Our final member that morning came in shortly afterwards. Luciano Corallo was one of Joey’s most devoted disciples. Young, handsome, passionate, he was one of the more militant enforcers of the primacy of the interpersonal in philosophy groups. Only recently I had been appalled as he told one of our speakers, a new member called Jonnie, that everything he had said was a waste of time before demanding to know more about his life, his emotions, every intimate detail he would reveal. Perhaps naturally Jonnie held out and kept bringing it back to the philosophy he had been talking about. Luciano gave him the usual treatment: ‘Good luck with your life mate. You’re just hiding behind cups of tea. You’re not being real with me’. And so on. I had heard a few things about him, that he was a former criminal, that he had been diagnosed schizophrenic – all interesting stuff. It turned out that he had been remanded for a night in a cell for some youthful tomfoolery and that the latter rumour was completely untrue. Nonetheless, he retained a powerful hold over me and many others. He was liable to unload on anyone at any point. He was unpredictable, Byronic, I guess you might say. I was a bit afraid of him. But at the same time confident that in time I would be able to work him out and then, if necessary, crush him. I am another one who has received the hiding behind cups of tea spiel. I ended up calling him a sociopath. I wasn’t proud of it, but I don’t think it hurt his feelings – probably because he is a sociopath. He sat down at the table and turned to Paulie:
‘You are a criminal, Paulie’.
And so it began, again.
In the early days I often found it difficult to keep up with the language, the intensity of the group dynamics, the whole thing really. It was like a different world. Fucking insane, I would say to myself after some meetings. Take the assumption of criminality, for example. The idea that we are all criminals is based on the suggestion that we commit emotional crimes against those we love on a daily basis. We get upset with a loved one and turn our back on them; we promise eternal friendship and then when that friend arrives at your door in the middle of a nervous breakdown, you tell him to hop it as your wife is not so fond of him. Sometimes the stakes were upped and we were all murderers, presumably to distinguish our emotional crimes from the petty sort. Mothers murder their children; husbands murder their wives, and so on. In their defence, people do commit terrible emotional ‘crimes’ every day, often without realising it, usually without acknowledging it. As R.D. Laing famously wrote, ‘the initial act of brutality against the average child is the mother’s first kiss.’ Heavy stuff. Stuff we don’t like to talk about. No wonder this group felt strange. These guys couldn’t talk about anything else!
The reference to turning a friend away at the door wasn’t just random. In fact Paulie had pretty much done it to Luciano recently. Hence the criminal reference. They were all friends now. But Paulie had let Luciano down, and this was not going to be forgotten in a hurry. Paulie, it seems to me, is going through a bit of a late life crisis. Well, not exactly a crisis as he seems quite happy, but as I mentioned earlier, he’s a bit of a fanatic about this whole relationship thing. Joey couldn’t wish for a more devoted disciple. So Paulie gets a bit sucked into this whole thing and can’t seem to help saying things like ‘The other is more important than the self’ – the kind of stuff that was emerging from 20th century phenomenologists like Levinas. He also says things like ‘I will never leave you’ and other pretty grand statements of devotion. With Paulie it’s probably a bit like the Germans prior to World War 2, with the humble Volk promising their Jewish neighbours (were such a conversation to arise) that they would not betray them to any hypothetical genocidal Nazis. Good intentions, no doubt, but somewhat more difficult to follow through on in the heat of the moment.
So anyway, Luciano had been having a few problems – work problems (a customer from his building business suing him or something), relationship problems, housing problems – all one on top of the other. Things were getting pretty heavy. Maybe naturally Luciano thought of Paulie’s rather grand promises of placing the other before the self, of never leaving a friend, and presumably various others that had been made. So he called up Paulie. Apparently Paulie was rather less than the obliging Samaritan figure when faced with a confused, unpredictable, potentially volatile Luciano pouring his heart out down the phone and asking – literally – for shelter. You see, Paulie is pretty bourgeois underneath all the big chat. He has a lot to lose. He has a big house in a nice part of town and, more importantly, a wife, Carmen, who can’t stand the philosophers – she thinks they’re all a bunch of quacks. She’s quite sensible, really. I don’t know how she puts up with Paulie and his fanatical ways. Anyway, the whole Luciano coming to stay because he’s having a breakdown conversation either never happened because Paulie bottled it, or Carmen just gave him ‘the stare’, and not much more was said. I couldn’t really envisage Paulie putting up much resistance. So the old case of one’s mouth writing cheques that one struggles to cash in the cold light of the non-philosophical reality had bitten Paulie on the ass, so to speak, and Luciano was now enjoying the sense of moral superiority that this situation had conferred on him.
To be honest, I was as well. Despite my rather lowly position in the society, I was happy enough to twist the knife by suggesting that by the sounds of it, Paulie had indeed let Luciano down in rather a big way, that he was at best a well intentioned hypocrite, and at worst a scoundrel, and so on. It was quite fun. Tino was loving it too – chipping in with occasional comments about Paulie being a fake, a fraud, a charlatan, a phony, a cheat, a shyster, a trickster, and so on. As a poet (of sorts), Tino has quite a repertoire when he decides to let rip.
Anyway, before I knew it, it was lunchtime. As the workers trooped in for sustenance to keep them working away, we each silently felt the warm glow of smugness that comes from having reached Monday lunchtime unsullied by the ignominies of the working world. This was indeed the good life I had stumbled upon.