Give Me Liberty AND Death

(From In Black and White and Color, a novel)

The first slaves were property of the Portuguese.

Next was Spain.

Columbus was from Genoa, an Italian.

The English had to get in on this.

Picture the scene with Bartolome de las Casas, America’s first priest, a Dominican friar, in color.

This place started as a colony, and it turned into an empire with colonies of its own.

But now there were no American colonies anymore – unless you counted Puerto Rico.

And the Virgin Islands.

And Guam.

On May 1, 1886, May Day in Chicago, Communists and Anarchists started the Haymarket Riot, had to have their asses kicked by Chicago cops.

After they blew some cops up with a fucking bomb.

Fred Hampton hijacked a Good Humor truck and drove around the west side giving away all the ice cream bars.

Fred Hampton. Catch him in the rack. That was the whole idea.

Ed Hanrahan killed Fred Hampton with Chicago cops. Ed Hanrahan of St. Giles. Why didn’t he go to Fenwick? He went to Notre Dame. Couldn’t he get into Fenwick? Where’d he go to high school? St. Philip? With the black kids? That how he got the way he is?

The 20th century opened with Teddy Roosevelt in the White House, and then his own chosen man, Taft, won in 1908. 

On December 26 of that year Jack Johnson beat the crap out of Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia to win the heavyweight championship of the world.

Boxing was the first major professional sport to integrate. Team sports would take a while. Football next. Then it would take a while before basketball came along. Finally, baseball.

The USA was the land of the free, even Jackie Robinson could play ball here, and on October 23, 1945, he signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team in Montreal for $600 a month and a $3,500 bonus.

Negro was both the popular and proper nomenclature.

Racism had so long induced a national schizophrenia that by the time Danny Boy arrived on the scene in the plumb middle of the century, nature unavoidably and routinely produced individuals as fucked up as Daniel Aloysius McDwyn, loving Jesus and hating Blacks, reading books and doubting God, knowing there was something wrong and doing nothing right.

Dan never wanted to leave the playground. Peter Pan never wanted to grow up.

By pretending, by trying to slip away, by quitting, by lying, by doing everything he could think of to avoid responsibility, to grow up.

Talking about Dan or America?

The USA? No, Dan. The USA would never grow up.

Edgar Rice Burroughs of Oak Park, Illinois went to Africa in his mind, to Deepest Darkest Africa, not that he ever actually went there, and so he created Tarzan of the Apes in Oak Park in 1912.

When Oak Parkers signed their blood oath to refuse to sell a home to a Black family, they were sentencing those Black people to a life of poverty – because a home is the only sliver of capital that working class people can ever own, and without it, they’ve got nothing. Go live in the projects, where you belong, go back to your shack in the south.

World War One started for the US in April of 1917. It lasted till 1919, which was also when the American Communist Party was founded – in Chicago.

Born in 1915, Connor McDwyn entered Fenwick as a freshman, age 14, in 1929, the year the school opened. He graduated in 1933, age 18. And then he did not go to college. He went to the college of hard knocks. He rose to second lieutenant in the Army and served in Manilla near the end of the war. But he must have studied in the school of hard knocks for a considerable time.

After the war he went to work for Com Ed. He’d been in the war, WW Two, the Big One. By the time the war in Korea came around, he was too old to serve.

In 1934 Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did a baseball tour of Japan. We gave them baseball, and 11 years later we gave them the bomb.

We?

You know what ended the Depression? World War Two.

The war in Europe started years before the USA got into it. Hitler started invading other countries. He built up his army way past the 100,00 troops dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, and off he went. He captured France, which boasted the most powerful army in the world, with England’s military not far behind in the rankings. Hitler figured he was unstoppable now, and he decided to go for England too. Hitler convinced Italy and Japan to back him up. The Italians weren’t much, but the Japanese were formidable.

Connor McDwyn would have to deal with them in Manilla.

It didn’t matter that Hitler’s military couldn’t match up with France or England, because the tactics Germany employed were so aggressive and new, they succeeded, and the ineptness of the response inspired Hitler to expand the war, and try to force England into immediate capitulation, just as he had France.

Hitler wanted all of Europe. He already had Italy because Mussolini was like his twin. Hitler struck a deal with Stalin to divide Poland between Germany and the USSR, but it wouldn’t be long before Hitler trick-fucked Stalin and went to war against Russia too,

It was getting to be a world war.

The Japanese used the same game plan the Confederacy had used in the American Civil War, the underdog approach, whereby you strike fast, seize the initiative with a surprise attack, and win with speed, brains, skill, talent, aggressiveness, and courage, only to suffer the same fate in the end, succumbing to overwhelming power and numbers.

If the Japanese had known that attacking Pearl Harbor was going to cost them Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they might have chosen not to attack.

If they had known what was unknowable. . .

That the USA would annihilate two Japanese cities full of living human beings, civilians. No one could have predicted that – because the barbarity of it was unthinkable, unimaginable.

Your problem is you have no imagination.

And now, thanks to the magic of history, you no longer need to imagine it – because it happened. It seemed to have ended the war instantly, like a light switched off.

If the past was once unimaginable and the future always unknowable, we were stuck in the middle, as always, with the present, where we didn’t stand a chance, with barely a clue to explain how we got here, how it all happened, let alone why. And still we weren’t entirely clueless. The past was occasionally knowable, something you might discover, uncover, or, more likely, stumble upon.

Like a land mine.

War was a chess match, and chess was war. You could only win at chess if you could think of the pieces as living breathing human beings and assign each their relative worth and capabilities, their use value, their weaknesses, and proceed to checkmate or stalemate or go down in noble defeat, it’s only a game, at least you tried.

Franklin Bobb was in the chess club. Joe Sessa with his irregular heartbeat was in the chess club.

Chess and the Thomist philosophy. Aquinas, the Dumb Ox. And Aristotle. All well and good, learning Latin and French and algebra and geometry, fine, biology – study of life, nothing wrong with all that, but where did the hippy priest crusading for Christ in the inner city find the time to molest teenage boys?

White boys.

Race didn’t enter into it.

Because there was only one race.

But the inner city was another matter. And the inner city was only four blocks away, on the other side of Austin Boulevard, and it kept right on going all the way downtown, the whole city was the inner city.

Three principles of chess: Gain control of the four center squares, seize the initiative. Develop your pieces. The backline players, except for the knights, need space to move.

What else?

Castle as soon as possible. Protect the king.

Don’t get Pearl Harbored.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was entirely knowable, even predicted, down to the specifics of where the planes would come from and where they would strike, but poor chess playing put offense ahead of defense and practically lost the entire game in the opening moves.          

The Japanese officially surrendered on September 2, 1945.

Who was to blame? What is the importance, the significance of assigning blame? Assigning responsibility? To what end? And where does it lie? On the heads of the political and military leaders of all the countries involved in a world war? Do that with Napoleon, and Tolstoy will show you that’s bullshit, but is Napoleon not guilty? Certainly, he isn’t innocent.

An American B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and eighty thousand human beings were very soon dead. Three days later we bombed Nagasaki and wiped out forty thousand more. They never saw it coming. They got hit with the light shining from our beacon on a hill, a shining moment of American exceptionalism. We didn’t bomb a fort or a military installation, we bombed two whole cities, a significant upgrade from the bombing we’d done on the city of Dresden in Germany. All of this was defensible because it served to end World War Two, otherwise it would still be going on today, and World War Three would have to be indefinitely, perhaps infinitely, postponed.

Mistakes were made, to put it in the passive voice and thus avoid all responsibility, bad things happened, and they were regrettable, and perhaps unavoidable, but what made it worse was they kept getting worse, the mistakes that were made, like pebbles thrown into a pond, the circles of their terrible influence kept growing wider and could only come to rest on the shore of the pond, and that was the shore of the land of the dead. When Danny came into the world, just as you did, he was riding rough seas, huge waves of hate and violence.

Not to be forgotten when the smoke cleared – we won, and Hitler lost.

Dan’s big brother was born in December of 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor. At the time, Connor was 27.

In 1947 Allen Ginsberg signed off on his mother’s lobotomy.

She was a Communist.

And a nudist.

So what?

Howl.

Truman won the election in 1948, defeating Dewey and holding onto the White House for the Democrats, who had been there since 1936, when Republican Herbert Hoover couldn’t get the USA out of the Depression and the voters decided Roosevelt might.

Dan was born into the burgeoning McCarthy Era. The Senator from Wisconsin, home of the Dells and Lake Lawn Lodge, was just getting warmed up. He had a list of 205 Communists, with a capital C, in our very own State Department. This was not the original witch hunt, in this country the Salem Witch Trials, but it was the first public event of note to be labeled as such while it was taking place, the first time the metaphor was imposed. When women were tried as witches, back in Salem, whether the defendants were in fact witches, they most certainly did not possess supernatural powers, and that was what they were being accused of, being in league with Satan, a being that does not exist. There was no evidence that McCarthy’s list ever existed either. He was just making it all up.

But what about Whittaker Chambers? He wasn’t making it all up, and you couldn’t get much higher up into the State Department than Alger Hiss.

As Danny emerged into the world, Whittaker Chambers stepped out of the shadows. He was Buckley’s hero. Buckley had heroes.

It wasn’t a war; it was called the Korean conflict. National Review would idolize Douglas MacArthur – because he could have settled things. MacArthur told Truman he could go fuck himself, and Buckley liked that.

Even though Truman just fired his ass.

The Korean War began in June 1950. Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Whitey Ford would all miss a whole season in the big leagues to serve in the military. They were called up. There was a draft, and regular normal everyday citizens – men, of draft age, even Elvis and movie stars, in they went. They had gone in WW2 and they would go in Korea.

But they wouldn’t go to Vietnam. That would be different. Or they were different. Or both.

There was no war machine all revved up and waiting in the garage.

America in 1950, triumphant in wars, victorious in technology, at the very peak of its prosperity.

In 1950 sportswriters were amusing themselves by compiling lists of the first half-century’s greatest sports heroes. Jim Thorpe was the greatest athlete of all time, George Mikan the greatest basketball player.

This then was America in the middle of the 20th century, with Harry Truman president, a Democrat. He had been FDR’s vice-president, and then took over when Roosevelt dropped dead, shortly after beginning his fourth term. The country was nearing the end of more than 20 years of Democratic control of the executive branch.

Roosevelt. FDR. He could have been king. We could have made him our king.

People kept electing him, but we were not about to make him our king.

We practically made him our king.

But we don’t have kings here, and there are two other branches of government to keep the president in check – legislative, composed of hundreds of sharp lawyers, and judicial, meaning judges, who can pass judgment on everybody, including the president, and, just to make sure, Congress passed a law to limit the presidency to two terms thereafter.

So, there was Give em Hell Harry. He had won unexpectedly. Everyone had expected Republican Thomas Dewey to win. The Chicago Tribune went so far as to headline its early edition the day after the election DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN!

Oops.

It would be Truman who would decide to drop two atomic bombs on Japan.

“Sixteen hours ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima. That bomb had more power than twenty-thousand tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the largest bomb yet used in the history of warfare. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction. It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed. Having found the atomic bomb, we have used it. It is an awful responsibility that has come to us. We thank God it has come to us and not to our enemies. And we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”

Yeah, right.

The Democrats were coming to the end of their tenure in the White House. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the general who won World War Two. George Washington had been the general who won the Revolutionary War. It would somehow be unpatriotic for Eisenhower not to be elected president.

On January 20, 1953 Eisenhower moved into the White House, where he would live until January 20, 1961.

A country in transition from Truman to Eisenhower, then from Eisenhower to Kennedy, from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

In 1953 the President of General Motors, Erwin Wilson, was named Secretary of Defense. “What’s good for General Motors,” he said, “is what’s good for America.”

Integration of public schools by way of Brown v Board of Education, handed down in May of 1954, was by far the leading factor in the popularity of private schools, parochial schools, Catholic schools, which is to say, Fenwick, perhaps not called into existence by racism, but certainly propelled on its merry way thereby.

Dan knew, or could feel by instinct, that it wasn’t just the South. It was Oak Park.

William F. Buckley, Jr. founded National Review, the coolest magazine that ever was, in 1955. In 1957 it bravely answered the question of Why the South Must Prevail by clearly stating: “The claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.” Buckley wrote that.

Buckley thought that racism would save the world from communism because in the end the difference between the Soviets and Red China was that the Soviets were white, and the Chinese weren’t. They could not abide one another. So Buckley saw the Soviets ultimately as allies.

Because we’re both white.

Buckley said that?

Such was his implication.

In 1957 Norman Mailer wrote The White Negro, and James Baldwin countered. Mailer and his hipsters wanted to appropriate Black experience, which he then mythologized and in no way apprehended.

Cuban Revolution 1959.

Dan had no way of knowing it, though you could have convinced him of it in a minute, but the whole Cold War was bullshit, a monstrous waste of time, money, energy, and lives.

Look at what was happening to Cuba, to the sprawling Soviet Union and its satellites, the Cubans had been cut off from all trade with America, left to live on left-overs, and the Soviets, were plowing their economy into a military that served no purpose but to suck the life out of America and itself, while America could always sell more shit and learn to live on shit and love it. The Soviets were doomed.

The sixties marked the centennial of the Civil War and kids were wearing blue and gray Yankee and Rebel caps you could buy in a dime store. Everybody in Oak Park wanted a blue one – of course.

Why?

Blue won.

The sixties. This was the height of American prosperity. The whole family would get in the car and go for a drive. No destination. Just drive.

The Civil War centennial. We were celebrating the Civil War.

No, no. Ending the Civil War, celebrating ending the Civil War.

Right.

There was also the Davy Crocket coonskin cap.

There also was the foreign legion cap, which was cool, because it had that extra piece of cloth hanging off it to keep the back of your neck from being fried in the desert, but Dan didn’t see it that way, and when his mother wasn’t looking, he snatched her scissors and snipped it off.

You ruined your hat – why?

It was wearing a dress.

Occasionally real people, who were still existent and present and active and recognizable in the real world, would interact with fictional characters, created from, or, rather, produced by confused ideas of earlier times, beginning in the late 40s on through the 50s and 60s, due to Dan’s stunning stupidity, naivete, and immaturity, which is to say, youth.

Danny somehow knew that it was in sport that you found out what you were really all about, so, with each of these sports it was becoming clear that many of the world’s greatest athletes, if not most, were Black. So, what did that mean? Only that those athletes were setting the standards of excellence, and that their accomplishments were something to aspire to, but none of that earned you any points among the racists.

Tuesday, ten-thirty in the morning, air raid sirens go off, every Tuesday. Be a hell of a time for the Ruskies to attack, everyone would think it was just a drill, which might be good timing really – because everyone would routinely take shelter.

The whole world was being made over between 1960 and 1963. Twenty-four new countries came into existence. They had been European colonies.

The 50s slowly turned into the 60s, but it didn’t take long for the 60s to catch fire. The difference was as graphic as the contrast between Eisenhower and Kennedy.

To get to Kennedy, you had to get past Nixon. Everybody at Ascension was for Kennedy. A kid wearing a Nixon button, like Charley Clover did, would be pummeled by his classmates and his banners torn. Dan just watched. Charley Clover was a jerk, and he picked his nose. He had been caught picking his nose. He picked Nixon and he picked his nose, he was doomed.

Everything seemed to be going along just fine, until Kennedy got shot. Eisenhower had been like the country’s Grampa. Then we got Young Dad to replace him, and our new Dad was handsome and Irish and Catholic, he played touch football with his brothers.

The 60s flashed from black and white to color.

Kennedy against Nixon. It was a tough choice for conservative Catholics to vote for the liberal Democrat Catholic Kennedy – but he was a Catholic.

Kennedy was a Catholic and he played touch football with his brothers. So why shouldn’t he take over from the aged king? The prince becoming king, revitalizing the kingdom of Camelot.

President Kennedy said we could get to the moon by the end of the decade.

What a dreamworld.

And then bang.

It all ended on November 22, 1963.

As soon as LBJ became President, with that hangdog look and Jackie standing next to him in her pink blood-stained dress, the USA and its meaning were given a good shake in the kaleidoscope of sentiment and empathic response of patriotism at odds with reason, and it all added up to: it felt bad. Johnson was President, the nation was at war, spies and assassins were loose in the world, and there was no need for Catholics to be Democrats anymore – unless you were in Chicago. As always, Oak Park, Saints Rest, prided itself on being not Chicago.

Camelot was long dead. Even before Kennedy was shot all sorts of sneaky shit was going on with the CIA and the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover had practically invented the FBI, and so the FBI did pretty much did whatever he wanted, investigated anybody he want to investigate, investigated the hell out of them, while in his free time, he liked to wear women’s clothing.

Demare had swung that election for Kennedy by turning out the vote of Chicago’s dead.

They were in the Euclid house when Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963, having completed little more than half his first term, and it’s a pretty sure bet he would’ve been re-elected, especially in light of the way LBJ crushed Goldwater in 64. But then Johnson would go on to serve only one term before the War in Vietnam made him say: Enough of this shit! By then it was 1968, that year, one of the most tempestuous in history, when childhood would vanish forever into Dan’s past.

Tom Ayers was the boss of Commonwealth Edison from 1960-1970. His son Bill was a class traitor and proud of it.

Bill Ayers and Dan’s brother were just a year apart. Ciaran was headed into the Marines and Vietnam. Bill Ayers was headed for the SDS. Ciaran had come out of Ascension and Fenwick and Oak Park. Ayers came out of Glen Ellyn, out of Forest Glen school. There was a brown lady named Celeste who cleaned the Ayers’ house.

There was a kid who was 8 years older than Ayers named Jimmy, who lived in the neighborhood, and when Ayers was 10 years old, 1953, the kid, Jimmy, got drafted, and was so afraid of going to war in Korea he shot himself.

Makes no sense. Because he was afraid that he was going to get killed, he killed himself?

Ayers went to Lake Forest Academy. He was starting guard on the football team, weighing 145 pounds, while Fenwick was winning the Prep Bowl 40-0. Ayers spent four years at Lake Forest and hated every minute of it. Then he goes to Michigan. The Wolverines. And he tries out for the football team. Michigan, the Wolverines, he must’ve been delusional. He quits school after a year. He’s in Michigan, he ends up in Detroit, still living on Big Daddy’s dime. He decides to become a freedom rider. At the same time, Ciaran is finishing up his ROTC, getting ready to go into the Marines.

In 1961 the USA sent 2,067 military advisers to Vietnam, and by 1963 there were 16,300 of them there, and by 1964 there were 23,000.

In 1965, after a bullshit report of an attack on an American ship patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson sent in combat troops, and the war was full on, even though war had not been declared.

Vietnam was a murky mess being promoted as Good versus Evil. Somehow, we were Good.

The domino theory predicted the citizens of country after country, the big one being China in 1946, would turn Communist, until the plague arrived in North America and we were the only American country left in the world.

That’s what you’re afraid of?

Now it’s ninety miles away.

Cuba?

1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Dylan wrote Hard Rain’s Agonna Fall during the Cuban missile crisis, writing each lyric as if it were a song itself, like Borges writing about books unwritten, because the world might end before he could get around to each song.

In 1962 James Meredith went to college at Ole Miss.

Esquire hired Norman Mailer in 1962. He wrote about Marilyn Monroe and then Hemingway, who had died the previous year.

Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley were going to debate each other in Chicago at the Madinah Temple on the eve of the Patterson-Liston fight.

“CHICAGO, Sept. 23–In what was billed as a political debate between a conservative and a hipster, William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Mailer met before a crowd of 3,600 at Medinah Temple last night to discuss (but only when they felt like it) the subject: ‘What Is the Real Nature of the Right Wing in America?’”

The transcript of the debate was published in Playboy.

In Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer made a distinction between the Civil Rights march on Washington in 1963 and the Vietnam war protests.

Mahalia Jackson called out: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

It was Ike’s half-ass idea to split Vietnam in two and let Ho Chi Minh, who’d been elected by the whole country, have the north, while the new country of South Vietnam, would be ruled by one of the few Catholics to be found, a fellow named Diem, who was then overthrown and killed in 1963, same year as Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, same year Kennedy would be shot, and Dan was in the sixth grade. His sister was not home for lunch. She was at Trinity. Ciaran was in college in Minnesota. His dad was at work. There was his mom and Gramma and his little brother, and Bozo’s Circus on WGN was interrupted.

Dan was the middle child, and their dilemma, the family’s dilemma, was that of the middle class, and they had no real power, except to complain, while their aspirations were comically removed from the practicalities of their lives, Aquinas and all that.

Mind and body. The aesthetes and the jocks. The draft-dodgers and the baby-killers. There was no in-between, no compromise.

The enemy were gooks, less than human, but if that were true, why would we give a shit about saving their gook country?

Someone on your team, a teammate, a comrade on the battlefield, someone who fought alongside you, who risked his life along with you, he wasn’t going to betray you and trick-fuck you the way your intellectual and artistic friend would.

Guys went over, got shot at by gooks, and shot back, and started hating gooks, started killing gooks indiscriminately, soldier, civilian, man, woman, young, old, and they hated the war, and they hated anyone who wanted to stop the war.

No one could think straight.

Bill Cosby is a very funny fellow . . . Right! Recorded at the Bitter End in March 1963. Released in November 1963. Played on his record player in stereo in Gas-Man’s bedroom 1964, and Dan and Gas Man chortled at its wonderfulness.

1964 was an election year. Goldwater against Johnson, and the Gas-Man was pulling hard for Goldwater. It wasn’t the same as in 1960, when everybody in school, besides Charley Clover, was for Kennedy, the Catholic. The whole school wasn’t going to get behind Johnson the way it had Kennedy, but nobody was for Goldwater.

In 64 Dan’s parents voted for Goldwater, although they knew he probably wouldn’t win.

It was 1964 and with all the other shit going on, Johnson versus Goldwater, Vietnam, Cuba, all that, Bobby Kennedy is fucking Susan Sontag.

The French Government . . . of Vietnam (maybe that made sense in the fifties, or whenever imperialism made sense) was backed in America by the Friends of Vietnam, including John F. Kennedy and Cardinal Spellman.

The Vietnamese should be Catholic, mais non?

But most of the Vietnamese were Buddhist.

The Magus was exactly the wrong book to read on the sophomore retreat, and it was exactly the wrong book to read if you wanted to support the war in Vietnam.

Dan didn’t support the war. He wasn’t for the war. He couldn’t defend the war, wasn’t about to.

Barry Goldwater said to bomb the hell out of em.

Buckley didn’t even think Goldwater was all that smart. Good man, on the right side, but not all that smart. Buckley was willing to go to war over going to war.

Goldwater lost in forty-four states. He won Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia, the most racist states.

During the campaign it was fun to be for Goldwater because nobody else was. It made you stand out. You knew what AU/H2O stood for, just like UNCLE.

What sort of role model was Nicholas Urfe, or John Fowles for that matter?

They were very different people, not to speak of the fact that one was real and the other was not. Nicholas Urfe was the creation of John Fowles, and mere fantasy, wish fulfillment.

James Bond had a cruel mouth.

Nichlas Urfe was sort of an antihero, sort of because he speaks to the reader as though he has our empathy and understanding, but he is not likeable. He’s trying to tell us how he has been humbled, but he is still arrogant and conceited.

Dan didn’t see that way. Instead, he read with a kind of foreboding, a vague sense that what happened to Nicko in the book was going to happen to him in real life.

Metaphorically speaking.                                                                                                                  

He would, though not on a Greek isle, discover himself to be a cad, to practice to deceive, but, above all, to be deceived, to deceive himself, to be the fool. It didn’t take a magus for him to be revealed as a fool. He could see that in himself because he was willing to look in the mirror, but he had to look closely and that meant missing everything that was going on in the background.

Now to bring it forward.

Catholics against the War, when it was Catholics who were waging the war in Vietnam on Buddhists.

It was Johnson behind Medicare and Medicaid, and he talked about America as a great society, if we could make it one, but was there a chance even that it could be a good society?

The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. What could that mean to Dan? All he knew was that he had all the rights there were, and if Ruth, the colored lady who cleaned their house once a week, had a few rights now too, then good for her. It still didn’t stop the McDwyns from letting her go.

I think she stole a pair of Mom’s earrings.

Ruth came once a week, from Chicago, and she’d mop and wax the kitchen and dining room floors, vacuum the wall-to-wall carpeting, dust and polish the furniture. She would do a professional job. The house was professionally cleaned.

Hell, Dan stole all the loose change he could lay his hands on, and if there was a stack of ones, who’s going to miss one or two ones?

Black people were making music that moved you and thrilled you and you could listen to on your transistor radio, which you could put under your pillow and only you could hear it.

There were, mirabile dictu, even greater advancements to come, like an earpiece, but at that time, it was sufficient to put your transistor radio in your pocket. The transistor radio, snug in its leather jacket, you could take it with you almost anywhere. What was particularly wonderful about having the transistor radio under the pillow at night was that it was not allowed, but how was anyone to know, unless Mom came into the room and caught you?

Hand over that radio.

But why would she do that? Come barging into a kid’s bedroom like that?

That was the problem, living with all these people, trying to get some privacy.

What do you need privacy for?

Good question. What did Dan need privacy for?

The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act came out of the 60s. Lyndon Johnson. Not Kennedy. Not Nixon.

Nixon was coming.

To racists the Civil Rights Act was a declaration of war, not the same Civil War as before, not north against south, industrial versus agricultural, this wasn’t even Black against white, because Black people, having won their rights would just as soon be done with it all and enjoy their rights, and everyone could live in peace, rather, it was whites against freedom, whites against equality, whites against truth, and Dan was white.

Dad and Mom were Republicans.

Oak Park was Republican.

There were Democrats in Chicago.

On July 2, 1964, a new world opened up to every Black person in America, a world that had in it not only bathrooms and water fountains, but restaurants and movie theaters and hotels, a world they had seen, but never lived in during all their lives, some of which were long and all of which they were used to, if not comfortable with, at least set in their ways, hesitant to change, unsure, afraid, so that black people still lived in fear.

Gas-Man was going to take Dan with him to a meeting of the John Birch Society. They were in eighth grade. While he wasn’t busy being the head of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch was a Boston candy maker. He made Milk Duds, Sugar Daddies, and Junior Mints.

Civil Rights might have been the law, but it’s not until somebody breaks the law and gets punished for it that it’s really a law. So those civil rights workers in Mississippi had to be murdered, and that was a clear violation of their civil rights.

February 1965, James Baldwin hands Buckley his ass at Cambridge. Resolved: The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.

No shit.

“Your people, sir, are not ready to rule themselves.” Those were Buckley’s words. He had the fucking gall to say that.

Baldwin wondered, “What happens to the poor white man’s, the poor white woman’s mind? Their moral lives have been destroyed by the plague called color.”

Master and slave – neither one is free.

WFB didn’t like the Beatles. He said they were godawful. That was how fucked up he was.

James Bond didn’t like them either, said you needed to listen to them with earmuffs on.

In 1965 Civil Rights protesters planned to march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Ku Klux Klan joined forces with the Sheriff to try to stop them.

Johnson went to Congress himself to pitch the Civil Rights Act, and he ended his speech by saying, “We shall overcome.”

We.

In 1965 Buckley was running for Mayor of NYC. It began as something of a joke. He was running for mayor sarcastically. He knew he wasn’t going to win, just like he had known Goldwater wasn’t going to win.

It wasn’t about winning.                                                              

How could it be about anything else?

It was about ideas.

In Chicago it was preposterous to think that someone like Buckley could run for mayor. There was Demare, who was as much king as mayor. New York was different, but Chicago was a city too, just as much a city as New York.

Second City, my ass.

In 1965 Dan was graduating from Ascension and Ciaran was flying helicopters in Vietnam.

War was something that happened on TV.

And in the movies.

That’s just Hollywood. Real war happens on TV.

Marshall McLuhan.

The fact was that the war was happening half a world away, and most of the dead people were yellow, and we only saw it on a TV screen, so that it seemed confined to that box, crammed in there with the Beverly Hillbillies and Judy Carne, manageable, soft core, a hint of sex and lots of violence and mostly for laughs, all in an effort to sell something. And we bought it.

The Vietnamese might turn Communist.

So fucking what?

The domino theory. We’ve got to stop the spread of . . .

The Communist Control Act of 1965 made it illegal to be a member of the Communist Party.

Kids might have heard Malcolm X saying, “by any means necessary,” but they didn’t stop to think that what might be necessary was reason and logic. They thought it meant anarchy.

In a way, Malcolm X was making Martin Luther King acceptable.

Malcolm X was shot 21 times by two Black guys with handguns and one guy with a shotgun who popped up out of the crowd on February 21, 1965.

In the 1966 Naked Lunch went on trial, with Ginsberg and Mailer testifying in its defense – and won.

Firing Line went on the air in 1966. On Firing Line Buckley argued with overwhelming evidence and eloquence, against man’s perfectibility, and then it was turned around him by Bertrand Russell: Does that mean you’re not supposed to try?

The question is not whether human beings are perfectible, but whether we’re at least going to try.

August 6, 1966, Lenny Bruce died.

Abbie Hoffman wants to do an exorcism. Think about that, Abbie Hoffman. Exorcism. Now: The Pentagon. And if there are enough of us to join in and circle the Pentagon –

Yeah, right.

It will levitate. We will levitate the Pentagon. Suspend it. And that will stop the war.

Now you’re thinking. I can’t believe we hadn’t thought of this before.                                           

It took Abbie the fuck Hoffman.

October 21, 1967, however, there was to be no encircling, just this prayer to the gods to cast out the evil from the pentacle of power.

March on the Pentagon. Armies of the Night. Soldiers with machine guns were on the steps of the Capitol prepared to quell riots.

Quakers  were lying naked on the floor of the jail because they had refused jail clothing, crazy with dehydration because they refused to drink, did Buckley have some smartass shit to say to them?  They weren’t cowards afraid to fight in a war, they weren’t spoiled brats blowing shit up.

No, but they were Quakers. What do you expect? That’s what they do.

Hell no, we won’t go.

If you don’t have a whole shitload of people chanting it, it’s not going to work. But if you’ve got a whole shitload of people and they’re chanting Hell No We Won’t Go, a real chorus of strong voices –

The peace movement, or antiwar movement, would by its nature be attractive to anyone who was just afraid to fight in a war, not to cast any aspersions.

The Six-Day War in Israel in 1967: Saul Bellow said that the Egyptians had no air cover, and without it their army was helpless. The Israelis won the war because they blew up the Arab airfields, even those out of range, and then shot their aircraft to pieces.

What did it mean then that a country like Israel existed? What kind of world requires that?

In order to be safe from all others.

Still, a fresh start, a new country called Israel, full of Jews from all over the world, the best, the brightest, the knowledge and wisdom of centuries, to begin again and concentrate and create a society where people could live and work together in harmony with nature and their neighbors, and then it just got all fucked up.

Maybe it was fucked up from the beginning. Maybe it was doomed. Maybe it was a bad idea.

Maybe it was a good idea gone bad. Maybe it’s still a good idea. Who knows?

You know what you left out? The people who were already fucking living there.

Fuck them.

See what I mean?

A world where broads don’t have to get pregnant just because they happened to get fucked –

Is a whole new world. A world people never lived in before, where she could be on the pill.

But the Church was dead set against abortion.

Communism with a capital C was as real as a heart attack.

The US had 500,000 troops in Vietnam by 1968. There were 16,000 dead that year.

The Tet Offensive was launched in January 1968. Combo forces of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.

Gene McCarthy started running in March of 1968. Then Bobby Kennedy announced he was running.

Johnson dropped out and Humphrey jumped in.

All of that allowed Nixon to creep back into the picture. Where was Charley Clover now?

In early March 1968, news broke about the My Lai massacre, and there were our boys in uniform killing around five hundred women and children and old people.

My Lai revealed that some of the soldiers had been transformed into baby killers, and the logic of the war was laid bare in the explanation: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

That was either a perfect statement of nihilism, or patently absurd, or both.

The argument for going to war was that when you were called up, you went. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die. If everyone sat back and decided for themselves not if a war was just or not, but just whether they felt like going, where would we be?

We’d be right here. What difference does it make?

This was existentialism. This was the absurd. This was beyond him. He was spinning out of control into space out into the universe. He had smoked cigarettes and drunk every kind of alcohol he could get his hands on, but he was adamantly against drugs.

Learning nothing and getting nowhere, “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.”

You could burn your draft card.

Hell no, we won’t go.

We?

Vietnam was such a total disaster that it killed the draft. It was too embarrassing, dispiriting, to go to war and have the soldiers refuse to participate, burn their draft cards or run away.

Bill Ayers was going to fight it and run away.

His dad was way up there at Com Ed. Mr. Ayers.

Dan remained steadfast in his belief that the war could not touch him, and, besides, he wouldn’t even have to worry about it for at least the next four years because he’d be a student, 2-S. He’d have a deferment. He didn’t thank God for it, providential as it may seem, he might thank his lucky stars because there was evidence, true evidence, that September of 1951 was a lucky time to be born, it slid neatly between the Korean War and Vietnam to make its generation free from military service.

Deprived of the chance to be a soldier. Glory. The chance to prove your manhood, find your courage.

Dan could live with that. He had not distinguished himself in his lone position of leadership, and he was a coward. Other than that, he’d make a fine soldier, utterly expendable.

Fortunately, he was lucky.

Luckily, he was fortunate.

You ever tried pot?

No thank you.

I wasn’t offering it to you.

No one ever did. Dan must’ve been doing something wrong. It was not only his conceit that caused his shame and guilt and sadness.

Dan’s instincts were truest and most noble in dealing with sports, with games and players and athletes and fans, he could tell the truth then and act his part, though it be an extra in a crowd scene, because life was a movie, and he was the star of the movie, the protagonist, so being an extra turned him into an anti-hero, against his will, but, being a coward and a quitter, he was incapable of fighting it off. His destiny was to be an anti-hero, and you can either accept your fate, or you can try to escape it, in which case you will run right into it. Having nothing better to do, Dan decided to do both, now one, now the other, but he would not play a villain, nor would he attempt any more to be the hero, although of necessity he would play antagonist to many. The war was out.

On March 31, 1968, Johnson went on TV and said, “There is division in the American house right now.” Then he quit. He wasn’t running for re-election. He was out. McCarthy and Bobby could fight it out.

Four days later Martin Luther King was shot to death. To Black people the message was: You tried non-violence, and this is how it works.

On April 5 riots began in more than 100 cities.

In Chicago, Demare gave an order to shoot to kill.

“As long as I’m mayor of this city, there’s going to be law and order in this city,” sez Demare.

Early in 1968, before Johnson dropped out, Gene McCarthy declared his candidacy for President, and all he wanted to do was stop the war. Then Bobby Kennedy jumped in too, and he made civil rights part of it.

Johnson’s grandfather had died at age 64, his father had died at 64, and Johnson himself would die when he was 64.

George Wallace was running for President in 1968, with Curtis LeMay as his running mate.

George Wallace. Good lord, Mom wrote an admiring letter to George Wallace.

The Democratic Convention was going to be held in McCormick Place, but then it burned down. DaMare wasn’t going to let that stop Chicago from holding the Democratic convention.

It would just have to be held in the ancient Chicago Amphitheater, instead, where the Fenwick Friars had whupped Crane Tech just four months before for the City title in basketball.

That summer Dan was getting himself some fat ass with a rich girl from River Forest. They were making out in her driveway when Bobby Kennedy was shot.

In 1968 the Republicans convened in Miami Beach. ABC had already signed Buckley up to comment, but he had to have an opponent, so ABC asked him for suggestions, and then ABC asked Buckley who did he not want to debate, and, stupidly, he replied. That he honestly replied Gore Vidal doesn’t matter. He was stupid.

Gore Vidal, the author of Myra Breckenridge.

Dan was trying to reconcile himself with this society and culture, using William F. Buckley, Gas-man, and Jim Ryun as his guides, each of them blazing a path he could neither follow nor comprehend.

Ryun was training for the 1968 Olympics, or thought he was, but he was training for a race he had no chance of winning.

Nixon wasn’t a conservative. It was hard to say what he was.

The only problem with the protest was that there was no objective beyond just trying to fuck things up, and things were already fucked up. Kennedy and Johnson were half-ass liberals that seemed to have backed into a war that was stupid, evil, and un-winnable, and now they didn’t know how to get out.

At the Democratic Convention in the Ampitheater. Bill Ayers was caught up in Lenin and the Russian Revolution and Che Gueverra and Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries, so if the domino theory that left America waiting to be the last nation to fall like all the rest, was fundamentally silly, the fiery rhetoric of the SDS could easily give credence to middle class fears. The Reds were out to get them, and they are us.

It’s like Vietnam is this girl, and we both want to go with her, us and the Reds, so we say fine, let her choose who she wants to go with, but if she picks the Reds, we’re going to rape her and kill her.

Hell no, we won’t go.

If you don’t have a whole shitload of people chanting it, it’s not going to work. But if you’ve got a whole shitload of people and they’re chanting Hell No We Won’t Go, a real chorus of strong voices –

The peace movement, or antiwar movement, would by its nature be attractive to anyone who was just afraid to fight in a war, not to cast any aspersions.

You think the world revolves around you?

You mean do I see things from my own point of view? I’d kind of have to, wouldn’t I?

Dan did think the world revolved around him. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the world revolved around him at about a million miles a second. He was living in the eye of a cosmic hurricane, a tiny spec at the center of his own consciousness, while Bill Ayers was getting ready to kill someone.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

So, they took Dylan’s lyric as their anthem and called themselves the Weathermen, when the song plainly said you don’t need a weatherman.

The revolution was coming.

Jesus.

The world was in flames, devouring all the oppressed people everywhere, and we were going to save them.

That’s white of us.

I am the catcher in the rye.

Chairman Mao. The Weathermen carried his Little Red Book.

Nat Turner.

John Brown.

Bring the war home.

But if the troops, the soldiers, were warmongers and baby killers, why would you want to bring them home?

So they could become cops.

There was the War and there was the War against the War.

The SDS was studying The Blaster’s Handbook, learning to make bombs, to go along with the weapons of the street, brass knuckles, saps, garrotes.

Working class, my ass, that’s Mr. Ayers’ kid.

Do you have any idea how horrible this is?

Some.

War. Riots. Hate. Theft on the grandest of scales. Hypocrisy. Ignorance. Fear. Cowardice. What’s not to love about it?

Have a love-in.

A happening.

And the terrible ghastly shit the Cong did to the Americans they captured?

That was as fucked up as anything.

Walter Cronkite said on the news: “It is more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in stalemate.”

“For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.”   -Walter Cronkite   February 27, 1968

Sweden was haven for draft dodgers. Johnson recalled the US ambassador to Sweden in March of 1968.

The 60s started out with Kennedy president, but that didn’t last for long. Johnson had to finish Kennedy’s term. Then Johnson ran against Goldwater and clobbered him. But the next four years were enough to make Johnson puke, that is, to make him quit. He didn’t seem to be able to get us out of the mess that Kennedy had gotten us into in Vietnam.

Where?

Why?

So, Johnson quit after one term.

Bobby Kennedy runs for president and gets killed. Gene McCarthy is for peace, but the nomination goes to Humphrey, who wants to keep the war going.

Welcome to Chicago.

Ten thousand protesters were coming to Chicago for the convention, and they wanted to know where they were permitted to protest. Demare told them Nowhere.

LBJ had said we were living in a Great Society. It was great enough to reach across the world into southeast Asia to help people out.

Far, far beyond their village in America, Oak Park, the former Saints Rest, the Largest Village in the World, there were gooks, who were akin to chinks and japs, to be added to the list of despised races, which amounted to all that were not white.

There were no permits granted for camping overnight in Lincoln Park, like the Boy Scouts used to do, so the 11pm curfew was going to be enforced. It was going to be enforced, as the saying went, like ten men!

There were 25,000 Chicago cops, plus the National Guard, and their orders, apparently, were to beat the living shit out of everybody. They weren’t about to let the would-be rioters beat them to the punch. The police rioted first.

Dan watched the riots on TV, just like people in France and Miami and Timbuktu watched it, in wonderment. But for Dan there was a personal attachment. Wow, that’s happening right downtown. Yet none of it touched him. Heads were being busted in Lincoln Park and along Michigan Avenue, but Dan was safe, with his short hair and his Fenwick blazer, white-collared shirt, tie, dark trousers, with a belt, and cuffs, 21 minutes away from the Loop by el, in Oak Park, beyond the cul-de-sacs along Austin Boulevard, but Father Farrell was going down there, down into the inner-city to save souls, like that priest in that old movie where the ship was sinking or the building was on fire and people were trapped and doomed and there was no getting them out or rescuing them, and somebody tried to stop the priest from rushing headlong right the hell in there, because he wasn’t going to save anybody’s life, they were all going to die, but he was going the hell in there anyway because he was going to baptize people before they died so their souls could go to heaven.

Don’t go in there, father! For the Love of God, don’t go in there!

For the Love of God, I am going in there.

Now there was one selfless act.

Selfless and saintly and stupid.

This could not have been the way the world looked to Dan’s mother, because she was the mother of a son in combat, and on the front door of the brick house on the corner of Euclid and Van Buren, by which all must pass on their way to church, hung the emblem and star that meant a soldier came from here.

Once the gas spread over the park the kids grabbed at anything they could get their hands on to throw at the cops, stones, bottles, concrete from the potholes in the street.

The fucking Quakers led a march that was stopped at 39th Street and Halsted.

You have no idea how much shit is going to go down right here right now.

The Yippies fanned out in all directions, spreading the cops’ forces thinner.

Wednesday night was the Massacre on Michigan Avenue, and it was on TV. It started in Grant Park. The only way out was on to Michigan Avenue.

The whole world is watching.

Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut was saying: “The turmoil and violence is competing with this great convention for the attention of the American people.”

And then he said something about the cops using Gestapo tactics, and Demare’s face turned purple and he blew up.

Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home!

The lousy was particularly Chicago.

Dump the Hump.

Dick Nixon before Nixon Dicks you!

Vidal called Buckley a Nazi. Buckley called Vidal a queer, as if  they were equivalent pejoratives, balled his fist and threatened to punch him, thereby completely losing the argument and, worse, losing his famous cool, his signature sangfroid.

Buckley had lost a fight. He would never be the same. He would never recover.

“A revolutionary with a taste in wine has already come half the distance from Marx to Burke.” – Mailer

In 68 the Republicans came back into power. Nixon was in charge.

Nixon, the President, was a Republican. President Eisenhower was a Republican and he had been a five-star general and he had led the invasion of Normandy, had been the leader of the allied forces against the Nazis. All was well. It would never be better than that. Those were the good old days of yore, the likes of which would ne’er be seen again, the bullshit of 1952 to 1960, all there in black and white.

A flower child was putting a flower in the gun barrel of a helmeted soldier.

A hundred thousand French soldiers died in Vietnam before the French got the hell out, before the French learned that imperialism was over.

Still, the spread of Communism had to be stopped.

Why?

A separate peace – that was the notion that one could tell the rest of the world to fuck off. Unfortunately, no one in the world was in a position to do that successfully.

Go to Canada.

Draft-dodger.

War-monger.

Traitor.

Baby-killer.

The smell of pot was in the air, strong and sweet enough to be inviting. There was weed and free love and anarchy, or there was a crew-cut and see how many of you could fit into a phone booth with Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs and Jed Clampett, and Dan wanted to squeeze in next to Judy Carne in her miniskirt.

In the summer of 1969 Charlie Manson sent his followers out on their killing spree.

In Chi there had already been the black and white version, Richard Speck’s Night of the Nurses.

Roman Polanski’s Repulsion was playing at the Clark Theater,

Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge, with a girl in the car, and he left her there, at the bottom of a lake in July of 69.

There was a massacre at Mi Lai. Lieutenant William Calley took the fall for it.

In 1969 Norman Mailer was running for Mayor of NYC.

The senior class showed its thinking with two subversive and subsequently banned t-shirts, one said Class of ‘69, and the other said Fenwick Beaver Patrol. That was the extent of the rebellion against authority.

How the hell did the Republicans come up with Nixon? Sure, Goldwater had been demolished, but Nixon?

Nixon had been lurking in the background the whole time, since 1952 when Ike chose him for his running mate.

The Black Panthers, and other Black militants, and Black protesters were out for justice, not peace, so they weren’t joining up with the peace movement, they were joining the anti-war  movement. Their fight wasn’t with the Viet Cong, it was with Bull Connor.

Instead of remembering it, the scenes would unfold as they happened, in all their newness and strangeness and surprise and ignorance and naivete. Something happening. Imperfect. Going on.

If you were a Frenchman, you saw the USA moving into Vietnam after your compatriots had ignominiously slinked out.

The French have a somewhat older culture. Ed Fenwick could have told you about that. Culture, that is. Western values. The French were old hands at imperialism, and here came the Yanks, while back in America the Blacks were rioting in the cities and the general population was marching on the Pentagon.

Catholicism was not just of Chartres or even the Pieta and the Sistine ceiling and Gregorian chant and all the monks, particularly the Irish, preserving the great texts, but Catholic culture, from burning people alive at the stake for heresy to burning them with napalm and gasoline jell.

It was oppressive, the weight of all those centuries, and it was meant to be oppressive because the whole enterprise was a power play.

Seeking dominion.

In Vietnam 58,000 US soldiers would die, and who knows how many Vietnamese?

Who knows?

No one knows.

Somebody must know. Somebody must have some idea, somebody must have a pretty good damn idea because we’re not talking about people who got wiped out by the plague in the middle ages, these are modern people.

They live in rice paddies.

You don’t eat rice? We’re invading their country. How else can you see it? They didn’t invade us. They can’t invade us. They’re never going to invade us. They didn’t attack us.

What is this, isolationism? That never works. Can’t just quit and go home.

Let them run their own damn country. Let them be communists if they want to be. What the hell do we care?

Bill Ayers didn’t want to fight in the war either, but there was a difference; Bill Ayers didn’t want the war being fought. He was going to do something about it. Dan didn’t do anything, and Bill Ayers would end up getting someone killed in his misguided attempt to stop the war.

Things got misguided.

Who was guiding them?

What was guiding them?

Bill Ayers and his band of desperados were leading the assault on the cops. Dirty tricks. They weren’t just there to protest the war; they were there to fuck things up too.

They’re comin’ here from other places, sez DeMare

To choose between Nixon and Humphrey, between war and war, was no choice at all.

Dan wasn’t old enough to vote. You had to be 21 to vote. And since he couldn’t vote, what did it matter? Either way, the war was going to go on.

Dan didn’t protest the war. His big brother was fighting in the war.

He wasn’t fighting – he was flying.

He ever fire a shot in anger?

Don’t know.

Ever fire a shot?

Doesn’t talk about it. He was flying a helicopter; he wasn’t shooting at anybody.

One time his brother said something about the war, he said that you never get over the shock that someone you don’t even know is trying to kill you.

Their intent.

On the surface, absurd. Why are you shocked – you’re invading their fucking country? But on the sensory level, this is the way the human mechanism reacts to war and it is not good.

None of it is.

“These people come here from other places.” – DeMare

There was nothing lower to say of someone in Chicago.

America was Dan’s fucked-up country, but it wasn’t even America, even that was bullshit. It was the United States of America, which was a country in North America, along with Canada, and why weren’t the Canadians Americans too? And what about Central America, South America? Americans all, no?

Jim Thorpe, All-American.

Bill Ayers, Mr. Ayers’ son, was with the SDS, and the plan was to provoke a response from the pigs, and it would play on TV.

About a million Vietnamese people were going to be murdered, but no one was going anywhere. It wasn’t like we were out to conquer Vietnam, drive the enemy out and take over. The enemy was not going anywhere. The enemy was just waiting for us to leave.

A little Vietnamese girl was running naked down a country road, screaming and crying because she’d been coated with a gasoline-jell that was incinerating her, and she had her picture taken, and that was what the enemy looked like.

Bomb them into the stone age.

Gooks. It didn’t take long. One day nobody even knows what Vietnam is, let alone where it is, the next day we’re fighting a war there and calling the people who live there gooks.

1969 would be Nixon’s first year as President. He’d been hanging around for nearly 20 years and now he was in charge.

Some men left the earth entirely and went to the moon. Kennedy had sent them there.

From September of 1951 to August of 1969, 18 years, from birth and infancy to early childhood, to being a young boy, to a boy on the cusp of puberty, to young manhood, all while the world was spinning madly, more and more out of control, which means only that the more and more indicated that the out of control nature of things had been pre-existent, pre-1951, in a world where a serious attempt could be made to eliminate an entire race of human beings, only to be stopped short of its goal by the allied forces of nations themselves built on slavery and genocide. These were no good old days. There were no good old days.

You tried to kill yourself.

No I didn’t.

That was a suicide attempt, and, fortunately, you failed.

The fuck? I was just trying to see how fast I could go.

All the way to heaven.

To oblivion.

To sleep.

Perchance to dream.

Wake the fuck up.

September 5, 1969. My Lai Verdict. Not much. Calley would be out of prison by 1974.

October 5, 1969, the SDS blew up the statue of a policeman that had been erected on the site of the Haymarket Riot, and this royally pissed off Demare.

Dan was coming of age in the Affluent Society, where it was natural to act like an arrogant asshole. That was Dan’s excuse, one of Dan’s excuses.

Stop the spread of communism.

Exactly how do you propose to do that?

By sending in troops.

By force? And that’s going to what?

Communism was something you could fight. We had stopped the spread of fascism in just this way. All it took was World War Two.

So that was how and why his brother was going to wind up in Vietnam, flying a helicopter.

Otto Kerner, Demare’s Republican Governor, headed up a report on race riots that said: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” The report came out on February 29, 1969.

SDS was blowing up something just about every day now.

The casualty count in Vietnam that day: 21 enemy dead, no weapons recovered, no American casualties. A good day.

Burn your draft card.

Dan didn’t have a draft card, he wasn’t even 18 yet, and besides he was going to college, the war had nothing to do with him.

What war?

The one on TV.

Turn it off.

That was why he drove the car like that. He was trying to escape his own mind, not just the swirling universe of war and chaos and God and body and mind, but his own particular involvement, what he’d done, and all that he was miserably incapable of doing, what he was guilty of, his cowardice, his loneliness, his pride, selfishness, greed, cruelty. He was everything that was wrong, and he was sorry, he was sad, he was pathetic.

No draft card? Don’t worry about it. Have a drink.

Turned out to be a safe way to try to kill yourself.

Expensive.

Traumatic.

But, physically, not a scratch on you.

An indelible mark.

In your mind,

On your soul.

In the mind of the SDS, blowing shit up would make the government stop the war.

That all they want, that all they’re trying to do?

No.

They didn’t want the war to come to an end, they wanted it to just stop, freeze, and then disappear.

The war was going to end, if you could call that stopping it, but it wasn’t going to stop in the middle. It wouldn’t stop until the end.

Dan was the middle child of a middle-class family in the middle of the cold war in the middle of the Vietnam War, in the middle, being as close to the getting in as the getting out. Another thirty-thousand troops would have to die first, after another mind-blowing psychedelic orgy of death and rancor and mind-body split, insanity, car crashes, cigarettes, booze, broads, Beatles, breakdowns, beatings and whole lot of laughs, sick laughs, desperate laughing, exhaustive laughing and braying, until it would finally peter out and the last helicopter and would take off from the roof of the embassy in Saigon, and Ho Chi Minh would win, Vietnam would win, what was left of it, but that wouldn’t come until the end, and this was just the middle. Not knowing that it was the middle only made it worse.

Poor schmucks. Think they’re going to stop the war.

Poor schmucks. Think they’re going to win the war.

They were both dead wrong.

Of course life is tragic – we die.

Assembly Process

I am steeping myself in narrative with daily doses of War and Peace, Remembrance of Things Past, and the King James Bible. With any luck it will show in the next draft of In Black and White and Color.

Tolstoy and Proust show you every nuance of technique, and the Bible is just wild and beautiful and has a lot of explaining to do. Add to that, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I am turning into an audiobook virtually before your eyes, and there you have the parameters of literary life as we know it.

I am drawing from these particular sources because I am attempting to do the same sort of thing, I humbly confess, put in words what happened over an extended period of time, how it felt, where the choices and mistakes were made and why, who was hurt, who survived, who didn’t, how they changed and how the world changed. That’s all.

I’m working now on the section about Politics & Race. There are 10 sections, which I had been calling chapters, but that’s not what they are. The structure eventually will be a kind of mosaic, a layering, a montage. Putting together each draft is like editing a movie. We’ve got all these scenes, these shots, and we can assemble them in a myriad of ways.

After all these years, it was something like an epiphany to discover that I cannot control my writing, which is not to say I cannot write on demand or address an assigned topic. I’ve been writing critiques for nearly half a century. But the best stuff writes itself. Twain said as much, that he was a willing amanuensis as long as the story would write itself, but when it stopped, he stopped, and his desk became like a boatyard filled with vessels in drydock, waiting to be completed, and someday some of them would be completed, and the amanuensis would go back to work and finish the job.

Shamrock McShane | Free Listening on SoundCloud

I can only control my writing once it’s written. That’s where I am now. Let me explain how I operate. I follow the three rules of writing practice, which I learned from Natalie Goldberg: 1. Keep your pen moving. 2. Don’t stop to re-read, re-write, or correct mistakes. 3. Don’t think; just write.

Natalie Goldberg — The Official Natalie Goldberg Site : Books, CDs, Workshops, Paintings & Media Inquiries

In other words, I just let it rip. I learned from Padgett Powell always to write to your strength, always write what comes easiest.

Padgett Powell – Website

Just following those rules in my composition books has been a hell of a lot fun all by itself, and in the thousands of pages of writing there are hundreds of good sentences, small truths, scenes, ideas, snatches of dialogue, sketches of characters, history, lives.

That’s how it starts. Step one, draft one, in my composition book, in longhand, in black ink, in cursive (to promote thinking and writing in words, using the large muscles of the shoulder, rather than cramping fingers to laboriously draw each letter and pick up the pen in between each bloody one).

For this novel I’m writing about the first 18 years of my life, from 1951 to 1969, so every time I sat down to write, I would focus on those years, and let it rip, following the rules, making no effort whatsoever to go from beginning to middle to end, practically stream of consciousness, capturing memories and characters from out of the past.

After a year or so I had ten chapters, each around 10,000 words, that began in my composition book and then were reworked in transferring them to a word doc, where I then broke them down into themes and began to reassemble them into sections.

These are the 10 section/themes that comprise the rough cut of the novel:

1                      God                                                                                        

2                      Family                                                                        

3                      Oak Park & Chicago                                        

4                      Culture                                                                                   

                             Hemingway                                                                  

5                      Ascension Grammar School  

6                      Sport

                             Boxing                                                                        

                             Baseball                                                                                 

                             Basketball                                                                             

                             Football                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Running                                                                                 

7                      Fenwick High School                                    

8                      Politics & Race                                                          

9                      Girls                                                                        

10                    Gas-Man        

In the present draft I’ve been giving them titles:

  1. We Begin with God
  2. The One Thing God Could Not Forgive
  3. Saints Rest
  4. Islands and Images
  5. Ascension
  6. The Sweet Science
  7. Playing Pinners and Pepper
  8. Pigskin Deep
  9. In the Gray Click of Running

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The Fate of Books

I have been collecting books for 50 years. Why? To read them and then to read them again, and to keep them so that they would be there whenever I needed them. They were beautiful pieces of art in form and content, and many of them were also heavy as hell.

My library has been expanding ever since. Content reigned over form. The books I wanted to acquire and possess had ideas in them. That was what mattered. An ideal library should be made to last, comprised of hardbound works of art. But that was never my ideal. My ideal library is entirely utilitarian, functional. Besides, hardbound books are heavy.

My books moved with me from Chicago to Key West. There weren’t that many of them then, 1978, but the number increased steadily, and they moved to Gainesville with me in the fall of 1983. A grizzled old submarine vet named Gunner built the triple connected bookcases I installed in the house in the neighborhood called Beyberry. My books soon filled the whole thing to overflowing.

The library moved again 30 years later to the Pink House near Pine Ridge, a commodious residence we could ill afford, and the books liked it there, but it didn’t last long, and next they had to squeeze themselves into the cave we moved into at Creek’s Edge when we admitted defeat.

We felt victorious when we acquired the Lake House two blocks from Newnan’s Lake, just a short drive from town, peace and quiet, a yard big enough for the dogs, Frida and Ida, and the cats, Sophie and Arthur, and, at one time, the chickens, Waldo and Johnny Cockrell, the roosters, and their many dear departed wives, my personal favorites being Ivory and Tartar Sauce.

In addition to the triplets, there were now three more smaller bookcases. One as tall as I am, with six shelves, perfect for my composition books (115 of them and counting) and other essentials that need to be near my desk: Spinoza, Proust, Tolstoy, Marx, the King James Bible.

The other two are smaller and stocked entirely with theatre and film books and the script library that my son Mike and I share.

I’ve also got Mike’s store of film and recording equipment, years of VHS tapes of the Hawthorne Lady Hornets 1992 District basketball champions, theatrical antics with Gregg Jones and Josh Lederman and Jess Arnold, our Everyday Theater production of Macbeth with Anna Marie Kirkpatrick and Bobby McAfee, and scores of audio tapes of Chuck Martin.

Mike is coming to town later this summer to figure what to do with it all, some of the working parts of a production company that has been both in storage and in our heads for years.

See if we can find a home for it. There’s no room for it where we’re going.

Goodbye to the Lake House, goodbye to swampburbia, goodbye to peace and solitude, which was really in short supply here anyway due to all the racket we brought to the place.

Hello, Madison Pointe, a few hundred yards from Creek’s Edge, but a much nicer apartment than the cave we lived in there. So, let’s call it progress.

But I have to get rid of some of the books. It’s painful.

What are the books worth? Who knows? I don’t want anything for them. I’ve tried selling books before, and it’s demeaning. I took a load of books to Borders because they buy used books. These were good books too, hardbacks, a dozen or so, including Jacque Tadie’s gigantic biography of Proust in mint condition. They gave me 30 bucks for the lot of them. The Tadie alone was worth close to that. I’m not sure what possessed me to give it up, except that it took up too much room, and I despaired of ever plowing through it all, In Search of Lost Time being sufficient in its 4000-plus pages to occupy my reading for the duration of my days. The book itself was an outlier, a gift from an old girlfriend, and there was no way to even peruse it without reigniting the memory of her, which of course is what Proust is all about, so selling it was stupid in a lot of way. Most of the books came from the Friends of the Library to begin with, and now they’re going back. Or, rather, not to begin with, but to continue their journey from one reader to the next.

Do I really care who the next reader is?

Marginally. Not enough to go to much effort about it. I just box em up and unload them at the Friends of the Library drop-off. I don’t even want a tax write-off for them. Fuck it. Too much trouble. Fire and forget.

Then there are my filmmaking son Mike’s books, which Mike can deal with, don’t ask me how, and there is the script library, which he and MPB will have more practical use for than I will. The scripts of these contemporary playwrights are meant to be workman’s tools. Somebody reads these scripts because he or she is thinking about putting the plays onstage. That ain’t me.

And another thing:

“I ain’t bringing any of my lambs to the marketplace anymore,” apologies to Dylan. There will be no more submissions. The word alone is detestable at this stage. I’m not submitting anything to anybody or anything, not to publishers, writing contests, literary magazines, producers, or anybody else sending out invitations for rejection. Fuck you.

If that sounds like sour grapes, fuck you too.

As for anyone in the world who cares about my writing, here it is – for free. If you want to buy it from me, I’ll gladly sell it to you. But I just want to be read, the way everyone wants to be loved.

I’ll keep my books about movies because I hope to be making more movies. Tom Miller is a filmmaker, Mike McShane is a filmmaker, Michael Presley Bobbitt (Bobbitt Industries) writes all kinds of scripts, and Anthony Hopkins just won an Oscar in his 80s, so why the hell not?

It’s awful to contemplate because it reeks of mortality, but there have always been the books I’ll never read, as well as the books I’ll never read again. I just wasn’t prepared to say exactly which ones they were. Now I’m more or less forced into it.

I’ll keep the books that have been signed by their authors, the books of writers I actually know, Pagett Powell, Harry Crews, David Mamet. My Mamet collection is extensive. So is the Hemingway. Those are all keepers.

I’ll keep The Magus, but not The Magus (Revised) – he made it worse. Fowles seemed to decline rapidly, seemed to have it all together, and then fell apart. Dementia.

Can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s not the books that can’t go to Madison Pointe; it’s all the shelves. The triplets must be reduced to twins, who will reside in the living room. The other bookcase, with my compos and essentials, will reside in the artist’s studio that I’ll share with Homer. (It’s also his bedroom.) That doesn’t mean a third of the books have to go. Books can double up on the shelves until I can find a solution to their cramped condition, either exile or more shelves. I hate having books doubled up on shelves. I like to read shelves almost as much as reading books. I could look at shelves of books whether carefully arranged or haphazard, tilting my head to look at titles till it hurts. Where was I? Oh, yes, purging books. Enough of that. The ones I have now are going with me to Madison Pointe.

Any study of the history of the library will lead you to the conclusion that there’s good news and bad news. The good news is all the great works of literature have been collected in one place. The bad news is that makes it easier to destroy them all. The 20th century was the worst in history for the destruction of libraries.

Like a ghost, Marvin reappears. He wrote this to me a year or so before he died, speaking of bookcases, which, as you can see, he always referred to by name. It’s rather beautiful really.

I have a cold, and so I have taken to my bed, but I had to write you a note. Rush out and get a copy of C. L. R. James The Black Jacobins.  It is terrific. It may be, along with Huberman (Man’s Worldly Goods), the most readable history written.  When you get to about page forty, you start into James’ pre-Marvin vision of France as capitalist nation including the sugar industry.  What a remarkable work!

I had to let you know just in case I don’t recover from my illness. This is the book to assign to students interested in Marx, modern history, capitalism, and how it all works.  How could I be so old and not have read it yet? Specialization ruins us.

I have loaned many a book to a student and not had them returned. Once I even got a telephone message several years later from a student who said that he was looking through his books and had found one that I lent him. He said that he would return it, but he not only did not do that, he didn’t leave his name or telephone number. I now have a rule: I don’t lend out anything from my Marxist library. Most of those works are out of print, and I would not be able to replace them.  I give lots of gifts to talented students — or just the ones I like, which is saying the same thing. The Ginger Man and Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner are two of my favorite all time gifts.

You might want to get some stuff by Howard Zinn. He is harder to read, but he is awfully good on American history especially in the twentieth century. Do you know him?

Students have built bookcases for me over the years, and two are very large. One I call John Peer and the other is Tom Mertes. John designed and built the first, and Tom copied the design and built the second.  One of the bookcases is filled with the Marxist works and the other contains the mainstream English historians. In the meantime, I bought two other bookcases, one to hold the overflow from the Marxist’s bookcase and the other for just the complete works of Marx.  I usually hunt used furniture stores for decent bookcases, and I have found others–some new–to fill in other rooms in the house. Those bookcases contain the classics, more history, journals, and, in the basement, a 1922 copy of the Britannica. I also am fortunate enough to have several bookcases in my office. There I store the things that I am likely to use in class, that I will never use, and that I give away to students when I like them.

I am sorry that I have not been writing as much as before, but I have been busy with classes, painting a new porch addition to the house, looking out for the garden–already (Global warming is a reality.), and getting ready for a trip to California.  I will be lecturing on Luther for a friend, and then on to visit my mother for her 94th birthday.  That is a lot of years, but I am catching up with her quickly.

I am still waiting to get rejections from publishers and reading as much as I can. The classes go extremely well this semester: I seem to have a new surge of energy for this term, and that is a good sign for maybe carrying on for yet another year.  There are days that I think that it would be good to just stay home for a while, but I would miss the kiddies.  I do need that audience to practice my ideas, and this semester it is all about autobiography.  I have lived so long that I wrap the courses into my own years and do a “I was there” portrait of the world.

My big hobby these days is the sixteenth century, or, as historians would say, “The long sixteenth century.”  That means that you start with subjects like Columbus and end with the idea of Hobbes.  (1490s to 1650s).   I will have a lot to tell you about that era if you want a reading treat for the summer.  If you start with a book by F. Braudel on the Mediterranean, you may get hooked.  Time to get a Tuesday going. It is one of my advising days, followed by lunching with widows of dead friends.

Veritas

Genuflect. Dip your fingers in the holy water and bless yourself.

Ursuline nuns at Ascension to be followed by Dominican friars at Fenwick.

Fenwick opened its doors in September 1929. Twelve Dominicans. The building made of granite and limestone.

“Fenwick is the only high school sponsored by Dominican Friars in America, a national lighthouse for the Thomist educational philosophy.”

Aquinas was an Italian, born in 1225, educated at the University of Paris by Albert the Great, whom he then surpassed by reconciling Aristotle and Christianity, with the resulting Catholicism.

The Dominicans were founded by Dominic DeGuzman in 1216. He called it the Order of Preachers. He believed in an educated clergy, so he sent the friars to the great universities of medieval Europe.

Sunlight lanced through the stained-glass windows featuring Saint Albert the Great (1200-1280) and shone on the life-size portrait of Saint Ken Sitzberger, in his USA warm-ups and wearing his Olympic gold medal and destined to die of head injuries suffered under mysterious circumstances. Turned out he was a huge coke head.

The Dominican shield was painted on the locker room wall. The shield was chiseled into the masonry on the front of the school, protecting the stone Saint Dominic, as he protected us from sin. The school colors were black and white. The shield, the colors, the stone, the saint, all-male, like ancient Spartan warriors.

What lay behind it, what lurked beneath that big F in the middle of the gym floor, behind the stone facade, the ornate austerity of Aquinas and Aristotle, the Gothic architecture, the shimmering patina of black and white? Fenwick. What was Fenwick? A tradition, an aristocracy of intellect and spirit, humanism raised to divine heights.

Bullshit. Not what, but who. Who was Fenwick? Who was Bishop Edward Fenwick?

The first bishop of Cincinnati we were told, and we picture him there in Cincy, which must be a city not unlike Chicago, and there he was with his little red cap on his head and wearing his red robes and he was praying over the hopes of the Cincinnati Reds. You never stopped to think about when Ed Fenwick was Bishop of Cincinnati. And what the hell did Cincy have to do with Chi, let alone with Oak Park?

The Dominicans wanted to set up shop in Oak Park, where the saloons stopped, and the churches began. It was 1929. What a time to start something, when the economy was about to crash.

What’s in a name?

Edward Fenwick was born in Maryland in 1768, a little late in the game to acquire sainthood, which was more easily attained by the holy ones living in the murky past when it seems existence was more frequented with miracles than in the periods of history that we actually know something about. Ed Fenwick was born in Maryland eight years before the revolution. His parents owned a plantation in the English colony of Maryland. They were slave-owners.

The Fenwicks were devout Catholics who owned slaves. This was entirely possible and plausible in 1768, just as it had been in 1668, but it would become a real issue by 1868.

At age 16, Ed Fenwick left home to become a priest. While Horace Greely would advise “Go west, young man,” Ed Fenwick headed back to Europe. To Ghent. To Belgium. Ed Fenwick left the USA just as it was getting started, ostensibly, to seek European enlightenment.

It’s easy for us to rail against slave-masters and to abhor slavery. None of us owns slaves. Most of us have never owned slaves. But slavery made this country what it is.

Slavery and genocide.

The noble redskin.

The Indians wouldn’t be enslaved.

The Africans sold other Africans into slavery.

There were these Muslim traders.

Spread the blame around, whitey.

We were honkies. They were brothers.

Not only did Dan not feel a sense of brotherhood with other white men; he felt a strong sense of aversion.

In Europe it would be necessary to learn Latin and Greek as well as French, Spanish, Italian, and German. That was the sort of curriculum that Fenwick, the man and the school would pursue, beginning with mathematics and science.

Aristotle, Aquinas, candles and stained-glass windows, rosary beads, cassock, surplus, vestments, chalice. Each priest had his own chalice. It seemed they all had a gold chalice, but Father White had a sliver chalice.

Eddie Fenwick was 16 and he wanted to be a priest. Same as Mean Gene.

Ok, Dan had wanted to be a priest too. He used to come home from Sunday Mass and make his own little altar up in his bedroom and put a cup on the altar to be the chalice, and put a nice cloth napkin over the chalice, folded just right, so the chalice would not be unveiled until that magical moment in the Mass, and Dan would deck himself out as the celebrant, in his makeshift vestments. Dan wanted to be a priest because he liked the costumes and the dramatic ritual, the roman collar, the red and the black, the hats, mitres, staffs. Dan wanted to be Pope!

He had grown out of that by the time he got to James Bond.

Gene had actually become a priest. Mean Gene. Father Mean Gene. Gene and Mary Jewel had moved away from Clinton Avenue all the way to somewhere on the south side of Chicago. They were 7 years old at the time and the south side of Chi was like another continent, deepest darkest Africa. Somehow, while Dan lost track of Gene over the years, Mean Gene had transformed himself from miscreant into man of God. What kind of man of God?

Ed Fenwick was damn near a saint. But how much of a saint could he have been at 16? Maybe he just wanted to get away from home. Go to Europe. Life on the plantation was stultifying. He fancied himself a young man of culture, Aristotle, Aquinas, higher education. Age 16 would be just about the time Ed Fenwick would be at Fenwick.

Add the Aquinas touch, and Ed Fenwick became Fenwick the Friar.

Ed Fenwick sold his slaves. He didn’t set them free, he sold them in 1808, when somebody who was damn near a saint should have known better.

It was that money that funded Fenwick’s Dominican province.

By the time Ed Fenwick got to be a bishop it was well into the 19th century.

Ed’s father owned slaves, and Ed inherited some of them. Some, not all. He had to share the family slaves with his brother. Then there was a man named Waller who sold Ed some slaves. So, Ed owned slaves and he bought some more, yet he was damn near a saint.

Consider the historical context.

It wouldn’t have mattered much if he’d just been another slave-owner, part of the times, but he was damn near a saint. It wouldn’t have mattered unless the same slave-owner got religion and sold the slaves and all his property – and used the money to found a Dominican province. It wouldn’t have mattered unless the same slave-owner would be celebrated by the Dominicans a hundred years or so later when they built their all-male all-white school in the all-white Chicago suburb of Oak Park and they named the school after Ed Fenwick even though there was a shitload of other actual saints as well as any number of damn-near ones to choose from.

Eddie Fenwick owned people.

Fenwick owned slaves.

Slaves are people who have been turned into slaves. You don’t own slaves. You own people. You treat them as slaves. He enslaved people. He wasn’t just a slaver, he was an enslaver. Every slaver coined slavery. So, when Eddie Fenwick was done inventing slavery for himself, he wanted to use the people he had bought as capital to finance a priory and a school – in service to God and humanity. Do we have a problem here?

The first edition of Capital came out in 1867. The Civil War was over, and Lincoln was dead. The European nation states were squabbling over the colonies they’d laid claim to throughout the world. Where was Ed Fenwick? In heaven presumably. He died 30 some years previous. Marx wouldn’t live to see Volume Two and Volume Three published. He was writing volumes.

Labor-saving devices, machines, technology made it possible for human beings to live while not actually knowing how to do shit. That was why universal education became necessary; because human beings would otherwise be in danger of becoming too stupid to live. They were smart enough to invent machines to keep up with capital’s expansion, to keep up with growing profits, but when they arrived at the point where all they had to do was let the machines do everything, they couldn’t think of anything else to do – because they could no longer think. You had to teach them to read, to add and subtract, otherwise, chaos. You didn’t have to teach serfs or slaves or peasants, who didn’t need to know any more than was necessary to do the task assigned to them. Now people needed to know more than how to do their job, they needed to know how to be a consumer. What is the proper education for the consumer class? There’s always the danger with education that if the student gets too smart, he, or more likely she, will see through all the bullshit. The guilds had a code. The different trades were called mysteries. A journeyman had to swear: “To love his brethren with brotherly love, to support their respective trades, not willfully betray the secrets of the trade, and besides, in the interests of all, not to recommend his own wares by calling the attention of the buyers to defects in the articles made by others.” Then, you could become a master.

And maybe what the Dominicans did was challenge prejudice by setting up shop in Oak Park, a hotbed of anti-Catholic sentiment. To be a WASP was to be anti-Catholic. To be an American was to be anti-Catholic. The Chicago Catholic League was created to promote solidarity and strength among Irish, Polish, and Italian Catholics, to bring them together and demonstrate their superiority. Blacks, as always, were an after-thought.

There were as many blacks attending Fenwick in all its history as there were heathens in heaven, and therefore Daniel McDwyn’s education had nothing to do with race, nor did his life, because people of other races were not a part of it, except when you walked onto a basketball court or a track or the football field or got on the el or crossed Austin Boulevard.

In 1610 Father Sandoval wondered if maybe enslaving Black people might be a sin, so he sent a letter from the Americas to the Pope and word came back that you could go ahead and buy and sell slaves as long as it was for the service of the church “without any scruple”. So, by the time Ed Fenwick came along, slavery had the blessing of the church and the Pope.

At the Berlin Conference in 1885, the European nations got together and carved up Africa and divided it into portions for each. It was theirs. Whether or not God had given it to them, they were civilized, and Africans were not, and the whole world needed to be civilized, and the civilizers had a duty to civilize the whole world and turn a nifty profit at the same time.

This was Ed Fenwick’s view of things too. He didn’t know he was creating Fenwick High School, like God, ex nihlio, out of nothing. He believed in God. To Ed Fenwick, God was as real as, say, the Pope.

Here was a guy, Ed Fenwick, everybody’s coming to the new world to make their mark, follow their dream, and he goes from America to Europe, becomes highly educated, although nothing of his writing seems to be of note, returns to America, sells the slaves he inherited and uses the money to establish a priory in Ohio, dancing around the free territories and the slave states, and at the end of this saga of success, Ed Fenwick winds up the Bishop of Cincinnati.

How’s that for some shit?

You can’t apply contemporary morality to previous historical periods.

Maybe not. But you can find out where the money came from.

You had to take the entrance exam, pass the entrance exam, to get into Fenwick. It was hard. There was math.

Math.

What if you failed? What if you didn’t get in?

You’d go to Oak Park High. You’d just go to public school.

Oak Park High and Fenwick. With one glance at the two edifices, you could see the difference between the two schools. The public school was a modern institution. The Catholic school was a castle from the past.

Ascension hadn’t been that way. Ascension looked like a school, but it was connected to the church, all one property, all one block.

Fenwick looked like a monastery out of the middle ages.

The Renaissance. Heaven forbid the Enlightenment.

A castle, there was even a moat around it. Not really. There was no water in it, but there was a concrete pit that circled the building, a floor just below ground level, with a wall that rose to a height of four feet or so above the sidewalk, separating Fenwick from the outside world.

This was Buckley’s conservatism standing athwart history yelling Stop!

Fat lot of good that was going to do. History does not stop.

Dan couldn’t even think about that, not because of his blind determination to succeed, but because of blind fear, it was too awful to contemplate.

Blindness and deafness and dumbness were the only explanation. There was no thought involved. There was only desire. He held none of it up to the light, not Fenwick, not the nuns and priests, wait, there was Gas-man, and Gas-man was going to Fenwick too, and he punctured a hole in everything.

At Fenwick life would change from color to black and white.

On a cold Saturday morning there were hundreds of eighth grade boys sitting in classrooms in the castle fortress of Fenwick, taking the entrance exam, a test to see who the best of them were, the aristos, because those were the only ones who were going to get in. And of those who got in, a solid third of them would never make it to graduation.

There would be grammar and composition, science, and math. And, thank God, there was an essay, which might conceivably save Dan, or so he hoped.

An interminable time later a letter of acceptance or rejection would appear in the mail to determine his Fenwick fate, to discover whether or not Dan could follow his brother and father and become one of the Fighting Friars.

Every day he would wait anxiously for the mailman, and every day no word came, no letter of acceptance or rejection, so he filled the time preparing himself for when the news hit him, rehearsing it in his mind. If he got in, he would yell as loud as he could and run outside and jump and cheer and pump his fist and take a victory lap around the whole block. If he didn’t get in, he wouldn’t say anything, and he would go to his room and shut the door on his life. But he played the alternate scenes in his head so many times that when the letter finally arrived, and he had gotten in, he only smiled, and thought, well, it wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be. He was in. He was a student at Fenwick, he was a Fenwick Friar, and the world was turning back into black and white.

Black and white were the coolest colors a school could have, and there could never be any cooler, because they were essences, and the others were only colors, while white and black were simultaneously all colors and no colors.

Schweez didn’t get accepted. He might have killed himself then and there. Schweez failed the entrance exam. He was crushed. His life was over, and then on the third day he rose from the grave. Strings had been pulled. They let him in. How did it happen? The same way Kenny Gretz managed to graduate from Ascension despite not having completed his Science notebook. It was an idle threat, and he knew it. He called their bluff. Kenny was smarter than Schweez, who should’ve just kept quiet, should never have told anybody he was rejected, should just have waited till his parents bribed the priests to let him in, he should’ve lied and said he’d been accepted. Instead, Dan knew from the start that Schweez got in without passing the test, and he probably wasn’t the only one.

“The dao is the vast treeless grassy plain of western China. Everything looks the same in every direction all the way to the horizon. Go where you want, as fast or as slow as you like.”

A curriculum designed to affect cognition, psycho-motor, and affect itself.

The world of the soul.

The idea at Fenwick was to be always doing something – before school, during school, after school.

At Fenwick in p.e. your name was stenciled across the back of your shorts, like it was the name of your butt. Above it your name was stenciled on the back of your shirt. You wrote your name on the side of your shoes in black marker. You were 13 years old, how well do you think you are going to stencil? Perfectly? Gump is going to stencil perfectly. You are going to fuck it up.

Gas-Man was calling bullshit on all of it. It wasn’t that no one was going to fuck with Gas Man. Everybody gets fucked with – one way or another; it was that no one was going to fuck with Gas Man without his knowing it.

Gazolini, did you take a shower?

This was the first day at Fenwick. The freshmen were within the fortress, in the gym, which would later be named the Lawless Gymnasium, under the austere gaze of no less than the legendary Tony Lawless himself. They had learned the preliminary rules of PE class, how to dress out, the proper stenciling of your name on the back of your shirt and shorts, the shirt always tucked in, and trickiest of all, stenciling your name on the sides of your shoes.

Why?

Go ahead and ask if you really want to know.

That’s ok.

The freshmen listened in scared silence, attending to exactly what would be expected of them each day of the week, and beginning today, each class would end with the students showering and then returning to their uniforms, with their wet hair neatly combed, tie re-tied, blazer buttoned, and then sit silently in the bleachers until the bell rang and they were dismissed.

Now hit the showers!

And everybody did. Everybody except Gas-Man, who simply went to his locker and changed into his street clothes and then resumed his seat in the bleachers and returned to reading Proust.

Tony Lawless looked up from his clipboard and saw Gas-Man sitting there by himself in the bleachers. He was just about to light into him when the rest of the class began to stream in, and he decided to wait and make an example of Gas-Man. When the freshmen were all silently seated again, waiting for the bell, the great man held their anxious attention while he scanned the roster.

Mister . . . Gazolini?

Gas-Man raised his hand.

Did you take a shower?

Why? Is there one missing?

Without missing a beat, it was so fucking perfect, everyone had to laugh, but they didn’t, not a one of them, not so much as a snicker, because they all knew their lives hung in the balance – this was the first day.

Of course, the instant they were out of the gym they exploded in gales of laughter, but it lasted only until the first priest passed them in the hall.

Furnace Face.

Gas-Man was left behind to face Furnace Face.

Weird, though, in PE when you had pool once a week, it was weird that they made you swim naked. What were they thinking?

The priests? We know what they were thinking.

We know now what they were thinking then.

Perverts.

Some of them.

And the ones who knew but did nothing?

And which of them was so deaf and blind as to not know?

There was a restaurant on Madison Street called the Fryer that had nothing to do with Fenwick, but in Dan’s mind it did. Everything did.

March Fenwick, march down the field,

March Friars, march, men of steel.

We conquer our foes and wield

a fearless strength that reveals

our loyal men never yield.

Fight, Friars, fight till the end.

Fight, Friars, fight till we win.

Fight for our colors, Black and White.

And for Fenwick and Victory!

Legend had it that Connor McDwyn had scored Fenwick’s first touchdown. At least that’s what Connor said.

Fenwick had provided his dad with an education sufficient to get him invited to MIT fresh out of the Army, and the GI Bill would’ve paid for it, but going to work as an electrical engineer for Com Ed would give him a steady paycheck, plus he could move up. The future was in electricity.

Marina City was the height of modernism, and Connor was illuminating it, blueprints spread on the drafting table that he had built himself. He was a remarkably talented man, adept at both rhetoric and math, he had an artist’s eye and a draughtsman’s hand.

The legendary Tony Lawless was his dad’s coach, Fenwick’s first football coach. The Chicago Catholic League had been in existence for a decade, working its socioeconomic voodoo on the city at large, Chicagoland, before Fenwick came on the scene. The Catholic League. There was no Jewish League, no Episcopalian League, no Muslim League. But there were Irish Catholics and Polish Catholics and Italian Catholics, lots and lots of them, and there were all those parishes that superseded towns or neighborhoods. The Catholic League was a way of isolating and unifying at the same time, putting a new spin on separate but equal, even as the country was giving the lie to the whole premise. The Catholic League was saying: We are separate and unequal – because we are better. The Irish and the Polish and the Italian Catholics invented the Chicago Catholic League to protect themselves and make themselves strong.

Tony Lawless was Knute Rockne redux, he even looked like him, acted like him, talked like him, but instead of dying in a plane crash in the prime of his life, he ruled.

Tony Lawless coached the Fenwick football team for 27 years, from 1929 to 1956, going 180-47-7, winning five Catholic League championships and two Prep Bowls.

The great Johnny Lattner played for Fenwick in 1949.

Lattner was great. No one could deny it. He played both ways.

For Notre Dame.

He won the Heisman Trophy.

How do you replace Tony Lawless?

With Jardine.

How do you replace Jardine?

Follow Fenwick’s Fighting Friars. Dan’s Introduction to Alliteration. But what’s up with a fighting friar? Fighting for what? And with whom? Who picks a fight with a friar?

Robin Hood.

Robin Hood versus Friar Tuck. And Friar Tuck won. They fought with big sticks, bow-staffs, as they met on a fallen tree limb that stretched across a stream somewhere in Sherwood Forest. The same trope was played upon by a cartoonist in the sports section of the Chicago Tribune before and after the 1962 Prep Bowl, depicting a Fenwick Friar in his robes being met by a Schurz Bulldog at the midpoint of a limb stretched across a brook. At stake was a ripe apple, labeled “City Title”, which the Friar was reaching for and for which the Bulldog was slavering. That cartoon appeared Friday, the day before the game. On Sunday, the consequent cartoon appeared, with the Friar’s staff sweeping the Bulldog into the waters, while plucking the apple at the same time, and with the swoosh of his staff the 40-0 score emerged, woosh!

Those cartoons of the Friar knocking off the Bulldog were now on display in a glass case in the hallway leading to the cafeteria.

Perhaps the most dominant display of high school football prowess ever, and it was witnessed by a throng of 90,00 in Soldier Field.

Danny had been there before at Soldier Field when Ciaran’s team was destroyed by Lane Tech in a blinding snowstorm in November 1959.

Snow was coming down, and it was sticking. This was bad. It didn’t have to snow. It doesn’t have to snow in November.

That ‘59 Friar team was built on speed, and the snow took that away.

Jardine’s not going to be able to get us out of this.

Jardine’s team had been drubbed by Austin High the year before in what would one day be called the Prep Bowl. But why would they call it that anyway, when public schools were not college preparatory schools, to get technical and preppy about it?

Danny was 8 and in second grade.

Danny in the basement at the laundry sink, cleaning Ciaran’s spikes.

Ciaran eating steak and eggs for Sunday breakfast, before a game in Oak Park Stadium. The only game that Mary would attend would be when the mothers of the senior players were honored, and she had to attend. She was worried about Ciaran getting hurt. She didn’t know he was destined for Vietnam.

“Your mother is keeping your dinner warm on a hot brick.” Tony Lawless

Following the Golden Boy’s career less like a devoted fan than acolyte, when Danny was sent by Mary to Leo’s Clip Joint to get a haircut, he brought with him a photo clipped from the sports section of the Oak Leaves of Ciaran McDwyn  (#30) and Lenny Davenelli (#22), a pair of Friar running backs, kneeling, in their uniforms, the black ones with the white trim, but without their shoulder pads or helmets, in the gym, getting instructions from Coach Jardine.

I want a haircut that looks like that, Leo.

Sure thing, kiddo.

The truth was that in 1959 Lane Tech would have beaten Fenwick even worse if it hadn’t snowed, Ciaran would confess with a smile when he got back from Vietnam.

This was a crushing blow, though it took a decade before it would be delivered, and by then it was just one more fucked up thing in a fucked-up world. The fifties were not a golden age or a sliver one, they were not even the good old days because they were wrought with greed and envy and hatred and fear and lust and power and obsession and guilt and weakness, and if there was any good at all in it, then it probably came from your mom, maybe, if you were lucky, while the world taught you every minute that luck had nothing to do with it. Luck might have won you that baseball trophy, but it wasn’t going to beat Lane Tech, and most of all what the world taught was that you could be dead wrong. All those years Danny lived in the belief that fate, God, whatever, the weather, had played a cruel trick on the Friars that day, when the snowstorm robbed them of their speed and agility against a plodding Lane team that out-weighed them in the line by 30 pounds per man. But Danny was wrong. It wasn’t true. The Friars were never going to beat that Lane team. Jardine’s squad was good, but they were going up against the team that had just bounced Dick Butkus out of the playoffs.

Jardine just kept building. The Catholic League closed the gap overnight and the next year the Weber Red Horde took the City crown, and then Mount Carmel turned the trick in 61. Jardine couldn’t have timed his ascension any better, nor could the Friars’ dominance have been more complete.

When Dan was in fifth grade, the Friar loss in Soldier Field in ‘59 would be avenged for all time.

That Prep Bowl in 1962 made Fenwick the King of Sport, and, more than that, it could never be taken away, and never surpassed. Not only were the Friars undefeated, a perfect, 10-0, capped by a City championship, but their dominance was absolute and complete, and witnessed by 92,000 fans in Soldier Field.

Ciaran had played on two Fenwick teams that lost in the Prep Bowl, first to Austin and then Lane Tech, in ’58 and ’59. Ciaran was in his junior year in college when the Friars broke through in ’62 – like a dam bursting. That was what it was like when the line of scrimmage exploded and DiLullo burst through and suddenly he was behind the secondary and streaking for the endzone.

The defense was suffocating and attacking, daring offenses to throw because nothing could be gained on the ground, and then these wounded ducks would appear, a quarterback’s last gasp, thrown as he was going down, and the Friar defense gobbled it up.

Danny watched intently from the stands in Oak Park Stadium, a wonderful, majestic brick and concrete one-sided stadium, with an entrance on Lake Street right in the center of town, and the visitors seated in bleachers across the field. There was an arrangement then between the two schools, Oak Park High and Fenwick, to share the stadium during football season, which worked out nicely since the Huskies played their games on Saturday, while the Friars were members of the Catholic League, one of two leagues in the country to play their games on Sunday, the other being the NFL.

Shoes. High-topped black spikes, with white laces on Sunday, black during the week.

Running their wing-t offense, running it and running it. They probably threw 30 passes all season. That’s in ten games. If they threw more than three times a game, that was a lot. They were a machine, they were like the Spartan army, just gutting the defense and plowing through, and, since most everybody was a two-way player, then flipping it over and annihilating the other’s team’s offense, blowing it up, stomping it dead, or causing it to cough up fumbles or panic into interceptions. John Gorman played quarterback and safety. He was a ball hawk. On a Sunday afternoon in October 1962 a wounded duck appeared against the blue sky above the field of Oak Park Stadium, and for a moment it looked like it might sail beyond Gorman’s grasp, over his head, and it looked for that instant like it just might be that rarest of birds, a completed pass, when Gorman somehow arched his back and reached back over his head with both hands, and the ball dropped into his grasp behind his head.

What the hell was eating at Jardine?

John Jardine would only live to the age of 54, dying in 1990 of stomach cancer.

Jardine was booed off the field by Wisconsin Badger fans who threw bottles at him and his players after his last humiliating defeat. He was in terrible pain.

When the Friars crushed Schurz 40-0 in the 1962 Prep Bowl Jardine said: “This is the happiest moment of my life.” He was 27 years old, and he was right.

He stayed at Fenwick another two years before moving on to the college ranks, first at Purdue as Jack Mollenkopf’s offensive line coach, then as head coach at Wisconsin, where he turned the program around. And then it collapsed.

In ’63 Dan Dinello was a fine running back in Jardine’s wing-t offense, but he was replacing Dilullo and Wingerski, both bigger backs with blazing speed. Dinello could match their speed, but not their power, nor could the new team match their depth. Still, Weber barely managed to top the Friars by a touchdown in the Catholic League title game, or they probably would’ve won the Prep Bowl again in 63. Weber went on to defeat Lane Tech for the City crown.

What happened in 64 and 65? Fortunes were heading downhill by the time Danny got to Fenwick in the fall of 65. Jardine was long gone, having been replaced by Mike Fellichio.

The football Friars off 65 started off with a loss in Oak Park Stadium to Pius XI of Milwaukee, which had never happened before, 12-7, then the Friars could manage no better than a tie a 6-6 tie against Brother Rice, and then they were shut out by Loyola 14-0, and then an even more humiliating 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Weber Red Horde. Two touchdowns in four games. Couldn’t even make an extra point. This was the worst Fenwick football team ever.

All those years, from 1957-65, Fenwick loomed ahead of Danny, and now, finally, Danny was in it and it was all different, no longer the stuff of legend, but everyday reality.

The head-knocker drill.

Ticket to Ride.

How would it be possible to love the Beatles and play football?

Cross-country or football?

Think about what you’re doing. You’re abandoning your quest to follow in legendary footsteps. The storied tradition of the mighty men, decades in the making, a long tradition, dating back to the school’s opening in 1929, Fenwick football, the Chicago Catholic League, Notre Dame, Knute Rockne. 

I just don’t like getting hit in the head.

Football was a game for somebody who didn’t mind getting hit in the head, who didn’t mind getting hurt, and Danny did. If he hadn’t known it before, Bill Lucas taught it to him in one smashing lesson.

The football fantasy had been years in the making, dating all the way back to Knute Rockne and Jim Thorpe All-American. It would die slowly and painfully.

Danny played on the freshman team, but he only got in for a couple of plays all season, and he only got to line up with the running backs instead of the lineman because Pete Mitchell was one of the assistant coaches, and he had been Ciaran’s teammate.

Dan O’Brien was the coach of the freshman football team. His history with the school went all the way back to the beginning. A stern task master, he never raised his voice. His knowledge, skill, and authority were unquestioned. This was the coach who had guided the Friar swimming team to every Catholic League championship in history, although he himself was not a swimmer. He was the man who coached Saint Ken, the Olympic gold-medal winning diver, Ken Sitzberger. And not only did he coach the freshmen gridders, turning them from green-shirted novices into young men fit to wear the black and white, he also served as the varsity’s head trainer, preventing and treating injuries.

One of the assistant coaches was the great Pete Mitchell, known as the great Pete Mitchell for a good reason, since he was the starting center and captain for Jardine’s first Catholic League Championship team in 1959.

It was thanks to Pete Mitchell that Dan got to line up with the running backs. Otherwise, he would’ve been doomed to life as an undersized lineman, good for nothing.

Apparently, Dan hadn’t done anything to stand out – because they hadn’t done anything yet that he was good at – so when it came time to separate the skilled players form the unskilled, Dan ended up with the linemen, instead of with the backs and receivers.

Déjà vu. Hadn’t this happened before? Remember the center sneak?          

The last time Dan was on a real team and they wouldn’t let him play running back, it was the Carroll playground team, and they were losing, because they couldn’t gain any yards running the ball and they had no passing attack, though neither could the team from Field playground score after an opening drive touchdown. Dan was playing center, because he was the only one who could snap the ball properly. Late in the game, trailing 6-0, Dan convinced the quarterback to try a trick play. Instead of hiking the ball to the quarterback, Dan would just touch the ball to the quarterback’s hands and then snatch the ball back and take off.

It worked like a charm. Dan was into the secondary before anybody realized he had the ball, but then they were after him. They weren’t going to catch him of course. He was as fast as the defensive backs and he had the jump on them and zipped past them and headed for the endzone, nothing between him and the goal line but open field. There was only one problem: where was the goal line? There were no goal posts. It was just a playground field. So Dan raced ahead of the horde of tacklers, but to what end? Where was the last yard marker, and didn’t he just pass it?

If he hadn’t slowed down, they never would’ve caught him. What Dan thought was the goal line was the ten-yard line. They caught him on the eight. And his team couldn’t score from there. They ended up losing 6-0.

In the Oak Leaves the story read: “Carroll threatened late in the contest when Dan McDwyn broke free for an 80-yard run before being tackled on the Field 8 yard-line, but Field held on downs and Carroll failed to score.”

At least his name was in the paper, an 80-yard run, the greatest athletic achievement of his life. “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” and he had fucked it up. It was a joke. They caught him from behind, not because he was slow, not because he was tired, but because he was stupid.

Now he was with the linemen again. He had no chance. It was awful. To play football and not touch the ball was unthinkable. He was doomed.

Coach Mitchell looked over the linemen before sending them to work on the blocking sled.

McDwyn.

Coach.

Are you Ciaran’s little brother?

Yes, Coach.

Get on over there with the backs. Tell them I sent you.

That was how Dan ended up with the backs. Ernie DeBenedetto and Mike Carmichael, two hard-nosed runners had the starting backfield spots nailed down. Dan was not a hard-nosed runner. He was a scatback, a shifty runner, a cut-back runner, adept at finding holes in the defense to dart through.

That’s never gonna happen. You’re never gonna beat those guys out. It’s like you don’t even play the same game.  You’re not what the coaches are looking for. You’re not strong enough, not tough enough.

I’m faster.

Doesn’t matter.

I’ve got good hands.

We don’t throw the ball. We run it up the gut.

Every play?

Damn near.

Dan had still been with the linemen when he got his bell rung by Bill Lucas in the head-knocker drill.

Separate the men from the boys.

Two players would line up facing each other between two tackling dummies, get in their three-point stance, and, when the coach blew his whistle, explode into each other, one player trying to block, the other trying to get by, only there was no getting by, you had to go through.

Bill Lucas was the biggest, strongest, best player on the team. He played defensive end and tight end on offense, which was a waste because Fenwick never threw the ball. But he was good blocker and he lined up opposite Dan and steamrolled him and set his head ringing like a bell clanging, exactly like the opening chords of Ticket to Ride over and over and over again. It wouldn’t stop. He only wanted to go home and get in bed in a dark room, a black room. After practice somebody asked him something and the answer was college but he couldn’t think of the word college and it was only a week or so later that it dawned on him that he’d had a concussion.

Fuck football.

Fuck football? It’s been your life.

No it hasn’t. Nothing’s been my whole life.

Toward the end of the last game, with the game out of reach, he got on the field for a few plays.

Danny was a blocking back and Dougdale was behind him, waiting to field the punt.

It should not have been that way. Danny was a better runner than Dougdale, and Dougdale was a better blocker. Their roles should have been reversed. Instead, the punt sailed over Danny’s head, and Dougdale fielded it cleanly, and here came a guy to tackle him, and Danny was supposed to block him, but he missed, ole, he whiffed, and all he could do was watch helplessly as the guy brought Dougdale down.

That image would never go away. Danny would be forever looking over his shoulder at the teammate he had betrayed. He didn’t much like Dougdale, who was kind of a jerk, but that was beside the point. He was Danny’s teammate.

On the other play, his first and last in the Friar backfield, Danny got the ball in a run up the middle against a stacked defense, just to run out the clock, yet Danny struggled to make the best of it, gave it the old college try, gave it all he had, even squirmed for an extra yard when he hit the ground, and the ref admonished him: When you’re down, son, you’re down.

Truer words were never spoken.

He was Nicholas Urfe.

Urfe’s got the whole weekend, good food, swimming, booze, beautiful scenery, smoke cigarettes, learn about a bunch of arcane shit, add a little mystery, some perfume to indicate the presence of a woman.

Dan was shaving. There was his face in the mirror. Half of it was white with shaving cream. And then a spot of red.

There was this thing called a styptic pencil.

Nicko is to be some sort of judge. Suddenly there’s a man with the head of a stag. The Bosch-like figures from the book’s cover art come alive.

The bridge from Fenwick to The Magus was ritual.

The evidence presented at the trial shows Nicko for what he is, a loser in every way, worse, a villain, who preys upon women and is doomed to a psychological hell, a life of guilt-ridden, lonely misery. His unconscious directs him to situations that are sure to piss him off, ignite his hostility.

Nicko was a hell of a lot more like Dan than he was like Gas-man. Gas-man could read the book and have done with it. Gas-man could appreciate it for its literary qualities and philosophical content, and move on, but Dan would be stuck there.

What if all the education that Dan had received had been positively harmful to him?

Nicko is offered and declines the opportunity to whip Lily’s bare back, then finds himself pinioned just as she was, and he is forced to watch a film.

Film. Movies. Cinema. All of it, the entire plot, was capturing the right side of Dan’s brain, quitting the football team, quitting the race, the 80-yard run to futility, the errant throw to first, the desperation, humiliation, anger, isolation.

Disintoxication.

That’s what he needed, and he was going to get it.

Reading The Magus on a Catholic retreat was like –

The nuns taking the boys and girls to see Lawrence of Arabia.

What were they thinking?

Nicko regrets not being more violent with Lily when he had the chance. He hates her now and he wants to get revenge. He’s ruled by emotion, hostility, hatred, anger, rage – because he’s been humiliated. That was different than humiliating yourself, but not much. It felt just about the same. The only difference was who you wanted to get back at, yourself or somebody else.

To live a life of humiliation and shame and constant embarrassment.

Not constant. And everybody was capable of being humiliated. If you were Black or poor or disabled, you could be humiliated daily, in a near constant barrage, differing from day to day only in intensity, all through no fault of your own, issuing in fact from your perfect innocence. Whereas the Fenwick boys might experience the depths of humiliation when Father Farrell, the hippy priest, plumbed the depths of their souls.

How did that feel?

It hurt. It scarred them for life.

It ruined their lives.

It, meaning Father Farrell.

Veritas.

While he might have been discovering himself or the world around him, Dan was preoccupied with finding the right sport or art that he might practice with natural affinity such that he might distinguish himself, and instead he found nothing but his natural inclinations, his esteem for the body, his own and others’, with the Greek ideal of perfection, so that you would measure yourself against the best, where he would never measure up. Same thing went for the mind. He was lost.

So, he’s dealing with these polar opposites, these extremes, every day and night without escape. When he’s scared, he can turn to his mother, maybe to his father, but probably not to either of them, because they wouldn’t understand, and, besides, everybody’s on one side or the other, with God and the angles or down with the devil, who, frankly, seemed to have the better argument. It’s the devil who argues against God, finds holes in God’s argument, holes that Aquinas tried to patch with a coat of Aristotle.

Then there was Friar Basketball. The first great player Danny saw was Denny Bresnahan, a six-foot-six center, lithe, graceful, tenacious, the eldest of the Bresnahan brothers of Bernadine’s parish.

You go more by your parish than your town.

Hell yeah. Ascension parish, Saint Bernadine’s, Saint Edmond’s, Saint Eulalia!

Jesus!

Jesus Christ Holy Mary Mother of God!

The Rise and Fall of Friar Ball, the sad story of Schweez.

What about basketball?

Yeah right. What makes you think you can make the team here when you couldn’t even make the team at Ascension?

I’m better now.

Dan tried out for the basketball team and made what was called the taxi squad, which was separate from the team. It meant you could dress out and attend practice and stand on the sideline, but you didn’t even get into the practice, you were just there to watch and be ready in case someone got hurt or something.

I quit.

After two practices?

Just standing there.

The whole class, the whole class of 68 so much better than the class of 69, it wasn’t even funny. They were the city champs for crysakes, the city champs of Chicago.

You don’t think the juniors knew that, that they were never going to measure up. They weren’t going to just fall short either. They were going to be mediocre, Joe Average.

Schweez would be starting center for the Friar basketball team, a childhood dream come true, following in his big brother’s footsteps. Follow Fenwick’s Fighting Friars. But for all his weight-training, Schweez was undersized at 6-2 to play center to begin with, but in comparison to Bob Fitten at 6-8 and All-State, Schweez looked pitiful.

Same thing with Dan and the cross-country team.                                

There was Tony Tessala walking down the hallway. What was he doing at Fenwick? He was a stupid asshole, and there were supposed to be no stupid assholes at Fenwick. But there were assholes, and there were jocks, and most of them were assholes, but nobody was stupid, or they would flunk out, and that’s what Tony Tessala was doing at Fenwick, flunking out.

Dan believed in the power of dreams. If you dream that you can do something, you can do it. But you have to dream it first. A real dream that comes in your sleep, not a daydream, that you’re king of the world, whatever. It’s got to happen on its own. When Dan dreamed that he broke five-minutes in the mile, then he knew he could do it. He had done it before in his dream. It was the dream that had this power.

Dan had dreamed he punched Tony Tessala in the face, and when Tony Tessala saw him the next day, he could see that Dan wasn’t afraid of him and he never fucked with Dan again. The power of dreams.

Dan had a dream that Tony Tessala wanted to pick a fight with him, which was real enough because Tony Tessala did want to pick a fight with him. Tony Tessala wanted to show everybody that he could take Dan in a fight. He wanted to pop Dan in the face and have Dan just take it, too scared to fight back, but in the dream Dan did fight back, and he bloodied Tony Tessala’s fat lip, and in the dream Tony Tessala could taste his own blood, and the next day, the day after the dream, Dan passed by Tony Tessala in the hall at school and they bumped shoulders and Tony Tessala could see in Dan’s eyes that he wasn’t afraid of him anymore.

And that was all it took, because Tony Tessala wasn’t stupid, or at least not that stupid, and he knew Dan was going to fight back, that you couldn’t just punch him in the mouth and walk away and tell everybody you took him. That wasn’t going to happen. What was going to happen instead was a fight, and Tony Tessala decided it just wasn’t worth it.

If Father Piper or Father O’Malley slapped you hard across the face, you had to remember that your parents were paying for you to be slapped in the face, you were learning discipline.

A balcony ran around the pool, with a railing you could climb over and jump into the pool,

Nobody wore a swimming suit in the pool, except for the swimming team. Everybody else swam in it naked.

Does this seem crazy?

I duno. But it’s weird.

Don’t think about it.

That was the way it was addressed.

The Tale of Father Farrell.

Father Farrell was fucking guys.

The hippy priest. He was going to go down to the inner city and fight for justice. He was going to go down all right. He was going to go down on them. And someday later maybe he would go down in flames in Hell. Maybe. God knows.

But when the boys went on retreat, he could no longer help himself, so helped himself. He could not resist temptation.

What if you went into the priesthood because you were attracted to boys, with their smooth butts and tight balls, and every day you would encounter a whole school of them, and with a wave of your hand you could bless them and have them bow down, or bend over, or be sucked, and you would have God’s blessing because you had been blessed by God?

Father Farrell fought for peace and racial justice, so why shouldn’t he get his rocks off once in a while?

A kid fell asleep, so Father Farrell took his clothes off.

Wait. What?

He wakes up on a couch where he must’ve fallen asleep and he’s got no clothes on.

What the fuck?

His clothes are right there.

. . . the fuck?

Fenwick was the embodiment of racism and perversion, and that was what made it loved.

What Dan conceived as sublime in life, joining together the corpus and the spiritual, black and white, veritas, was simply a derivative of slavery, of sin. Monstrous priests existed, although none had ever molested him or even tried and he had never known then of any who did, though they surely existed and in great number.

The willingness to fight and die apparently had little to do with what you were fighting for.

Follow Fenwick’s Fighting Friars.

Where?

Why?

It doesn’t matter what you’re fighting for. All that matters is that you fight. If you’re a man, you’ll fight. If you’re a pussy, you’ll run away.

Dan ran like hell.

But if 58,000 Dans were going to be killed in Vietnam, and they were wading through the jungle or flying above it, while at the same time hating gooks, then what in the fuck were they doing there? They couldn’t tell the enemy from the people they were supposedly trying to save. They hated them all. All they really wanted to do was fight and kill what they hated.

They had to hate it to kill it.

Or be killed.

These dumb motherfuckers must want to die.

They’re fighting for freedom!

Jesus.

Cross-country was the opposite of football, its participants the inhabitants of two different planets.

John White snuck up behind Davo and with one quick move draped his jockstrap over Davo’s face.

Moosefuck!

There were enough lockers in the locker-room for every student in the school, a thousand lockers, row upon row of lockers, a bottom locker and a top locker. Everyone wanted a top locker. It was easier to deal with. A narrow bench was in the aisle, just wide enough to sit on while you tied your shoes.  The locker-room gave onto the showers and bathroom, where Davo would deposit his 3:01 shit or otherwise be stomach-plagued throughout practice. Davo was famous for pronouncing upon his daily 3:01 as a predictor for the quality of the day’s practice. There was another set of lockers beyond that for athletes of the highest rank, and within it there was a stairway that led up to the coaches’ office, the training room and the equipment room. From there another set of stairs led up to the gym. The basketball team would emerge from these stairs at the start of a game, but the entrance was otherwise off-limits for students. Students were banned from both sets of stairs unless they were being issued equipment or getting therapy in the training room, where there was an ice bath and training table for ankle-taping.

Dan looked up the stairs from the locker-room. There was nobody around, no coaches, athletes, priests, students, janitors, nobody. It was weird. But also reasonable – they all had cause to be somewhere else. So, he mounted the stairs and peeked around the corner into the training room. The lights were off. There was a light on in the equipment room. The top of the door was open. It swung open to allow a student-manager of one of the teams to stand behind the sacred threshold and hand out uniforms or equipment. In one motion, Dan swung himself over the bottom door and into the sanctuary. Jerseys, pads, helmets, basketball uniforms, warm-ups, home unis, away unis, all of them black and white, the cross-country uniforms, baseball unis, stirrup-socks, practice unis, game unis. For an instant he just gazed in worshipful silence, and then he pounced. If he snatched something new, it would be missed, but something of an earlier edition might not, and if he had to choose between the home and away football jerseys, he’d go for the away, the black ones with the white numbers and white stripes and trim. He snatched #10, stuffed it under his shirt, swung over the half-door, and scrambled down the stairs to his locker, where he deposited the stolen goods in his duffle bag.

Why #30?

It was right there. What? You want a lineman’s jersey?

One of the basketball warm-ups’d be nice.

Where you gonna wear it?

I duno. Parties.

Get your ass kicked.

Same with the football jersey, idiot.

Nah. There’s a bunch football players. Who’s gonna know?

In the photo Dan is wearing his letter sweater, standing in the doorway that opened onto Van Buren Street and the sun was streaming in. His mother took the picture with her new instamatic camera. Dan was on his way to school and it was spring and he was a senior. The sweater was snow white, with a v-neck, with a big black F on the chest. On the right sleeve would be a stripe for every year you had earned a major letter. Some seniors had two or three black stripes on their sleeves, but no one had four. It was virtually impossible for someone to earn a major letter as a freshman, because to earn a major letter you had to be a starter or significant player for a varsity team, not the frosh-soph or jayvee team. A major letter meant playing, not sitting on the bench, and not being tenth man on a cross-country team when only the top five runners score points. Dan had only one stripe on his arm, and it was not black, it was gold. The only major letter he had earned had come in his senior year. The stripe was gold because Dan was the captain of the team. And he had been fourth or fifth man in most of the races, except for when it counted most, after Dead Man, Cooney, Davo, and Frank Tobin.

English lit was Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Byron. Dan loved Dickens and Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson. Then the world opened further and let Dostoyevsky in. 

Spring came and with it Dan’s slow awakening from his torpor, languishing in the cold and medieval castle on Washington Boulevard, the gothic walls now the symbol of spiritual tyranny and the image of melancholy winter.

Fenwick was a fortress that was built to crumble. It wasn’t built for that purpose, only with its inevitability assured, to take nothing away from Aquinas and the Dominicans, but how were they to explain away their part in the Spanish Inquisition?

One reason pedophiles and perverts pervaded the priesthood was that Catholic school children were thoroughly and completely repressed, closed off from their yearnings, weirded out and wary of intimacy and affection, fearful of death and the fires of Hell, and driven into the arms of those who must be trusted: cops and priests. They were fucked.

They were all there, the entire senior class, kneeling alongside the tables of the cafeteria, as the roll was being called by Father Piper for Jug. Jug was after school detention and punishment, presumably Justice under God.

Abolverdi.

Here.

Abromowitz.

Here.

Well, not quite the entire class.

Ahern . . . Ahern? . . .Ahern!

Football.

The football players had been excused from Jug. The football team had to practice.

Avolini.

“Cross-country’s got practice too,” Dan whispered to Tobin. Dan was the captain of the team. He felt personally outraged.

Bannon.

Football.

Football.

Football.

The next student who says football will have Jug for a week. Campbell.

Here.

Devenilli?

Football.

Who said that?

Football.

Gazolini?

Here?

Did you just say football?

Football?

Did you? I saw you.

Football, Father, football?

That’s Jug for a week, Gazolini.

In the Gray Click of Running

A long sidewalk stretched the length of the playground and on one side was the playground and on the other was Lincoln school. The sidewalk was where Dan would race John Reynolds, who, everybody said was the fastest kid at the playground, but Dan didn’t believe it. Dan thought he could beat John Reynolds in a race, even though John Reynolds was a year older than he was. John Reynolds was Roger Reynolds’ big brother.

You really think you can beat my brother in a race?

Why not? I beat everybody else.

Never lost?

Not yet.

Then this would be the first time. Dan was fast. John Reynolds was faster. He really was. Dan was shocked.

Growing up was all about sports (no it wasn’t), and sports meant hero worship.

Sports were about finding that one thing that you were better at than everybody else.

Maybe running wasn’t it.

Maybe running was it. Dan could still beat everybody else. He had good speed, better than average speed, not great speed. Maybe he just hadn’t found the right event yet.

What about pole vaulting?

Pole vaulting? What are you, nuts?

Imagine a couple of ten-year-olds trying to teach themselves how to pole vault.

Trying to pole vault into what?

Into sand.

That’s not sand, that’s dirt, that’s just dirt. To pole vault or high jump, you’d have to have a pit and it’d have to be filled with foam rubber, or you’d immediately break your bones.

Dan was still all for pole vaulting. It required good speed, not great speed. If a pole vaulter had great speed, he wouldn’t be a pole vaulter, he’d be a sprinter, unless maybe he was a decathlete, like Jim Thorpe, All-American, as portrayed on the silver screen by Burt Lancaster.

You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.

Dan wanted to be the greatest athlete in the world.

Or the Pope.

No less an authority than the King of Sweden said to Jim Thorpe. “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

Roger Bannister broke four minutes in the mile and the figure stuck in Dan’s head and became his measure for pace. He could manage, at his peak, to maintain this pace for about 600 yards – that left 1000 yards to go, and he was completely out of gas.

Peter Snell, the great runner of New Zealand, always wore an all-black uni, and he was a powerful runner, who owned world records at both the mile and half-mile.

Jim Grelle, one of a number of really good runners who could win a race that Jim Ryun wasn’t in.

Billy Mills’ great upset win in the 5000 in Tokyo in 64.

On the screened-in porch in the Euclid house, watching the Olympics track and field in Tokyo 1964.

Track and field. They put together teams from each playground and held a meet at Oak Park stadium.

Dan competed in every event, in the long jump, high jump, shot put, and in every race and relay.

They travelled to the stadium in a flatbed truck!

Everybody, get in the truck!

Jack was 22 and he was the shelter house leader. If you told the kids he was 42 or 52 they would have believed it.

Maybe pole vaulting wasn’t the answer, although Dan still harbored dreams of Olympic gold and he still thought he matched up pretty well with the skills required – good but not great speed, coordination, balance, athleticism, yes, fine, he was an ace at steal-the-bacon, strength – well, maybe he wasn’t all that strong, but he wasn’t weak, and he could get stronger, if only he had some weight-lifting equipment. But, no, in the end, after studying carefully pole-vaulters and their technique on TV and live at the high school field-house, there would quickly come a point in which you could not just push off the pole, but instead, real vaulters would grip the pole near its end, sprint with the pole tilted slightly up and then dip it down to plant it, and then finally, with the fiberglass pole bending like a bow, they would lift off the ground, and that was where Dan and the world’s great pole vaulters parted company, because he just could not stomach the idea of hanging upside down in the air like that, which was what came next if you were going to pole vault over a bar higher than four or five feet off the ground into the sand pit at Carroll Playground, so, finally, pole vaulting was out.

But the sprints were still on. He would try his hand at the 100 and 200-yard dash. He would spend a year of his young life aiming at a mark in the 440.

He fancied himself a miler for a time, and when he broke five minutes, he thought he was on his way, but it took all he had to get from 5:02 to 4:58, and, finally, 4:56. He was maxed out.

Finally, Dan would settle on the half-mile and set his sights on the world record. Jim Ryun had set a new world record in the half-mile practically by accident. Jim Ryun had arrived in the pantheon of heroes with Jim Thorpe, All-American, as played by Burt Lancaster. The mile was too long, the quarter mile too short, so Dan settled on the 880, setting a goal of getting under 2:10, and he got to 2:09. Now if he could get under two minutes, he would be elite. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t get any faster than 2:09. Ever. That was it.

He wanted to run a two-mile under 11 minutes, but could get no closer than 11:18, and that was on the cross-country course. Then the distance for cross-country was raised to 2.7 miles, and that was clearly outside his range.

You should try the steeplechase. At least once in your life, try the steeplechase.

You could enter any event you wanted to at the University of Chicago all-comers meet. The UC had both an outdoor and an indoor track, and the Fenwick runners would ride there in Coach P’s car.

Cross-country was a new sport at Fenwick in 1965. In August of 1965 they gathered for the first time at the Dominican House of Studies, two and a half miles away from campus, in the neighboring town of River Forest, to the north and west, through affluent neighborhoods, past Hemingway’s house, past the Frank Lloyd Wright house, with that Simon and Garfunkel tune playing in their heads So long, Frank Lloyd Wright. Running together with his best friends, mile after mile. Running, the oldest sport in the world, the most natural. You could find your style of running, just as you could find your style of writing, your voice, with which you could express yourself.

Coach P and Mr. Finnel, the Math teacher, shared an apartment in a building right across the street from school, and kids would go and hang out there before and after school. An elite group.

Tinkus used to run to school from his house in Cicero, and then he’d shower and dress at Coach P’s apartment before school started.

Jim Noe from Leo. Mike Mortorena from Gordon Tech. Bruce Hattemer from Mendel.

The undefeated Friars were Bill McGuire, Jim Martinkus, Leo Dobner, George Metzler and Mike Kirchner.

You had a warped sense of history. It proceeded in slow and small increments of a year or two. You thought of a long time as your high school career. Billy and Tinkus were capping their careers with greatness.

DePaul had given the champs their closest call, Fenwick barely winning, 27-28.

Tinkus ran to school every morning. It was the secret of his success.

Guys made these huge leaps. The plateau they were on suddenly dropped out and their times plummeted.

The season was over, and when Dan walked home from school at 3 o’clock, he could stop at the convenient store and get some chips and candy and chocolate milk and walk slow because he wasn’t in a hurry. He had nothing to do. Instead of running two miles to the House of Studies and running a round of progressions, jog 110, sprint a 110, jog a 220, sprint a 220, then a 440, then an 880. Then back down, and then run two miles back to school, take a long hot shower, and walk home quick in the dark. Now Dan felt guilty. He was doing nothing.

After the season ended and he didn’t have to run anymore, he didn’t, and he started to put on weight. Those stops at the convenient store, the chocolate milk and donuts and chips and soda and candy bars. He had a spare tire, love handles. He was soft.

There would be the Fall Sports Banquet, which meant Football with a side order of Cross-Country. However, this year the football team was terrible, with the worst record in school history, so the gridders weren’t going to be so full of themselves this time around.

There was a code of honor on the team that determined who the next captain would be. The graduating seniors decided. They would appraise and judge their apprentices and determine who might best carry on their tradition of excellence, having now been in existence all of two years. The wise seniors, who had won the triple crown and were being feted for it, for a show of dominance the gridders could only admire. The harriers were champions. They had won every dual meet, the North Section meet, and the City title. The only blemish on their record, if it could even be called that, was the Pius XI Invitational in Milwaukee, where they came in second by a point. The harriers commanded respect. Not only were they the champs, but they had Tinkus on their team.

James Martinkus, a Lugan from St. Stanislaus in Cicero, where he and Casimer Basinskus were the two best basketball players. Tinkus went to Fenwick on a scholarship, while Caz went to St. Ignatius.

Why the hell not? Catholic school in the City of Chicago. South Side. Jesuits. Good school.

You could be friends with guys from St. Ignatius. They weren’t in the Catholic League. They used to be, but something must’ve happened, something political. Now they were independent and part of the state high school association and their teams and athletes could compete for state championships.

Bob Schrum was Billy’s friend, and he finished fourth in the mile at state, running 4:17. Ken Popejoy won it.

Bob Schrum would fire down a whole packet of white sugar just before he went to the starting line. Then he would turn and sprint at top speed for the length of the straightaway. Then he’d turn and he’d get real calm as he walked to the starting line. 

Cas Basinskus was a point guard, about 6-feet, 6-1, a magician with the ball, like the Cooz. He decided to go to St. Ignatius, maybe because it was closer to Cicero.

Coach P and M. Finnel lived in an apartment building right across Washington Boulevard from school. If you were on Coach P’s cross-country team or Mr. Finnel’s math team, you were welcome in their apartment.

Sometimes Coach P would have the whole team over, and they would eat pizza and watch a game.

Tinkus hung his head, dejected. He had played poorly. The basketball team lost, but there was something else, something that touched him even deeper.

Nobody’s ever seen me play.

Everybody’s seen you play.

No. No one has.

You had a bad game.

Maybe.

Maybe?

Maybe someday they will.

Then Tinkus scored 23 points in the first half and the basketball team upset Gordon Tech, and afterward everybody went to Coach P’s to watch Lew Alcindor against Elvin Hayes, in the Astrodome, and the Big E won.

Something not right about it.

Alcindor was dealing with a scratched retina and probably shouldn’t even have been out there.

Billy McGuire was the team’s top runner, then Leo Dobner, then Tinkus, then Steve Bell (a one-hit wonder), then Dead-man, then George Metzler, and Terry Joyce. Dan didn’t score a point.

Lake Tahoe.

Mexico City.

The blue Adidas.

You think maybe running in weather like this might be bad for your lungs?

I duno. Maybe. What is it, like four below?

Eight. And the wind chill.

N’gimme any wind chill shit. This Chicago, there’s wind.

Superman Zika ran in his white gym shorts and t-shirt and that was it. He didn’t even wear a jock. He said it made him feel freer. He was fucking Superman. He’d put on a wool cap if it was below zero. Superman had his wool cap on.

Superman just smiled. He didn’t talk much.

Dan was a junior, but he hung out with the seniors, Billy, Tinkus, George Metzler.

Dan was a senior, but he hung out with the juniors, Davo, Cooney, and John White, whose father was a doctor and the Whites were rich and they lived in north Oak Park and they were members of the Riverside Country Club.

Run like Pre.

The gods of running. Jim Ryun was at the top, but he was only just arriving there. In running there was, beyond the sense of defeating everyone, there lay breaking records, setting records, there was a sense of building on the past, of standing on the shoulders of the great runners all the way back to the Greek who ran from Marathon to Athens to gasp “Victory” before he died.

The House of Studies was what the Dominicans called their Priory and it sat in the middle of some acreage in River Forest. A road led onto a driveway in front of the castle-like structure, but there were no other roads or pavement and the entire two square block property was just grass in a field. There was a grove of apple trees near the House, which was an immense stone edifice as tall as the towers of the school and adorned with the same architecture and stone, like a medieval castle, which is what Ed Fenwick went to look for in Europe when the USA was just thinking about getting started.

West of the House were two stretches of field at right angles to each other, one north and south, the other east and west. The football team practiced on the one that ran north and south, and the cross-country course began on the other field, crossed it, turned left, and headed toward the end of the football field. There was room for a wide straight-away along the sidelines, stretching from one end of the property on Division Street all the way down to the next block, a good 220 yards, and it was used to practice sprints. Rounding the corner and heading toward the entrance road, you hit the quarter-mile mark and the stretch the harriers called the lower pastures.

The lower pastures ended at the entrance road and the course curved with the road and headed toward the apple trees, past the half-mile mark, banking around the trees and heading east across a plain that ended in a thicket to be rounded, passing the three-quarters mark, and as you came out of the trees, it was a straight shot through to the finish – one mile.

They’re raising the distance.

Why?

It’s not going to be two miles anymore.

Why not?

Too short.

What do you mean, it’s too short? It’s two miles!

The longer the better.

Three miles?

No, Two point seven.

You’re making this up. That doesn’t even make sense. Point seven?

Point seven would make a difference. Dan was maxed out at two miles, more than maxed out. It was already beyond him, adding another point seven would make it certain.

At two miles he could dream himself into breaking eleven minutes. That would be damn good. That would be medal-worthy, a time in the ten-fifties, he’d be proud of that. His best was 11:18. Not that far off. He could do it, a pair of 5:30 miles, after all he had already run a mile on the track in under 5:20. He could do it, but to do what Billy McGuire did and break ten minutes was unfathomable.

The distance had been two miles, and it was being raised to 2.7, a move that was devastating for runners like Dan, who ran middle distance because they were fundamentally sprinters, but without elite sprinter speed. They just hung on at middle distance, hoping to be there at the end where a finishing kick might win the day.

Dan’s best race was probably somewhere between the 440 and the 880. 600 was just about right.

The mile relay team debate:

What order are we gonna run?

We want our fastest guy last.

Who’s our fastest guy?

Dave.

No, he’s not. Dan’s got a better kick.

Who’s got the better time?                                                                     

Dan ran a 55.

So did Dave.

Dan’s got a better kick.

And so it went.

The hand-offs were no big deal. It was a 440 you were running, not a sprint.

Still, guys mess up all the time.

John White, then Cooney, then Dave, then Dan.

Together they could break four minutes. Together they could challenge Jim Ryun. On a really good day they could beat him.

The wind was blowing hard. They would have to run into it.

Rockne Stadium had a cinder track and you could hear the crunch-crunch of each runner’s steps.

Fat chance. Ryun had a better kick than Dan or Dave. He held the world record in the mile and the 1500 meters, and he was fooling around one day and broke the world record in the 880. He blew everybody away over the last 200 yards, long strides, arms pumping in countering pendulums.

The exact opposite was Pre. Bursting out of the gate hellbent on breaking the spirit of the other runners in the race, head tilted with the curve of the track. Pre was going to burn you out, gambling that he wouldn’t burn himself out first, and when that happened, he would fade. Dead-man wasn’t like that. Dead-man didn’t fade. Ever. He was dead solid steady from start to finish, and at the end he was maybe a little gray and glowing, like he’d been painted with gray gloss. He wasn’t even breathing hard, maybe there was evidence that he’d been sweating a little bit, a half circle of wet fabric at the neck of his jersey, but he was breathing normally, although his eyes were open abnormally wide.

John White’s profile was the same as Dan’s: sprinter speed, fast-twitch muscles, so the longer the race, the more he was out of his depth.

The lifestyle of James Bond was antithetical to running track. Bond smoked 60 cigarettes a day and drank martinis. Dan’s parents were martini masters, with transportable works, always prepared with gin, vermouth, olives.

You smoke? You wanna smoke a cigarette?

Hell no. What kind?

Benson and Hedges.

They come in a flat box. You slide it open.

Cool.

You want one?

Yet Bond was somehow in shape, and he’d fire back at his boredom with a brace of exercises that made his stomach muscles scream! Then, of course, there was his judo training and karate, the martial arts, a technique of unarmed combat that would allow the weaker to win, if properly applied, discovered by Dan in the boxing ring where Larry Sullivan taught him that the tougher guy can always beat the shit out of you, but only if you let him. That night Dan let him. But for the first round, he had him, sticking and moving, he was faster, smarter, quicker to the punch, and then he just started slugging it out, whaling away, and he got the worst of it. Stupid. He could’ve won.

The sound of the wind was what you heard when you ran.

He’d swing from one to the next, from one to the other, to basketball when he was discouraged with running, it was more fun to play, until the competition showed him that he was a better runner than a basketball player, and he’d return to running, knowing that when he broke five minutes in the mile that Jim Ryun would have lapped him. Dan thought of his teammate Billy McGuire as a superstar because he was about to break 10 minutes in the two-mile, while Steve Prefontaine was blowing up the high school record with an 8:41!

Mexico City, 1968. The Olympics weren’t happening until October, the height of the cross-country season.

On October 18 Bob Beamon long-jumped 29-feet, 2 ½ inches.

Somehow your fate got tied to your heroes. If Jim Ryun could not outkick Kip Keino down the homestretch in Mexico City, then all was lost. Dan himself must be doomed. How could Dan ever hope to lead his harriers to victory if Ryun couldn’t outkick Keino?

One thing had nothing whatsoever to do with the other, but in Dan’s mind it did. There was no point in having a hero if you couldn’t identify with him.

Ryun didn’t have a prayer of beating Keino. There was no way an African runner who trained all his life at altitude was going to get beat by a boy from Kansas in Mexico City.

Enter the curriculum, which takes us back to the Romans and the Coliseum.

Back to Rome. Buckley liked it there. Latin. Not Greek. The Greeks were dangerous. The Greeks were crazy. The Greeks believed in crazy.

Back to the chariot races, round and round we go.

Running track.

And the idea is not to step off the track.

Ryun stepping off the track.

Dan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Ryun was quitting.

Like falling out of love.

As soon as he stopped loving running, running stopped loving him.

A runner could see it clearly enough, there was a difference between feeling good and being happy. It was easy to feel good. Happiness had to be earned. In the gray click of running.

Dead-man was not a hit with the girls.

Billy was the best runner in the city, but he had a homely girlfriend.

Dead-man was shy. He was not the least bit cool. He wore fruity clothes and he wore them fruitily. He was short and skinny and disproportionate, his legs taking up, it seemed, two-thirds of him. And he was slow.

How had he managed to be the fifth man on the team that won the city championship then?

No one noticed.

He lettered. Only non-senior who did.

In a hundred-yard dash, he would finish last. He didn’t appear to be very strong. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist, didn’t care to joke around, and in the way of boys, as a consequence, he became the butt of jokes. He was passive. If it hurt his feelings, he was used to having his feelings hurt. He was used to scorn, and he seemed oblivious to it, but that was just a defense.

Dead-man. Kirch. Call him Kirch. Give him a little respect. Just a little. He had gone to St. Edmunds, and he lived in a big but broken-down house in the middle of the block on Gunderson with a bunch of little brothers and sisters. Dan and the guys on the team all thought of Dead-man, Kirch, as this worm, but to those little brothers and sisters, he was their big brother. They loved and respected him, whereas his teammates treated him like shit.

He knows we love him.

He knows we don’t.

He wants our love.

He wants our respect.                                                                                                  

He wants to be one of us, and he knows he never will.

It was all soul music for Davo, and he carried it in his head when he ran. He had a smooth gait and when he turned on his kick, the music in his head turned to double-beat.

He’d turn his head to Dan as they ran and say: Double-beatin? And off they’d go.

On the track, when they would jog the curves and sprint the straightaways, Davo would lead through the curves, setting the pace at that of a double-beatin’ snail that would emerge from the turn and explode.

At the same time that Dan’s life seemed ruined, Jim Ryun could still win the gold medal in Mexico City. That would be something, at least, vicariously. The same way that Buckley scoring a point in a debate made Dan feel superior. Wasn’t that a zinger! Buckley told a Negro who was complaining about conditions in the ghetto, “I didn’t put the rats there.”

But, of course, he didn’t. How would WFB put rats into the ghetto? He’d have to pay someone to do it, he wouldn’t do it himself.

The sound your spikes made digging into the cinder track gave your cadence a delicious sense of devouring space, churning.

Whose idea was it to make a track out of cinders?

God bless him.

The way you felt when you ran was fine, your head cleared, your lungs filled with air and you could breathe, freely, through your nose and through your mouth, smell the fresh air, relax, your body stretching itself, unhinging, unfurling, smoothing out all the kinks, blood circulating, heart pumping a steady beat, arms swinging like pendulums doubly synchronized to swing in tandem with the opposite leg, each stride falling forward of its own weight, the ball of the foot bouncing, thrusting, easily, striding. Getting in shape came in two phases. Once you had worked hard enough, it felt better to run than to walk, then, a little later, it felt better to run fast than to run slow.

I won’t be in shape much before Joo-lie.

The Texan showed up at the Rockne track one day.

Look at that old coot. He’s not going to run, is he?

Looks like it.

I’m not sure you can call that running.

The Texan, an old grizzled vet, who was probably 26 or 27 tops, but he was training with teenagers, high school kids who’d just finished their track season and were in top form. He had just been discharged from the Army and hadn’t done any real running in years. The kids laughed at him behind his back. He had a hitch in his stride. It was like he unraveled down the track like a Slinky.

What event, Tex?

Quarter.

The Texan professed to be a quarter-miler.

One of the best teams from the South was no more. DePaul had closed its doors and the runners were scattered to other Catholic League teams, and Fenwick got one of the best, Frank Tobin. He turned out to be Fenwick’s second-best runner, behind Dead-Man, but he was always the Guy from DePaul.

In a Gadda da Vida was pounding through his head. It lasted about as long as the race. Dan would listen to In a Gadda da Vida, lying in bed, rocking from side to side to the rhythm of the beating drums, like the cadence of his running, running faster and faster, harder and harder, on and on and on to the frantic crescendo, leaving him bathed in sweat, having run his race, visualized it most intently, given it his all. Now he would have nothing left for the real race. He had just doomed himself.

When’d you wake up?

You mean, when’d I get up. Hard to say when I woke up – because it seemed like I was just lying there all night with my eyes closed, waiting. I know I slept, but while I was sleeping I was either thinking or dreaming about the race or panicking because I was asleep, or dreaming I woke up and I had overslept, but that was impossible, and I told myself to stop and go to sleep, and by the time I woke up I was exhausted.

Time to run the biggest race of your life.

He knew it. Somewhere inside he knew that he was doomed, and somewhere inside he knew that he was dooming himself.

Why?

All you’ve got to do is try.

Then no one catches you from behind on the 8-yard line.

Dan had run the course countless times before. They practiced there, Miller Meadow. In the dream, the sleeping and waking dream, Inagaddadavida was playing and that long long drum solo was turning into an all-out sprint. This was the way he envisioned it, the rhythm building and building to a climax, a crescendo, as he turned on his famous finishing kick, arms and legs pumping high and in perfect syncopation, flowing effortlessly, gliding ahead of the competition, those faceless runners he would give a sidelong glance in passing, as he went on to place somewhere in the top twenty, scoring precious points for the team, as well as winning a medal for himself. Perfect. That was the goal. It was within his grasp. He carefully examined every scintilla of speculation he might apply: the results of every dual meet and time trial at every course against every team in the North Section.

Was he going to quit that race? No. There would be no need to quit the race, no reason to quit it. He knew how to run a race. You start out slow and easy. You build your way up to top speed, which you do not want to reach until the end of the race. He knew how to run a race, so what was he thinking? What was he thinking all day long, calculating, figuring out split times, envisioning the whole race from every other runner’s point of view. This was how they were going to win North Section. He wasn’t so full of himself to think they were going to win City. Gordon Tech had that wrapped up, but they could win the North. He had it all figured out. He was forecasting who the first 20 runners would be. Kirchner, Cooney, Tobin, Clark, then Dan, he figured himself in there, scoring points. The sixth and seventh runners wouldn’t score any points, but they could still be useful by displacing other runners from other teams that would score points.

He had run the race in his head a thousand times before the gun went off, and as soon as it went off his energy vanished. They were all thundering across the field, the great mass without a leader yet, sprinting for position before they hit the first turn, three hundred yards ahead, where the path began and they would string out, the path wide enough for just three or four runners abreast and you would need to sprint to pass anyone, expend energy early in the race that you would need later.

But Dan never got that far. He sprinted near the head of the crowd, glanced around at the contenders and pretenders, instantly realized which one he was, and dropped out of the race.

He would tell everyone he had a pulled muscle. He would limp. He would act. He would pretend. He was a pretender. He had pretended to be the captain of the team, but when the team needed him most, he disappeared. He flat out quit.

Why?

Because it was too hard. He was already out of breath. They were better runners than he was, that’s all, and he couldn’t admit it. He had to lie to cover himself.

No one said anything to him about it. They all seemingly accepted his explanation without question. But anyone could see that it was bullshit.

Pulled muscle. Come on.

They all ran their own race. When the lead pack came around the last turn there were two runners about 20 yards ahead of the rest. It was hard to make out just who they were at first, and although they were moving fast they didn’t appear to be sprinting, they were just flowing and at an ever increasing rate of speed, still maybe a quarter of a mile away.

It was Kirch. It was Michael Kirchner, the little twerp, the Dead Man.

Mortoreno must have wanted to kick past Dead-man, but he just couldn’t do it. Whatever was left of his once mighty kick dribbled out over the open field and he was fading all the way to the end, losing ground to Dead-man, steady as a metronome.

Kirchner’s resting pulse was 42 beats a minute. His teammates called him Dead-Man. They made fun of him mercilessly, and then he beat them all. He was the North Section champ!

Coach P. looked at him.

What happened?

I think I pulled a muscle.

Coach P got down on his knees and prodded at Dan’s calf.

Dan had big calf muscles, and if he over-trained they would tighten up and cramp.

Did you stretch?

Yes.

Enough? Did you stretch enough? It’s ok. I’m just telling you, you need to stretch, Dan. Don’t try to do it now. Yes. It’s tight. I’m sorry. We’ve got a week till City, stay off it till Monday and we’ll see where we’re at.

He instantly regretted it and it was instantly irrevocable. He was going to have to live with it forever. He had quit. He was a quitter. He was a coward. He had been exposed.

He could have run a bad race. He could have just run a bad race, and that would have been better. He would have regretted a bad race too, but not like this. This was the worst thing anyone could do. It was inexcusable, unforgivable.

Who really gives a shit? Someone else will just move up, Terry Joyce or somebody else would be fifth man.

There was still the City Meet and a chance to redeem himself, but now, the former fantasist, idealist, pretender, became realist. They had had a chance to win the North, but they had no chance to win City. There were at least two teams from the South that would beat them easily.

After his first semester in college, home for the Thanksgiving holiday, on a lark, he ran with his old teammates Davo and Cooney and John White, who were seniors now, 27 laps around their House of Studies mile-course and called it a marathon – they didn’t even keep the time, just ran together, lollygagging and talking and laughing the whole way, hardly even tired when it was finished, but tired forever of trying to be the best. He would never run that far ever again. John White, Dave Clark, Bob Cooney. They were seniors. Dan had moved on, had tried to run on the college cross-country team and had been humiliated. He and one other sad sack, Tom Dettmer, finished so far behind their teammates in the first race that the coach called them out in front of the whole team, sarcastically asking them if they wouldn’t mind at least breaking a sweat the next time they decided to run. It didn’t help that they were running against Purdue.

You can say at least I tried, but if somebody says, no, you didn’t even try, what can you say?

It used to be fun.

Dan was fat and out of shape now, and Cooney and John White were going to run the six miles to the country club in Riverside and jump in the pool, and it was the middle of summer and hot as hell, so Dan told them he would meet them at the club, he’d drive his Corvair there, he was over this running shit. So when the two runners arrived, long after Dan, and found him floating on his back in the pool, he looked up at them, and they were flush from six hard miles in the summer sun, and he said, “You guys must be nuts.” They jumped in, went under, came up, and they were floating on their backs too when Cooney said: “Maybe so, but this feels a hell of a lot better to us than it does to you.”

And Dan had made the run, the summer before, and jumped in the pool, so he knew it was true, and he suddenly wondered if it would ever feel that good again.

It wouldn’t.

None of them would ever enter his life again. He would take only peripheral interest, if any, in the activities of his former teammates, the juniors who were now seniors. They faded out of view and then into the past. It mattered then, but it didn’t mater anymore. It would be better forgotten, except that he couldn’t forget it, ever, it would haunt him for the rest of his life.

That was the funny thing about the past, about ghosts, time didn’t seem to have any effect on them, and that made it as if time no longer existed for them, which was why it boggled the mind, because the ghosts were all wrong, they were dead and gone, yet they persisted in acting as though they weren’t. Mayor Daley was still purple in the face, screaming something hateful and perversely righteous, Dead-man was still winning the biggest race of all, while he was belittled by all of his own teammates, Kennedy was smiling an instant before his brains were blown out and then his brother Bobby was lying on his back with a pool of blood gathering around his head on the floor in the kitchen of a hotel and Mother Lois was yanking Danny by the earlobe down the hall to her office to administer a paddling and then he was going to Hell.

Pigskin Deep

What’s the frame? What makes it go forward and backward? It’s somehow got to be in the voice of the narrator, in the point of view. Third person, central intelligence, past tense. Storytelling. Who is telling this story? Stendahl? Tolstoy? Hemingway?

Citizen Kane’s frame is the March of Time newsreel.

What sort of storyteller can range freely back to Aristotle and Plato, forward to Aquinas, to the Civil War, to a young boy’s mind in the mid-50s and 60s? A storyteller who doesn’t tell us who he is, who somehow stands outside it, above and beyond it, and can still see into the heart of it?

A sportswriter, journalist, historian, author. It’s just a book about a time and a place. So, it may be straightforward, if not exactly chronological, roughly chronological, peppered with flashbacks and flash-forwards, with a plot moving forward, and a subplot moving backward.

Break it all apart and re-assemble it, chronologically, going forward and backward all the way to John L. Sullivan and forward from Floyd Patterson to Sonny Liston to Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, from black and white to color. And Danny becomes a boxer.

It’s a history book that turns into a novel, or the other way around, the novel as history, Mailer said. History comes first.

Studs Lonigan is a history book.

It proceeds chronologically, season by season, year after year, from 1951 to 1969, 18 years.

Dan moves from sports to something vaguely like the arts, but more like imminent disaster. He’s a schmuck.

It doesn’t matter. He’s grown into a particular kind of schmuck due to the forces that shaped him – and those forces are the real interest here. The real people and historical events. Dan’s consciousness expands, and the world keeps getting more and more fucked-up.

We’re on the eve of destruction.

I can’t get no satisfaction.

What exactly was his problem? Why couldn’t he get no satisfaction?

Because of the culture, man, the consumer culture.

Danny? Danny was a sweet kid, in all his hero-worship, it was heart, all love. It was a way to love someone. If he loved you, he wanted to be like you. More than that, he wanted to be you. He wanted for there to be two of you.

He wanted something that was impossible, not to speak of superfluous.

Dan had to lie to himself and tell himself that he was good and honest, when he knew he wasn’t, but if he could pretend to be that thing, then he might eventually become it.

On New Year’s Day teams were playing in the Orange Bowl in Florida and the Cotton Bowl in Texas and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the Rose Bowl in California. All in color in the warm sunshine.

Each of these bowls was a fantastic sight to Danny because of the green grass and the sunshine. It was marvelous to a boy who lived in a land where all was snow and ice for there to be such a place in the sun, magical, and perfect. Football.

The games and the names became iconic. Ron Vanderkelen, leading the come-back for Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. That game stuck out, captivated him.

North against South. Midwest against West. Big Ten. Sports. Then girls. Movies. Music. Sex. Television. Commodities. You start in September 1951 because that’s when Danny Boy starts, but you’ve got to flash back farther and farther, so it’s moving in two directions at once, forward and backward. It starts going backward through Truman to Roosevelt to Hoover to Wilson. It traces backward from Dan’s parents to his grandparents in the 19th century.

The College All-Star Game in Soldier Field.

The Bears at Wrigley.

He could not see that it was not fucked-up that the Cubs were bulldozed by the Miracle Mets, because those poor slobs, the Met fans in New York had been robbed of both their freaking teams, the Giants and the Dodgers that had been theirs since the game was invented.

In November 1963, two days after President Kennedy was killed, the NFL decided to play football.

The Packers won their second straight Super Bowl in 1968, although that was not yet what it was called, and Lombardi called it temporarily quits. He would make a coaching come-back with the Redskins, but the Packer era was over. And so were the Wisconsin days.

The Center Sneak.

The game at Ridgeland Commons.

Of course, he had been burned before. There was that game, hell, it had been at Ridgeland-Commons too, and so was that Little League game for the village championship, but the football game against Field Playground when he was playing safety and that long-legged receiver got behind him, something Dan had never minded before while playing touch football in the street because at the last moment he would always just outjump the receiver and intercept the pass. That was in the street with no one but the Clarence alley boys. Against Field the quarterback launched a pass so high over Dan’s head it was ridiculous, and the guy just reached up and caught it practically in stride.

Touchdown.

Burned.

Dog Ryan.                                                                              

You know why everyone called him Dog? Because he would do shit only a dog would do. One time Jimbo Kidd dared him to lick the back tire on his bike, and Dog did it, and you know Jimbo would ride his bike through mud and dog shit and all kinds of shit, and Dog Ryan licked his tire. Dog Ryan. So nobody hung out with him. He’d try to hang out with guys, and guys would ditch him. He had no friends.

Dan had lots of friends and he felt sorry for Dog Ryan, so one day he hung out with him.

Dog didn’t have any money, so Dan fronted him a quarter and they went to the store, to Molly’s, and bought a bunch of penny candy which was shoveled into a small white paper sack, and they walked through the alley and the secret hallway through the apartment buildings to the back of Ascension and then over to Fox Park to climb a tree and eat the candy and talk shit. It was then that Dan discovered something incredible.

What time is it, Dan?

Dan glanced at his Timex. Dan had a ring, his mother’s Trinity high school ring, he had a silver bracelet with Dan etched on it, he had the Timex, and he wore aftershave. If only he could shave, he would be really cool.

It was a quarter after four, and Dog Ryan said he had to go to practice.

For what?

For practice.

For practice for what?

Football.

Get out of here.

It wasn’t like Dog Ryan couldn’t play at all. All the guys could play. But Dog was the kind of player who would make plays by accident or luck.

I got practice for St. Edmund’s.

What? How?

Trust me.

I don’t believe it.

I’ll show you, Dan.

And he did. They climbed down out of their tree, a white birch that overlooked the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue. Then they headed north toward St. Edmund’s.

There was no reason not to believe him. He was after all wearing a football uniform. Where in the world could Dog Ryan get a football uniform except from a football team? But Dan hadn’t asked him anything about it because he was too cool. Maybe Dog Ryan thought he’d catch a pick-up game of football at Fox Park. Guys showed up there with their own pads and helmets once in a while. But a good game of tackle football with a bunch of guys required planning during school to get it organized, sometimes days in advance, and Dan hadn’t heard anything about a game. Dog Ryan probably stole the uni from somewhere or somebody.

Jimbo Kidd had a pair of real high-top black football spikes that he wore in pick-up games at Fox Park and South Park, which would later be named Rehm Park, where there was an Olympic-sized pool to rival Ridgeland-Commons, at which big-time national swimming meets were held in front of packed stands and ABC cameras to be shown on the Wide World of Sports, but nobody asked Jimbo Kidd where he got the black high-tops and Dan wondered about that until one day he spotted the high-top black spikes in the Sears catalogue.

Baseball shoes had cleats, football shoes had spikes,

There were lots of things to learn if you were going to be cool.

Why are we going to St. Edmund’s?

To show you where it is.

I know where it is.

You ever go in?

What?

You ever go inside the church?

Sure.

If there was a church around, Dan would go inside it. Besides Ascension he had been inside St. Bernadine’s and St. Edmund’s and the Lutheran church near South Park and the cathedral downtown. If there was a church he would go into it and pray, dip his fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross and bow his head and genuflect at the aisle and go into a pew and kneel down and say a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys and then he would snake around the aisles by the side altars and under the Stations of the Cross and into the baptismal fount and into the crying room and race up the aisle and into the nave and up the stairs to the choir loft with its organ at the top, Beneath the Dome, which had once been shining gold and now was green, surmounted by green Jesus, arms outstretched, wondering why, why, why.

Why do you want to know if I ever been in Edmund’s?

So you can say you go there.

Dog Ryan was up to something. Dog Ryan was always up to something, stealing something, sneaking into places, spying on people, doing shit all on his own, in his raggedy clothes – even his football uni was white turned gray and black and green and red with dirt and mud and grass and blood.

Where we going now?

Ridgeland-Commons.

That where you practice?

It was. Dog Ryan wasn’t bullshitting Dan. There on the field were a couple dozen players uniformed like Dog Ryan, only cleaner. It was the Edmund’s football team. Edmund’s had a football team. Who knew there even was such a thing? And Dog Ryan of all people was on the team.

How the Hell?

I’ll tell you after practice. And Doggie ran off to practice. Dan watched from a distance. The coach wore a ball cap and a Vince Lombardi aspect.

Run back to the huddle – run!

They had started by doing calisthenics – jumping jacks, push-ups, leg raisers, starting with bicycling, then lowering the legs and shouting twelve inches, then six inches and emitting war cries, and then they broke into groups – running backs over here, quarterbacks and receivers over there, linemen over here. Dog Ryan fit right in. He was an average player for these guys from Edmund’s, who seemed to Dan not quite on a par with the Ascension lads. Some bigger guys, but nobody as tall as Shock or anywhere near as athletic, and nobody as big as either Jimbo Kidd or Jimbo Wilkinson.

They ran a scrimmage, mostly running plays, not passing. Afterward Dog Ryan went up to the coach and started talking to him. The coach was listening to him and then Dog was pointing Dan out to the coach, and the coach gestured for Dan to come join them on the sideline.

I hear you’re a football player, the coach said. I’m Coach Payne. Good to meet you.

Dan introduced himself, and Dog Ryan stood there beaming like he wanted a pat on the head.

How’d you like to play for St. Edmund’s?

But I go to Ascension, Dan said.

We’re not going to talk about that, Coach Payne said. You go to church at St. Edmund’s, don’t you?

This was the question that Dog Ryan had been preparing him for.

Yes, Dan answered.

Good enough, Coach Payne said. We’ll see you at practice tomorrow then.  You got pads.

Yes, sir.

Wear your own pads and we’ll suit you up afterward.

Yes, sir!

It was almost dark and there was a cool fall breeze that sent the oak leaves cascading onto the sidewalk of East Avenue as they headed back toward Clarence alley.

It was just past Indian Summer and Dan was going to play football tomorrow, his first step toward maybe being one of the greatest football players of all time, like Paul Hornung or Jim Thorpe.

But he wouldn’t tell anybody about it because it might somehow get him in trouble. There was something about all this he wasn’t sure about. Dog Ryan would sneak into the movies, he’d steal candy from the drug store. You couldn’t trust him. But he had hooked Dan up with a football team he could play on, and Dan wasn’t going to pass it up. Besides, the players didn’t look that good, didn’t look that big or that fast. What the Hell!

You know why he wants you to wear your own pads?

See if I’m any good before he gives me a uni.

You gotta earn it.

Well, you earned it, Doggie, how hard can it be?

Dan would be like Jim Thorpe, All-American, as played by Burt Lancaster in a movie Dan would stay up late to watch and be inspired to tears and spend the night dreaming of football plays, of scoring touchdowns for Fenwick’s Fighting Friars, for Notre Dame, for the Chicago Bears, no, he would not play pro football, he would do something else, be a spy maybe, but why think that far ahead? For now it would be enough to score a touchdown. He could sleep on that.

The next day at Ascension was a time warp, stretching out interminably while he endured the interval before football practice.

It was time for football practice at Ridegland-Commons, just off Lake Street in the middle of Oak Park, not far from St. Edmund’s but more than a mile away from Ascension, and far from Clarence alley, so none of the guys figured to chance by. There was a fall chill in the air, the sky was gray in the late afternoon and people had to rake the leaves in their yards, and the smell of autumn leaves was cleansing and the smell of the grass and earth when you rolled on it was fortifying.

The coach, Coach Payne, blew his whistle.

Listen up. We’ve got a game coming up with St. Eulalia and we are going to be ready to play football, you understand me? We are going to block, and we are going to tackle because that, gentlemen, is the game of football. You understand me? In its entirety. Blocking. Tackling. You understand?

Dan could see that it was going to important to understand Coach Payne, but it didn’t sound like much fun.

You take care of blocking and tackling, and the rest will take care of itself.

What could that even mean? Football was about dodging people, getting away from them, escaping, out-running, about throwing and catching, about tight spirals arcing through the sky. Football was a game of skill and coordination and speed and grace and athleticism. The NFL had that contest: Punt, Pass, and Kick. It was a skills test.

Now there they were, headed for the blocking sleds. Each was built for two players to put their shoulders to and give it a go. For the first time in his life, Dan plowed his shoulder into a blocking sled, imitating the guys who’d gone ahead of him. He was wearing cheapshit shoulder pads and it hurt and he was glad when they switched to something else. Then he found out it was tackling, by way of a tall canvas punching bag you could knock over. That was ok. That was fun. It wasn’t that Dan was afraid to tackle, but he didn’t much care for head-on collisions, and he didn’t want to be steamrolled. He was a pretty good tackler when he could take an angle on the ball carrier and especially when he ran somebody down from behind, which he discovered he could do just about every time the offense ran a sweep to the opposite side from where he was playing cornerback.

One kid’s name was Tomasetti, but Coach Payne always called him Tuffinetti because he liked the way he hit.

Cornerback was where Coach Payne put him as soon as the scrimmage began. He must have wanted to find out if Dan could play or not right away. They both found out at the same time.

If the play came at him, Dan could side-step the blockers and still manage to pull the ball carrier down on angle or from behind. If they decided to throw the ball, that was even better, because Dan was a ball hawk.

And that Little League championship game, when they had the game won, and then he made the bonehead play, fielding a ground ball and stupidly running over to tag second, even though there was no one on first, before sailing the ball over the first baseman’s head and into the dugout. Cleanest pick-up I’ve ever seen, the manager had marveled afterward, before rolling his eyes and labeling it a bonehead play. Luckily that didn’t lose them the series, and they went on to win the championship in the next game, which Dan watched from the dugout.

Dan was scared of the dark and ghosts and the Devil, and he carried a rabbit’s foot, which was gruesome, but he didn’t think about that. It was fall and that meant football and he was showing Coach Payne he could play and that was all that mattered, showing his speed, his smarts, his athleticism, every bit of talent and dedication that might compensate for his lack of size. And it worked. Coach Payne was going to try him on offense now.

On defense things have to remain fairly simple. Since the whole idea is to stop whatever the offense initiates, it doesn’t do much good to apply ironclad strategies that ignore what the offense does. Let the offense follow strategy, your job on defense is to mess that strategy up, to disrupt, and you can always just take the ball away from them if you get the chance.

Dan liked all of that, and on a team like this you could play both ways, play on both offense and defense. So now Coach Payne would see what Dan could do with the ball in his hands.

There were holes between each of the offensive linemen and the holes were numbered.

Numbers.

Dan’s nemesis.

How hard could it be?

After all, they ran the same play over and over again. That’s why they called it practice.

They would run a sweep to the right, to the right, to the right, then to the left, to the left, to the left. The running back would get the ball in a direct snap from the center, a shotgun snap, then head for the sideline behind a wall of blockers.

The first time they ran the play with Dan as the running back it was like a dream. He followed his blockers patiently. He was so short that the defenders had a hard time spotting him back there. He hid behind his blockers and this caused the defenders to hesitate ever so slightly, and that’s when Dan got the jump on them. They were all running in one direction in pursuit and running hard, because they knew the play, when suddenly Dan veered back against the grain and cut right through them. He did it again and again.

We got ourselves a cutback runner, exclaimed Coach Payne.

Dog Ryan was on the sideline in his dingy uni in the red glow of the September sunset, his helmet off and dangling from the facemask that Doggie gripped with one paw, and he was grinning. He had recruited a cutback runner for St. Edmund’s.

Coach Payne took Dan for a look at the game unis, even though he wouldn’t be getting one just yet.

We’ll save that for the night before game day, Coach Payne said. But check them out.

The jerseys were like those of the Cleveland Browns, white with brown numbers for the road, brown with white numbers for home. Then Dan saw the pants and his jaw dropped. They were gold. No stripes or piping just solid shiny sleek gold.

Wow.

Classy, huh?

Yessir.

Coach and player were happy. Coach Payne had found himself a cutback runner and Dan had found himself a team. The only thing left to do was to fuck it all up, so Dan got to work on that right away.

Just keep it to yourself, son, Coach Payne had said.

And that was how Dan could fuck things up. He could tell somebody about it. He could tell everybody about it.

Why would he want to fuck it all up?

He wouldn’t, at least not consciously, but at heart he must have wanted to fuck it all up, to blow his chance, because he was the one who blew it all by telling everybody about it.

What about the coach?

The coach didn’t blow it. The coach was going to give Dan a chance. The coach was going to put him in the game.

The coach was going allow a player from another parish to play for the parish football team. The coach was going to cheat.

He’d done it before. He was using Dog Ryan.

Blame it on Dog Ryan.

Still, they would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for Dan. He could have played. Coach Payne was ready to put him in the game on Saturday, on his birthday, his thirteenth birthday. He would be a teenager and a football player on the same day and maybe he would have to shave.

In reality Coach Payne probably just wanted Doggie and Dan to fill out the team. Dan was pretty good and Doggie was ok, but neither one of them was going to set the world on fire – probably.

But there was no way he would ever know for sure – because he sure felt like he could play then. He had done great things on the playground, catching passes, eluding tacklers, broken field running.

He had no way of knowing that it would be a blessing not to play football.

So maybe that was why he did it – a rational decision, not cowardice.

But he hadn’t done it yet. He had to wait to become a teenager first.

The rain fell in a steady shower and the rhythm and volume would rise and fall and you’d think it was going away and then it would come back harder than ever, and the whole sky was a uniform gray, the rain all over it, not going away because there was nowhere to go, it was an all-day rain, on Dan’s thirteenth birthday. He turned on his record player and lay in bed listening to the Beatles.

I Feel Fine was the song that played in the imaginary indoor stadium that Dan had created in the basement when the imaginary basketball team he played on and coached and broadcast went into their warm-up routine.

In the games he played by himself in the basement, that was the warm-up music. The only team in the world probably that was warming up to the Beatles.

Tony Lawless himself set the arm and needle on the record album playing Sousa marches and out came the Friars, rising from the stairwell as from the depths, all in black – because the warm-up jackets hid the white home jerseys, and the shorts were always the blacks – the basketball team, like the football team, only went monochrome on the road, and on the road the players’ numbers were one digit higher than those they wore at home, which was an enchanting mystery to Dan.

Dan got tired of going to practice after a couple of days. It was boring. He was never going to learn the numbering system for the plays – not because he couldn’t, but because he had decided he just never would, just like he had made up his mind early on when he took four years of piano lessons and came out at the other end without ever having learned to read music. He’d just fake it, just like he had faked learning the Latin of the Mass so he could be an altar boy.

But how could he just walk away from it. This was his life’s dream.

That was the problem, it was all a dream. And in the dream all the guys were there. Not just the Clarence alley boys but all the Ascension lads – Shock, Jimbo Wilkinson, Jimbo Kidd, Rug Olson, Gaffney, Lavery, all of them, the guys who put together the big pick-up games at Fox Park and you’d pray to get picked. Dan dreamed of playing with those guys.

What about Schweez?

Schweez too.

They were better than the St. Edmund’s guys.

You don’t think?

I don’t know.

You don’t know? Dog, you gotta be kiddin me.

I guess.

You guess?

Ok. Yes.

Much better. Shock? Come on. Shock? Just think about it: Shock against These Guys?

You’re right.

Shock’d kill these guys.

What could Doggie say? He couldn’t say anything.

Shock was Craig Canovitz, also known as N——bits, but not to his face of course. He was a head taller than Jimbo Wilkinson, the next tallest kid, and he was built like Tarzan and he was swarthy, so maybe he was built like that and was a super athlete because he was part-n-word you know? Plus, some guys said he had flunked a grade, and he was no scholar, so guys called him N——bits behind his back, and still everybody wanted to be his friend.

One day in seventh grade Dan came home wearing a pair of army combat boots.

What in the world have you got on your feet?

Mom. Come on. Their mine …now.

Where did you get them?

Shock gave them to me.

They must be three sizes too big.

That’s ok.

Dan was going to use them to train as a fighter and do his road work wearing them. But it turned out they actually were too big. Shock didn’t want them back, so he gave them to the Keating twins, Tom and Jerry, and let them fight over them. They were both a little bit shorter than Dan, so go figure.

What would be really cool, Dan told Dog, would be a pair of combat boots, you know, to do road work in.

To be a boxer.

Yeah.

Of course you’d get punched a lot.

Maybe not.

You’d have to.

You’d have to maybe, but I wouldn’t.

Not a word about practice, not a word about the team or Coach Payne, not a word about the game coming up on Saturday.

The equipment room, where the uniforms were kept was a scared place. Dan had tried to duplicate it in the storeroom in the basement of his house with a row of cardboard boxes labeled Home and Road with shorts and make-shift jerseys, and Mom had asked, What’s all this? and when he started to explain she just nodded her head and walked away. It was ok. Do what you want in the storeroom as long as you don’t wreck anything. Of course it would not be ok when he started hiding his Playboys down there in the storeroom in the basement and he went down there to beat off, but it would be a long time before she found out about that, months.

In the St. Edmund’s equipment room, the sacred place, were stacks of jerseys that were brown – like Cleveland Browns brown – with golden numbers trimmed in black, and that were white with the numbers in brown and etched in gold, and there were stacks of sleek golden football pants that were shiny.

In the game against Eulalia, it had started raining early in the day and Coach Payne had the team wear the white pants they had been wearing in practice, to spare the gold pants from the mud bath, and they wore the white jerseys because they were the home team and the home team wore white.

Coach Payne is saving the gold pants.

Field’s all mud.

What’s he saving them for? What’s the point of playing football in the rain if you’re not going to get your uni all muddy?

The beauty part is we get to wear the hood-capes.

True.

They stood on the sideline, Dan and Dog Ryan, in the pouring rain, wearing hooded capes over their helmets and shoulder pads.

On the previous day, Dan had fucked it all up by telling the Ascension lads about playing for St. Edmund’s and had invited them to come out to practice at Ridgeland-Commons and join the team, and when they all turned up in their make-shift unis, Jimbo Kidd in his high-topped black spikes, Coach Payne had taken Dan out of the line-up and moved him to the bench.

Shock, Jimbo Wilkinson, Rug Olsen, and all the Clarence alley boys.

What the Hell, Dan? What the Hell were you thinking?

I didn’t think they’d all show up like that.

What’d you think they’d do? You told em you were playing both ways for Edmund’s and they should come and see for themselves if they didn’t believe you, and when they asked if that meant they could play for Edmund’s too –

I said I don’t know.

What’s that supposed to mean?

I don’t know.

Pretty dumb, Dan.

That was the lowest, being called dumb by Dog Ryan, but there was no denying it.

He’s not going to put me in, is he?

Dog Ryan was  looking longingly out on the muddy field where Edmund’s was being pummeled by Eulalia in the pouring rain, and then he was buckling his chinstrap because Coach Payne was going to put him in the game, Dog Ryan, going into the game instead of Dan, Dog Ryan with his uni all mudded-up in one play, mud clogged in his face mask, not Dan, who was thirteen years old that day and it occurred to him that perhaps instead of being the greatest football player of all time like Jim Thorpe or Paul Hornung, he would just be an espionage agent like James Bond.

Mom threw him a birthday party. You had to love Mom, because she loved you so much, you were Sunshine, her only Sunshine, of course she’d throw you a birthday party, but she would never throw you another one, this was it.

At fourteen Dan would be too old to have birthday parties thrown for him by his mother or by anybody else,e trotted out with Dougdale when St. Phillips punted near the end of the game. Dougdale was deep to field the punt, and Dan was in front of him to block. This would be the play he would never be able to get out of his mind. He would forever be looking back over his shoulder, watching Dougdale get tackled after missing his block.

He was still thinking about it when he got the ball on a handoff and dove headlong into the pile, thrashing about, looking for a hole that wasn’t there, wriggling and squirming, and the ref whistled the play dead and verbally admonished Dan: Son, when you’re down, you’re down.

Truer words were never spoke. That was the last game Dan ever played.

The freshman wore green jerseys and tan pants. No explanation. The school colors were black and white.

It made you feel like you weren’t really on the team.

You had to survive freshman football, and most guys didn’t. Then you had to show up for weight training during the winter in the annex at the back of the gym. Then there was spring football, and Dan would never make it that far. After a few weight workouts, he quit. These guys were stronger than he was, and as a team they had proven they weren’t even that good. What was the point?

They were cooking burgers on the grill set up just inside the garage with the garage door open and the rain still pouring down. It had rained all day. Mom was letting Dan cook the burgers.

The Clarence alley boys were all there to celebrate his birthday, Gump, John Duff, Terry Joyce, Jack Lepper. They didn’t give a shit about the Edmund’s football team because they hadn’t taken the whole thing seriously from the beginning and they sure as shit didn’t give a shit after Coach Payne yelled at them all and told them to get the Hell off his field, which was Ridgeland-Commons field and they had as much right to be there as his sorry team, we could dog you, you even got Dog Ryan! And now they were all eating burgers and laughing and talking shit and having a good time at Dan’s birthday party, and Dan cooked himself another burger, cooked it just the way he liked it, medium rare, and ate it, hot and juicy, and it tasted good, and he had not invited Dog Ryan.

See Seven Sides . . . and Vote!

Here’s an opportunity to see The Seven Sides of Shakespeare online at the First-Time Filmmaker Sessions (along with a number of other great films and shorts.) We are in the “features” category. $10 goes entirely to support the festival for which we were selected. Please, if you take this opportunity, mark a vote for us.

Big Plans

“Movies that refer to great works always go deeper. The Seven Sides of Shakespeare is an experimental and biographical production with lots of references to Shakespeare. What is the experimental film? These films by definition are unconventional, and therefore almost never reach a wide audience. They have a nature of their own. . . .

“While watching the movie, viewers start to think of their own lives. While I was watching the scenes, I constantly went to my memories of the past. Long scenes that actually seem like a disadvantage turn into a serious advantage in this sense. The audience can also go on a journey in their inner world. We watch all periods of human life, birth, growth and old age in chronological order with various analogies. Of course, for this, they should not get bored with the film and get caught up in the flow. I liked the protagonist very much. He played naturally and sincerely. Obviously, the most powerful part of the movie is the acting department. Act VII is great and dramatic; I can easily say that is my favorite act. . .”                                                                                                                                                                                                        Anatolia International Film Festival

“What are you working on next?” Tom Miller asked me when we wrapped up The Seven Sides of Shakespeare.

It was kind of him to ask.

Truth is I’ve got more projects going “than you can shake a stick at – if that’s your idea of a good time.” – Groucho Marx

First of all, comrade, more to the point, what are we working on next?

William H, Macy in Gainesvillle

Tom’s got two screenplays in the works that I could act in if I got the chance, which is unlikely because first I’ve got to wait on the likes of Billy Bob Thornton and William H. Macy and Nick Nolte to consider the possibilities.

Wester Joseph & Billy Bob Thornton at a screening of Jayne Mansfield’s Car

Elmer’s Saucer has got a leg up already, having been optioned by More than a Handful Productions.

“After his dog disappears, a quirky man still mourning the death of his wife in small town Missouri goes searching for her but instead of finding his dog, he sees what he believes to be a flying saucer, setting him on a quest to prove to the town that it’s real and he’s not crazy.”

Tom MIller, graduate  David Lynch MFA Program at Maharishi International University

Then there’s Roach Buddy.

“Mort is agoraphobic and living in filth when he meets a wealthy socialite named Hope. His life is turned upside down and his best friend Roach Buddy isn’t happy about it.”

Hey, that’s me, isn’t it? I mean the guy, not the roach.

Roach Buddy is making the rounds, searching for “those readers who are willing to get on the project’s level to find a captivating, bizarre, and oddly poignant character study within the narrative’s twisted surreality.” So says The Black List: Where filmmakers & writers meet (blcklst.com

And let’s not forget Tom’s Tabernacle of Hedonism screenplay, which envisions on screen the epic story of the perpetual gathering of artists and madmen and madwomen in the late of night at the center of the universe.

Local resident writes a love letter to Gainesville – The Independent Florida Alligator

Scene from Ummu by Tom Miller, directed by Michael Presley Bobbitt

Wester Joseph and I have already tried out the parts of Ummu, and there’s a chance we could make of movie of it ourselves, considering the talent Tom and Wester are hooked up with.

Ummu

We began by reading this play in the hallway of the Sun Center alongside Maude’s, and we knew we were on to something. MPB read the protagonist’s part, which would give him a keen insight into the character, which he would put to good use in directing the play at the ART and brilliantly choosing Wester Joseph to play the part. It’s heavy and surreal and marvelously cathartic. It gets inside an artist’s head and lives in there in the form of an psychoanalyst and a beautiful muse, who exist in another dimension that just might be ours.

Things Get Real In Tom Miller’s Unreal World of UMMU – WUFT News

Audience

This is a very fun project I’m sure Tom hasn’t forgotten about. We were even hoping to get Alexander Davidowski of Mirador Studios onboard to make a movie of it.

It’s about the theatre and theatre-goers and story telling and the root of all culture, and it’s so insanely funny it was almost impossible to rehearse without cracking up. Once the real audience arrived however, the joke was on them, and they loved it.

George Steven O’Brien, Carolyne Salt, Arleen Wolf, Xan Abraxas, Mike Garvin

Tom Miller’s Audience | shamrockmcshane (wordpress.com)

Tom Miller Official Home Page (weebly.com)

Circles

My son Mike has this idea to make a recording of my radio play Circles, employing a cast of all-stars, each performing in their own studio, with master sound man Mike hooking it all together and projecting into cyberspace.

Circles – Mike McShane (weebly.com)

Return to Sunset Village by Michael Presley Bobbit

Playwright Michael Presley Bobbitt

MPB is getting the band back together for the sequel to Sunset Village, (which, coincidentally, is lined up for two productions this fall in south Florida, going at in Marathon and Delray Beach!)

True to the mechanism of place as the motor for his plays, Bobbitt gives Sunset Village the cause celebre it deserves, blending its stirring sense of community with the wisdom and vulnerability of old age.

Good Bi

D. A. Jackson directed this mind-bending horror movie, which was shot over the summer and features Nell Page as well, with a soundtrack by Wester Joseph. I play a kindly priest. Yeah, right.

In Black and White and Color

In the beginning there was the word. I’m writing a novel called In Black and White and Color about growing up the middle child of a middle-class family in the middle of the country in the middle of the last century. It’s in its third draft and it keeps growing.

There are 10 Chapters, which are more like domains, overlapping in time but separate in tone, substance, and point of view. I’ve taken to treating it all like film footage, separate scenes and shots, that can be blended and juxtaposed to try to tell this story spanning the years 1951-1969.

First, the names of the domains: God; Family; Oak Park & Chicago; Culture; Ascension Grammar School; Sport; Fenwick High School; Politics & Race; Girls; Gas-Man.

With this draft I am giving the chapters formal titles, but everything may change with the next draft, as I try to employ the techniques I’m learning from Proust and Tolstoy.

Holy Shit

Tom Miller, George Steven O’Brien, Michael Garvin, Scot Davis, Mandy Fugate, Anna Marie Kirkpatrick

Holy Shit is the story of God and creation and the mess that followed, from various points of view, including God’s, Satan’s, Michelangelo’s, Jesus’, Judas’, and Krishna’s.

My brothers and sisters, we are gathered here together for Holy Shit.

Holy Shit! I hope you’re not offended. Already! Jesus! Sorry. I’d like to apologize for what you are about to see and hear. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure the title is its own trigger warning. If you buy a ticket for Holy Shit, you should probably know what you’re stepping into. And mind you, this is only some Holy Shit. There’s lots more where this came from. All seriousness aside, this is not a one-man show. You are about to see six actors portray 24 hysterical, er, historical characters, and for that purpose I have gathered together an all-star team of actors, which makes it sort of like the all-star game. The NBA All-Star Game.

The problem with the NBA All-Star Game is that it’s almost never a good game. Nobody plays any defense. They all just want to score points.

Turns out that’s perfect for this play.

All we want to do is score points.

With that in mind, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the Holy Shit Players!

As the Holy Ghost, and Mother Agnes the nun, and Joan the Archeologist, and the Bad Thief on the Cross, and Krishna, I give you the Star of Sunset Village, my Queen, Anna Marie Kirkpatrick!

As Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Sister Sarah the nun, and the Archeologist Beverly, and Jesus Christ, the extraordinary Mandy Fugate!

Oddly enough, in the role of the Son of God, and as that supreme artist Michelangelo, and the Good Thief on the Cross, and a miserable stockbroker, introducing the great artist of puppeteering and acting, the peerless George Steven O’Brien!

As Adam in the Garden of Eden, and Moses on Mount Sinai, and Saint Peter, and a messed-up Crusader, the Dean of the School of Drama at Expressions Learning Arts Academy, my dear friend, the inimitable Scot Davis!

And last, but certainly not least, as a cynical stockbroker, not to repeat myself, and as the Pope, and as Satan, and in a role he was born to play as Doubting Thomas, direct from the Tabernacle of Hedonism, the creator of  “Nothing,” the author of  Uummu and Audience, the one, the only Tom Miller!

And, oh, yes, me, I’m Shamrock McShane. I wrote the play. I’ll be playing Judas Iscariot.

And God, of course.

We want to print a new edition to more prominently feature the artwork of Mike Garvin and this fabulous blurb from MPB.

McShane writes like a master swordsman, cool and elegant, but in an instant so swift and deadly that the reader’s preconceived ideas on a wide range of subjects are splayed open. His fearlessness is shocking.

Hall of Fools is a nonfiction novel about American public education. If you want to know what it’s like to teach in a public school for one whole year – or thirty – or any number in between, if you want to know if your children are safe in school, or if they’re learning anything and who is teaching it to them, if you’re brave enough, enter the Hall of Fools.

Hall of Fools is the story of public education, seen through the prism of a thirty-year career teaching Language Arts in middle school. This searing first-hand account of writing in the trenches finds its literary kin in Hemingway, Proust, Marx, a noble heritage extending to the ancients, enlisted to battle in the war on ignorance. Race, politics, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, unions, sex, gender, violence, crime, love, hate, history, all must pass through the Hall of Fools.

You should read this book before you send your kid to school, before you run for office, before you decide to be a teacher, before your next faculty meeting, before you write a book, before you read Proust.

Hall of Fools author and illustrator

Everywhere is Nowhere

Dystopia, also known as Trump World, where Nestor and Persephone discover that everywhere is nowhere. They live in a swampurbia, just outside Hadesville, nestled between the University and gator-infested Finnegans Lake, mismatched in age, debt-ridden, shackled to their children, whom they alternately neglect and damage with the best of intentions. That’s when the trouble starts and sex comes into play – for pay!

It’s All Good

What went down when the War Play hit home.

Controversy and more controversy. Everywhere we go, it follows us, or we meet up with it somehow. I’m talking about the USA, and the story of our rabble-rousing play America’s New War and all the trouble we stirred up commemorating 9/11/2001 on 9/11/2002 by predicting the next ten years. Rare footage of The Palace and the show-stopping climax, with commentary by playwright/director Jessica Arnold and performances by Scot Davis, Josh Lederman, Teague Johnson, Arturo Escamila, Rose Godfrey, Phil Godwin, Gregg Jones, Bobby McAfee, Jake Seymour, Karla Berkelhammer, and Bill DeYoung.

This review nails it:

‘Art imitates life imitates war’

By Lenny Pollack
The Real Deal

The chronicle of a year-long experimental theater project by a ragtag group of college-town playwrights, poets and people squatting comfortably on the Bohemian fringe, “It’s All Good” is as confusing as it is intriguing: It’s easy to like these guys, who believe their play about post 9-11 America is making a serious statement, even though none of them seem to know just what that statement is. Or what it all really means.

The facts are these: Gainesville, Florida playwrights Timothy “Shamrock” McShane and Jessica Arnold wrote “America’s New War Strikes Back” as a response to TV news’ blind acceptance of, and jingoistic approach to, George W. Bush’s declaration of war on terrorists after the World Trade Center attacks.

 “It’s All Good” traces the evolution of the play, from staged readings to workshops to rehearsals that literally took place on streetcorners.

Along the way, it grew, and what began as a series of simple dialogues in McShane’s notebook became physical comedy, musical satire and dark drama, with an ever-changing cast fine-tuning an ever-changing script.

“It was a Frankenstein monster with a life of its own, that we couldn’t control,” says one actor in the film. “And we didn’t really care to.”

Indeed, the freewheeling, exhilarating rush of creative liberty is what comes across loud and clear in this film’s talking-head interviews with the principals: Every day meant trying something new, making the project better, more fun, and ideally, more profound.

Ironically, that’s what killed it. “America’s New War Strikes Back” ended on Sept. 11, 2002, as the troupe did its thing in front of a boozy crowd of fraternity brothers in a downtown Gainesville nightclub.

The ‘bros took offense at McShane and Arnold’s irreverent dialogue, and the play’s characterizations of Jesus, Satan and various governmental boobs, and decided the whole thing was un-American.

The company was booed off the stage, and freedom of speech – something the play, with its combination of apolitical cynicism, hard-hearted liberalism and poolroom wit, had championed – took a hit as direct as the Twin Towers had on that same terrible day one year earlier.

In the end, of course, that’s what it all really means: Even in theater, where dreams, imagination and fantasy collide, reality never sleeps.

“It’s All Good” is a fascinating look at the yin, the yang and the space between.

The Votive Pit

The Votive Pit, where the American dream of public education turns nightmare, featuring an indelible performance by Sara Morsey and a stellar cast including Scot Davis, Rachel Ianelli, Julie Tidwell, and Erica Corbett. Cinematography by Luke Zarzecki and James T. Henri. Music by, dig this, Tom Miller, Vini and the Demons, Edan Archer, Spellbox, D.D.Chrome, Jesse Schlactman, and the Forefathers. Animation by Josh Lederman. I can’t believe you don’t have a copy of this, but if you don’t, here’s your chance to own your very own.

Worth it? You bet, but don’t take my word for it. Read what Bill DeYoung said:

Pits and Pendulai

Florida playwright Shamrock McShane specializes in characters whose hopeful worldviews are poisoned and ultimately choked by the insane realities of contemporary life. He creates idealists who become cynics who become desperate when a single compromise inevitably leads to chaos.

Chaos, that is, that they knew was coming and were helpless to deflect.

McShane wrote “The Votive Pit,” a drama about de–sensitization and despair in the American public school system, after putting a lid on his own lengthy career as a middle school English teacher. So he knows firsthand what the disillusioned teachers here are talking about: Kids are out of control, the equipment sucks, administrators are fools, and the old promise that every child will get the best darn education possible is as useless as Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement.

But all is not dark and pessimistic in McShane’s story, and in this wonderfully–crafted film version by the playwright’s son Mike. The chief protagonists, Odyssey Middle School instructors Edna (Sara Morsey) and “Bald Man” (the nickname given to the dangerously unscrewed science teacher, portrayed by the playwright himself) are given to bursts of great humor; it’s gallows humor, to be sure, but it sure leavens the lamentations over the violence and altogether great apathy that pervade the school system.

“Being a teacher is like being the captain of a ship at sea,” someone observes early on. “No one can help you.” This is immediately followed by an announcement over the school’s omnipresent P.A. system: “Mr. Jonah — Please give us your location?”

Also great fun to watch is Scot Davis as the history teacher Dedalus, who likes to get up in front of his class in character, and appears in everyone’s dream sequence with a different story to tell.

Then there’s Wendy, the school’s platitude–spewing vice principal, played by Julie Tidwell with a combination of smiley–faced corporate blandness and coquettish sweetness. “Thank you for sailing a steady ship,” she cluelessly intones during her morning announcements.

For a low–budget film shot on video, “The Votive Pit” is eminently watchable. Shot in a real middle school in Gainesville, Florida, it is superbly lit, with sound that never falters and bold, professional camerawork. The editing, too, is first–rate. It never feels like you’re watching somebody’s film–class home movie; that’s a lesson for all budding filmmakers.

Like most of Shamrock McShane’s work, “The Votive Pit” will make you think, and it’ll make you mad. This film version will do both, and it’ll also make you want to show it to somebody else who’ll get it.

Bill DeYoung Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

Amazon.com: The Votive Pit: Movies & TV

You Are Not Frank Sinatra

Take a trip down Memory lane to the No memories Lounge. Here gather the poets, truth-seekers, philosophers, lovers, and singers, for what Rimbaud called “The deliberate disordering of the Senses.” Fact and Fiction blur on a quaint strip of University Avenue for a moment in May, 2007, when the Shamrock Pub faded into oblivion. Filmed on location at the Center of the Universe in Gainesville, Florida at the immortal Shamrock Pub, starring Robert Dean Mowry and Tom Miller, with Gregg Jones, Sara Morsey, Adam Shaw , Ashley Gregg, Bobby McAfee, Robyn Berg, David Maas, Phil Godwin, Carolyne Salt, Jake Seymour, and Robyn Berg.

Robert Dean Mowry and Greg Lucey in Play Money, directed by Patrick O’Gara, Red Barn Theatre, Key West

Play Money

A plumbing contractor is visited by his dead father’s ghost, who asks him for a loan. The cheap bastard refuses and turns into a pig. The Pig meets a Weasel, who fleeces him and kills him. Act Two takes place in Heaven.

Marjorie Cordially and the Rhyming Machine

Marjorie Cordially and her young assistant Kevin the Seven (Year-Old) are confronted by Mr. Gravelvoice, who can’t understand the beauty of rhymes.

Rock Beauty

Shamrock McShane at his most scurrilous, adopting the fictional voice of one Squirrel, a retired Navy submarine Chief, now spending his retirement as a fixture at the bar of the West Key Bar in Key West.

“Rock Beauty comes out of Key West, where certain men have gone beyond ordinary modes of self-destruction into a specie of second-power survival. Things not obviously bad for you are the most suspect of all. There is a kind of redemption in a vision of folk who refuse to be redeemed and therefor redeeming.” – Padgett Powell

“In detail, Rock Beauty remains fascinating and full of life.” – Donald Justice

“Shamrock McShane has wit and daring and a good grasp of the principles of drama.” – David Mamet

A pair of plays written for Joe Argenio and the Fable Factory

Androcles and the Lion

The Princess and the Pea

In the year of the plague there has been Reading:

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

A close read, and my second. I have entered “The Cities of the Plain”, midway through Volume Two. I first read this novel at the turn of the century, when I was half a century old. I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

A close read, also my second, the first having occurred in Key West all summer and fall of 1979, when the characters captivated me, but I had no idea then of the mastery with which Tolstoy pulled it off. It’s a good thing I became immersed in Shakespeare during the interim, acting in his plays, or I never would have been prepared for what Tolstoy can do, how he knows. He goes about a scene knowing its complete dialectic, how it plays out not only in the mind of this or that character at the precise moment when they might reveal the very contradictions inside them that propel the plot and make it a world that we as well then live in. He’s magical. Proust is too, but I knew that the first time around, when he changed my life.

These various, myriad incidents, hundreds of them, that comprise War and Peace are compiled in Tolstoy’s mind. In there these things happened, these events took place, these actions occurred, these scenes unfolded. Pierre shot Dolokoff in a duel, so Tolstoy decided to depict it from Pierre’s point of view, but it is not quite as Pierre himself would tell it, because Tolstoy shows Pierre’s unconscious at work, all the forces of which Pierre is unaware, while at the same time noting significant details of the setting, the weather, anything, the totality and meaning of what happened – which really all happened in Tolstoy’s mind! There is no Pierre, no Dolokoff. There was a Napoleon and a war. That much is real. But the mystery and marvel of it is that all the rest of it seems just as real.

Not only what happened, but what didn’t, the missed opportunities, Rostov missing his chance to befriend the Emperor, Andrey missing his chance to know Napoleon, Pierre missing his chance to avoid the duel.

Shakespeare is human to us, those of us who are Stratfordians – because he was an actor and a man of the theatre and a businessman, all of which require a degree of conviviality.

Proust is human to anyone who reads his Search – because only a human like ourselves could feel envy and jealousy and thwarted hopes the way the narrator does.

But Tolstoy is strange.

Tolstoy writes this during the 1860’s. He’s going to live another 40 years. He’s going to be someone else, someone completely different, by the end.

Capital, Volume Two

We get to watch this play out in real time as the pandemic first reveals who the essential workers are, and then the capitalists try to explain why raising the minimum wage will ruin everything.

Pentateuch

The first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

They are called the Books of Moses, although clearly, as Spinoza pointed out, they could not have been written by Moses.

On to Joshua. God commands the Israelites to conquer cities, murder the inhabitants, and burn the place to the ground, destroy the cattle and crops. Their crime? They worship other gods. They believe in them for a reason – they exist, these gods, and Israel’s God is at war with them.

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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?