May 23rd, 2019



Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Oct. 5, 2016

The morning after, he hated to let the precious shards of the night before go. So he stayed in bed, trying to hold on to them. They came back in bits and pieces, like precious jewels rolling around in his head. They made no sense at all, which was just fine with him. As in all dreamwork, identities were mixed, one time jarring against another like railroad cars bumping into each other in crazy succession. But it didn't matter except to make each a more welcome return to some joyous, crazy quilt of a happy past.

His grandfather, derby and goatee always in perfect place, was holding his hand as they crossed Independence Boulevard and Lawndale Avenue in another century. He had never felt so secure. Then they were walking past all the stores owned by immigrants along Texas Avenue in Shreveport, where each had his storefront to keep up and keep running. He knew them, each and every one. Some he loved, others he feared. When he got to the latter, they walked over to the far edge of the broad sidewalk. He had seen his first MPs there, pulling over to break up a drunken street brawl. What fun. What excitement for a 5-year-old. His far older sister Lillian, gone long ago now, might as well have been another of his many aunts. But then she and her cohort of high-stepping, high-haired friends were there again in his delighted head.

Most of Lillian's buddies were children of Syrian immigrants. It was from them that he grew up having heard his first words of Arabic, not that he distinguished them from any other snatches of her marvelous polyglot mix of Yiddish, Southern American, Long Island New Yorkese and who knows what else. For it was all a rich language of her highly personal own. Not till much later, after she had married George Rothkopf, a typically upward-bound, 100 percent American type, did he make any distinction among them.

George was out at Barksdale Air Force Base, a clerk typist whose next stop might have been the jungles of the Pacific, for the war in Europe was ending and nobody yet prepared to believe the horrible news only then coming out. Certainly his mother didn't. For she had grown a great believer in German science, sanitation, and general progress. Even she would use physicians only with Teutonic names. Soon enough in this jumbled land of dreams he was performing the last service he could for her at a Roman Catholic sanitarium just off Margaret Street, where other high-hatted types of a different persuasion glided past on the well-waved floors, keeping up with their different, eternal times. He was holding her cup of cracked ice to her parched lips as she sipped.

It was a dream drawn by Picasso as profiles merged this way and that, one face fading into another, then returning in Technicolor -- glorious, scary, shining and dark by turns. He saw them all now, cradling him in his arms, holding him proudly for the professional photographer somewhere downtown, but downtown where -- Shreveport, Chicago, under L tracks, on top of an Empire State Building of long ago, yet here and now.

He knew nothing then or now, except they claim it was all gone but somehow remained in this land of dreams, now as cloudy as the view he once could see from 20,000 feet up. Or maybe right along old Greenwood Road as the Continental bus jumbled and roared with him inside it. Was he headed for Fort Sill at the time or back to another outpost called the enduring past, which is far from past in the corners of his mind? Lillian and George, mama and papa, Bubba Chava and Zehde Chaim; they all mixed and didn't quite match. He was still wearing his baby shoes, or were those combat boots? Was he in the fatigues he wore in the Army or his Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit? He only knew he was smiling for the camera on command.

But this much never changed, never could change. His mother had seen him get his Army commission as a second lieutenant and was so proud of him. At just the right moment, all new officers and gentlemen were supposed to doff their academic gowns so all could see their uniforms underneath. Her pride still radiated his life as surely as it would brighten his death. Carolyn, Brooke, the whole cast of feminine leads in his life, swam by like Esther Williams, gliding alongside him. How strange. In life he never could swim but now in this strange world of the mind he swam like a dream. Will dreams never cease? Surely neither in this world nor the next. How good it will be to see this whole star-studded cast again, now and then and forevermore.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.