JO BOSHERE (born Abe Nussbaum) was a man of thirty—a dark-skinned little Jew with a vulturous and moody face, a reedy body and a sense of posture.
The Jews now and then hatch a face which for Jewishness surpasses the caricatures of the entire anti-Semitic press. These Jew faces in which race leers and burns like some biologic disease are rather shocking to a mongrelized world.
People dislike being reminded of their origins. They shudder a bit mystically at the sight of anyone who looks too much like a fish, a lizard, a chimpanzee or a Jew. This is probably nonsense. The Jew face is an enemy totem, an ancient target for spittle and, like a thing long hated, a sort of magic propagandist of hate. Its persistence in the world is that of some repulsive and hostile fauna, half crippled, yet containing in its ineffaceable Yiddish outline the taunt and challenge of the unfinished victim. This, of course, is true only of the worst looking Jew faces and the worst Jew haters.
Boshere was not quite so bad as this. The racial decadence which had popped so Hebraic a nosegay out of his mother’s womb was of finer stuff than that glandular degeneration which produces the Jew with the sausage face; the bulbous, diabetic half-monsters who look as if they had been fished out of the water a month too late.
These bloaters are truly a vicious drag on the vanity of the race, and nobody winces at the sight of them so much as the Jew.
Boshere was no matter for wincing, yet he had an uncomfortably Semitic face, a face stamped with the hieroglyphic curl of the Hebrew alphabet. For this face, however, he had invented such unJewish expressions, surrounded it with such delicate mannerisms (although he never quite outgrew the semi onanistic activities of his hands) that his personality had almost lost its Semitic flavor.
He had a way of standing, one hand spread genteely over his epigastrium, his skimpy shoulders hunched forward, his slightly enlarged eyelids drooped in an artificial and brooding smile, his red-lipped mouth widened in an actorish grimace of meditation; a way of posturing, purring and smiling in the teeth, as it were, of his Jewishness, that gave him the look of a Prince Charming in the midst of a pogrom.
Boshere was wealthy. He had won a million in the stock market, a fact which he disdained. He also disdained his calling, which was that of book publisher. He considered his wealth and his vocation as accidents which in no way reflected his true soul and genius.
It was because of this true soul and genius that Boshere caused his face to wear, whenever he thought of it, a brooding, ironic smile. Originally this expression had been invented by Boshere to reveal his superiority to his Jewishness. During his pathologic Jew-conscious adolescence this smile had done varied service. It had hinted at De Medici ancestors, philosophic preoccupations, eerie and delicate dreams; it had played its mysterious and transforming lights over the synagogic façade; it had battled so tirelessly with the racial enzymes that even in his sleep Boshere looked as much the poseur as the Jew.
Now at thirty, this smile revealed to people his amusement with their estimates of him. He was much superior to the Boshere they knew. It was his obsession that people either admired him or envied him—but not enough.
There was a Boshere, said this brooding, ironic smile, who was beyond the reach of people to understand or appreciate. Inasmuch as he had not yet taken the time to develop some form of self-expression which might advertise this true soul and genius to a dull world, his critics appealed to him as superficial. He snorted at all their fumbling estimates. His knowledge of literature? His ability to publish successful books? His luck in the stock market? His brilliant and alluring personality? These were small matters to the Boshere ego. One had to be Boshere to taste the inner flavor of his greatness.
This biologic handicap he sought to overcome, in those he wished to know him, by making them fall in love with him. He regarded an overwhelming love in either man or woman as the only critical approach to an understanding of him. Or perhaps he looked on love as the only attitude which those who really knew him must feel. In either case, he devoted most of his time, energies and even money (despite his fantastic miserliness) to inspiring this emotion in the hearts of his chosen audience. He carried on a sort of Messianic campaign for disciples of Boshere.
For this business of breathing his soul into another and converting him or her into a Siamese twin, Boshere had a disastrous aptitude. But in the process of attaching a fellow human to himself, he invariably ended by coiling his own spirit, temperament, mannerisms and excitements so avidly around his conquest as to smother it—were it man or woman—and leave an aftermath of anger and revulsion. He was hated most by those on whom, from time to time, he had pounced in this quest for love and Siamese kinship.
His face, ugly, vulturous, malformed though it was, figured importantly in these conquests. It provoked analyses, stuck in the memory and personalized relationships to a point of abnormality.
For his intimates, there was something peculiar in the look of this face, as if it were unduly naked, as if it had been plucked and deprived of some essential covering. Freshly shaved, he reminded one of an evil birdling, all bill and no feathers, or of the breast of a thin chicken ready for the roasting pan.
His centered eyes, flat, negroid, slightly upturned—their stare indefinably tipped with mania—seemed unduly exposed. In their look, there was something too close, too intimate. Too much of himself filled these eyes—a love-haunted self smiling in an obscene Narcist embrace.
Sensitivity was Boshere’s most treasured characteristic. He was almost professionally sensitive. His sensitivity found its most perfect reflection in the contours of the lower part of his face, the protruding, Spanish looking jaws, the orthopteran, girlish neck. Elsewhere, in his studied gestures, his fish wife angers, his Prince Charming purrings and sadist explosions, he was a peculiar enough but still worldly creature. He was dominant and full of that fearlessness to be found in puny men who bombinate behind the feminine certainty that a strong, valorous antagonist will never stoop to attack them physically.
But in this lower half of his face was stamped another story. Here a timid and veritably cringing soul obtruded. Boshere was as conscious of his cheeks, jaws and neck as if they were a peculiarly crippled part of his body, crippled not with the stamp of Jewishness but with the deeper disfiguration of inferiority. He felt most at ease unshaven.
The sensitivity that was the vital basis of Boshere’s nature was not a matter which refined his tastes and his intellectual powers. His mental life was in the main a process of kleptomania. He was clever enough to absorb and appropriate informations and attitudes which at times gave him the air of a considerable fellow. His nimbleness and his unscrupulous parrotings enabled him to shine, even among his betters, as an anarch and an original. But through all such essays in objective thinking, through even his most successfully worded paradoxes and stolen unconventionalities, there remained obvious the uncreative fibre of his mind.
In matters, however, which related to himself, which had to do with the tormented turnings and hungers of his egomania, he was an inspired and shockingly penetrant observer.
Boshere’s gift, in fact, lay in a realm beyond thought. He owned an organism whose sensitiveness bordered on mania. A stranger’s hand resting in his during a greeting could become an appalling phenomenon. His consciousness could enlarge such a contact to nightmarish unreality. The pressure of palm and fingers, the texture of the stranger’s skin, the pulse beating in the stranger’s flesh—these took on such disproportionate significance that the stranger himself appeared to Boshere for the moment as unreal, fabulous—a veritable monster. In the same manner, a strange voice speaking, strange people laughing, a strange woman smiling or any human antic performed in his presence assumed for him, if he made no effort to control himself, an overwhelming existence —a gigantism beyond life.
Against this hysterical concept of reality, Boshere had engaged for years in a violent inner struggle. He had spent his youth steadying himself before the onrush of gigantism, combating within him this maniacal cringing which translated the simple surfaces of life into horrendous and menacing Goliaths.
This psychic battle with life had fitted him in an amusing way for success. As the mania ebbed, as the disordered senses of his adolescence subsided into mere worldly eccentricities, he looked about him with detached, ironic eyes. He who had fought and vanquished giants found reality pleasurably small. The violence with which in his youth he had ridden into the teeth of hallucinations and scattered them, left a habit of assault in his nature. Only now it was not against giants he charged, but against an absurdly shrunken, unintimidating reality of people. And it was he who felt a giant among pygmies.