This blog is about my writing and my reading: My published books and a novel in progress; a course I am teaching on drama and theater, and the adventures and challenges of sharing literature with students.
Some topics that interest me: parallel worlds; life after death; the human condition; concepts of heaven; Hungary; the human toll of the Cold War; Shakespeare's works; literature and life.
Dalma Takács is available from www.amazon.com.
Kindle edition, $3.99; Paperback,
story is about leaving behind our past and surviving the present. About learning to
treasure the pains and the joys that make us who we are.Penny
Kiss is a Hungarian refugee girl who was forced to leave her home and friends
in Hungary after the communist takeover and start a new life in England in
The Middle East is in turmoil: Egyptians have deposed
their dictator, Mubarak. Egyptians are rejoicing in the victory over
oppression. I ask my students how they feel about the events in Egypt. How does
it compare with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I ask them. I meet with vague
smiles and blank stares. Their minute life spans of20 or so years barely embrace the events of
September 11, 2001. The Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet Empire seem
to them like shadowy visions in a history book.
I remember how we celebrated in 1989 and made wild
predictions of a rosy future.
"And you thought only war could change the
world," my husband said.
"And a little help from Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and
Maggie Thatcher," I added.
My husband is a historian. He likes to keep things in
perspective. The Soviet empire was created by human beings, he says; human
beings don't last forever. Dictatorship can't last forever.Even dictators must bow to economic pressures
as the kings before them had.
Of course he is right; and he rejoices at the fall of communism.
But his rejoicing is different from mine. I am a child of the Cold War. I may
live in The US, and the horrors of communist Eastern Europe are no more, but I
cannot erase those years from my memory.
When I left Hungary, I carried my baggage of sympathies
and loyaltieswith me to England and
locked them up in a lengthy journal. Then I moved to America, and my journal
came with me. Life in America forced me to be happy with my fate and I kept my
journalunder lock and key. But the
baggage is still in my closet, and tonight it demands to come out.
"Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose," say
the French. We change and we stay the same. I am not the same person I was when
I wrote my diary in the 50s. The world is not the same today that it was in the
50s. We are no longer fighting the same battles. In 1956 Hungarians fought and
died to defeat communism. They failed in 1956, butthey started a process that led to the fall
of the Berlin Wall.
Today 1956 is only a blip on the radar screen of history.
The fall of the Wall is another blip. From one blip to the other we live, we
fall in love, we marry, start a family, get old and die. My blip is not
necessarily your blip, but my blip has determined my place in the world as
yours has determined yours.The songs
that echo in my head are the Hungarian folk songs my father has taught me. Your
songs may be rock songs or country music, but you treasure them the same way
because they are part of who you are. Our enemies and weapons may be different,
but we share the same goals: we fight for survival as human beings.
So I unpack my diaryto see how the fight for survival looked in the 1950s and I find
strength as I read.
More and more disturbed and confused by what he sees in the Condo
grounds, Jasper goes back to his room and tries the computer to find answers.
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: “I’ve been talking to Roy Kerr. He told me that 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.
He walked out into the
passage, looking at the numbers of the suites on the same floor. He passed
Daren’s apartment, 3141 and was surprised to see that Pronto’s place was on the
other side of Daren’s: 31415, the next pi
number. The place was designed by an obsessed mathematician, he thought. The
mysteries that refused rational explanation crowded in around him. To protect
himself, he instinctively tried to push them away, and suddenly he was afraid
of the rational explanation too. But before he had time to turn away from the
door of 31415, the door opened.
A little shrunken man with
a jarmulka stood there smiling. In a moment Jasper was inside the apartment,
sitting in a wing chair upholstered in red velvet. For a few minutes all he was
aware of was the man’s smile—a smile that made introductions unnecessary.
Jasper’s arm brushed the velvet surface and he felt something tickling his
elbow. He looked down and saw a hand-crocheted doily bunched up on the arm of
Pronto jumped up and removed
the doily. “You must excuse my decorations. I’m an old sentimentalist.” He held
the fine lace piece in his hand. “This was made by my grandmother back in
Europe. There is another behind your head.”
Jasper turned and saw it
clinging to the velvet pile; it looked like a cobweb with a pattern of flowers
caught in the strands. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
“It used to be called an antimacassar.
It had a very practical purpose. Our grandfathers used a greasy oil called
Macassar to keep their hair smooth. So our grandmothers, ever tactful, created
these lacy works of art and put them on the chairs to protect the furniture
without offending their menfolk. Here, let me take it off.”
“No, leave it there,” he
said. “It belongs on this chair.”
Pronto gave him a grateful
Jasper was conscious of
something he had seen a moment ago, something significant, but he could not
remember what it was. He tried to force his mind to recall some of the things
that were floating in his mind. He grabbed one: Pronto’s bare arm emerging from
the loose sleeve of his housecoat as he removed the doily. Jasper had caught a
glimpse of a number tattooed on the skin. He did not know if he should remark
Pronto saved him the
embarrassment. “You saw my number. When people see it, they usually don’t know
whether to say anything or pretend it isn’t there. Yes, I am a Holocaust
survivor. But you know what’s really strange. Here, look at the number.”
Jasper looked and saw the
numbers 31415. It hit him: “It’s the same as your suite number!”
“And you know what’s even
more strange? You know what this number is? It’s the first five digits of pi!”
“So it is!” Jasper
exclaimed. “My number is 314, and my next door neighbor, Daren, has 3141, the first
four digits of pi.” Someone in this condo
association has a warped sense of humor, to put a mass murderer next to a
holocaust survivor, he added to himself.
“I’ve met Daren,” Pronto said. “Nice guy.”
Jasper thought he ought
to enlighten his new friend. “Do you know who Daren is?”
“Of course. He used to be
what they call in America, a mass murderer.
“You don’t mind living next door to him?”
“He is small potatoes
compared to some of the other criminals of my acquaintance. Like Joseph Mengele
or Adolph Hitler, for instance, or even the Palestinian suicide bombers. He is
in treatment now, and doing quite well, I believe.”
“Treatment?” Jasper said.
“I keep hearing that word. It seems to me there are a lot of people with mental
problems around here.”
“Mental problems?” Pronto
pondered. “I don’t know about mental problems. Our problem is not so
much that we are not rational as that we are trying to be too rational. I think
I’d rather call it a spiritual problem.”
“You mean we don’t accept
this hokum about being in a parallel universe?”
“Oh that? That’s easy to
accept. Sooner or later we all have to accept the fact that we are living a
different existence from our previous life. I take it you are new here, and it
seems hard for you to accept the fact that you are dead. Pardon me for not using
a more polite word. But the really hard thing for most people, including
myself, is to accept the fact that we must live forever, and all the decisions
that involves. That is why so many people opt for hanging around here rather
than go for the treatment and see if they can qualify for heaven. You see, most
people when they get here, have this conventional view of heaven as a rather
boring place where you sing hymns all day. Actually the idea of heaven is much
Pronto went on to expound
a mass of abstruse ideas, but Jasper gagged on one word: DEAD.
This is where my excerpts will
end. If you are interested in the "sequel" to Jasper's life, you
might try to find out what great thinkers before us thought about the nature and purpose of human life,
and how Jasper might find his own answer. Or you could buy the novel and meet
Jasper's old and new friends and even people such as C.S. Lewis, Bernard Shaw, Emanuel
Swedenborg and Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele. The question we are all trying to
answer is whether evil necessary to human existence. Is it an integral part of
our spiritual makeup? Andif it is, how do we deal with it?
Jasper makes up his mind to find some allies. He decides to meet his
He walked out into the
hallway and stopped in front of the unit next door. The number was 3141, the first
four digits of pi. What a strange way
to number apartments, he thought as he rang the doorbell. A nurse in white
uniform opened the door. Jasper was about to pitch into his introduction, but
the nurse cut him off. “Welcome Jasper, come on in,” she said. “Daren is busy
with the treatment right now, but he’ll be happy to see you in a few minutes.”
“I don’t want to intrude
. . .”
“No, it’s good for the
patient to have visitors,” she said. She motioned for him to sit in one of the
traditional wing chairs in the living room. “Make yourself at home while we
finish the session.”
Jasper sat down somewhat
diffidently as she walked into the next room, which he figured was the
bathroom. The walls seemed to be very thin and hardly soundproof. Jasper was
embarrassed to hear what was going on inside.
He heard a whining,
pleading male voice followed by the friendly but firm voice of the nurse.
“Do we have to do this
again? It’s painful, you know.”
“It’s painful only
because you won’t let go, Daren. You must let me soak off that damaged layer.”
“But it’s all part of me.
If you soak it off, there will be nothing left.”
“Nonsense, it’s just like
with third degree burns. We have to take off the bandages each day and soak off
the dead skin so that the good skin underneath can breathe and grow.”
There was silence, then a
pitiful whine. “Nurse, please don’t. I can’t stand it!”
The nurse was sympathetic.
“Wait a minute. I have an idea. We have a new therapy to relieve tension and
help you let go. Hang on. I’ll just need to make a call. Shoot! I left my phone
in the living room.” She came in, picked up her phone from the table and dialed.
“I need a music technician. Who’s available? . . . OK send him up.”
Within minutes Jasper
heard the doorbell chime, and the nurse admitted a man in a powdered wig and 18th
century costume that reminded him of pictures of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The
man was holding a violin under his arm and grinned at Jasper.
“He’s in the bath and I
need something to take his mind off the pain,” the nurse explained.
“A little night music
perhaps?” The musician smirked. He tilted his head and pushed his violin under
his chin. He tickled it with his bow and skipped into the bathroom, leaving a
scent of irresistible music behind him.
“Is that better now?”
Jasper heard the nurse inside.
Daren no longer whined.
He grunted “Yes,” and Jasper heard only the lilting tones that tickled and
stroked his ears until he forgot why he was there. He dozed off and was
awakened by the trio from the bathroom—the Mozart guy leading the way, skipping
like the Pied Piper, followed by the nurse, and finally the patient, Daren.
Jasper was looking for a
sick man swathed in bandages. But Daren was dressed in a terry bathrobe and
walked easily in his bedroom slippers. He turned to Jasper. “Hello, neighbor.
Sorry you had to wait.” He held out his hand. “Name is Daren. Daren Redmond.”
The name sounded
familiar, but Jasper could not place it. He wanted to express his sympathy but
did not like to let on that he had heard Daren’s pitiful moans. “I hope your
treatment will soon be complete,” he said.
“It will be a while yet,”
Daren said. “There is a lot to soak off. But Mozart here has been a big help.”
“Yes, I’ve read about
music therapy for burn victims,” Jasper said. “How did it happen? Was it an
Daren looked at him,
puzzled. “An accident? No it was no accident.”
Jasper sounded concerned.
“No, not arson.”
“Then how did you get
Daren looked at the nurse
and the musician, and they all burst out laughing.
“He thinks Daren is a
burn victim,” Mozart said, and they all broke into guffaws and giggles again.
When the nurse saw
Jasper’s irritation, she made them stop laughing. “I’m sorry, Jasper. I guess
we forgot that you are new here. Daren is not burnt. Though mind you, many
people who come here at first think of this as a very hot place.” More sniggers
from Daren and Mozart. “No, he’s simply trying to get rid of the debris in his
mind. Not that the process is painless.”
“I know, I know. It’s
painful only because I can’t let it go,” Daren intoned in mock solemnity.
Jasper wished nothing
more than to find a good excuse for a polite exit. He had no desire to hear
Daren’s confidence. Daren was too crazy to be a useful ally. Still, he was
curious to know what Daren’s real problem was. He decided to leave with the
nurse and the musician.
As they closed the door
behind them, he said, “What exactly is the ‘debris’ in Daren’s mind?”
“He was chief elder of
the First Presbyterian Church of Boise Idaho, a scout leader and a volunteer
fireman,” the nurse said as she and Mozart were walking down the hallway past
Jasper’s apartment. Jasper had to follow them.
“He also pleaded guilty
to ten counts of first degree murder. His problem is that he is still enjoying
his past actions. Still, he is making progress. You should have seen him when
he first arrived. He was forever writing letters to the police department giving
them clues to the murders. You could hear him all the way down the hall
sniggering, chuckling, smirking and sometimes roaring with laughter.”
Jasper was horrified.
“He’s a murderer? So, what’s he doing here? Why is he not on death row?”
“He was. But remember,
death row is for the living.”
The nurse is just as
disturbed as her patient, Jasper thought. These people are all crazy, or else
members of some kind of cult. Still, he had to find out what made them tick.
“So, what are you doing? Trying to rehabilitate him?”
“In a manner of speaking,”
the nurse said. “Mozart here has helped a lot.”
Jasper turned to the
musician. “Mozart? Is that your real name?”
“Well, I don’t know about
real. It’s the name my father gave me: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”
I’m landed in a commune
peopled by criminals and mental patients, Jasper was thinking.
“We are not all
criminals,” the nurse said.
And mind readers.
“Some of us are
philosophers, poets, and even saints.”
Comes to the same thing,
“I suppose you think it
comes to the same thing,” the nurse said.
You are all crazy, Jasper
said to himself.
“But we are not crazy.
What we have in common is that we are all human.”
This is getting me
nowhere, Jasper thought. He had been following the nurse out of the building,
and now they were in a part of the park that he had not seen before. They were
walking on a forest path springy with pine needles. He could smell the
fragrance of the trees—redwoods that arched over them in a protective embrace.
It reminded him of a camping trip he once took with his students when he was a
teacher in Los Angeles. Redwoods in Florida? He wondered. These people spare no
expense for landscaping. He tried a new approach. “By the way, I don’t know
Goddess of the Moon,
taking care of the lunatics. Jasper was waiting for her to echo his thoughts,
but Selena only smiled. She changed the subject. “Tell me, Jasper, have you
listened to your wife yet?”
“That’s exactly what I
did. I heard her, but she didn’t hear me. I need a phone that lets us talk.”
“You heard her, but you
didn’t listen. Try calling her again.”
“What’s the point? These
phones are not set up the right way.”
Selena smiled at what
Jasper thought must be an inside joke. “Jasper, your trouble is that you know
everything. Your treatment will be almost as hard as Daren’s.”
Jasper was stung. “I beg
your pardon! I don’t happen to be a serial killer. You think I’m like a
“No. We are all unique.
But we have certain traits in common. That’s why we need each other. You are
proud of your accomplishments, you’re always certain that you are right. You
can’t let go of the idea that you are a great architect. Daren too is proud of
his accomplishment: he considers himself to be the cleverest criminal in the last
three decades of his life. He can’t let go of the satisfaction he feels when he
thinks of his grisly murders.”
More and more suspicious, Jasper
decides that the only way he can get away from Paradise Point Condominiums is
to walk through the park to the highway
and flag down a passing car. He reaches the highway and sees cars passing, but
finds that he is separated from the road by a continuous line of sound barrier
fences that seem to disappear in the distance, but grow impossibly high when he
approaches.He goes to the gate, but the
guard refuses to let him leave. Jasper waits for a changing of the guard and
tries his luck with the new guard, whose name is Paul.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
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.”
“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.”
“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
“Nothing is mandatory
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
“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 fore