Author Archives: Shamrock McShane

About Shamrock McShane

Shamrock McShane, writer, actor, and teacher, taught in Florida public schools for more than 30 years. A Shakespearean-trained actor as well as a prize-winning playwright, his roles include Mercutio, Macbeth, Prospero, and most recently Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. As a screenwriter collaborating with his son, the director Mike McShane, his films include The Votive Pit, You Are Not Frank Sinatra, and It's All Good.

In the Time of the Plague

Shamrock McShane

Seven Sides of Shakespeare

a film by Tom Miller

In the Time of the Plague. Everyone is wearing a mask, including the ACTOR, whose mask proclaims Chicago Cubs. He’s from Chicago. And he’s a long way from Chicago. He’s old now too and the plague is a special threat to him. Not just because it might kill him, but because it has already killed his way of life. There’s nothing special about his predicament. It’s happening everywhere. People kept saying the theatre is dead, the theatre is dead, and when it finally died they realized it had been alive all that time, and now they try to revive it, like Krapp listening to his last tape. So, he’s looking back, in the foreground is Chicago and his own crooked path that leads south into a swamp, but constantly and gloriously thrusting into the picture is Shakespeare’s theatre, the one in Shakespeare’s mind, the one with a company of actors of which the ACTOR is now one. And the characters that Shakespeare wrote start to blend with actors who played them and he remembers his hero, Patrick, who directed Shakespeare like a maestro, and he remembers his best friends, Romeo and Tybalt, only he knew them better as Greg and Bob, he remembers Sid, the Shakespeare scholar brave enough to stage the plays. He has another life beyond the stage, in the home he is, for the most part like many, confined to, with his wife and two restless boys. He had a life he lived for decades before as a lowly public-school teacher, in thrall to Shakespeare and thus elevated in spirit above the mundane mendacity of power. He is old, but hanging in there like a rusty fishhook, vulnerable, but defiant. He goes out there and bares his soul. Howls. He’s been at it a long time, long enough to get good at it. He’s lived seven lives in Shakespeare’s mind and in his own, and there will likely be no more after this because the ACTOR is old, and the play takes place in the time of the plague. He’s half a dozen years into retirement, with nothing left to lose but his life. The life of his world has ended. Ironically, they had just closed the play when the plague shut all the theatres down and quarantines went into effect. It had all happened before. To Shakespeare. He retreated to the theatre in his mind. He always wrote parts with the actors of his own company in mind, so his friends were there in his mind then too. He wrote Lear then, which is an apocalyptic play. So is this. A man alone, sometimes on a stage and sometimes the stage disappears. The ACTOR takes off his mask and speaks to the audience in his mind.

SEVEN SIDES OF SHAKESPEARE is now in pre-production.

In Black & White & Color, Chapter 9

(What you are about to read is nearing the conclusion of a jumbled first/second draft, seemingly haphazard, disconnected and confusing, but there’s only one more chapter to go and I feel like I’m starting to find my voice.)

If Dan had been killed in that crash, it would’ve been sad as hell, but it would have been well-deserved. He was a little asshole who had it coming. It was just lucky he hadn’t killed anybody in the other car.

They weren’t hurt. Their car wasn’t even too badly damaged. They merely grazed the rear end of the gold Chrysler as it flashed past them, a blur, and sent it spinning into the traffic light, which toppled and crashed in a rain of sparks streaming straight along the rainbow streak that trailed from the gas tank and BOOM.

If Dan had burned to death, trapped in the car, there being no Hell, that would’ve been hell, and justice would’ve been served, punishment meted out, for cheating on Patty Dooley, quitting the Section Meet, getting caught from behind on the 8 yard-line, losing to Larry Sullivan when he could’ve out-boxed him, throwing the ball into the dugout to blow the game they had won in the Village Baseball Championship, losing his mother’s high school ring, writing the names of his grandparents’ in the in memoriam section of his first missal that he got for his Confirmation, when they weren’t dead yet, and then losing the missal after stupidly bringing it with him while adventuring in the construction site of the Congress Expressway, for stealing all that change from his father’s glass pooch, and last, but certainly not least, for whacking off.

Whacked for whacking off. By fate. By pure hazard. By dumb luck. For all the bad shit he did, for all the stupid-ass mistakes he’d made, he was undoubtedly one lucky motherfucker.

What the fuck did he care if the Cubs fell apart? That was on them. It always was. Or if Floyd Patterson was destroyed by Sonny Liston or if Sonny Liston was murdered? What did he care if Nixon was President or if Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. got shot to death, or Fred Hampton, or those eight nurses Richard Peck stabbed and killed, or a million people in Vietnam?

If it wasn’t hazard, it may perhaps have been an instance of God’s grace.

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

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

A single blade of grass can be the whole world.

That’s what it was like to be in love.

The ambiguous ending of The Magus.

The ambiguous ending of Citizen Kane.

What does it all mean?

What do you want it to mean?

It can mean anything? Then what does it matter?

Is that the same question, or another one?

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

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

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.

To watch Joseph Cotton as Jed Leland, Kane’s best friend, was like looking in a mirror and a crystal ball. Leland and Kane were both at heart cynics, but Kane’s cynicism was on an entirely different plane than Jedediah’s, and that was the way it was with Gas-man and Dan.

I assume you’re showing me all these things for a reason.

No reason. I’m not showing you anything. You’re just tagging along.

Jed Leland defies Kane, finally, and they are through.

Nothing is more frightening than a labyrinth with no center to it.

We lie all the time with words, but it’s a lot harder with actions. Not just false moves. Those are just mistakes. Actions meant to deceive.

Make it look like something else happened.

Where you going to college?

I duno.

Seriously.

Seriously, I don’t know.

You’ve thought about it.

Not really.

Don’t be a wiseacre.

I’m not. That’s the point.

Have you applied anywhere?

No.

Running out of time.

I’ve ruled out all the Ivy League schools and West Point.

You’d never get in.

That’s why I ruled them out.

Notre Dame?

Never get in.

Champagne?

Maybe.

Then you have thought about it.

I don’t want to go too far away.

Downstate is too far away?

I’m scared.

Of what?

Life. Change. Distance. Time. Sex. Violence.

You’re afraid of sex?

Afraid I’ll fuck it up.

So what? Wake up.

That was all a dream?

You ok now?

Think so. No. Probably not.

You gonna be ok?

No. But it’s ok. Everything’s ok. You can just let things happen. They’re going to happen anyway. Who knows what’s going to happen? No one knows what’s going to happen.

Sure they do. They know the sun’s going to come up and go down. A hard rain’s agonna fall. We know that.

“If you do not become a hypocrite, you may become a man.”

Dan may have already missed the boat on that, given his treatment of Dead-Man.

Stendhal was a priest-hater, educated by the Jesuits, born in 1783. Ed Fenwick was born in 1768. Stendhal left his hometown of Grenoble for Paris, where he was going to study Math, but somehow ended up a dragoon in Napoleon’s army, from which he retired in 1814 when Napoleon blew his bone apart.

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.

Imagine paying the tuition to go to a private high school in 1929? How did a couple of immigrants pay for that? They’d only been in the country for ten years, and Gramma didn’t even speak English when she got here.

How did Grampa and Gwennie manage to send two daughters to Trinity?

“The Irish famine of 1846 killed more than a million people, but it killed poor devils only. To the wealth of the country it did not the slightest damage. England, a country with fully developed population as Ireland has suffered. But Ireland is at present only an agricultural district of England, marked off by a wide channel from the country to which it yields corn, wool, cattle, industrial and military recruits.” – Marx, Capital

Dad was born in Buffalo, New York in 1915. Pop was 22, maybe 25 at the time, putting the year of his birth in the 19th Century. He had joined up with the British army sometime before  1910 and in the next five years he travelled as far as Egypt with the army before finding himself deployed to Canada, where he snuck over the border into the United States to start a new life.

Own a restaurant?

How’d he swing that?

Hard to believe.

Tall tale.

County Cork. Egypt. Canada. Buffalo. And to wind up in Oak Park.

The direction of the Chicago River had been reversed.

Going My Way, 1944.

Perry Como.

The Music Man.

Marx was writing in 1865 about Ireland being England’s bitch, its farmland and fodder, and the excess labor was shipped off to America. Land of the Free. Thus, Ireland was depopulated, and it was just a place to get out of by the time Pop was born, a few decades after Marx saw it for what it was, capitalist addition by subtraction. Joining up with the Brits must’ve been a common ruse, so it took some guile on Pop’s part to convince the Crown of his loyalty.

The British in Egypt in 1910.

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

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

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

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

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

Dan wasn’t just a walking chaos, he was chaos running in all directions at once, exploding with conflicting desires, just like Chicagoland, like the USA, like the War!

Any regrets?

Everything. All of it.

We had seen our President shot to death.

We saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV.

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

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

He would go back and un-quit everything he quit, score that touchdown by running hard through the endzone, gobble up that grounder and make the easy throw to first. But sticking with football would be a terrible mistake. One concussion was enough.

Quitting in the North Section Meet was definitely one for the dustbin of history.

And the accident with the stoplight could have been avoided if he had not have gotten drunk.

Maybe if he had never started drinking.

It certainly wasn’t a question of God anymore.

The first black kid didn’t show up at Fenwick till 1955. He didn’t come from Chicago. He came from Melrose Park – Pizza Park. The wops had made their own suburban ghetto to keep their blacks in, and they weren’t about to let the blacks into the city pool.

Percy Julian had his home in Oak Park fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day 1951. Who did that? His home got fire-bombed twice. World’s Largest Village, 62,000 people, one black family, and in the middle of the 20th century their home gets fire-bombed twice.

If you were black and you wanted your kid to have a Catholic education, you could send your kid to St. Mel’s or St. Phillip’s.

Emmett Till was from Chicago.

Fred Hampton was assassinated.

By the Police.

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.

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

He lost his patience. He lost his temper. He lost his cool. He lost his mind. What he wanted to lose was his virginity.

“Religion lay on him like the weight of the atmosphere, 16 pounds to the square inch.” – Santayana on Dickens

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

The banshee.

You don’t understand women.

Why should I? You understand them. And you don’t like them.

That’s not true.

Which part?

A superior intellect, bearing, pedigreed, sophisticated, and then to casually drop into the middle of the conversation the word faggot.

Excuse me?

I’m sorry?

I should hope so.

You find yourself wondering whether she would do it, your working-class Catholic girlfriend, Patty Dooley? No. Bill Ayers’ petit-bourgeois girlfriend. Would she wrap a hand grenade in her skirt and blow up the draft board?

Is she bourgeois?

Very.

And his father is CEO of Commonwealth Edison?

The kid’s a class traitor.

“Artists do not stem from their childhood, but from their conflict with the mature achievement of other artists; not from their own formless world, but from the struggle with the forms which others have imposed on life.” – Andre Malraux, Psychology of Art

Daniel was an artist. He may not have been a very good one, but he was an artist nonetheless, and his world had no form. He was in conflict with the forms imposed on his life, the ones that kept shifting the focus, that kept the kaleidoscope flashing from black and white to color.

Malraux’s theory is contra Freud. Not childhood? That was where it all came from, the essence of personality, of being. Instead, all shaped by art? Isn’t it pretty to think so?

He was a bad artist – because he closed his eyes.

He was a bad artist because he hadn’t written anything, painted anything, acted any role except in deceit, deceiving himself.

A tissue of lies.

Living tissue.

“Irish genius discovered an altogether new way of spiriting a poor people thousands of miles away from the scene of its misery. The exiles, transported to the United States, send home travelling expenses for those left behind. Every troop that emigrates one year draws another after it in the next. Thus, instead of costing Ireland anything, emigration forms one of the most lucrative branches of its export trade.” – Marx, Capital

The man from Ireland meets the woman from Germany. Pop meets Gramma. They have a son. He goes to Fenwick.

The man from Germany meets the woman from Ireland. Gwennie meets Grampa. They have two daughters. They go to Trinity.

These are the origins.

The picaresque adventures of Pop were known, and the family tree of Gwennie’s Collins’ ancestry was documented and framed, traceable for generations, but not much was known of the German half of the equation, of Gramma’s life before she became an indentured servant, an illegal alien same as Pop, nor of Wilhelm Schmidt before he became a mechanic for the West Town Bus Company.

What the Germans call a bildungsroman, a novel about the development of a youth.

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

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

The movies, as an art form, were born in 1908, given birth by one racist motherfucker, D.W. Griffin. Between 1908 and 1929 movies were made by Americans, Germans, and Russians.

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus. Daniel knelt before the Stations of the Cross and tried to contrive a personal meaning for each, and here Veronica was clearly offering solace, so, in Daniel’s version, Ronnie was absolving him of all guilt for cheating on Patty Dooley.

That’s a stretch.

We’re not married. And we’re not going to get married. And if she never finds out about it, what’s the difference?

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

There’s a difference between the facts and the truth. The facts are part of the truth, but the truth is bigger than the facts, encompasses the facts. The facts are bound up in the truth and the truth is bound up in the facts. They are inextricable, but they are not the same. The facts are the material basis of the truth. The facts have to be established, have to be assembled, which facts and where and how do they fit together. You’re not done just because you’ve got a few facts. That’s where you start.

Sherlock Holmes would gather facts and assemble them simultaneously.

“The objection to introducing a mentally disturbed person into a drama, whether as criminal or victim, is that he or she is by definition a wild card in the deck, unfair artistically, since anything can happen, also severely limiting the meaning, since madness is eccentric, in the literal sense of being outside the central human experience as well as being impenetrable to all but psychiatric specialists.” – Dwight Macdonald

Maybe we’re not so crazy after all.

Birth of a Nation 1915, the same year his dad was born, bringing into the world montage, close-ups, and fading in and fading out, all in service to ideas that were racist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago was the next best thing. Second City.

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

Sometimes they do.

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

Ben-Hur 1960. Color.

Lilies of the Field 1963. Black and white.

Hard Day’s Night 1965. Black and white.

Greatest Story Ever Told 1965. Color.

Help 1967. Color.

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

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

Danny-Boy “graduated” from Carroll pre-school on May 25, 1956.                                                

“Remembrance of My First Communion.” November 27, 1958.

Prayer before an image of a Crucifix. Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus.

Danny had just turned 7, the age of reason. It’s a stretch to think he could read it, much less that he would. Maybe if he got bored enough. They give you stuff like this to read in church, where you can’t just whip out a comic book.

We have a story here, purportedly true, about a poor Italian boy. We don’t know his name, and we don’t know that he’s Italian. We’ll have to figure that out for ourselves later on when his identity is revealed. For starters, he’s just a poor boy who is walking home a long distance without shoes – by choice. Because he wants to save his parents from the necessity of buying him new shoes for as long as he can. He’s a sweetheart.

He’s a fucking saint.

And where’s he walking home from?

School? He goes to school?

Of course he goes to school. He also works in the field – when he’s not in school. It’s either school or work in the field for this kid. And when he works in the field, he doesn’t wear his shoes there either. Same reason. And one day he’s out there, working in the field, and he hears the church bell ring.

They ring them on the hour?

No. They ring them when a priest is about to say Mass. And everybody knows this, and somehow the kid also knows that there is no altar boy there at the church to assist the priest, so he can say Mass properly. Probably he could say it by himself, even for himself, like if he were stranded on a desert island or in prison.

Hey, what’re you doing in there, you’re not saying Mass, are you?

What if he could just do it in his head?

What about the kid?

He runs barefoot all the way to the church. But when he gets there he’s got to borrow another boy’s shoes.

And that boy is a saint.

In God’s eyes, yes, undoubtedly, but canonized? No. But our boy, our boy in the borrowed shoes who ran all that way to serve Mass, he’s inspired. He wants to be a priest, but his family is so poor they can’t afford to send him to the seminary. An education costs money. Priests come from wealthy families. But our boy works so hard, he’s so devoted, studies hard, so they give him a scholarship. He becomes a priest. He gives everything he has to the poor. He serves God and the faithful and becomes a bishop.

A monsignor while on a journey happened to visit the church of a bishop, and he stayed the night. And the next morning the bishop himself cooked his breakfast for him, even though he outranked him, because he was showing humility, like Jesus. He could’ve pulled rank, but he didn’t. That’s just the kind of guy he was.

Little did they know that each of them would become Pope one day.

All of it made Dan gag. Well, something made him gag. The host. The wafer. The “little bread”.

They hadn’t practiced that part. They practiced everything else, but there was no practicing that, the actual welcoming of the Lord and Savior under your roof – the roof of your mouth, where He got a little stuck. They had practiced walking in a line in an orderly manner and dipping the fingers of your right hand in the holy water and blessing yourself with the sign of the cross and genuflecting and entering the pew, but there was no practice swallowing sweet Jesus – because that would’ve been a sacrilege and you’d burn in Hell.

So, presumably a child would have to wait until the actual mystical experience to know how his untutored and traitorous body would react to the presence of Almighty God in the person of the good and gentle Jesus hiding Himself in a little bread.

Don’t chew Him! One’s teeth must never touch the Host.

Why was it called the Host? Like the host of a party? It’s just a wafer.

That’s the miracle. Looks like a wafer, but it’s really the Body of Christ.

His body, not his blood. His blood’s in the chalice that the priest drinks from. His blood’s the wine. The wine’s His blood. The priest gets that.

Secretly, the altar boys would sample both, the wafers and the wine. The whole backstage area of the church reeked of red wine, until it would be overpowered on occasion by the pungent smell of incense burning.

sic est: acerba fata Romanos agunt
        scelusque fraternae necis,
ut immerentis fluxit in terram Remi
        sacer nepotibus cruor. 

‘Tis so: a bitter fate pursues the Romans
        and the crime of a brother’s murder,
ever since blameless Remus’ blood was spilt upon the ground,
        to be a curse upon posterity.  (Horace, Epodes 7. 17-20)

The crying room was a room behind glass, with pews just like the rest of the church, but walled-off, where families with crying babies could attend Mass without disturbing the prayerful peace of others.

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

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

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

Dan and his fellow communicants were born shackled to an original sin. That was what started it all, the first sin, the first mistake, and after that we were all fucked. We were addicted to sinning, couldn’t get enough of it, sinners all, generation after generation. It wasn’t anything Dan thought up. He didn’t invent it. He inherited it.

Primitive accumulation. The capital to get it all started had to come from somewhere. It had a starting point.

“Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race,” – Marx

Capital’s faux-biblical fable is that of the grasshopper and the ant, the capitalist being the ant and the rest of us poor schlubs the grasshoppers.

In reality, in history, what we find leading up to Dan’s birth is conquest, enslavement, racism, exploitation, theft, brute force, and murder.

And when Father White placed the Host upon his tongue and Dan took the Lord Jesus into his mouth, he was careful not to touch Jesus with his teeth, but nobody had told him that you had to let Jesus melt in your mouth like an M&M before you tried to swallow Him, so, when Dan attempted to draw Jesus down his gullet by means of peristalsis, the circumference of the disc exceeded the aperture, and he started to choke on the fucking thing.

Jesus! Jesus Fucking Christ! Sweet Jesus, help me!

Mother Imelda was patting him on the back.

Daniel, are you all right?

He didn’t want to cough Jesus up. He wanted to say I’m ok, but he couldn’t because he wasn’t. Why wasn’t this happening to anyone else?

Turned out that history wasn’t the way it was depicted on The Flintstones. You could not go back in time and find cavemen who have to go to work for a boss and earn a paycheck. And we human beings weren’t two separate camps of ants and grasshoppers either. Dan’s stock had been serfs and sharecroppers, and if they ever had anything of real value, they lost it, ceded it to greater worldly powers.

Orson Welles was born in 1915 too.

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

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

In the 14th century in England, more people lived off land that was theirs than those who worked for somebody else. You got that? More people worked for themselves than worked for somebody else. They pretty much lived like shit. All of them. The good life was in the castle, and even that wasn’t so hot.

Gwennie was taking him to Marshall Fields’ to see the Christmas displays in the windows and then go inside to escalate from floor to floor, each a different world, rising to the top, and there was Santa Claus.

The proliferation of Santa Clauses was puzzling, troubling, but the conflict was suppressed, set aside, not unlike the trepidations of Jesus hiding himself in a little bread.

You could for a time follow a false god. Or gods.

Was there no inkling of it at the time?

No, none. Yes. There was. And it grew.

That’s called guilt.

What should I do, see a shrink?

You think you can get rid of it?

I don’t know.

You can’t. Accept it. Live with it. Face up to it.

Forgive myself.

Don’t forgive yourself. You don’t need to be forgiven. And you don’t need to be punished.  Both are true.

Guilt is both crime and punishment.

Gas-man always seemed older than the other kids. He wasn’t taller than they were. He was short and pudgy, with chubby cheeks. It was his demeanor and the way he carried himself that fooled everybody into thinking he was really a middle-aged man, with the Chicago Tribune and the National Review under his arm, wearing rubbers over his shoes, and keeping a handkerchief in his pocket. The fact that he was 12 years old was generally overlooked.

“Living is what a man thinks about all day.” – Emerson

The house was like a castle itself. Dan lived in a castle, a red-brick, two-story corner house with a yard and a two-car garage.

Mom had lusted after that house for years, and then she was working in the real estate office when the listing appeared. She didn’t pray for the house. She wasn’t crass. But she wanted the house. It was so near to the church and the school and Oak Park Avenue and the bank and the shops.

What could possibly have inspired this woman, his mother, to write a fan letter to George Wallace, and to tell the world’s most famous and dangerous racist about her talented young son who was about to graduate from grammar school?

Let’s take a wild guess – racism?

How could Mom be a racist?

Easy. It wasn’t like she had to buck a trend. It would have been hard for her not to be a racist.

That would’ve been the hard thing to do, and then how would her marriage work, considering she was married to as racist a man as any in town. Dad didn’t even like Pollocks. He didn’t like Bohunks either, whoever they were. It was funny.

It wasn’t funny.

It was and was not funny.

Casual racism.

Intense racism.

You can’t have it both ways.

Sure you can.

What did she write him?

Who knows?

George Wallace. He was touched. He responded personally. Mom was an admirer of George Wallace. Mom, who made Danny’s lunch to take to school and put it in a paper sack, and he could smell his peanut butter and jelly sandwich mixed with aroma of the brown paper and it made him think of his mother making his lunch and he loved her, and she had written a letter to the biggest racist in the land and she must’ve told George Wallace how much a few words of encouragement would mean to young Daniel.

That was nice of him, wasn’t it, Daniel?

I guess.

When someone goes out of their way to do something nice for you, you should appreciate it.

I do.

Why do you think he wrote you?

Because you wrote him.

You see?

See what?

You have to do something. Pick up your pen and write a letter to someone.

She was insane. His father was insane. His brother was in Vietnam. His sister was in college. His younger brother was being retarded. Literally. Dilantin was retarding him. Mom became Den Mother for a troop of Cub Scouts just so Brendan could maybe possibly make some friends.

It was all so tragically wrong it was funny.

His big brother. What did it mean to be born in 1942 instead of 1951? It made a world of difference. Dad was 27, Mom was 22. There was a world war going on.

Dad was in Fenwick’s first graduating class, 1932, but he didn’t go to college. He graduated from the school of hard knocks, he said, and he rose to second lieutenant in the Army. They got married in 1940, when he was 25 and she was 20.

Dan’s sister was born in 1946, after the war was over.

Dad was with the Army in Manilla when the war ended in1945.

Danny found out there was a school called Knox College and he figured that was where his dad had gone to school.

It was like the stone bass. When Danny was little and they were at Lake Lawn for their two-weeks of wish fulfillment in the cottages near the golf course and the lake and the lodge, and Dad and Danny would in the evening stroll down to the pier and Dad would talk to all the folks fishing, and Danny wanted to fish too. So, so one time Danny brought his little toy fishing pole with him and Dad tied a stone around the end the line and told Danny they were fishing for stone bass.

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

McCormack Place. Robert McCormack. He was like Citizen Kane, in love with an opera singer, so he built the Chicago Opera House for her.

Go down in the basement and play a game of pool, drink a beer. A game of pocket billiards, as perfected by Willie Mosconi. Dad was a Mosconi man all the way, smooth, knew all the angles, how to apply english to make a ball hug the rail.

The pool table was magnificent, full length, with firm cushions and pristine green felt stretched over slate, and a ball return all made of dark wood. with chutes that ran underneath the table and emerged at the foot where they could be gathered and racked. If you were a little boy, you could crawl underneath the table and watch the balls rolling home when Dad or Pop made a shot. And they made a lot. They were good. They could run the table.

Dad was the best player by far. They were the same skills he applied to golf and at the draughting table. And he could throw a football with a spiral and snap to it. Maybe he really did score Fenwick’s first touchdown. He could ice skate. He would go and skate with Danny and his sister and big brother when Carroll playground was flooded and frozen over. He could swim. He could draw. He was an artist. He read books. Nonfiction. History. He read and subscribed to Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, The Tribune, and Sun-Times, and he brought the Daily News him from work to read on the el. He knew how to fold a newspaper properly to read it on the el, folding it vertically, not horizontally.

The Dominicans cast about for a name to call the order’s new school in Oak Park. Saint Dominic might have come to mind. It’s 1929, the Depression is coming on. The Church, championed by the Dominicans in its fight against racism in the suburbs – not racism against blacks, mind you, racism against Catholics. So, they’re going to set up shop in Oak Park, bastion of WASPs to prove their worth, intellectually, athletically, and above all, morally.

Ed Fenwick cashed in his slaves in 1800. He didn’t set them free, he sold them. Some of them he kept for a while to work for him, to slave for him. It was slaves that built the first priory.

There was no racism at Fenwick, nor had there been any at Ascension. In fact, there wasn’t any racism in Oak Park – because there was only one race there.

Self-denying fanaticism

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

There were no cameras then.

When?

Before there were cameras. The camera is new in human history, and before it came along there was no way to preserve or record what people really looked like, besides painting and sculpture, which are necessarily subjective, and poetry and prose could really describe someone with factually accuracy enough so that you could see the person, all of that would be practically useless in the future to anybody who wanted to know not just what Grampa looed like or looked like in his youngers days, but what you yourself looked like, no way to verify, if just for yourself, that you used to be good-looking or trim. Everybody and everything was more present tense in the past.

Because of the camera. 1860.

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

Camp. Seeing the world as aesthetic phenomenon.

Others to be held in intellectual contempt.

Her point was that interpretation misses reality.

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

At one time they had a football team at the University of Chicago. The school was founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1890.

Gas-man was a master book thief, so good he never got caught, and his appetite for books required constant replenishing.

Meanwhile, Dad graduated from graduated from bourgeois to capitalist. The old-fashioned way – he earned it. Not really, it had always been there waiting for him, pot of gold at then end of the rainbow, and he retired early from Com Ed and started his own business, marketing a heating and cooling system of his own design.

How demoralizing was it for Dad to know that his most talented and promising offspring was really a wastrel, a lazy, impetuous, irresponsible profligate prodigal son, whom he still loved, which only made it hurt all the more.

And why? Because Dan’s mind was incapable of doing anything but wish.

A wish and a prayer

Against Interpretation 1966

To be religious was to be sick.

The moment you question the meaning of life, your mind is sick, because there is none.

Master and slave – neither one is free.

There was no way his mother and sister were going to miss Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Dan would go too, because if you went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve then you didn’t have to go to Mass on Christmas Day, like it was some loophole.

Surprisingly, it was his older brother, not Gas-man, who was first to voice his disdain for organized religion. Ciaran called Mass the Big Show and soon Dan had twisted that into meaning you should arrive late and leave early. He started going to a different Mass than his parents. They always went to 10 o’clock Mass, so he would go to 11, arrive late, entering through the vestibule, dipping his fingers in the holy water at the entrance to the pews, walk all the way up the side aisle, enter the pews nearest the side door near the baptismal fount, and leave early, only to wander around aimlessly, into the courtyard between the church and school, where the kids would play at recess, amble past the kindergarten classroom and peek in at the room his peers had occupied but he had not, past the gym, and following the alley all the way to Van Buren and the expressway, before heading home with the crowd that streamed from church past the house on Euclid.

There were apartment buildings along the street that looked onto the Congress Expressway, and they included secluded hallways that were ways to get from the front of the building to the alley, straight through, with a lightbulb glowing at either end, where a kid could duck in to take a shortcut or hide or smoke a cigarette or make out with his girlfriend.

In eighth grade would take Brenda Sloan by the hand and they slipped into the hallway and made out for a record time. Later that year he would duck in all by himself and extract an English Oval from its flat box and smoke it.

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

Tweaking your pleasure principle sufficiently to keep it in line with the reality principle meant a transubstantiation of pleasure into something else.

There was a way around this reality principle – a place called Fantasy.

Midnight Mass. Snow and ice and the cold air that held your breath in a white cloud before letting it go. When a kid first hears that music that Tchaikovsky wrote for The Nutcracker, forget Jesus and Bethlehem, and plug in Santa, and forevermore Christmas is magic.

The world Dan encountered, the one his older brother and sister were living in when he arrived, was shaped by the Holocaust and America’s desperate attempt to catch up in the perpetration of evil, retaliating by vaporizing two cities in  Japan, racism mushrooming into the sky, and the smoke had hardly cleared when Dan turned up, in the middle of the century, in the middle of America, in the bosom of his family and the absolute security that none of it could touch him, that it had nothing to do with him, and it didn’t, he was an innocent babe, and it would take years for him to become complicit.

Of course, you have the right to pray, for all the good it’s going to do you, but what about God’s right not to have to listen to all your shit? Doesn’t God have any rights? How many more prayers does God have to listen to before you finally shut the fuck up? God only knows.

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

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

The birth control pill was approved in 1960.

Never trust anyone over 30. That was bad advice. His dad would often recount the apocryphal story of the father who sets his young son, just a few years old, on the mantel, and tells him to “jump – dad will catch you,” and when the kid jumps, dad steps back, and the kid falls flat on his face, and dad says: “That’s your first lesson in business, never trust anyone.”

What’s more fucked up here? That this could be considered funny or that it could be considered good advice? Answer: Both. That was why Dad told the story, instead of setting little Danny Boy on the mantel.

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

The only way for him to be honest would be to admit that he was not honest.

The only way to gain forgiveness was to confess.

Ok. Then what?

You’re forgiven.

Feels the same.

That’s because nothing’s changed. Everything is still the same.

Everything’s going to be all right.

Everything’s fine.

Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb.

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

This place started as a colony and it turned into an empire.

There are no American colonies – unless you count Puerto Rico.

And the Virgin Islands.

And Guam.

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

Nixon was coming.

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.

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

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?

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

You’re becoming disillusioned.

Becoming?

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

She came in through the bathroom window.

Who?

Lady Madonna.

Eleanor Rigby.

Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.

Julia.

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

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

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

The world was a fine place, except for maybe two places – Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

Nagasaki.


Three places.

Chicago.

Yeah, well, you’re not from Chicago.

Oak Park.

Same thing.

Hardly. The cul-de-sacs that went up all along Austin Boulevard told you that. It told Chicagoans to keep out.

Chicagoans. You mean Blacks.

While Bergman imagines and realizes Persona in 1966.

Dan saw Bergman movies as a teenager.

Subtitled?

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

Soldiers with machine guns were on the steps of the Capitol (1968) prepared to quell riots.

On March 31 Johnson announced he was not going to run for re-election. On April 4 MLK was killed. On April 5 riots began in more than 100 cities. On June 5 Bobby Kennedy was killed.

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

That was as fucked up as anything.

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

No wonder you’re in pain. You’re a masochist. You want to be in pain. You love pain.

I wouldn’t call it love.

Guilt.

Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd 1960

Do you have to take sides?

You are forced to take a side.

How fucked up is that?

You have no choice. That’s just the way it is.

Fuck that.

Not taking a side is taking a side.

Which one?

The wrong one.

You can’t know that.

I’ve taken a side.

In the reading of biographies, it is common to encounter lives immensely more fucked up than one’s own, or so it seems.

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 truly 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?

You know everything, but you don’t understand anything. The thing is you could probably get the same impression reading the biography of your next-door neighbor, or he could reading yours. All of which is to say we really have no idea how fucked up our lives are.

On that note, I’m going to bed.

Sweet dreams.

It’s not pain. You call me a masochist, but it’s not because I love pain. I love, I need, to feel the force of it, something strong enough, sharp enough, that it hurts, enough to shock me, electrocute me, into being alive.

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.

Is it wrong to think some men should be beaten? Surely there are some men who deserve to be beaten, are there not? Unless no one deserves to be beaten. We would not say any woman deserves to be beaten. But what of us all who simply got what they had coming to them, got what they deserved, and it served them right? Someone might well deserve to be hanged, executed, put to death, but that’s not really a punishment so much as an end to punishment, terminal punishment, and short of that the infliction of physical pain is no longer thought to be justifiable punishment for any crime.

Corporeal punishment. The nuns and priests would slap you in the face.

The plane crashed shortly after take-off, killing all onboard.

That’s a blessing.

The fuck are you talking about?

At least they didn’t have to wait.

Dan’s sister Norine was a tough cookie. She wasn’t going to take any shit from anybody. His mother was the same way, but more demure, restrained. Norine was not a girly girl and she wasn’t a dyke, she was more of the tough-talking Mae West attitude. She wasn’t going to be bullied by other girls, and she wasn’t going to go for guys who were jackasses.

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

Honest by lying to yourself? You can’t be honest by lying. But by lying you may become honest. If you pretend to be a good student, to act like one, your actions may be indistinguishable from those of a real good student. They are the same, identical. Then you are a good student. What began as a lie becomes the truth.

Sophistry? Bullshit? If Dan were two people, or schizophrenic, or bi-polar, or had multiple personalities. Or did he just want to become something other than himself? Or was he perfectly normal, whatever that meant. He was definitely fucked up – because everyone was. Every human being that was alive in that moment in history was out of their fucking mind if they could rationalize and reconcile themselves to the fact that death was stalking them while at the same time they were hating and killing or praying or laughing or doing their homework. Death.

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

Gulag.                                                                                                                            

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

I’m a loser.

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

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

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

If it was awful, it was beautiful too. Just to walk along the sidewalk under the branches of those trees and past everybody’s nice house made of brick or stucco that stood proudly alight in the dark cold white of winter, just to walk.

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 Dan 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.

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

Modernism.

In the beginning there was the Church.

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.

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

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.

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 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.

Susan Sontag stole books as a teenager too.

It was Mom who loved Jimmy Cagney as George M. Cohan, who loved Mary Martin as Peter Pan, and Judy Garland and Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey, Mom, who played the piano and collected knick-knacks.

Pop must have been with the British Army just before World War One.

Gas-man wanted hardbacks, not paperbacks. Paperbacks weren’t good enough. And he had to have record albums, not 45s. And he kept the record albums in the paper sleeve they came in and there were never any scratches or even smudges because he was so careful with them, and he was an only child and his parents were divorced, so his mother was the only other human being in the house, and there was no one to ruin his things, no dogs, cats, little brothers or sisters. He lived there like an adult, with adult tastes, listening to Sinatra and Stan Goetz and Oscar Petersen and Barbra Streisand.

On a Sunday morning in early July 1961 Hemingway got up early and shot himself, took out his entire cranial vault. Twelve-gauge. He used it to shoot pigeons.

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

Hemingway’s father shot himself in the upstairs bedroom in the house in Oak Park with a .32 caliber Smith & Wesson “Long John” Civil War revolver in mid-December 1928. Dan’s dad was just starting Fenwick then.

Hemingway asked his mother for the gun.

Hemingway said he saw a lion in Africa cover 100 yards in three seconds. It took Dan 12. He thought he might be able to get a tick under 12.

Hem could find something good and clean in killing.

Come again.

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

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

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

You’ve lost that loving feeling.

Malcolm X was assassinated in February of 1965.

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

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

Danny would stage pretend basketball games in the basement, portraying the players of both

teams and announcing the play by play action.

I Feel Fine.

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.

Reading On

Allow me to Report on my Reading – because I do it seriously, closely, and high, meditating on each word and phrase, and underlining significant passages and making marginal notes, circling names and dates. Why? For fun.

I know, I preached for years to the kids I taught that reading is not fun. Things that are fun, no one needs to tell you they are fun. Instead, they tell you that things that are fun are bad for you. The true objective of reading and writing is finding that thing that you want to know. You read, not because it is fun, but for something more than to gain pleasure; you read because there’s something in there that you want, and it may be in the next sentence or on the next page, even if you can’t name what you’re looking for, with a seriousness of intent allowing you to find things you didn’t even know you were looking for, answers to questions you hadn’t asked or even thought of, all of it concentrated into its purest form, works of art, what my mentor Marvin the Marxist called Brain Candy.

Re-reading Proust killed Marvin. At just about my age (advanced), just about 20 years ago, in the weird months after 9-11, of which Marvin did not take even passing notice, so deep was his depression.

I killed Marvin actually.

No, Proust killed Marvin.

Maybe the two of us did.

In any event, Marvin killed himself.

And he was re-reading Proust.

Marvin, over the years, had become my advisor and counselor and was fully engaged in rescuing me from my crisis when my wife of 20 years walked out on me and our two young boys. Marvin cured me with a combination of Capital and In Search of Lost Time, the former to understand the world I lived in, the latter to understand the world that lived in me, the nature of possessive love corroding the beauty of existence, and all of it past, beyond redemption, over. It was a new start for me, but when Marvin, in his own desperation, having retired from teaching only to discover that without being a teacher he no longer knew who he was, turned to Proust in order to look inside himself for the answer, he found there, in his very own past, every life-altering mistake, jealousy, futile desire and passion, self-loathing, flooded back over him and drowned him. He closed himself up in his garage in his car, turned the key in the ignition, and sat there until he was gone.

So, re-reading Proust has its risks. Why do it? For fun. It won’t kill me. That’s what we’ve got the plague for. The plague will kill you. Reading Proust, in and of itself, alone, isolated from all others, is a worthwhile activity in these dark times, offering all of Proust’s lessons in a richly endowed panorama of physical, psychological, even psychical insights, at the risk of one’s mental stability, yes, as Marvin found to his extreme disadvantage, yet ironically providing just the balance these dark and turbulent times require to get from day to day, an ever-complicating seemingly endless task, one of a series of seemingly endless tasks (See: Gibbon’s Decline and Fall and the Bible), nevertheless promising a conclusion.

I am just now approaching Page 375 of Volume 1, having read the Overture and sampled the madeleine that leads back in time, having returned to Combray and childhood, and now am I deep into Swann in Love.

“All these memories, superimposed one on another, now formed a single mass, but not so far coalesced that I could not discern between them – between my oldest, my instructive memories, and  those others, inspired more recently by a taste or ‘perfume’, and finally those which were actually the memories of another person from whom I had acquired them at second hand – if not real fissures, real geological faults, at least that veining, that variegation of coloring, which in certain rocks, certain blocks of marble, points to differences of origin, age, and formation.”       (p 203)

That’s his excuse, his argument for becoming an omniscient narrator, one who then tells the story of Swann in Love, freely entering the mind and revealing the thoughts and feelings of Swann, Odette, the Verdurins and those of the clique.

Proust has prepared for this from the start, by animating and atomizing everything. Suddenly, or gradually, it’s hard to say, the universe turns magical. Everything has a mind of its own, including nature, light, objects, including the mind, and the narrator, who is capable of splitting himself in two: Marcel’s mind versus Marcel’s self, and then his selves. It’s an easy step from there to entering the mind of Francoise, the maid. This is classist, as if to subtly imply that her mind might afford the easiest access, although complex, simpler than those of her employers, but, less objectionably, because it is the one to which young Marcel can most easily and earliest gain access. The narrator knows the thoughts and motives that lie behind the habitual stratagems Francoise uses in her relations with Aunt Leonie, to whom she is both devoted and enslaved. (p 61) Then his grandmother’s mind (p 68), Dr. du Boulbon’s  (p 102), Leonie’s (p 109), and this combined with Marcel’s knowledge, expanded by eavesdropping and spying (p 122) .

Whatever justification there might be in disparaging the length of Proust’s sentences, the criticism can only apply to the summaries and not the scenes, where the dialogue is genuine and sharp, and characters other than the narrator take over so completely and speak to us directly, with their individuated diction, no attribution needed, because we recognize their voices.

Another of my constant reading endeavors is Edward Gibbon’s massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. To what end? To form a basis for understanding western civilization, at the end of which we may be poised at this very moment? Nah, I just like Roman shit.

Decline and Fall is in two volumes, the first of which I have been laboring over for the past year. It contains 40 chapters in double columns of small print, over 900 pages, with 670 pages devoted to the narrative, 330 pages of footnotes, requiring the use of two bookmarks, so you can swing back and forth. Gibbon’s footnotes are as fine as the rich narrative, everything told with a flourish and edge to it.

I have four bookmarks in Gibbon now, because I am re-reading the crucial 15th and 16th chapters, where Gibbon does his take-down on Christianity and pegs it as a leading cause of the decline and fall.

I still read the Bible of course, who doesn’t? It’s a long process, easily stalled by the constantly shifting themes, styles, and the plots contrived by the various authors. (There are 64 of them, I think.)  It has two bookmarks in it as well. One for where I left off, studiously working my way from start to finish, the other stuck in Proverbs for a quick spiritual fix.

Then there’s The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl, with just one bookmark, signaling its recent start. I couldn’t tell you yet what the Charterhouse of Parma is, but the story is that of Fabrizio, a naïve teenager who sets off to join Napoleon, leaving behind the lap of luxury, and insanely racing toward war, where chaos reigns, and the plot has now wound its way quirkily back to the lap of luxury, and we’re still getting started, just 100 or so pages in. The story-telling technique is not unlike Proust’s. You can see its influence on Proust, both in point of view and tone, setting up a narrator who can speak to the reader directly and has legitimate authority for knowing what he knows, just as Marcel does in Search, where he uses it to show so vividly how Swann deludes himself that it gave me the fantods, and I got a glimmer of what drove Marvin to suicide, because it brings the past, your past, to life and to cold hard light, the naked reality of what you did is sharp-edged and you have just jabbed yourself with it and you’re twisting the blade. At least it’s Marcel, at least it’s Swann, and not you, unless you want to keep reading and find out who you really are.

As I read I can feel it coming, a wave of depression that grows out of knowing that when Swann feels like shit, when he is dying inside a long slow painful death, it is ours, mine, yours, one’s – individually, not collectively, not a feeling in union with the rest of humanity, but instead, your very own, Marvin’s very own self-destruction, self-trial, verdict, and execution.

And yet intoxicating.

Proust up all night, writing, in bed in his cork-lined bedroom in an apartment on a boulevard with all the life of Paris sealed out, while it lived in his head.

An Actor Prepares was published in 1936. Stanislavsky writes in the voice of a young actor who encounters a Director who can show him how to illuminate the life of the human soul on stage. That means Old Stan is essentially playing two roles – actor and director.

In theatre history, naturalism followed realism, or was it the other way around? And how does it matter? There was that production of Gorky’s Lower Depths that created a slum abode so vividly that rotting meat was a feature of the set decoration. This presumably introduced a new and heightened level of reality to the event. This is a long way from Shakespeare, who utilized a bare stage, no actresses, and poetry as discourse. Today’s lesson concerns inner and outer attention.

Jacques Riviere maintains just the opposite – that Proust does something completely different than Stendahl, or Flaubert for that matter. Flaubert with his goal of making the author disappear, seems to leap over the space that Proust occupies so thoroughly as to transcend it, the interior of the author, the self to be examined first and foremost as the only means of seeing the world, life, and other people in depth, with perspective, fully, truly. Proust goes there first, before his point of view enters the mind, initially, of Francoise, the maid, and then gradually the cast of Combray, so that by the time Marcel gets to Swann, he knows very well what it’s like and how it is to become someone else.

We have the authority of Iraneus to tell us that a priest is as much above a king as the soul is above the body.

Proust makes us connect with an emotion, something in your love life that hurt so badly you repressed it, buried it so deep that one needle-like jab opened the wound as fresh as if you’d just been stuck. Proust brought it all back when he showed Odette playing Swann for all he was worth, torturing him, and Swann’s suffering was not just palpable, it was yours.

Because of Marcel’s omniscience, it is clear as day that Swann has put himself completely at the mercy of forces he cannot control – within his own mind, as we are clearly at the mercy of forces we cannot control right now, now more than ever in human history, afraid to breathe, afraid to go near one another.

Come on, it’s not that bad.

People are dying. There’s a pandemic. Pan. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

Marcel knows and tells us plainly what Swann won’t admit to himself, that things are so bad he wishes he were dead.

People are killing themselves – because of the plague. They’re not just dying of the plague; they’re dying because life has become bleak beyond bearing – because of the plague. Some people break out and defy the stay-at-home orders and join the Dance of Death.

History was out of control. History was just another name for forces beyond our control, even when they were forces that could be controlled. History was just one mistake after another.

So, why go on? Why go on reading Proust?

Because the past is all we possess.

Possessive love is the only kind of love we’ve got.

“. . . Christians who endeavored to reconcile the interests of the present with those of a future life.” – Gibbon

Aaron died, seemingly because the Lord told him to, this in Chapter 20 of Numbers, where I have also journeyed over the past year, having traversed Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus.

What is Old Stan saying that David Mamet finds so damn objectionable. He’s just trying to get actors to relax on stage and act naturally? So, why does Dave have to call him a dilettante, practically calm him out as an amateur?

On re-reading Swann in Love, the depression lifts, as it might have for Marvin if he’d kept going, (Wait a minute – he did keep going, and it kept getting worse) when, although Swann is mired deeper in love with every sentence, one grows tired of Odette when she stops putting out, about the time she grows tired of Swann, and what was depression turns into something like an arthritic joint you just have to get used to, because Odette will outlive Swann and be there till the end, a woman who is neither Swann’s type nor mine. Such is life.

Return to The Votive Pit

Homer enjoins us in The Odyssey to “Live as one already dead”. What can this mean? It suggests that we view our life as a series of events in the past, over which we no longer have any control – “Look at what you did” – and all we can apply to them is our feelings, as our memories recreate them as we will, and to reflect upon them as something we did or something that happened to us that we regret or that gave us joy or sadness, pride or embarrassment, the good, the bad, to accept, not to judge – for what good would it do? – to confess, and then, to live, to see those you love as from beyond the grave, which can only make you love them more, and the more you love, the more powerful you are, the more alive. To live as one already dead is, in a sense, to have conquered Death.

I haven’t watched The Votive Pit in years, but now that we’re holed up due to the plague, might be time to give it another look.

The whole movie is one stolen shot after another. When we spoke of Location Acquisition, we meant Stealing, the same process we would use for You Are Not Sinatra and It’s All Good, just set up and shoot fast. We had the code to turn off the security alarms, and Dirk had somehow managed to get hold of the master key, and he made a copy of it, so we could open every door on campus.

A couple of teachers knew we were shooting in their rooms and they were cool with it. Everything else was covert. We turned Glenda Henderson’s sixth-grade classroom into Edna’s room. The first time we shot in there was Sara Morsey’s first day on the movie that would take up a year of our lives, and Sara seemed to be underplaying the whole time, and we wondered, this is the great Sara Morsey (Amanda Wingfield, Maria Callas), why isn’t she acting?

Scot Davis was the exact opposite, chewing the scenery, over the top, theatrical, acting. The rest of us, with the notable exception of Erica Corbett, tried to match him. But in the movie, Sara’s performance is the most real. She knew what she was doing.

Jess Arnold had played the role at the ART and she nailed it. She was electric. Jess sells out when she performs, lets loose, the epitome of the free and unrestrained artist, exactly what makes theatre a temporal art, one that exists only in that particular moment in time, and if you miss it, you’re shit out of luck. That’s how good Jess was. But now we were making a movie and Jess would have to pretend to be 65 years old, when she was only in her 30s.

Sara was only in her 50s, but she wouldn’t be pretending as much as projecting, keeping the acting so submerged you couldn’t see it, making Edna so real that the rest of us playing over top around her made sense, all the staginess made sense because of Sara’s core reality – selling our notion of the empty classrooms and campus that we would have the audience believe were swarming with students.

It’s an ensemble piece, so everybody gets to do their own thing at some point, hold the focus, command the scene. Sara makes it all work, but because it works, it not only doesn’t matter when the rest of us go over the top, it adds a layer of irony to all our performances. We were all teachers in real life, pretending to be teachers. Sara was an actress doing her job. Erica was not acting, she was processing. She has a degree in chemistry and is a caregiver for the terminally ill, and she found this docudrama process interesting and important, and that focus created her character.

Slam Scot as you please for hamming it up, and he’ll agree with you, he’s still fascinating to watch, the Barrymore good looks, the operatic tone and its herky-jerky delivery, the crazed energy, the passion, beyond over the top, turning him into a caveman racing after a wooly mammoth.

Luke Zarzecki was the cinematographer. I’d call him our Gregg Toland to Mike’s Orson Welles, except our Gregg wouldn’t let our Orson be Orson. The first thing Luke did was throw out Mike’s storyboard. Mike had made a screenplay out of my stage play and storyboarded the whole thing, but Luke thought was Mike was just a kid, which was understandable, since he was, but that didn’t mean anything. We let Luke have his way and he improvised each shot when we got to the location.

We showed the first cut to George Koszulinski and he hated it. That threw us. Luke was George’s cinematographer for the two movies we made with George (Silent Voyeur and Dead Buffalo ), and we had worked with him the same as George did, no storyboard, etc. But George said our movie looked like an Army training film.

So Mike re-cut the whole thing and added about 75%  of the music that’s in the movie, and now it rocked with a soundtrack including Tom Miller, Vini and the Demons, Spellbox, and D.D. Chrome.

We had the world premiere at the Hipp and packed the place and people cheered, and we won a prize from a film festival in India and got a couple of good reviews and some put-downs, and over time it just seemed to fade away.

We thought the American Dream of public education had turned into a nightmare – but that was only a Bush-whacked school system, and the real nightmare was more than a decade away. Here’s how we were preparing for it.

Tragic Consequences

If you voted for Trump, you made a tragic mistake. You put him in power. Whether you shall turn out to be the hero of your own life, or whether you turn out to be no hero at all, depends on what kind of hero you are. Circumstances have now determined that if you are to be a hero, it must be a tragic hero, because life now has become a tragedy.

You must come face to face with your own hubris, the pride that led you to believe we could do without caring about what happened to the world at large, because we were concerned with America first, about our southern border, since, so you thought and said, without borders you don’t have a country – when of course you do; it’s only when you don’t have people that you don’t have a country, if by country you mean a place where people can live together in harmony. You were unconcerned about how people could survive without health care or a living wage, because you had both. You wanted to be free of any constraint on turning a profit.

Trump is not a tragic hero, because he is no hero; Trump is your malevolent puppet come to life and now you can’t control him. He used the power you gave him to clip his strings. Without you, Trump is still huckstering up and down Fifth Avenue, dreaming he could shoot somebody, and nobody would care, obsessing about his ratings and his hair and cheating at golf. You interrupted him. And you would not pause in your headstrong progress until he had seated himself on the throne and declared himself your king.

Why did you do it? I don’t know. Do you?

Hamlet figured it out, although none of us is as smart as Hamlet, it still came down to he blew it because he couldn’t make up his mind. None of us has the poetic imagination of Macbeth, but he knew what he did and the blinding light that filled his vision as he was beheaded delivered him from evil.

The plague may not kill you, but if it kills someone you love, it will be tragic, in its truest sense, the sense the Greeks gave it. And if it kills you it will be more so; it will, be poetic justice, the only difference being this is not a play and we don’t want you to die. That was why the Greeks put on those goddamn plays in the first place – to avoid tragedies in real life.

We don’t want Hamlet to die, but he must. The Greeks didn’t want to see Oedipus pluck his own eyes out, but he had to because he had been willfully blind to the truth. Willy Loman didn’t have to kill himself. For god’s sake, Willy, we just made the last payment on the house. We’re free and clear.

You’re not dead yet.

We all want to know how this tragedy ends. It wasn’t comfort, nor even peace, that the tragic playwrights sought in showing, through the working of the plot to its inevitable conclusion, that all tragedies end, it was catharsis, through pity and fear to see what Oedipus and Hamlet and Willy all saw too late, and then, to start clean, to see beyond that, how life can and must go on.

You voted for Trump. Look at what you’ve done. Now look in the mirror.

What will you do next?

Work, a short story

                                                         WORK

            Quarter to seven and Ronnie pulls up outside. The top half of his face is lemon-colored, the bottom is black with three-days’ growth. Maybe he’ll shave again for the weekend. Maybe not. Under Ronnie’s face is the rest of him, the top half about three-quarters covered by an off-white t-shirt, then there’s hairy Italian midriff overhanging the ever-popular pea-green work trow. It’s one of those August mornings that’s already cooking when you wake up. One of those days when you mentally flip through the calendar, trying to figure out what day it is, and if it’s not Monday or Tuesday, it can’t be much better.  You’re in the middle of the week somewhere.You know it’s not Friday. You can feel it in your bones and it feels awful. You’re going to work. Sweat beads your upper lip as you sip the coffee steaming out of that seven-eleven-styrofoam. There’s no getting out of it. Unless you want to get out of it permanently. You’ve pushed your choices that far. At least I have. There’s a hole in the floorboard of the van next to the gas pedal and you can see the street blurring by underneath while Ronnie’s steel-toed gunboats do a dance among brake, clutch, and gas till we’re crawling along the expressway with the rest of “civilization,” high on caffeine, exhaust fumes, loudmouths of the airwaves, bad news, bad jokes, choppers buzzing overhead, keeping track of the clots. My mouth tastes like I just tongued a nine-volt battery.

            “What it is,” says Ronnie, “you got six lanes, six jerkoffs are up there in front, leading the masses. They would put pedal to metal and we’d move, but no. . .”

            “No man,” I tell him. “It’s volume. Just too many carapaces in one place.”

            “Tell me about it.”

            We’re just one soda can in the pop machine, till we come rolling out the exit ramp and make our way to the plant, but let us not get ahead of ourselves. Right now we’re not going anywhere. Sit here and sweat a while.

            “And this is what makes me the man of the hour,” Ronnie says, fat hairy hand fishing the hip pocket of his pea-green work trow and pulling out a hump-backed joint.

            “Let us give thanks and praise.”

            “It is right and just.”

            It is gradually bearable. Lincolns, Toyotas, Mazdas, Mercedes. Volkswagons, you name it, the autos of the world, all creeping along with us, the inhabitants sealed within, freeze-dried, garroted by neckties, heading for a better life downtown, God bless em, writing that copy, buying and selling those shares, so many baseball cards clothespinned to spokes of the wheels of commerce, thwap, thwap.

            “I gotta take a whiz,” says Ronnie.

            “Coffee is a powerful diuretic.”

            “So’s beer.”

            “This is true.”

            “What to do, what to do?”

            “There’s that hole in the floorboard.”

            “Good eye.” The man of the hour shoots his stream onto the pavement, mostly by way of his pantsleg.

            “Good eye.”

            “I could’ve spilled my coffee or something.”

            “Your orange juice.”

            “Good answer.”

            It’s a lovely day, sky the color of concrete, maybe it’ll rain. . . .So. Here we are at the plant. We punch in. This is us throwing the tools on the rig. And now we’re out of there.

            The rig shudders at a redlight, wooden ladders clapping, solution sloshing in buckets.

            “What do you say to some breakfast?” I ask.

            “You’re driving.”

            “So I am.”

            “Lemme see the tickets.”

            Toss him the sheaf of tickets we’ve been “working” through this week. I didn’t expect Ronnie to turn down breakfast in the suburbs, where the tickets are directing us. “Primo tickets, eh?”

             “Yeah.”

             “What, Ronnie, has the novelty gone out of it already?”

             “They’re primo tickets, Bob. I’ve been telling you for two days they’re primo.”

             “They are primo.”

             “They’re wearing me out.”

             “Maybe you don’t want to stop for breakfast, Ron. Just hit the first ticket.”

             “It aint breakfast is wearing me out.”

             “No? So what is this, a job for the International House of Pancakes or what?”

             “It is, Robert my man. It is a job for rashers of bacon and such.” On the company’s time, of course, relax, read the paper, converse:”She’s a ball-buster, Bob.”

            “They’re all ball-busters.”

            “Where were you last night?”

            “Where wasn’t I?”

            “I hear you.”

            “You want the rest of my stack?”

            Ronnie shovels it in. He loves the IHOP. All those different syrups.

More coffee. Camel cigarets. Talk about sports, politics, philosophy, eastern religions, around to sex by way of Freud.

            “My mother don’t enter into it.”

            “That’s what you think, Ronnie, in your conscious mind.”

            “My, look at the time.”

            “Is it past ten already?”

            “We had better get a move on.”

            “Had better.”

            “Get on those tickets.”

            So. We’re driving along. The Suburbs. Willowbrook. Cul de sacs. Main Street. The Village Square. Boutiques.  Galleries. Spas. Shoppes. All decked out in Tudor architecture. We’re looking for this dry cleaners.

            “I think we’re goin the wrong way.”

            “No we’re not.”

            “Look at the arrows, Bob. Pointing the other way.”

            “As they say in the theatre, Ron: fuck the arrows.”

            “Bob.”

             “The place is on the other side.”

            “You can’t turn around here.”

            “Sure I can.”

            “No, Bob, you can’t. You can’t go through here. Bob. Bob? This is where you have to pay to park.”

            “Don’t worry about it.”

            A little old dude pops out of the box next to the gate. Security. I give him a thumbs up and drive around him and his gate.

            “Now what do you suppose he’s yammering about?”

            “He’s chasing us.”

            “Something officious no doubt.”

            Pull up at the dry cleaners. It’s such a piece of cake we can’t believe it. We won’t even have to hitch the ladders, the sign’s about twelve feet off the ground. In a lot of these suburbs there are all these codes about how tall a sign can be.

            “And we got what, Bob? Three tickets here in what do they call this?

            “Village Square.”

            “Village Square.”

            “So. What do we got?”

            “This place. The frame shoppe. And the pasta market.”

            “Oh yeah, the pasta market.”

            “I thought that might capture your interest. I thought we might hit the pasta market for lunch.”

Which we do, after making fast work of the dry cleaners, whipping the solution on, wiping it off, all business. Stroll inside, get the ticket signed by the guy. Guy says, “You do fast work.”

            “Hey, we’re the pros,” Ronnie tells him.

            “The pros,” the guy says.

            “What it is.” Ronnie elucidates, “way out here in the suburbs yooz don’t get anywhere near the pollution  like you get in the city, believe me.”

            “But she’s clean now,” I put in.

            “Hard to tell the difference,” the guy says.

            So. We’re having lunch. The pasta market. The wine is Ronnie’s idea. I was just gonna drink the pitcher.

            “It cleanses the palate, Bob.”

            “Let’s do it then. Cleansing is what we’re all about. Cleansing is like our job.”

            The waitress is nice. The food is good.

            “What good does a meal do you, Bobby, if you don’t really taste it, know what I mean?”

            “I do.”

            “You have to learn to appreciate things, Bob. It’s a learning process. One thing on this job you learn.”

            “You learn.”

            “You learn.”

            We get into a Zen thing. We’re living in the moment.

            “There’s no now any more, you know what I mean?”

            “This is what I’m saying, Bob: no matter how hard you’re banging away, doesn’t matter she’s screaming, whatever, leg-locking you, squeezing you in the vice-like, you got to slack off, you got to relax!”

            “I hear what you’re saying.”

The waitress comes with the check. I trade her for a fifty and the ticket.

            “What’s this?” she understandably asks.

            “We,” I say, “are going to clean your neon.”

            “My what?”

            “Your sign. The pasta market. Your neon sign. We’re the sign cleaners.”

            “Oh yeah? I didn’t know neon even got cleaned.”

            “Hey, it gets dirty.”

            “What did you think?”

            “I thought: you know, the rain washes it.”

            “No, no.”

            Ronnie volunteers: “Everybody’s got this conception, the rain’s so pure and clean. You got to remember: the rain is coming through the atmosphere, which is full of all kinds of shit.”

            “Sad but true,” she says. “So. What do you do? Hose it off?”

            “No, no, no, no. You’ve got to clean it. You’ve got to clean it off.”

            “Oh.”

            “We’re going to clean it off.”

            “I see.”

            “We are.”

            “So what do I do with this?” she asks of the ticket. “Get it signed?  Or can I sign it?”

            “I’m glad we left her a big tip,” Ronnie says, as we’re stepping out the door and the heat hits us. We don’t walk to the rig before our shirts are sticking to us. The rig appears to be rippling in the heat waves, actively melting. Ronnie starts to grab one of the ladders, I tell him, “Wait a minute.”

            “What?”

            “She signed the ticket.”

            “So?”

            “The ticket’s signed. It’s already signed.”

“So? What’re you saying? Are you saying just go?”

“This is what I’m saying.”

“We can’t do that, Bob.”

“Why not? Sign look dirty to you?”

“Bob.”

“Tell me. Objectively.”

            “Bob. The company has a contract to perform services. One of the services is cleaning. We are the cleaners, Bob. We don’t clean, and we don’t work for the company. You get my drift?  This getting through to you, Bob? It’s our job.”

            “The tickets are already signed, Ron.”

            “Ok. But I just want to go somewhere and lie down for a while, ok?”

 This is a reasonable request and we would be driving off into the sunset except the sun is right overhead. Picture this: it’s a high angle shot, bird’s eye view, take in the whole Village Square, looks like a maze, all its neatly trimmed shrubs along the macadam, down which rattles our beat to shit rig toward the Tudor hut where the security troll lives. The little old dude hops out of his box and blocks our way, so I pop it into reverse and we back away squealing.

 “Imagine that little old dude.”

 “He’s still coming, Bob.”

 Damned if he doesn’t corner us in a cul de sac.

             “You caught us, pop.”

 “You boys lost?”

 “Lost? No, we were just leaving.”

 “That’s ok, son. But I’ve got to stamp your ticket first.”

 “See, Bob, I told you.”

 “You have a ticket, don’t you?”

 “Ticket? We don’t need no stinking ticket.”

 “Don’t, Bob.”

 Pop the rig in gear.

 So. We’re driving along the highway, minding our own, it occurs to Ronald we have omitted some detail, to wit:

 “Yo, Bob, we forgot: the frame shoppe.”

 “The frame shoppe.”

 “The frame shoppe. Remember? Three tickets? Village Square?”

 “Oh yeah.”

 “So?”

 “Don’t worry about it.”

             “Don’t worry about it?”

             “Follow your bliss.”

             Which right now is leading us to picnic tables near a lake. There are attractive women there in swimwear. We slake our thirst. It is either our bliss or a beer commercial. There is no lake, there are no women, but we buy beer and there are some picnic tables in a clearing in the forest preserve, where we peel off our sticking shirts, slap on some sun screen, and stretch out.

 A six-pack passes.

 “So. Bob. What’re we gonna do about the rest of the tickets? Tomorrow? Gotta bust ass tomorrow now.”

 “No we don’t.”

 “What do you mean we don’t?”

 “I already signed the tickets.”

 “You signed em. What do you mean, you signed em?”

             “I signed them.”

             “What do you mean?”

             “I signed em, Ron.”

             “What’re you telling me? Lemme see the book.”

             “You think I’m kidding?”

             “You better be kidding. Lemme see the book.”

             “What?”

             “Lemme see the book.”

             “Jeez.”

             “You signed em. You stupid fuck you signed em.”

             “That’s what I said.”

             “Real smart: ‘J. Leno’.”

             “So what?”

             “So what? Bob. You can’t do that, Bob.”

             “Why not?”

             “Delvechio is gonna find out.”

             “No he’s not.”

             “Sure he is.”

             “How’s he gonna find out? Somebody gonna complain? These people don’t even know their signs get cleaned, and when you do clean em, they can’t even tell the difference.”

 “Bob, these people have contracts. Sign gets cleaned every six months.”

 “So? When are they gonna complain? Six months from now when the next guys show up to clean the sign? So what’s Delvechio gonna do then? Look back through six months worth of tickets to find out whose route it was?”

 “Yeah. That’s exactly what he’s gonna do. If  he does not by chance happen to find out before then, and then we’re dead. We got the sword of Damocles hanging over us now, Bob, thanks to you.”  

 “That’s where you’re wrong, Ron, because, you know what? When Delvechio goes back through all the tickets to find out whose route it was, you know what he’s gonna find out, Ron?  It was not our route.”

 “Say again.”

             “These are not our tickets, Ron.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “I ripped em off.”

 “What are you telling me?”

 “I stole them.”

 “No.”

 “Yes.”

 “You stole them?”

 “I did.”

 “Whose are they?”

 “Hey, Ron, you don’t know, you’re better off.”

 “This is true.”

 All of a sudden the whole sky goes from off-white to blue-black and a clammy death-like chill washes over us. I look over at Ronnie just as his eyelid is being smacked by a raindrop the size of his nose. More follow hard upon.

 “Quittin time, Bobby.”  Ron starts to unlumber himself from his picnic table. The sky rips open with a roar and Ronnie scrambles toward the rig, trow slipping, butt-crack showing, but I remain crucifixed to my picnic table.

 “Hey, it feels good.”

 “Come on.”

 It picks up. Whap, whap.

 “Hey, Ron, it’s the Shower Massage By Waterpik.”

 “Come on.”

 It’s really coming down now. Ronnie’s yelling at me from the window of the rig he’s got cracked open and he’s going to roll up because it’s raining in, and for some odd reason I don’t care: “something-something-FUCKEN TICKETS!”

 “May lightning strike me dead if ever I laid eyes on those Village Square tickets.”

 The air around me crackles and then explodes in thunder. Then it gets real quiet and almost stops raining.

 “Bob?”

 “What’s it gonna do? Quit? Is that the best you can do? Come on. Crack your cheeks!”

 “Bob? Quit screwing around, Bob.”

 “Ok.”

 Get back in the rig. Let Ronnie drive.

 “Now we’re wet, Bob.”

 “Nothing gets by you, does it, Ron? Nothing escapes your attention to detail.”

 “So let’s stop by my place and get dry.”

 “Now you’re talken.”

             This job doesn’t pay much. But when you can make it drinking beer, watching the Playboy channel, doing a doobie that pops fireworks of pleasure on the backs of your eyelids. It’s worth it.

             “Wake up, Bob, we are in deep shit.”

             Don’t we know this instinctively? Are we not born with this knowledge? Look at the weather. This heat. All these floods. Brush fires. Volcanos. Global warming, greenhouse effect, hole in the ozone, you can’t even get a tan! Nature itself is out of joint.

 “Bob.”

 “What?”

 “Delvechio reported the rig stolen.”

 “No.”

 “Yeah. It’s the cops, Bob. They got us.”

 “For real?”

“Nah. . .

 So. Two weeks later, and we get put on probation for something we didn’t even do. Here I am. Delvechio’s watching me from the cab of the big rig, the snorkel unit. I’m dipping under power lines in the basket. Get up there to where I’m white-knuckling the rail of the basket with one hand while shoveling pigeon shit with the other, dipping my rag back in the solution then applying it to the white and yellow and black dung-wrapped neon that says PAY LESS. That pretty much says it all.

Next ticket. I am bobbing and weaving through my hangover into the sky, cloudless and blue, above the el tracks, leaning out of the basket to reach a sign I can’t even read, the glare’s so bad, overhanging the expressway, my hands shaking, I’m dizzy, and fifty feet beneath me is the rush hour traffic, crawling home, while I work overtime for free, and into which at this moment I am cognizant finally of taking a header and

In Black & White & Color, Chapter 8

Gas-man’s take on The Magus was: You can’t treat life like a detective novel because every solution you apply is illusory.

Ever smoke a cigarette before?

Sure.

When?

Lots of times.

You’re full of shit.

These other guys were all the real thing, and he was just pretending. It was only a matter of time before he was found out.

Or, he would just admit it and give up.

Don’t hold your breath.

His breath. The cigarettes were going to come back to haunt him. These guys didn’t smoke. They were going to outsprint him. They were going to smoke him. Even if he could outkick them at the end, they were going to take the kick out of him long before then. They moved off into the distance, a space that couldn’t be closed with a change of pace or burst. He was too far behind for that. They were in one place and he was in another. It had been that way when they were together too, it seemed, but somehow he hadn’t noticed.

Gas-man would give you shit for any cliché, any catch phrase, you used no matter how necessary it was to habitual human interaction.

How’s it going, Gas-man?

It? What’s it?

Go ahead and try and argue with him. He’ll just make you look and feel like a fool.

But if you had an emotional reaction to a work of art – that was the purpose of a work of art, wasn’t it, to make you feel something?

You’re a sap and you like sappy shit.

“Hey Jude” was a shit song because it had all those bulllshit nanananas in there. The Beatles were ok, but their shit was shit just like anybody’s shit.

You’re a sap. You like sappy shit.

Most people do.

Gas-man had already been a gown-up when he was hosting the Uncle Freddie Show.

Going My Way. Pop and Barry Fitzgerald were like brothers.

So that by the time they hit high school, Gas-man had moved beyond The Man from UNCLE and I Spy. James Bond had failed to please after Goldfinger, and not just the movies, but the books. You Only Live Twice was the end. Gas-Man shrugged.

Atlas shrugged.

Devoured.

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

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, learned that imperialism was over.

Still, the spread of Communism had to be stopped.

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.

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

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, but 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, shot back, 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.

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 and Jed Clampett, and Dan wanted to squeeze in next to Judy Carne in her miniskirt.

Convention in the Coliseum. 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.

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.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues”: You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. So, they took this as their anthem and called themselves the Weathermen, when the song plainly said you don’t need a weatherman.

The revolution is coming.

All over the world?

Jesus.

The world is in flames, all the oppressed people everywhere, and we are 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 war-mongers 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.

May 1, 1886, May Day in Chicago, the Haymarket Riot.

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

You must try to appease someone who is delusional, reassuring them in their belief of what you know is not true.

Heavy-ass backpacks, hiding steel pipes and rolls of pennies, slingshots, chains. If they could, they would make the federal building look like the Ferrara Candy Company that day that Pop died.

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

The Animals wailing “We Gotta Get Outa this Place” became their anthem, but it was every kids’ anthem everywhere.

SDS was blowing up something just about every day now.

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

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

March 1968, My Lai.

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

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.

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 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.

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

Ed Hanrahan. 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. Philips? With the black kids? That how he got the way he is?

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.

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.

It ends when Dan’s life in Oak Park ends, when he decides to follow Gas-man out of town to  college, to the cornfields The sun sets on the cornfields, with the war raging, the Cubs fading, the Church, the nuns, the priests, receding into obscurity. It ends when the door is closed on the Church and opens onto the secular world and it all bursts into color again.

The Quakers 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.

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.

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.

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

They’re 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.

But Dan didn’t see that. Instead he read with a kind of foreboding, a vague sense that what happened in 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 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.

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.

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

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

When Dan admitted to himself that what he wanted was wrong, he felt clean of it, that at least he had been honest – with himself, and that to be honest with himself meant he must lie to other people. A moment of clarity, it soon passed, and he became an agnostic again – about himself, wondering whether he really existed or not, but, more than that, whether it mattered.

That’s called depression. Those are called suicidal tendencies.

And Patty Dooley was in love with him? What was the matter with her?

Patty Dooley lived in Berwyn and went to Trinity, way the hell away in River Forest. How’d she get there? By bus? By car? For four years? That can’t have been easy. All Dan did was walk out the door and walk ten blocks to Fenwick. Davo had to get to Fenwick all the way from the south side of Chicago, on the other side of Summit.

Patty had a little brother who was a hemophiliac, so there was always something sad, tragic, and dangerous hovering about their family, a burden they had to bear, similar Dan’s little brother, the presumed epileptic. And Patty had a younger sister, Debbie, two years younger, dark-haired and lithe and slender, where Patty was rounded, and the two of them darted angry eyes at each other.

Fenwick was all boys. Trinity all girls. Let’s dwell on that concept for a moment. Separate the sexes when they reach puberty.

Solely for educational purposes.

If being honest with yourself meant lying to other people, then telling them the truth would mean lying to yourself, that is, pretending. You can’t lie to yourself and know it’s a lie.

What are you – two people?

At least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Oaks Pharmacy, 1962 runner-up to champion Village Savings, boys baseball

Stuck-up.

Moving from the bungalow in Riverside to south Oak Park allowed them to look down on the Bohunks, pejorative for Bohemians, who lived in Berwyn and populated the Cermak Plaza shopping center.

Watch out for the Bohemians.

It seemed to have more to with the way they drove their cars down Harlem Avenue or in the parking lot of the plaza than anything else.

The Bohunks and the Pollocks, because to call a Pole a Pole wasn’t demeaning, never mind that there were more Poles living in Chicago than in Warsaw, so the Micks hated them, and the Dagos, so it was easy to see how a perceived common threat could unite them all, and make them remember they were all Catholic and, more importantly, all white.

Ecumenical.

After a trip or two to Cermak Plaza, Mom and Dad took to attaching Danny-boy to them by means of a harness and leash, because he would otherwise most certainly wander off and be lost among the Bohunks. The Bohunks were like a primitive tribe.

And black people?

St. Phillips. Catholic League. Hales Franciscan.

Catholic. Add the Aquinas touch, acquired by Ed Fenwick when he got religion and became Fenwick the Friar.

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

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

Member. Good one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Urfe is an unwilling actor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was Jung.

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

Sounds like the Bible.

Maybe something like that incident in the snow happened, but probably nothing approaching Dan’s rendition of the incident took place. He just made it all up. He just made up shit all the time.

Why? Why do you just make up shit all the time?

I don’t know.

And that was a lie too. He made things up to mess with time, to alter the past and shape it into something he could use now. See, if this happened, which didn’t – but pretend it did, then . . . And in this way you could proceed indefinitely in an advanced state of fantasy, adorned with specific sensory details, the snow, the night, the books and papers, even the dialogue. All of it bullshit.

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

Down a rabbit hole.

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!

Jesus.

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?

Dan would be in training this year at Lake Lawn, running laps of the resort and golf course before swimming in the lake or the hotel pool.

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

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

The Rope Trick!

Here’s what you do: it’s a snowy night. Snowflakes falling in the darkness, and a car’s headlights beam through the white flakes. Lovely. Meanwhile, there are a couple of kids in the street on one side and a couple on the other, and they look like, what the hell? Hey!

What you do is you pretend you’re holding a rope.

And this is funny?

Hell yeah it’s funny. Look how mad they are. Come on!

And then you run away.

Ways to amuse yourself.

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

Now we’re onto something.

Or back where we began.

And all our wandering.

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

It was an occasion of sin

It was quite an occasion.

On more than one occasion.

More than occasionally.

Perpetually and ever after.                                                                                          

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

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

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

We will know.

We will.

We may.

We may not.

If we may.

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.

You know what? I think I’ll go to college and forget about it.

Watch the Cubs.

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

You want to smoke a cig?

Sure.

Come on.

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

You like this movie.

Yeah.

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

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

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

Nicko inspired hatred for Oak Park and everything it stood for. So did Hemingway.

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

He held it in contempt.

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

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

You will never be at peace.

You will never be happy.

Oh, come on.

Truly happy.

What is truth?

Truly sappy.

Veritas.

Turning everything into black and white.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The money, the family income, was coming from Commonwealth Edison, under the direction of Mr. Ayers.

Dan’s father was more than a mere electrical engineer. He was creative, part-architect, part-inventor, and the tangible results appeared in the porcelain dachshund, and the final piece of evidence: membership at the Riverside Country Club.

You should go to confession.

Why?

Every two weeks. So things don’t get out of hand.

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

Unless one thing just leads to another.

In your mind maybe.

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

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

If you smoke one cigarette, you’re dead, you’ll never beat anybody. You can’t do it. Not even one. If you smoke one, you’ll know it, and you’ll know when you line up that the guys you’re running against didn’t. You’ll know that right from the start, and when the bear gets you at the end of the race, the other runners will be able to catch their breath and fight back, but you won’t.

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

It’s over.

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

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

They were digging in the McCormicks’ backyard. Not in a sandbox. In the dirt. There wasn’t much grass. It was mostly gray dirt. They were building a highway. There was no sandbox, they were making a highway out of the whole backyard. Aunt Mary didn’t seem to mind. She was cheerful and happy and kind as always.

A few blocks away the Congress Expressway was under construction, here there were sticks and rocks to be cleared away to make way for toy trucks. The three McCormick boys were Danny’s cousins. At least he thought they were.

But they weren’t.

Uncle Mac was not really his uncle. He was his father’s best friend. They had been friends since high school, since Fenwick.

“Farewell, and may we meet again in yonder better world, but not before.”

And Aunt Mary was not his aunt. She was not his mother’s sister, she was her best friend, and they had been best friends since high school, since Trinity, maybe even longer than that, back to Ascension days.

Uncle Mac worked for Squib, the drug company, but he hadn’t risen as high as Connor had in the Edison Company. Dan’s family had moved from the Clinton house to the Euclid house, but the McCormicks stayed put. Dan’s family vacationed at Lake Lawn Lodge, but the McCormicks stayed at the Assembly grounds across the lake.

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.

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.

Genuflect.

Dip your fingers in the holy water and bless yourself.

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 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.

When Ciaran got back from boot camp at Quantico, he would walk down Van Buren to Oak Park Avenue and look at the houses and say to himself, there are normal people in there, living normal lives. That sense of strangeness came just from starting to become a Marine. He had yet to go to Vietnam.

The Argonne Lab. Paul Harvey. Good Day!

Then Uncle Mac got sick, very sick, and he died. Cancer. He wasn’t even 50. All those years working for Squib. Didn’t he have access to all those drugs and medicines? It didn’t matter.

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

There in The Magus was race to go along with sex and myth. Joe the Negro.

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

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

The bitch goddess of ambition.

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 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.

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. 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 #10?

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?

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?

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

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

White collared shirts, fresh from the laundry, wrapped in cellophane, the collars starched. Silk ties, subdued colors, stripes. An electric shaver. Dad shaved every day, sometimes twice. He never once in his life grew a beard. Once in a while, on vacation, he might have a few days’ stubble.

Dad and Mom were Republicans.

Oak Park was Republican.

There were Democrats in Chicago.

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 this. These 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.

Or from Truman to Kennedy. Truman had 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 could.

The 60s flashed from black and white to color. Kennedy against Nixon. It was a tough choice for conservative (racist) 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.

What a dreamworld.

And then bang.

It all ended on November 22, 1963.

As soon as LBJ became President, with that hang-dog 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.

Johnson’s presidency, born on 11/22/63, died on 1/20/68 – 5 years. In 64 Dan’s parents voted for Goldwater, although they knew he probably wouldn’t win. In 68 the Republicans came back into power. Nixon was in charge.

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? Marx wouldn’t live to see Volume Two and Volume Three published. He was writing volumes. The first photographs come from the 1830s. The Seventh Seal came out in 1957, but Dan wouldn’t see it till at least 10 years later. And then Hour of the Wolf and Persona. Black and white was one world, and color was another. They were not the same, could not be, would never be the same. 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. There were cartoons before the movie started. There were movies in color that Dan did not see but felt that he had seen, and maybe he did see Around the World in 80 Days with Cantiflas. Maybe all he had seen was the coming attractions. Was Cantiflas the best actor in the world? You could go to the movies by yourself, sit by yourself, in the dark, anonymous, with anonymous strangers, all of you in the dark, and you could be alone. Something’s wrong – the sun’s not coming up. Still no sign of it. Don’t worry, the sun will come up. Yeah, the sun will come up tomorrow. Tomorrow. But what if it never comes up today? 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. It’s 1960 and Psycho is showing. It’s in black and white, and to see it would be a mortal sin, to see Janet Leigh in her slip, to see her bare midriff. Spartacus is showing too, and The Alamo. In color. There was something about the books, the good ones, the works of art, classical music, the Bergman movies, naturally, that plunged you into not only thought but sadness, melancholy, and the contemplation of death. It was fine and beautiful, this life, or that life, your own or that of someone else, someone you loved, and all of it was passing, not just flying by, but flying in all directions, dispersing into the universe, the expanding universe with no center to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persona was made in 1966. It starts with a boy born in 1951, Jorgen Lindstrom.

You don’t have to be stupid.

That’s where you’re wrong. You do have to be stupid. It’s not up to you whether you’re stupid or not.

Who’s it up to then?

No one.

That afternoon, for no particular reason, they decided to go to South Park and climb trees.

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

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.

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, 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.

Life After Shakespeare

The play becomes a prayer for forgiveness, not for mistakes or wrongdoing, but for having been born, for being human. It’s all we’ve got. That and each other. For the time being. So, lament and be joyful.

What makes Shakespeare so great? We did. Humanity. History. The plague played a big part in making those sonnets, and in making the modern world, by fairly forcing the creation of the nation-states to enforce quarantines.

We can kill each other now just by being close to one another. Everything must close down. All events must be cancelled. We must all stay in our homes, go back to our caves, wear masks and gloves. The plague is here. People are dying. More people will die. The entire world has discovered it cannot go on with business as usual, because business cannot go on. The whole notion of production for profit is collapsing. If people stay home, if they isolate from one another, it will undercut the very basis of production – social labor – and consumption, because how do we provide for each other if we can’t get near each other, and how do people buy anything if they’re not going to work and getting paid? This is the rainy day capitalism has been saving up for since its inception. And it’s not enough. That’s why, if we survive this, something new will take its place. All those marketable skills are meaningless without a market. Who cares how well you can toss a ball through a hoop? Or broker stocks or some shit? No time for that now. No need for that now. What matters most is life itself.

One Last Time

With Director Extraordinaire TOM MILLER and enchantress of Lights & Sound ANNA MARIE KIRKPATRICK

It is almost time to think of Life After Shakespeare, but not quite. The play will dissolve in just a few hours, and chances are it will disappear forever. That’s what almost always happens, at least with my plays. But not so with Michael Pressley Bobbitt’s, nor Tom Miller’s. And Anna and I are a team, as far as running the show. It’s just the two of us, me onstage and Anna in the booth running lights and sound, putting on a play for 30 or 40 people. That’s all. The houses haven’t been big, but they’ve been decent. The press has been through the roof. Critical hit, box office, eh, so-so. Still, no royalties to pay. A bargain. And a hell of a lot better than nothing, which was the prospect for the ART when regularly scheduled programming was cancelled.

The magical lights encircle me, the sound, the atmospherics, envelope me, and the house, the audience, those two or three dozen people that I greeted personally when I walked through the front door of the theatre to make my entrance and then circled the stage to the thrill of bagpipes and drums and hollers – for the last show it occurred to me to knock on the theatre door before entering, and I could hear Tom’s approval of the move when I came in – those people were in semi-darkness now, and they could easily disappear entirely.

After the Deed

It’s all over now. The house for the final show – about the same as the others. But 7 Sides made its mark. Everyone who saw it knows they saw something special, something they’d never seen before, one actor, right there, dressed simply in black, no set, no props, acting a full-length play, full of Shakespeare, lots of it, seven different characters, while telling a seemingly true-life story at the same time. All of that in his head. A marvel. A circus act, akin to Homer, back in the day, going into a rhapsody and conjuring up The Odyssey.

 “You’re so relaxed onstage,” Jason Hedges said to me. He is of course a performer of some note, Heavy Petty  https://www.heavypetty.com/ , commanding audiences a hell of a lot bigger than my couple dozen or so, let alone the fact that when I appear relaxed onstage, it is because I have spent every conscious and unconscious instant until then concentrating on every conceivable way not to fuck up.

Perhaps it’s a tribute to my acting that people liked the play so much, because if you look at the character of the play’s narrator in the script, the unnamed actor who speaks all the lines, he’s really not a very likeable guy. He makes terrible decisions, he hurts people, but at least he’s honest, owns up to his mistakes. So, maybe it’s both. Who cares? Something’s good.

There seems to be nothing to do but make a movie of it, although I can do it again as a play, revive it at the ART next season, with more time for proper promotion. I can do it whenever and wherever you like. I own it – not just in the capitalistic sense, but better than that; it is now in possession of my heart and mind.

It’s a Mystery

I marvel at it, one of those creations that appear to its own creator as a surprise, a wonder, as if it had come from the hand of some other, anonymous, gifted artist.

The circular motion, starting with just a few obscure lines from The Tempest “Oh, Cherubim, thou wast that didst preserve me…” Prospero is speaking to Miranda, but I was speaking to the audience, as I would again at the end of the play with Prospero’s lines to his daughter’s lover, and when the play gets there, the actor posits all of Shakespeare as a circular text. What comes after the end is the beginning.

My faux introduction of Shakespeare, “Ladies and gentlemen, William Shakespeare . . . couldn’t be here tonight,” always began the show with a laugh, even after Ron Cunningham plot-spoiled it for all his readers by using it as the lead for his review. Ron knows a good line when he steals one.

“Hey, I didn’t steal nothin. It’s all in quotes.”

Ron didn’t have to write that review. He went way out of his way to write it. He had to bend the Sun’s policy to do it. And the review makes you want to see the play. From my gargoyle perch above the stage where I secretly observe the audience as they arrive before the play, I could see first Michael, then Tom chatting Ron up. The two of them were largely responsible for getting Ron there in the first place. Now it was up to me. And Shakespeare. We’ve got this.

A laugh to start the play. Laughs in Chicago and Key West and Hogtown. Laughs with Mercutio, with Oberon. Lots of laughs with Malvolio.

Surprise. This is a funny play. With laughs at my stuff too. The biggest punchline of the night was mine (sort of): “Fuck you, Bru-tay.”

Embedded in the middle of the play is a gem (again, it is like a found objet d’art), the five-act play that intertwines the onstage and offstage action of Macbeth.

More Meta Moments

The walk-around, when the actor walks offstage, exits, and while walking down the hallway behind the audience, keeps talking to them, before entering again, upstage, as Malvolio.

The actor leaves not just the stage, but the theatre at the end of the first act. And slams the door.

At the end of Macbeth’s “sound and fury signifying nothing,” the actor steps off the stage into blackness, then re-appears upstage, opening a door and entering, leaving the door open, taking the stage, saying: “Every curse is a blessing, every blessing is a curse, every exit is an entrance somewhere else.”

The play was so damn metadramatic that the actor could literally say: “What’s a meta . . . phor, if not the theatre!”

Making the literal figurative. Making the figurative literal. Making the metaphor real.

We treat Death as a joke, and then it becomes real.

There is a true fellow feeling for Will Shakespeare here, the glover’s kid, the player, and his Globe Theatre in London, like the Gill in Chicago.

The last speech of the play is Shakespeare’s, and it blends with my final reminiscence of Patrick and the Gill so you cannot quite tell where my words end and Shakespeare’s begin, Prospero speaking, but then, magically, seamlessly, a pair of couplets from Puck, before concluding with “Our revels now are ended . . .

Plague Shuts Down Globe!

Now the Plague has come to shut down the theatres, just as it did in Shakespeare’s time, and he invested his artistic energy in sonnet-writing. Seven Sides of Shakespeare may the last play those 300 or so people get to see for a while. Did it make a lasting impression? Did it leave a mark?

What People Are Saying about 7 Sides

“As a playwright and general skeptic of most plays, I have to report that Shamrock McShane ‘s Seven Sides of Shakespeare, running this weekend and next at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, is a masterwork. You need not be familiar with or even like Shakespeare to be thoroughly moved, cajoled, amused, challenged, enlightened, and provoked by this searing piece of art. I had the great privilege of helping to produce this play and create the lighting design, and even after seeing this show multiple times I continue to be shook up by it and Mr. McShane, my beloved friend and theater mentor. You all know how seldom I’m effusive with my praise of shows in this town. Trust me that this is one you should not miss. In my view, it ranks up there with These Shining Lives as among the best ever to grace the ART stage.”

Michael Presley Bobbitt

“So glad I didn’t miss this one…Shamrock at his best with some Shakespeare from the heart…an actor and an empty stage…my favorite thing in this world…and maybe in all of them. Shamrock has written his own story through the guise of seven Shakespearean roles. (and I didn’t miss many of them either) He’s a long-time Gainesville teacher/writer; and I couldn’t help thinking how lucky his students have been. He’s a character in his own right…and kudos to Tom Miller, a gentleman and a scholar…and both…oh so much more…”

Sara Morsey

“‘All the World’s a Stage…’ and no one does Shakespeare like Shamrock McShane. Head down to the Acrosstown Repertory Theater and watch this amazing performance this week and next. Thank you, Shamrock, Tom MIller, and Michael Presley Bobbitt, for a fantastic evening of entertainment!”

Wendy Thornton

Celino

“Such an excellent show! As with the Bard’s work,  Shamrock McShane succeeds in sharing the inner conflicts, joys and tears of being a human being and doing. This is a master work from a master Actor sharing his life, just as Shakespeare showed us, and continues to show us. I will be going again. Gotta get it while it’s there; it’s too good to miss. This astounding show permits anyone to see why Shakespeare continues through time: Shakespeare applies to how life is lived throughout the passage of a human span. Shakespeare holds up the ageless mirror, Shamrock holds it up in this moment in time; a timeless message. If any educator wants to introduce newbies to the Bard, this could be the curriculum.

Crew Kinnard

“I went to see Shamrock McShane in “Seven Sides of Shakespeare” last night at The Acrosstown Theatre. Tom Miller used the word “SPELLBINDING”, and that pretty much says it all. You don’t have to know or even like Shakespeare before you go – JUST GO! It is a genius performance! There are 5 more performances – Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm and next weekend Fri 8pm Sat 8pm and Sun 2 pm. I promise you, it’s really that good.”

Eileen O’Meara

“Marvelous show, beautifully presented, immensely enjoyed.”

Antoinette Graham

“Wow. Just wow. If you ever in the future have the opportunity to see the Seven Sides of Shakespeare with Shamrock McShane, you need to get thyself to a nunne… err, theatre. As he walks you seven roles and how they related to seven stages of life, you’ll be able to connect with the Bard in a way I’ve never been able to do before. As a way to bookend the service this morning about forgiveness… it brought tears to my eye. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have seen it.”

Jeff Stevens

“A triumph. Don’t miss it,”

Emma Grimm

“Shamrock McShane is amazing. It was a truly incredible performance. Humorous, melancholy, profound!”

Amy Lynn Martin

Shamrock, Anna Marie, Tom Miller, and Michael Bobbitt: Your efforts collectively resulted in an amazing and unforgettable theatre experience! The weaving of the themes and intentions of the monologues into a one-man odyssey connecting moments and memories of a career in theatre and the ART of life was transcendent. It took us, as an audience, on your personal journey of self-discovery using the portal of Shakespeare’s greatest monologues as a ‘window into the soul’. Your work, Shamrock, was SO well-executed, and I’m sure I am not alone in my observation that you are at the top of your game, my friend. Thanks to all of you for collaborating to bring this to the stage. I really think there should be multiple re-mounts of this prodigious and eloquent effort on the boards! Kudos to ALL of you!”

Gregg Jones

We went out to the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre on Friday, for an interesting hour-plus of solo theatrical presentations from Shakespeare, by Shamrock McShane, a local actor whom we’ve talked with at some length. These were “7 Sides of Shakespeare,” a collection of soliloquies from seven of the plays, presented with a quiet musical background and no props, just the actor and a spotlight, on a plain circular plank stage, in the round. Pretty challenging —— nothing to hide behind — and he brought it off well. The range of characters was astonishing to a non-actor like me. The writer was pretty good, for a kid from out of town. Shamrock brought the house down, zig-zagging from subtle to ferocious. Mercutio to Oberon to Malvolio to Macbeth to Caesar to Prospero, with minor characters in between. His love for the writing was infectious. Of course the audience was well self-selected, small theater in an academic town. You found yourself subvocalizing the famous words along with Shamrock.

Joe Haldeman

At intermission for the last showing of Seven Sides of Shakespeare and I am in absolute awe. Shamrock McShane is a Gainesville treasure.  I’d heard so many good things and to finally see him in action was incredible.

Devin Huchingson

I’d watch him read the phone book    

Mandy Fugate

The Stars Aligned with Shakespeare

Behind the scenes, three artists created the sun, the moon, the stars, and the music of the spheres that go with Seven Sides of Shakespeare, Michael Presley Bobbitt, Tom Miller, and Anna Marie Kirkpatrick.

Tom Miller

It began as a pastiche, as Shakespeare scenes woven together with anecdotes and background, but the painter’s eye my director possessed found the flaw in that right away.

Director’s Notes:

“The blending of the two elements is nice,” Tom said, “and natural, but at the same time it weakens the whole.”

“When you enter the Shakespeare world, the whole method of acting has to transform from presentational to representational, a transition that is somehow smooth and seamless at the same time that it is clear and distinct.”

“Parallel gestures – that’s when both hands come up, both hands spread wide, both hands plead, both wave in alarm, or with high flown artistry, elevated language, Shakespeare. But too much! It’s not entirely out of place in Shakespeare, but a little goes a long way. It’s effective when used sparingly. But it has almost no place at all in the interludes between Shakespeare scenes.”

Tom’s direction parallels Hamlet’s advice to the players, with its caution against hand-sawing.

 “Shakespeare is up here,” Tom said, pointing above the top row of seats. “Shakespeare is with the angels, in the heavens. Real people are down here. When you talk to them, you come down.”

Much of the vocal quality of the piece is owing to Tom Miller. His musician’s ear latched onto the melody of Shakespeare’s language. Tom had already been hands-on in his pursuit of auditory excellence when he directed the premier of Sunset Village for the Broadway Bound Festival in New York, training the ensemble I was part of to be heard and understood.

“Move, breathe, feel the vibration and the resonance in your chest and in your throat and in your nose, yo-yo-yo-yo, and your voice welling up from your lungs, your bellows, to be released toward whatever destination you choose, toward the last seat in the last row, the worst seat in the house.”

So much for volume. Now for timbre and pitch and tone and range, the highs, the lows, the sound and fury. Shakespeare offers a full palette of vocal paints.

The breakthrough came when Tom started to peal the characters, first, apart from me, and then, apart from each other.

Technically, the whole play began in presentational mode, like a recital, a lone pianist, playing an entire Shakespeare symphony solo. A circus act. Tom started tuning that out right away.

During the week when I was on my own, Tom having gone to Iowa to finish his David Lynch work, I asked myself in rehearsal: What would Tom do? He had already suggested that I take an ax to the movement, whether parallel gestures and the like or flights around the stage. “Run it and keep your hands in your pockets except for the Shakespeare.”

That made sense, to get the idea in my head, but to make it more practical and implement something right away that I could use, I decided to make the chair home base for me, and when I was not in the chair or attached to it, I was not me, I entered the world of Shakespeare and I was one of his characters.

Immediately there was a world of difference. There were now two worlds. Two ways of acting, speaking, relating, or not, to the audience.

Just by sitting down in the chair to be the narrator cleaved the worlds in two. Before that I had been roaming the stage willy-nilly in an attempt to capture and maintain the audience’s interest, selling it.

Tom cut to the chase: “It looks desperate, like you’re afraid you’ll lose their interest. Trust yourself. Just plant yourself and be. Just be. You’re interesting enough. Believe me, just to look at you will be interesting enough. Trust that.”

 “Of course, when you’re talking to the audience you want to be yourself, and that’s not easy. You still need to be heard.”

In performance it would come to feel like those moments in the chair when I was breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience backstage stories, that we were all at a party and I was holding forth, the life of the party, like Will Shakespeare after the show with the players in the tavern.

“There has to be something about each of the characters that makes them distinct, whether it’s vocal or physical, but something to distinguish them clearly from each other.”

That pause before the end of Act One, right before Macbeth storms not just offstage but out of the theatre! That’s Tom.

“Land it. Make a decision. Then go.”

The exit at the end of the play. That’s Tom.

“Step off into the clouds, among the angels.”

“When Mercutio looks down at his wound, he reacts as if he’s just noticed it. There should be a stabbing. He should react as if he’s been stabbed.”

I took Tom’s note, and Mercutio took a sword in the belly and collapsed to the ground.

Tom was pleased. “Yes. It’s Shakespeare. If you don’t get dead bodies on the ground, what’s the point?”

“In the Shakespeare world, where the acting is representational – actor representing character, acting as character, being character, in that place, where there are other characters whom the audience cannot see – you have to create the scene in your imagination. When Mercutio really sees Queen Mab and her hazelnut chariot, we’ll see it.”

Oberon ascends into the audience to sprinkle the juice of the love flower on Titania’s sleeping eyelids.

“The lights follow Sham,” Tom instructed Anna. “It’s as if Sham creates the world wherever he goes.”

“When Malvolio reads his letter, practice with a piece of paper, so you get the mime right. All of the mime has to be precise.”

 “Malvolio should find the letter – which means it should first be hidden, and then the discovery can be anticipated. Then remember where it was hidden, so you don’t step on it.”

“Macbeth must see the dagger.”

“Malvolio is a little fey. I like that. He’s different. He’s coming to life.”

Caesar addresses the audience as the Roman senators. Jaques speaks to the audience as if they were at a royal dinner party.

At the very end, the characters coalesce in me and I can speak Shakespeare’s lines as if they truly speak for me.

The Sun Shines on Seven Sides

Tom read Ron Cunningham’s review in the Gainesville Sun to me from his phone while I warmed up for the second performance. Like the storied newspapermen of old, Cunningham had turned his review over in less than 24 hours. A lot less. He was reviewing the play, despite its only having a two-week run. He was telling people to go see it.

“This is gold,” Tom said.

I had stopped hoping for a review. It was against Sun policy to review plays that ran less than three weeks.

So be it. Don’t get greedy. The whole thing had fallen into my lap to begin with. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

Perhaps I should explain that the only reason this production is taking place at all is because the originally scheduled play, Two Trains Running, was unexpectedly cancelled due to casting difficulties, due to the unintended consequences of Black History Month, which consumes to exhaustion the pool of black actors and actresses, while content to marginalize them for the other eleven months of the year. I was Carol Velasques’ assistant director for Two Trains, and we had been preparing for its late February opening since the previous summer.

At the same time, I was putting together 7 Sides, which I had been working on for more than a year, workshopping it twice, first at Expressions Learning Arts Academy, then in Anthony Ackrill’s artist studio. Now I had a goal in mind: the Thomas Center. Michael Presley Bobbitt was onboard as my producer, ready to finance the rental and push the promotion. If it weren’t for Michael, I never would have had the thing in working order when Two Trains fell through, because without Michael Presley Bobbitt behind me, it wasn’t going anywhere. I had already pitched it to the ART and the ART wasn’t interested, neither was the Actors’ Warehouse. I got myself listed on the Speakers’ Bureau with the Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG), offering the show to libraries, schools, and civic groups, you know, because it’s Shakespeare, it’s educational. No takers. I pitched it on the internet. Nothing. Not even a nibble. But I had faith in Michael Presley Bobbitt and Shakespeare and, well, me.

I put the play together myself on a wing and a prayer in the hope that I might get to do it someday. “The readiness is all.”

You need six good black actors, six black men, and one strong black actress to put on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. In the theatre, every February, Black Lives Matter. We had Stan Richardson, Carol’s husband, one of the best actors in town. We had Rhonda Wilson, one of the best actresses. That’s as good a start as anyone could ask for, but then we couldn’t finish. After two nights of auditions and reaching out to every prospect we could think of, it was clear, rehearsals would not be starting February 1 as planned, three weeks before opening.

What was ART going to do? Go dark for a month? Find someone or something to rent the place for a month? First thing would be to deal with the royalty situation. It costs money to put on the plays of August Wilson. It costs nothing to put on one of mine. Ditto for Will Shakespeare.

The theatre is like an extended family, meaning there are crazy uncles and black sheep and skeletons in the closet, and, naturally, always, there is drama, usually more of it backstage than on. I had kept in touch with Laura Jackson all through the Two Trains wreck. She’s on the ART’s Board of Directors and serves as its treasurer, in addition to performing as an actress, singer, and director of distinction. She alone on the ART Board had seen 7 Sides when I workshopped it. She knew it was good. We had worked together and respected each other as artists, I offered 7 Sides to the ART in lieu of Two Trains Running, and within an hour Laura approved the show and offered me a choice of dates – one weekend with a Thursday performance, or two weekends with shows on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I think Laura made it happen.

A World Imbued with Art

Up above in the sound and light booth, Anna Marie Kirkpatrick could look down and see about three quarters of the stage. She could hear the play through the open window about five feet away in the ART’s upstairs costume loft. Otherwise Anna was tethered to the computer, operating lights and sound, conducting their effects in synch with the action of the play, in effect playing along with it, distinguishing the two worlds and advancing the plot.

Michael’s goal as lighting designer when it comes to tech rehearsal is to avoid taxing the actors as much as possible, ideally setting the lights when the actors aren’t even there, so they walk onstage into the world of the play. He did that with 7 Sides too. His design blended perfectly both with the idea of magic-realism and the naturalness that went with performing in the given circumstances of the ART stage, which was in construction as The Importance of Being Earnest went into rehearsal for its March opening. They built a two-foot tall octagon platform, presumably to perform in-the-round. We wouldn’t be playing in-the-round. We almost certainly wouldn’t draw an audience big enough to sit on all sides of the stage, for one thing. For another, Shakespeare doesn’t show to his best advantage played in-the-round. Unavoidably a bunch of people look at an actor’s back during a soliloquy.

By the time Tom got back from Iowa, we had a play with a beginning, middle, and end, a story, characters, a narrator, a plan, blocking, a set we inherited and which we turned into a literal metaphor for our meta-theatre, its playing area as perfect for my solo work as if we had planned it all along. Bobbitt’s lighting design concentrated round daylight that could turn to starry night. Tom’s sound design subtly supplied both atmospherics and heavenly music. We were at Go.

All Is True

Noel Leroux, bless his piteous heart, was doing a piece on the play for Gainesville Downtown, Michael Presley Bobbitt having set up a private showing at the ART two weeks before opening. I did the show for Noel, just a rehearsal run, no effects, no tech, just house lights, rehearsal clothes. Noel watched and took notes. Anna sat beside him. She was going to take notes too, because she was just starting to learn some sound and light cues. This was during the week that Tom was away, before I had even begun to implement all our bright ideas. So I just blasted the whole thing at Noel. Maybe he wasn’t blown away, but it made Anna cry. “I couldn’t take any notes,” she said. “I had to watch. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.”

Noel was impressed. “You get pretty heavy there. You bare your soul. It’s personal.”

It’s theatre.

Seven Sides of Shakespeare, Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm, Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, Gainesville FL

The Time is Near

Ten days into official rehearsals for Seven Sides of Shakespeare. That’s 10 days in a row – because this cast takes no days off. The play is in rehearsal every day. As I write this, the play is, in a sense, being rehearsed, conceptualized, lines studied, scene work, transitions, notes, voice and movement concentration, delineation, all the ideas searching to find their way into practice, into awareness, a firm sense that you know what you’re doing.

How can you know what you’re doing?

This is where Tom Miller comes in. Yes, he is also a writer, a musician, composer, poet, painter, performance artist, and filmmaker, but that’s all part of what makes him a very good director indeed, because anybody who’s got that much shit going on isn’t going to waste his time on your shit unless it’s as good as, say, Shakespeare. Tom’s into this. He’s excited. This is the true gen. We are getting somewhere, by starting at opposite ends – Tom in the house, me onstage – to meet somehow in the middle by trying to cut through all the bullshit and find the truth that lies between us, with Shakespeare shining the light on Time, that untouchable thing that touches everything.

Shakespeare was born in 1564. That’s 456 years ago. Of course he was just a baby in those days, but a scant 52 years later he’d be dead, which leaves roughly 400 years to get your head around to connect his life to mine, and yours, knowing that during the 52 years of his life, Shakespeare was just like you and me – dying, and crying and laughing and eating and drinking and fucking, all of that, but, most importantly, preparing the script that Tom and I are now fashioning into a moment in Time that people can see and hear and feel and experience.

How’d he do it?

Shakespeare goes to the theatre when there’s nobody there, just like us, lets himself in, and starts rehearsing the play all alone, no one watching, a one-man show. Harold Bloom called Shakespeare the Inventor of the Human, so he’s got to invent me.

Tom knows the narrative by now, Shakespeare catching up with me in Chicago in the 1970s, and then all the tragicomic twists of fate, to take the two of us to Hogtown, all the while the clock ticking, Time taking center stage.

Two weeks till opening. Four hundred or so years in the making.

Seven Sides of Shakespeare

Written by and Starring Shamrock McShane
Directed by Tom Miller

February 28 – March 8, 2020

Shamrock McShane, one of Gainesville’s premier actors, takes you inside seven Shakespeare plays to reveal the Bard’s connection to Hogtown and your heart.

Seven Sides of Shakespeare arrives Friday, February 28 and runs until March 8; showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater (619 South Main Street, Gainesville, FL, 32601, in the historic Baird Center across from Heartwood Soundstage and next door to Akira Wood). 

Tickets are $20 for the general public with a $5 discount for seniors (55+), students, veterans and active military, and may be purchased below. A limited number of tickets may also be available at the door thirty minutes before showtime.