That’s a mouthful. But Beck was sitting on the shower seat for the disabled, thinking about how he had ended up in the Castle for the Poor and Crippled and it suddenly struck him why he was writing in the first and third person. In other words, it was obvious that Beck was me, and I was Beck.
But there was a weird logic coming through when he thought about his grandfather, who generally was poor, and his own lapse into the Castle.
Beck had two stories he wanted to tell, and was hopeful that in some way they would connect at some point that he didn’t see logically but felt.
In some ways it was an obvious choice to write about his ancestors from a glorified nursing home. He was his own story, and here was their stories. But it was more than that.
For example, when Becks’s uncle Hy was dying of brain cancer, and Beck was in his 20s, his Uncle Hy, the one who had been a bombarder during WWII, shot down early on, and spent years (was it years, Beck wasn’t sure) in a German POW camp told Beck to come closer so he could whisper something in Beck’s ear.
That was many years ago, and Uncle Hy died shortly afterwards, but he and Hy were close in many ways.
When Beck was close enough to Hy, who was stuck full of tubes, and needed to whisper louder than all the beeps that fill the single room, Hy said: Don’t screw up your life the way I did. Okay?
Beck nodded. What else was he to do?
The next day Hy was dead.
What exactly did Hy mean about his own life? That wasn’t too hard to figure out.
And for sure it was clear how Beck was in the process of screwing up his own life. Beck must have dropped out of college twice by then. Still was volgering around (I’ll look that up later. It’s a Yiddish word that translates roughly into not having a set path, moving from place to place… not like a hobo but as Dylan said, No Direction Home. Like a complete unknown. Like a Rolling Stone).
At that point in Beck’s life he was working as an order clerk, without a diploma, at a publishing house called Schocken Books which oddly enough specialized in Jewish writers. They published nearly all, possibly all, of Kafka, including the Castle and a two volume set of Kafka’s diaries. Which I believe were edited by his best friend (Max Brod – thanks GR) who easily outlived Kafka who had TB most of his adult life and worked as a law clerk.
Those journals were a big influence on Beck. He himself had gone on to write journals in green ledger books for the next ten years and eventually burn them along with his younger sister, (her journals not his sister) at a garbage dump in the Bronx.
In point of fact, the journal fetish may have started with my father, who had 40 years of journals which he pledged me to destroy before he died, which I did.
My journals were just too horrible to re-read. How many pages of mental and emotional agony, some drawn as cartoons, some where there are tears on the pages, are too much. Yes, the raw material, but only for my eyes only.
But so it was obvious how he must’ve been seen by his Uncle Hy. A drop out. Mostly a waste of potential. What that potential was – that wasn’t clear. But it was up to Beck to figure out.
What about Uncle Hy?
That was a long and disturbing story that somehow, Beck wanted to intertwine with his own story. Some of it is factual, and some of it is filled in with Beck’s imagination.