My mother worked in the stacks of the Brooklyn Public Library after she was laid off from her job as a teacher in the New York City public schools due to the budget cutbacks of the 1970s. The Grand Army Plaza library which is the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system is convenient to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and Linden Boulevard, a Caribbean neighborhood which during the summer can make you feel Brooklyn is a misplaced Caribbean city that has fallen in the North Atlantic, fallen to its misfortune because by February life is slush and sleet and freezing wind and snow.
During one such winter my mother left a note within a large dictionary that lay open on a light blonde oak lectern in a reading room illuminated by a shaft of nearly invisible sun and heated to orchid-growing temperature by the giant steam radiators. The note, written on a light blue index card cut in half by my mother’s nail scissors (this was before post-its –did you know the post-it glue was invented first and the post-it note was developed as a way to use the glue, reversing the traditional order of filiation between invention and necessity?) was next to the word “obsess”, and read “female of OBS. cf. lion/lioness.”
It is unhealthy for a son to speculate on the psychology of his mother, or so my father had intimated to me more than once. So why my mother left this note is not a question I choose to exert myself to answer — my life is busy, I am a professional, I have many obligations. But I can assure you it was not because she found it funny. I knew my mother for eighty-nine years before she finally passed away due to Alzheimer’s dementia, and she never, indicated anything like a sense of humor. Not once.
During the twilight of her ratiocinative powers my mother believed there were borders living in her room. They frightened her at times, angered her at times, and at times made her amused — she chuckled at the children living in the closet. Some of that of course was the influence of seraquil, by why shouldn’t liminal children, perceived by the poisoned brain be the cause of sometimes anger, sometimes love, sometimes resignation at the face of their mystery? Real children are.
Obs being the masculine creature of which obsess is the female form? What detail of my mother’s life will help you unlock that one, should unlocking my mother be what your boat needs for floating? Perhaps this will be help you, courageous reader. In a book of mineralogy whose cover bears the title “Obsidian for Mining and Metallurgy” is another note in my mother’s 1930s public school perfect penmanship. It reads:
“This book is an allegory. Obsidian is not a mineral. Obsidian is a place. Cf. the writings of the Earl of Omm.”
Earl of Omm. O,m,m. Obsidian for Mining and Metallurgy.
A book of central European peerage, deep within the stacks, misfiled, with no cover, thoroughly vandalized in crayon, gives a list of Jews who were ennobled by the Hapsburgs. There is no Earl of Omm there, but next to a brief biography of the Marquess D’Ahm (born Salvator Brusky-Brody, a rogue scion of the Szczeciner Hasidic dynasty who lost his throne because of an enthusiasm for Jesus) is a note from my mother “Children’s books by Polish Logicians are worth a read!”.
Did you know that the great Polish logician Lesnievski who said that you could quantify over a left parenthesis wrote a series of children’s tales in which he retells the Greek myths to teach Polish children to be more logical? My mother did! In his retelling of the myth of Theseus Ariadne balls of yarn never lets Theseus rescue her. Instead Ariadne is twins — Ariadne-1 and Ariadne-2. Ariadne-1 constructs a myth of Theseus rescuing her from the minotaur. Ariadne-2 reads it and rescues her sister. The two Ariadnes becomes lovers and construct a golem as their son. The placement of the story in Lesnievski’s collection places it between two retellings of the myth of Narcissus. The thread through Lesnievski’s maze, if not Ariadne’s is clear — Ariadne-1 and Ariadne-2 are two aspects of the same person who fell in love with herself and split herself into quester and finder, seeker and goal, lover, and beloved, obs and obsess.
Who was the Minotaur? I was the Minotaur.
No question, Lesnievski like me, like all males suffered from uterus envy. Unable to have a child we imitate creation, mock it, exalt it, degrade it. Not an obsess, but just an obs, we worship the act of creation instead of simply creating.
I asked my mother if my father was Theseus, the rescuer who found her weaving her traps in the stacks and took her out of there, married her, giving her a family and a new life in the sun?
Your father? she said laughing. Absolutely not!