(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?
Seriously, I don’t know.
You’ve thought about it.
Don’t be a wiseacre.
I’m not. That’s the point.
Have you applied anywhere?
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.
Never get in.
Then you have thought about it.
I don’t want to go too far away.
Downstate is too far away?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
You don’t understand women.
Why should I? You understand them. And you don’t like them.
That’s not true.
A superior intellect, bearing, pedigreed, sophisticated, and then to casually drop into the middle of the conversation the word faggot.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
You can’t have it both ways.
Sure you can.
What did she write him?
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?
When someone goes out of their way to do something nice for you, you should appreciate it.
Why do you think he wrote you?
Because you wrote him.
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.
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.
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?
Feels the same.
That’s because nothing’s changed. Everything is still the same.
Everything’s going to be all right.
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.
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?
War. Riots. Hate. Theft on the grandest of scales. Hypocrisy. Ignorance. Fear. Cowardice. What’s not to love about it?
Have a love-in.
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.
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.
Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.
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.
Yeah, well, you’re not from Chicago.
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.
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.
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.
Not taking a side is taking a side.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.