"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, June 29, 2015

Older Men–Besotted By Youth, Fantasy, And The Impossible

Potter Liggett was a mensch – strong, principled, compassionate, and understanding. He could always be counted on to do the right thing.  Whether it was defending a friend or arguing a case in court, he was always on the side of integrity and honor. He kept his own counsel, was never arrogant or dismissive, and was always respectful and tolerant.

He was a consummate professional and had been a faithful and loving husband until his wife of many decades left him a widower at 52.  For a number of years he lived quietly alone, rarely went out or socialized, and had resigned himself to later years of celibacy and solitude. Until Beyhan Akyildiz came into his life, and he fell completely off the rails.

Mark Antony fell for Cleopatra; and despite the warnings of Octavian, his own lieutenants, and minions, he paid more attention to her than to Rome.  After years of heroism and battlefield brilliance, he seemed to lose his military acumen; and although a ruling member of the Second Triumvirate, spent more time in the sybaritic East with Cleopatra than where he belonged – in the austere tribunals of power.

Antony was so besotted with Cleopatra that he gave her vast lands, assured Egyptian independence from Rome, and provided her with the security that only a member of the ruling Triumvirate could afford.

Antony was so besotted with his beloved Cleopatra that he foolishly followed her lead in the battle of Actium, the decisive engagement in the last civil war to shake Rome. His career was over, his legacy forever tarnished, and only an ignominious death awaited him.

Antony and Cleopatra

How could a man of such intelligence, strategic brilliance, and political savvy be so badly deceived by Cleopatra?  Some say that he knew that his professional life was ending, and before it was too late he wanted to fulfill the longings he had had since a young man – love, the satisfaction of sensual lust, and a life of opulence and leisure. Others have said that like most older men, he fell for a younger woman. 

As the Coleman Silk character says  in Phillip Roth’s The Human Stain about his much younger lover, “Granted, she's not my first love. Granted, she's not my great love. But she is sure as hell my last love. Doesn't that count for something?” Still others have said that Cleopatra was indeed the most remarkably beautiful and alluring woman in the entire Roman Empire who bedded Julius Caesar and the son of Pompeii the Great and was the dream of hundreds more of the Empire’s best and finest.

Image result for images the human stain film

The comparison between Antony and Potter Liggett is apt up to a point.  They both were 52 years when they began to disassemble, old for a man in Roman times but certainly not for a health American in the early 21st century. They both had been seduced by the allure of the East; and although Izmir was nothing compared to Imperial Alexandria, a combination of childhood fantasy and the Arabian Nights, and the dark, seductive, irresistible allure of Beyhan Akyildiz was nothing to dismiss.

Image result for images arabian nights
After his wife died, Potter began to put his life in perspective.  What, after all, was the value of public service within the context of the Almighty and Eternity. And more to the point, before he spent eternity in the cold, hard ground of St. Anselm’s Cemetery in Silver Spring wasn’t it time to live a little? After due course of grieving and reflection, Potter finally emerged back into the light of day.

At first, no one noticed the subtle differences in his comportment and behavior.  They overlooked his tardiness, his surprisingly flippant remarks about race, gender, and ethnicity as he prepared his defense of offenders from the 7th and 8th wards, and his sallies into the single bars of Georgetown and Petworth. A mensch was always a mensch, they reckoned; and their respect for and admiration of him did not diminish by one iota.

It was as though Potter Liggett had spent his whole life preparing for Beyhan Akyildiz.  Once he had met her, he was convinced that he had fooled himself into thinking that he had really loved his wife of Shawnee Mission, Kansas and Nantucket; and that her propriety, manners, and calm intelligence were what mattered most in a relationship. How could he have been so mistaken?

“I am the great-granddaughter of pashas”, she said to him on their first date; and from then on he could only see her as a veiled wife of an emperor’s harem – perhaps not Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile; but the seductress of the most powerful, the anointed, and the select. That had to be worth something.

Image result for images 19th century turkish pashas
The real reason for Potter’s total and irremediable passion for Beyhan was her drama; and thus his bondage to a woman for whom staging, costume, and theatrical entry were the be-all and end-all, was no different from that of Antony.

To most men Beyhan was impossibly melodramatic. She was an operatic diva, Sarah Bernhardt, Elizabeth Taylor, and a thousand other women who overdressed, over-performed, and over-acted what was a simple role.  To Potter she was the answer to his dreams; and he willingly suspended his disbelief.  “Who cares”, he said, “what really happened?.”

So he listened to her stupendous tales of the Turkish Thousand and One Nights, drifted off to sleep to her tales of sumptuous banquets on the Bosporus and dancing girls, and recitation of verses of Sufi poets.

Image result for images thousand and one nights
Every psychiatrist since Freud has known that we marry our mothers and our fathers; and that unfulfilled incestuous lusts are what fuel our sexual passions.  The more modern analysts have concluded that the most exciting and complete sexual experience is that which is based on fantasy.  Not only did Potter Liggett make love to Mommy but also to Cleopatra and the Circassian beauties of the Caucasus.

Meanwhile, Potter lost case after case in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  It was not that he had evolved politically and espoused the views of the conservative Right – i.e. that deviant behavior was indeed a social problem, but due to the irresponsibility and dereliction of the communities in which it was born and nurtured – but that he was a faux pawn in God’s plan.  A vaudevillian at best (viz. The Devil – Ivan’s Nightmare) and an insignificant bit-part player at worst. 

“Who cares”, he shouted into the mirror as he adjusted his tie and brushed his hair for the gala at the Turkish Embassy.

Image result for images dc superior court

Unfortunately for Potter, Beyhan Akyildiz was more like Cleopatra than he had imagined. Cleopatra never loved Mark Antony.  She admitted as much to her minions and said that he was no match for Julius Caesar. She joked about riding him, bringing him to heel, and enjoying his attentions; but little more.  Antony was political security – an investment as much as Caesar was – but without the former Emperor’s intelligence, wit, and humor.

For Beyhan, Potter was an amusement; a diversion.  As much as he loved to hear her tales of the Turkish empires, she loved reciting them. For her, stories of the legendary Dede Korkut and Timur evoked memories of her childhood when she sat on the lap of her grandfather who recounted stories of the greatness of Turkey.  She enjoyed the special encounter of myth, mystery, and sexual intrigue; but was indifferent to Potter’s response.

Mark Antony fell on his sword and Cleopatra died at the bite of an asp; but the relationship between Beyhan and Potter ended far more unceremoniously. She tired of him and left him on the curb. It was as simple as that. No battle of Actium, no theatrics on the catafalque, and no half-hearted and unsuccessful suicide.

Image result for images battle of actium
Beyhan was no Cleopatra.  Her theatrics were only skin-deep. She willingly played the role of veiled princess to Potter’s pasha; recited lines of poetry and legend like a traditional Turkish storyteller to his romantic, expectant American:
 A long, long time ago, when the sieve was inside the straw, when the donkey was the town crier and the camel was the barber. . . Once there was; once there wasn't. God's creatures were as plentiful as grains and talking too much was a sin…
But she was an American lawyer just like Potter.  If she had any real interest in Turkish  history it was the period of Ataturk and the secularization of the country; or the politics of the Ottoman Empire and the institution of law and administration. She had a temporary and very temporal view of Turkish history. The romance of the harem and the princely courts was uninteresting and irrelevant.

“Now what am I going to do?”, Potter Liggett asked himself after Beyhan had left him.  His professional reputation was now suspect, his moral rectitude and social probity questioned; and worst of all he was caught between an existential Scylla and Charybdis. He was no longer committed to his work, was disillusioned at the frailty of love, a widower who had betrayed the legacy of his wife; but titillated and energized by the May-September relationship of all time.  It didn’t matter that it had ended badly. “Better to have loved and lost, etc. etc.”

Image result for images scylla and charybdis
The only question was whether he would return to the settled probity of life with his wife; or turn again to the sybaritic East.

Unfortunately I lost track of Potter Liggett, and the reader might only guess.

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