So hideous were many of Brother-in-Law's fascinations
as to defy every shred of taste or morality.
Not only did he seem to relish the atrocities of the Nazis, but tortures and brutalities from any other period of history were of equal interest to him.
He would often repeat a platitude, and I would reply by mentioning yet another one; he would tell a joke, and I would and try to top it with one of similar taste; he would tell me something horrid and I would think of something just as gory to say to him.
Jessica had related to me a particularly ghoulish story she had heard in history class, about warfare between Renaissance clans, where a family invited an enemy to a feast and served him the flesh of his own child. Predictably, Brother-in-law seemed quite pleased with that story when I repreated it to him.
I wondered what kind of implacable hatred could underlie such gleeful ferocity.
But when Gary spoke of his "philosopher-king" it evoked in my imagination visions of an old man in trunks on a blanket with his legs crossed, surrounded by an orderly circle of Devil's advocates of restrained and gentle nature, presenting formal arguments with incense burning in the background. It was an image from a Hindu holy picture, quite distant from everything ugly -- except for the unavoidably relevant tales of human perfidity. Because of his training, my imaginary king was able to resolve all disputes in the manner of Solomon. Not then understanding anything about the S.N.A.F.U. factors involved anywhere there is not communication between equals, I thought of it as a helluva nicer way to make a living than telephone soliciting.
If he really didn't have me in mind for the job, I didn't want to seem so low as to envy anyone else who might be appointed -- to resent the line of work itself -- like some raving anarchist who was bitter at everyone and moreover had the nerve to look smug about it.
If perhaps the idea Gary dreamed of wasn't functional, there were still always the esthetic considerations. Omar Khayyam never wove such fantasies as these in the minds of his Sultans. And that was so unusual for Gary, who generally preferred to discuss something ugly.
That there was hope for the Jesuits was among his moderating opinions; they were intelligent people who could be reformed and made useful, "If only the Pope could be proved fallible."
"Kerry, the Jesuits say, 'Give us a child until he is seven, and we will make him ours forever.' Hitler said the same thing. I wonder who would win in a contest between them."
Darkly, he spoke of building Satanic secret societies within the Society of Jesus, cults that practiced human sacrifice and conjured up the old Saxon fertility deities. During these conversations, whenever I complained about Christianity for any reason, he assured me that Hitler was planning to "do in" the Christians as soon as he took care of the Jews -- that the actual faith of the Nazis had been a resurrection of the old pagan "religion of the soil."
There were times when I would complain to Brother-in-law about the irrational brutality of the Nazis, or their authoritarianism, and he would remind me that "the German family unit, with the importance of the German father -- its patriarchical structure -- is probably to blame for much of that."
"Maybe so," I conceded.
"The original European tribalists did not even worship a father-god as their primary deity. Why do you think the Mother of Jesus is so much more important to European Catholics than Christ or Jehovah? The Church never could have won their ancestors over without the cult of the Virgin. And with the Church came Roman imprialism, Kerry -- so it was imperialism that introduced patriarchy to Europe."
What exciting possibilities came to mind! Druids forming ancient secret societies to combat the foreign oppressor from Rome, leading to the organization of alliances between tribes of Visigoths and Vandals -- gradually surrounding the heart of the empire with raging colonial peoples who would bring it crumbling to its foundations.
The witches against the Caesars! It was a saga belonging beside the legend of Spartacus in the annals of history.
One thing Brother-in-law often mentioned the concept of the scapegoat. He told me that it was originally termed "escape goat" and that it was derived from a tribal ritual mentioned in Leviticus. "The custom was to take two goats and to kill one of them and to sprinkle the altar with its blood, and then to take the other goat and bestow upon it the sins of the tribe," he said. "Then they let the escape goat go, to wander in the wilderness."
Once I responded that there was a novel called The Scapegoat, as I would say for lack of anything more appropriate, that there was a novel called The Devil's Advocate when he would touch on that subject.
Of one or the other of these books, I think the latter by Taylor Caldwell written under a pseudonym, he would always reply, "And that is a very good book, too."
With a demented gleam in his eye, he also spoke once or twice of building a secret society where "at a certain point in time, all the members have to kill each other."
To my mind it sounded like an expensive way to purchase cheap thrills.
There are many respects in which I look back in astonishment at my own stupidity. Sitting there entertaining the notions Brother-in-law presented, I never for a moment thought to connect anything he said with my own actual future, much less with the present.
Yet this was a time in my life when I was a vocal atheist in a city about ninety-five percent Catholic.
Most of my friends in those early days in New Orleans met at a Friday night discussion group in the Quarter. Among the regulars was a quiet, very intellectual painter named John Kamus.
Both Ola and Jessica had arrived there upon different occasions, in John's company, the first time I met them.
"No wonder she's an atheist!" exclaimed Ivan, the discussion group's host, when he learned Jessica's father was president of the Holy Name Society and her mother belonged to a number of Catholic auxiliary organizations.
Later I'd convinced John Kamus to read Atlas Shrugged. We then met in a restaurant to discuss, over coffee and sandwiches, Ayn Rand's philosophy, which he didn't find very compelling.
Not long afterwards I mentioned to Gary that John Kamus at least agreed with Ayn Rand in that he also liked Aristotle.
Brother-in-law said, "Now, Kerry, that is a Catholic idea -- that admiration of Aristotle."
"Look, I'm sure John Kamus isn't a Catholic."
Brother-in-law indicated that perhaps my certainty might be out of place.
I probably tried to change the subject, because I recall his annoying persistence in pointing out to me that the Society of Jesus had plainclothes spies.
I was very uncomfortable about that idea. I would have felt disreputable even suspecting John Kamus to be a Catholic spy.
As much as I detested religion, accusations like that sounded little different to me than the racist remarks Gary made with chronic persistence.