Playing Pinners and Pepper

The last time the White Sox had won the pennant was 1919, when they threw the Series, and that team would forevermore be known as the Black Sox.

Baseball was America’s pastime, rooted in the 19th century, it had a head start on every other professional league by half a century, but the owners were cheap bastards who didn’t realize that when they belittled the players in contract negotiations, thereby diminishing their star power, it cheapened their commodity.

Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946.

The Cubs weren’t half-bad that year, finishing in the first division. It’d be the last time for a long, long time.

Jackie Robinson, having to travel from LA to Daytona Beach to get to spring training, by car, by bus, by train, harassed all the way, he wanted to quit before he even got there.

In 1947 Jackie Robinson was breaking into the major leagues.

Bobby Bragan signed his name to a letter in the clubhouse telling Brooklyn management that he and the other players who signed weren’t going to step on the field with Jackie Robinson. Bragan came to regret it. He truly regretted it.

May 19, 1947, Wrigley Field was packed to see the Cubs lose 4-2 to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and in the stands, dressed like they were going to church, was what seemed like every black person in the city of Chicago, who had come to see Jackie Robinson play.

Jackie Robinson remembered sitting by himself at a table in the dining room of the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, in the morning, six o’clock till maybe a little after seven, and nobody would wait on him. The waiters ignored him.

The Negro League had a team in Indianapolis called the Clowns.

The National League had black players, and the American League didn’t. The Yankees and the Red Sox ended up being the holdouts, and as long as the Yankees could dominate the World Series with white players, helped along by nationwide discrimination that kept limiting black opportunities, the difference between the two leagues could persist, but all the American League teams were going to suffer for it, because sooner or later there’s always some truth to sports, and in a fair fight, the better man wins.

It was the Communist Party of the USA that made integration a priority in 1939, circulating petitions in major league ballparks. Just as in the Civil War, when slaves turned soldiers, it was difficult to deny Black men the same rights as the men they fought side by side with and died with, now Black men were joining up to fight fascism, so why the Hell couldn’t they play ball with white Americans fighting the same enemy?

Once Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, the Negro Leagues were through, all its players greedily gobbled up by big league clubs.

Bill Veeck brought up Larry Doby to be a Cleveland Indian, but Veeck didn’t prep Doby the way Rickey had Robinson, cluing him into just what the world of racism had in store for him. Doby just walked into all of it, practically blind.

Now the owners could no longer resist, and they stuck both hands into the Negro League cookie jar – and plucked out Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, and Ernie Banks.

Hank Aaron’s secret weapon, like Ernie Banks, was all in the wrists.

Was Hank Aaron Babe Ruth’s equal?

No, he was better.

Ruth was like the little league pitcher who’s a head taller than all the other kids. He simply overpowered the opposition, whether it was pitching or hitting.

But pitching can’t be all power, and neither can batting – if it’s for average as well as power.

Did Leo the Lip really steal Babe Ruth’s watch? He very well might have. Durocher was only in his early 20s at the time, a rookie, good-field/no-hit, shortstop for the Yankees, impulsive, reckless, and greedy, and the Babe got drunk one night and a couple of his teammates, one of them Durocher, helped the Bambino to his hotel room, and the next morning his watch was gone. He pinned the deed on Leo and never gave up his theory, which he then promulgated to anyone who would hear it, till the day he died in 1947.

From 1948 on, Wrigley Field was the only ballpark in the major leagues without lights, which was fine, unless the Cubs ever did make it to the playoffs, because the TV advertisers were paying for prime time, not daytime.

Bill Veeck signed Minnie Minoso in 1948 for the Indians, and he was playing in the big leagues by 1951, when Veeck traded him to the Sox.

There was this Cleveland-Chicago connection with Veeck, who was the son of the Cubs’ general manager, a sportswriter who wrote himself into the job, which connected Veeck to the Cubs, and he would end up owning the Sox – twice.

Lou Brock, Maury Wills, Luis Aparicio, the base stealers.

In 1951 Maury Wills was just a teenager, but he was already playing minor league ball. Then he sort of got trapped in it, and was still a minor leaguer eight years later. He’d never make it to Ebbett’s Field. The Dodgers would move to LA before he ever got a shot at the major leagues. It didn’t look like he would ever make it. He couldn’t hit. He was afraid of a curveball. He flinched when he saw it coming.

Well, it was coming right at him.

Bobby Bragan saved Maury Wills.

That Bobby Bragan. The one who signed the letter against Jackie Robinson. He was sorry. He wanted to do something to make up for it. If there was ever a way. And all these years later, maybe he could still do something.

He saw what was happening and he knew how to fix it. It came to him when he saw Maury in the batting cage just fooling around, hitting left-handed. He was a righty of course, and he was only swinging left-handed because he didn’t much give a shit anymore. He’d lost his drive and purpose after eight years of trying to bust out of the minors. He was pretty sure now he’d never make it. He couldn’t hit a curveball and he knew it and everybody else knew it too, but Bobby Bragan knew why.

You know what? You’re not half bad at that.

Right.

I’m serious.

I’m just messing around.

You ought to think about it.

Why?

If you hit left-handed against righties, and right-handed against lefties, that curveball wouldn’t scare you so much.

Fuck you.

Think about it.

What’re you saying?

Why do you flinch?

Fuck you.

You telling me you don’t?

What difference does it make? I’m going home.

It’s natural. Ball’s coming right at you. Only natural to shy away.

Guys hit the curve, and they go up. I’ve been down here for eight years and I can’t hit it. Eight years.

Think about it. It wouldn’t be coming at you the same way, like out of nowhere, if you looked at it from the other side. You could watch it all the way in. I’m just saying. You should at least try it. Before you go home.

I appreciate it.

Of course you’d have to work at it, to at least be decent, but it looks like you got a good stroke.

Wills thought about it. It was possible. Not at all likely, but possible. He would have to bust his ass to have any chance at all.

Mantle and Mays both came in as rookies in 1951.

Durocher’s New York Giants played in the Polo Grounds.

Red Barber didn’t say a word for over a minute when Bobby Thompson hit that homerun in the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951.

Vin Scully would be silent for nearly that long when Koufax threw his perfect game against the Cubs.

The Cubs had last won the pennant in 1945, six years before Danny arrived on the scene, and they had had losing seasons ever since.

Phil Cavaretta graduated from lane Tech in 1934.

Lane Tech is 4.7 miles from Wrigley Field.

Cavaretta played for the Cubs for 20 years, and he was player-manager from 1951 to 53. He was fired in spring training of 1954, when he said flatly that the Cubs looked like a second division club to him. First manager ever to be fired in spring training!

Phil Cavaretta, the great player, was the manager when the Cubs brought up Ernie Banks in the fall of 1952.

Ernie Banks could hit a curve ball.

Danny could only just imagine Ernie Banks at shortstop. All he ever saw was Ernie Banks playing first base. The image you have of a shortstop is totally different from that of a first baseman.

The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee.

The Braves didn’t get to Milwaukee till 1952. Before that they had been in Boston from the very beginning. Eddie Matthews would play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.

The Cubs were the fourth team to break the color line, after Brooklyn, Cleveland, and the Giants.

There were eight teams in each league, American and National.     

The great thing about baseball before inter-league play was that you had to imagine what teams and players would do against each other. There was a distinctly different tone, feel, and color to each League. Especially color.

Ernie Banks had a buddy, Gene Baker, the second baseman who was really a shortstop but was being moved over to make room for Banks. They’d be MLB’s first black double play combo, and they thought they’d take in a movie on an off day in St. Louis, and as they walked up to the ticket booth, the ticket seller just waved them away, and Ernie’s buddy just turned to him and said: “How’d you like the movie?”

Ernie Banks was a good shortstop, but not a great one. He had trouble with throws from deep in the hole. He didn’t have a very strong arm. He had great wrists for batting, but he didn’t have a great arm.

In 1958 and 1959 Ernie Banks was the National League MVP. He had come up to the Cubs in 1953. Gene Baker was brought up then too. He was brought up to be Banks’s roommate. Cool Papa Bell had signed Ernie Banks to the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Banks was one of the top power hitters in the game. He hit more homers in the 1950s than Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle. He hit five grand slams in one season (1955)!

The Dodgers and the Giants were leaving New York and heading for the west coast, the play of politics and sentiments, and the highways spreading, and the suburbs draining energy from the cities, and the American League holding out against integration, the racism as stark as black and white. Willie Mays and Micky Mantle.

The Say Hey Kid. The basket catch. As much as for The Catch, which is indisputably the greatest catch of all time, Mays was famous for the Basket Catch, catching routine fly balls as they dropped into his open glove, held at waist level. Little Leaguers were cautioned not to catch routine fly balls this way, because they would inevitably drop one, but Gump caught fly balls this way all the time and never dropped one. Anything Gump saw a player do on TV, he could mimic. He could bat like Stan the Man Musial or Ernie Banks, he could switch-hit, but he never played on any organized team in school or little league, never played any kind of organized sport, just with the bunch of kids at the park.

In 1954 Willie Mays, Elston Howard, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks would crash the party, and baseball would never be the same. You didn’t have to be a Negro to like Willie Mays better than Mickey Mantle. The Say Hey Kid was a better player and a nicer guy, and if you didn’t like Ernie Banks, there had to be something wrong with you.

When he had first come up with the Cubs Banks often found solace by hanging out with an old sportswriter who seemed to him to have discovered a kind of peace of mind, and what was that all about?

Most things in life, Ernie, you care about them, but when you look back at what you really care about, you don’t care all that much about some things that seemed really important at the time, but they weren’t that important really, even though you cared about it. You really didn’t care about it that much – not compared to what you really did care about. Most things in life, you care about them, but not that much.

So, when the Cubs would lose a game, go on a losing streak, have a losing season, have losing season after losing season, did you even care anymore, Ernie?

I cared, but not that much.

In 1954, when Danny was two and a half years old, Ernie Banks was playing for the Cubs. Jackie had broken the color line back in the late 40’s. Branch Rickey brought him up.

August 14, 1954, the first issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands. Danny was not quite three and did not read it.

Willie Mays won the batting crown in ‘54 and also the MVP and also the pennant and also the World Series, and he made the catch of all time. Say hey!

The 1954 Series was the first with black players on both sides. The Giants and Willie Mays versus the Indians with Larry Doby. It was the first time in seven years the Yankees weren’t in the series.

It was 1954 when Jackie Robinson went with the Dodgers to St. Louis and had the balls to bitch at the front desk of the Chase Hotel when the racists wouldn’t let him stay there with his teammates.

Mantle versus Mays. Willie Mays was the best centerfielder ever to play the game, defensively. The Catch in 54 with his back to the infield, catching the ball over his shoulder, and then the throw. The throw alone was spectacular, and issuing as it did out of The Catch, was awesome, because it all happened in the World Series no less!

But who hit more homeruns?

The last MLB teams to integrate were the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and the Yankees of course.

A whole series of contrasts emanated from the world of sports, the way it felt to root for the Sox as opposed to the Cubs, the way the American League felt as opposed to the National league, the East in the NBA and the West, the NFL felt completely different than the AFL, the contrasts couldn’t be starker.

Mantle and Mays.

Mantle and Maris.

Yankees and Giants.

The Yankees were the white supremacists of the baseball world, proving their superiority, until the black guys started showing up.

Maybe Danny’s memories start then, but they would be memories of summer, not really memories of baseball until Danny could bounce a rubber ball off the front steps. He’d have to be at least five years old for that, so, in the fall of 1956, say, when his brother Brendan arrived.

Mean Gene said he got lost at Comiskey Park, and that much was true, because Mary Jewell confirmed it and she always told the truth, but then he said the Andy Frain ushers took him into a room where he met Louis Aparicio and Nellie Fox and then he hung out with them for a while. That never happened. Gene was lying. Other people told lies too.

The White Sox played in a bad neighborhood on the South Side in a ballpark called Comiskey Park, which didn’t look anything at all like Wrigley Field. It looked more like Kiddieland, the amusement park on North Avenue where you could ride roller coasters and rides that didn’t scare the shit out of you, meant for little kids, a place where Nano had taken Dan and Gene and Mary Jewel, and it was there that Dan had taken Patti Viglione sophomore year and made out with her between rides after having been lustily tossed against her in the tilt-a-whirl.

It was hard to argue that Mantle was not the best when he won the American League triple crown in 1956.

The Dodgers and the Giants moved west in 1957.

The 1959 World Series was the first one the Dodgers ever won in LA.

Minnie Minoso, nobody knew how old he was. Best guess was that he was about 32 in 1954, the first black Hispanic major leaguer, when he got the White Sox into a real pennant race for the first time since 1940.

Minnie Minoso was in the running for the 54 MVP, but he didn’t play for the Go-Go Sox in 59. What happened to him between 54 and 59? The Cuban Comet.

The Sox traded Minoso to Cleveland to get more pitching, and it worked well enough to win them the pennant in ‘59.

In Comiskey Park somebody had the bright idea to plant a fire hose down the first and third base lines instead of just painting it white.

There were no names on the backs of the players’ jerseys. Why would you even think about putting your name on the back of the jersey? That’s what numbers and scorecards were for.

Go-Go Sox.

Early Wynn, Jungle Jim Rivera, Earl Torgeson.

El Senor – Al Lopez.

Candlestick Park opened in 1960, and Vice-President Nixon threw out the first ball.

In the 1960 the Cubs fired Charlie Grimm and hired Lou Boudreau right out of the WGN radio booth.

In 1961 P.K. Wrigley replaced The Kid with the College of Coaches. Mantle and Maris were chasing Babe Ruth. The Zephyrs in the Coliseum.

In September 1961 Casey Stengel was named Manager of the New York Mets, a job Durocher figured he should have had, and he was probably right.

In 1962 NL teams played 160 games, and the AL played 162. Mantle and Maris were both going after Babe Ruth’s record.

That asterisk that Ford Frick put in the record book when Roger Maris hit 61 homers in 1961 was an asshole thing to do. Done out of some perverse reverence for the Babe. What bullshit. Major League baseball had done everything to exploit the Babe when he was alive, and now the racists were trotting him out again because Hank Aaron was sneaking up on the all-time homerun record, despite the fact that when the Babe was alive the racists were loudly laying the N-word on him.

If you were playing in the field while Koufax was pitching, didn’t matter infield or outfield, after a while you would fade into oblivion. You would disappear and Koufax would be out there by himself, like a concert pianist, and you weren’t even there — because you didn’t need to be there, what was the reason for your existence, except to watch him work? He just struck everybody out.

To score runs they would all have to work together, Maury Wills would get on base, and then they would move him around. They only had a few guys with any power. Then they would go out on the field, and Koufax would single-handedly dispatch the other team.

The Go-Go Sox ran into Koufax in 59, but that was when Sandy was just starting to get warmed up.

Koufax was blowing his arm out, pitch by pitch.

Maury Wills was ripping his legs apart, stealing bases.

Then came a game in the World Series and Koufax wouldn’t pitch because he’s Jewish.

He’s Jewish, Sandy Koufax?

You didn’t know?

Hey, Samson was Jewish.

Maury Wills stole base number 104 against the Giants in a playoff for the pennant. It was October 3, 1962. Wills stole third. Then he scored and the Dodgers went up 4-2. It was the seventh inning, and they were at home. And then they blew it.

Pitcher Bob Buhl got traded to the Cubs in 1962. He couldn’t hit. At all. He went to bat 70 times that season and made an out every time.

The Cubs traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio in 1964, and the kids joked that they’d given up a star for an old-timer. Broglio was 28.

Brock immediately helped the Cards win the World Series.

Alvin Dark managed the Giants, and he was dark all right, hateful and racist, and he said aloud that blacks and Latino players weren’t as smart or reliable as white players. At the same time, 1964, Leo Durocher was being his own kind of asshole as a coach for the Dodgers, and the Dodgers had had just about enough of his shit. Next stop for Leo the Lip would be Chi-Town. 

Leo the Lip Durocher had been lurking in the background of this picture from the beginning. Christ, he went all the way back to Babe Ruth!

Babe Ruth didn’t like him. They were teammates, and Durocher, the rookie, had done something to piss Ruth off.

The Cubs hired Leo the Lip in 1965. You could go see the Cubs and there were only about 8,000 fans in the stands.

The capacity of Wrigley Field then was 37,000. So, you could go there and be surrounded by nearly 30.000 empty seats.

Jesus Christ, Bob Hendley pitched a one-hitter for the Cubs, and lost.

It took a couple of years, but in 1967 the Cubs finally started to turn things around, and they finished third in the 10-team National League. First time in the first division since 1946.

1968 was the last season that MLB had no division playoff. The pennant winner went right into the World Series. So, in 1969 the Cubs had an 8-game lead late in the season, but that was just to get out of the East.

After the Tigers beat the Cards and Bob Gibson in Game 7, coming back from a 3-1 hole, MLB went to divisional playoffs, lowered the pitcher’s mound by 5 inches, and reduced the strike zone from the letters to the armpit and the top of the knees. Baseball would never be the same.

Don Drysdale pitched six straight shutouts, went 58 innings without giving up a run.

June 4, 1968, Drysdale pitches shutout number six against the Pirates, and playing for the Pirates is Maury Wills. It was the night of the Democratic Primary in California, McCarthy v Kennedy. It was the night Kennedy was killed.

MLB was going to go on about its business after Robert Kennedy was killed, same as it had done when Martin Luther King was killed, but the players said fuck you, we’re not playing.

The Cubs story builds to their collapse in 69. It takes 18 years, as long as it took Sophocles to write Oedipus Rex.

“Let’s play two.” And it’s ninety-six degrees in Wrigley. Durocher imploded and so did the 69 Cubs.

Men walked on the moon. The Cubs pitcher called the catcher up to the mound.

What’s up?

They’re up there right now.

Who? Where?

There. On the fucking moon.

Leo Durocher went off on Ernie Banks.

He couldn’t run, couldn’t field; toward the end he couldn’t even hit. But I had to play him. Ernie Banks owned Chicago. With every other player we had the usual signs, an indicator followed by a combination. With Ernie we had to have flash signs, like little league. Ernie, you’re always hitting unless we flash something at you. If I tip my cap, now you’re taking. Pull up my belt, it’s hit and run.

Randy Hundley, C; Banks, 1b, Beckert, 2b; Kessinger, SS; Santo, 3b; Williams,

September 9, 1969 in Shea, the black cat spooked everybody, especially Leo. And when the Cubs were drubbed, the New York fans chanted Goodbye, Leo, and waved their hankies at him.

Joey Mantegna’s play Bleacher Bums celebrated the behavior of people the rest of the NL called Bleacher Scum, who threw such things at opposing outfielders as bottles, batteries, and white mice. The 69 Cubs ended up at 92-70, 8 games back of the Mets. The Miracle Mets beat the Braves for the NL pennant, then the Orioles in 5 to win the Series.

Camp Ojibwa in Wisconsin — where Leo skipped to, saying he was sick, in the middle of a tight game in July, while PK was in Lake Geneva watching the game on WGN.

Joey Amalfatano said Leo was heart-broken at the end of the season.

August 7, 1969, the Cubs were in first place with a 9-game lead, and as Dan left Oak Park for Dekalb, it started slipping away. A month later the lead was down to two games, and then the Cubs fell completely apart, and they finished the season 8 games behind the Miracle Mets.

The Cubs were too good to be true. To Dan they looked like world beaters. He didn’t know that Ernie Banks was washed up. Didn’t know Leo the Lip was wearing out his starters. Didn’t know that the Cub clubhouse was a snake-pit. There was this surge of more than hope, of great anticipated relief, the skies about to break and pour down the welcome rain after a long, long drought, generations had passed, and now there was thunder and lightning.

The Cubs were going to burn out like a cigarette butt tossed in the street.

To Dan and all the rest of the Cub fans in the world, it seemed the cruelest of jokes that not only did the Cubs blow and 8-game lead in the last weeks of the season, but they lost to the Mets, who went on to win the World Series in only the eighth year of their existence. But for the Met fans, many of whom were Brooklyn Dodger fans who had cheered all their lives for a team that disappeared, and those who were not Dodger fans were Giants fans to whom the same damn thing had happened, and their team had been around since the beginning of baseball. Cub fans were sad, Mets fans were happy, but everybody had a right to be.

Dan was playing pinners against the stairs. He had learned it from the Lambs, who lived across the street. There were a bunch of them. When Dan’s little brother Brendan came along, he called them My Lambs because they had taken him into their flock. A typical Irish Catholic family from the south side of Oak Park, there were a lot of Lambs. The ones near Dan’s age were Paul and his brother Jerome, known as Rome or Romer, and his twin sister Rose who went by Ro-Ro. They were all athletes who would play anything, Ro-Ro too, she was fast as hell, like Dan, and she had a couple of older brothers who played on real teams – football, baseball, basketball.

In the winter they would play hockey. Dan could barely skate then. But in the spring and summer you could play pinners all by yourself against the front stairs for hours. All you needed was a rubber ball and a glove. Didn’t even really need the glove since it was a rubber ball, but if you wanted to get better with the glove you used the glove.

You were the pitcher, and then you were everybody else. Your imaginary mound was only about twelve or fifteen feet away from the steps, right in front, so your reactions were going to have to be quick.

You could go into a wind-up or you could pitch from the stretch. Fastball, knuckleball, palm-ball, slider, split-finger, overhand, sidearm, underhand ala Ted Abernathy. Nobody really knew how to throw a curve. Except for Gump.

And Dan let fly. The ball pitched into the stairs wherever it might. If it struck between steps, the ball would come straight back at him like a line drive, but if the pitch drove the rubber ball into the edge of the stair, then it would do just about anything but come straight back at him. It might take off like a shot over his head, soaring across the street, and if it landed on the other side of the street it was a homerun.

A high fly ball into the street you might be able to shag for an out or it might drop in for a hit or even extra bases, and you had to make the throw off the stairs to hold the runner.

If the ball struck the edge of the step at a downward angle it would ricochet back at you as a hot grounder, and you’d have to pluck it off the ground or snare it on the short hop, or stretch for it, or reach across your body to glove it before it got by you. Pinners was the best training in the world for fielding, especially for infielders.

You fancy yourself a shortstop, do you?

Natural position. Feel comfortable there. Like nothing can get by me.

What about the throw?

The beauty of pinners was that you could play it by yourself. You could be both teams and all the players. A whole major league season could be played on the front steps. John Duff taught Dan the fine points of pinners. He was slick. You got where you knew all of a guys’ moves, and John Duff – you said it like one word, Johnduff – knew everybody’s better than they did themselves, he was slick. He wasn’t that strong, but he was smooth and slick and would come up with moves you never saw before. He’d get guys out with the hidden ball trick.

Johnduff could play all the sports. Of course, all of the guys could play all the sports because that’s what they did together – play all the sports. Every day you wanted to play something, so whatever was in season was what you played. Basketball, baseball, ice hockey, football, tennis, golf, bowling, swimming, diving, racing on bikes and on foot, roller skating.

Johnduff would trick you, pull the hidden ball trick on you and catch you off base. He’d pretend to throw the ball back to the pitcher, but he’d keep the ball in his mitt and then swipe you with it. It was the oldest trick in the book, but he was so slick with it he’d still pull it off, and then he’d laugh at you, and he could get all the other guys to laugh at you too.  Johnduff was the first guy Dan ever knew who was adept at psychological warfare in sports. He would psyche you out and taunt you and make you mad and get you off your game.

You played pinners and then you could go over to Lincoln, the public school, and  rectangles for the strike zone had been painted on the walls, and two or three guys could play, with one guy at bat and one guy pitching and the other guy in the field, which was a pair of asphalt basketball courts, so that sometimes guys would be trying to play basketball while the baseball players were rocketing line drives at them.

Dan went over to Lincoln to play basketball and two kids were playing baseball against the wall with a rubber ball. They asked Dan if he wanted to play in the outfield and he said sure. The kid who was up to bat said Dan could use his glove. It was long and flapped over,

What kind of glove is this?

First baseman.

Dan couldn’t play first base, and he couldn’t much play the outfield, and he sure as shit couldn’t play the outfield with a first baseman’s glove. This was going to be embarrassing.

The guy hit a towering fly ball. Dan lost it in the sun. When he turned around it was bouncing toward the fence.

Softball, sixteen-inch. What about playing softball? The Clarence Alley Boys were always up for a game of softball.

Gotta get enough guys to play.

If we can get enough guys for tackle football, we can easy get enough for softball, even if we gotta make it right-field-out and pitcher’s hands.

One guy could pitch for both teams. Gump could pitch. He’d pitch the same way for both sides, be impartial. You could trust Gump.

Have your own bat. Head over to Fox Park with your bat.

You don’t use a glove when you play 16-inch. Don’t need one, especially if it’s a nice ball that’s been broken in and smudged, not still slick and hard as a rock, but not too beat up, too soft, too much of a mushed melon.

Play nine innings of softball, hang out, a double-header, nice sunny day, head on over to Madison Street after the game and get a pop and some chips and a candy bar and then look at the new Pontiacs through the showroom window, or even walk around inside till you get thrown out.

The assholes from the other side of Madison had challenged the Clarence Alley Boys in softball, and they were like their twins, same age, same range of sizes and shapes, same style of play, same arrogant attitude, and neither could scratch a run off the other till, finally, Terry Joyce got hold of one and hit it high over the center fielder’s head, and, taking off like the Flash the instant he smacked it, Terry flew down the first baseline, rounded first and he was touching second, the legend soon spread, before the ball hit the ground, and when he rounded third and blazed across the plate, and the cut-off man didn’t even bother to make a throw.

You could collect baseball cards.

You don’t want to buy one pack of baseball cards, you want to buy two or three, and open them right away and stuff all three sticks of pink bubblegum in your mouth and wad it up in your cheek like Nellie Fox, whose chaw would only kill him one day.

You organized your baseball cards into teams, the teams into leagues, American and National.

There was a baseball card war going on between Topps and Bowman.

Steve Hayward had the best collection. His dad had played pro baseball. His dad had a first baseman’s mitt. It was long and flapped over.

A catcher’s mitt was like a round pillow.

A fungo bat was to hit high fly balls.

You had to figure out what position you were going to play, so you knew which mitt to get. If there was a track and field meet, you had to figure out which events to enter. You had to know where to line up on the football field, what spot you had in the batting order, your position on a basketball team. You had to know that, or you didn’t even know what you were.

The top contenders for the Oak Park little league crown were Village Savings and Suburban Bank. The VS team wore blue. The SB team wore green.

Billy Novolio of Village Savings had pitched a no-hitter in the first game of the season and hit two home runs.

If you could play pinners, you could play baseball.

Real baseball? You mean hardball?

Hardball. Yeah. In the League. League ball. You know, cowhide, with seams, with stitching.

Yeah. It’s hard.

You played tee-ball, didn’t you? How’d you do?

I didn’t even know what I was doing.

You hit the ball?

Sure. It’s sitting right there on the tee. You can’t miss it. Well, if you did miss it, that was just strike one.

So, you missed it?

I never struck out.

Tee-ball. Guys’d whack the hell out of the tee, miss the ball altogether, and the ball would dribble off the tee and the ump would yell “In play!” and Eddie Sullivan, the pitcher, would gobble it up and throw to first for the out. But not this time.

Tee-ball was a blur for Danny, He didn’t even know the rules. And here he was going out for the League, going to the try-outs, and the try-outs were a blur. Danny couldn’t hit live pitching, are you kidding? With a hardball, a league, and all the other kids were two years older than he was anyway, he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t make the team. And the League season started without Danny.

In the summer of 1962 Danny’s little league team won the Village Championship. To call it Danny’s team is somewhat misleading. It was the little league team that Danny was on.

In 1962, in the summer, Danny was just 10, when out of the blue he was called up to the League, the Little League, to play for the Village Savings team, even though the season was nearly half-over, because the Village Savings’ star pitcher, Billy Novolio, who had already pitched two no-hitters, was discovered to have turned 13 years old and was ineligible.

You got called up?

Yeah.

You got called up?

Danny had played t-ball, but never real baseball. He didn’t even know the rules. He sort of knew the rules. He knew three strikes and you’re out, but that was about it.

It was pure luck that carried Danny to that baseball trophy, but it was his luck. Danny had good luck. Mary recognized it and gave him the feeling that it was somehow his birth right, his luck, but, more than that, Mary felt he was blessed. Of course, Danny’s team won the village championship, even though Danny had almost nothing to do with it, his only value to the team was filling out the roster. What did that matter – it was a trophy, wasn’t it?

The reason Dan was on the team was that somebody found out Billy Novolio was too old and was ineligible, and Danny was the only player the coach could find to fill the roster spot.

Why’d he replace a kid who had just pitched a no-hitter with a kid who couldn’t play?

He could play a little.

He couldn’t hit.

Lots of guys can’t hit. Billy Novolio wasn’t much of a hitter

But he was the best pitcher in the league.

Dan was 10 years old, and everybody else was 12. He was out of his league.

If you were a red-blooded American boy in the middle of the 20th century, you loved baseball – even if the ball itself scared you, even if you couldn’t hit worth a lick and you didn’t have much of an arm, couldn’t make that throw from deep in the hole at short.

Neither could Ernie Banks.

Andre Rogers replaced Banks at short, and the Cubs moved Banks to first, where he would hardly have to make any throws.

Even if you couldn’t do any of that, you could still run the bases.

Athletes were human beings at the peak of their physical powers, and it seemed to Danny that having attained such a state of grace they had entered a timeless moment of perfection and they hovered there. It had come from somewhere in the legendary past and the time of heroes and the time of Babe Ruth, so that when Danny came upon this world of baseball and there was Willie Mays and baseball cards and gloves and bats and balls and base-paths to run and bases to steal, and Nellie Fox always had a plug of tobacco puffing up his cheek and it was fixing to kill him one day, and Danny had no idea where it had all come from, that the Giants and Dodgers had deserted New York and left it to the Yankees.

The next step up from little league was pony league and Dan could see right away he was never going that far. The ball was too hard. It hurt your hand when you caught it. If you didn’t catch the ball in the web of your glove and it hit you right on the bone above your palm, it hurt like hell, and you’d catch it and make your throw as quick as you could and then whip your glove off and rub your hand and shake it, as if you could shake the pain out. Dan liked playing with a rubber ball better, playing pinners off the front steps, and nothing could get by him, not line drives, hot smashes, pop-ups, and when a grounder was hit sharply it might take a short hop or an odd bounce, Danny was all over it. He got a jump on the ball and gobbled it up. There was no better infielder than Dan among all the Clarence Alley Boys, and that included Gump, who did everything perfectly, but was neither as quick nor as fast as Dan, and John Duff, who was quick as a cat but just as lazy. Dan played shortstop when the Boys hung out and played softball at Fox Park, 16-inch softball, and sometimes there were only enough guys to play pitcher’s hands and right field was out. You didn’t use a mitt when you played 16-inch, and the Boys usually used a battered ball that had been softened up a little and wasn’t hard as a rock like a brand new 16-inch. Dan could play softball and Dan could play with a rubber ball, but Dan could not play Little League, let alone Pony League, because Danny was a baby. Still, he knew what it felt like to play shortstop, and so he could watch a game and enjoy it, experience it vicariously, and he could idolize Maury Wills and Louis Aparicio and Nellie Fox. Dan could move the way they did and he could picture himself doing what they did. Dan was delusional, but he was also loving a game and learning from it.

The Village Championship was decided in a three-game series held at Ridgeland-Commons field, on the dividing line, Lake Street, between north and south Oak Park. Village Savings, the champions of the South, versus, Fair Oaks Pharmacy, the champs of the North. It was an economic division too, the north being significantly more affluent, more like River Forest, while south oak Park was more like Berwyn and Forest Park.

Village Savings won the first game and was comfortably ahead in the second and on its way to the championship, when Danny finally got a chance to play. He took the field at second base and watched a strikeout and a flyball caught in the outfield bring his team within an out of the championship, when a hot grounder came at him.

You don’t tag second when there’s nobody on first.

Nicest pick-up I’d ever seen.

The coach really say that?

Then he starts shaking his head.

What were you thinking, Danny?

I don’t know.

The kid makes the nicest pick-up I’ve ever seen, and then for some unknown reason he races over, and he touches second base. There was nobody on first base. There was nobody on first base, Danny.

I know.

Now you know. Did you know then? Because it looked you thought you were going to force the runner on first going to second – but there was no runner on first, you get it?

Yeah.

We were about to win the game.

I know.

All you had to do was make the easy throw to first.

Instead he had sailed the ball into the dugout. His own dugout.

He still had him. He still had the guy, the batter. The kid runs over and tags second, who knows why, even he doesn’t know why, but he’s still got time to throw the guy out. Everybody’s yelling at him to throw it to first, and he sails it into the dugout,

The rest of the game was a blur. They didn’t get out of the inning till Fair Oaks won the game and tied the series.

Village Savings would win the deciding game and the Village Championship, while Dan watched safely from the same dugout he sailed the ball into the game before. Dan “won” a trophy. A gold trophy.

You had to be good to win a trophy, right?

You had to be on the winning team.

You had to be good to be on the winning team, right?

No.

But you were probably good. The last guy on the bench for the Celtics had a championship ring. Maybe he was a sorry player compared to Bill Russell, but he was on the team for a reason and probably the reason was that he was pretty good.

The Sweet Science

Boxing.

What was it about boxing?

There doesn’t have to be anything about boxing – it just is. It is the primitive social interaction, as natural as running, and so it fell naturally into Dan’s purview of the sports he played and loved: running and jumping – track and field, baseball and softball, football, basketball, ice hockey. The Clarence Alley Boys played everything.

Dad mounted a hoop on the back of the garage in the alley of the Euclid house – you’d bang into the wall of the garage every time you drove for a lay-up. There were hoops mounted on the sides of garages in the alleys all across town, and Dan would take his ball and head out and go from one to the next, shoot a few, and move on, or wait till he finally heard another ball bouncing and someone else showed up to play.

You wanna play?

This was the sports world, the true world, where you could put a stopwatch on somebody and the result would be true, there could be no bullshit about it. That was how fast you were. That was how high you could jump. That was how many points you scored. These were the trophies you won. There were the guys you beat and the guys you couldn’t beat and then there was everybody else that you’d have to find out.

The fighters were fighting their way out through the 20th century, from John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim all the way back to the Marquis of Queensbury and blasting forward to Jack Johnson. 

Rocky Marciano thought the greatest fighter who ever lived was Jack Dempsey. But who could dispute what Joe Louis had done?

Bum of the month? Louis took out a top contender every month or so for a decade. Then he retired and should’ve stayed retired, but he didn’t.

Jersey Joe Walcott surprised Ezzard Charles to take the heavyweight crown on July 18, 1951. He promised to give Charles a rematch the following summer, which left Rocky Marciano to fight the great Joe Louis to be next in line. Neither Marciano nor Louis wanted the fight.

The Louis-Marciano fight was planned for the Polo Grounds, but Bobby Thompson messed that up, so it was on for the Garden on October 26, 1951. Dan was five weeks old. Liz Taylor was at ringside. Louis was 6-2, 212. Marciano was 5-10, 187.

The Brown Bomber’s legs quit on him and his punch was gone, and in the 8th round Rocky knocked him down, then knocked him down again, and not just down, but, humiliatingly for them both, Rocky pummeled Louis while he was hung up on the ropes, and then knocked him clear out of the ring, except for one leg that trailed after him as he fell and rested on the bottom rope as he was counted out. Jesus.

Rocky Marciano was going to defend his belt for the sixth time.

Big deal. When you get to about two dozen let me know. Because that’s what the Brown Bomber did.

But Rocky was going to quit on top, undefeated, 49-0.

September 1951 – August 1969. 18 years, during which time Truman was followed by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, five presidents in all, Rocky Marciano retired, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott took turns at the title, Ingemar Johansson wound up with it, knocking out Floyd Patterson, and then Patterson won it back, only to be humiliated twice by Sonny Liston, who was in turn humbled twice, most mysteriously, by Cassius Clay, who turned into Muhammad Ali, whose license was suspended when he refused to be drafted into the Army in the middle of the Vietnam War, and  in the beginning George Mikan was tearing up the NBA, clearing guys out with his forearm and hooking with either hand, winning five titles and then retiring, like the Rock, the two white champs, short and tall, champions of the black and white era, and then color arrived, Elgin Baylor making moves that were hard to believe, and then Wilt the Stilt, who made it even harder to believe what you were seeing, and then Bill Russell and the Cooz to more than match them, and during that span, the Celtics won eleven times!

The Cubs, Jesus, the Cubs.    

There was nothing in the sports world that could ever bring peace, because its essence was turbulence, volcanic energy. Emotions would have to come into play. Bullies would win, the strong would survive and even if you managed to make it to the top, it would only be to discover that it was all an illusion, and you would have your license taken away or you would die in a plane crash. Sports ended where it met reality.

On August 8, 1957, Cassius Clay was stabbed by his father while trying to protect his mother. Stabbed in the ass.

Don Dunphy was announcing Rocky’s fights on the radio.

Rocky Marciano was the Heavyweight Champion of the World, the only undefeated heavyweight champion ever. Marciano was a white guy, not even six feet tall, short-armed, but he had beaten an over-the-hill Joe Louis, who had been as good as there ever was, to claim the title, and he had beaten Jersey Joe Walcott and all the top contenders, everybody who stepped into the ring with him, and then he got the hell out of the ring before Sonny Liston could come along and decapitate him.

He still had more fights left in him. Why couldn’t he fight Patterson? You don’t think people would pay to see Rocky Marciano fight Floyd Patterson for the title?

Rocky said he was going to stay retired.

He could’ve retired. And he could’ve just not told anybody he was retired.

After a period of time he would be compelled to face a challenger.

This goes back to Beowulf.

Rocky Marciano, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world. He’s right. They can never take that away from him. And nobody can beat it.

Unless you can win 50.

And quit. And that’s never gonna happen.

It might.

Cassius Clay is undefeated.

It’s February 1961, and Clay is in Miami training, he’s only had four fights, and they were against nobodies, and guess who shows up to train right there? Ingemar Johansson. He’s in training to fight Floyd Patterson.

Ingo can’t believe what he sees.

Six title defenses for the Rock, that’s not enough.

It’s not bad. It’s six and oh. How many times do you have to prove yourself?

Patterson – Marciano, there’s a fight.

Make that Marciano – Johansson.

The boxing world was corrupt and crooked, that was a fact, but that wasn’t because it was integrated, it was because the Mafia was behind it, and the same forces that swung secret deals with managers and robbed the gate and paid Jake LeMotta to take a dive, fixed most of Rocky’s run, not in the outcome, but in the profits, and they were the same crooks backing Sonny Liston.

Let’s see Marciano fight Liston.

Ray Arcel was beaten with a lead pipe by one of Frankie Carbo’s goons.

Rocky is the Mafia’s dreamboat, the toughest guy in the world.

In with the Mafia means in with the cops.

The Mafia was in with Batista in Cuba. Then Batista was out, so the Mafia hatched a plan with the CIA to kill Castro.

When Danny was born in 1951, Sonny Liston was in jail and wouldn’t get out until Danny was nearly seven.

If Rocky really did quit, it’s a miracle. He is blessed. He quit at just the right time. He beat everybody.

They’re gonna have a toonament to see who’s the next champ.

And whoever it is won’t be the real champ because he didn’t beat a champion to become a champion.

But if Rocky quits, he quits.

He can’t quit.

Retires.

Rocky had beaten Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Archie Moore.

Joe Louis was old, past his prime. He had to come back because he was broke, and he was deep in debt to the IRS.

There was a distinctly different tone to the boxing world after Benny Kid Parret was killed on TV. Danny and Schweez watched it together, a man being killed with punches.

Benny Kid Parrot was killed by Emille Griffin in the ring, and it was plain to see what a pitiable thing boxing had wrought, and yet it would never die.

Floyd Patterson versus Sonny Liston, the fight that would send Dan to Hell.

What was it about that fight? What was it about the transistor radio? There had never been a more wonderful invention in the history of man than the transistor radio.

Floyd Patterson was a nice guy. Anybody could see that.

Because Floyd Patterson was a good man, and Sonny Liston was a bad man, made all the sense in the world if you were about 8 years old, like Danny. There was no appreciation of the sweet science anywhere else in the house, in the neighborhood, in Oak Park, because the heavyweight championship of the world was a contest between two Black men.

No one was the least bit shy about using the n-word. They might not go around shouting it in public, that was low class, but it might certainly pop up in a normal private conversation, or, more directly as in: The so-and-sos are selling their house to n-words. That was when the thing had to be confronted, had to be stopped. An all-white neighborhood was one thing, an all-white school was another, an all-white church, all-white churches, so, ok, all-white town, so who’s going to object to the private use of the n-word, when the entire environment had been erected to exclude Blacks?

Ruth, their colored maid, visited once a week to clean, until his mother caught her stealing and had to let her go.

Bullshit.

Danny stole all the time. Danny was a thief, a petty thief, stealing the loose change his father left next to his wallet and keys, Danny even stole candy bars from a store, and he was consumed with shame and guilt, and so was Floyd Patterson, slinking away from the fight in disguise, humiliated, knocked out by Sonny Liston in the first round. Patterson had packed a disguise in his bag before the fight – fake beard and mustache – in preparation for the eventuality that he might lose. He thought ahead.

Terry Ross’s dad got mugged and that turned the whole Ross family virulently racist. Danny’s dad was downtown, heading home after work, and had just taken a seat on the el when a Black man reached through the window from the platform and tried to grab the watch from off his wrist, unsuccessfully, only nobody in the family would think of calling him a Black man, no, they said nigger, it was right there, anytime, anywhere, under your breath if need be, but audibly too, aloud, to the point where kids said it so much, even if you were racist you got sick of hearing it, and didn’t want to say it yourself. It was like they were obsessed with it. Couldn’t they think about anything else? Who goes around thinking about Negroes all day? Because, in Danny’s world, you could easily go years without seeing a Black person in person.

Emmett Till left Chicago for a short vacation with his cousins in Money, Mississippi, and he came back in an open casket with his face so mushed up and misshapen, eyes about to pop out, and young Cassius Clay looked and looked at the newspaper photos of Emmett Till lying in a box like that.

It was getting harder and harder to fight Communism, since the Reds’ propaganda machine could whip up worldwide outrage at the blatant racism in America, so racists like little Danny here took the assimilationist mode of thinking and cheered for Floyd Patterson to beat Sonny Liston, while the segregationists like his mom and dad turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the whole sordid affair, even as it unfolded a few miles away on the south side of Chicago in Comiskey Park. It was September 25, 1962, and Danny had just turned 10. It was his little brother Brendan’s fifth birthday.

Danny had taken on a general cast of guilt about his little brother’s predicament, a guilt as heavy as the one the nuns and priests laid on everybody, that of Original Sin, and so it was God’s will and Danny’s sin intertwining when he laid his head on his pillow that night and there was his transistor radio underneath.

The fight lasted a little more than two minutes. It began briskly. Patterson may have been outsized, but he could really pack a punch. He had a left hook that he threw from out of his crouch and it landed like a bomb when it connected with a jaw, as it did Johansson.

Ingemar Johansson?

No joke.

A Swede?

He was no joke.

Well, Rocky Graziano thought the whole heavyweight division was a joke after Rocky Marciano retired.

Wops.

Dagos.

Danny could picture it, listening to the blow by blow account through his pillow.

What’s the big deal with the kid listening to the fight on the radio, with the radio under the pillow, nobody can even hear it, who’s it going to bother?

It comes on too late, that’s all. Danny cannot take that radio to bed with him, he’ll be awake all night.

There were also religious and moral objections which just happened to dovetail nicely with racism.

Danny was awake all night.

Patterson had been given a pep talk by no less than President Kennedy. All right-minded, red-blooded Americans were counting on him to beat Sonny Liston.

President Kennedy also wanted James Bond to pitch-hit for us in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Kennedy had put his hand on Floyd’s shoulder and whispered to him that America was counting on him to beat Liston. It was overwhelming.

Eddie Machon wasn’t the fighter Patterson was, and he stayed with Liston, but Machon was elusive, a slick boxer, who made a point of avoiding being knocked out. On the other hand, Patterson was going for a knockout himself, despite having packed a fake beard in with his gear to wear as a disguise in case he should lose.

Who does that? Who prepares a disguise to escape in disgrace after defeat?

He knew he was going to lose..

Patterson came out ducking and throwing that hook. He wasn’t going to run and hide.

Liston kept coming forward too. They were going to fight. They were going to move in and throw punches.

Patterson was doing just fine, ducking and weaving, looking for an angle to launch that lethal hook that took Johansson out, until he mistimed his duck, and ducked right into Liston’s uppercut, adding his own momentum to the force of the blow. It rocked him. It stood him up. He tried to grab hold and clinch. He’d been able to do that just a moment earlier when he found himself within Liston’s long reach in the center of the ring, it was simple then, but somehow now, even though the fight had just begun, it seemed to require more energy than he could muster. How much time was left in the round? Maybe he could weather it. He tried to cover up and he got hit again, and this one he hardly saw coming, just caught it out of the corner of his eye, something black.

Once Liston stood Patterson up with that uppercut, it was easy pickings. He nailed Patterson good with a left hook and it was lights out. Sonny Liston was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. It was a school night, and the fight came on too late. There was no moral dilemma. Danny felt just as shameful and guilty as Patterson, with the important exception that Danny could just put that persona aside, the one that identified with Floyd Patterson, and he could identify with a completely different hero, but he would never be able to shake the feeling that he had caused Floyd Patterson to lose that fight in Comiskey Park by disobeying his mother, who had told him not to listen to that fight on his transistor radio, and this was God’s punishment, to live in an evil world where Sonny Liston was Heavyweight Champion. This was a dark time. It was a dark time for Sonny Liston too – he had his own demons and lethal enemies, and he was not long for this world and was due in a short time to meet a violent end, while Patterson had only begun his humiliation. First, Liston beat the living daylights out of him again, and then he would make the mistake of incurring the wrath of the Greatest of All Time.

Danny was convinced he was the cause of his little brother’s condition, and from there it would not be a long jump to thinking that he was responsible for Floyd Patterson losing the heavyweight championship to Sonny Liston.

It had not been due to Danny that Patterson had won the title, of course. That was the fault of Ingemar Johannsen.

Cassius Clay won the Olympic gold medal in 1960 in Rome as a Light Heavyweight. He ended up throwing the medal into the Mississippi River. Cassius Clay was re-inventing boxing. He had a new style all his own.

Joe Frazier and Floyd Patterson both depended on ducking blows. Not a bad strategy, considering there is no hitting below the belt, so you could just duck in and out of your peekaboo sanctuary, and keep moving, always a threat to pop up with a hook packed with all the momentum and power of your legs, and wham! Trouble was the whole thing had to be timed just so, or you would duck right into an uppercut, which is what happened to Patterson twice, and to Frazier, six times in one round, when he ran into George Foreman.

Clay had an entirely different method altogether, and one which met with the complete contempt of the boxing establishment. Instead of the traditional, time-tested attack of the duck and weave, Clay used his height, reach, quickness, and speed to back away from punches, pulling his head out of harm’s way. Clay would lean back out of reach from even the longest jab, and with dancer-like footwork he effortlessly side-stepped hooks, while uppercuts were entirely eliminated from the opponent’s arsenal as pointless – you were swinging at air.

Cassius Clay. His name was Cassius Clay.

Danny was taken with the name. Cassius Clay. There was a name for you. In Shakespeare, Julius Caesar tells us, “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.” And Cassius Clay did have a lean and hungry look. He was a light heavyweight. The assumption was that as you moved up in the weight classes, there might be an increase in power, but there was likely to be a diminishment of speed and agility, yet Clay defied all of that.

What could make Danny care again about boxing after Liston had destroyed Patterson – twice?

The second time, after the exact same thing happened, Patterson became a joke.

You could go from hero to joke in about 2 minutes and 11 seconds.

Mary was right. Danny was awake all night. After the fight ended, two minutes and ten seconds into the first round, Danny switched off the transistor radio under his pillow and lay in the darkness with his thoughts. Why had he not imagined this? Why was he shocked? Because he thought that since Eddie Machon had gone the distance with Liston, and Machon was nowhere near the fighter that Patterson was, that it was going to be a fight.

Cassius Clay met Malcolm X in June of 1962.

Liston won the title in September of 62, defended it by demolishing Patterson again in July of 63, and then in late February of 64 he fought Cassius Clay.

Sonny Liston is going to kill that kid. You see what he did to Patterson? That left hook is lethal, and he’s go the stiffest jab in the world, and he’s got the reach.

In 1964, as Liston was getting ready to fight Clay, Marciano stopped by the gym where Liston was training.

Hey, Rocky, what do you think you would’ve done with me?

I duno.

I know what I would’ve done with you.

Rocky wanted to fight him right there and then.

Yeah, right.

Liston was getting more than a million to fight Clay.

On March 6, 1964 Elijah Muhammad renamed Cassius X: Muhammad Ali.

The war was between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.

Malcolm would find out the hard way, but was it really any surprise that Cassius Clay would trick-fuck you?

Cassius Clay fought Doug Jones on March 13, 1963 in NYC. Clay had beaten up old Archie Moore in his last fight.

Clay predicted Jones would fall in six, then amended it to four, but Jones lasted all ten. Clay laughed: 6 + 4.

Cassius Clay was shaking Liberace’s hand on the Jack Paar Show, and he started to go down on his knees at the supposed force of Liberace’s grip.

Liston and Clay were training to fight each other when Kennedy was shot.

Malcolm X said, “That devil is dead.”

Liston had watched Clay and was convinced he had no punch, no power. “He’s a fag, and I’m a man.”

But it was more than that.

Clay said, “If a man thinks you’re crazy, he’ll think twice before he acts, because he figures you’re liable to do anything.”

Hamlet’s logic.

“In the year of the Beatles, 1964, it is right that Cassius Clay fights Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. It is the time of the freak on earth. You see it all and watch it happen, but you can’t believe it. It belongs in the territory of dreams.”

Jimmy Cannon meant to be sarcastic, but he was right. That was exactly where it was headed, into the territory of Dan’s dreams.

Sunday, February 9, 1964, the Beatles were appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Ringo wondered, “Where the fuck is Clay?”

John said: “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Then Clay burst into the room. “Hello there, Beatles.”

Liston at 218, a big heavyweight.

Clay at 210, bulked up from his Olympic gold at light heavyweight.

Clay was faster than Liston could have imagined, and immediately sliced his face open and closed one eye with jabs he recognized only afterward, bewildered, disconcerted, sitting on hit stool before the seventh round and complaining that his shoulder was fucked up too, and so in Miami on February 25, 1964 Cassius Clay became the heavyweight champion of the world.

Clay said the next day, “I don’t have to be what you want me be to be. I’m free to be who I want.”

The sixties saw Cassius Clay turn into Muhammad Ali.

Nobody ever asked to be a slave. Nobody ever asked to be snatched out of their home and strapped down and shipped to another continent. Neither did anybody ever want to be born into slavery. All it proved was that it didn’t matter what you asked for. All that free labor, the source of primitive accumulation.

“Your father isn’t here to pay his debts, and my father isn’t here to collect. But I’m here to collect, and you’re here to pay.” Malcolm X

On March 2, 1964, Cassius Clay announced his name as Cassius X.

Clay failed the military intelligence test.

“I finished Louisville Central high school, but I wasn’t very bright. I was in the Golden Gloves and didn’t have time for studies.”

Then the Army drafted him anyway.

Sometimes Cassius got confused and called himself Cassius X. Clay.

Does the X replace your middle name?

X is what the slave master was called.

What?

Elijah Muhammad gave Cassius X the name Muhammad Ali on March 7, 1964. Giving him the name was Elijah Muhammad’s way of bonding him and separating him from Malcolm X.

Then there was the draft.

Ali would not step forward and be drafted.

What he believes.

What is he, religious?

Elvis went into the Army.

We weren’t fighting a war then.

Ted Williams. Jimmy Stewart. Lots of guys.

“War is against the teachings of the holy Koran. I am not trying to dodge the draft. We are supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or the Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of unbelievers,” said Clay.

Clay was going to go to trial in June 1967.

Jesus Christ, Patterson was a Catholic, and after Clay beat Liston and started going by Cassius X, Patterson vowed to crusade against him.

“Violence and hate are part of the prize-fighter’s world, Clay’s and mine,” Floyd Patterson said. “Promoters pay us to get in the ring and act out other people’s hates.”

Ali’s rematch with Liston was set to go in spring or early summer of 64, but Ali came down with appendicitis and the fight was postponed till the spring of 65. Malcolm was assassinated. That was just the start of the killing.

Muhammad Ali was not the least bit afraid of Sonny Liston. Cassius Clay had been afraid of Sonny Liston. Ali did not fear any man, except Elijah Muhammad, who was the Messenger of Allah.

In late May of 65 Liston got his ass kicked again by Clay, who was now known as Muhammad Ali. Then, on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in 65, not even five months after beating Liston for the second time, Ali beat Patterson in Vegas. The three of them had gone around and around with one another and now Ali was on top, the king, the rightful ruler, like King Arthur or King David.

The Ali-Liston rematch was so rigged it was funny. Sonny Liston took a dive so obviously, so awkwardly, he plainly had no idea how it was even supposed to be done, like a bad actor in a B-movie: Oh shit, I gotta fall down, right? And then he got up and realized he got up too soon, so he plopped down again, and when he was counted out, he stood right up, not sweating, not even breathing hard. It was bullshit, and he knew it was bullshit and he knew that everyone could see that it was bullshit.

It was comical. Ali flicked a little right-hand semi-bolo punch under Liston’s arm, and Liston jumped onto the floor. Jersey Joe Walcott, who was the referee, wandered around the ring when it happened like he didn’t know what he was doing either. He didn’t count Liston out. Somebody else counted Liston out, and they had to tell Jersey Joe to count, because he was letting the fight begin again.

Ali defended his crown five times in 1966. He defended it in back-to-back months one time.

“It’s either get rich in three hours or get poor in eight,” Ali philosophized.

“When a man is hanging on a tree, should he cry out unemotionally? When a man is sitting on a hot stove and he tells you how it feels to be there, is he supposed to speak without emotion? This is what you tell black people in this country when they begin to cry out against the injustices they’re suffering. As long as they describe these injustices in a way that makes you believe you have another hundred years to rectify the situation, then you don’t call that emotion. But when a man is on a hot stove, he says: I’m getting up. Violently or nonviolently doesn’t even enter into the picture. I’m getting up.”  Malcolm X

Ali completely turned on Malcolm, knowing Malcolm would be killed.

Killed. Things were now a long way from getting knocked down by a left hook.

February 26, 1964, Ali preaches in the Chicago Coliseum on Wabash Avenue. He preaches against Malcolm X. He said that Malcolm was a hypocrite who got what he deserved.

The Black Muslims weren’t going to stop chasing Malcolm X till they killed him, unless the CIA got there first. The voice on the phone was insistent: You are a dead nigger.

Malcolm X was shot to death in the Audubon Ballroom.

In ‘65 Ali humiliated Patterson.

What’s my name?

In ‘69 Ali and Rocky filmed their computer match. Rocky did the best he could to get in shape for the stupid thing, and he wore a rug. They shot for three days in January and two more in July, all in Miami.

Ali felt a measure of Rocky’s punching power, maybe, when a body shot about brought him to his knees.

I want an extra two grand for that.

Ali baffled Rocky with his speed. He could jab Rocky at will and cut him to pieces if he felt like it and Rocky would never be able to catch him.

But Marciano beat Ali in the computer fight. What a joke.

Rocky was taking off in a small plane from Midway, bound for Des Moines, Iowa, as a favor for Frankie One Ear Fratto. The pilot was new at this, had to fly strictly by the instruments, he couldn’t see worth shit in the rain and mist and clouds.

Rocky dead at 46.

Look, even Rocky would tell you that to be undefeated you have to be a little lucky. Eventually your luck is going to run out.

Rocky Marciano beat up on some old black men and then he got out of the game, but he didn’t live to be as many years old as he had wins in the ring.

On July 24, 1969, Muhammad Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion.

 In the Ascension after-school boxing program, the weight classes began at 82-pounds. Danny was one of the two little guys who would battle it out for the lightweight crown, to see who would bring home the gold boxing-glove trophy. Like Greek warriors battling to the death, all glory was made real, tangible, beautiful, and obtainable in the form of a trophy.

You did roadwork, you wore combat boots and a gray sweatshirt with a hood, and a towel wrapped around your neck, and a wool-cap, and sweatpants, and it was hot out.

A couple of 82-pounders, wearing 16-ounce gloves.

Danny would’ve won Best Boxer that night – if only he hadn’t knocked Tom Deering down. The judges wanted to give the Best Boxer trophy to someone who won a close contest between two evenly-matched fighters, solely on the basis of their boxing skills, not their punching power.

Danny was on his way to just such a victory in his next, and final, fight against Larry Lattimer, when he surrendered to his instincts and allowed the fight to degenerate into a slugfest, which he knew he was bound to lose, but at least it would look like he tried. If you swarmed each other and flailed away, both of you would land blows and one of you would get the better of it, but neither of you would be able to wind up or swing with enough space or leverage to do much harm. It was just ugly to watch, the kind of fight that someone would just break up and tell you to go home – and Larry Lattimer clearly won, so, instead of going home that night with two gold trophies – one for winning the fight, and the other for winning the fight the only way he could have won the fight, by being the Best Boxer – Danny was going home with a silver trophy, emblematic of losing.

In the Silver Gloves, one fighter wore gold trunks, the other wore blue, but they were of two different styles – the blue trunks were shorter, and the gold were long, too long for the style then, and everybody wanted to wear the blue. Danny was assigned to the gold corner and wore the gold trunks. He didn’t like them. They were too long.

Ascension’s colors were blue and gold, like UCLA, only the Ascension blue was bluer, probably, Danny thought, because of being Catholic.

When Danny got called up to play on the Jayvee basketball team, he sat on the bench in his uniform the whole game. He never got in. He didn’t get to play one minute, not one second.

Danny wore the gold trunks in both fights. The fight with Larry Lattimer was a disaster, but Danny knew it would be a disaster. He knew he would lose, just as he had known he would beat Tom Deering.

Just a matter of confidence.

Failure of imagination.

Danny didn’t fight like Cassius Clay, but he did fight like a boxer, not a slugger. He felt and understood the sport of it, that it was movement and dance and art, not mere brute force and animosity. It was the same as Steal the Bacon, speed, quickness, guile, scoring points, landing punches, it didn’t matter how hard, just how many.

You gonna sign up for boxing?

Hell yeah.

Get your ass kicked.

I don’t care.

You wore the headgear, padding all around your head, and the 16-ounce gloves were full of padding, and it took a straight shot to the nose to really hurt you, although you could get whammed upside your head pretty good too. Mostly guys just squared off and started slugging, giving as good as they got.

In the gym at Ascension, late afternoon sunlight angling through the high windows in shafts, matts on the gym floor, the ring wouldn’t get set up till the night of the fights.

The Ascension Silver Gloves Boxing Tournament on a Friday night in spring in the school gym, the 10th annual. The Silver Gloves was in the spring. May was the month of Mary.

Boxing matches. Boxing. Catholic school. It was a natural. Irish-Catholics. Danny McDwyn versus Tom Deering.

The Deering twins. Well, one pair of Deering twins. There were two pair, one boys, one girls, you know, Catholic. It didn’t matter, Tom or Gerry. Danny knew he could beat both of them.  Gerry was tougher, but Tom was the better athlete.

You wouldn’t find out who you were fighting until after the try-outs and all the practices. In practice you would fight different guys. Some guys weren’t good enough to fight on fight night. That was just the way it was. Not everybody got to fight on fight night.              

It’s called a tournament.

Some guys say toonament. Which is it?

You don’t know anything. A tournament. A tourney. You know, like jousting.

This is a tournament. They were having a tournament and it devolved quickly into two combatants at each weight class for the championship. Danny was matched up against Tom Deering in the second-lightest weight class., not the littlest guys, the second littlest. In the heavyweight matchup Jimbo Bilkinson would go up against Tom O’Leary, the behemoth, tipping the scales at something like 140.

Danny wanted to wear the short blue trunks, not the long gold ones, but he got stuck with the gold both times, first against Tom Deering, then against Larry Lattimer a year later.

You could stand flat-footed and trade punches, which required no special skill, just power and durability, or you could move, circle away from your opponent, out of reach, attack with straight jabs and crosses, dancing, back-pedaling.

Three rounds, three minutes each, a minute rest between rounds. The sparring sessions gave everyone a notion of the energy expended in fighting someone for that period of time, but somehow in the practice of it, the passage of time was not a concern. For one thing, there was no bell, just a voice, saying: “time”, and there might be stoppages, interruptions for advice or admonishment, and there were no ropes – just the edges of the mats as boundaries, and it was in the afternoon, with shafts of sunlight pouring into the gym through the high windows, and only some kids and Coach Crowley watching. But on fight night with the entire focus of the gym resting on the raised ring that you had to mount stairs to get to and then step between the ropes to enter it, and suddenly time began to matter because this was the moment, the instant, the bell, when time became real.

You thought you were fighting the other guy, and the other guy thought he was fighting you, but when the bell rang you both realized you were fighting time, and you were fighting all by yourself, and while you were absorbed in fighting time, the other guy attacked, like a diversion, a sideshow you had to fend off to concentrate on the real opponent, time, who was kicking the shit out of you.

The first round ended, and Danny had never been so tired in all his life.

It was funny, Danny was cool and in control against Tom Deering, even though it was his first fight. With Tom Deering it was all about boxing, scoring points, but against Larry Lattimer, it was about who was tougher, who would win in a street fight, it was about slugging it out. With Tom Deering, in all the confidence he had from the start that he was going to win, he kept moving, kept jabbing, and, the same way they say you can’t hit a homerun by trying to hit a homerun, so they said, Danny never having actually hit a homerun in all his life, but he believed that was how homeruns were hit, by simply meeting the ball, and he supposed what happened next was something like that. They were boxing each other well, they were both boxers, not sluggers, and that was what it took to win the Best Boxer trophy, one skilled boxer surpassing another skilled boxer by the slightest of margins. Danny wasn’t thinking about that either. If he had he might have pulled that punch that met so perfectly with the slightest hesitation, the one fraction of a second when Tom might have kept circling but instead made the fatal decision to change directions just then, and, pop, down he went, onto one knee, and then popped right back up, but it was too late. It had happened. It was a knockdown, and the great Tony Zale counted out the standing eight count.

Danny McDwyn versus Larry Lattimer. It was a step up in weight class. Danny was no longer one of the littlest guys, he was somewhere near the middle.

The Larry Lattimer fight was just two kids standing there whaling away, pummeling each other, a slugfest, and Danny was getting the worst of it from the beginning, getting hit with the harder shots, getting hit with more shots. He was never close to going down, but neither was he ever close to winning – except for the first round.

The first round went exactly according to plan.

When the bell rang and Danny came out of his corner to fight Larry Lattimer, his fight plan immediately kicked in and he started circling and jabbing and boxing, scoring points, winning, but, all of a sudden, he stopped.

There’s that moment in Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, where the working class hero quits the race in defiance a few feet from the finish line – that would come later, with an ignominious twist, but here Danny stopped boxing and started slugging, knowing he would lose, choosing to lose.

It was a slugfest, but he wasn’t nearly as tired as he had been after having fought Tom Deering – because it wasn’t really much of a contest. They just stood there and whaled away at each other, head-hunters, both of them. No body shots, no movement, no art, just brute force, one young dumb Irishman against another.

Danny was better than that.

Don’t hide your candle under a bucket, Mom would say.

The winner got a gold trophy, the loser silver.

It’s a trophy, isn’t it?

Ascension

Ascension was a Catholic grammar school taught by Ursuline nuns. The school was nestled right alongside the church that had Jesus atop its dome, looking east toward the rising sun and the city of Chicago.

Ascension church and the school had been there since 1912. The priests came first, led by Father McDevitt, the pastor. Four nuns showed up and taught 200 kids. By the 1950s there were a thousand kids going to school at Ascension. The real church building didn’t materialize until 1929. It’s the Depression, and both Fenwick and Ascension called for major outlays of capital. How does that work?

At mass each Sunday, you could read the Dome, a publication listing the Masses to be said for the souls of the dead, and Dan might see there at regular intervals the appearance of his own grandfather, James, Masses to be said for Pop, and how was that done? Someone had made a donation to the church to have Masses said. Pop, who left Derry, Ireland and found his way to America by joining up with the British Army and then deserting when they got to Canada and waltzing across the border into the US, easy as pie, and beguiling and charming his way through entrepreneurships, mostly failed, and the odd deal here and there, to a bungalow on the edge of American prosperity in south Oak Park just half a block from Roosevelt Road and the border between Oak Park and  Berwyn, which was to say between civilization and Bohemia, Land of the Bohunks, whoever they were, something like Pollocks probably. Pop, who had ruefully turned down a get-rich scheme to put in with a barnstorming football team called the Decatur Staleys, unless this was just one of those yarns Pop liked to spin, in his fine brogue, and he favored drink and his general counsel was: A kick in the arse is better than no fight at all. Pop, who would die on the couch in the living room of that bungalow, no hospital nor doctors for him thank you, the Cubs’ game on tv, those bums, and finally he said softly but audibly, Blessed Lady, take my hand, and he was gone.

Paul Lamb was the same age as Danny and just about as good at everything too, but he went to Saint Bernadine’s, not Ascension, and that was a dividing line that cut between them, a border.

You could look through the windows of the kindergarten into the classroom from the courtyard between Ascension church and school and see where Dan had not gone to kindergarten.

Why not?

Just didn’t. He had attended pre-school at Carrol playground, but then Mary decided to keep him at home until the fall of 56, just as Brendan was about to arrive, and then she unceremoniously kicked him out of the house and he went, finally, to school at Ascension.

Mary was having a baby, and Norine, at age 10, was delighted, because she fancied herself the baby’s second mother. She also put herself in charge of Dan, walking him to and from school, where he was the new kid among first graders who had been to kindergarten together and he had not.

By the time she was in eighth grade and Dan was in fourth she would tell him: You embarrass me.

Norine didn’t want to walk home from school with her little brother anymore, from Ascension to the house on Clinton Avenue. She wanted to gossip with her friends, all girls who considered themselves grown up, and he was a little boy. He couldn’t walk home by himself, could he?

He would have to next year – because Norine would be at Trinity in high school and Dan would be in the fourth grade and, presumably, quite mature enough to walk a mile across town by himself.

Why not?

Brendan would never make that walk, because he was not going to follow the same path as his three siblings. He was going to go to public school – because that’s where there were special education classes, which he needed, due to what was being diagnosed as epilepsy, manifested by seizures, and the debilitating effects on his brain, his speech, his coordination caused by the Dilantin he took daily.

No nuns for Brendan. It was the public schools that were equipped for the likes of Brendan. The mission of the good Ursuline nuns was the perfection and polishing of minds that could absorb the Latin of the Mass, whereas public schools were for the masses, including the disabled.

In the Catholic schools, with their nuns in grammar school and their priests in prep school, there was clearly something holding it all together, but in the public schools there was nothing holding it all together, and so it all flew apart. It didn’t just fall apart, it flew apart.

Education at the feet of the nuns at Ascension. But there was also Miss Parelli and Miss Kelly and Mrs. Cannon. At Fenwick there were the priests and monks, and there was one young blond woman, quite pretty, who worked as an assistant in the library, and she never left the library. The students knew she was there, while they were at their desks, that there she was on the floor below, while under their desks a hard-on rose. The priests had to know that as they looked out onto a classroom that at any given moment the desks were hiding perhaps a dozen hard dicks.

When Danny walked through the door at Ascension, the idea that he would be spending the next eight years of his life there, never really entered his head. He knew it, but he had no notion of its impact. He hadn’t even been to kindergarten. Everybody else had.

Nine grades in one building. Kids who were six and kids who were 14 and all the kids between.

It was the fall of 1957, and he would not leave until the spring of 1965.

The kindergartners were in a classroom on ground level alongside the gym, but when you walked into the school from the courtyard or the other side of the building, you had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the first floor, then, second, and third. Grammar school, grades first through eighth.

You came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs and there was a door on the left that went to the kindergarten, and a door on the right that went into the gym, and the whole class would troop down those stairs when it was time for gym, and the other kids were always talking about remember this or remember that from when they’d been in kindergarten together, and Danny just wanted to get to the gym.

The descent down those stairs was always a good time to try to beat the shit out of somebody. Class changes in general were like that.

Danny managed to avoid most of it. He was Mick. He could run, he could play, he was small, but he was tough. He had beaten up a couple guys who pushed things too far on the playground. (No he hadn’t) He could punch and he could move, and, best of all, he could punch and run away, run the hell away.

It was eight blocks from the Clinton house to Ascension, and once Dan took to walking to and from school by himself, he discovered a route that took him through people’s backyards and cut the distance by a good two blocks. Necessity is the mother of invention: he had to pee so bad he would have wet his pants had he gone his regular route.

Gerald Garvin, Chesty Clancy, and Dan were the Three Little Guys, the shortest boys in first grade. Let’s investigate this Napoleon complex. Lenny Bruce handled it pretty well in one of his routines, impersonating a little guy, always pissed off and saying to some big guy, ah, ya big prick! Lenny Bruce would take you through a whole movie in your mind, and then out of his diatribe would emerge a dialogue, suddenly he’s playing two guys talking to one another, or a man and his wife, or himself and his auntie, or Jesus on the cross and the guys being crucified next to him. He imagines these scenes, the thoughts of these characters – the Texas cop aghast as Oswald gets shot by Jack Ruby – Oh Shit-uh!

Dan would close the door to the bedroom he shared with his little brother, whom he barred from entrance most of the time, and set up a table alongside his record player and stack of 45s, and he became a dee-jay playing the week’s top ten.

Eddie LaPoint took the gag a step further. He went public with it, acting as if he were broadcasting wherever he went, catching sight of an imaginary Frank Sinatra crossing the street and calling out to him loudly, Frank! Frank Sinatra! Yo, Frank!

Dan got dressed for school in his Ascension uni – the powder blue shirt and clip-on navy blue tie, the navy blue trousers, cuffless, that he tried to wear the way Paul Warren wore his, above the shoe tops so his white socks showed, because Paul Warren was cool. Paul Warren was the coolest kid at Ascension. He was handsome and athletic and came from a big family of the best south Oak Park Irish-Catholic stock, his father was a lawyer and one of Fenwick’s most honored alums, and there were eight kids in the family. The Clancys were pretty neat too. They had nine kids.

What was neat about having all those kids?

Because their house was like a playground, like Never-Never Land, with kids popping up all over the place all the time.

The Warrens’ house was cool because everything was so well organized – there were lists of chores posted, assigning tasks to the various brothers and sisters, and the house was always clean and uncluttered and the two-car garage was beyond a paved backyard that had been turned into a basketball court and they flooded it in winter and turned it into an ice hockey rink. How cool was that?

The Clancys’ house was cool because it was so unorganized, a towering three-story castle off Jackson Boulevard, overstuffed with kids and toys and games and sports equipment. They only had one more kid in the family than the Warrens, but it seemed like a dozen.

And all the kids went to Ascension, one or more to each grade level. Everybody Dan knew went to Ascension, all the Clarence alley boys. They all lived in the shadow of the dome atop Ascension.

A magical event was about to take place, and everyone was saving their pennies for it. Mission Day was coming, when the entire school would turn into a great carnival, no classes, and the gym became a fair ground, lined with booths of games, prizes, candy, popcorn, soda, to raise money for the Ursuline nuns to cover the earth with the grace of the sacred heart of Jesus.

The Uncle Freddie Show. That was Gas-Man’s idea, to put on a skit he wrote under his pseudonym Bob Newhart for the talent show in the Pine Room on Mission Day. But that’s another story.

Jimbo Kidd was the good Jimbo. Jimbo Wilkinson was the bad. If you’re tough, you’re going to box in the Silver Gloves. They fought it out for the heavyweight championship of Ascension.

When Kennedy was elected Danny was in third grade. He’d already gone from good to bad.

They’re going to have to move you to another class because of your behavior.

And when he got to Miss Kelly’s class he was very good, he was on his best behavior, but he couldn’t sustain it. It was like holding your breath.                                                     

Their grades then in third grade at Ascension went like this: The highest grade was E for Excellent; next was VG for Very Good; then G for Good, then L and Danny never really knew for sure if it stood for Low or Lousy. And then there was the lowest of all, U for Unsatisfactory.

Danny was taking a math test. It was a Very Important Test with all kinds of hard problems on it. And Danny was no good at math anyway. Once it got beyond simple addition and subtraction, it was hard for him to keep the numbers straight. And Danny Boy never was a good bet to get anything higher than a G – a Good grade, a not Very Good grade. But at least Danny had never gotten an L.

But the problem Danny was having with the Very Important Test was not math at all. The problem was he had to go – to the bathroom – and he had to go bad. It was about to be an emergency. And the next step after that was it would be an accident. And Danny didn’t want that to happen no matter what.

Danny found it very difficult to concentrate on math. The numbers were just swimming on the page and he couldn’t begin to figure them out.

The teacher was Miss Kelly, a lay teacher, which meant she wasn’t a nun, but she wasn’t a looker either, like Miss Parelli, who wore lipstick and tight dresses and stockings with a black line that ran from her heel up the back of her leg, presumably to her butt, instead Miss Kelly was a very large woman who wore sleeveless dresses and probably shouldn’t have.

But, finally Danny’s situation got bad enough that he had to ask Miss Kelly if he could be excused to use the restroom. It was an emergency.

Miss Kelly smiled.

I’m sorry, but the test must be completed before you can leave the room.

But Miss Kelly, I have to go.

No, young man. Now sit down.

Danny went back to his desk. He looked at the test. There was only one thing to do: Danny scribbled down a bunch of numbers, shoved the test onto Miss Kelly’s desk and ran to the bathroom.

Thank God, he made it in time.

A week or so later, judgement arrived in the person of Monsignor Fitzgerald himself, a personage of great repute, and height, with bifocals and regal bearing such that Danny had from the first construed his name as Monsignor Prince Gerald, and it was he, no less, who handed out the report cards that day, and when he came to Danny he frowned down at him and shook his head.

Daniel, your Handwriting is Excellent, and your Conduct is . . . Good. But your Mathematics is simply horrendous.

Horrendous? That didn’t sound good.

It was a U. It was the Worst Grade of All Time! Danny had never even gotten a lousy L before. This was bad. His parents were going to murdalize him, so he just put the report card in his desk and acted like nothing had happened, which was good for about 48 hours.

On Sunday morning after church they were having breakfast and discussing the great eloquence with which Monsignor Prince Gerald had delivered his sermon.

And he’s so tall, I had to look straight up to see his face when –

When what?

Talk about stupid, Danny was so stupid, without thinking:

When he handed me my report card.

Where is it?

My report card? I think it’s in my desk.

Bring it home.

When they found out about that U in Math, they were sure to murdalize him, so Danny decided to change the grade. The thing to do would be to make a point at the bottom of the U and turn it into a V and then add a G behind it. But who would believe Danny got a VG in Math?

So, Danny only changed the grade a little, from a U to an L. This was a sin, but it was more a venial sin than a mortal sin, so probably Danny wouldn’t go to Hell for it, only do time in Purgatory, which he was going to have to do time in anyway, so what the Hell?

It was a dumb thing to do, but it got dumber as he went along.

First, Danny put a lot of care into erasing the U.  This was in the days when the teacher would actually write the grades on the report card herself in pen. Danny’s erasure was just about perfect, he thought. Now he had to write in the new grade and it had to look just like the others. This was going to be tricky. First off, he would need a pen just like Miss Kelly’s pen. Even better, he thought, he could Miss Kelly’s pen itself. All he had to do was steal it.

So, he did. He snuck into the classroom at lunchtime and snatched it off her desk.

Later that afternoon Miss Kelly began an inquisition.

She made everybody stand up beside their desk.

Pick up your books and hold them straight out with your arms extended.

Everyone thought she was crazy, but they did what she said.

Now, someone in this room has stolen something. When the thief admits the crime, you may sit down.

They all stood there. They could hear the clock ticking. Their little arms, weighed down with all those books, got sore in a hurry. It got to be a terrible strain. Their arms went numb.

Finally, Charley Dover blurted out: I confess. I took Roger Shaughnessy’s baseball cards.

I don’t care about that. Someone took something of mine!

Miss Kelly’s face was red. Gas-Man, whispered: I bet it wasn’t her deodorant.

Miss Kelly threatened to make everyone stand there with their books held out till their arms fell off if that’s what it took. But pretty soon some girls started to cry, and she let everybody sit down.

After school Danny completed his forgery. He made an L where the U used to be. Then he took his report card home and got the worst licking of his life for getting a lousy L in Math. At least it was the worst licking he ever got until the next one, which came the following day.

The thing Danny didn’t think of was he needed to change the grade back to a U before he turned his report card in with his parents’ signature on it.

Miss Kelly checked the report cards, and that U changed into an L stood out like the red nose on a clown.

Miss Kelly called Danny up to her desk after school.

Who altered this grade?

What grade?

This one.

Gosh. Look at that.

Did you change this grade?

I might have by mistake.

Oh, it was a mistake all right, mister. Because now you’re going to get five demerits and a paddling from Mother Lois. Have you anything to add?

Might as well get it over with, yes. I stole your pen too.

My mother gave me that pen just before she passed away.

Gee, Miss Kelly, I’m sorry.

Give it back to me.

I can’t, Miss Kelly.

Why not?

On account of I sorta threw it away.

You threw it away?

Yes, mam.

Miss Kelly started to cry. The flesh on the back of her arms started to quiver. If Danny could’ve just crawled into a hole then, he would have, but he couldn’t, so instead he touched Miss Kelly on her fat arm. 

I’ll get you a new pen, Miss Kelly.

She looked up at him red-eyed.

And that never happened either. It was true up the point where he stole the pen. But beyond that, bullshit. He made it up to get laughs from Patty Dooley.

Eight years of nuns. Eight years of these women with their faces in white frames, hair hooded, bodies in billowy black so that all you could see of their skin was their face and hands, the rest of them shapeless beneath their habits.

In eighth grade they were changing classes when Freddie Railsbeck elbowed Dan a wicked shot in the mouth and one of his canines stabbed a deep well into his lip that quickly filled up with blood that he had to keep swallowing so no one would know, vowing revenge against Railsbeck, who had preceded his violence by remarking that Danny’s brother was probably going to get killed over there in Vietnam because the gooks like to shoot down helicopters. They’re good at it.

There went that crippled lady, her name was Mary, who used to drag her wretched body with the aid of her walker past their house every single day, no matter the weather, to go to Mass.

The boxing matches, first against Tom Deering, then against Larry Sullivan a year later.

Walt Fitzhugh, the sardonic wit, standing at Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery along with the other patrol boys, quipped: Let’s blow out the eternal flame.

Sufficiently suffullsified?

Paulie Wagner’s mom would joke with the boys as she served them the snacks she’d prepared.

Skipping.

Dan was in the eighth grade and he had about had it with school. It was almost summer, and school was just going on and on like it would never end. It was boring, the same old thing every day, day after day.

The Gas-Man and Paulie Bragner and Dan decided they would skip school one day and go see the Cubs play.

It would be easy. They started school every day by going to gym class. After they dressed out, the coach, old Chrome Dome, took roll by reading everybody’s name, and you had to say here when your name was called. But Chrome Dome never even looked up from his roll book while taking roll. Anybody could call out here; he’d never know the difference.

Paulie turned out was too chicken to skip school. So he would call out here when Chrome Dome said their names.

The bell was ringing back at Ascension as Gas-Man and Dan picked out a bunch of candy at Mollie’s Candy Shop to take with them to Wrigley Field. Then they crossed halfway over the East Avenue bridge atop the Congress Expressway, paid their fifty-five cents, and went through the turnstiles and down the long ramp and got on the train to go to the Cubs game, heading downtown, thrilling to the rumble of the subway, when the train plunged underground, and it got very dark.

We’re under the river right now, Gas-Man said in the dark in the rumbling train.

The train stopped and they wove through the crowd of businessmen and shoppers. They had to transfer from one train to another, and had to go down two flights of stairs, down a long tunnel and onto another platform. Which they did. The Gas-Man knew where he was going. He’d gone to plenty of Cubs games with his dad.

Finally, the train rose out of the subway and they were on the elevated tracks that circle downtown Chicago. The big twisted circle the elevated trains run on is called the Loop and the trains are called ‘el’s .

They got off the el at Wrigley Field on the north side of Chicago. There was a giant marquee that said: Ball Game Today Chicago Cubs versus San Francisco Giants.

It was only three dollars to get into the grandstands, and Gas-Man said those were better seats than the bleachers.

They ran down the aisle to the Cubs’ dugout. There were all the players they’d seen on TV. Ernie Banks – Mister Cub. Sweet-swinging Billy Williams. Ron Santo.

Willie Mays was playing for the Giants then. When he went to bat, he looked so fired up you would’ve thought he’d scare the ball if he didn’t hit it.

There was the green green grass in the middle of the city in early summer, and the ivy on the walls in the outfield, the crackling action, the players larger than life. But, still, a big league game takes a long time. Nine innings. And then the game went into extra innings.

Dan looked at the clock in center field and was surprised and then scared to see that it was already past four o’clock. He would be late getting home. He would be really late getting home.

What’ll I tell my mom, Gas-Man?

Just tell her you stopped off at the library on the way home.

That sounded good. Dan decided to explore the ballpark a little on his own and walked all the way around till he got to a gate that led to the bleachers in center field. He decided to check out the view from the bleachers. It was neat. He walked all the way down the aisle to the ivy-covered wall and the right fielder was about close enough to touch.

But when Dan tried to cross back into the grandstands he couldn’t find his ticket stub, and an usher told him he couldn’t go into the grandstands.

The game finally ended, and the Cubs lost as usual. But Dan could not find his friend Gas-Man anywhere in the crowd. Dan was alone and lost in the city of Chicago.

He walked all the way around Wrigley Field. Twice. It was starting to get dark. Businessmen and shoppers were swarming toward the el platform.

He thought about asking a cop how to get home, but that might lead to more trouble than it was worth. He decided to just get on the el and try to figure it out for himself. How hard could it be?

Getting on the first el was no problem. It circled toward the Loop and plunged underground. When it came to where he would have to transfer from one train to another that was the tricky part. He paid and went through a turnstile and then through the long hallway, up one flight of stairs and then another. But somehow, he ended up on the wrong side of a turnstile where he would have to pay again to get on the train he was sure would take him home.

Maybe they should have bought a two-dollar tickets to the bleachers instead of sitting in the grandstands or bought less candy at Mollies’. It didn’t matter. He had no money to get through that turnstile.

There was only one thing to do. He vaulted over it and ran.

Somebody yelled: Stop! Stop that kid!

A policeman’s whistle blew.

Dan kept on running. He saw the el up ahead and the doors were closing. Dan started saying a prayer in his head that he’d make the el in time, but he stopped praying in the middle of the prayer because he figured God does not help kids skip school and get away with it.

By the time Dan got home it was dark outside.

Where in the world have you been? his mother wanted to know. She was mad, but Dan was glad to see her.

He decided to try Gas-Man’s excuse : I’ve been at the library.

Till now?

Uh-huh.

Well, that’s funny. Gramma says she saw you on TV.

She did?

What she says.

I guess maybe it could’ve been somebody looked like me.

Guess again.

I guess maybe it was me.

Maybe?

It was me all right.

Did you go to school today?

Not exactly.

Not exactly?

Well . . . no.

Where were you?

At the Cubs game.

Thank you.

That was probably the worst part of it really – lying to his mom. Because when you lie to someone, you make what’s true into something false, so that even if you love that person you’re lying to, it’s as if you hate that person because a lie turns what’s true upside down.

I’m sorry, mom.

Not as sorry as you’re going to be.

Dan learned that you could tense up the muscles in your butt and not feel a belt-whipping too bad. He learned that to get to Wrigley Field you had to take the Congress-Milwaukee A train to the Washington stop and then transfer to an Englewood-Howard B train that goes to Addison Street, and most of all what it’s like to be alone and lost in the middle of a big city. It’s not a feeling you forget.

Seven Sides Buzz

22 INDIE STREET

Shamrock McShane is a brilliant actor, and his experience on the stage oozes from his pores.

Watching Shamrock McShane circle around an auditorium pounding out Shakespeare is such a strange thing to say, “is a cool” thing. So is seeing him recite through a mask.

Shamrock McShane vocalizes with your mind.

The Seven Sides Of Shakespeare is DIY filmmaking standing tall. For those who enjoy the style, Miller’s film comes highly recommended. 

JT  IndyRed

Shamrock McShane, the movie’s writer and star, is one hell of an actor. 

I was transfixed, glued to my screen hypnotized by McShane

Part of the charm is the way it’s all put together, but that charm doesn’t even come close to the sound of Shamrock’s voice as he guides us through the film. 

McShane is excellent and has no problem capturing the attention of whoever is watching.

I was mesmerized listening to Shamrock McShane narrate his way from start to finish…

Hemingway sings So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

“I had a wonderful novel to write about Oak Park, but never would because I did not want to hurt living people.” – Hemingway

There were quail and red-tailed foxes on the prairie then. You could find arrowheads, spear heads, even axe heads in mounds made by the Potawatomie along the Des Plaines River.

Ernest Hall, Hem’s grandfather, was a realtor and he retired at 50, quite well to do, had investments.

Grace and Ed Hemingway were Oak Parkers, the two of them had gone to Oak Park High together.

Frank Lloyd Wright was living in Oak Park in 1899 when Hemingway was born.

Hemingway’s first home was a two-story house on Erie Street, impressive because it sported a Queen Anne turret, and Hem was born in that house, and it was his own father, Doc Ed, who delivered him. Beat that.

How fucked up was Hemingway? His mother dressed him like a girl. He had to walk around in a dress till he was like four. Hemingway hated his mother as much as Gas-man hated his. She ruled the roost and she pussy-whipped his dad, who was otherwise manly enough to teach Ernie how to fish and hunt, plus he was a doctor who saved people’s lives, yet pussy-whipped at the same time, and, truth be told, Mama Hemingway was not the least bit attractive, a Margaret DuMont-type out of the Marx Brothers’ movies. She was bent on forcing culture upon young Ernie in her music room, and he wanted to light out for the territories – meaning Summit.

When her father died Grace set her sights on the lot on the corner of Kenilworth and Iowa, a block from Frank Lloyd Wright’s house. When they got ready to move, Ernest was six, and Grace commandeered a bonfire in the backyard and burned up everything she didn’t want, which included all of Doc’s artifacts.

Here was Grace Hemingway’s dream house, built according to her own specification.

Wide lawns, narrow minds.

Hem’s second home, 600 N. Kenilworth, on the corner. Three stories high. The conservatory was acoustically perfect. Grace Hemingway gave recitals and lessons there.

That crack Hem made to Scott Fitzgerald when he said, “The rich are very different from us,” and Hem said, “Yeah, they have more money.”

The fuck was he talking about? He grew up in north Oak Park in a three-story house with turrets and servants.

Ernest, maybe his friends called him Ernest. Wouldn’t that be just like north Oak Park?

Hemingway hated Oak Park and couldn’t wait to get the hell out of it, but Frank Lloyd Wright loved it and built his own house and studio in Oak Park, the noble village on the prairie, shaped to the good earth.

For Dan there would be three years of running, running on sidewalks in the shade of oak trees, running north to the House of Studies, by Hemingway’s house, by Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, with a tree growing in the living room.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style homes were ground-hugging and horizontal. When the harriers ran by the Frank Lloyd Wright house on their way to the House of Studies they could hear in their heads that song by Simon and Garfunkel “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” and when they heard it on the radio or they played the Bridge Over Troubled Waters album, they thought of running by that house, and they thought about how they were running out of time too, that one of these days they were going to run by that house and it really would be So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright because they would never run past it again, and for the rest of their lives, whenever they would hear that song, it would take them back there, running together, laughing, joking, confessing and absolving.

“So long, Frank Lloyd Wright
I can’t believe your song is gone so soon
I barely learned the tune
So soon
So soon

I’ll remember Frank Lloyd Wright
All of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn
I never laughed so long
So long
So long

Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view
When I run dry
I stop awhile and think of you

Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view

So long, Frank Lloyd Wright
All of the nights we’ve harmonize till dawn
I never laughed so long”

Doc Hemingway was doing well enough to buy an acre of land for a summer house on Walloon Lake in Michigan.

Hemingway, the idea of Hemingway, was black and white that burst into color like an impressionist painting. The Hemingways were north Oak Park cats. They had a music room in their spacious house, Dr. Hemingway and his wife and family, the three kids, Ernie, his sister Marceline, and their little bro Leicester. They were rich. They spent their summers on vacation at their lake house in Michigan.

Hem was 16 years older than his little brother Leicester, the Baron.

Hem was in the rifle club at Oak Park High, but he was a shitty shot because he was near-sighted.

His dad was head of obstetrics at Oak Park Hospital.

Nick Adams was the name Hem gave himself in his fiction, a character who shared his experiences. It was not himself – because he knew more than Nick did.

There was Hemingway on the Oak Park Huskies wrestling team and the swimming team and the football team and then fighting marlin in the Gulf and then he took up boxing. Would you get in the ring with Papa?

Are you willing to fight a ghost?

Hem was starting center for the junior varsity football team at Oak Park High, and the team went 7-1. In the Suburban League, which is impressive. In his senior year he played for the varsity, but he wasn’t the starter. The captain of the team called him Lard-ass.

Hemingway went to Oak Park High, played a little football, lettered on the wrestling team, so he was tough.

Hemingway was 6-2, but he wasn’t 6-2 as a freshman, not when he was just 15. Maybe he was 6-feet when he started high school. Hemingway had covered this same terrain where Dan rode his bike to Thatcher Woods, and later, in high school, when the harriers ran there, along the paths by the Des Plaines River, that was where Hem used to hunt and forage and fish in the river. Ernie had done that right here. When Dan and the guys ran along the railroad tracks, they followed Ernie’s footprints.

Hem graduated from Oak Park High in 1917. He left Oak Park in the summer after graduating high school and went to Kansas City, using family connections to get a job on the Kansas City Star, and in six months learned to write according to the Star’s style sheet. Hem’s Uncle Tyler in Kansas City got him the job.

Hem had set a pattern. Eighteen years in Oak Park (1899 – 1917), then split.

Hell, Hem wanted to get the hell out of Oak Park the first chance he got. Oak Park was worse than Summit. Summit was just boring. Oak Park could kill you with religion, Protestant religion, smother you, kill your spirit. Look at his dad. It got to him, Oak Park, his wife. He shot himself. With a pistol. And then Hem’s mother sends him the pistol to keep.

A keepsake. Something to remember his father by. This is the gun your dad shot himself in the head with.

Thanks. What do you want me to do with it – shoot myself in the head with it? I prefer a shotgun. Fuck you, mother.

Hem called her mother. He didn’t call her mom.

The diner in Hemingway’s story “The Killers” is in Summit. The killers laugh about there being nothing to do in Summit.

What’s to do?

They all come here for the big dinner. They all eat the big dinner.

Hem’s dad, the doctor, the head of obstetrics at Oak Park Hospital, wanted Hem to go to Oberlin College, like his sister, or he could go to the U of I in Champaign. Or, Hem thought, why not just get a job writing for the Tribune?

Ring Lardner was writing for the Tribune, and Hem could write like Ring Lardner, in a voice that sounded like Ring Lardner.

He could write like Sherwood Anderson too.

The Torrents of Spring.

He’s going to KC.

Hem never really considered going to college. Fuck that. His sister went to college. Hem went to Kansas City to be a reporter. He’d learn how to write journalism first, before learning how to write fiction, their main difference being staying power.

Hem had an older sister. Oh boy did he have an older sister, bigger, stronger, faster, smarter.

Hem was in Kansas City, and Dan’s dad was only three years old in 1918 when Doc Hemingway sent his son the current issue of the Oak Leaves with news from the old hometown. The Cubs were taking a train out to California that March and they stopped in Kansas City and Hem hung out with Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Hem wanted those Oak Leaves. He wanted to know what was going on back there in Oak Park, how the football and wrestling teams were doing. There were no news stories in the Oak Leaves; it was all feature stories, except for sports, a weekly.

April 6, 1917, USA enters the war against Germany and guys couldn’t sign up fast enough for World War One. If you were a young guy and you were in street clothes, especially in Kansas City, you were a slacker.

Hemingway was 16 years older than Connor McDwyn. Hemingway was just 5 years or so younger than Pop. Pop managed to avoid World War One, but Hem was bound and determined to find a way to be part of it.

Hem signed up on November 5, 1917 in Kansas City – with the National Guard. He was near-sighted and he knew it, but he bragged that he was going to join the Marines when he turned 19, which was still a year away.

Being near-sighted didn’t have to mean you were a slacker. The Red Cross needed ambulance drivers in Italy in the war zone.

It wasn’t the same as fighting in the war, but it was definitely not the same as not fighting in the war. You could get just as killed as the fightingest guy there was.

And the Red Cross would take a guy who was just near-sighted.

Hell, Red Cross would take a guy with one eye.

Hem quit the Kansas City Star in April 1918 to join the Ambulance Corps in Italy, where the Germans were attacking. So, this is bravery. Hem had already been brave, just to sign up. He was going to be in the thick of it, but he wasn’t going there to do harm, he was going there to aid the wounded. He was going there to do good. The goodness was unimpeachable. He knew it was serious when he found himself picking up body parts where a munitions plant near Milan had blown up. This was the real thing, the true gen.

Hem was just 18 and already far beyond anywhere Dan McDwyn would ever go in his perilous life. Dan’s big brother could maybe match Hem. Dan’s big brother, his perpetual boast. But for Hem, the greatest, meaning the worst, was yet to come. Hem was going to get blown up.

There he is, 18 years old, a year out of Oak Park High, and he’s not just driving an ambulance up and down mountain roads in Italy in winter, he’s responsible for the fucken ambulance, he’s got to check the tires, keep it gassed up and lubed.

Hemingway got blown up on July 8, 1918. He was not quite 19. He was handing out chocolate to the Italian troops. It was just past midnight, and a mortar shell hit, and shrapnel strafed his legs and balls.

Hem had only been on duty for a week when he got blown up, and four days after that he was on a train to Milan to get to a hospital. He’s 19. The nurse is pretty. Her name is Agnes and she’s still pretty. She’s what, maybe 25.

Agnes is 26. She’s hot. She’s massaging his leg and she’s giving him a bath. She decides to take the night shift, none of the other nurses want it. It’s August now. Hem is getting better. They’re dating. It’s all on her. She was the one who made it happen, the one who’d already gone beyond high school into nursing school, graduated, and had been engaged.

Wait a minute. What?

Some other guy. See? She was just fucking with Hem, she was leading him on. But there’s Hem in the Grand Hotel, drinking with Count Greppi, playing billiards. The count is 94 and wipes the floor with him.

You sure know how to play this game, Count.

I used to know maybe.

Maybe?

It’s good. I used to be too sure of myself. For a long time. It’s good not to be so sure of yourself. Tell me your name again.

Ernie.

Hello Ernie.

Ernest.

Ernest. It doesn’t matter. I’ll forget.

Agnes didn’t give a shit about Hem.

Maybe she didn’t know what she was doing.

She knew she lied to him. She told Hem she was being ordered to go to Florence, but actually she volunteered to go to Florence – so she could fuck around, all while Hem is under the impression that they’re engaged – to each other.

There’s all of that, war, death, not dying, and wait, what the fuck are they fighting about? What the fuck is World War One about? How many millions of men, women, and children would meet their doom because of entangling alliances or some such shit? What the fuck is Hem doing in Italy?

Fighting for freedom.

Drinking.

Recovering from a near death experience.

Drinking.

He’s engaged.

Still having nightmares about being blown up. The shrapnel peppering his legs so that when he stood up to, what, get the fuck away, he was in shock, bombs were exploding, dirt and rocks flying, tries to help a guy who can’t walk, at least Hem could walk, even though it felt like he was sloshing around in rubber boots.

That was blood, and the guy he was carrying to safety was probably dead already.

Jesus, it hurt.

And then. Lights out. War’s over.

Still hurts. Still scared. Can’t sleep.

This would happen to guys who went to Vietnam.

Why did guys want to sign up to fight in World War One? Nobody attacked us.

The Germans sank our ships – with civilians on them.

What was wrong with those people?

Germans?

Two world wars. The Holocaust. Those people must be fucked up.

Dan was half-German. His father’s mother was German, and his mother’s father was German, and his father’s father was Irish, and his mother’s mother was Irish. Germans from Germany, Irish from Ireland. Dan’s parents were first-generation Americans in the 20th century.

The Irish woman married to the German man gave birth to two girls, Mary and her younger sister Lenore. The Irishman married to the German woman fathered an only son, Connor McDwyn.

Three kids in all. And both couples Catholic. How does that happen?

What does it mean?

What does it matter?

Hem could see it slipping away. He hadn’t seen her in months. And she casually mentioned in a letter that, oh yes, her former fiancé had re-entered the picture.

The fuck does that mean?

He’s wondering.

She’s shacking up with a rich wop. Sucker.

Three months later Hem gets a letter from her. The wop dropped her. Said she was an American adventuress. But now she wants back with Hem.

She can go fuck herself.

Hem and his buddy Bill Horner rented an apartment at 1230 N State Street, near Lincoln Park. Hem was going to be a serious writer, not just a newspaperman. He was figuring he could substitute his war experience for a college degree. No professor could teach you the shit Hem had learned in a week in the trenches. Hem had a diploma in shrapnel, and he was reading hot new poetry by Pound and Eliot. And then Hem met another older woman to fall in love with. The first one was 7 years older, and this one was 8.

Ok, so?

Just saying.

Another rich broad?

Hem would punch your lights out if he heard you say it, but to call it like it is, Hadley was a sap, a drip, a sucker. Agnes would keep him guessing, but this broad was easy, he could play her, not the other way around, and she got him introduced to Sherwood Anderson.

Hadley might have been from St. Louis, but she was indistinguishable from an Oak Park girl, north Oak Park that is.

Hadley would be 30 by the time she married Hem, good and desperate.

What’s he, feel sorry for her?

Hem was 21, but as grown up as anyone who’d been to college and graduated, due to his wartime and journalistic experience, but now he was working for this bullshit advertising firm downtown in Chicago. His new girlfriend Hadley gets the two of them invited to a party in the city where they meet this guy Sherwood Anderson who’s just getting famous for his fiction, and he happens to write like Hem does, or as he’s trying to, simpler, straighter, sharper. But how’s he going to eat? How support a wife? A guy’s got to support his family. The thing was, he didn’t want to be here anymore, not Chicago, not Oak Park certainly, not even the good old USA. He wanted to get back to Italy.

Why?

Hem was an artist, and that was what made him distrustful of both journalism and the ad agency, and Oak Park, where the saloons end and the churches begin, Saints’ Rest.

Hem sent his dad half a dozen copies of In Our Time, and his God-fearing dad sent them back unopened. He had learned that somewhere in there the author discussed venereal disease.

Doc Hemingway shot himself in the upstairs bedroom in the house in Oak Park with a .32 caliber Smith & Wesson “Long John” Civil War revolver in mid-December 1928.

Connor McDwyn was just starting Fenwick then. Hem’s dad killed himself in 1929 when Dan’s dad was going to Fenwick. Hemingway was 30.

Afterward, Hemingway asked his mother for the gun. He asked her for it; she didn’t just send it to him out of the blue. It wasn’t her idea; it was his.

Hemingway was working on Farewell to Arms in Key West when his father killed himself.

Hemingway had written as pure a book as anyone ever in Sun Also Rises, except for the fact that maybe the Oak Parker in him took over to turn it antisemitic, which was just part of the era, meaning that particular era, not substantially unlike this era, except now we notice. To Gertrude Stein and the arts crowd in Paris, Hemingway was a rube, he was from Oak Park and he hadn’t even gone to college.

College of Hard Knocks.

Hemingway however was not a rube. It wasn’t just being from north Oak Park that made him not a rube, it was having been in war. Somebody might know a lot more about something than he did, but nobody knew more about being alive than somebody who’d been in war.

And yet he hadn’t fought in the war.

“I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except bury it.” – Farewell

You can hear the Chicago in his voice when he says “at Chicago”.

Hem cheated on Hadley and he never forgave himself for it.

Begin again and concentrate.

That was Gertrude Stein’s advice to young Hemingway after she’d read his stories and must’ve thought they were shit. Funny thing is Hemingway didn’t tell her to go fuck herself. Instead, he must’ve begun again and concentrated. You’d think he would’ve told her to go fuck herself. After a while Hemingway did tell her to go fuck herself, although he apparently didn’t have the balls to say it to her face, and you could safely insult Hemingway now, because after July of 1961, there was no earthly way he could hurt you.

The big fight was coming up, the heavyweight championship bout between the champ Jack Dempsey and the Frenchman Georges Carpentier.

Dempsey was the barroom brawler who had beaten the piss out of the giant Jess Willard to win the belt.

Hem bet $700 on Carpentier. What a sap!

Hem was staging his own boxing matches on the roof of the apartment building where he was rooming with two other guys. They go up on the roof and they box.

I’ll go hunt big-game in Africa.

Really, it sounded like something only an asshole would say.

He had to test himself.

In 1954 Hemingway crashed in Africa. Twice.

I’m going to go hunt a lion.

Who says that? Who thinks that?

Young Hem wrote this to his pal Bill Horne : “Me I like life very much. So much it will be a big disgust when I have to shoot myself.”

That would be on July 2, 1961. He wasn’t going to live to see Mantle or Maris break Babe Ruth’s homerun record. He could’ve opined on whether the new record needed an asterisk, because the M&M boys had 162 games to hit in, while the Bambino had only 156.

You gotta be kidding me? That’s the kind of shit people give a shit about?

So, what is it? Asterisk or not?

So, was it a brave thing he did in killing himself? Was it?

I’m nine.

Hem’s name alone had entered Dan’s consciousness before July 2, 1961, he was one of the most famous men in the world and he was from Oak Park, but thereafter he became a ghost, alternately friendly and horrifying, that would haunt Dan for the rest of his life.

“All true stories end in death,” Hem said, and like a lot of things it was true, and it wasn’t true. It was true that there was nothing else a living being could ultimately do but die. But it was not true that every story ends in death, because not every story has an end.

Hem was just saying that if you tell anybody’s story all the way through to the end, they die. They’ve got to.

And this is a revelation?

Hemingway said it.

Fuck Hemingway.

He’d bust your jaw.

They said you were the smartest guy here.

I don’t know about that.

What makes them say that?                                                                                            

Maybe it’s because I’m the only one here who realizes he doesn’t know a damn thing.

Hemingstein? What’s funny about that?

It’s Jewish.

I repeat

Hem would criticize Emerson for having a nice clean mind, but Emerson’s was a mind that could invite John Brown into his home.

Hem had been in the first World War. So, when it came to the Spanish Civil War, he went to it too. He’d been in a war before. He could handle it. And when it came to WW2 the Big One, of course he went, but he didn’t enlist. He was too old by then. Somehow, he made it seem like he’d been fighting in all these wars. It got to where he formed his own one-man Navy to hunt Nazi subs.

Hemingway had found himself on the same side with the Russians in the Spanish Civil War.

Hemingway was one guy who tried to be both artist and athlete. And he wrote great books and lived a life of physicality, a life that required muscle and skill and timing and coordination, and that was how he perceived beauty, and no doubt ran head-first into all the contradictions between body and spirit.

Hemingway said he saw a lion in Africa cover 100 yards in three seconds. It took Dan 12. He thought he might be able to get a tick under 12. In practice at Rockne once, he did. 11.9.

Hem could find something good and clean in killing.

Come again.

At a good party now there wouldn’t just be booze and making out, but some people would be in a corner talking about the existence or nonexistence of God, and when it got really late and only a few people were left, they would get to talking about death and ghosts and when each of them would die, and then they’d get out the Ouija board or play some truth or dare.

Hemingway was the guy who wrote dirty books. That was the way it started out with Hemingway for Danny in the fifties. Across the River and into the Trees had come out, and in it Hem’s alter ego, Colonel Cantwell, was a half-a-century old and bedding down a broad in her early 20s, and the church-going cultured Oak Parkers, like Hemingway’s mother, did not approve.

Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in ’54 when Danny was three. Hemingway was the most famous man in the world, and there was his house, right there on Forest Avenue, where he used to live, and that’s the piano room on the second floor where he’d have to practice and he hated it, just like Danny, And here’s where he went to high school and wrote for the school newspaper. And here’s the local newspaper he used to write for.

Hemingway’s life had come and gone before Danny ever knew of it, and he would have to recreate it as he read Hemingway. Hemingway had been born in the last year of the 19th century. He was nearly 20 years older than Danny’s dad.

Hemingway wrote dirty books. He went to Oak Park High, not to Fenwick. There was no Fenwick for Hemingway to go to, and, anyway, he wasn’t Catholic, not then anyway.

Hemingway won the Nobel Prize after publishing Old Man and the Sea, one of his more meagre novels, on the heels of an outright bust – Across the River and Into the Trees. He was living in Cuba then, trying to walk a tightrope between Castro and Batista, but disposed favorably toward the revolutionaries, and that would come back to haunt him, spurring his paranoia. He’d been making enemies politically since the 30s and the Spanish Civil War. So, Batista’s soldiers showed up at the Finca in the middle of the night, wanting to search the place.

Hemingway had had to watch Winston Churchill get the Nobel Prize for Literature before he did. Winston Fucking Churchill.

As the revolution took over Cuba, Hemingway got the hell out of there, heading for Ketchum. He was falling apart. He never should have left Hadley, and he knew it. That was the biggest mistake of his life. His marriage with Pauline was doomed from the start, based on a fatal error, filled with regret, longing, and shame, and only getting worse, more complicated, more kids, more responsibilities, more mistakes, and add politics to the mix, boom. Sex and Violence. Men at War. And a Woman appears. Martha Gelhorne – “She came at me in sections” – long-legged, red-haired, tough-talking, smart and sexy Marty Gelhorne. She took him for a ride, his third wife, don’t look back. How could this be a mistake, when it was just an attempt to correct the original mistake, which was really two mistakes, leaving Hadley and marrying Pauline? He just wanted to get laid. Hadley’s pussy had been sweet, Pauline’s not so much, but she was rich, and he would never have to worry about money, and he could do whatever he wanted, buy a boat, for instance. Pauline, in an effort to please him, had a salt-water pool installed in their backyard in Key West, while he was away at the Spanish Civil War, cheating on her with Marty, and Pauline was home, trying to hold on to her man, her world famous man, the manliest man in the world, any way she could think of, and when he got home, and the cement was still drying around the edges of the pool, he took a penny out and pressed it into the wet cement. “There’s my last cent,” he huffed, like he bought the thing, like some bust-out asshole, like she wasn’t the money.

Bullshit, Marty told him. She must have called him on his shit, so he went looking around for someone who wouldn’t call him on his shit, and that was how he wound up with the diminutive Mary Welsh, the spunky correspondent Hemingway bedded in London, on the eve of World War Two. Mary rarely called him on his shit, but now, with terms of comparison, Hadley’s sweet pussy and Marty’s long legs, Hemingway could see in Mary how far he had fallen. All of that was in his mind, while in his body havoc reigned and there was blood in his piss, and his head hurt from the blows it had taken and given – two plane crashes on the same day, a skylight falling on him while he sat on the crapper, headbutting the door to escape the plane. All that happened before he got the Nobel Prize in 54, and he was too weak to attend the ceremonies. How the hell he got through the rest of the 50s was a miracle. He easily could’ve shot himself then. He was never going to feel any better, and he knew it.

Everything was fine and dandy in Cuba, so Hemingway and Mary went to Spain to watch bullfights, what else? Then back to the Finca. Why not? Hemingway was a friend of Castro’s, a friend of the revolution.

But the United States was not.

Eisenhower cut US aid to Cuba. Next, he cut off the Cuban sugar trade with the US. Castro had no choice now. It was Russia or nobody.

The American Embassy was warning its citizens to leave Cuba.

It’s pretty clear if you were born in Oak Park, Illinois, but you live in Cuba and you have pompously come to consider yourself Cuban, and you support the revolution that has declared the US the enemy, that you are a traitor. Have a nice day.

Hemingway did not really consider himself a Cuban of course, but he did support the revolution. Still, Hemingway would have to leave Cuba. He didn’t want to. He had no plan. He had no life. It was all bullshit.

August 15, 1960. Hemingway, in the throes of deep depression, afraid, lonely, paranoid, sleepless, delusional, ashamed, overcome with guilt, in need of caretaking, on his way to St. Mary’s Hospital, where he would be strapped to a table, hooked up at the temples to a machine that would shoot an electric current through his brain, and he would have a dozen more of these treatments before they would let him out in January 1961.

“Memory,” he said, “is where I store my capital.”

In his mind, Hemingway was broke. And he was broken.

And what about his house in Cuba and everything in it?

On April 17, 1961, the Bay of Pigs coup attempt failed.

On July 2, 1961, a Sunday, Hemingway shot himself to death first thing in the morning. Danny was 9. Danny was in the fourth grade at Ascension.

Hemingway dead.

Died of a gunshot wound.

Accidental. He was cleaning his gun.

Hemingway killed himself, stuck a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe, took out his entire cranial vault. Twelve-gauge. He had used it to shoot pigeons.

You never told me you were going to kill yourself.

Not in so many words.

How was I supposed to know?

You weren’t. Listen, suicide is not all that outlandish, uncommon. People diagnosed with something they know is going to kill them, something that is killing them, and they just want to beat it to the punch. How is that cowardly?

You’re asking me?

How is that cruel?

To the people left behind – when you’ve gone on ahead.                       

When behind and ahead lose all meaning.

“Any man’s life, truly told, is a novel.” – Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

Islands and Images

There were no cameras then.

When?

Before there were cameras. The camera is new in human history, and before it came along there was no way to preserve or record what people really looked like, besides painting and sculpture, which are necessarily subjective, and poetry and prose which could never really describe someone with factual accuracy enough so that you could see the person, all of that would be practically useless in the future to anybody who wanted to know not just what Grampa looked like or looked like in his younger days, but what you yourself looked like, no way to verify, if just for yourself, that you used to be good-looking or trim. Everybody and everything was more present tense in the past.

Because of the camera.

Orson Welles was born in 1915 too.

Scenes: Running a race against John Reynolds. Making an error in the Little League championship game. The pass over his head while playing defensive back. Quitting in the North Section meet. The scenes mounted to a full-length movie about a loser. But who cares? They were the facts, the chronological blocks of the story, from 1951 to 1969. The fifties and sixties, In Black and White and Color.

The first few years are about mom and dad and family, about Riverside and then the move to south Oak Park, to Clinton Avenue.

Danny-boy doesn’t come out to play until he’s 5 in 1956.

The test pattern was on the screen. You had to wait till 6am before the shows came on, and then it was all documentaries about World War One and World War Two, General Pershing winning the first one, then Ike would come along and win the next one. Finally, the cartoons would come on, Popeye, Mighty Mouse. They were comforting hero sagas. Here I come to save the day! If you were a little kid, you took that just as seriously as Mighty Mouse did. He was a mouse; you were a mouse. Mighty Mouse flew alongside the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

Howdy-Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Two-Ton Baker.

Two-Ton Baker would ask for a kiss at the end of each show and little Danny-boy would gladly oblige and plant a wet one on the TV screen. Danny-boy loved Two-Ton Baker and Jingles, as played by Andy Devine, and Jackie Gleason, and Oliver Hardy, and Sid Caesar – before he lost all that weight and much of his comic force.

From the Lone Ranger in black and white to the Lone Ranger in color – and it turned out his outfit was powder blue!

The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, this was the fifties, when cowboys settled things.

It was time to fall in love with violence, with fistfights and shootouts, and, best of all, war, with tanks and machine guns!

Cap pistols. The Fanner-Fifty was a revolver that would allow you to keep firing for 50 rounds, as you fanned it with the side of your hand like the cowboy did on TV.

Somehow it didn’t hurt his hand.

Had to ride a horse. Everybody had to ride a horse. Had to be a whole bunch of horses, and the horses didn’t start out here. Horses are not native to North America, and yet the Native Americans learned to ride them as well as horses have ever been ridden.

Captain Kangaroo and his friend Mr. Greenjeans were Danny-boy’s daily companions. They fed carrots to Bunny Rabbit and danced with Dancing Bear and sometimes a lot of ping-pong balls would suddenly pour from above on their heads.

Howl was published in 1956, without 5 year-old Danny knowing anything about its existence, of which he would not learn until the end of the next decade, but he could feel it in the culture then and all along, the way a baby picks up vibes in its mother’s womb.

Elvis was going into the Army. Norine cried about that. All her friends did.

Rocky Marciano and the Lone Ranger were waiting for Danny-boy, so was Bridgette Bardot and Captain Kangaroo. They all wanted a piece of him.

No, they didn’t. Danny didn’t matter a damn to any of them, but he didn’t know that. He had this crazy idea that they were all connected. Even though they didn’t fit together. It was his job to make them fit.

We’re going to the drive-in to see Spartacus!

A thrill went through him when he looked at the movie ads posted on bulletin board in the lobby of the lodge at Lake Lawn. There was a movie theater in town and there was a drive-in movie theater as well.

He saw Darby O’Gill and the Little People at the movie theater in Delavan.

The 50s happened on Clinton Avenue

Life at Carroll Playground.

The movies were there too, waiting for Dan, but the line that had preceded him was not so long as the one tracing all the way back from Aquinas to Aristotle. The movies were a new art, a 20th century art. You could grasp it from the beginning, not just the experience of your first trip to the Lamar theater to see Old Yeller, but back to silent movies, it’s fucking funny, and we laugh at silent movies, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, comedies, unceasing, cathartic evidence that not only do we all fuck up – you wouldn’t laugh if you couldn’t instantly see it happening to you, whatever ridiculous situation it was – but when we do it’s fucking funny, and we laugh like gods at what fools we mortals be.

In the 50s color was used for musicals and comedies. If you were going for realism, you used black and white.

Something possessed Norine to buy the soundtrack album from West Side Story. Dan played it over and over. He was becoming a romantic.

Lake, Lamar, Mercury, Ritz movie theaters.

There were cartoons before the movie started.

There were movies in color that Dan did not see but felt that he had seen, and maybe he did see Around the World in 80 Days with Cantiflas. Maybe all he had seen was the coming attractions. Was Cantiflas the best actor in the world?

Flash Forward.

In the basement of the Lamar Theatre.

What are you doing this for? Why are you an usher? How old are you? It’s demeaning – you’re in college, aren’t you? To be an usher in a movie theatre, especially this theater.

The girl who sold popcorn was a big luscious blond who chewed gum, smoked cigarettes on her breaks, and wanted to get it on, and her name was Candy, how sweet was that?

Candy sold Candy at the Lamar. Dan was an usher.

You want to smoke a cig?

Sure.

Come on.

She was chewing gum. She kept chewing it while she smoked.

You like this movie.

Yeah.

Easy Rider – I don’t get it. What’s easy about it? I like the songs though. You want to get high?  

She was tough and she was tubby and she was pretty and she had curves and wore tight pants and later that night when they were making out she was still chewing gum.

Dan didn’t love Candy, nor did Candy love Dan, but she did love when he kissed her throat. A week or so later she quit her job at the Lamar and a couple of weeks after that, Dan left for college, and he never saw her again.

From Ascension to Fenwick, from Oak Park to Chicago. Gas-Man. The el, the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears, the Zephyrs, the Bulls.

In the early 60s the family moved to Euclid Avenue and the scene changed to color. Kennedy was elected.

Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb. 77 Sunset Strip. Black and white.

At first it was about winning. He was good, he was lucky, he was talented. He could do no wrong. And then it went away. It seemed to be all about losing, and maybe it was, but it wasn’t really about Danny after all. It was about becoming. It was about the whole world changing from black and white to color to black and white again, and if focusing on the experience and inner life of one little loser paints a picture less than hopeful – that’s the point. It explodes into color again.

Haley Mills. Annette Funicello. Betty and Veronica.

Dan bought his first record, a 45, Wooly Bully.

That twang on the guitar that starts I Want to Hold Your Hand was the first Beatles sound Dan heard and it immediately registered as something he had never heard before. The sound yanked him in, and then he was inside something and the Beatles hit him with harmonies and melodies.

I’m a loser.

John admitting and confessing to being a loser, singing an anthem for losers. Even if what he lost was his girlfriend.

Dan had a girlfriend. Brenda Sloan. She was as tall as he was, with shoulder-length brown hair, a pretty oval face, a curvy figure, and already a pair of boobs that required a bra. She was girly and not athletic and she had a slightly pigeon-toed walk that Dan found quite fetching. She liked to French kiss and listen to the Beatles.

There was a stack of 45s that would drop one at a time and play the hits of the Top Ten.

In 1956 Bergman wrote his play Woodcut, and that summer he took his ensemble to the country to make a movie of it called The Seventh Seal. Danny was four years old that summer. He would be five in the fall. There he is in the backyard in the wading pool trying to get Mary Jewell to take her swimsuit off while Bengt Ekerot and Max Von Sydow as Death and the Knight play chess on the Swedish seashore.

Ben-Hur 1960. Color.

It’s 1960 and Psycho is showing. It’s in black and white, and to see it would be a mortal sin, to see Janet Leigh in her slip, to see her bare midriff, and you had to get there before the start, or they wouldn’t let you in.

Spartacus is showing too, and The Alamo. In color.

In 1961 James Baldwin went to Sweden to talk to Ingmar Bergman about his movies, leaving behind President Kennedy and the USA and discovering a world of black and white.

“. . . the nature of my still unwieldy, unaccepted bitterness . . . it then occurred to me that my bitterness might be turned to good account if I should dare to envision the tragic hero for whom I was searching – as myself. All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced at last to tell the whole story, to vomit the anguish up.” – James Baldwin

Lilies of the Field 1963. Black and white.

The post-war renaissance of films reached its height between 1958 and 1964. Black and white. The Apartment. Dr. Strangelove. Breathless. Shoot the Piano Player. Bergman in black and white. Citizen Kane. Lolita. Psycho.

NBC started broadcasting all its shows in color in the fall of 1965.

Hard Day’s Night 1965. Black and white.

We’re going to see the Beatles’ movie.

They’re in a movie? What, do they act?

They play themselves.

That’s not easy.

It was loud before the movie started, lots of talking, laughing, chattering, then the movie started and it got almost quiet but there was a nervous chatter underneath it, anticipation, and then here they came, the Beatles, running toward the camera and away from a pack of girls who were chasing after them, and the theater exploded in high-pitched screams that barely wavered for the next hour and a half. They screamed when the Beatles sang, they screamed when they talked, and when the Beatles made faces, they were tickled and laughed in surprise and then fell in love and screamed again.

Sorry if we hurt your field, mister.

Greatest Story Ever Told 1965. Color.

There was black music – soul music. There was James Brown and the downbeat.

There had been Frank Sinatra and Eddy Duchin and Tommy Dorsey and Satchmo and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but on Danny’s tinny transistor there was Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The transistor radio was the grandest device, now you could be in the freezing cold, with all your gear on, the big mitts, layers of clothes, boots, in the snow, and be able to listen to Chubby Checker.

In 1965 Dan and everybody listened to the Beatles, Dylan, the Supremes, James Brown, the Animals, the Stones, the Beach Boys.

This could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don’t know.

Don’t you play with me, or you’re playing with fire.

You’ve lost that loving feeling.

Malcolm X was assassinated in February of 1965.

Malcolm was dead and it was March and the radio played My Girl by the tempting Temps, Ticket to Ride, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, Wooly Bully, Help, Do You Believe in Magic, and Like a Rolling Stone.

Goldfinger was fat, but he was going to be sucked out the tiny window of that plane.

While Bergman imagines and realizes Persona in 1966. . . It starts with a boy born in 1951, Jorgen Lindstrom.

Dan saw Bergman movies as a teenager.

Subtitled?

God yes. Don’t want to hear some crappy New York actor saying Max Von Sydow’s lines.

The Seventh Seal came out in 1957, but Dan wouldn’t see it till at least 10 years later. And then Hour of the Wolf and Persona. Black and white was one world, and color was another. They were not the same, could not be, would never be the same.

In 1966 the Vietnam War came on television – in color.

For a while only a few shows on TV were in color. Some shows started out in black and white, and then the next season they were in color. The movies had been in color since The Wizard of Oz, but for a while it was divided pretty evenly between black and white movies and movies in color, and it meant one thing for a movie to be in color and another for a movie to be in black and white, but exactly what those things were was hard to say.

You couldn’t see any show in color unless you had a color TV.

Sgt. Pepper changed everything. It was nighttime in the summer at Fox Park and the girls were out looking for fun with the boys.   

What a change had come over the Beatles. They had gone from black and white to color too.

Help 1967. Color.

Dan was going to the Lake theater to see Bonnie and Clyde. It was 1967. He had a date.

Jesus Christ, Bonnie and Clyde got ambushed and got the living shit shot out of them.

You could go to the movies by yourself, sit by yourself, in the dark, anonymous, with anonymous strangers, all of you in the dark, and you could be alone.

In black and white: Citizen Kane, all of Bergman, The Bells of Saint Mary’s, the Three Stooges, Flash Gordon, The Maltese Falcon, 77 Sunset Strip.

Black and white and color were adjectives applied to movies and TV, the 20th century’s art and debasement of art, both of them powered by capital. That was what brought technology and artists together. Call it capitalism, call it history, or don’t take the politics out of it, just fuse politics into the whole picture. It came together in the middle of the 20th century, and at first it was an all-out war between movies and TV. Competition, the ‘life blood of capitalism’, making everything better, because it has to get better or go out of business, die.

If you can call it better.

Progress.

All an illusion. All of it flying through the projector at 24 frames a second, and then by means of dots  like Seraut, beamed electronically into a tube, Davey Crockett and the Mouseketeers and James West in the early Wild Wild West and Napoleon and Ilya in the early Man from UNCLE, ducking into the tailor shop.

The duck floating on the pond at night, why a duck, but it’s not a duck, it’s a fake duck that James Bond is wearing on top of his wetsuit, with a white tuxedo jacket underneath.

That weird sickly fragile kid reaching out toward his mother’s face on a screen in Persona, a kid just Dan’s age, his contemporary, who would also accompany the two women in The Silence.

Welles in his bald cap as old Kane crashing the shelves and trashing the room.

Bergman and Welles, opposites in a universe of opposites, objects and beings completely different from one another, making no sense, not to Dan anyway, except the sense that was inherited or misunderstood or ignored. He was not failing and he was not succeeding, he was just getting older, you might say growing up, but technically and more to the point in Dan’s case, since the skull is pretty much the biggest, most grown part of you at birth, he was actually growing down, mired in the mid-20thth century middle class midwestern blues, no longer upwardly mobile, but still looking to take the path of least resistance at every turn.

And how did that jibe with distance running, or going way back, to the days when he wanted to be a priest because he liked the costumes.

A tonsure. He wanted one of those. Like Francis of Assisi.

Bergman’s conflict was between the Church and the theatre. In the theatre all is simulation and dissimulation.

What Bergman was doing was different than what Orson Welles had in mind. With Bergman you confronted moral and philosophical questions, whereas with Welles the concerns were more strictly aesthetic.

Vivian Leigh was drugged in Touch of Evil in 1958, later to be murdered in the shower in Psycho.

Reading For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Love Me up one tree in Fox Park and another in South Park. It was the summer of reading books in trees.

There was something about the books, the good ones, the works of art, classical music, the Bergman movies, naturally, that plunged you into not only thought but sadness, melancholy, and the contemplation of death. It was fine and beautiful, this life, or that life, your own or that of someone else, someone you loved, and all of it was passing, not just flying by, but flying in all directions, dispersing into the universe, the expanding universe with no center to it.

Susan Sontag was brilliant, beautiful, and young. John Simon was brilliant, charming, and mature, they were both lethal, and they hated each other.

Against Interpretation 1966.

Simon put it nicely. Against Interpretation? Might as well say Against Criticism.

Dan was taking Against Interpretation with him to college. Where it would only get him into trouble.

Camp. Seeing the world as aesthetic phenomenon.

Others to be held in intellectual contempt.

Her point was that interpretation misses reality.

Bergman looked at Simon and saw what he was and told him straight out, no, you don’t get it.

Gas-man was in training to be a film critic. Not a movie reviewer.  He seemed to have connected with Pauline Kael first, but he was catholic in his reading if not his faith, and it wasn’t long before he happened upon John Simon, and Gas-man instantly liked Simon’s attitude. This man hated.

Dwight Macdonald compared the movie theater to Plato’s Cave. You walk outside into reality, but the cave was more real, preferable even.

You understand it’s not nice to say nasty things about people, but if the things you say are really clever and very hurtful, so much the better.

Macdonald could show off his anti-Semitism, like carte blanche – isn’t everyone? Read the Bible and you’ll get plenty of backing for your anti-Semitism. They’re Christ-killers for cryskaes.

Last Year at Marienbad 1961, controlling every device of film, everything changing like a kaleidoscope.

The movies, as an art form, were born in 1908, given birth by one racist motherfucker, D.W. Griffin.

Between 1908 and 1929 movies were made by Americans, Germans, and Russians. That was it.

Dwight Macdonald wondered how The Sound of Music and Psycho could both set box office records. Were there two audiences, or just one schizophrenic audience?

This critical frame of mind, that of Dwight Macdonald and John Simon, was not so much disposed to search out every flaw in its subject as it is to appease its own bad mood. When you kick the dog to make it stop barking, and the dog doesn’t stop barking, but you feel better. What’s funny is that so many of the films they panned would be popular into the next millennium, showing how little practical difference their bad notices would make, and the intent to make the films disappear had achieved exactly the opposite effect. They didn’t just want the movies to go away, they wanted more than that. They wanted them to play to empty houses. And that didn’t happen and will never happen, and that’s what’s wrong with their critiques, and that was what was wrong with them as critics.

Simon blurred the distinction between his standards and himself. It wasn’t about his standards. It became about him. He was taking the focus from the work of art and putting it on himself. Look at me, how clever I am.

Seeing a movie was comparable to reading a book. You’d have to seek it out, and to go about that you’d need both art houses and critics like Simon and Macdonald, because not only time and money were involved, both in limited capacity, but time and space. If you really wanted to see what was best, you needed to be in New York.

Chicago was the next best thing. Second City.

It was 1963 when Pauline Kael decided to start going after Andrew Sarris over his auteur theory.

The pre-credit sequence came into being in the 60s. The action begins before it’s been announced, before the players have been named, even the title has been withheld.

Elvira Madigan. You went to see that movie to be in love, just like Dr, Zhivago, with a subtle difference, the difference between Patti Viglione and Patty Dooley, the difference between being a freshman and being a senior.

You can look at a single blade of grass, and the rest of the world becomes a blur.

A single blade of grass can be the whole world.

That was what it was like to be in love.

Moby Dick was on the summer reading list, and Dan read it at Lake Lawn Lodge and loved it. All that minutia about whales washed over him and he didn’t care how long it was taking to get to the point, he was at sea – without having to go to sea, which he would have hated, would have scared the shit out of him.

In their sophomore year, the students at Fenwick took a retreat. They got on buses and traveled to Lisle, Illinois and stayed in dorm rooms, one student per room, to enhance the solitary nature of the quest, and Dan had managed to smuggle inside his duffle bag his paperback copy of The Magus, and so he spent his hours of meditation perusing sex and atheistic pacifistic truth on a Greek island, and on the cover was a scene from the recently released film with Candace Bergen kissing Michael Caine and wrapping her leg around his, atop a white cliff overlooking the Agean. At a glance his mother had asked sharply: What are you reading?

It’s just a book.

Let me see it.

For crysakes.

I don’t know about this.

No one knew about it. Except Gas-man. The hardcover edition of The Magus was behind glass in Gas-man’s bookcase. On the cover of the hardcover was a painting like something out of Bosch, another bit of culture that Dan might otherwise have skipped over like a puddle had not Gas-man indirectly turned him onto it, and then, he found that you do not dip a toe into surrealism. It’s all or nothing.

Michael Caine was not alone in thinking that The Magus was one of the worst movies ever made. Nobody could figure out what the damn thing was about.

The movie was merely forgettable and fortunately only resembled the book in that Michael Caine and Candice Bergen might have been well-suited to their roles had they made a movie that more closely resembled the book.

In the book, the narrator, Nicholas Urfe, learns through bitter beautiful and mystifying experience just what Gas-man had held all along, that life is all that matters. Nicholas is presented a series of inescapable choices, for which all probable outcomes are bad, so no matter what he chooses, he loses, so that the challenge of the game is to figure out that it’s rigged.

It’s a page-turner, and Gas-man had turned Dan on to it, so he lay on his cot in the narrow dormroom, and Nicholas Urfe took over, with a name like Franklin Bobb, easy to make fun of, and he was a cynic, a nihilist, but he hadn’t yet discovered the repercussions of being such. First, he had to discover love. Then it had to be snatched away. And then there he was in Greece, the white stone, the blue water, the ancient mythology coming alive, the dream life merging with reality.

Bullshit.

A line was being drawn, a distinction was being made, that was neither clear nor permanent, between thought and action, mind and body, books and sports, Athens and Sparta.

Shadow play. Black and white.

There were prayers and discussions and sitting in a circle and Father Farrell, the hippy priest, was the moderator and they tried to make Jesus their friend, and it was all instantly forgettable, as were most of his classmates, in truth, just guys who were either smarter than Dan in general or only smarter than Dan in math, which was setting the bar pretty low, considering Dan’s approach to solving any math problem had devolved to Make Your Best Guess. What Dan took from the retreat was the reading of The Magus.

Dan had no more idea what The Magus meant than the movie-makers, but that didn’t stop it from enthralling him, prevent his retreating to that Greek island and seeing the myths animated and have a weapon forced into his hands and be ordered to kill someone to save his own life, the kind of question that you might by analogy have to answer, to be forced to execute someone or die yourself, so that if you allowed that analogy to work on you, if you followed it through, the existential crisis was happening every moment, and that was why he felt like he was getting nowhere, even when he was crashing his car at 70 mph down East Avenue into a STOPlight.

One thing that had to be said about John Fowles and Ingmar Bergman and just about every other cultural icon, with the curious exception of William F Buckley, Jr., was that they were not American, and even Buckley affected an accent that was not American. Buckley would argue, eloquently no doubt, that it was not an affectation, but it was undeniable that no one else in the fucking world talked that way. It was a foreign tongue, and in fact there was nothing particularly American about conservatism. The roots were in Scotland with Adam Smith and in England with Thomas Burke.

Nicholas Urfe meets an Australian girl named Allison and shacks up with her and then a few months later, he breaks up with her and takes a teaching job in Greece. He’s a cad, an antihero. Everything about him says that he fucked up and he knows it. All of which resonated with young Dan, even though he had never slept with a girl, let alone shacked up with one, and most of his fuck-ups lay ahead of him.

A self-fulfilling prophecy.

The tone is confessional. Nicholas Urfe whips his former self for the sin of pride, and his ignorance, blindness, insensitivity, and cowardice.

Dan didn’t like him either, but he knew how he felt.

Nicholas Urfe is telling his story in the early 1960s, but it happened in the early 50s, when he was in his 20s. He’s in his late 30s now.

Nicholas Urfe wanted to be a poet, and arrogantly pursued literary fame and glory, only to discover for himself that he had no talent.

Not enough talent.

Not untalented.

Like Dan.

And there was DeSade.

Priests, nuns, DeSade.

The lines from Little Gidding: We shall not cease from exploration/ and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time

Dan kept his copy of The Magus well hidden.

The cover art alone was enough to keep him enthralled, gothic, mythical, erotic, masks, masques.

What Nicholas loved about the island in Greece was its nothingness, its whiteness, blueness, greenness, its absence of people and even animals.

Then a terrible thing happened to him. He went to a whorehouse once too often and got the syph.

Syphilis.

You got it.

Conchis said, “You have all your discoveries before you.”

It did not have its usual meaning.

Which was?

What makes The Magus metafiction is that you have an authoritative character in the novel espousing the thesis that the novel is dead.

And Nicholas or Nick or Nicko gets the idea that Conchis might be Death.

Death who had played chess with the Knight on the shore in The Seventh Seal.

There was the cover art on the hardcover edition of The Magus, a copy of which stood behind glass in Gas-man’s bookcase in his bedroom alongside the expressway. Dan wanted to exist among those masks in that masque, and mix with sex, and running went with that, with Greeks, and even long hair, but football did not.

Football went with war though.

Everything about Urfe’s encounter with Conchis bespeaks the central fact of his life, which is that he has nothing better to do.

The Magus contained a powerful anti-war message: Stay alive. It wasn’t pure cowardice, because it meant live and let live.

Which is fine, provided you’re not in a piece of aluminum hovering fifty feet above guys with weapons trying to kill you.

Conchis escaped the battlefield by falling down and playing dead, and then he ran away and snuck back home. He confesses this to Nicholas. He takes over the narrative with his story of World War One and his girlfriend Lily.

Conchis was a deserter in World War One, and he wants us to feel sorry for him. Nicholas is prepared to do just that. He understands desertion.

So did Dan.

He was transforming from hero into antihero.

When he ran out of time, what then? When Fenwick ended, what then? Fenwick had turned into kind of a bust, or Dan had turned into a bust and it happened at Fenwick, and it happened as part of a continuum from Ascension to Fenwick, a Catholic education, and Dan was its representative, solidly in the middle of his class, Joe Average, which he managed by being somewhat better than average in his verbal aptitude, while somewhat deficient in math.

And the sciences.

An underachiever.

What would he do?

Go to Dekalb, follow the path of least resistance, the expressway out of town, follow it west to the cornfields till you can see the dormitories sticking up against the horizon like matchboxes.

Ascension had been a mixed bag as well.

Serving Mass.

You want to be an altar boy?

Smelling the incense.

John Fowles was writing and teaching on the Greek island of Spetsai in 1951 and 52. He taught a lesson on Great Expectations.

Nicholas Urfe has to admit his failure before he can –

What?

Captivated by Lily, Nicholas is all set to dump Allison, but he’s got to know if Lily really likes him. It’s the sort of thing an eighth grader would need. Even Fowles admitted that the novel met the needs of a teenage boy’s psyche. Nicko is horny, he fucks around, he smokes cigarettes, he has no family, he is completely independent, free to fall in love on an island in the blue Aegean. He’s abusive and misogynistic, and although he might confess to the former, he is blissfully unaware of the latter. Nicko is a cad.

The reason The Magus made such an impression on Dan was not that he devoured its 600 pages in one weekend during what was supposed to be a religious retreat, but rather that the book devoured nearly a year of his life. As the mysteries deepened for Nicko, Dan grew into young manhood, a place where you find that you both belong and do not. What are you, queer?

The question of whether Dan was queer had to overcome the hurdle of why he liked girls so much. On the other hand, in order to conceive of oneself as desirable to the object of desire, one must consider as desirable a member of one own sex, oneself, one’s self.

Member. Good one.

If The Magus was telling Dan his life story, holding up a mirror to his future, he’d see his own pursuit of mysteries, each ending in maddening futility.

Nicholas Urfe is an unwilling actor.

Nicko was an antihero because he was a half-ass intellectual, a wimp, although a hit with the girls, sort of like Paris in The Iliad.

Then the negro Joe confronts Nicko, at which time Nicko immediately recognizes that he is overmatched. Negro Joe, not unlike Nigger Jim, is forced to play a role that is beneath him, wearing a dog’s head and being called Anubis.

Negro was what you called someone whose skin was black. You capitalized it and said it respectfully and thought that was the end of it.

Call them whatever they want to be called. What’s wrong with that?

Nicko does some fancy footwork to tell us he’s a coward and a cad. He even confesses this to the girl of his dreams, but only to get in her pants. He wants her and us to believe he must really be a hell of a guy, owning up to all his faults like this. He wants to tell us the truth and have us believe it’s really a lie.

The thing that rang most false about Nicko’s pursuit of Lily was that his desire for her was purely as a sexual object, and maybe that was true of Dan as well, and even of humanity, if Freud was wrong, and it wasn’t all about sex.

There was Jung.

It was either a great work of art, or it was silly.

Sounds like the Bible.

Fowles himself called The Magus adolescent. Exactly. That’s when shit happens. You’re unsure of almost everything, everything’s a mess, and the few things you are certain about, are completely wrong.

Down a rabbit hole.

If you’re going to fuck somebody, you’re going to have to talk about fucking before you fuck. There has to be some talk about fucking.

Unless one thing just leads to another.

In your mind maybe.

It didn’t happen. He was graduating and it didn’t happen.

Nicko just wanted to get laid too. In the beginning it was just fucking Allison, and then it was lusting after Lily/Julie. Fucking, he can’t get his mind off fucking.

They were putting on a play for Nicko. He had a part to play, and maybe that was all Dan was doing, playing a role. In fact, he had many roles. Everyone did. You only got fucked up when you tried to be one thing. The best you could do was try to be one thing at a time, but even that was not always possible, so you had to hope your roles did not conflict; otherwise you could turn into your own worst enemy, which was exactly what was happening to Dan.

At any given moment, someone acting a role is no longer acting. At any given moment, it doesn’t matter whether someone is acting a role or not. There was a difference between pretending to be something and really being that thing, but if, in a moment, the line could be crossed, and they were the same, a unity of opposites, being and pretending, then what?

The antiwar movement was fueled by a generation of pussies who didn’t want to fight, who didn’t have the balls, the spoiled brats, faggots.

Now we’re onto something.

Or back where we began.

And all our wandering.

In The Magus there was not just more sex than Danny-boy had ever imagined, there was all the sex he had imagined, which made its reading engrossing, the kind, had it been observed, that might be done with one hand.

It was an occasion of sin

It was quite an occasion.

On more than one occasion.

More than occasionally.

Perpetually and ever after.                                                                                          

Those lines from Little Gidding – what kind of faggot crap was that?

T.S. Eliot. That quote. It was underlined in the book Nicko found on the beach, the book that Conchis or Lily or Julie left for him to find, the first scene in the elaborate masque, with its unmistakable message: This is a wild goose chase.

That’s not what the quote said at all. It said we shall explore without end until we finally arrive at the place where we started, and we will know it for the first time.

We will know it.

We will know.

We will.

We may.

We may not.

If we may.

Nicko inspired hatred for Oak Park and everything it stood for.

So did Hemingway.

“Is that how one learns? By marrying and having a family? A steady job and a house in the suburbs? I’d rather die.”

He held it in contempt.

But everything that Nicko recounts is meant to show us how wrong he was about everything. Wrong about Allison. Wrong about Conchis.

Conchis tells Nicko how he found out that he was wrong about himself, that he was not at all the person he had imagined himself to be, more than that, thought himself to be. The image he held in his mind of himself was not who he was at all. He would never have found himself in a crowd.

You will never be at peace.

You will never be happy.

Oh, come on.

Truly happy.

What is truth?

Truly sappy.

Veritas.

Turning everything into black and white.

The all-white boys’ Catholic high school in the all-white village. There was nothing any one of them could do about it.  They had no control over having been born white or being where they were. They were not free agents. If they were, Gas-man would have transferred to Oak Park High, but he couldn’t.

Why? Why couldn’t he? He was the Gas-man, wasn’t he? He slammed a door in his mother’s face, why couldn’t he tell her he was transferring to Oak Park High? Sounds like bullshit.

Black and white are contradictions. They contradict each other. Black and white and color are contradictions. They contradict each other.

Dan was full of contradictions. They were pulling him apart. Of course, everyone was full of contradictions, and everyone is full of contradictions, and that’s where a mirror comes in handy because it can show you just how things are, things you could not see or know otherwise.

Remember, you’re looking at a mirror image where everything is reversed, and your eye is pulling some kind of trick too because everything is really upside down.

Theirs were all lives not of quiet desperation but muffled. That’s why it’s called the suburbs. They were the first and second generation of suburbanites, a phenomenon of America in the mid-twentieth century. It was all brand spanking new.

The wealth of nations. Look in Dad’s wallet. Look at all that change in the pup.

With the money he stole he would be parsimonious, he would be shrewd, he would buy two boxes of plain popcorn instead of one of buttered popcorn at the movies, which he attended by himself, after the fashion of Gas-man.

Contradiction: if you wanted to be like Gas-man, you had to be without Gas-man.

One day they would graduate from Fenwick, the second day of June 1969, a bright sunny and warm day in Oak Park, the world’s largest village.

You can look in the rearview mirror and see where you’ve been. Dan liked to sit by himself in the single seat at the back of the last car on the el, the seat that faced backward, and he could watch the city or the suburbs in retreat, rushing away from him, the land where he had just been, the life he had been living.

Goodbye Fenwick, goodbye Tony Lawless, goodbye Friars, Dilullo, Wingerski, Saint Ken Sitzberger, Father Farrell, hippy priest.

What are we celebrating? What are we so goddamn happy about?

It’s over.

Over? That was the start. The start is over. You’ll spend the rest of your life figuring out what just happened, and if you ever do finally figure it out, you’ll be right back at the start.

Dan had quit the football team because he was not a brute. It may have been simply because he was not as brutish and brutal as the other brutes, not big enough, strong enough, although he would always maintain that he was fast enough. But if that was it, then he would not have known it. He only knew it now because it was true. He was not a brute. If he were a brute, he would love to hit, love contact, and he didn’t, not a bit.

Dan awoke every morning with the same intention: Don’t do anything today that will make you hate yourself more than you already do. He would begin with a confession, admitting to himself his hatred for himself. Then he went about separating his self from his life, as if they were separate entities. He didn’t hate life, even if he hated his own life. Life was beautiful, life was worth living, if he could only somehow remove himself from the picture. He envisioned life without him, and then life had a fighting chance.

Dan read with the Brandenburg Concertos playing on the record player.

Gas-man condensed the meaning of The Magus into this – No matter how much you hate somebody or something, they or it can cast an influence over your every move for the rest of your life. You cannot escape the influence. It will shape your life. It takes the form of destiny.

All the while there was a tapestry being woven, a montage, in black and white and color, with a soundtrack and hit songs and movie stars as well as sports stars.

The ambiguous ending of The Magus.

The ambiguous ending of Citizen Kane.

What does it all mean?

What do you want it to mean?

If it can mean anything, then what does it matter?

Is that the same question, or another one?

We live in doubt and fear, but we’re cocksure of ourselves and we like shit that scares the shit out of us – for fun. We like Halloween, we like horror movies, we like suspense, we like violence, or at least the threat of it, we take delight in revenge, we get our rocks off seeing someone get the shit kicked out of him, or her. Yes! Maybe that’s going too far, but you get the idea. A little violence goes a long way, and a lot of violence goes even longer, becomes history, attractive not just for an audience, but for the public at large, the populous, for all the civilization that Eddie Fenwick went searching for back in time, sailing against the tide back to Europe, and blasting forward to everything that history has spewed forth since. It’s all of a piece, it’s all true, and it’s all happening at once, past, present, future – just three different ways of saying now. That’s what rosebud means: it’s burning up.

The Woods theater showed Citizen Kane just a few weeks after the May 1, 1941 premier.

Everything is real except the names of Dan and his family and anyone else who is not a historical character or a public figure with no presumed right to privacy.


We had seen our President shot to death.

We saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV.

Jesus Christ, is this real, is this really happening?

The banshee.

They watched Kennedy’s funeral on TV. Everybody. The whole family. And everybody else in America. The President’s funeral. There was a horse in the street, a rider-less horse, in Washington DC. A little boy saluting. Jesus.

Dan stood on the corner on the school side of the East Avenue bridge over the expressway. It was a blessing that the house on Euclid was west of East Avenue to aid his lame sense of direction. Which way was east? Toward East Avenue. The Church with Jesus atop its dome was on East Avenue, so the sun rose in the east over Jesus every morning. It was a crisp November day and Dan was just hanging out, no school because of the President’s funeral, and all the kids were wondering the same thing. Did that just happen?

Things happen because other things happened, not because we wish them to happen.

Sometimes they do.

Les Preludes by Liszt was thundering the majesty of Mongo and the heroism of Flash Gordon, as portrayed by Buster Crabbe, and his heroine Dayle Arden and her rival, the evil and voluptuous Princess Zora, daughter of Ming the Merciless.

Hitler may have been the evilest man who ever lived, but for scaring the shit out of a kid in 1957, you couldn’t beat Ming.

Was this a loss of innocence or a loss of ignorance? Either way there was no going back. Once you’ve lost it, you turn into something else. Complicit. You know too much.

You’re becoming disillusioned.

Becoming?

You’ve been telling yourself you didn’t do anything wrong, but you were doing everything wrong, and at the same time something horrible, history, was being done to you and everyone else. You didn’t have a prayer of sorting it all out, No one did. Not Nicholas Urfe on his island, nor Bergman on his, but getting high didn’t seem like all that bad an idea, and the more tempting it got, the more it seemed like sin. Thank God, sin was going to go out the door with God, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

She came in through the bathroom window.

Who?

Lady Madonna.

Eleanor Rigby.

Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.

Julia.

In the life of his mind, Dan was spinning like a roulette ball, and when he dropped it was into that cycle of critique of society and utopian answer, the world he wanted that was all play and no work, but coupled with Christian love of others, then to find out it was all bullshit.

Was he or was he not going to take William F. Buckley to college?

He had no idea how to get good grades because he’d never really tried, a ‘C’ was good enough. He was ill-equipped for failure. He had too many resources. He was, in a word, pathetic. He was, in two words, growing up. In other words, he was fucked.

I Dreamt a Dream

When 2020 began I was tearing my hair out, which you may know I can scarcely afford, because I didn’t know how we were going to put on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at the ART for Black History Month. Carol Velasques was directing, I was assisting, and E. Stanley Richardson and Rhonda Wilson were going to star, but beyond that we needed a cast of seven. We opened the doors for auditions and two people showed up. The next night there were none. Someone was going to have to break the news to the ART that Two Trains Running was not going to happen. I volunteered.

But what if . . . ?

I had my Shakespeare play. I had it all in my head. I had been working on it for the past year, had workshopped it Expressions Learning Academy and at Anthony Ackrill’s studio. And it was better than nothing. The ART was in a bind. No show for Black History Month? What’s Shakespeare got to do with Black History? Still, it was better than nothing.

It was an act of faith. Not on the part of the ART so much, because the ART didn’t have much choice. It was an act of faith on my part. Who puts together a full-length play with zero prospect of anyone putting it on? No one gave a shit about this but me. * I called it into being. I had written it in the hope of doing at the library maybe, or, at best, on a dark night at the ART.

*Michael Presley Bobbitt, my friend the playwright, promised me, if nothing else, he’d produce the thing by renting out the Thomas Center for a One Night Only performance.

I don’t how I talked Tom Miller into directing the play, but I know how I talked the ART into letting me do it – Laura Jackson had seen it at Expressions, and Laura and I had worked together on Gaslight, which she directed at the ART, a huge hit and a joy to mount and perform, and Laura had been Carol’s assistant director for In Splendid Error, with Stan playing Frederick Douglass opposite my John Brown, which gave her insight into the casting difficulties with Two Trains, and, finally, we had worked closely on the premier production of MPB’s Sunset Village, directed by Tom Miller, in which we were trained as part of a tight ensemble that traveled to NYC and had the balls to perform Off-Broadway. Laura trusted me.

Tom trusted me too. We’ve been working together, seems like, forever. But he didn’t agree to direct the play right away, not sight unseen. He hadn’t seen either of the workshop versions, but he agreed to let me act it out for him, so I did, at the ART, with just Tom, MPB, and Anna in the audience. It was magical. I played the play for my beloveds.

Anna believed in the play too. She knew she was one of the off-stage characters in it, Macbeth’s Queen, because she’d seen it at Anthony’s, and she loved Shakespeare and the way I could hold forth with it for well over an hour, like watching a circus act, she was fascinated and wanted to be a part of it – offstage, running tech. How cool is that? Anna Marie Kirkpatrick, the actress, the singer, the star, she was going to run tech for my show.

And Tom Miller was going to direct it.

No shit?

No shit!

Tom Miller is the best director I ever worked with. Mind you, that means the best director for me. As I said, Tom built the ensemble for Sunset Village from the ground up. The rehearsal process trained the actors in voice, movement, and technique while addressing each beat of the play with precision and depth.

Tom watched me perform Seven Sides and recognized a play with a shape, a beginning, middle, and end, some laughs, some drama, some very excellent dramatic poetry, and a few surprises. Best of all, here was an actor, the whole cast in fact, already off-book.

I’ll do it, Tom said.

That meant there would be lights, sound, music, staging, and a vision of the play by an artist skilled in those very arts. It was like Tom Miller directing Shakespeare . . . and me.

I quickly became the star, Shakespeare being dead.

My one-man show in which I recited Shakespeare and told related theatrical anecdotes had turned into a play, the story of my life, with Shakespeare providing the commentary. The midrash. Or was it vice versa?

Music played that I had never dreamt of, along with music I had only dreamt of. MPB, playwright, theatrician, designed the lights. Anna ran the show.

With a theatre, a set (the one the ART was building for the yet to be performed next play), just getting a two-week, six-performance run at the ART was a stroke of luck, but it was luck we had earned by having a show ready to go. Getting an audience was another matter, but the star quality of Shakespeare, Tom Miller, and MPB, not to mention chutzpah, not only solved the problem but charmed a review out of the Gainesville Sun, a rarity for a two-week run.

The review was a favorable one too, very favorable.

The play closed just before the plague shut down the theatre, just before the Ides of March. We had dithered about filming the last performance, and we let the chance pass by.

The ART was locked up, but Carolyne Salt, the ART president, who also happens to be one of our beloveds, would let us in, if we wanted to film in there without an audience. I wanted to go for it. But what kind of play is that?

Meanwhile, Tom was going to school with David Lynch, writing screenplays, and maintaining the Tabernacle of Hedonism as an on-line event. The pandemic had set in. Life had changed, and something in Tom changed too. He began to see the Shakespeare play as a movie. It was about the theatre, so some of it could be shot there, but it was also about a hell of a lot more.

It was about the pandemic, life and death, growing old, lost love. It was a movie and not a play anymore. So, we started shooting outside, at the Thomas Center. I spoke directly into the camera, into Tom’s I-pad. The whole thing, till we got to Cedar Key, would be shot with a device the size of my composition book.

That would be the trick of the thing, the magic act, to do it safely in the midst of the plague, and to do it so well it could be ein film von Tom Miller. For that we were going to need not only help, but luck.

As Tom said in explaining how we got one of the most amazing shots in the movie, “Luck is just another word we have for Michael Presley Bobbitt.” MPB not only made it possible for us to shoot for a weekend in Cedar Key like natives, he piloted us to each shot.

As for help, we got a little help from our friends. To co-produce the movie with MPB, Joey Larson appeared, artist in his own right, willing to pitch in so that we could enter the movie in contests and festivals and drink beer.

Kim Chalmers’ home and garden provided the moonlit scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream. Rhonda Wilson gave us permission to film the Macbeth scenes at the Star Center Theatre. The Hippodrome allowed us to shoot Malvolio on the main stage.

Like the clean-up hitter, the ringer, the secret weapon, Alexander Davidowski was on board to provide not only his professional skills in the editing, but the “money shot” his drone would capture when we got to Cedar Key.

Tom said we were going to finish the movie in December, so, here we are, New Year’s Eve, gathered for the first screening, Tom, Robert Young, Kim Chalmers, Mandy Fugate, Wendy Thornton, Crew Kinard, Ron Cunningham, and me.

Wendy Thornton is a poet, a novelist, and the founder of the Writers’ Alliance of Gainesville. We’ve been friends a long time. I invited her to the workshop performance at Anthony Ackrill’s studio, and she responded not only with enthusiasm but with the suggestion that I expand the play by adding not more Shakes, but more Sham. I did, and when Wendy saw the play at the ART, she was blown away.

Wendy Thomas now has something to say about the movie.

Wendy gets it. It would be hard to get it any better, First, she’s a poet who gets Shakespeare. Next, she’s a novelist who gets narrative. Then, it hits home for her, because she gets nature, ecology, the pandemic, the planet, and the cosmos, and so she sees where we’re headed in this movie.

She can see perhaps David Lynch’s influence on the graduate of the Maharishi International University, but she also sees that there is no one else like Tom Miller, host of the Tabernacle of Hedonism, filmmaker of Nothing, and author of the prize-winning soon to be a motion picture Elmer’s Saucer. Thus, Wendy sees play grow from seed to stage, and then from stage to screen, where the idea of “Opening Up” a stage-bound script takes on a new meaning and soars, literally, like a flock of birds. Wendy totally gets it.

Saints Rest

Oak Park & Chicago

Then there’s the story of Chicago and the Midwest, the suburbs and Oak Park, the expressway, and the change wrought across the land.

Modernism.

John Baptiste DuSable built his trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1779, the first man to live there, a Black man.

There were no hills. This was the Great Plains. The land had been pressed flat by glaciers, hundreds of thousands of years before.

Joseph Ketllestring and family arrived in what would become Oak Park from Yorkshire, England in 1833. Four years later he bought up the heart of Oak Park for a dollar and a quarter an acre. The deed was signed by President Van Buren.

Name a street after him.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ernest Hemingway would all grow out of that same midwestern mud that rose to the ridge the Ketllestrings settled on.

When Lincoln debated Douglas seven times in October of 1858, Illinois was much the same in its racial and political attitudes as it would be a century later. The most racist people were in southern Illinois, the abolitionists were up around Chicago. The racists and Stephen Douglas won and controlled the state legislature. Lincoln might have been a pretty fair country lawyer and politician, but he was not DeMare.

In 1862 Lincoln offered the slave states the freedom to own slaves – till 1900. Till the next century!

The Chicago Fire burned down the whole city in 1871.

Oak Park appeared as a refuge from Chicago, a place where people could escape the Great Fire and its aftermath.

The direction of the Chicago River was reversed, an engineering feat for all time, at the turn of the 20th century, an idea thought up before the Civil War, much to the displeasure of the folks downstream in St. Louis and further south. Fuck em. It preserved clean drinking water from Lake Michigan and sent its dirty water to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the mighty Mississippi, which it reached through the Des Plaines River, haunt of Hemingway and harriers.

By the end of the 19th century there were enough churches and Protestants in Oak Park for people to start calling it Saints’ Rest.

The el reached Harlem and Lake by 1905.

St. Edmunds was the first Catholic church in Oak Park. It went up in 1910.

Oak Park had been at war with Cicero, a war of independence that Oak Park won by becoming a village. By 1910, 30,000 people were living in Oak Park.

The Oak Park high school building opened in 1917, a sleek new horizontal edifice of the prairie school of architecture.

The stadium went up in 1924. It seated 6,000. Stupidly, the field ran east and west, so that one team always had to battle the sun in the late afternoon – at the end of the game!

There were no movie theatres in Oak Park, by law, till 1932, because movies were “tempting, thrilling, lust-appealing adventures which will attract our young people.”

The Lake Theater opened on April 11, 1936.

In the early fifties Ike was just starting to get the idea for the interstate highway that would wreak modernism upon Chicago, and all those Studs Lonigan neighborhoods would die, and the interstate would barrel through all the way across America, crisscross it up and down, and all those small towns would start to die, and the modern cities would rise in all their grandeur and ugliness and squalor, skyscraping, and filling in the gaps with ghettos and housing projects.

Somebody had to build the highway first. The construction would intersect Oak Park Avenue as it headed west, past Harlem Avenue, connecting eventually the cornfields of Dekalb with Chicago, all the way to and from the Loop, but first, all that land had to be leveled (not too great a task on the Great Plains) and cleared and paved.

The Congress Expressway was coming through, but Danny didn’t know what had been there before. It was gone now, whatever it was. People’s homes. Streets where people had lived and worked and shopped. It was gone now, knocked down, bulldozed away, leveled, graded.

Traffic all across America had been building up and up and up as cars began to cover the earth, and when Ike had the idea of untying all the knots with an interstate highway system, to cut all that downtown traffic loose, down a chute, and spew it out into the suburbs, it seemed like as good a solution as any to everybody except the poor schmucks who were in the way.

Everything along Congress Street was annihilated, the buildings, homes, businesses, churches, schools, neighborhoods, life in the city for thousands of lives, removed, if it could move, and at first nothing would be left, just a gash, a lengthening crater, spreading west.

It didn’t work. If it was meant to eliminate traffic, it didn’t eliminate shit. The traffic was worse, and the traffic kept getting worse, a trip into or out of Chicago by car ranged from pain in the ass to fucking nightmare.

The Expressway wiped out neighborhoods, real communities of shared life, daily experience, of families of Jews and Italians and Poles and Irish, and what grew out of the rubble along the crater that stretched to the west? Something to flash by as you sped out of town. Something to travel past. Something that made you avert your eyes. The neighborhoods were replaced with projects and ghettos in which to house poor Blacks arriving from the south.

Oak Park was different. There was nothing else like it the whole length of the expressway. The two exits in Oak Park at Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue were, uniquely, both in the middle of the expressway. Every other exit the length of the expressway would be to the right.

The expressways criss-crossing and shooting streams of traffic in every direction but east, where Lake Michigan stood in the way – the Dan Ryan, Stevenson, Kennedy, Congress.

The Dan Ryan Expressway was wide, 12 lanes across, and it just steamrolled straight through the south side.

That’s where Martin Luther King got hit in the head with a brick.

The Congress Expressway went through the worst of it, where the riots and the fires would be fiercest.

DeMare, the honorable Richard J. Dayley, could perform miracles. He got Kennedy elected, didn’t he? Like the loaves and the fishes, they counted up all the votes and there were more votes than there were voters.

In Chicago there were micks, krauts, wops, polocks, lugans.

The White Sox were struggling. The team was losing, and attendance was down. Was DaMare going to bail them out?

What do they want me to do, Demare asked, play for ‘em?

The Eisenhower interstate highway system, a linear graph of mostly straight lines crisscrossing the nation with four and six-lane roads, the goal being efficient and easy travel.

You swept by the west side projects, gray, brown, broken and crumbling, but swarming with life, windows still being broken, rat-infested, from a distance it could be seen safely as a prison, except that there were no wardens or guards. They weren’t buildings, they were projects.

You could step on the el and be downtown in 21 minutes and you would have effectively disappeared, and in the crowds you were anonymous. You were no one, walking amid thousands of other no ones.

You could do anything you wanted by yourself, alone, in Chicago, go places, the Public Library, the Art Institute and sit in front of a Van Gogh, or go to Krochs & Brentano’s bookstore, or a comic book store, the whole city could be yours in complete privacy – because nobody gave a shit about you.

Johnny Lattner’s Steakhouse was dark and cool inside and smelled of wood and leather and steak and cigar smoke. In a glass case lit with a mysterious glow was the Heisman Trophy.

It started to rain, and it would rain all day, the sky the same gray all over. On the el it was hard to tell where the gray of the sky stopped and the gray of the buildings began.

The Picasso. Marina City.

Studs Lonigan lived on the South Side. Studs Terkel took his name.

Dan and Davo were running east to Austin Boulevard, through Columbus Park, alongside the expressway to Central Avenue and Rockne Stadium.

The wind was blowing, now hard in a gust, then steady in a gale.        

Davo was from the south side and he liked soul. He only liked soul music.

Emmett Till was from Chicago.

Fred Hampton was assassinated.

By the Police.

The murder of Fred Hampton.

Demare’s man Hanrahan was an Oak Parker.

Ed Hanrahan was Demare’s man for prosecuting troublemakers, Black militants and antiwar activists. He was an Irish-Catholic Republican and an Oak Parker. He fit right in. He had gone to Notre Dame. He got along with Demare and the Chicago Democrats like a house on fire.

What’s the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats?

In Chicago? In Cook County? The difference between them is none. Demare runs the show, and he’s a Democrat, but he tells the Republicans what to do.

The Roaring 20s. Where? In Chicago. To be followed immediately by: The Collapse of the World Economy.

What are we doing?

Spinning. Revolutions around the sun.

DaMare just said: Shoot to kill.

Shoot to kill. The looters. The rioters. Shoot to kill.

Somebody shot Dr. King.

Chicago wasn’t alone. There were race riots in half a dozen American cities. This was a country that assassinated its leaders, invaded other countries, murdered the people and scorched the land. So, there was a peace movement, but Black people weren’t rioting because they wanted peace. They wanted justice.

Maybe they wanted a color TV and a bottle of whiskey.

You have a color TV. You have a whole whiskey cabinet.

The movement, the peace movement, the mass movement was to move the nation out of war, was to remove the war machine from Vietnam, but it was going to take Time, a long time when a year is a twelfth of your life or a sixteenth or a twentieth, years of protest would have to take place. Mr. Ayers’ kid would end up killing somebody in his misguided attempt to stop the war.

Downtown, it was all happening downtown.

It’s 1968, and it’s one, two, three, what’re we fightin for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam!

Buckley and Vidal were losing control just watching the convention from their swivel chairs.

The whole world was watching what was happening downtown and on the lakefront in Lincoln Park. A huge anti-war protest timed to blend in with the attention given to the Democratic convention had met with DeMare’s ire and there was hell to pay.

Father Farrell was going down there. To Lincoln Park for the demonstration, the protest to stop the war.

Demare is gonna call the goon squad out on all those people.

The Tribune and the Sun-Times were lying side by side on the landing at the top of the steps. The Trib curled to open horizontally, the Sun-Times vertically, both glistening with flakes of snow. Dan opened the front door and took one icy step outside to pluck them both up and quickly stepped back inside and closed the door against the winter.

When Dad got the Trib, the sports section would be missing. The Sun-Times at least stayed in one piece. The sports pages began at the back, so Dan read it in reverse and rarely went past the sports section. That was all he cared about, that and what movies were playing.

The Oak Leaves arrived on Thursday afternoon. Mom read the Oak Leaves. Dad didn’t give a shit about the Oak Leaves.

Time and Newsweek and US News and World Report came in the mail, and Dan subscribed to National Review and it thrilled him when it arrived, addressed to him. Gas-man subscribed to National Review, and read it. Dan read Buckley’s column, so he could quote him, but he might have already read it in the Trib, and he read the movie reviews and the letters to the editor and little squibs, but nothing too taxing on his brief attention span.

Dan’s big brother Ciaran spent the first eight years of his life in Riverside. The Riverside life had lasted through the end of WW2, which was over in 1945, and the next year Connor and Mary had another baby, a girl they named Norine, and they all lived happily in the bungalow.

Three stages of life: Riverside, Clinton Avenue, Euclid Avenue. The family spent 10 years in each place.

Riverside for Dan was practically prehistoric times. To him Riverside was the town that was home to the country club, a place for the rich, but the town itself was for working class people.

Moving to Clinton Avenue in Oak Park was a step up to the middle class, and the move to Euclid Avenue put them on the cusp of the upper middle class and membership at the Riverside Golf Club. They had found their niche. Whoever moved into that corner house on Euclid Avenue would want to come to rest there. Your own castle.

South Oak Park may have been a different world than Riverside, but it was bordered by Harlem Avenue which connected the two towns and funneled traffic north and south into the city – Chicago.

Moving from the bungalow in Riverside to south Oak Park allowed them to look down on the Bohunks, pejorative for Bohemians, though where Bohemia was was hard to say, who lived in Berwyn and populated the Cermak Plaza shopping center.

Watch out for the Bohemians.

It seemed to have more to with the way they drove their cars down Harlem Avenue or in the parking lot of the plaza than anything else.

The Bohunks and the Pollocks, because to call a Pole a Pole wasn’t demeaning, never mind that there were more Poles living in Chicago than in Warsaw, so the Micks hated them, and the Dagos, so it was easy to see how a perceived common threat could unite them all, and make them remember they were all Catholic and, more importantly, all white.

Ecumenical.

The cicadas had arrived.

After a trip or two to Cermak Plaza, Mom and Dad took to attaching Dann-boy to them by means of a harness and leash, because he would otherwise most certainly wander off and be lost among the Bohunks. The Bohunks were like a primitive tribe.

And Black people?

There was nothing wrong with being a racist when everyone was a racist, when your parents were racists, and your grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends, classmates, neighbors were racists. You did not know anybody who was not a racist and you did not even know what racism was and if you had been told by someone that you were a racist, you would deny it, because you did not hate Negroes and wished them no harm, you only knew that they were not fully human, a subspecies, and you were better than they were, except, oddly enough, in just about all ways physical. You had to admit they were faster, stronger, better coordinated, apparently as compensation for their mental deficiencies. That’s how fucked up you were, and your excuse was you weren’t the only one.

The house on Clinton Avenue in Oak Park was not just a step up in the world for the McDwyn family, it was a whole new world.

Oak Park, the World’s Largest Village, and people took pride in that, just as they took pride in Rocky Marciano and George Mikan, and the largest village in the world didn’t have a single Black person living in it. Gospel truth. Every homeowner in the whole town had signed a blood oath not to sell their house to a Black family.

Just two blocks away from the house on Clinton Avenue was a playground that took up the whole block, Carroll Playground, named after Lewis Carroll, presumably because playgrounds are for children, and Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, by profession a mathematician, also an amateur photographer, especially liked little girls.

It was a hell of a playground. On the near side there was a softball field with a red clay infield and a grass outfield that stretched horizontal farther than anybody could hit one, two gigantic sand boxes, swings, jungle-gym, slides.

At the heart of the playground was the shelter house – so called because it was where everyone went to warm up when the playground turned ice rink in the winter. The whole vast field would be flooded when the freezing temps arrived, and dozens of people would come to skate. The shelter house was only one floor, but it was longer than anybody’s house, big enough to play all kinds of games in all year round. Danny-boy would go to pre-school in the shelter house.

You can’t play hockey on figure skates.

Why not?

Because it gives you an unfair advantage.

How?

Because you don’t even have to skate, you can just stand on the toes and run around.

That’s right. What’s wrong with that?

Nobody else can do that.

They’ve got hockey skates on.

That’s the point.

Seems like they’re the ones wearing the wrong skates.

Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet, could fire off a hockey puck with his slap shot at 120 miles per hour.

There were six teams in the NHL, Blackhawks, Rangers, Bruins, Redwings, Maple Leafs, and Canadians. They beat the hell out of each other. The Blackhawks had never won Lord Stanley’s Cup.

If you asked a kid if he wanted a drink out of Lord Stanley’s cup, he might kick you in the balls.

The Village was going to flood the parks as soon as the ground was frozen six inches deep.

That a fact?

I duno. But it makes sense. If the ground’s not frozen, the water would just seep into it, the ground would just soak it all up. It’s when the ground is frozen that the water can sit on top of it and freeze. So, you have to wait until the ground is frozen before you can flood the parks.

Six inches deep.

After Thanksgiving.

December.

Fire trucks would come to the park and turn on their hoses and flood it, and then you could skate and play hockey.

Those wickedly curved sticks that let you lift the puck and send it sailing through the air like a missile.

What it feels like to be hit with a hockey puck.

In the shelter house at Carroll playground there were legendary games of steal-the-bacon, and that was where Dan first got the notion that he could be the greatest athlete in the world – because he a was shade quicker than a dozen other six-year-olds, sitting in a line on opposite sides of the floor, cross-legged. Steal-the-bacon required guile, speed, quickness. Red Rover: brute force and intimidation. Dan was more adept by far at the former than the latter.

Tackle football without pads. There were a couple of kids at the playground who just wanted to mess Dan up. They were laying for him.

The villains: Brian Cunningham, Jimbo Wilkinson.

There was a whole life there on Clinton Avenue, there were four seasons revolving around Carroll playground again and again and again. And then they moved away.

They moved a mile away to the Euclid house in 1962 and they lived there, three blocks from Ascension, and Dan and Norine were home from school for lunch and watching Bozo the Clown on WGN when Kennedy was shot.

Anything was possible. Everybody knew that after the President had been shot.

All you want to do is play and have fun. All you seek is pleasure.

What could be better?

Happiness.

It’s what makes you happy.

It would be better just to be happy.

Mean Gene liked to read comic books. Danny’s sister Norine liked to read Betty & Veronica, and Danny studied them, absorbed by the notion that first he would prefer blond Betty, and in the next moment, raven-haired Veronica, never once considering why it had to be one or the other, they were both so delicious, yet the blond aura of Betty was distinct from that of Veronica, and they, though they were only ink drawings on a page, must have tasted and felt and smelled subtly different.

Why were Gene and Mary Jewel living with Nano in the first place?

Gene and Mary Jewel were the products of a broken home. There was no dad. The Lambs had a dad. They were a real Catholic family and they lived right across the street on Clinton Avenue. They weren’t a big Catholic family, they only had five or six kids. And they went to church at Saint Bernadine’s, which was just as far away from Clinton as Ascension, but it was across Harlem Avenue in Forest Park

Nano was Gene and Mary Jewel’s Grandmother. Their mother lived on the south side of Chicago. There was no father in the picture. Their parents were divorced.

Catholics weren’t supposed to get divorced. The Pope said so, and the Pope was infallible on matters of faith and morals, except maybe when it came to the Nazis.

Gene would one day enter the seminary. Mean Gene would one day become a priest. Father Mean Gene. Maybe he would harass the bishops the way he did the seven patrol boys. Maybe he would abuse boys too, but probably not. Probably that would just piss him off.

The Legend of the Seven Patrol Boys. Gene went to kindergarten and Danny-boy didn’t, so, it was hearsay as well perhaps as hyperbole, but according to both Gene and Mary Jewel, Gene got into an altercation that turned physical with an eighth grade patrol boy, who called to his partner for aid, and then another patrol boy and another patrol boy joined in, until there were seven of them,  all to quell one skinny little kindergartner, which might be hard to fathom, but not if you were a would-be kindergartner yourself, albeit sheltered from the experience.

Kiddieland would just be fun, not terrifying. Not Riverview. Gene would gladly climb on-board the Fireball, but not Dan. Gene wasn’t afraid of anything. There was that, and there was the fact that Gene had a terrible temper. He was Mean Gene!

One day Gene was constipated.

What the hell does that mean?

Guess it means mad.

Mean Gene was sitting on the pot in Nano’s house on Clinton Avenue, while Mary Jewel and Dan watched Superman in the living room, and they could hear Gene hollering in pain and anger and frustration, and he seemed to be taking it out on Nano, although how it could have been Nano’s fault that a ball of shit was blocked by its own solid mass, its own immensity, from departing through the opening of Gene’s too-small asshole, God only knows.

Gene and Mary Jewel moved away, but not before the hot summer ended and the three of them were playing in the kiddie pool in Dan’s backyard Dan talked Mary Jewel into removing her bathing suit.

Gene didn’t give a shit. He was Mean Gene with everybody else but Dan. With the rest of the universe he had a terrible tendency to explode into tantrums, fights, and wreckage, on the playground, or at Ascension, where he got into it with one and all, kids, nuns, priests, it didn’t matter, including his legendary battle with a group of eighth grade patrol boys, seven of them, to be precise. But Gene never got mad at Dan, and Dan never got mad at Gene. There was nothing to get mad about. All they did together was play and have fun, all up and down the block, starting in Nano’s garage, where there was treasure, like crushed-up diamonds, they surmised, and stuff in a steel box.

Diamonds?

Some kind of shiny mineral.

What do we do with it?

Don’t touch it.

Why? What’s gonna happen if I touch it?

I don’t know.

What the Hell.

There was nothing to do with the stuff. It was just there.

Come on.

And out into the alley, and they felt not the least bit deterred from entering any and everybody’s backyard to cut from the alley to the street, angling east or west, on a whim.

Go where you want, do what you want, and there was Mary Jewel in the nude, pink and freckled to go with her curly red hair and blue eyes, just like Gene. They were twins.

Clinton Avenue and Carroll playground and Gene Mary Jewel faded into pre-historic time, necessarily, because organized play, a game by any rules, can only be arrived at by way of unorganized play, which is a world of magic and make believe and strange, unexplored sensual territory, rank and sweet with smells and tastes and unbridled fantasies and thoughts, where death could meet God and angels and devils and ghosts and monsters all got along quite nicely, and if they didn’t, Nano still might take the three of them to Kiddieland. Nano might even take them to Riverview.

Riverview was an amusement park of mythical proportions. Mythical because Dan would never go there, only hear about it.

Laugh your troubles away – at mad merry Riverview!

Ample parking.

Two-Ton Baker was pitching Riverview on WGN as he himself pitched over the top of a roller-coaster and then dipped down an insane incline at a hundred miles an hour into water!

What?

Seemed like. Anyway, there was the world’s fastest roller-coaster at Riverview and it was called the Fireball and it went a hundred miles an hour.

The Clinton house underwent a remodeling during the 50s. To what end? In the prospect of staying there long-term, or with an eye to its resale value?

Both.

There was a big train set in the basement of the Clinton house. Dad and Ciaran and Pop would run them while Danny-boy watched from the stairs, perched high enough to get a view.

That was also where Mary put her pen for the family pure-bred collie, Pocahontas Pete, to have her litter of pure-bred puppies, to be sold. The enterprise of a woman in the 1960s.

Pocahontas, also known as Pokey.

Mary McDwyn worked in a realtor’s office as a secretary now. She had gone back to work after her fourth child started school. And she was only working for fun. Selling real estate seemed to offer a natural appeal to women, even if they couldn’t really play, they could at least assist, and being secretary in the real estate office gave her a gander at the listings, and she had long had her eye on that two-story brick house on the corner of Euclid and Van Buren. If it ever came up for sale, she and Connor were going to grab it.

That G.I. Bill must’ve been working out. Instead of applying it at M.I.T., where he’d been accepted, Connor had taken a job as an electrical engineer with Commonwealth Edison. He went to his office downtown in the Loop. The house on Euclid was only two blocks away from the el stop, only a block away from Oak Park Avenue.

Brinkerhoff’s drugstore was on the corner and there was a soda fountain there and you could order a milkshake and there were comic books on a revolving rack.

Across the street was the hardware store, Gerber’s. The A&P grocery store was in the middle of the block, and the new pharmacy was next to it. It would always be called The New Pharmacy from its opening evermore. There was just the word Pharmacy on the sign, nothing more, and it was slick and new and spacious and automated here and there, a coke machine, no soda fountain, and it put old Brinkerhoff out of business within a couple years.

At the end of the block was the Suburban Bank, while toward the other end of the block, closer to Brinkerhoff’s was its rival, Village Savings.

Dan would ride his bike to make deliveries for Paul’s Drugstore, on the other side of the bridge over the Congress Expressway.

Paul’s and the Benson and Hedges in a box.

First, Dan worked as a delivery boy, on his bike, then he worked behind the counter.

Paul was the owner, the pharmacist, but his grown son Skip was a pharmacist too, and they were like senior and junior partners, and Skip was as much in charge as his old man. It was Skip who taught Dan how to make change.

All you do is ring it up and count it back to the customer. You ring up a dollar-twenty-five. Customer hands you a five. You start at one-twenty-five and count it back to him: three quarters makes two, then three, four, five. Easy.

So, Dan was tooling around town on the cruiser delivering prescriptions. He got paid by the delivery. He kept his money in a cigar box. He and the Lambs would hang out in their tree house and count their money.

Suddenly there was an expressway where there had been a bulldozed plain and only trucks and workmen allowed – until they all went home at the end of the day and the kids came out to play, like fairies appearing in the woods, and the kids would climb the sandhills and mount the machinery and excavate or pretend to and crawl through cement tubes and tightrope-walk across beams.

The sports world, like everything else, was well underway before Danny ever came along. Before sports hit him, there was the unorganized play of Chase and Jail, Steal the Bacon, Red Rover.

Adventuring came before sports – tree climbing, all-purpose climbing, scaling buildings, getting up on roofs, and traveling anywhere on your bike, and by the time you got to 1960-something, you’d be ready for a drink, you’d cop a smoke, if you had the nerve, and Danny had plenty of nerve, and not much common sense, in fact, practically none.

There was a ledge about ten inches wide all around the Presbyterian church on the next block, across the street from the playground, and you could climb up onto it and you could try to make your way, either face to the wall or back to the wall, all the way around the church on the ledge.

Why?

To see if you could.

Chase, the ultimate running game. The first thing was to set the boundaries: You couldn’t cross Jackson Boulevard on the north, Van Buren on the south, Euclid on the west, and Wesley on the east, the whole block inside those limits – the church, people’s yards, the alley – all of it was in play.

So, there we were, fellow Americans, in the 50s with the Checkers Speech in black and white with Howdy Doody and Two-Ton Baker and Kubla, Fran, and Ollie, and the playground and Gene and Mary Jewel, dissolved into the 60s, where Black people would appear, and the kids of the family were in four different schools: Fenwick, Trinity, Ascension, and Lincoln.

Lincoln was the public school just three blocks away from the Clinton house, and Danny would walk right past it every day on his way to Ascension, but that was where Brendan spent his day, until he transferred to Horace Mann after the family moved to the Euclid house.

Houses, side by side, block by block. Catholics, Protestants. There were Jews, but who knew? Muslims? Who had ever even heard of such a thing? Religious questions devolved into such mysteries as: Why do the Lambs go to school and church in Forest Park at Saint Bernadine’s instead of Ascension? Why does the Protestant church on Harvard Street have a bowling alley in the basement?

You want a job?

Who doesn’t want a job when you can be a pinsetter in a bowling alley? You’re back there, and you’re behind this barrier, and the frame comes down after the pins have settled, and then you jump in and you set the pins in the frame and you jump out.

Dan’s circle of friends began with Gene and Mary Jewel.

Then came the Lambs across the street.

At Ascension, Dan didn’t befriend Gas-man until toward the end. God and Man at Yale. Goldwater.

There were Roger Reynolds and David DeCleene and all their brothers and sisters. The cool cats were Paul Gearen and Shocker Kolovitz and Rug Olson and Larry Sullivan.

Then there were the Clarence alley boys, Gump and Johnduff and Jack Leper, who didn’t like Dan for some reason. Guys called him Jack Strap, and so did Dan, so maybe that was it.

Eddie LaPoint would pretend to be Steve Allen doing his man on the street interviews and generally conducted himself in public as if he were hosting a talk show, and he would broadcast wherever he went. If you walked around with him, you became his second banana.

The staging of the Uncle Freddie Show for Mission Day. Paulie Wagner, Kenny Gretz, the sap Charlie McCallister.

Playing a round of golf.

Dan switched the light on at the top of the stairs and went down to the basement to get his clubs, They were in the store room alongside his dad’s workbench. His dad’s clubs were in there too, and they were in a bag on wheels, and there were a lot of them, really nice and new and well-maintained, and all the accessories, towels, tees, balls, glove. Dan’s bag was slender and contained just a couple of drivers, irons, and a putter, and was meant to be slung over the shoulder, thus making it possible to carry while riding your bike to Columbus Park for a golf outing.

Columbus Park, the public course on the other side of Austin Boulevard.

Who’s going?

Dan-Man, Johnduff, Chester, and Dave Declene.

They had been the Three Little Guys in second grade, Danny, Roger Reynolds, and David DeCleene. There were eight or nine kids in the DeCleene family, and like the Gearens, they were all really good athletes, but they were all short. The Gearens were of medium height, and very cool. They had a half-court hoop in their backyard, and they banked it in with snow in the winter and iced it and they played hockey there.

Chester was short and skinny and he had one leg totally crippled or lame or something, so that he couldn’t bend it and he could barely run, but he’d try. It was kind of pitiful really. Guys felt sorry for him, plus he was rich and guys mooched off him, and here he was tagging along on the golf trip.

Golf was one of those games, like tennis or pocket-billiards, that unless you’re Gump you’re going to need some serious instruction to master the fundamentals. Whatever it was, Dan didn’t quite have it. He hooked it, he sliced it, he duffed it. Meanwhile Chester couldn’t hit the ball very far but he hit each shot dead-on straight as a ruler. By the seventh hole he was five strokes ahead of everybody else.

Riding their bikes to Columbus Park with their golf bags slung over their shoulders.

Schweez and family lived on Wesley Avenue, around the corner, near the end of the street by the Protestant church. Schweez and Dan were in the same class at Ascension.

One day Dan and Schweez were roaming the halls of the Oak Park Arms hotel and they happened upon the radio station on the top floor, and there was a disc jockey in the studio behind the glass and he motioned for the two boys to come in.

Have a seat, boys.

What the heck.

You boys ever been on the radio before?

Yeah, right.

Now, when that red light comes on, I want you to read this. You can read, can’t you?

Yes, sir.

It was a good thing he was asking Dan, because Schweez couldn’t read worth shit.

The disc jockey asked: Why are you reading it so fast?

You asked me if I could read.

That’s right. I didn’t ask you how fast you could read.

I wanted to show you.

That’s not the idea.

What’s the idea?

You’ve got to put some feeling into it.

What do you mean?

Like this.

And the guy read some stuff, and it seemed silly to Dan, and he wasn’t going to do that, so they left, and they wandered the halls of the Oak Park Arms.

Schweez loved to lift weights. He was convinced that lifting weights was the key to success, and even though he was skinny and never seemed to get any bigger, just taller, he was almost six-feet tall in grade school, he kept curling and benching and squatting. He would get to six-three, almost as tall as his big brother, who had filled their trophy case playing forward for the Fighting Friars. When Schweez was just starting out, he and Dan would do their weight-training together, which meant they would see how many times they could curl or press a ten-pound dumbbell, and somehow Schweez got it into his head that the source of all your power lay in your forearms – like Popeye.

Schweez was a great sports guy, and he lived right around the corner on Wesley Avenue, across

the street from Terry Ross.

Schweez and Dan were boxing fans, which meant that they were, among other things anti-

segregationists, as well as fighters themselves in training, two things that were unique in their respective households.

There was a trophy case in the living room of Schweez’s house, a glass case that displayed the trophies the Schweez brothers had won, mostly they belonged to his big brother, who played on the Fenwick basketball team, an honor nearly equal to playing on the Friar football team.

Gump could throw a curveball, a knuckleball, and a split-finger fastball — he had perfected them all with a whiffle ball, and he could pitch overhand, side-arm, or underhand, ala Ted Abernathy.

Gump could ice skate beautifully, powerfully, and he was by far the best hockey player on the ice, the best stick-handler, had the best slap-shot, and was the best goalie too.

Gump was the best golfer, the best bowler, just about the best everything, without being very fast or very strong, or looking at all like an athlete. In fact he was a little pudgy. The only sport he would pursue in high school was tennis. As for the rest of it, he just became the most knowledgeable fan of all those sports he was so very good at. Gump’s father was a doctor, and he was strict, and he made education the top priority in the household, and Gump was his only child, and his focus on Gump’s academic success was laser-like. All those superb athletic skills of Gump’s were allowed to flourish and bloom at Fox Park in grade school and then just disappear like smoke, but Gump had been magnificent.

Gump was the number two or three player on the tennis team at Fenwick and content. High school seemed filled with enviable lives, it was just that yours was not among them. But Danny could look around and see others who might envy him, and he felt sorry for them, extending his sympathy as well to those who should have envied him, but probably did not. There was Joe Sessa, chubby, unattractive, pasty-skinned, black-haired and hairy on his back and shoulders, but going bald already on the top of his pate that encapsulated a highly intelligent brain, a mind at the top of his class in Latin and calculus, while physically weak and uncoordinated, the epitome of the non-athlete, sedentary, dandruffed, pigeon-toed, walking right into one of the Gas-Man’s ad-hominem attacks.

Kenny Gretz, of all people, wasn’t going to turn in those science notes. He just wasn’t. Mother Edna had told the whole class; If you do not turn in the science notes, you will not graduate.

Kenny said he didn’t care. He said it didn’t matter. He said it didn’t matter whether he graduated or not. And it didn’t. Here he was at Fenwick.

It wasn’t just that this one kid’s name was Franklin Bobb, a guy with two first names, that made him ripe for derision, it was being overweight and not seeming to care about that or that his hair was greasy and kept shading one eye, or that he wore black-rimmed glasses that he kept having to push back to the bridge of his nose, it was that he insisted on being called Franklin and not Frank, and so kids heralded him with Franklin as they beat the shit out of him.

Dan had a towel-folding job in the cleaners in a big brick building near Lake Street. They cleaned towels and linen napkins for hotels and restaurants, thousands and thousands of towels and napkins, all starchy and clean, that Dan would feed into a machine that folded them, hour after hour, at the push of a button, and so he would feed the machine, repetitive motion, till he got to his 10-minute break, a candy bar, a Coke, and back at it till lunch. It was summer outside. And Dan went back inside.

One afternoon, for no particular reason, Dan and Dog Ryan decided to go to South Park and climb trees.

Ever smoke a cigarette before?

Sure.

When?

Lots of times.

You’re full of shit.

The first black kid didn’t show up at Fenwick till 1955. He didn’t come from Chicago. He came from Melrose Park – Pizza Park. The wops had made their own suburban ghetto to keep their Blacks in.

Percy Julian had his home in Oak Park fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day 1951. Who did that? His home got fire-bombed twice. World’s Largest Village, 62,000 people, one black family, and in the middle of the 20th century their home gets fire-bombed twice.

If you were black and you wanted your kid to have a Catholic education, you could send your kid to St. Mel’s or St. Phillip’s. Not Fenwick.

If Oak Park was awful, it was beautiful too. Just to walk along the sidewalk under the branches of those trees and past everybody’s nice house made of brick or stucco that stood proudly alight in the dark cold white of winter, just to walk.

Snow was falling out of the gray sky that brightened around the sun, but there was no sun to be seen, the flakes floating down at first, but then with some force behind them, driven down and into place like infinite nails, carpet tacks.

The Rope Trick!

Here’s what you do: it’s a snowy night. Snowflakes falling in the darkness, and a car’s headlights beam through the white flakes. Lovely. Meanwhile, there are a couple of kids in the street on one side and a couple on the other, and they look like, what the hell? Hey!

What you do is you pretend you’re holding a rope.

And this is funny?

Hell yeah it’s funny. Look how mad they are. Come on!

And then you run away.

Ways to amuse yourself.

It was snowing hard and the wind was blowing, so the snow would whack you in the face.

Moby Dick was on the summer reading list, and Dan read it at Lake Lawn Lodge and loved it. All that minutia about whales washed over him and he didn’t care how long it was taking to get to the point, he was at sea – without having to go to sea, which he would have hated, would have scared the shit out of him.

The transistor radio was the grandest device, because now you could be in the freezing cold, with all your gear on, the big mitts, layers of clothes, boots, in the snow, and be able to listen to Chubby Checker.

Just because you know how to use something doesn’t necessarily mean you even know what it is. Take money for example. Money is what you use to buy stuff, but what money is all about, what buying shit with money is all about, you’d have to learn.

The crucial events in his life were things that never happened, all the things he set his heart on, imbued with his imaginative power, circled around endlessly, but when the moment of truth arrived, he turned tail and ran.

You’re a schlemiel.

You are the superfluous man.

They were swimming at the Ridgeland-Commons pool, Dan and a bunch of kids, along with a couple hundred or so other people, and he and Kathleen Hanson were standing in the 4-foot deep section with the other kids, and Kathleen, tan and hot in her sleek white one-piece, leaned back against him and reached back for his hands and took and placed them together on her tummy, and instantly he recognized it as a moment he would not mind abiding in forever.

Where was it all leading? Was it all a story without a plot, without a hero, just a jumble of words and images and sensations and events? What of this notion that he was the only thing in the world that he could control? Could he? Could anybody? Can we possibly control ourselves? We want to control the pain. We want to control the circumstances, when the circumstances are beyond our control. So, stay within yourself, but in historical context, trying to encapsulate in experience, ascend from the abstract to the concrete. Dan had blunted the dreams with drugs and alcohol and sugar, numbed himself so as to enter the dream world deaf, dumb, and blind. It didn’t work.

It ends when Dan’s life in Oak Park ends, when he decides to follow Gas-man out of town and into the cornfields The sun sets on the cornfields, with the war raging, the Cubs fading, the Church, the nuns, the priests, receding into obscurity. It ends when the door is closed on the Church and opens onto the secular world and it all bursts into color again.

The One Thing God Could Not Forgive

There they lived in the fall of 1951 and through the winter and the start of 1952 in a bungalow in Riverside, Illinois, alongside the Des Plains River, on just one salary for a family of five, but, thanks to the G.I. Bill and Commonwealth Edison, they were going to move into a real house soon in Oak Park.

Dan’s father, Connor McDwyn, had turned down a scholarship to MIT to go to work at Commonwealth Edison after the war.

The money, the family income, was coming from Commonwealth Edison, under the direction of Mr. Ayers.

Dan’s father was more than a mere electrical engineer. He was creative, part-architect, part-inventor, and the tangible results appeared in the porcelain dachshund, and the final piece of evidence would be membership at the Riverside Country Club.

What did Dad do at Commonwealth Edison? Dan didn’t know. Something that required graph paper and a draughting table and calculations and blueprints, all of which came under the general heading of electrical engineering, which reached an apex of achievement in the lighting designs of Marina City and Water Tower Place, the newest invocations of urban utopia alongside the Chicago River. Dad was successful. He knew Mr. Ayers and Mr. Ayers knew him.

Your father turns the streetlamps on at night.

His dad’s white shirts, fresh from the laundry, in cellophane, the starched collars stiff.

Connor McDwyn must’ve been taking down a good chunk of change at the Edison Company. Enough to take his family to Lake Lawn for a couple of weeks every summer. Enough for two cars, a two-car garage. Enough to have the Clinton house remodeled and send the kids to private schools, and then enough to buy the corner house on Euclid and outfit it with a two-car garage. But not enough yet to join the Riverside Country Club. He’d have to wait till he cashed in his Edison chips and started his own business for that.

Connor was an only child, intelligent, handsome, talented, with an artist’s hand and eye, the mind of a mathematician and the hands of a craftsman.

Connor was the same age as, say, Saul Bellow, both born in 1915, Bellow in Canada, Connor not far away, in Buffalo, New York. Then Bellow wound up in Chicago, after his father stole across the border just as Pop had, but while Bellow would come to concentrate on modernism and realism, Connor would concentrate on electricity and golf.

There was the world Dad had been born into, the world of 1915, a black and white world, where cars were new and there was no such thing as TV and D.W. Griffin was inventing the movies and poisoning them with racism. Gramma and Pop and Gwennie and Grampa had all come out of the 19th century. So had Aunt Marge and Uncle Lou. Wilhelm Schmidt could hardly have guessed he was going to grow up to be a bus mechanic. They couldn’t have had any idea of the world they were heading into, and yet they all managed to make the transition somehow, successfully, respectable jobs, nice home, stable marriage, went to church, paid their taxes, raised children, who were even more successful, respectable, nice, stable, church-going and tax-paying. And then Dan came along.

What did Dan want? Dan wanted a major letter. A great big black F on his chest on his snow-white sweater with its single gold ring on the right sleeve.

It would be incumbent upon Dan to father children and raise a family.

They had two cars. A two-car garage. A car for Connor and a car for Mary, a boy in high school at Fenwick, a girl at Trinity, a boy in grammar school at Ascension, three different private schools, three different tuitions to pay, and a boy in public school – first at Lincoln and then at Horace Mann, after Mary had shopped around for the best special education classes, whereas the private Catholic schools had none to choose from.

Dan’s grandfather, Connor’s dad, Pop, had joined up with the British army way back around 1910, and there he was in uniform in Egypt, serving the Queen of England. Pop must have been with the British Army just before World War One.

The sun never sets on the British empire.

And when Pop’s regiment was transferred to Canada, Pop lit out for the territory – he deserted and then snuck into the United States, around the same time as the Bellows were sneaking across, two crimes for the price of one, a kick in the ass is better than no fight at all.

The man from Ireland meets the woman from Germany. Pop meets Gramma. They have a son. He goes to Fenwick.

The man from Germany meets the woman from Ireland. Grampa meets Gwennie. They have two daughters, who later go to Trinity.

These are the origins.

The picaresque adventures of Pop were known, and the family tree of Gwennie’s Collins’ ancestry was documented and framed, traceable for generations, but not much was known of the German half of the equation, of Gramma’s life before she became an indentured servant, an illegal alien same as Pop, nor of Wilhelm Schmidt before he became a mechanic for the West Town Bus Company.

“Irish genius discovered an altogether new way of spiriting a poor people thousands of miles away from the scene of its misery. The exiles, transported to the United States, send home travelling expenses for those left behind. Every troop that emigrates one year draws another after it in the next. Thus, instead of costing Ireland anything, emigration forms one of the most lucrative branches of its export trade.” – Marx, Capital

Gwennie was taking him to Marshall Fields’ to see the Christmas displays in the windows and then go inside to escalate from floor to floor, each a different world, rising to the top, and there was Santa Claus.

The proliferation of Santa Clauses was puzzling, troubling, but the conflict was suppressed, set aside, not unlike the trepidations of Jesus hiding himself in a little bread.

The house on Euclid Avenue was a castle. Dan lived in a castle now, a red-brick, two-story corner house with a yard and a two-car garage.

Mom had lusted after that house for years, and then she was working in the real estate office when the listing appeared. She didn’t pray for the house. She wasn’t crass. But she wanted that house. It was so near to the church and the school and Oak Park Avenue and the bank and the shops.

Imagine paying the tuition to go to a private high school in 1929? How did a couple of immigrants pay for that? They’d only been in the country for ten years, and Gramma didn’t even speak English when she got here.

And how did Grampa and Gwennie manage to send two daughters to Trinity?

“The Irish famine of 1846 killed more than a million people, but it killed poor devils only. To the wealth of the country it did not the slightest damage. Ireland is at present only an agricultural district of England, marked off by a wide channel from the country to which it yields corn, wool, cattle, industrial and military recruits.” – Marx, Capital

Dad was born in Buffalo, New York in 1915. Pop was 22, maybe 25 at the time, putting the year of his birth back in the 19th Century. He had joined up with the British army sometime before  1910 and in the next five years he travelled as far as Egypt with the army before finding himself deployed to Canada, where he snuck over the border into the United States to start a new life.

Own a restaurant?

How’d he swing that?

Hard to believe.

Tall tale.

County Cork. Egypt. Canada. Buffalo. And to wind up in Oak Park.

Marx was writing in 1865 about Ireland being England’s bitch, its farmland and fodder, and the excess labor was shipped off to America. Land of the Free. Thus, Ireland was depopulated, and it was just a place to get out of by the time Pop was born, a few decades after Marx saw it for what it was, capitalist addition by subtraction. Joining up with the Brits must’ve been a common ruse, so it took some guile on Pop’s part to convince the Crown of his loyalty.

The British in Egypt in 1910.

Existential questions.

And what about Grampa, Wilhelm Schmidt, Rose’s father, an able-bodied young German mechanic, when there was a war between Germany and the USA?

Why?

These were the questions uppermost in the mind of God as it extended through Dan into the third millennium CE: Why did the Lambs go to Saint Bernadine’s? How did Connor McDwyn get downtown to work before the construction of the expressway that would carry the el to the suburbs?

The Lambs were a big Catholic family, seven or eight kids. The McDwyns were a small Catholic family. How did they manage that? The rhythm method? Coitus interruptus? How does a married Catholic woman in the 1950s manage to have just one child every four or five years, and then be done with it? Twenty years, four kids.

And the last one was a mistake.

Connor McDwyn was 37 in 1951 when Dan was born. Mary was 27. They were good. They had a family of three, two boys and a girl, and that was fine. Enough already. But then, five years later – why? She was 32. It was the 1950s, having a baby in your 30s? He was 42 and he had to be thinking he was getting a little too old for this shit.

Must’ve been a mistake.

There was mom, dad, his big brother, his big sister, and just when he was getting used to being the baby, his little brother came along, in 1956, when Dan had just turned five.

Shit.

Dan was jealous of the new baby. He would try to scare the baby in his crib, make him cry, try to scare the living shit out of him, and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Dan would sneak up on little Brendan’s crib and peek over the edge and make faces at him and make him cry, and run away before Mary came to his aid, and one time he went to scare the shit out of Brendan, and Brendan scared the shit out of Dan instead. He was having a seizure, not that Dan had any idea what that was, but Brendan was all seized up, eyes glazed, rocking his head hard against the bars, teeth clenched. Scared the shit out of Dan so bad he screamed, and his mother came running.

The thing of it was an epileptic could have these fits, one of these seizures, at any time, anywhere.

He could swallow his tongue.

You can swallow your tongue?

Just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.

Anytime, anywhere – without any warning?

Ah, yes, an aura. No. I don’t think so. You could ask him.

Brendan could feel it coming on, but what good did that do? The trick was to prevent it from ever coming on, and that’s what the Dilantin was supposed to do, and at the same time it prevented some light from coming on in Brendan’s brain, and when he learned to talk you could tell the instant he said anything that he was messed up, and you could see in his eyes that he wasn’t all there.

His mother and sister worked together to put his baby brother in the bathtub filled with cold water.

What sense did that make?

None.

None of it made any sense, but from that moment on, for the rest of her life, all of Mary’s thoughts and energy and will power would be put into securing a normal life for Brendan, who was, all were led to believe, an epileptic, and since it seemed that no one was quite sure what epilepsy was, it didn’t much matter that Brendan was misdiagnosed with epilepsy in his infancy, when what he really had was migraine headaches, because what really messed him up was the treatment – a daily dose of Dilantin.

When Brendan would have a seizure, his eyes would glaze over and his limbs would stiffen and he’d rock against the first impediment he met, and there was nothing to be done about it, just wait it out.

Are the drugs doing him any good?

Wait and see.

When Dan was born his big sister Norine was five and in kindergarten, and his big brother Ciaran was nine and in the third grade at Ascension, being taught by the Ursuline nuns.

Ciaran, Norine, and Danny, they would each of them take piano lessons from the nuns as well. Only Ciaran, the Golden Boy, applied himself.

The piano lessons were held in the convent, across the street from the church.

And so on. When Dan was three in 1954, Norine was 8 and Ciaran was 12, and they lived on Clinton Avenue, Ike was president, and in 1955, another notch up to ages 4 and 9 and 13, and in 1956 another kid appeared on the scene, Brendan, when Dan was 5 and in first grade with the nuns, and Norine was 10 and in fifth grade, and Ciaran was a freshman at Fenwick.

NBC ran Peter Pan with Mary Martin in 1955 and 1956 live!

For two weeks every summer the family encamped on the shores of Lake Delevan in Wisconsin in a cottage on the grounds of a resort called Lake Lawn Lodge, two weeks that became the centerpiece of the whole year, to be looked forward to in rapt anticipation, and then to fade into memory regretfully, a moment you had wished to remain in forever, and it was taken away, used up, you had consumed it, devoured it, a day at a time, fourteen times.

The lake, the indoor pool, the timber lodge, everything was alive with aromas, the lake, the fish, the woods, the air, the girls. There was a dance hall where bands would play swing music and couples would dance and Danny and his summer friends could peek through the windows at them.

There were no baths or showers in the cottages, so everybody trooped over to the shower rooms in their robes and towels and clogs. There was no refrigerator, just an ice box, and a guy would come by and deliver a big chunk of ice.

While she was in college, Norine landed her dream summer job and started waitressing in the timber lodge.

Mary thought her whole vacation was worth it just for the salad dressing at the lodge.

Seeing Sparatcus at the drive-in movie in Delevan, Wisconsin.

The iceman cometh to the cottages of Lake Lawn Lodge. The block of ice went into the icebox.

It was a step up to stay in the Lodge rather than in the cottages. The Lodge was a grand sprawling hotel, carpeted, air-conditioned, and there was an indoor pool.

In the cottages, there was no air-conditioning, but sleeping near the lake in the cool night air of Wisconsin was sublime, pungent and sweet.

Dinner at the Lodge, and his sister was the waitress.

Little Bucky was an injun. There’d been Indians living around the lake since 1000 BCE.

A pretty girl about his age, slim, lithe, with curly brown hair that glistened when she rose from the water at Lake Lawn would tell Dan he kissed like a fish.

Because he had never kissed a girl before and he didn’t know where the noses went, and if your nose doesn’t go to one side or the other, the two of you meet head on, smooshing noses. Like fish.

You have to tilt your head.

Blew that too.

Proust goes to great lengths to describe the inadequacies of the kiss. It can’t give us what we truly want. Nothing can.

That girl at Lake Lawn Lodge said Dan kissed like a fish, and she made fun of him and the whole vacation disintegrated right there. Two weeks of heaven turned into two weeks of hell – because she was everywhere, with her sleek tan skin and slick black bathing suit so tight on her bottom, laughing at him and glaring at him and getting all her friends to do the same. They shut him out.

Why did you always want something you couldn’t have?

And why must he always be given a taste of it before it was snatched away from him? Why did he have to know what he was missing?

They had found each other the first day, and all two weeks lay ahead of them.

One summer Danny “worked” each day of the vacation at the stables, leading the ponies into their traces, and all the stable hands got to know him, and the next year he came back and none of them remembered who he was at all.

The stables were alongside the playground, just a slide and some swings, and you’d go there in the evenings, just as the sun was going down and it was starting to cool off a little, and you could swing, sit on a swing with a couple other kids, boys and girls, and talk and swing and swing and swing.

They swung high up into the twilit Wisconsin sky, matching each other, going for height, sometimes swinging together and sometimes in syncopation, and then level and swung easy and low, and let their feet touch the ground lightly, just a touch slower until they stopped. It was dark now and the lightning bugs were glowing and flashing on and off.

Danny had gone to his sister’s room one night when The House on Haunted Hill came on TV and they watched it together, alone in the big house, and afterward he asked her if it would be all right if he slept in her bed because he was scared, and she said yes and she didn’t make fun of him.

Dan and his sister were together at Ascension from 1957, when she was in sixth grade and Dan was in first grade, till 1959, when she was in eighth grade and Dan was in third grade. From there she went to the nuns of Trinity high school in River Forest.

Dan told the kids at school that the Pope was coming to his house for lunch.

It all seemed to start promisingly enough, moving up from bungalow to house, from Riverside to Oak Park, the specialness of being the baby of the family, and of being the favorite, even after his younger brother came along, because his younger brother was a mistake, was damaged, while Dan was gifted, talented, creative. Such promise, such potential.

His big brother was going off to college, getting on a train at Union Station. It would take him into Minnesota. He would never live in Oak Park again.

The Bells of Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota.

There were hills in Minnesota. It wasn’t like Illinois. He and his big brother drove into the hills and stopped, and Ciaran got out his pistol and they got out to do a little target shooting.

Hold it with both hands and be ready for the re-coil.

The what?

BLAM.

Re-coil.

Dan’s arm hurt all the way up to his shoulder.

Damn.

His sister and her friend Dorothy liked to go out to bars and drink. They liked going to the Pub in Berwyn.

Mary was directing the whole enterprise from behind the scenes in the manner of women in the 1950s. For this subset of white Americans these were the Good Old Days, this was about as good as it was ever going to get, the silver age, when everything was in black and white, and grandfatherly Ike was in charge, and Nixon was his veep, and even in black and white you could clearly see by the perpetual five-o’clock shadow shading Nixon’s jowls that he was trouble, and he wasn’t going away.

Conner and Mary must have planned it out, separating their children into half-decade isolation from one another, even if Brendan was a mistake, it was a mistake in keeping with the five-year pattern so that each one grew in a manner distinct from the other siblings. They didn’t hang out together. Ciaran was so much older than Danny he was more like a father than a brother, someone to be hero-worshiped, lionized, the Golden Boy, football star, off to college, boarding a train in Union Station downtown, heading for Winona, Minnesota and ROTC and a tour of Vietnam. The Golden Boy left home for good in 1960. Danny was 9.

It’s not cause and effect, it’s how one thing turns into another. One thing doesn’t cause another. Two things are in a relationship with each other.

Danny, the kid’s name was Danny. Eventually he would call himself Dan, and he would sign legal documents Daniel, but when he tried to go from Danny to Dan, insisted upon it, because he wanted to be treated like a man, his family and his friends teased him and called him Dan the Man, which was then contracted and made acceptable to him as Dan-Man. He could live with that.

Things that contradict each other, things that are opposites, start out by not contradicting each other. It’s only by their movement, their growth, their fluidity, the process, their relationship, their becoming, that they come into contradiction.

It is not exactly absurd. It is exactly not absurd.

Life. Live. Breathe. Everything is moving, becoming. It was becoming when all those world events took place, and the repercussions would shape your life, and you didn’t even know it was happening. Hiroshima. Before Dan’s time. The bombing of Dresden. That happened – to Kurt Vonnegut, he of the craggy face and mustache, Twain-like, whose science fiction was before its time, who was against the war in Vietnam.

Wait a minute. There was a war in Vietnam? What the fuck for?

Exactly. You even know where Vietnam is? It’s in Southeast Asia. You know how I know? Because we fought a fucken war there. That’s how Americans know geography.

The Tribune was at the front door and so was the Sun-Times. Dan grabbed the sports section out of the Trib. The Sun-Times wasn’t folded in half, but instead worked like a codex, a book, that ended with sports, so that for Dan the back page was the front, and he would leaf through from the back toward the front and rarely get beyond sports and almost never reached the front page.

Dan would get the paper before anyone else.

Where’s the sports? Who took the sports section?

Daniel.

The Daily News and American came out in the afternoon.

Danny pressing his silly-putty down on the funnies. It was Sunday and the funnies were in color.

Mom was on board with Bishop Sheen. As far as having class went, nothing could top Monsignor Prince Gerald.

Aunt Carol would forever be the nicest human being he ever knew, and she was married to Uncle Mac, who was also known as The Terrible Tempered Mr. Bangs.

Uncle Mac was not Dan’s real uncle. Uncle Eddy was his real uncle and Uncle Eddy was a goofball and Aunt Lenore had married him because he was a goofball. She liked his sense of humor. He was her Ernie Kovacs.

And Aunt Carol was not his aunt. She was not his mother’s sister, she was her best friend, and they had been best friends since high school, since Trinity, maybe even longer than that, back to Ascension days.

Uncle Mac worked for Squib, the drug company, but he hadn’t risen as high as Connor had in the Edison Company. Dan’s family had moved from the Clinton house to the Euclid house, but the McCormicks stayed put. Dan’s family vacationed at Lake Lawn Lodge, but the McCormicks stayed at the Assembly grounds across the lake.

Dan and his faux cousins were digging in the McCormicks’ backyard. Not in a sandbox. In the dirt. There wasn’t much grass. It was mostly gray dirt. They were building a highway.

Aunt Carol didn’t seem to mind. She was cheerful and happy and kind as always.

A few blocks away the Congress Expressway was under construction, here there were sticks and rocks to be cleared away to make way for toy trucks. The three McCormick boys were Danny’s cousins. At least he thought they were.

But they weren’t.

Uncle Mac was not really his uncle. He was his father’s best friend. They had been friends since high school, since Fenwick.

Then Uncle Mac got sick, very sick, and he died. Cancer. He wasn’t even 50. All those years working for Squib. Didn’t he have access to all those drugs and medicines? It didn’t matter.

Are you the Holy Fool?

I don’t know. Am I?

I guess you wouldn’t know.

You try to think it all through, your place in history, which is really just a passage of time, a parade of events and characters, this pageant, and it all seems to be spinning around in a carousel, so fast that it blurs, and at every moment, as you look at it hard enough to see something, some shard of the mirror with the reflection of that sliver of reality in it, and you breathe, and the passing of time seems to separate you from all other living beings – because  you are alone, alone with your problems and your thoughts and your self. You have to be confronted, and so you seek out confrontation.

What would you grow up to be from watching “I Love Lucy”?

So afraid of needles. So afraid of the dentist. So afraid of death.

And something else.

Where did that come from? A sudden urge to fight back, to rebel, to assert himself? He didn’t know he had it in him. Almost the instant that his success registered on his consciousness, it began to dissipate, and he fought back again, and it felt good. What was the lesson here? You had to try.

Kids were trying to see how many of them could jam into a phone booth.

Your best bet would be to join up before you got drafted, or you could go to officer training school and join as an officer. You didn’t want to go in as a buck private, and you didn’t want to serve in the infantry because those guys got shot, and you didn’t want to drive a tank because somebody could drop a grenade in there and blow you up, so stay home, but maybe what Ciaran wanted was to do his patriotic duty, maybe it was a test of his manhood.

You could burn your draft card and go to prison in noble protest, or worm your way out of it in a half-ass protest like Arlo Guthrie because you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.

When Dan turned 18 he’d be eligible for the draft, but he’d be in college and he’d have a student deferment, and what were the chances the war would last for four more years? It had been going on since he was in grade school. All he was really worried about was holding onto Patty Dooley’s ass, which was the first steady piece of ass he’d ever gotten, as well as the first piece of ass he’d ever gotten and he was loathe to give it up just to go to college. She let him touch her bare ass in the back seat of his Corvair at the drive-in. They had been making out for weeks, and when they decided to go to the drive-in, they both knew it meant only one thing, and it wasn’t seeing the movie. Climbing into the back seat increased the possibilities horizontally, and she was lying on top of him, and he reached behind her and ever so slowly, so that she could stop him whenever she liked, so that if she allowed him to keep going it must be because she liked it, because he liked her and it was genuine, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, he didn’t want to make her cry, and he would gladly settle for whatever he could get away with, along with the promise that there would be more where that came from, if he were polite and waited, and now suddenly the waiting was over and he was touching her actual ass, her bare bottom beneath his very fingers, so smooth, so soft and firm at once, and his finger traced down to the crack, and she whispered, “That tickles” and she stuck her tongue in his ear.

The troops were being exposed to Agent Orange, which would not only give them cancer, but would also cause diseases and disorders in their spouses and children.

Ciaran went to war. He was a second lieutenant in the Marines, a helicopter pilot. A helicopter pilot was not someone who dropped bombs on people. A helicopter dropped you off somewhere in the jungle where no plane could land, or a helicopter saved your ass when it dropped down and got you out of a tough spot, retrieved wounded. Ciaran was no war monger, but he was a sharpshooter, had a sharpshooting medal.

So did Oswald.

Ciaran didn’t go over there to shoot anybody.

So why’d Railsbeck make that crack and elbow Dan in the mouth?

Ciaran would rise to the rank of Captain. If you were a Captain in the Marines, you were the true gen of Not to be Fucked with.

Something Dan had known all along.

Too bad about the Lane game.

The incident must have happened in the winter of 1959 going into 60, and Ciaran was wearing his letterman’s jacket with the big F on it, and Danny was nine years old and in the third grade, and his big brother, a senior in high school, was walking him home from school. It was a few weeks after the Friars had been crushed in the snow by Lane Tech 19-0.

Danny slipped in the snow and ice and some kids on the other side of the street laughed, and Danny’s books and papers were scattered in the snow and Ciaran was helping him collect them all, and the kids had stopped just to laugh at them. They were teenagers, high school kids, three guys from Oak Park High who thought they could say whatever they wanted because there were three of them, and, besides, they were all the way across the street, so one of them shouted: Too bad about the Lane game.

Ciaran looked up and then he took off, sprinting straight for the hecklers, who paused fatally before attempting to scatter.

Most people when they run curl their hands into a loose fist that tightens slightly with speed and adds force to the pumping of their arms, which helps lift their feet and thereby run, but not Ciaran, who ran with his fingers extended straight out and his hands became axe blades that cleaved the air with an amazing rapidity that produced speed. Ciaran tackled one of the guys and rubbed his face in the snow and then he stood back up, brushed the snow off his pants, and walked with sure steps back across the street to where Danny was watching and holding his books.

You ok?

You’re asking me?

Let’s go home.

And so they did, or maybe it never happened. Maybe Dan just made it up, a story he could tell about Ciaran to ward off bullies.

But it was bullshit, and that was why Railsbeck had elbowed him in the mouth.

William F. Buckley’s theatricality struck a nerve in Dan, just as the priests celebrating Mass did, and Kirk Douglas playing Spartacus, Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe All-American, and, above all, James Bond. Dan didn’t want to be Bond, which would have scared the shit out of him as much as Moby Dick did, but acting, pretending, that seemed to be right up his alley. The beauty of it was that it could happen almost entirely within your own mind, sometimes with the aid of a mirror or glass you could see yourself in, sometimes with a pencil, drawing, or with a pen, writing a story, or, more commonly, writing endless lists, inventing fictional players to play in fictional leagues with fictional standings and statistics and imaginary games, all of which he would doodle at during class.

Pretending, making up shit, lying, faking, deceiving, disappointing and disappearing, that’s what he was good at, he had a real gift for it.

Dan could pretend to be a hero, but he would be much more believable as a schmuck. He was no Sean Connery, let alone Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster, while his brother Ciaran lived in reality a Hollywood action pic, and, in ‘69, followed up his stint in Vietnam, where he flew over 700 combat missions, by joining the FBI.

War hero becomes FBI agent. Beat that.

There was nothing to beat. There was no way to beat it anyway, any more than there was of Dan sticking a harpoon in Moby Dick.

It wasn’t about supporting the war, it was about doing your duty.

So, you put the question of supporting the war or protesting the war out of your head.

Not to reason why, but to do and die.

Vietnam was turning into the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Besides, no one was asking Dan to support the war or protest it. The whole thing couldn’t touch him till he turned 18, and by then it would probably be over, and even if it wasn’t, he’d be in college with a deferment till he graduated four years later, and surely the war would be over by then. If Ciaran wanted to go wading into battle, that was his business.

Your brother’s over there.

There had been articles in the papers about Ciaran, our Men in Vietnam, about his combat missions and air medals and purple heart.

He’d been shot?

No one knew until he got home.

Shrapnel.

Where?

Where do you think? He’s flying a helicopter. It’s like he’s sitting on top of the enemy.

Dan lived with polarities, one brother older and heroic, one brother younger and feeble-minded. Was he his brother’s keeper? His younger brother did not follow the family footprints and matriculate with the nuns at Ascension and the priests at Fenwick. The nuns and priests could not care for him, so he went the secular route. The irony was not lost on Dan, who listened to Gas-man when he extolled the virtues of Oak Park High, where he might be taking courses in film studies in a classroom he would share with pretty girls, not that Dan had ever seen Gas-man so much as talk to a girl ever. Gas-man made it seem as though he’d be sitting in the darkened classroom studying the jump-cuts of Jean Luc-Godard with a bevy of Playboy bunnies.

No, Dan was not his younger brother’s keeper. He looked to the state for that. It was equipped with special ed teachers.

The Great pretender. That was what his mother called Danny-boy. It was the title of a movie starring Danny Kaye.

The Great Pretender Manque.

“Leave it to Beaver” was a parody of their existence. Beaver and his big brother Wally.

“Father Knows Best” exhibited what it was like to have a sister.

Dobbie Gillis just wanted to make out, but he was going to follow the rules. His buddy Maynard G. Krebs just wanted to avoid work.

“The Honeymooners” was another parody of their existence. The husband with wild schemes, a big heart, a loud mouth, and a bad temper, and the pretty, empathetic wife who loves him but rules the roost.

The Mystic Knights of the C (Sea). It had a double meaning, but Dan merged the two. The Mystic Knights of the Sea was the lodge where Amos and Andy and Kingfish were members. The K of C were the Knights of Columbus.

Uncle Lou was fishing in his pocket for a big nickel for Danny-boy, which was the agreed upon term for a quarter.

Back in the Ascension time, there was the terrible August when Pop was dying, and he lay on the couch in the tiny living room of the small house on south Kenilworth, with the Cubs losing on TV.

Dan could walk or ride his bike to either of his grandparents’ house and watch the Cubs game with Grampa or Pop.

Gramma would give him a cup of soda and some cookies, and Dan would open several packs of baseball cards that he’d purchased with change he’d stolen from his father’s ceramic saddlebag-wearing dachshund. His dad would hang his watch over the pooch’s tail, his keys over his nose, and he’d put his wallet in one bag and his change in the other, and if there were seemingly uncountable coins there, a slew of quarters and dimes and nickels, Dan would pinch just enough so that nobody, so thought Dan, would notice.

Gluttony had already set in. He devoured the cookies and slugged the soda as he rifled through the packs filled with cards that he already had, then stuffed all the pink strips of bubblegum into his mouth at once so that his cheek bulged with his chaw like Nellie Fox.

Dan had been a kid then. Now he was, what, cool? He didn’t go to Pop’s house or Gwennie’s house, he hung out with the Shocker and Rug Olson and Gaffney. They jetted around town on their bikes.

But what about leaving town? For one thing, they weren’t in a town. Oak Park was a village, not a town, and since it was the largest village in the world, that made it more like a city than a town, a city connected to the big city to the east, and to the north and south, the big city wrapping around it on three sides, like an ocean with a curving shore.

Everybody rode bikes everywhere. All the guys had a bike. Dan’s was the beat-up old tank of a Schwinn that had been handed down by his big brother.

Looks like something out of World War Two.

A hot day in August. Shocker, Rug Olsen, Dog Ryan. A bunch of the guys.

Ride bikes to Lake Street. Go in Sears and run up the escalators the wrong way, run through the aisles.

Shocker was a liar, a thief, a cheater, and a bully, and that was what made him a leader. What did it take to win his admiration?

They rode single file alongside heavy traffic, then cut through the cemetery. Beyond the cemetery was the entrance to Miller Meadow and on the other side of that lay Brookfield Zoo. There was a long green corridor that led to the front gates. It had taken half the day to get there. When would they get home?

Shock said: Who cares?

Crossing the border on the west side was no big deal. They could do it on their bikes. The thing was, where to go?

Guys wanna go to Brookfield Zoo?

Do you know how far that is?

No. Do you?

No, but it’s far.

We meet up at Fox Park. Go Jackson Boulevard out to Harlem Avenue, cross over into Forest Park.

Circle Avenue Bridge.

Great things could happen on your bike. Just a day or two before, Dan was riding his bike home from the pool, with Kathy Winston on his handlebars, Dan was giving her a ride home, and she kept leaning back and resting her head on his chest and pretending it was an accident, woops, slumping against him, falling practically in his lap, and he could have kept peddling all the way to downtown, Chicago, if she had asked him to.

The Circle Avenue Bridge came into view, straight up and straight down, steep, and at the bottom they would try to make a right-hand turn at a ninety degree angle, to head further west, to get to Brookfield Zoo.

They could ride their bikes to the Forest Park Pool, just past St. Bernadine’s, but they didn’t have their swimming suits, and besides, they were on a mission to ride to Brookfield Zoo.

Dan’s bike, the 26-inch tank handed down from his big brother, didn’t negotiate the turn, and went out from under him, slid into Rug Olson’s bike and his took out Gaffney’s and they all went down in the street, but Shock, at the lead, was unscathed and wasn’t even pissed off, when they looked up to see the smoking ruins of the Ferrara Candy Company.

Holy shit!

This can’t be real.

Shock was in shock. He dropped his bike on its side.

Jesus Christ!

Who could blame him? The Ferrara Candy Company had burned down, and everywhere, in the grass, on the sidewalk, spilling into the street, were mounds and mounds and rivers of Red Hots and Fireballs.

All they could carry, stuff into their pockets, in their socks, anywhere, all they could cram into their mouths, beyond wanting into something crazy, all they would ever want of Red Hots and Fireballs for the rest of their lives.

Hot damn!

It was the marriage of heaven and hell.

Hey! You kids! Get the hell out of here. Wudiya think you’re doin?

Cheese-it – the cops!

They jumped on their bikes and peddled fast to the west in the hot August sun, with their mouths on fire and screaming in raucous good humor because they had just scored. It must’ve taken the guy ten minutes to run them off. It had really happened. It would be on the news. The Ferrara Candy Company burned down.

Their tongues and their lips and their cheeks and their hands were cherry red.

Staying off the main streets, sticking to side streets where they could, they made their way west to Miller Meadow, where it was smooth sailing, roads with nobody on them, and they rode abreast one another, freewheeling, next stop Brookfield zoo.

To say they rampaged through the zoo would be putting it mildly. They did nothing at a walk and they did nothing without noise, but then a zoo is meant to be noisy.

The monkey house was a scream. In the snake house they used their voices to try to get a rise out of the snakes.

On the grounds outside, chipmunks were overrunning the place. They were practically underfoot, scrambling around all the outdoor exhibits, all up and down the paths, all about the greenway that Brookfield Zoo prided itself on, showing that the zoo wasn’t just a bunch of concrete buildings with animals inside in cages. So, the chipmunks had the run of the place.

Shock instructed Dog Ryan and Rug Olson to climb out on the limb of a tree that overhung the giraffe habitat, and two full-grown giraffes ambled over and ate the leaves off branches that Dog and Rug broke off and held out to them right out of their hands like pets.

It was Shock who started firing stones at the chipmunks, and whatever Shock did, everybody did – if they could. Stones rained down on the unlucky chipmunks.

Damn, Shock, you hit it!

Shocker! You hit it right in the fucking eye!

Jesus!

Dan would never get that image out of his head, ever. the dying chipmunk clutching at the wound Shocker had inflicted in fun. In fun.

Hit it with another one

Cheese-it, the cops!

A zoo isn’t open at night. When the sun goes down it’s time for everybody to clear out. The guys left the murdered chipmunk in the bloody dirt near the habitat of the friendly giraffes and beat a hasty retreat through the turnstiles to the bike racks, and then raced along the green corridor to Miller Meadow and the sun went from gold to crimson over the trees.

Getting dark

No shit.

Getting late.

It was dark by the time the guys split off in their different directions on their bikes and they finally got back to town after their day at the zoo. The house was dark. Seemed like nobody was home. He didn’t know Pop had died.

After Pop died Gramma moved in. Then Grampa died and Gwennie moved in. Gwennie didn’t last long, but Gramma was strong as a mule. She did all the housework, the dishes, the laundry, mowed the grass with the electric mower trailing its extension cord around the corner of Euclid and Van Buren.

For Christmas Dan received among his many gifts a bottle of English Leather. He did not have sideburns yet, to his regret, but he did have some acne going, which made him feel as though he was getting somewhere, might as well smell like English Leather so the broads would go for him.

If it felt like he was bad or guilty, a coward, a quitter, and an utter failure, it might all have been true, but what would have been the right decision, pray tell, in those rare instances where his decision might actually matter? He cursed his little brother’s epilepsy. They all did. It was a curse. But none of them knew that in reality, in point of actual fact, he didn’t have epilepsy. They were just making things worse and worse with the drug they used to treat it, when he didn’t have epilepsy in the first place. What he had were severe migraine headaches, misdiagnosed as epilepsy, and the Dilantin used to treat it caused and was causing irreparable damage. Doctors somehow managed to do that, bless their hearts, not Dan, not his parents, not his little brother, not God.

What would have been the right thing to do, not to go to Fenwick, not to try to play football, not to quit football?

Quitting was the worst sin of all.

His mother had been afraid when his big brother played football that he might get hurt. She only went to one of his games, and that was in his senior year, in the fall of 1959 when the team honored the mothers of the senior players, and the mothers all sat in the stands together and wore carnations.

Your mother is keeping your dinner warm for you on a hot brick. – Tony Lawless

Gas-man referred to the legendary Tony Lawless as Furnace Face.

What was any kid to think confronted with a constant barrage of stimuli, Gas-man, Buckley, The Magus, the Olympics, James Bond, priests, sex, cars, alcohol, the Beatles, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, grief, fear, ignorance. For all that, you don’t quit what you’ve started. Next to your picture in the yearbook it should say: Football 1, 2, 3, 4. Next to Dan’s it would say: Football 1.

They sat down for dinner in the kitchen. It was only on occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter that they ate in the dining room. Dad was at the head of the table, Dan at the foot, his sister and Mom on one side, Gramma and his little brother on the other.

Say grace, Brendan.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the –

Other side.

Holy Ghost. Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ Our Lod. Amen. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the –

Other side.

Holy Ghost. Amen.

Brendan was left-handed, in addition to being dumbed down by Dilantin, so blessing himself with his right hand always crossed him up. Mom perpetually intervened to prevent him from accidentally swearing allegiance to the devil.

What’s for dessert?

Dessert the table.

Everyone had gone, but Dan was going to have to sit there until he ate those fish sticks and macaroni, if he sat there all night. Friday night. Dan figured he could manage the fish sticks again, much as he hated them for their flakey fake chicken taste, but a forkful of a yellow glob of macaroni was sure to make him gag. Meanwhile Gramma was doing the dishes.

Did you want some more, Danny?

No, Gramma. Thanks.         

Vitalis.

Clearasil.

White collared shirts, fresh from the laundry, wrapped in cellophane, the collars starched. Silk ties, subdued colors, stripes. An electric shaver. Dad shaved every day, sometimes twice. He never once in his life grew a beard. Once in a while, on vacation, he might have a few days’ stubble.

Going My Way. Pop and Barry Fitzgerald were like twin brothers.

Niagara Falls. See it from both sides. In the Studebaker, after Pop died.

Mom and Dad were in front, and in the backseat Danny sat between his sister and Gramma.

Don’t say anything, Mother. If the man asks where you’re from, just let me do the talking.

Gramma was born in Germany and she had lived in Germany till she turned 20.

Your grandmother came here practically as an indentured servant.

Maybe something like that incident in the snow happened, but probably nothing approaching Dan’s rendition of the incident took place. He just made it all up. He just made up shit all the time.

Why? Why do you just make up shit all the time?

I don’t know.

And that was a lie too. He made things up to mess with time, to alter the past and shape it into something he could use now. See, if this happened, which didn’t – but pretend it did, then . . . And in this way, you could proceed indefinitely in an advanced state of fantasy, adorned with specific sensory details, the snow, the night, the books and papers, even the dialogue. All of it bullshit.

Dan would be in training this year at Lake Lawn, running laps of the resort and golf course before swimming in the lake or the hotel pool.

When Ciaran got back from boot camp at Quantico, he would walk down Van Buren to Oak Park Avenue and look at the houses and say to himself, there are normal people in there, living normal lives. That sense of strangeness came just from starting to become a Marine. He had yet to go to Vietnam.

Danny-boy “graduated” from Carroll pre-school on May 25, 1956.

Where you going to college?

I duno.

Seriously.

Seriously, I don’t know.

You’ve thought about it.

Not really.

Don’t be a wiseacre.

I’m not. That’s the point.

Have you applied anywhere?

No.

Running out of time.

I’ve ruled out all the Ivy League schools and West Point.

You’d never get in.

That’s why I ruled them out.

Notre Dame?

Never get in.

Champagne?

Maybe.

Then you have thought about it.

I don’t want to go too far away.

Downstate is too far away?

I’m scared.

Of what?

Life. Change. Distance. Time. Sex. Violence.

You’re afraid of sex?

Afraid I’ll fuck it up.

So what? Wake up.

That was all a dream?

You ok now?

Think so. No. Probably not.

You gonna be ok?

No. But it’s ok. Everything’s ok. You can just let things happen. They’re going to happen anyway. Who knows what’s going to happen? No one knows what’s going to happen.

Sure they do. They know the sun’s going to come up and go down. A hard rain’s a-gonna fall. We know that.

Dan wasn’t just a walking chaos, he was chaos running in all directions at once, exploding with conflicting desires, just like Chicagoland, like the USA, like the War!

It was Mom who loved Jimmy Cagney as George M. Cohan, who loved Mary Martin as Peter Pan, and Judy Garland and Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey, Mom, who played the piano and collected knick-knacks.

What could possibly have inspired this woman, his mother, to write a fan letter to George Wallace, and to tell the world’s most famous and dangerous racist about her talented young son who was about to graduate from grammar school?

Let’s take a wild guess – racism?

How could Mom be a racist?

Easy. It wasn’t like she had to buck a trend. It would have been hard for her not to be a racist.

That would’ve been the hard thing to do, and then how would her marriage work, considering she was married to as racist a man as any in town. Dad didn’t even like Pollocks. He didn’t like Bohunks either, whoever they were. It was funny.

It wasn’t funny.

It was and was not funny.

Casual racism.

Intense racism.

You can’t have it both ways.

Sure you can.

What did she write him?

Who knows?

George Wallace. He was touched. He responded personally. Mom was an admirer of George Wallace. Mom, who made Danny’s lunch to take to school and put it in a paper sack, and he could smell his peanut butter and jelly sandwich mixed with the aroma of the brown paper and it made him think of his mother making his lunch and he loved her, and she had written a letter to the biggest racist in the land and she must’ve told George Wallace how much a few words of encouragement would mean to young Daniel.

That was nice of him, wasn’t it, Daniel?

I guess.

When someone goes out of their way to do something nice for you, you should appreciate it.

I do.

Why do you think he wrote you?

Because you wrote him.

You see?

See what?

You have to do something. Pick up your pen and write a letter to someone.

She was insane. His father was insane. His brother was in Vietnam. His sister was in college. His younger brother was being retarded. Literally. Dilantin was retarding him. Mom became Den Mother for a troop of Cub Scouts just so Brendan could maybe possibly make some friends.

It was all so tragically wrong it was funny.

His big brother. What did it mean to be born in 1942 instead of 1951? It made a world of difference. Dad was 27, Mom was 22. There was a world war going on.

Dad was in Fenwick’s first graduating class, 1932, but he didn’t go to college. He graduated from the school of hard knocks, he said, and he rose to second lieutenant in the Army. They got married in 1940, when he was 25 and she was 20.

Dan’s sister was born in 1946, after the war was over.

Dad was with the Army in Manilla when the war ended in1945.

Danny found out there was a school called Knox College and he figured that was where his dad had gone to school.

It was like the stone bass. When Danny was little and they were at Lake Lawn for their two-weeks of wish fulfillment in the cottages near the golf course and the lake and the lodge, and Dad and Danny would in the evening stroll down to the pier and Dad would talk to all the folks fishing, and Danny wanted to fish too. So, so one time, Danny brought his little toy fishing pole with him and Dad tied a stone around the end of the line and told Danny they were fishing for stone bass.

Go down in the basement and play a game of pool, drink a beer. A game of pocket billiards, as perfected by Willie Mosconi. Dad was a Mosconi man all the way, smooth, knew all the angles, how to apply english to make a ball hug the rail.

The pool table was magnificent, full length, with firm cushions and pristine green felt stretched over slate, and a ball return all made of dark wood, with chutes that ran underneath the table and emerged at the foot where they could be gathered and racked. If you were a little boy, you could crawl underneath the table and watch the balls rolling home when Dad or Pop made a shot. And they made a lot. They were good. They could run the table.

When an errant shot would ricochet with an unexpectedly fortuitous result, Pop would exult:

A kick in the arse is better than no fight at all.

Dad was the best player by far. They were the same skills he applied to golf and at the draughting table. And he could throw a football with a spiral and snap to it. Maybe he really did score Fenwick’s first touchdown. He could ice skate. He would go and skate with Danny and his sister and big brother when Carroll playground was flooded and frozen over. He could swim. He could draw. He was an artist. He read books. Nonfiction. History. He read and subscribed to Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, The Tribune, and Sun-Times, and he brought the Daily News with him from work to read on the el. He knew how to fold a newspaper properly to read it on the el, folding it vertically, not horizontally.

Dad graduated from bourgeois to capitalist. The old-fashioned way – he earned it. Not really, it had always been there waiting for him, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and he retired early from Com Ed and started his own business, marketing a heating and cooling system of his own design.

How demoralizing was it for Dad to know that his most talented and promising offspring was really a wastrel, a lazy, impetuous, irresponsible profligate prodigal son, whom he still loved, which only made it hurt all the more.

And why? Because Dan’s mind was incapable of doing anything but wish.

A wish and a prayer

Never trust anyone over 30. That was bad advice. His dad would often recount the story of the father who sets his young son, just a few years old, on the mantel, and tells him to “jump – dad will catch you,” and when the kid jumps, dad steps back, and the kid falls flat on his face, and dad says: “That’s your first lesson in business, never trust anyone.”

What’s more fucked up here? That this could be considered funny or that it could be considered good advice? Answer: Both. That was why Dad told the story, instead of setting little Danny-boy on the mantel.

Dan’s sister Norine was a tough cookie. She wasn’t going to take any shit from anybody. His mother was the same way, but demure, restrained. Norine was not a girly girl and she wasn’t a dyke either, she was more of the tough-talking Mae West attitude. She wasn’t going to be bullied by other girls, and she wasn’t going to go for guys who were jackasses.

Crash.

One thing about being a kid, it was somewhere back there before you started drinking, because things would never be the same after you’d had your first drink. You didn’t have to grow up to be a drunk or an alcoholic, ever, and still your first encounter with alcohol is a life-changing event. The whole world changes when alcohol enters the picture.

From that point on there will be the people who drink and the people who don’t. Danny felt destined to drink, the fact that he was Irish, just one generation removed from the old sod, simply sealed the deal.

Booze, broads, and cigarettes. In the 1950s there were athletes in uniform hawking cigarettes on TV, but by the 60s it was generally understood that smoking was harmful, so you did it because you were bad, because of that rush you got from a drag on a cigarette that was like a little taste of death, that was why it took your breath away. Cancer sticks. You want to die? Yes. No. Yes. No.

Smoking and drinking go together like love and marriage. Have a drink, smoke a cigarette. Nice glass of Scotch and a cigarette. Cold beer and a cigarette. It’s nice to eat a really good meal and afterward smoke a cigarette. It’s nice to fuck and then smoke a cigarette. All of this lies before you once you start in on booze, broads, and cigarettes.

When Dan would leave for college in the fall, none of his friends would be going with him. No one but Gas-Man. All the others were a year behind him, juniors, Bob Cooney, Dave Clark, John White.

Davo was his only drinking buddy. Dan and Davo got drunk together in the basement. Then he drove Davo back to the south side. Then Dan drove home. He drove very very fast, but he didn’t get there right away. First he had a crash.

There he was, drunk, without a scratch on him, the Chrysler totaled, the stoplight down, the other car smashed. Running the red-light, speeding, reckless driving, all of that and more, his father’s insurance rate would zoom to the heavens. It was Dad’s car, and that made it Dad’s fault, and all of it would combine to make Dad feel like shit, dishearten him.

If Dan had been killed in that crash, it would’ve been sad as hell, but it would have been well-deserved. He was a little asshole who had it coming. It was just lucky he hadn’t killed anybody in the other car.

They weren’t hurt. Their car wasn’t even too badly damaged. They merely grazed the rear end of the gold Chrysler as it flashed past them, a blur, and sent it spinning into the traffic light, which toppled and crashed in a rain of sparks streaming straight along the rainbow streak that trailed from the gas tank and BOOM.

If Dan had burned to death, trapped in the car, there being no Hell, that would’ve been hell, and justice would’ve been served, punishment meted out, for cheating on Patty Dooley, quitting the Section Meet, getting caught from behind on the 8 yard-line, losing to Larry Sullivan when he could’ve out-boxed him, throwing the ball into the dugout to blow the game they had won in the Village Baseball Championship, losing his mother’s high school ring, writing the names of his grandparents’ in the memoriam section of his first missal that he got for his Confirmation, when they weren’t dead yet, and then losing the missal after stupidly bringing it with him while adventuring in the construction site of the Congress Expressway, for stealing all that change from his father’s glass pooch, and last, but certainly not least, for whacking off.

Whacked for whacking off. By fate. By pure hazard. By dumb luck. For all the bad shit he did, for all the stupid-ass mistakes he’d made, he was undoubtedly one lucky motherfucker.

What the fuck did he care if the Cubs fell apart? That was on them. It always was. Or if Floyd Patterson was destroyed by Sonny Liston or if Sonny Liston was murdered? What did he care if Nixon was President or if Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. got shot to death, or Fred Hampton, or those eight nurses Richard Peck stabbed and killed, or a million people in Vietnam?

If it wasn’t hazard, it may perhaps have been an instance of God’s grace.

When the Chrysler slammed into the stoplight, reality exploded into Dan’s life. He had been flying, a flight of fancy, trying to escape himself, just as he had run away from football, and now he was running away from running, driving away, flying away, and it played itself out finally with the crash, in case anyone had any doubts as to how it might end. You can step off the track, but the world doesn’t stop spinning, at an incredible speed, with the winds of change swirling, men, women, and children dying in an undeclared war a world away, where his brother hovered above the battlefield that could barely be seen since it was submerged in jungle.

Do you want to understand it, or do you want to run away from it?

Both.

You can’t run away from it.

You can try.

All you’re doing is running. You carry it with you wherever you go, not just Oak Park and Chicago and the nuns and priests, but the 50s and 60s, in black and white and color. It bursts into flame, but it isn’t consumed.

So, you got drunk and crashed the car. You could’ve been killed, you know. Flying through a red light at Roosevelt Road and East Avenue. You must’ve been going pretty fast.

Yeah, around seventy or eighty.

Speed limit is 35 there.

Roosevelt Road is a major road leading in and out of Chicago. You’d have to be some kind of idiot to run a stoplight crossing Roosevelt Road at any hour, and think no one was coming through, let alone early evening, just after dark.

And still, he almost made it through. A car travelling west on Roosevelt Road passed through the intersection, with the green light, travelling at the speed limit, 35 miles an hour, when a blur that was his father’s lime green Chrysler Imperial, shot through in front of them and the driver could not even begin to brake before he swiped the rear end of the blur, crumpling the west-bound car’s front bumper, and sending the blur spinning across the intersection and into the offending stoplight, knocking it over and into Roosevelt Road, crashing, sparking. The collision had impacted the gas tank of the Chrysler and the gasoline met the spark and it was love at first sight, and the trail of fire blazed straight to the Chrysler, and the fire department was going have to put it out.

Dan’s door wouldn’t open. He looked in his rear-view mirror at the fire in Roosevelt Road. There was the stoplight he had knocked over. He kept tugging on the door handle, trying to get the door to open, but it wouldn’t give. He calmly slid across the seat and got out the passenger door. He was drunk.

He called on his gift of straightness to save him, the ability to act not drunk when you were drunk. There was no such thing. You’d have to be an idiot to think there was.

The collision had popped the trunk open and inside was a bucket of golf balls that his father was planning to take to the driving range. Golf balls rolled in the flaming gasoline and ignited and became balls of fire.

Golf balls of Fire!

Had he been drinking?

Hell yeah. He and Davo had hammered down some Hamms in the basement and they both were lit. He was going to drive Davo home. He did so, and he was driving back home and the buzz was just starting to wear off and he was somewhere in Berwyn when he started to steadily apply more and more pressure to the accelerator, and the speedometer started climbing, 40, 50, 60, and the buildings started to whip past in his peripheral vision. He was flying. Why? He didn’t know. He felt like it.

The cop was asking him questions and he was answering. He had the gift of straightness and no one said anything about drinking or being drunk. It was Sunday evening. Oak Park was the place where the saloons stopped and the churches began, and the people from the other car weren’t hurt or angry. They were just amazed. Their car had hardly been damaged.

Somebody’s gonna have to pay for that stoplight.

My clubs, Goddamnit, my clubs are in there.

One Chrysler Imperial and one set of golf clubs.

Jesus Christ, what the hell did you do?

He hadn’t noticed that the light had changed.

I heard the news today, oh boy.

Were you drunk?

No.

Had you been drinking?

Of course. Why not? What else? What else is there to do?

Dan got drunk again just a few months later, hopped in his Corvair parked in front of the house, floored it, in reverse, and smashed full speed into the neighbor’s car, parked peacefully in front of his own home, 20 yards away.

Why?

Never saw the guy. He didn’t have his lights on.

There was no guy. The car was parked there. You rear-ended a parked car at about 30 miles an hour. A parked car. And you’re going to try to blame it on the car?

What else could he say? This was not as blatantly suicidal as the other incident, but equally as heedless. What if there had been a kid there, playing in the alley and Dan had run him down?

But he didn’t. He was lucky.

Lucky? Luck?

Dan was a brainless idiot, a loser, a quitter, a liar, coward, creep, short, fat, smelled bad, a thief, who was going to Hell because he didn’t believe in God and that was the one thing God could not forgive.

We Begin with God

When did you start to figure out that this was not the life that you wanted to live?

They call that the Age of Reason. As Catholics, we were taught that it starts at age seven.

Seven years old.

That’s when God can hold you accountable for your sins. That’s the age at which you should’ve known better. Up till seven, you’re golden, which not coincidentally is also when Freud says all the really bad shit coalesces into a tight little ball in your mind, when you are polymorphous perverse, but you’re innocent in God’s eyes, He being apparently blind to all the bad shit Freud could see that you are prey to, no pun intended, and if God were to take you then, in your innocence, you would go right to Heaven, and what a lucky devil you’d be.

But the innocent babe who dies unbaptized must spend eternity in Limbo.

Doesn’t seem fair.

And Gas-Man said it was all a bunch of shit. He could punch holes in any of its arguments, make fun of it mercilessly.

If you jerked off, you would go to hell.

That’s a bit much, don’t you think?

Do you even know what jerking off is?

Yes. I think so.

You think so?

What if you jerked off, but you didn’t know what you were doing, would you still go to hell?

How could you not know what you were doing? What are you, retarded?

If you didn’t know it was wrong?

If you didn’t know it was wrong? You’d know. If you didn’t know, then you hadn’t reached the age of reason yet.

What if it just happened?

Nocturnal emission . . .

Only in the daytime.

Extremely unlikely.

I can’t tell you how much this dialogue has benefited me.

You’re welcome.

Because it hasn’t.

What’s the worst thing in the world?

That’s easy. Having to go to school in the morning.

Having to go to work.

Having to go to school without having done your homework.

Having to go look for work.

Being in the Army.

Being in Jail.

Being sick.

Getting beat up.

Getting beat up while you’re sick.

Going to Hell.

In the world. Hell’s not in the world.

It’s not?

There was only one thing to do, if you wanted to get into heaven. Confess.

Dan loved Jesus, who had to be the nicest guy who ever lived. Jesus would understand, and even if he didn’t, he’d still give you a break. He’d still love you. Same went for Mary, and no doubt Joseph was a nice guy too, why else would she have married him and why else would he put up with not even being allowed to fuck her, so that she could be the Virgin Mary, still, nice a guy as he might be, praying to Joseph probably wouldn’t do shit for you, so Dan confined his prayers to Jesus and Mary, and sometimes St. Jude, who was the patron saint of lost causes.

Maybe Joseph could intercede for you, but he didn’t really carry any weight, he wasn’t even a saint.

Saint Joseph was actually another guy. Joseph was just Joseph the Carpenter.

He wasn’t a saint? How could he not be a saint? What were the rules for sainthood? One was you had to perform a miracle – through God, of course, like when Moses made water spurt out of a rock so the Israelites could get a drink in the middle of the desert, that was really God’s miracle, not Moses’, and it couldn’t make Moses a saint anyway because saints have to believe in Jesus, or it might be a case like Our Lady of Fatima appearing to some little girl, so the little girl became a saint.

The Virgin Mary, remember, is still living, because she didn’t die, Jesus couldn’t bear that, so she was taken up to heaven bodily, thus the Feast of the Ascension.

The Assumption.

Whatever.

That was the source of all, its soul, Mother Church.

The Virgin Mary and the month of May were celebrated in the courtyard between the church and the school.

Going to confession. Bless me, father, for I have sinned. My last confession was two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago? You lying sack of shit!

Mom had managed to get her hands on some Lourdes water and she was anxious to try it out on Brendan to see if it could cure him of epilepsy. She prayed to Saint Jude that it would.

It wouldn’t. Nothing happened.

Prayer before an image of a crucifix.

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Thy face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul pray and beseech Thee to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins and a firm purpose of amendment; while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Thy five wounds, pondering over them within me, calling to mind the words which David, Thy prophet, said of Thee, my good Jesus: They have pierced My hands and feet; they have numbered My bones.

(An indulgence of ten years. A plenary indulgence may be gained by all, who have confessed and received Holy Communion, recite this prayer before an Image of Christ crucified and pray for the intention of the Holy Father. [No. 201])

Prayers to the Christ Child:

Dear Child Jesus, I humbly ask Thee to help me in all my dealings with my parents and teachers so that I may follow faithfully the example given by Thee. I beg Thee to make me always willingly obedient to my dear parents as Thou wert obedient to Thy gentle Mother, our Blessed Lady, so that all I do may bring consolation and happiness to them, and greater honor and glory to Thee, my God and my All.

O Little Jesus, I have recourse to Thee. I firmly believe that Thy Divinity can protect me. I confidently hope to obtain Thy holy grace. I love Thee with all my heart and all my soul.

I am sincerely sorry for my sins and beseech Thee, O Little Jesus, to deliver me from them. I resolve to amend and nevermore to offend Thee. I want to serve Thee always faithfully, and to love my neighbor as myself, with all my heart for Thee.

O Little Child Jesus, I adore Thee. O powerful Child. I pray Thee, keep me from evil, that I may enjoy Thee eternally, behold Thee with Mary and Joseph and adore Thee with all the Angels. Amen.

There was once a little boy who used to take off his shoes on the country road and walk home barefooted, because he wanted to save his shoes so his parents would not have to buy so many shoes for him. If he was out in the field in the morning and he heard the church bell ring, he knew there was probably a priest going to say Mass. On one occasion when he did not have his shoes with him, he borrowed another boy’s shoes so he could serve the priest’s Mass. He wanted to be a priest, but his parents could not afford to pay for his education. He then studied so hard that he won a scholarship to the seminary.

After he was ordained a priest, he spent all his money on poor children and their parents. He never had anything left. When he was already a Bishop a certain Monsignor said Mass in his church and he himself prepared breakfast for the Monsignor because he had no servant.

THE BISHOP OF WHOM YOU HAVE JUST READ IS SAINT PIUS X AND THE MONSIGNOR WHO VISITED HIM WAS FUTURE POPE PIUS XI.

When he became Pope one of his first thoughts was not only to feed little children with bread, but also feed their souls with the body and blood of Jesus, their Lord and God, under the appearance of bread, in Holy Communion.

One day an English lady had her young son with her at a private visit with Saint Pope Pius X. The Pope stooped down to the little boy and asked him:

How old are you?

And the boy told him: Seven.

Then the Holy Father continued: Whom do you receive in Holy Communion?

Jesus Christ, answered the little fellow.

And who is Jesus Christ? inquired the Pope.

Our Lord and Savior, came the answer.

Pope Pius X was delighted and turned to the boy’s mother and said: Bring your boy to me tomorrow and I will give him his first Communion myself.

On this Holy Communion certificate is the picture of the same Holy Father, Saint Pius X.

Let Us Pray.

Come Holy Ghost and help me to realize whom I receive in Holy Communion. Help me to realize that it is my Jesus, who, though He is God and Man, was always obedient to His Mother and Foster Father until he was a grown up Man. Jesus, because He loves me and wishes to come to me, hides Himself under the appearance of a little bread.

Help me, Dear Jesus, to receive You in Holy Communion often. I want to be near You. I want to be with You. Jesus, I love you and I repent of ever having offended you. Amen.

Nihil Obstat: John M.A. Fearns S.T.D. Censor Liborum

Imprimatur Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York

Danny had just turned seven. It was a stretch to think he could read this, much less that he would. Maybe if he got bored enough. They gave you stuff like this in church, where you couldn’t just whip out a comic book.

We have a narrative here, a story, purportedly true, about a poor Italian boy. We don’t know his name, and we don’t know that he’s Italian. We’ll have to deduce that for ourselves later on when his identity is revealed. For starters he’s just a poor boy walking home a long distance without shoes – by choice, because he wants to save his parents the cost of buying new shoes.

He’s a sweetheart.

He’s a fucking saint.

Where’s he walking home from?

School, I guess.

He goes to school?

I guess. So, later on, he’s out in the field, where he doesn’t wear his shoes either apparently, maybe this kid never wears shoes, he hears the church bell ring.

They ring it on the hour.

They ring it whenever a priest gets it in his head to go and say Mass.

Like on a whim, a caprice. A wing and a prayer.

The kid somehow knows this, and he also knows that for some arcane reason the priest needs an altar boy to assist him in saying Mass properly. Probably he could say it by himself, if he were stranded on a desert island, say, and he needed to say a Mass to save his soul, but who knows why a priest would need to save his own soul, being a priest and all, if his soul’s not in a state of grace, what business has he administering the sacraments?

His sacred duty. See: Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, the Whiskey Priest.

Jesus!

He runs off barefoot to go serve Mass. He borrows another kid’s shoes.

And that boy’s a saint.

In God’s eyes maybe. We don’t know. But our boy goes and serves Mass.

So?

He wants to be a priest in the worst way.

Is that good? What about the shoes? He ever start wearing shoes?

He doesn’t want to. His family is poor. They can’t afford to send him to priest school.

The seminary.

It costs money to go to the seminary. An education aint cheap.

You gotta pay to be a priest?

You have to go to the seminary to be a priest.

Priests must come from wealthy families.

Our boy wins himself a scholarship.

They give out scholarships – that’s big of them.

They take a vow of poverty.

Is that a promise to be poor, or just end up poor?

God only knows.

There was a metal clasp on the back of each pew where a gentleman could attach his fedora. There was the Dome, the weekly Church newsletter with its announcements of couples betrothed and married, babies baptized, Masses for the dead. Every so often a Mass would appear to be said for Pop. You had to make a donation to the Church to have a Mass said for the dead.

And you had to be dead to have a Mass said for you.

Having a Mass said for you after death was meant to impart some indulgence, some lessening of the time your soul spent in purgatory.

How do you measure Time in purgatory?

“The fire of martyrdom supplied every defect, expiated every sin.” – Gibbon

That was the quickest way to Heaven.

For God’s sake, don’t go in there, Father!

For God’s sake I am going in there!

Belief in the immortal soul.

If such a thing existed, then what you did mattered, the choices you made counted. If it didn’t, fuck it, who cares?

You cannot go to communion if you’ve eaten.

What?

That day.

Nor could you take communion if you’d committed a mortal sin. You’d have to go to confession and confess your mortal sin before you could take communion again, and if you do take communion when you’ve committed a mortal sin and not been forgiven, which the priest wouldn’t know about because he can’t read minds or anything, just turn bread and wine into body and blood and make Jesus be alive inside you, anyway, if you made the priest give you communion while you had committed a mortal sin and not been forgiven, it would be another mortal sin on your soul, for which you were to be held responsible for all eternity, and it only took one mortal sin to send you to Hell, so you would be doubly fucked, best just never to take communion again, if you could live without Jesus being alive inside of you, but once he was in you, why would you have to take communion again anyway?

The host was kept in a tabernacle in the sacristy, but it could be put into a little to-go box called a pyx if the priest had to take it to somebody who was sick and needed Jesus in their mouth, or the priest could put the host in a monstrance, like a trophy, and hold it up to people at a benediction.

The Mohawks cut a priest’s fingers off, so he couldn’t celebrate mass anymore because he didn’t have his consecrated fingers to hold the host.

At his first Communion, Danny started choking on the thing.

Do not chew the host. If you chew the host, you will go to Hell.

Ok, he wouldn’t chew it. But then a terrible thing began to happen. He couldn’t swallow it. He couldn’t swallow the damn thing.

The effort to turn transubstantiation from metaphorical reality into literal reality was patently absurd.

The Church or the Pope or God or whoever was running Catholicism, decided that Aquinas was going to be incorporated into the Truth, into True Doctrine, but that didn’t mean that Aristotle was infallible, although, by implication, it did.

Explaining how the metaphorical is really literal becomes quickly more and more absurd. Jesus as Bread and Wine. Think about it. Now think about it with all the rational thought of western civilization gathered into a wrecking ball to swing it at shit and see what you get.

Or, you can just accept it, believe it, go thy way and sin no more.

If God and the Church were one and you were commanded to believe in miracles, even though miracles would only prove that God was not God, how could you believe it, how could you rationalize it, how could you reconcile the blatant contradiction?

Augustine had preceded Aquinas, and Augustine was Plato’s man, and Augustine held that the people, the faithful, were the body of Christ, and the communion wafer was a sign of that body, and you ate it, like food, and the people were gathered together for a meal, to share a meal, which is what the followers of Jesus did to remember him, whenever two or more of them gathered together, he was there. He told them so at the Last Supper. Do this in remembrance of him.

The logos became flesh in Jesus.

And thus, we Eat Our Words.                     

All of it made Dan gag. Well, something made him gag. The host. The wafer. The “little bread”.

They hadn’t practiced that part. They practiced everything else, but there was no practicing that, the actual welcoming of the Lord and Savior under your roof – the roof of your mouth, where He got a little stuck. They had practiced walking in a line in an orderly manner and dipping the fingers of your right hand in the holy water and blessing yourself with the sign of the cross and genuflecting and entering the pew, but there was no practice swallowing sweet Jesus – because that would’ve been a sacrilege and you’d burn in Hell.

So, presumably a child would have to wait until the actual mystical experience to know how his untutored and traitorous body would react to the presence of Almighty God in the person of the good and gentle Jesus hiding Himself in a little bread.

Don’t chew Him! One’s teeth must never touch the Host.

Why was it called the Host? Like the host of a party? It’s just a wafer.

That’s the miracle. Looks like a wafer, but it’s really the Body of Christ.

His body, not his blood. His blood’s in the chalice that the priest drinks from. His blood’s the wine. The wine’s His blood. The priest gets that.

Secretly, the altar boys would sample both, the wafers and the wine. The whole backstage area of the church reeked of red wine, until it would be overpowered on occasion by the pungent smell of incense burning.

Danny the altar boy.

The communion rail stood between the priest and the communicants.

Listen, you’ve got to hold the paten just under their chin.

The paten, the skinny gold plate, in case the host should fall when the priest is putting it on somebody’s tongue.

All of these people lined up, kneeling down, and then one by one, with their eyes closed, sticking out their tongue.

There was a fine art to mumbling a bunch of shit that sounded like Latin.

But really it was just that nobody cared.

You want to wear those clothes – that’s why you want to be an altar boy. You like the costume, admit it.

Costumes? Uniforms. Special gear, yeah, so?

You have to learn the responses.

In Latin?

Look. There’s two altar boys. If the other guy knows his stuff, you just sort of mumble it, just like in the chorus, you just pretend.

You pretend?

If you don’t have the balls to do it, don’t do it. Takes balls to be an altar boy. If you don’t have the balls to be an altar boy, you’re never gonna have the balls to be a priest, and if you can’t be a priest, you can forget about being Pope.

Danny didn’t want to be Pope anymore.

Why not?

The hat. You gotta wear the hat.

The altar boys were sipping the wine in the sacristy.

Put on your cassock and surplus.

Dip your fingers in the holy water fount and bless yourself. Make the sign of the cross. At dinner, before saying grace, Brendan would always do it wrong.

He’s left-handed.

He has epilepsy.

He’s retarded.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and (Other Side) the Holy Ghost.

Amen.

Dan and his fellow communicants were born shackled to an original sin. That was what started it all, the first sin, the first mistake, and after that we were all fucked. We were addicted to sinning, couldn’t get enough of it, sinners all, generation after generation. It wasn’t anything Dan thought up. He didn’t invent it. He inherited it.

Primitive accumulation. The capital to get it all started had to come from somewhere. It had a starting point.

“Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race.” – Marx

Capital’s faux-biblical fable is that of the grasshopper and the ant, the capitalist being the ant and the rest of us poor schlubs the grasshoppers.

In reality, in history, what we find leading up to Dan’s birth is conquest, enslavement, racism, exploitation, theft, brute force, and murder.

And when Father White placed the Host upon his tongue and Danny-boy took the Lord Jesus into his mouth, he was careful not to touch Jesus with his teeth, but nobody had told him that you had to let Jesus melt in your mouth like an M&M before you tried to swallow Him, so, when Dan attempted to draw Jesus down his gullet by means of peristalsis, the circumference of the disc exceeded the aperture, and he started to choke on the fucking thing.

Jesus! Jesus Fucking Christ! Sweet Jesus, help me!

Mother Imelda was patting him on the back.

Daniel, are you all right?

He didn’t want to cough Jesus up. He wanted to say I’m ok, but he couldn’t because he wasn’t. Why wasn’t this happening to anyone else?

If you choked on the host it was because you were unworthy, and Dan was choking on the host.

You should go to confession.

Why?

Every two weeks. So, things don’t get out of hand.

Homer enjoins us in The Odyssey to Live as One Already Dead. What can this mean? It suggests that we view our life as an event of the past, over which we no longer have any control, and the most we can apply to it is our feelings, memories, recreate it as we will, and to reflect upon it all as something we did or something that happened to us that we regret or gave us joy or sadness, pride, embarrassment, the good, the bad, to accept, not to judge, but to confess, and then, to live as if seeing all there is from beyond the grave, all those you love, which can only make you love them more, and the more love you have, the more powerful you are, the more alive. To live as one already dead is, in a sense, to have conquered death.

It’s a trick you play on yourself in order to live more fully.

“Artists do not stem from their childhood, but from their conflict with the mature achievement of other artists; not from their own formless world, but from the struggle with the forms which others have imposed on life.” – Andre Malraux, Psychology of Art

Daniel was an artist. He may not have been a very good one, but he was an artist nonetheless, and his world had no form. He was in conflict with the forms imposed on his life, the ones that kept shifting the focus, that kept the kaleidoscope flashing from black and white to color.

Malraux’s theory is contra Freud. Not childhood? That was where it all came from, the essence of personality, of being. Instead, all shaped by art? Isn’t it pretty to think so?

He was a bad artist – because he closed his eyes.

He was a bad artist because he hadn’t written anything, painted anything, acted any role except in deceit, deceiving himself.

A tissue of lies.

Living tissue.

The only way for him to be honest would be to admit that he was not honest. Honest by lying to yourself? You can’t be honest by lying. But by lying you may become honest. If you pretend to be a good student, to act like one, your actions may be indistinguishable from those of a real good student. They are the same, identical. Then you are a good student. What began as a lie becomes the truth.

Sophistry? Bullshit? Was Dan two people, or schizophrenic, or bi-polar, or have multiple personalities? Or did he just want to become something other than himself? Or was he perfectly normal, whatever that meant. He was definitely fucked up – because everyone was. Every human being that was alive in that moment in history was out of their fucking mind if they could rationalize and reconcile themselves to the fact that death was stalking them while at the same time they were hating and killing or praying or laughing or doing their homework. Death.

Aquinas was a wop. His family thought it would be all right for him to become a Benedictine priest, but the Dominicans got hold of him. They wanted his majestic mind to do battle with heresy.

“The paths of error are various and infinite.” – Gibbon

The nuns and priests all meant well.

The fuck they did.

Some of them did.

Probably.

Most of them.

What’s that even mean, most of them? Most people won’t fuck you up for life, what good is that?

Did any of them ever fuck you up? Or anybody you know?

When somebody is fucked up, who knows what fucked them up? Doesn’t have to be one thing.

So, no.

The Church, as Gibbon observed it from the vantage point of 1776, had grown in the Roman Empire like a weed, then like a tree, then like a forest that swallowed the Empire.

And what of humankind’s achievements? What about the positive things, that fine spirit of progress in history that Hegel saw and the knowledge that enriched Dan’s existence from the beginning that lay beneath his love for Bible stories, the pictures he drew, the shapes he formed with his modelling clay, donning his pretend vestments to say pretend Mass, the caves full of paintings, the war between the Neanderthals and the Homo Sapiens that had to be won – there was just no reasoning with those people, the time, who knows how long, spent as nomads, always on the move, a tight band of interdependent teammates, harriers, until life turned into its opposite, by our choice, and the seeds were planted and that way of life was forever ended, what about all that?

Of course, you had the right to pray, for all the good it was going to do you, but what about God’s right not to have to listen to all your shit? Didn’t God have any rights? How many more prayers did God have to listen to before you finally shut the fuck up? God only knows.

The crying room was a room behind glass, with pews just like the rest of the church, but walled-off, where families with crying babies could attend Mass without disturbing the prayerful peace of others.

Dan’s story starts in 1951 and ends in 1969. It’s in the foreground, but in the background are events that began unfolding far in the past, all the way back to DeGuzman and the founding of the Dominicans, and beyond, because the Dominicans bequeathed us Aquinas, who married Aristotle to Jesus, and they would in time give birth to Fenwick High School in the land of the free where slavery ruled.

Dan grows up slowly, his awareness dim, his self-absorption blinding him to the people and events around him, which force their way into the foreground, and force Dan either to recede or take note of them. They scream louder and louder for his attention.

Something’s wrong – the sun’s not coming up. Still no sign of it.

Don’t worry, the sun will come up.

Yeah, the sun will come up tomorrow. Tomorrow. But what if it never comes up today?

“Religion lay on him like the weight of the atmosphere, 16 pounds to the square inch.” – Santayana on Dickens.

The only way to gain forgiveness was to confess.

Ok. Then what?

You’re forgiven.

Feels the same.

That’s because nothing’s changed. Everything is still the same.

Everything’s going to be all right.

Everything’s fine.

No wonder you’re in pain, you’re a masochist. You want to be in pain. You love pain.

It’s not pain. You call me a masochist, but it’s not because I love pain. I love, I need, to feel the force of it, something strong enough, sharp enough, that it hurts, enough to shock me, electrocute me, into being alive.

I wouldn’t call it love.

Guilt.

Going back from Moses, you found all the stories in the bible, and Adam and Eve and the serpent and God were all getting along just fine in the Garden of Eden, and suddenly it all goes wrong. Original Sin. Right there at the beginning, first shot out of the box, boom, we’re doomed. Jewish guilt. Catholic guilt. It’s right there from the start. We were in the Garden of Eden, and we blew it. We were there, and we blew it. We were right there.

It’s not just guilt, it’s regret.

If you could go to Heaven, that would be the best thing, because there you would be happy forever, whereas here the best you could ever hope for was something that wouldn’t last, or you’d get tired of it, but in Heaven you’d be happy all the time and never get bored and you wouldn’t have to worry about terrible things happening, like dying or people you love dying, because there’d be no dying, just eternal happiness.

Hey, wake the fuck up.

So that was what you prayed for at mass?

The Robe featured the most hideous of Roman emperors, a guy more terrifying by far than even Vincent Price. He had the robe that Jesus wore and he wanted to use it to raise the dead, so he killed a Christian slave to test it out, and the damn thing wouldn’t work.

Not for him.

And there was Captain Kangaroo and Mighty Mouse and Popeye and Superman and the Lone Ranger and Howdy Doody, Sky King, Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon! Sex and violence were part of the game now. Somehow you had to put the two of them together in your head to come up with Flash Gordon and Superman and even Roy Rodgers – it was all about sex, damsels in distress.

The Lone Ranger wore these tight pants, Superman wore tights, Flash Gordon wore a little pair of shorts, and there were these damsels in distress, not just Dale Arden and Lois Lane, but all those sci-fi princesses in their tight slinky dresses in need of rescue. Puberty had arrived.

From that moment on Dan would try to do the good thing. Always. Not to slip back into the bad things, no matter how much he might want to – because there was another part of him that did not want to, that knew it would be better not to, even if he were bored, even if everything else felt useless, he would just have to accept its uselessness and do it anyway, do it until doing what was good felt good again – because sometimes it did – but even if that feeling would never come back he would have to do the good thing anyway because it was better than doing the bad thing, which always made him feel bad afterward, the way he felt right now.

Because he had committed a sin. Even if there was no God, there was still sin.

If you’ve got a problem with no solution, it’s called a Gordian knot. Alexander the Great, whose teacher was Aristotle, encountered the Gordian knot during his conquests, a knot tied with such complexity that it could not be untied, and he famously “solved” the problem by slicing the knot in two with his sword.

That was his solution?

It took about 900 years to write the Old Testament. It took less than 100 to write the New Testament. It took 22 years to write the Koran.

That’s progress.

The Bible is not really a book any more than if you picked 65 channels on TV, taped each for 10 minutes, and then spliced them all together and called them a movie.

If you treat the bible as if it were some miraculous entity, the living word of God, it requires a miracle to believe it. You have to get past the fact that every particle of it is human, not divine, that it was produced as literature, in human history, that even the most ardent believer would have to admit that there was a time before the bible existed, a long time, a very long time, perhaps infinitely long. So, how can you faithfully account for that – a period of perhaps infinite length, in which there is no living word of God?

Because God spoke directly to people then –

In the time of Adam and Eve? He spoke directly to them. He spoke to Noah. He spoke to Abraham. In real time, historical time, beyond the mythology of the creation story, the Garden of Eden may have been an actual place on the existent earth, from which we were forever banished, and cherubim were guarding the gate to prevent our return, and away we went, and could never find our way back. It was hidden by God from our eyes, and finally, when we had quit looking for it or just forgot about it, God removed the Garden of Eden from existence, or perhaps just placed it in another dimension, where we couldn’t get at it – like the toy taken away from the child and placed on a high shelf.

Danny-boy was in love with the bible and stories from the bible, because there were pictures there and in The Lives of the Saints, all the way back to Moses, even though Moses was not a saint, saintly though he may seem to Danny-boy, because it had been determined that there could be no saints until Jesus came along, although even Jesus himself was not a saint, explain that one, he was God’s son, a member of the Holy Trinity, which included God the Father, God the Son, or Jesus, or Jesus Christ, or the Christ, or Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem, all of that before you even get to the poor Holy Ghost, who was also a Person of the Trinity, but, somehow, without actually being a person, but a ghost, but not the ghost of some person, more like a spirit, but called the Holy Ghost, and if you said Holy Spirit, you must not be Catholic.

And even if they were Catholics, they weren’t the right kind of Catholics. The Holy Family was Danny-boy’s family. It could be no other. It had to be the family you were in, so, if it’s Holy Ghost, not Holy Spirit, even if the Pope said Holy Spirit, he was the apostate, not you.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, the blessed mother must have been like Dan’s mom, Mary, who when she was angry never said Goddamnit like his Dad, but instead always said God Bless It, and she never raised her voice.

Did she not shout her husband’s name when her youngest child experienced his first seizure?

And Norine, Danny-boy’s sister, the Little Mother, what of her? She loved her mother to the point of imitation.

The blessed virgin. This is where complications set in. How could that be possible?

It’s not. It’s a contradiction of the laws of nature, and trying to sort it out in your head as a little boy after he had gone to Mass on a Sunday morning, mimicking the priest, adorning himself with makeshift vestments, or, a few years later, memorizing enough Latin responses to repeat at the appropriate moments as an altar boy, reconciling logic, sex, and reality, with the immaculate conception and the trinity and the dual nature of Christ and a life for everybody after death, the only question being where.

The Old Testament had the best stories and the best pictures. The Old and the New Testament were two completely different, seemingly irreconcilable books, featuring two different Gods. In the Old he was a hard-ass named Yaweh. In the New he was God the Father, who had a Son named Jesus, who was also God, and somehow floating about ethereally there was the Holy Ghost (Protestants said Holy Spirit), who was God as well, so, there were actually three of them, the Trinity. The Holy Ghost was depicted in scripture and in pictures as a white dove, or once as tongues of flame appearing above the heads of the eleven apostles, Judas already having hung himself out of guilt over betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver that he promptly cast away in remorse, none of it, not even the love of the Holy Ghost could save him from the fires of Hell at that point, so why’d he do it? For the money? And he realized immediately that it wasn’t worth it, that he’d been trick-fucked by the devil, Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer, who had demonic power,  which must have been unequal to God’s, Him being omnipotent and all, so this power of the devil’s must have been ceded to him by God, from whom all power derived, and here the logic became further entangled in contradictions that Augustine and Aquinas would endeavor to resolve. The Old Testament seemed not to engage in such abstractions. It wasn’t that kind of debate in which Samson, say, was about to participate. He dealt with his opponents with the jawbone of an ass. The Bible made everything possible. If you believed the Bible, then, by definition, you believed that miracles could happen, because they did, it was right there in the Bible. You had to believe in miracles – if one was going to happen for you.

It had been astounding to Danny in the stories of the Bible and then in the even harder to believe stories in history books that a number of people had been killed. Killed, mind you. Do you understand? And the numbers grew, not just in the way of numbers, but in the way of chance and whimsy, Cain killing Abel, ok, but the Walls of Jericho tumbling down, Goliath’s head hacked off, John the Baptist’s too, the Civil War, Hitler, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, mind numbing shit, and the very first time one of the numbers hit him, it overwhelmed him, because he knew how sad and scared he was when Pop died and he realized suddenly and with absolute certainty that everybody had to die and there was absolutely nothing to be done about that, except everything you could do to not let it happen, not to you and not to anybody you loved or they loved or anybody really, which meant everybody, so that  if 50 people were killed, the psychological repercussions would be devastating and permanent, unimaginable, and then to be multiplied by 100, 200, millions. It was time to watch TV. Now it was always time to watch TV. When he had started watching TV, he got up before TV came on. He looked at a test pattern, until finally and suddenly the Star-Spangled Banner blared, and the Stars and Stripes flew. The first thing to do in the broadcast day was to remember how we won wars. Remember General Pershing.

Things were unthinkable because they hadn’t been thought of yet. The trick for the historian or artist is to capture an event at the moment when something else so easily could have happened but didn’t. That is, at the conjunction.

However.

Go back to a time before something happened and recount everything leading up to it, the people, the places, the weather, all the elements of drama to be considered, plot, character, thought, diction, sound, spectacle. Epic theater. This is going to take time. The events are so long past. Long being a relative term. Take your own time. The characters present themselves in an endless stream, some onstage, some off, carrying the action toward its tragic climax and the shock of recognition.

Hey, that’s me.

That’s us.

The Holocaust. Hiroshima.

The whole world is watching, the collective acts of our shared humanity, in wonder: How can we be so fucked up?

In the dark bus on the way back to Ascension from the eighth grade trip to Crystal Lake, kids were cutting up and couples were making out, and it seemed like they were on their own now and could do as they liked. Convinced that Father White was not on the bus, John Duff laughingly called out: “Where the hell’s our chaperone?” and out of the dark Father White’s voice thundered: “I’m right here.”

God’s silence.

Had been broken.

Dead silence followed.

Connor wore a Saint Christopher medal around his neck all his days. He didn’t take it off to swim or shower even.

Mary prayed to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

At Fenwick, in Theology class, a point was being made that while man is naturally religious, he is not by nature Christian. Why is that? Father Farrell wanted to know.

How many boys were abused? None that Dan knew of, but that meant nothing. Whom would you tell if it had happened to you?

Nobody.

Nobody had ever asked him if he wanted to be Catholic. They baptize you only days after you’ve been born, in their view, to prevent your soul from going to limbo, the place that was neither heaven nor hell, nor purgatory, but rather the place for the unbaptized babies, because, presumably, even God couldn’t bring Himself to send a newborn babe to Hell, even though it was already guilty of Original Sin, from which no one is exempt, and from which baptism alone could save you, such that if you were going to die right then and there, you’d go straight to heaven. The fact remained, no one had consulted him, and he wasn’t just baptized, he was baptized Catholic. You could be born Jewish, but nobody is born Catholic.

It was as if you were born Catholic. And you just might spend the rest of your life trying to escape it.

The nuns and priests and the school and the church, all of that was waiting for Danny the moment he emerged from the womb.

You started out too little to understand, but there were the robes and garments and the chalice.

The priest stood with his back to the laity who were in the pews facing the altar. After the Ecumenical Council, the Mass was said in English, and the priest faced the people, the audience, like an actor in a play. Maybe Danny could identify with the robed man with his back to everyone, but when he turned around, he had the whiskey face of Father Riordan, who looked like the devil.

There had been something weird and creepy about priests almost from the beginning.

Priests and nuns.

It seemed clear in the Bible that Aaron and the Levites were the priest and the tribe of priests.

A vow of celibacy meant that you would live your life without sex. You wouldn’t jerk off and you would never have sex with anyone. Ever. For the rest of your life.

Jesus.

Jesus had no girlfriend. Unless you counted Mary Magdalen.

Jesus could command nature, but if you mixed him with Buddhism and Taoism and Confucianism, you got wisdom and compassion, instead of preoccupation with sin and sacrifice and redemption. Fuck that, it’s repressive.

Karma. Jesus could be the answer to free you from your past karmic deeds and restore your original nature.

Who you really are, and you are good.

You will like you.

You’ll love you.

The concept of sin and human depravity is alien to the universe of karma.

Sex and sin were one and that was why it was fun. It felt good because it was bad.

Why was it so tempting, and at what cost could it be overcome?

Put an end to desire.

The metaphysics of Plato.

It meant nothing that he knew nothing about the boys that were abused by priests, because he cared about nothing but himself, and so, if it didn’t happen to him, it was as if it was not happening at all, while he did not doubt for a moment that it was. The priests wore dresses for crysakes. They took a vow of celibacy. How was that supposed to work? Was it even healthy? A guy’s got to use his dick, doesn’t he?

They said Alexander the Great was celibate and that was why he conquered the world, but then he went nuts because all the unused semen went to his head.

Who said that?

Priests are a bunch of bullshit. Jesus wasn’t a priest. There were no priests. The Jews had priests. The pagans had priests. The Christians didn’t have priests. They were different. Peter wasn’t a bishop.

Apostolic succession.

Of what? The apostles weren’t priests. They wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

A priest is God’s man on earth. He has the power to transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Transubstantiation.

That’s absurd.

It’s in the Bible. Jesus is called Rabbi. A rabbi is a kind of priest, right?

Jesus was a teacher. Rabbi means teacher. Disciple means learner. They were learning from him. They were following him, away from the priests.

Fucking Pharisees. I hate those guys.

They called him Rabbi because he was their teacher, and he was their only teacher. He taught them to leave the temple priests. He taught them that they were all equal.

Letter to the Hebrews called Jesus a priest.

Neither the Romans nor the Jews saw Christianity as a religion – because it had no priests.

“Do not address any man on earth as Father, since you have only one Father and He is in Heaven.” – Matthew 23.9

“A priest, it was earlier said, is established as the mediator between God and the people. A person who stands in need of a mediator with God cannot approach God on his own.” – Aquinas (ST 3.22 a4r)

But. Thomas, you dumb ox, aren’t you a priest?

A priest can make Jesus appear. Nobody else can, but any priest can.

The Mass is a re-enactment of the Passion, from which, in the Thomist system, all the graces and sacraments are derived.

Only the priest drank the wine, not the laity.

Yeah, and the altar boys back in the sacristy.

Layer by layer the priest got dressed for Mass, saying magic words with each garment, kissing them before putting them on, the pure white nightgown, and finally, the chasuble over the top, a very fancy robe with the sides cut out, no sleeves, embroidered with gold thread and changing colors with the season. There were all sorts of hats and capes and gloves and do-dads, sashes, all color-coordinated and tricked up with designs and symbols to indicate a hierarchy, ascending to a higher plane.

Monsignor Prince Gerald in his black button-up cassock with its blood-red lining.

The Pope wearing a crown that was three crowns stacked on top of each other, a triple-decker crown.

The nuns were in charge of the school, but the priests would drop by and everything would stop.

The angels didn’t exactly have bodies, but they came exactly to a point, and that was why scholastic theologians could argue about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

There was no other way to explain it finally, although Aquinas appealed to no less than Aristotle, than as a miracle. But that would be contrary to the nature of God, who would not be God if He had to resort to miracles, in effect admitting His mistake.

Augustine was reasserting himself in the second Vatican Council, the Ecumenical Council, a party hosted by the jolly pontiff John XXIII. Everyone loved him except assholes.

Pope John XXIII wrote in the encyclical Mater et Magistra in 1961 that unfettered capitalism was both immoral and unsustainable. “All forms of economic enterprise must be governed by the principles of social justice and charity.”

We’re not in this to make money.

“Man’s aim must be to achieve in social justice a national and international juridical order in which all economic activity can be conducted not merely for private gain but also in the interest of the common good.”

After Vatican Two, the altar turned around and the priest turned around and the words were English instead of Latin and you had to turn and greet your neighbor by saying to one another: “Peace be with you.” “And with your spirit.”

But the Mass wasn’t about other people. It was about taking Jesus into your life. It was between you and him, or you and the trinity, if you could sort that out.

John XXIII died, and the College of Cardinals met in the Sistine Chapel to choose the new pope.

Jesus was both man and God, but human Jesus was a really nice guy, whereas divine Jesus was a shit-kicker.

Priests and nuns and bishops and monsignors and cardinals and popes weren’t just unnecessary appendices, they were tumors, some benign, some malignant, but it only took one of those to kill you.

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus. Daniel knelt before the Stations of the Cross and tried to contrive a personal meaning for each, and here Veronica was clearly offering solace, so, in Daniel’s version, Ronnie was absolving him of all guilt for cheating on Patty Dooley.

That’s a stretch.

We’re not married. And we’re not going to get married. And if she never finds out about it, what’s the difference?

Turned out that history wasn’t the way it was depicted on The Flintstones. You could not go back in time and find cavemen who have to go to work for a boss and earn a paycheck. And we human beings weren’t two separate camps of ants and grasshoppers either. Dan’s stock had been serfs and sharecroppers, and if they ever had anything of real value, they lost it, ceded it to greater worldly powers.

In the 14th century in England, more people lived off land that was theirs than those who worked for somebody else. You got that? More people worked for themselves than worked for somebody else. They pretty much lived like shit. All of them. The good life was in the castle, and even that wasn’t so hot.

You could for a time follow a false god. Or gods.

Was there no inkling of it at the time?

No, none. Yes. There was. And it grew.

That’s called guilt.

What should I do, see a shrink?

You think you can get rid of it?

I don’t know.

You can’t. Accept it. Live with it. Face up to it.

Forgive myself.

Don’t forgive yourself. You don’t need to be forgiven. And you don’t need to be punished.  Both are true.

Guilt is both crime and punishment.

The Dominicans cast about for a name to call the order’s new school in Oak Park. Saint Dominic might have come to mind. It’s 1929, the Depression is coming on. The Church, championed by the Dominicans in its fight against racism in the suburbs – not racism against Blacks, mind you, racism against Catholics. So, they’re going to set up shop in Oak Park, bastion of WASPs to prove their worth, intellectually, athletically, and above all, morally.

Ed Fenwick cashed in his slaves in 1800. He didn’t set them free, he sold them. Some of them he kept for a while to work for him, to slave for him. It was slaves that built the first priory.

There was no racism at Fenwick, nor had there been any at Ascension. In fact, there wasn’t any racism in Oak Park – because there was only one race there.

Self-denying fanaticism.

To be religious was to be sick.

The moment you question the meaning of life, your mind is sick, because there is none.

There was no way his mother and sister were going to miss Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Dan would go too, because if you went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve then you didn’t have to go to Mass on Christmas Day, like it was some loophole.

Midnight Mass. Snow and ice and the cold air that held your breath in a white cloud before letting it go. When a kid first hears that music that Tchaikovsky wrote for The Nutcracker, forget Jesus and Bethlehem, and plug in Santa, and forevermore Christmas is magic.

Surprisingly, it was his older brother, not Gas-man, who was first to voice his disdain for organized religion. Ciaran called Mass the Big Show and soon Dan had twisted that into meaning you should arrive late and leave early. He started going to a different Mass than his parents. They always went to 10 o’clock Mass, so he would go to 11, arrive late, entering through the vestibule, dipping his fingers in the holy water at the entrance to the pews, walk all the way up the side aisle, enter the pews nearest the side door near the baptismal fount, and exit, only to wander around aimlessly, into the courtyard between the church and school, where the kids would play at recess, amble past the kindergarten classroom and peek in at the room his peers had occupied but he had not, past the gym, and following the alley all the way to Van Buren and the expressway, before heading home with the crowd that streamed from church past the house on Euclid.

Tweaking your pleasure principle sufficiently to keep it in line with the reality principle meant a transubstantiation of pleasure into something else.

There was a way around the reality principle – a place called Fantasy.

The world Dan encountered, the one his older brother and sister were living in when he arrived, was shaped by the Holocaust and America’s desperate attempt to catch up in the perpetration of evil, retaliating for Pearl Harbor by vaporizing two cities in  Japan, racism mushrooming into the sky, and the smoke had hardly cleared when Dan turned up, in the middle of the century, in the middle of America, in the bosom of his family and the absolute security that none of it could touch him, that it had nothing to do with him, and it didn’t, he was an innocent babe, and it would take years for him to become complicit.

In the reading of biographies, it is common to encounter lives immensely more fucked up than one’s own, or so it seems.

You know everything, but you don’t understand anything. The thing is you could probably get the same impression reading the biography of your next-door neighbor, or he could reading yours. All of which is to say we really have no idea how fucked up our lives are.

On that note, I’m going to bed.

Sweet dreams.

Nothing is more frightening than a labyrinth with no center to it.

We lie all the time with words, but it’s a lot harder with actions. Not just false moves. Those are just mistakes. Actions meant to deceive.

Make it look like something else happened.

Any regrets?

Everything. All of it.

He would go back and un-quit everything he quit, score that touchdown by running hard through the endzone, gobble up that grounder and make the easy throw to first. But sticking with football would be a terrible mistake. One concussion was enough.

Quitting in the North Section Meet was definitely one for the dustbin of history.

And the accident with the stoplight could have been avoided if he had not have gotten drunk.

Maybe if he had never started drinking.

It certainly wasn’t a question of God anymore.

Do you have to take sides?

You are forced to take a side.

How fucked up is that?

You have no choice. That’s just the way it is.

Fuck that.

Not taking a side is taking a side.

Which one?

The wrong one.

You can’t know that.

I’ve taken a side.

In the beginning there was the Church.

Isn’t it wrong to beat children? And what about those who beat children? Should they be beaten?

Is it wrong to think some men should be beaten? Surely there are some men who deserve to be beaten, are there not? Unless no one deserves to be beaten. We would not say any woman deserves to be beaten. But what about all who simply got what they had coming to them, got what they deserved, and it served them right? Someone might well deserve to be hanged, executed, put to death, but that’s not really a punishment so much as an end to punishment, terminal punishment, and short of that the infliction of physical pain is no longer thought to be justifiable punishment for any crime.

Corporeal punishment. The nuns and priests would slap you in the face.

Confirmation – that would be a slap in the face. You were confirmed in your faith. Christianity, the belief that one should turn the other cheek.

The plane crashed shortly after take-off, killing all onboard.

That’s a blessing.

The fuck are you talking about?

At least they didn’t have to wait.