Jeremy Leven

Potato Salad and the Fourth of July

In 1980, Jeremy Leven published his first novel, a complex and very funny tale about the mad scientist Harry Wolper. What Dr. Wolper has to say in his diary about the celebrations of the Fourth of July and about the myth of the melting pot is the exact opposite of Lazarus' view. - Jeremy Leven, Creator (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), pp. 309f.

Potato salad has always seemed to me to be a particularly apt dish for 4 July, representing an ingenious con≠glomeration of unlikely elements to make something fairly tasty. That these vegetables are able to get along at all in one dish is a miracle to me akin to the ostensible melting pot we have all come together today to make a lot of noise about.

This is, of course, a myth. There is no more a melting pot here in America than a dish without lettuce and tomatoes is a salad. No matter, the distinction is unimportant. The streets were not, in fact, paved with gold, and religious tolerance is neither better nor worse here than anywhere else. Jews and Catholics maintain their distance, blacks and whites fortify themselves and prepare for battle. Young and old starve alike and view each other with little friendliness or regard. We are an armed camp, entrenched to protect what little territory we have left, and brotherly love be damned. We are not cooperators who built this country, and this is not a democracy. We national engineers were competitors and enslavers, and we built us here a republic, to foster competition, protect the interests of the aristocratic founding fathers, and assure that a class system could sustain itself just like in Mother England, in spite of our having no history, a remarkable achievement at the very least.

It is a country put together with tape and pins, and its longevity is a testimony not to the constitutional design, but to the real wisdom of the founders in taking into account the true adhesive that would bind us together: greed. What is self-evident to me is that it is my life, my liberty, and my pursuit of happiness, not yours. Yours is your problem.

And when it came time to form our Constitution, no less a figure than Patrick Henry himself, flaming patriot, founding father, banged on the desk, screamed at the convention. What did they mean, 'We, the people'! What right had they to say, 'We, the people'! Who gave them the power to speak the language of, 'We, the people'! The people gave them no power to use their name!

It was hardly possible to write three words without some patriot announcing that no one was speaking for him and mind your own business!

No, our fabric is not designed to hold the imprint of relationships well. It is woven to show fifty separate and distinct stars, set well off by themselves from the original thirteen stripes. I often marvel, with pain, great pain, at what a solitary life we have provided here, at how little warmth there is to go along with our heralded freedom.

I wonder whether there is any hope for us descendants of those with the stamina and guts to withstand the vast sea and leave everything they held dear to them behind, everything they knew. Is there any way that this nation of rugged individualists, iconoclasts, self-made men, entrepreneurs, and liberated free-thinkers can ever relate, one to the other? Now that would be an event for which to light firecrackers.

Until then I will console myself that American relationships are not impossible in a country that can combine onions, celery, eggs, and gobs of mayonnaise with subterranean tubers and end up with something as palatable as potato salad.

Vocabulary

apt (adj.): exactly suitable - ingenious (adj.): having or showing cleverness at making or inventing things - conglomeration (n.): a collection of many different things gathered together - akin (adj.): having the same appearance, character, etc.; like - ostensible (adj.): seeming or pretended, but perhaps not really true - lettuce (n.): a common garden plant with large tender pale green leaves folded round each other - entrenched (adj.): firmly established - enslaver (n.): s.o. who makes another person into a slave - to foster (v.): to help (s.th.) to grow or develop - tape (n.): narrow material in the form of a band, used for tying up parcels, etc. - pin (n.): a short thin stiff piece of metal that looks like a small nail, used for fastening together pieces of cloth, paper, etc. - longevity (n.): great length of life - testimony (n.): a formal statement that s.th. is true; any fact or situation that shows or proves s.th. very clearly - adhesive (n.): a substance that can stick or cause sticking - to flame (v.): to break out with sudden violence - fabric (n.): framework, base, or system - imprint (n.): a mark left on or in s.th. - solitary (adj.): alone without companions - to herald (v.): to announce publicly - stamina (n.): the strength of body or mind to fight tiredness, discouragement, or illness; staying power - guts (n. pl.): value, force - rugged (adj.): having a rough uneven surface; strongly built, sturdy - iconoclast (n.): a person who attacks widely-held beliefs or customs - entrepreneur (n.).. a person who makes the plans for a business or a piece of work and gets it going - firecracker (n.): a small firework that explodes loudly several times and jumps each time it explodes - celery (n.): a small plant with bunched greenish-white stems grown as a vegetable - gob (n.): a mass of s.th. wet and sticky - subterranean (ad).): underground - tuber (n.): a fleshy swollen underground stem, such as the potato, with small buds from which new plants grow - palatable (adj.): pleasant to taste

Explanations

founding fathers: the persons attending the Federal Constitutional Convention in May 1787, which decided the principles of the Constitution of the United States - Patrick Henry: (1736-1799), American revolutionary leader and orator, whose famous call to arms against Britain ("Give me liberty or give me death"), assured the mobilization of the Virginia militia and Henry's reputation as one of the most effective speakers in American history

Awareness

1. It is on the level of cuisine that the 'melting pot' seems to function without problems. Visit the ethnic restaurants in your town and try to find out why it is possible that the same people who love to eat in pizzerias and Chinese restaurants can demand 'Auslšnder raus!'

Comprehension

2 Why does Dr. Wolper reject the notion of the 'melting pot'?

3 What are his reasons for concluding that "this is not a democracy" (I. 20)?

Analysis

4 Describe the tone of the article.

5 What, according to Leven, is the reason why Americans do not melt?