture to a new place, he had to get out of this apartment, it reminded him of so many things he now wanted to forget. Klári thought this was an excellent idea.
     'Where are we moving?' she asked.
     'I am moving, you can stay if they'll let you, you whore.' That's Béla from Lugos for you, Béla Lugosi as we used to call him. He resented it, especially after he moved to Arad which is in Transylvania. "Leave me be with all that vampire crap" he would protest.
     "When I got my papers to go to Israel, I called my former landlady, I owed her that much I thought. Her husband that Jew-hating son of a bitch was in Kolozsvár visiting his ailing mother. She came over to my place. Don't get me wrong, we did not make love. I wanted her to come with me. She started crying, she still loved me she claimed, but going to Israel was out of the question. Jancsi would never allow his son to become a citizen of 'Jew-country' as he called it and without the boy she would never come either.
'Do you want me to stay?' I asked her. She let go of a bitter bout of crying, but the upshot was no, she did not want me to stay either. Then what was all this crying about? Women have a need to be perceived as self-sacrificing, anyway those that don't have the need to sacrifice others. In either case sacrifice is central to their existence. Maybe that is because they give life and then feel they can deny it as well. Men can be cruel, no doubt, but we mostly predicate our lives on a live-and-let-live philosophy, none of this human sacrifice business. We may hail from Lugos and live in Transylvania, but that doesn't make us vampires. We believe in reason and justice, but if you hail from Lugos and have lived in Transylvania, you know there is no justice, there never was."


"They took my husband to the Danube Canal and I was left alone to fend for myself and my little boy. A man moved in and from what he paid me for room and board we could subsist. He was a handsome fellow, a Jew, he was circumcised, he became my lover. His fiancée had eloped with another man and he had become the laughing stock of Lugos, his home town. I felt for him the way a woman feels for a young boy, very naïve, very needy, very attached. There was a security, a predictability to living with him. I liked that. He wanted to marry me, but I had a ready excuse, I was already married and I couldn't possibly walk out on Jancsi while he was at the Canal. This all could have lasted for many more years, but then they sent Jancsi home and it all came to a boil. Jancsi was furious that I had taken up with a Jew. I told him I would never have married the guy, but that wasn't enough for my husband. 'What kind of an example were you setting for our boy, you might as well have had him circumcised.' He demanded I break up with Philippe. That was the easy part. I shed some tears, that always works with men, it gives them a sense of achievement. They either want you to tell them they are making you happy, or to shed tears if you cannot partake in the happiness they have in store for you. It makes them feel powerful, I guess.
     But now to the ugly part. To 'punish' me, Jancsi started openly bringing women to the house and making love to them even within earshot of me and the boy. To the boy he justified it all as 'your mother is a Jew-lover, for her I have too much skin' and then he would maliciously burst out in laughter. After Philippe left for Israel, Jancsi divorced me, kept the boy and turned him against me. I had no visitation rights and had to watch my son being turned into a thug. That was not difficult under communism. By then Jancsi, to get his peace, had turned into a Securitate informer and my son became an outright scumbag, there is no other word for it. Egged on by his father he brought three Gypsy boys in front of my window and had them taunt me about my Jewish lover. I became the laughing stock of the housing project and ended up having to move away from Arad. I now live in Temesvár. Should I have stayed with Philippe? Gone with him to Jew-country? Have him stay and protect me? He couldn't have protected me anyway, and those Gypsy taunts would have been all the more accurate.
     "I am now starting life from scratch, away from everything I knew and have lived for before. I am not the youngest anymore. My God, what have I come to?
     "I ran into Klári the other day, she came to Temesvár to see a play. We went to the bank of the river and sat down in the grass. It was nice seeing someone from my former life. She tells me Philippe and Béla are still busy with their polymers at some research institute in Tel-Aviv for a change. Neither of them got married. We laughed. After they got to know the Hungarian woman, neither of them could find happiness with those Middle-Eastern amazons. Then Klári shared with me a fantasy of hers, she wished the Arabs would invade Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. I nodded, I have had the same fantasy. But it will never happen. It's not their destiny and destiny is all there is, all there ever was."

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