Friday, July 22, 2011

Which is more scary: Dying Forever, or Living Forever?

An excerpt from my novel The Condo, Or...Life, A Sequel 

Jasper visits Pronto, a friendly Jewish Holocaust survivor, who believes that a theory of mathematician Roy Kerr is the explanation of their situation: they have passed through a rotating wormhole to a parallel universe. Jasper is still skeptical, but he has to accept the fact that he is dead. The idea sinks in when he watches his own funeral on his computer. An even harder fact for him to accept that he is to live forever.
When he opened the door of his condo, his living room looked the same as before, but now the comfortable, welcoming furniture seemed to welcome him to a jail cell. He threw himself into his plush recliner, and the cushions seemed to close in around him and hold him as in a trap. He forced his way out of the chair and crept up to his computer. He grasped the mouse and clicked, determined to face reality. It was the only way he knew to have some control over his fate.
The funeral screen appeared as before. He saw the back view of three women in the front pew. If this is my funeral, Marguerite must be one of those women, he thought. He clicked the “zoom” icon and placed the cursor on one of the women. He double-clicked and saw an enlarged view of the back of a woman’s head. He swore in frustration, then noticed the “rotate” icon. He clicked and saw a close-up of a woman’s face with tight skin over prominent cheekbones—Frances [his unwelcome old flame] is attending my funeral! He zoomed in on the woman next to Frances.... He saw Nancy sitting composed without a tear, her supporting arm around the woman next to her. Determined, he went on to zoom in and rotate the third woman. He saw Marguerite’s deep brown eyes, but they were staring into space as if everything around her was happening in someone else’s dream, and she was waiting to wake up.
What is she thinking? Jasper wondered. I’ve got to find out. In the corner of the screen he saw a strange icon that looked like a flame in the shape of a question mark. He clicked on it, and a strange thing happened. He felt as if he had been sucked into the scene on the screen, and he was sitting next to Marguerite listening to her speak, but her lips were not moving. It was like hearing her on a Soul-Phone, except this time he was listening.
“It’s a funny thing,” she said. “I thought I had no love left for Jasper. My feelings for him were deeply buried under six feet of daily frustrations. But his death seems to have caused an earthquake, and my dead love has come out from under the debris.”
Jasper clutched the mouse and leaned forward with a helpless desire to touch her. The picture zoomed back out to the view of a generic funeral. He knew now that there was no way he could let her know how he felt.
“I’ll never see her again.” The words tore loose from his lungs like a hectic cough. There’ll be no more quarrels, no more making up, no more playful wrestling in the bedroom, no more breakfasts together after making love. No more planning for the future together. No more future together. Just an eternity alone. “I’ll never see her again!” he repeated. Then he realized that he would be able to see her on his computer, and he was enraged at the injustice. He would be able to see her as she grieved and conquered her grief, and got on with her life without him, and blossomed in her career, and maybe even married again. But he would have less power to possess her than a plant that grew from his ashes. How far, far better it would be not to see, hear, feel or touch anything any more.
He realized that Pronto was right. Total annihilation he could handle, but eternal life was unbearable. A bitter laugh shook his frame. He thought of the great atheists of history. He wondered what Lenin was doing in his condo somewhere on the Siberian steppes. Has he found out where his people have stored the glass cage with his inefficiently preserved remains? Or Jeremy Bentham. Does he go online to visit the cupboard in University College, London, where his embalmed head is grinning at the feet of his effigy? Are we all condemned to watch in eternal frustration how human beings make plans to save society from evil and see the evil in human nature destroy those plans. Justice for the suffering poor leads to murdering innocents by the guillotine. Freedom for the oppressed workers of the world leads to starving and killing millions in forced labor camps. Freedom from the tyranny of Communism leads back to the tyranny of the rich.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Parallel Universe

                                                             The Oracle at Delphi


A Parallel Universe

In Chapter 3 Jasper meets some of his neighbors in Paradise Condominiums:
--Daren, a serial killer and his nurse, Selena, who helps him in the painful process of soaking off "the debris in his mind."
--A young man named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who provides music therapy to ease Daren's pain.
--Makalo, Jasper's former student in an inner city school.
--Leila and Lea, victims of the same war on opposing sides.
Jasper's watch has stopped, and he loses track of time.
By Chapter 4 Jasper is thoroughly confused. Back in his condo, he tries to find answers from the modern world's oracle: the computer.

He saw the familiar Futura web page and his mood began to soar. Here were the pop-up ads he used to hate so much, the offers that promised to enhance his sex life, boost his self-confidence, and ensure his financial security. He surfed to the chat page. He set up his profile, making himself as different from his real self as he could. When he was finished, he was Jason the Astronaut, 19 years old and loved to travel. He typed in his question: “I want to see the world beyond the Condo. I’d like some advice on how to achieve this.”
He pressed “Send” and waited. The first response was not encouraging: “You and me both, buddy. Let me know if you find out, and I’ll go with you. Medea.”
“Hi, Medea,” he typed. “I’ll keep you posted.”
The next message was from Pronto: “According to Roy Kerr, we got here through a rotating wormhole, which made it possible for us to stay in one piece, but he says we had a one-way ticket.”
“Great! Another crackpot. This one thinks he is a scientist,” Jasper muttered.
“Better watch out, Jason. This computer picks up sounds too. I beg to differ. Roy Kerr is a reputable mathematician from New Zealand. He has shown that it is possible to travel from one universe to another through a rotating wormhole.”
“Are you telling me that we are in a different universe?” Jasper wrote.
“Certainly. Why else is it impossible to leave through the barrier? Why else can we not make phone calls with a regular cell phone? Why did our watches stop? Why is time playing tricks with us?”
A pop-up ad suddenly interrupted the exchange: “Enjoy the vacation of a lifetime! Book your trip back to Earth. Guaranteed to take you there and back safely. We use an exclusive wormhole recently discovered by our team of scientists. Hurry! This five million dollar offer ends soon.”
Jasper barely finished reading the ad before another popped up. “I will act as your personal guide through the barrier. You will benefit from my years of experience as a condo guard. Swift and painless passage. No side effects. Reasonable rates. If interested, please respond to ‘Autolycus.’” 
If we are in a different universe, Jasper thought, it’s very much like the other. He deleted the ad from Autolycus, the god of thieves. 
He saw another message from Pronto. “I know the theory sounds crazy, but I assure you I am not crazy. It would be great if we could get together and talk about our situation. Come and visit me some time. My apartment is # 31415.”
Jasper kind of liked the guy. “Thanks, I will,” he wrote, and shut down the computer. At least with Pronto he could pursue a rational argument.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A gated condo with no exit?

                                                    Gates of Hades at Caesarea Philippi

A gated condo with no exit?
            Jasper, the host of the disastrous party, is not a happy man. He finds his life is not turning out the way he wants: being a successful architect does not satisfy him. His guests' reflections on evil echo the tumult in his own mind. His personal life is also in danger; his wife, Marguerite, seems to reject him, and he yearns to recapture their old intimacy. In a last effort to reconnect with his wife, he plans a surprise for her: he has bought a condo in Florida, where he hopes they will find freedom from the distractions of modern life and make up for years of missed opportunities.
            The day after the party Jasper drives to inspect his new condo when he has an accident on the highway. A pair of unlikely  paramedics pick him up and give him a ride to his destination.
            Paradise Point Condominiums looks like in the brochure, but there are several worrisome details. The concierge looks up Jasper's file on his computer and  finds his whole life displayed on the screen. Jasper angrily demands that the private data be deleted, but he is told that the records are undeletable. He asks for a cell phone  and is given a shrink-wrapped, personalized phone with the brand name "Soulphone". When he calls his wife on the Soulphone, he can hear her voice, but she seems to be talking to someone else. When he complains to the concierge, he is told that this is the only brand of phone available, and there is nothing wrong with the phone: what he hears is what the person is thinking.
            Jasper has had enough. He strides down the driveway through the Condo grounds to reach the highway, but he finds his way barred by an eight-foot-high barrier. When he tries to leave through the guardsman's gate, he finds another surprise: the guard's orders are to allow everyone to enter the Condo grounds, but not permit anyone to exit. Jasper tries to get around the rules by using his social charms.

“Hi! I’m Jasper. I’ve just bought a condo here and I want to get to know everybody. What’s your name?”
“Name’s Paul.”
The new guard was a young man with a cocky glint in his eye. Jasper felt hopeful. This man has a mind of his own, he thought.
“Must be dull work for you here. How long till you get off?”
“Oh, I suppose about eight hours,” Paul said. “One tends to lose track of time here.”
Jasper thought he might have a girlfriend. “Do you live here too?”
“Depends what you mean by live. Do you mean do I reside here? Yes I do.”
Another quibbler, Jasper thought. But he pressed on. “Don’t you ever feel tempted just to sneak out?”
Paul laughed without amusement. “I did at first, but I soon realized that it was impossible.”
“Impossible? Why?”
“Well, perhaps not impossible. One day someone might discover a way, but right now no one knows how to crawl back through the wormhole.”
The wormhole! Was he talking about a parallel universe? Whoever brainwashed this guy sure sold him a bill of goods.
Paul was in a talkative mood. “I guess the only way to get away from here is to go in for the treatment. But you’re not going to catch me falling for that nonsense.”
“Treatment? What treatment?”
“I don’t know exactly what’s involved,” Paul said. “Everyone I talk to tells me something different. But anyway, it seems to be no picnic. And who knows if the whole procedure is worth it. I think I’d rather hang on to my job here and carry on as usual. What is it they say, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’”?
“So, the treatment is not mandatory?”
“Nothing is mandatory here.”
Jasper saw his chance. “If nothing is mandatory, why do they have a guard at the gate? Why can’t I take a walk out there on the highway?” He thought Paul could handle a joke. “I think I’ll just step outside if you don’t mind.”
“You can try,” Paul said, “but I don’t recommend it.”
“All right then, I will,” Jasper said, and he started walking toward the entrance barrier. He was amazed to see the barrier lift, clearing the way for him, but as he got nearer, he felt as if he had heavy weights on his legs. He struggled to drag his feet toward the highway outside. With a sheer effort of the will he pushed himself on.
“I’m almost there,” he told himself. But then he suddenly lost control. He felt his heart pumping and his blood surge through his veins. His ears were engulfed with the noise of beating rain and screeching tires, and then the explosion of a final crash—an explosion that did not stop.
He felt someone pulling him back. The confusion subsided, and he found himself in the calm of the Condo grounds. Paul released him. “See what I mean? If you pass the barrier, you relive the moment of your death forever.”
Jasper looked at Paul and his spirits sank. I am landed in a lunatic asylum. This guy really believes what he says. Now if I could just figure out where they keep the controls for this invisible fence for humans. The architect in him could not help admiring the technology.
He was too shaken by the experience to continue the conversation. I’ll try again tomorrow, he vowed. 

[Excerpt from The Condo, or...Life, A Sequel by Dalma Takacs]

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is evil necessary?

The Guy Fawkes conspiracy to blow up the
British Parliament in 1605 

Do you have questions about the human condition?
...What can we do about evil?
...Try to defeat it?
...Ignore it?
...Explain it?
...Celebrate it

Here is a segment from my novel The Condo, or...Life, A Sequel.
The scene is a party in the New York apartment of Jasper Wergild and his wife, Marguerite, some forty years in the future. The guests are from many different backgrounds and persuasions. Pete is a young man who has just come home from the latest US war in Iran. Nancy and Pete were high school friends and Nancy wants to find out what Pete has been doing since graduation. The usual small talk turns to shock as the guests witness Pete's attack of post traumatic stress syndrome. They are forced to face the unanswered question: Why is there evil in the world?

"I wanted to do something for my country." Pete said. "I joined the National Guard. I was expecting to spend a few years delivering food and bottled water to US flood victims, but as it turned out, I was deployed to Iran.”
“You thought our leaders had learned something after we finally abandoned Iraq. How long did you spend in Iran?” Nancy said.
“Two years.”
“So, instead of battling the effects of global warming, you were sent to fight Abdul’s kinfolk.”
“You’re wrong. We did not go to fight. We went to help, and we did. We helped to build schools—”
Nancy smiled. “After our bombs had destroyed them.”
“We brought in equipment and built bridges and roads—”
“Which we had first blown up,” Nancy chimed in.
Pete’s voice rose. “We restocked their hospitals.”
“—and their morgues.” Nancy added sweetly.
His voice was climbing from a polite mumble to desperate wrath. People around them began to listen. “We do not murder people. The insurgents murder people. They also murder us. Don’t you watch the news?”
Joe walked up to his brother. “Pete, it’s time for us to go.” He added in a furious whisper, “Get a hold of yourself. You’re losing it.”
“I don’t want to go. I want to explain. People just don’t understand. This is a war. It’s kill or be killed. There’s no room for love, even for love of your family. You just have to make yourself numb to everyone around you and do what you’ve been trained to do.”
Jim joined the group. “Which is to kill. Same as the insurgents. The urge to destroy is part of human nature.”
“No it isn’t,” Nancy said. “You and I and Pete are not natural killers, are we, Pete?”
The anger suddenly drained out of Pete. He was like a man defeated. He looked totally blank and indifferent to the guests around him, as if he had nothing in common with people who lived by feelings and natural attachments. Joe grabbed him by the arm to lead him away. The sudden jolt roused Pete to defend himself as he had been taught in boot camp—by punching his brother in the stomach, pinning his arms behind his back, and making him lie face down on the floor.
The silence in the room shocked him awake. He stared at his own knee, which was pressing on the small of Joe’s back. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right, Joe. We’d better go.” He did not look sorry, just embarrassed. “I’ll get my coat,” he said and staggered into the hallway.
Joe got up and looked at the stunned faces around him. “I’m sorry you had to see this. Pete’s going into treatment next week.”
After Joe and Pete left, it was hard to pretend it was a party any more. But people did not want to leave. Each person felt compelled to stay and prove something.
“You were saying we are not natural killers? You could have fooled me,” Jim challenged Nancy.
“We are not,” she shot back. “You saw how he was. He worked like a robot. That poor sucker has been trained to kill. And who trained him? The army. And who trained the army? The leaders of our country, that’s who. I tell you, we’d all get along fine without the politicians.”
“Yes, but who trains the politicians?” Jasper said.
“We do,” Jim said. “We train them every November. Let’s face it. Human beings are all flawed.”
“For once I agree with you,” Bob Smith said. “We are all in need of salvation before we can be welcomed in heaven.”
Jim turned to Sr. Estrella. “Sister, you’ve just come from the experts in Rome. What’s the view of the Vatican? What’s wrong with human beings?”
Sr. Estrella was perfectly poised in her faith. “What’s wrong? Nothing that a few hundred years in purgatory can’t fix. Of course, some of us will need more work than others.”
“I bet.” Jim said. “How long would you say our president will need to make him fit for heaven?”
“How long in our years, or in God’s years?” Sr. Estrella asked.
“I didn’t know there was a difference. This puts a whole new light on the Bible versus evolution controversy.” Jasper remarked.
Jim refused to be sidetracked. He found Sr. Estrella to be a competent sparring partner. “But what exactly is supposed to happen in purgatory?”
“Your sins are purged away, of course,” Frances said, delighted to be of assistance. “You become like angels.”
“My wife is a disciple of Swedenborg.”
“Who’s Swedenborg?” Frances said.
Jim pursued his quarry. “What I would like to know is how the concept of purgatory would change the individual. Some of my sins make me what I am. If God takes away my sins, will he make me into a uniformly flawless creature, a member of the heavenly choir, singing his praises? In other words, to get into heaven, would I have to give up my individuality?”
Sr. Estrella listened carefully, and then stayed quiet for a while. “Let me ask you this. Is there only one way to be good?”
“Of course not, but I still can’t help feeling that life in heaven would be rather bland for most of us. Take me, for instance. I get things done by losing my temper. When I am working on an important project, I slam doors and yell at people who hinder me. The conflict makes victory sweet for me. If I had to give up anger and fighting, I would no longer be the same person. I don’t think I would be very happy in your heaven. I don’t think I would sign up for purgatory either.”
“Not everyone belongs in purgatory—or in heaven either, for that matter,” Sr. Estrella said as she poured herself some orange juice.
“That leaves you but one choice, my friend,” Bob Smith boomed. “I hope you’ll be happy in the third place.”
Jim grabbed a fistful of nuts. “Thank you, but I don’t think I have to worry about my future. Once I’m finished here, I don’t plan to be anywhere.”
“I think I’ll keep you company,” Jasper said.
“I don’t see why we need evil in the first place,” Marguerite said. “We are supposed to be rational creatures, so why are we bent on destroying each other, ourselves, and our environment? If God is a rational creator, it makes no sense.”
“Maybe God, when he created the world, used evil as we use salt and pepper to flavor a soup.” Nancy mused. “A pinch will make a satisfying meal, but a fistful of the stuff will turn our taste buds into torture instruments.”
“An ingenious thought, but it still does not answer my question, why do people insist on destroying the soup?” Marguerite said.
Jim turned to Abdul. “I’m afraid we Christians and agnostics don’t seem to come up with answers that satisfy everyone. Are Muslims any better?”
Abdul smiled. “The Qur’an has some very simple answers that satisfy all the people who call themselves Muslims.”
“Which is more than you can say about all the people who call themselves Christians,” Jasper said.
            The guests soon tired of metaphysics and departed, taking their personal problems with them along with their coats and hats.

If you want to join the conversation, you might like to tell us which guest reflects best your own view of the human condition. I'm an avid listener.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to find my books

The Condo, Or...Life, A Sequel by Dalma Takacs: ,

Our Story: Saga of a Hungarian-American Family by Dalma Paloczi Horvath Takacs: ,

Meet Me at the Globe by Dalma Takacs: ,

Clear the Line: Hungary's Struggle to Leave the Axis during the Second World War by Laura-Louise Veress, edited by Dalma Takacs: Out of print, but I will send you a copy for $30 including US postage.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

About me

My passion is Literature and making it come alive for people. This is what I have been doing for many decades as high school and college teacher and librarian. I think of literature as the echo that comes before we speak. 400 years ago someone said, "The pity of it, Iago! Oh the pity of it!" And today a child dies, a friend, a wife, or a husband lets us down, a beautiful dream is destroyed, and we utter the words that Shakespeare echoed before us.  What I am striving to do is to show people the challenges and wonders of life through the beauty of literature. 

I have added what I would like to call my own contributions to literature. My novel Meet me at the Globe is a visit to Shakespeare's  England; I have written several plays featuring historical and literary characters; another novel I am still working on is Refugee from Paradise, the diary of Hungarian refugee girl living in England after WWII. I have published two memoirs: I edited my mother's historical memoir Clear the Line, Hungary's struggle to leave the Axis in the Second World War; I have created portraits of key members of my family in Our Story: Saga of a Hungarian-American Family.

But I am not satisfied with hearing my own voice and reading my own lines. I also want to make people think and discuss their own ideas of what life is all about. That is what The Condo, or...Life, A Sequel—and this blog—is all about.

So, come and visit my condo!