A clear day in the early nineteen-eighties, for example. A man drives past the harbor of the city in which he lives. He sees docked boats, restaurants, children at play, the island sleeping in the distance. Without quite meaning to, he remembers that the island is a prison. And then, as he is a man of some imagination, he imagines something worse: that people are tortured there. It has been going on for a while.
Years pass. The rough sea of the crossing makes it feel far. The swells are huge. The ferry could sink like a stone. Our tour guide, used to it, sleeps on the journey. Soon, in less than half an hour, the ferry arrives. The prison is now a museum. There was and is a pitiful garden along a wall.
Obscene. That is the word, a word of contested etymology, that she must hold on to as a talisman. She chooses to believe that obscene means offstage. To save our humanity, certain things that we may want to see (may want to see because we are human!) must remain off-stage. (1)
A sunny afternoon, 1977. The torturers have arranged for some of the prisoners to be photographed. They lead them to an arid patch of land (away from their own tiny garden within the walls) and give them shovels. The press is told: this is a garden. A photographer takes a picture and captions it: ’n Gevangene werksaam in die tuin. “A prisoner working in the garden.” The prisoner is not working. He stands erect, faces forward. He wears a floppy hat and dark glasses (when they let him go thirteen years later, he will be unable to shed tears: the limestone quarry will have ruined his eyes). He is a contained fury.
On the island, the tour guide mentions names. Each falls like a stroke of the cane. Sobukwe, Sisulu, Mbeki, Kathrada. On the other side of the island—the island which is surprisingly big, surprisingly wild—the waves break their heads against the rocks repeatedly, trying to forget. From time to time we see ruined ships.
Twenty-seven years later, the prisoner looks at the photograph. “I remember that day. The authorities brought these people to prove that we were still alive.” Ambushed by memory, the prisoner becomes angry again. He begins to denounce one of the visitors from that day. A handler intervenes, “Khulu (Great One), you know you can’t talk like that.” He won’t be corrected. “No, we must be honest about these things.” The god of his youth is in his voice.
Blacks are allowed in the Company’s Gardens now. You can see them with their families on a warm day. Things have changed (but fewer are the blacks in the fine restaurants on Long Street, two blocks over; things are unchanged). Near the Gardens is the Slave Lodge. In the heart of the Gardens is the monumental statue of Rhodes, his arm raised towards the rest of the continent: CECIL JOHN RHODES, 1835-1902. YOUR HINTERLAND IS HERE. His gesture reads, through history’s lens, like a Nazi salute.
White supremacy has its uses. Because of its great care and its thoughtful strategy, because of the tireless way it hoards its hatred, it is good at making heroes. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu: what would our lives have meant without theirs? No wheel moves without friction. Without the obscenity of white supremacy to resist, they might have been mere happy family men. Nevertheless:Whoever was tortured, stays tortured. Torture is ineradicably burned into him, even when no clinically objective traces can be detected. (2)
The island migrates to other places and the torturers diversify. But the island is never far away. Occasionally, it leaps into the mind of a woman as she goes through her day during the twenty-first century. A man, somewhere, is jolted awake in the middle of the night by things he knows are true. If the island’s physical distance is a little greater now, its moral distance is not.
The prisoner finally dies. The torturers take a moment to praise him (to praise themselves). Then they return to work.
Notes: 1. J. M. Coetzee, “Elizabeth Costello,” 2003. 2. Jean Améry, “At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities,” 1980.
In 2003 or so, a friend told me you could Google yourself. We all do that now but that was a bit of a revelation to me, then. So Google myself I did and the first thing that came up was a photograph of me in full Nazi regalia, complete with a prominent Swastika armband. I was smiling.
Why? Am or was I ever a ranking member in the Nazi party? No, rather in 2000 I played Admiral Von Schreiber in the Westchester Broadway Theater’s production of The Sound of Music and that was the only image of me that had made it online so far.
It’s not up anymore, and even if it were, it would have been outranked by other pictures of me, but it was a distressing thing to find on my first self-search and it may help explain why no Jewish women would go on second dates with me for a good while ten years ago.
The ACA provided states with federal funds to institute a Medicaid expansion. The states chose to expand the program also were able to set up their own state exchanges, which were relatively free from the problems the federal site had. Vermont decided to take it a step further by setting up their very own single payer system.
The slogan of the program: Everybody in, nobody out.
The program will be fully operational by 2017, and will be funded through Medicare, Medicaid, federal money for the ACA given to Vermont, and a slight increase in taxes. In exchange, there will be no more premiums, deductibles, copay’s, hospital bills or anything else aimed at making insurance companies a profit. Further, all hospitals and healthcare providers will now be nonprofit.
They estimate this will end up saving Vermont 25% per capita over the current system, in addition to preventing some proportion of the 45,000 preventable deaths that occur annually in the US due to the inability to afford treatment.
Another option is to go get some fresh air and walk to a local bookstore and buy it in person. I think this is the best way to buy a book. You’ll get some exercise and maybe even bump into an old friend or make a new one. Wear a jacket if it’s cold out.
If we’re being honest, you should probably buy multiple copies and bring mirth to your friends and family. They will love you again if you do this.
The book has been enthusiastically reviewed by Rolling Stone, the Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, US Weekly, Kirkus Reviews. Colson Whitehead, Margaret Atwood and Susan Orlean have gone on record saying very nice things about it too, and they’re real writers and probably went to college even. So you’re not just throwing money in the trash like some idiot.
1. Tweet it to me from 9-10 PM PST (that’s 12-1 AM EST)
2. Be sure you know how to tweet a picture. Seriously; some people tried to send me pics 2 days ago and they didn’t know how to do it & they didn’t get their filthy DM.
3. It is possible that you successfully tweet a picture, but I don’t see your tweet because I’m one human man. I apologize in advance if you follow the rules & I screw up or miss your tweet in the deluge. Thus, I’m not guaranteeing you get a filthy DM even if you obey the 10 Commandments and these rules. If you don’t get a filthy DM from me, you’ve still supported a local business and you have a book that has been very positively reviewed by Rolling Stone, The Guardian, US Weekly & Entertainment Weekly.
Also: signed copies of the book are available in:
Boston at Brookline Booksmith.
NYC at Powerhouse Arena
Chicago at Unabridged Books
Austin at Book People
LA at Book Soup
Finally, this was very fun when I did it 2 nights ago & allowed online receipts as well. I sent A MASSIVE AMOUNT of personal filthy DMs and me and a lot of people had fun.
“Yes, I was infatuated with you: I am still. No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me. I cut you out because I couldn’t stand being a passing fancy. Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren’t having any of those.”—