The sixties. This was the height of American prosperity. The family would get in the car and go for a drive.
In 1965 Buckley was running for Mayor of NYC. It began as something of a joke. He was running for mayor sarcastically. He knew he wasn’t going to win, just like he knew Goldwater wasn’t going to win.
It wasn’t about winning.
How could it be about anything else?
It was about ideas.
In Chicago it was preposterous to think that someone like Buckley could run for mayor. There was Demare, who was as much king as mayor. New York was different, but Chicago was a city too, just as much a city as New York.
Second City, my ass.
The Chicago Bulls. In the early years they were coached by Johnny Red Kerr, then Dick Motta, and the players, Chet Walker with his up-fakes, Bob Butterbean Love with his silky moves. Sloan and Van Lier, tough as nail guards, big Tom Boerwinkle battling Wilt with his bulk and his savvy.
That was what Dan was following, reading the sports section, watching on TV, listening on the radio, that and watching movies and listening to the Top 40 and buying records, 45s and 33s.
Barbara Sanduski wearing a black bikini, lying on a towel on the grass in her backyard, directly below the upstairs window in his grandmother’s room..
Truman Capote was hosting a party that he called the Black & White Ball.
In 1969 Norman Mailer was running for Mayor of NYC.
Sixties. Catcher in the Rye.
Scenes: running a race against John Reynolds, making an error in the Little League championship game, the pass over his head while playing defensive back, quitting in the North Section meet. The scenes mounted to a full-length movie about a loser. But who cares? They were the facts, the chronological blocks of the story, from 1951 to 1969. The fifties and sixties, In Black and White and Color.
The first few years are about mom and dad and family, about Riverside and then the move to south Oak Park, to Clinton Avenue.
Danny doesn’t come out to play until he’s 5 in 1956.
Howdy-Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Two-Ton Baker. Life at Carroll Playground. Lake, Lamar, Mercury, Ritz movie theaters. The 50s happened on Clinton Avenue.
In the early 60s the family moved to Euclid Avenue and the scene changed to color. Kennedy was elected.
Kennedy was killed.
The story of Demare and Chicago and the the Congress Expressway.
Ascension and the nuns..
Pop. The pool table in the basement. Danny bet on Pop when his grandfather would play against his dad.
Ascension church and Mass, during the week, and on Sunday. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
At Fenwick life changed from color to black and white.
That crippled lady, her name was Mary, who used to drag her wretched body with the aid of her walker past their house every single day, no matter the weather, to go to Mass.
The boxing matches, first against Tom Keating, in 1959 in just second grade, at 62 pounds, then against Larry Sullivan a year later.
Quitting the football team and joining cross-country.
It seemed to be all about losing, and maybe it was, but it wasn’t really about Danny after all. It was about becoming. It was about the whole world changing from black and white to color to black and white again, and if focusing on the experience and inner life of one little loser paints a picture less than hopeful – that’s the point. It explodes into color again.
From Ascension to Fenwick, from Oak Park to Chicago. Gas-Man. The el, the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears, the Zephyrs, the Bulls.
Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley were going to debate each other in Chicago at the Medinah Temple on the eve of the Patterson-Liston fight.
Stop the spread of communism.
Exactly how do you propose to do that?
By sending troops.
By force. And that’s going to what?
Communism was something you could fight. We had stopped the spread of fascism in just this way. All it took was World War Two.
So that was how and why his brother was going to wind up in Vietnam, flying a helicopter.
Better dead than Red.
You’re telling that to kids?
John Birch Society. Robert Welch. Gas-Man took Dan to a meeting of the John Birch Society. They were in eighth grade.
Abbie Hoffman was going to levitate the Pentagon.
Gay Talese on the Buckley-Mailer debate in Chicago in October 1962, on the eve of the Patterson-Liston fight.
Our Judeo-Christian tradition.
The transcript of the debate was published in Playboy.
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
The Eisenhower interstate highway system, a linear graph of mostly straight lines criss-crossing the nation with four and six-lane roads, the goal being efficient and easy travel.
President Kennedy said we could get to the moon by the end of the decade.
On Firing Line Buckley argued with overwhelming evidence and eloquence, against man’s perfectibility, and then it was tuned around him by Bertrand Russell: Does that mean you’re not supposed to try?
The question is not whether human beings are perfectible, but whether you’re going to try.
You know what ended the Depression? World War Two.
In 1953 the President of General Motors, Erwin Wilson, was named Secretary of Defense. “What’s good for General Motors is what’s good for America.”
Gas-man’s record collection included Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby comedy sets, Frank Sinatra, Dave Brubeck, and Oscar Petersen.
While he wasn’t busy being the head of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch was a Boston candy maker. He made Milk Duds, Sugar Daddies, and Junior Mints.
The mail. Something would come in the mail.
Maybe he would subscribe to National Review, that is, ask his mother if he could subscribe to National Review and she would write a check to William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review would arrive in the mail, something would come for him in the mail.
They all had to take the entrance exam, pass the entrance exam, to get into Fenwick. It was hard. There was math.
What if you failed? What if you didn’t get in?
You’d go to Oak Park High. You’d just go to public school.
Dan couldn’t even think about that, not because of his blind determination to succeed, but because of blind fear, it was too awful to contemplate.
Blindness and deafness and dumbness were the only explanation. There was no thought involved. There was only desire. He held none of it up to the light, not Fenwick, not the nuns and priests, wait, there was Gas-man, and Gas-man was going to Fenwick too, and he punctured a hole in everything.
Gas-man had his own terrible inconsistencies. He was skinny but he looked fat. His stomach wasn’t large, but the way he comported himself in a perpetual slouch advanced his belly before the rest of him, which proceeded in a duck-walk, with toes pointed out, combined with his general disdain for athletics and his pale body’s lack of tone and definition, made him seem fat and pudgy, which jibed with his abnormally large head, which jibed with his abnormally large brain, even though he wasn’t fat at all. Everything about Gas-man told you that he succeeded by means of intelligence alone. He was a non-athlete, but he made fun other people’s lack of coordination. He was in no way good-looking, but he made fun of other people’s looks. He made fun of everybody and everything. He made fun of strangers passing by on the sidewalk.
Nice face, he’d say under his breath, but audibly. Something insulting, sarcastic, and funny as shit, you’d have to laugh, so even if the stranger couldn’t exactly hear what was said, they knew they were being laughed at, knew they’d been humiliated, some poor old woman or a mother with a baby or, most often, somebody who looked like they deserved it, so you laughed in affirmation. But don’t get carried away, because Gas-man could just as easily turn the sarcasm on you.
The Sharon Statement of the Young Americans for Freedom: “In this time of moral and political crisis it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.”
Eternal truths? Responsibility of Youth? And Gas-man believed in this? Why was Gas-man going to Fenwick? To be like Buckley?
Gas-man could make fun of everybody because everybody was beneath him, but he didn’t make fun of Buckley and he didn’t make fun of Ingmar Bergman, because they were not beneath him, hell, they might even be above him, Bergman that is, not Buckley, they were even, with Gas-man slightly ahead, since Buckley was saddled with his mannerisms and affectations.
People who tried to make fun of that which was not beneath them, but, rather, of that which was above them, were stupid and essentially made fun of themselves.
How to belittle.
Your problems don’t interest me. Not surprisingly, my problems don’t interest me either.
That was the secret of Gas-man’s superiority: apathy. Very little rose to the level of his interest.
NBC ran Peter Pan with Mary Martin in 1955 and 1956 live!
Esquire hired Norman Mailer in 1962. He wrote about Marilyn Monroe and then Hemingway, who had died the previous year.
Somehow Gas-man had gotten himself into Fenwick and now he couldn’t get out. As Mark Twain said: “It’s easier to stay out than to get out.” If the lure had been to learn Latin like Buckley, the lure had lost its lustre. Latin was a dead language. Fuck that. Gas-man wanted to learn French so he wouldn’t need to read the subtitles in the new wave cinema of Godard and Trufaut, and he wanted to be at Oak Park High, not Fenwick, because at Oak Park there was a film study class, and there were girls.
Not that Gas-man had any respect for women, except when he did. For the most part he openly proclaimed that he operated under the Heidegger No-Brian Theory of Women.
But then Pauline Kael and Penelope Gilliat had entered his life by way of the New Yorker, yes, the New Yorker, and as he devoured their prose style and assessed their analyses of film, he granted them intelligence and merged them with images of Liv Ulman and Bibi Andersson, like that moment in Persona before the film burns up, to raise the idea of woman to the sublime, if not quite to where Dante put Beatrice.
Gas-man was not happy, but he didn’t care about that either, and this lent him a brave cast of stoicism, because he just soldiered on alone. He wore rubbers. Not condoms, rubbers – that you wore over your shoes in the snow. Only old people wore rubbers.
They had a film study class at Oak Park High, so why the hell was he studying Religion at Fenwick?
Twelve years of Catholic education. All that Latin.
Greek to me.
The priests were right about Latin though. Our grammar plays out there, so that if you could diagram a sentence in English, you could master Latin grammar, and vice versa. Funny thing was Gas-man hadn’t been able to diagram a sentence either, back in Mrs. Cannon’s class in eighth grade at Ascension. He was a fabulous writer, with an immense vocabulary and an energetic style, but he couldn’t diagram a sentence to save his life, and Mrs. Cannon recognized the difference between the two friends and remarked that if they could combine their capabilities they could “go far”.
How were they supposed to do that? Collaborate? Gas-man was not a collaborator. You had to stretch your definition of friend to call him your friend. If somebody asked him if he had any friends, he’d say no, and he’d be telling the truth, but of course he did have friends. He just didn’t have a group of friends. He didn’t go parties or dances, that was unthinkable.
What have you got against dancing?
What’s stupid about it?
It looks stupid, It makes you look stupid.
It makes you look stupid. It doesn’t make Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly look stupid.
If you preferred Sinatra to the Beatles, you weren’t going to the sock-hop.
If you preferred peace to war, you wore your hair long.
At Fenwick, long hair was not allowed. At home long hair was also not allowed, and Dan didn’t want long hair anyway. The great runners didn’t have long hair. In his sophomore year in high school, Jim Ryun had a crew-cut.
Could you protest the war if your brother was fighting in it? Should you protest the war while your brother was fighting in it?
Anybody can protest the war. Everybody is going to protest the war. Nobody wants this war.
Stop the spread of Communism.
War-monger was one of the worst things you could call a war-monger because they didn’t like to admit they were repressed and love-starved and pitiful, and would prefer to be called warriors, but you could only be called a warrior when your foe was another warrior, not women and children and old men that you sprayed with bullets or gas.
Buckley supported the war and Gas-man did not. Buckley didn’t have to fight in it, but Gas-man might.
Goldwater lost in forty-four out of fifty states. He won Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia, the most racist states.
During the campaign it was fun to be for Goldwater because nobody else was. It made you stand out. You knew what AU/H2O stood for, just like UNCLE.
Mailer wrote The White Negro and and James Baldwin countered.
Mailer and his hipsters wanted to appropriate black experience, which they then mythologized and in no way apprehended.
How’d Gas-man get hold of those Playboys anyway? He kept them in the basement. His mother didn’t know about them. His mother never found out about him skipping school that day either. He probably just bought the Playboys at the drugstore, just because he had the balls to do it. He read the articles too. He read the New Yorker and National Review and Playboy.
In 1962 James Meredith went to college at Ole Miss.
February, 1965, James Baldwin hands Buckley his ass at Cambridge. Resolved: The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.
Integration of public schools by way of Brown v Board of Education was by far the leading factor in the popularity of private schools, parochial schools, Catholic schools, which is to say, racism.
1957 National Review: Why the South Must Prevail “The claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.” Buckley wrote that.
“Your people, sir, are not ready to rule themselves.”
Baldwin wondered, “What happens to the poor white man’s, the poor white woman’s mind? Their moral lives have been destroyed by the plague called color.”
Dan knew, or could feel by instinct, that it wasn’t just the South. It was Oak Park.
In 1965 Civil Rights protesters planned to march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Ku Klux Klan joined forces with the Sheriff to try to stop them.
Johnson went to Congress himself to pitch the Civil Rights Act, and he ended his speech by saying, “We shall overcome.”
Everybody rode bikes everywhere. All the guys had a bike. Dan’s was the beat-up old tank of a Schwinn that had been handed down by his big brother.
Looks like something out of World War Two.
When an errant shot would ricochet with an unexpected fortuitous result: A kick in the arse is better than no fight at all.
A hot day in August. Shocker, Rug Olsen, Dog Ryan.
Ride bikes to Lake Street. Go in Sears and run up the escalators the wrong way, run through the aisles.
Shocker was a liar, a thief, a cheater, and a bully, and that was what made him a leader. What did it take to win his admiration?
They rode single file alongside heavy traffic, then cut through the cemetery. Beyond the cemetery was the entrance to Miller Meadow and on the other side of that lay Brookfield Zoo. There was a long green corridor that led to the front gates. It had taken half the day to get there. When would they get home?
Shock said: Who cares?
In 1965 Dan was graduating from Ascension and Ciaran was flying helicopters in Vietnam.
No dissipation. Pass no remarks.
The Vietnamese might turn Communist.
So fucking what?
The domino theory. We’ve got to stop the spread of . . .
The French Government . . . of Vietnam (maybe that made sense in the fifties, or whenever imperialism made sense) was backed in America by the Friends of Vietnam, including John F. Kennedy and Cardinal Spellman. The Vietnamese should be Catholic, mais non?
But most of the Vietnamese were Buddhist.
In 1961 the USA sent 2,067 military advisers to Vietnam, and by 1963 there were 16,300 of them, and by ‘64 there were 23,000. In 1965, after a bullshit report of an attack on an American ship patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson sent in combat troops, and the war was full on, even though war had not been declared.
You swept by the west side projects, gray, brown, broken and crumbling, but swarming with life, windows still being broken, rat-infested, from a distance it could be seen safely as a prison, except that there were no wardens or guards. They weren’t buildings, they were projects.
Vietnam was a murky mess being promoted as Good versus Evil. Somehow, we were Good.
The domino theory, in their minds the citizens of country after country, the big one being China in 1946, would turn Communist, until the plague arrives in North America and we are the only American country left in the world.
That’s what you’re afraid of?
Now it’s ninety miles away.
Cuban Revolution 1959.
It was Ike’s half-ass idea to split Vietnam in two and let Ho Chi Minh, who’d been elected by the whole country, have the north, while the new country of South Vietnam, ruled by one of the few Catholics to be found, a fellow named Diem, who was overthrown and killed in 1963, same year as Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, same year Kennedy would be shot, and Dan was in the sixth grade. His sister was not home for lunch. She was at Trinity. Ciaran was in college in Minnesota. His dad was at work. There was his mom and Gramma and his little brother, and Bozo’s Circus was interrupted.
Sgt. Pepper changed everything. It was nighttime in the summer at Fox Park and the girls were out looking for fun with the boys.
What a change had come over the Beatles. They had gone from black and white to color too.
Firing Line went on the air in 1966.
Thomas Aquinas couldn’t apply Aristotle to Vietnam and come up with a reason for American kids to be getting their asses blown off there. Throwing bricks at Martin Luther King in Cicero made more sense to them. They weren’t smart. If they were smart they’d be getting a deferment.
In 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize. He thought prizes were used to co-opt society’s rebels, and he wouldn’t play along.
Walter Cronkite said on the news: “It is more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in stalemate.”
Early in 1968, before Johnson dropped out, Gene McCarthy declared his candidacy for President, and all he wanted to do was stop the war. Then Bobby Kennedy jumped in too, and made civil rights part of it. Johnson’s grandfather had died at age 64, his father had died at 64, and Johnson himself would die when he was 64.
On March 31, 1968, Johnson went on TV and said, “There is division in the American house right now.” Then he quit. He wasn’t running for re-election. He was out. McCarthy and Bobby could fight it out.
Four days later Martin Luther King was shot to death. To Black people the message was: You tried non-violence and this is how it works.
In Chicago, Demare gave an order to shoot to kill.
The senior class showed its thinking with two subversive and subsequently banned t-shirts, one said Class of ‘69, and the other said Fenwick Beaver Patrol. That was the extent of the rebellion against authority.
Then, in June, Bobby Kennedy was killed. He wouldn’t even get to the convention in Chicago.
WFB didn’t like the Beatles. He said they were godawful. That was how fucked up he was.
In 1968 the Republicans convened in Miami Beach. ABC had already signed Buckley up to comment, but he had to have an opponent, so ABC asked him for suggestions, and then ABC asked Buckley whom did he not want to debate, and, stupidly, he replied. That he replied Gore Vidal doesn’t matter. He was stupid.
Gore Vidal, the author of Myra Breckenridge.
Otto Kerner, Demare’s Republican Governor, headed up a report on race riots that said: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.”
It was only Dan’s conceit that caused his shame and guilt and sadness.
How the hell did the Republicans come up with Nixon? Sure, Goldwater had been demolished, but Nixon?
Nixon had been lurking in the background the whole time, since 1952 when Ike chose him for his running mate.
Ten thousand protesters were coming to Chicago for the convention and they wanted to know where they were permitted to protest. Demare told them Nowhere.
Dan was trying to reconcile himself with this society and culture, using William F. Buckley, Gas-man, and Jim Ryun as his guides, each of them blazing a path he could neither follow nor comprehend.
Ryun was training for the 68 Olympics, or thought he was, but he was training for a race he had no chance of winning.
Nixon wasn’t a conservative. It was hard to say what he was.
“As long as I’m mayor of this city, there’s going to be law and order in this city,” says Demare.
The only problem with the protest was that there was no objective beyond just trying to fuck things up, and things were already fucked up. Kennedy and Johnson were half-ass liberals that seemed to have backed into a war that was stupid, evil, and un-winnable, and now they didn’t know how to get out.
Once the gas spread over the park the kids grabbed at anything they could get their hands on to throw at the cops, stones, bottles, concrete from the potholes in the street.
The fucking Quakers led a march that was stopped at 39th Street and Halsted.
You have no idea how much shit is going to go down right here right now.
The Yippies fanned out in all directions, spreading the cops’ forces thinner.
Wednesday night was the Massacre on Michigan Avenue, and it was on TV. It started in Grant Park. The only way out was on to Michigan Avenue.
The whole fucking world is watching.
Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut was saying: “The turmoil and violence is competing with this great convention for the attention of the American people,” and then he said something about the cops using Gestapo tactics, and Demare’s face turned purple and he blew up.
“Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home!”
The “lousy” was particularly apt somehow.
Dump the Hump.
Dick Nixon before Nixon Dicks you!
And now Buckley had lost a fight. He would never be the same. He would never recover.
“A revolutionary with a taste in wine has already come half the distance from Marx to Burke.” – Mailer
1969 would be Nixon’s first year as President. He’d been hanging around for nearly 20 years and now he was in charge. Some men left the earth entirely and went to the moon. Kennedy had sent them there.
News broke about the My Lai massacre, and there were our boys in uniform killing around five hundred women and children and old people.
If you don’t like Studs Terkel, there’s something wrong with you.
Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
In the late 60s Naked Lunch went on trial – and won.
In Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer made a distinction between the Civil Rights march on Washington in 1963 and the Vietnam war protests.
When Danny walked through the door at Ascension, the idea that he would be spending the next eight years of his life there, never really entered his head. He knew it, but he had no notion of its impact. He hadn’t even been to kindergarten. Everybody else had.
It was the fall of 1957, and he would not leave until the spring of 1965.
The kindergartners were in a classroom on ground level alongside the gym, but when you walked into the school from the courtyard or the other side of the building, you had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the first floor, then, second, and third. Grammar school, grades first through eighth.
You came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs and there was a door on the left that went to the kindergarten, and a door on the right that went into the gym, and the whole class would troop down those stairs when it was time for gym, and the other kids were always talking about remember this or remember that from when they’d been in kindergarten together, and Danny just wanted to get to the gym.
The descent down those stairs was always a good time to try to beat the shit out of somebody. Class changes in general were like that.
Danny managed to avoid most of it. He was Mick. He could run, he could play, he was short but he was tough, he’d been in the Silver Gloves and won his bout. He had beaten up a couple guys who pushed things too far on the playground. He could punch and he could move, and, best of all, he could punch and run away, run the hell away!
Eight years of nuns. Eight years of these women with their faces in white frames, hair hooded, and their bodies in billowy black, so all you could see of their skin was their face and hands, the rest of them shapeless beneath their habits.
In eighth grade they were changing classes when Freddie Railsbeck elbowed Dan a wicked shot in the mouth and one of his canines stabbed a deep well into his lip that quickly filled up with blood that he had to keep swallowing so no one would know, vowing revenge against Railsbeck, who had preceded his violence by remarking that Danny’s brother was probably going to get killed over there in Vietnam because the gooks like to shoot down helicopters. They’re good at it.
LBJ said they were living in a Great Society. It was great enough to reach across the world into southeast Asia to help people out. No, by championing Civil Rights. No, because you’ll get bricks thrown at you in Cicero.
Far, far beyond their village, the largest village in the world, there were gooks, who were akin to chinks and japs, to be added to the list of despised races, which amounted to all that were not white.
Nine grades in one building. Kids who were six and kids who were 14 and all the kids between.
Your best bet would be to join up before you got drafted, or go to officer training school and join as an officer. You didn’t want to go in as a a buck private, and you didn’t want to serve in the infantry because those guys got shot, and you didn’t want to drive a tank because somebody could drop a grenade in there and blow you up, and you didn’t want to fly a plane because those things get shot down. What you wanted was to stay home, but maybe what Ciaran wanted was to do his patriotic duty, maybe it was a test of his manhood.
You could burn your draft card and go to prison in noble protest, or worm your way out of it in a half-ass protest like Arlo Guthrie because you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
When he turned 18 he’d be eligible for the draft, but he’d be in college and he’d have a student deferment, and what were the chances the war would last for four more years? It had been going on since he was in grade school. All he was really worried about was holding onto Patty Dooley’s ass, which was the first steady piece of ass he’d ever gotten, as well as the first piece of ass he’d ever gotten and he was loathe to give it up just to go to college. She let him touch her bare ass in the back seat of his Corvair at the drive-in. They had been making out for weeks, and when they decided to go to the drive-in, they both knew it meant only one thing, and it wasn’t seeing the movie. Climbing into the back seat increased the possibilities horizontally, and she was lying on top of him, and he reached behind her and ever so slowly, so that she could stop him whenever she liked, so that if she allowed him to keep going it must be because she liked it, because he liked her and it was genuine, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, he didn’t want to make her cry, and he would gladly settle for whatever he could get away with, along with the promise that there would be more where that came from, if he were polite and waited, and now suddenly the waiting was over and he was touching her actual ass, her bare bottom beneath his very fingers, so smooth, so soft and firm at once, and his finger traced down to the crack, and she whispered, “That tickles” and she stuck her tongue in his ear.
Ciaran went to war. He was a second lieutenant in the Marines, a helicopter pilot. A helicopter pilot was not someone who dropped bombs on people. A helicopter dropped you off somewhere in the jungle where no plane could land, or a helicopter saved your ass when it dropped down and got you out of a tough spot, retrieved wounded. Ciaran was no war monger, but he was a sharpshooter, had a sharpshooting medal.
So did Oswald.
Ciaran didn’t go over there to shoot anybody.
So why’d Railsbeck make that crack and elbow Dan in the mouth?
Ciaran would rise to the rank of Captain. If you were a Captain in the Marines, you were the true gen of Not to be Fucked with.
Something Dan had known all along.
Too bad about the Lane game.
The incident must have happened in the winter of 1959 going into 60, and Ciaran was wearing his letterman’s jacket with the big F on it, and Danny was nine years old and in the third grade, and his big brother, a senior in high school, was walking him home from school. It was a few weeks after the Friars had been crushed in the snow by Lane Tech 19-0.
Patty Viglione lived in Melrose Park, also known as Pizza Park because all the dagos lived there. Patty Vigline was a slender, dark-haired, luscious-lipped Italian babe, and she went to Trinity, Fenwick’s sister school for girls in affluent River Forest.
Danny slipped in the snow and ice and some kids on the other side of the street laughed, and Danny’s books and papers were scattered in the snow and Ciaran was helping him collect them all, and the kids had stopped just to laugh at them. They were teenagers, high school kids, three guys from Oak Park High who thought they could say whatever they wanted because there were three of them, and, besides, they were all the way across the street, so one of them shouted: Too bad about the Lane game.
Ciaran looked up and then he took off, sprinting straight for the hecklers, who paused fatally before attempting to scatter.
Most people when they run curl their hands into a loose fist that tightens slightly with speed and adds force to the pumping of their arms, which helps lift their feet and thereby run, but not Ciaran, who ran with his fingers extended straight out and his hands became axe blades that cleaved the air with an amazing rapidity that produced speed. Ciaran tackled one of the guys and rubbed his face in the snow and then he stood back up, brushed the snow off his pants, and walked with sure steps back across the street to where Danny was watching and holding his books.
You’re asking me?
Let’s go home.
And so they did, or maybe it never happened. Maybe Dan just made it up, a story he could tell about Ciaran to ward off bullies.
But it was bullshit, and that was why Railsbeck had elbowed him in the mouth.
Buckley’s theatricality struck a nerve in Dan, just as the priests celebrating mass did, and Kirk Douglass playing Spartacus, Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe All-American, and, above all, James Bond. Dan didn’t want to be Bond, which would have scared the shit out of him as much as Moby Dick did, but acting, pretending, that seemed to be right up his alley. The beauty of it was that it could happen almost entirely within your own mind, sometimes with the aid of a mirror or glass you could see yourself in, sometimes with a pencil, drawing, or with a pen, writing a story, or, more commonly, writing endless lists, inventing fictional players to play in fictional leagues with fictional standings and statistics and imaginary games, all of which he would doodle at during class.
Pretending, making up shit, lying, faking, deceiving, disappointing and disappearing, that’s what he was good at, he had a real gift for it.
You could step on the el and be downtown in 21 minutes and you would have effectively disappeared, and in the crowds you were anonymous. You were no one, walking amid thousands of other no ones.
Dan could pretend to be a hero, but he would be much more believable as a schmuck. He was no Sean Connery, let alone Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster, while his brother Ciaran lived in reality a Hollywood action pic, and, in ‘69, followed up his stint in Vietnam, where he flew over 700 combat missions, by joining the FBI.
War hero becomes FBI agent. Beat that.
There was nothing to beat. There was no way to beat it anyway, any more than there was of Dan sticking a harpoon in Moby Dick.
It wasn’t about supporting the war, it was about doing your duty.
So you put the question of supporting the war or protesting the war out of your head.
Ours is not to reason why.
Ours is but to do and die.
Vietnam was turning into the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Besides, no one was asking Dan to support the war or protest it. The whole thing couldn’t touch him till he turned 18, and by then it would probably be over, and even if it wasn’t, he’d be in college with a deferment till he graduated four years later, and surely the war would be over by then. If Ciaran wanted to go wading into battle, that was his business.
Your brother’s over there.
There had been articles in the papers about Ciaran, our Men in Vietnam, about his combat missions and air medals and purple heart.
He’d been shot?
No one knew until he got home.
Where do you think? He’s flying a helicopter. It’s like he’s sitting on top of the enemy.
Not just in the Oak Leaves, but in the Chicago Tribune.
You could also get killed protesting the war.
Or killed or just die for no reason at all, by accident, by hazard.
In their sophomore year, the students at Fenwick took a retreat. They got on buses and traveled to Lisle, Illinois and stayed in dorm rooms, one student per room, to enhance the solitary nature of the quest, and Dan had managed to smuggle inside his dufflebag his paperback copy of The Magus, and so he spent his hours of meditation perusing sex and atheistic pacifistic truth on a Greek island, and on the cover was a scene from the recently released film with Candace Bergen kissing Michael Caine and wrapping her leg around his, atop a white cliff overlooking the Agean. At a glance his mother had asked sharply: What are you reading?
It’s just a book.
Let me see it.
I don’t know about this.
No one knew about it. Except Gas-man. The hardcover edition of The Magus was behind glass in Gas-man bookcase. On the cover of the hardcover was a painting like something out of Bosch, another bit of culture that Dan might otherwise have skipped over like a puddle had not Gas-man indirectly turned him onto it, and then, he found that you do not dip a toe into surrealism. It’s all or nothing.
Dan skated right past the riots at the convention. None of it touched him. Heads were being busted in Lincoln Park and along Michigan Avenue, but Dan was safe, with his short hair and his Fenwick blazer, white-collared shirt, tie, dark trousers, with a belt, and cuffs, 21 minutes away from the Loop by el, in Oak Park, beyond the cul-de-sacs along Austin Boulevard. But Father Farrell was going down there, down into the inner-city to save souls, like that priest in that movie where the ship was sinking or the building was on fire and people were trapped and doomed and there was no getting them out or rescuing them, and somebody tried to stop the priest from rushing headlong right the hell in there, because he wasn’t going to save anybody’s life, they were all going to die, but he was going the hell in there anyway because he was going to baptize people before they died so their souls could go to heaven.
Don’t go in there, father! For the Love of God, don’t go in there!
For the Love of God, I am going in there.
Now there was one selfless act.
Selfless and saintly and stupid.
Michael Caine was not alone in thinking that The Magus was one of the worst movies ever made. Nobody could figure out what the damn thing was about.
The movie was merely forgettable and fortunately only resembled the book in that Michael Caine and Candace Bergen might have been well-suited to their roles had they made a movie that more closely resembled the book.
In the book, the narrator, Nicholas Urfe, learns through bitter, beautifully and mystifying experience just what Gas-man had held all along, that life is all that matters. Nicholas is presented a series of inescapable choices, for which all probable outcomes are bad, so no matter what he chooses, he loses, so that the challenge of the game is to figure out that it’s rigged.
It’s a page-turner, and Gas-man had turned Dan on to it, so he lay on his cot in the narrow dorm, and Nicholas Urfe took over, with a name like Franklin Bobb, easy to make fun of, and he was a cynic, a nihilist, but he hadn’t yet discovered the repercussions of being such. First, he had to discover love. Then it had to be snatched away. And then there he was in Greece, the white stone, the blue water, the ancient mythology coming alive, the dream life merging with reality.
A line was being drawn, a distinction was being made, that was neither clear nor permanent, between thought and action, mind and body, books and sports, Athens and Sparta.
Shadow play. Black and white.
Gas-man was the gate-keeper who didn’t give a damn and thus provided an entrance for Dan into the secular world, where you could see Jane Fonda’s tits directed by Roger Vadim.
There were prayers and discussions and sitting in a circle and Father Farrell was the moderator and they tried to make Jesus their friend, and it was all instantly forgettable, as were most of his classmates, in truth, just guys who either smarter than Dan in general or only smarter than Dan in math, which was setting the bar pretty low, considering Dan’s approach to solving any math problem had devolved to Make Your Best Guess. What Dan took from the retreat was the reading of The Magus.
Dan had no more idea what The Magus meant than the movie-makers, but that didn’t stop it from enthralling him, of being on that Greek island and seeing the myths animated and have a weapon forced into your hands and be ordered to kill someone to save your own life, the kind of question that you might by analogy have to answer, to be forced to execute someone or die yourself, so that if you allowed that analogy to work on you, if you followed it through, the existential crisis was happening every moment, and that was why he felt like he was getting nowhere, even when he was crashing his car at 70 mph down East Avenue.
Patty Dooley, Cindy Reick, and Linda Yeksegian, were the girlfriends respectfully of Dan, Davo, and John White. Cooney didn’t date.
What’s up with that?
Guys who ran cross-country didn’t need to explain to each other why they liked being alone. Aside, from drinking, which only Dan and Davo indulged in, and girls, which excluded Cooney, the four friends hung out together all the time.
One thing that had to be said about John Fowles and Ingmar Bergman and just about every other cultural icon, with the curious exception of Buckley, was that they were not Americans, and even Buckley affected an accent that was not American. Buckley would argue, eloquently no doubt, that it was not an affectation, but it was undeniable that no one else in the fucking world talked that way. It was a foreign tongue, and in fact there was nothing particularly American about conservatism. The roots were in Scotland with Adam Smith and in England with Thomas Burke.
Ed Fenwick left the USA just as it was getting started, ostensibly, to seek European enlightenment.
This could not have been the way the world looked to Dan’s mother, because she was the mother of a son in combat, and on the front door of the brick house on the corner of Euclid and Van Buren, by which all must pass on their way to church, hung the the emblem and star that meant a soldier came from here.
My Lai revealed that some of the soldiers had been transformed into baby killers, and the logic of the war was laid bare in the explanation: “We had to destroy the village in order order to save it.”
That was either a perfect statement of nihilism, or patently absurd, or both.
Learning nothing and getting nowhere, and it’s one, two, three, what’re we fightin for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.
Sports, family, movies, Oak Park, Chicago, racism, nuns, priests, religion, Ascension, Fenwick, music, TV, radio, weather, seasons, newspapers, Hemingway, Buckley.
Mother, father, big bro, sis, lil bro, Gene, Mary Jewel, Roger Reynolds, David Decleene, Charlie McCallister, Franklin Bobb, Mayor Richard J. Daley, Miss Parelli, Mother Lios, Mother Francis Therese, Mrs. Cannon, Beth Tieman, Nancy Nappesrstack, Charlie Clover, Barbara Cartner, Norine Sloan, Patty Viglione, Patty Dooley, Jimbo Wilkinson, Jimbo Kidd, Danny and Ed McTigue, Tom and Gerry Keating, Dan Roe, Kenny Gretz, Chester, Paul Gearen, Gump, John Duff, Tony Tiano, Gas-Man, Jack Leper, Tony Lawless, Coach P.
Brinkerhoffs, Gerber’s Hardware.
You could burn your draft card.
Hell no, we won’t go.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
While he might have been discovering himself or the world around him, Dan was preoccupied with finding the right sport or art that he might practice with natural affinity such that he might distinguish himself, and instead he found nothing but his natural inclinations, his esteem for the body, his own and others’, with the Greek ideal of perfection, so that you would measure yourself against the best, where he would never measure up. Same thing went for the mind. He was lost.
So he’s dealing with these polar opposites, these extremes every day and night without escape. When he’s scared, he can turn to his mother, maybe to his father, but probably not to either of them, because they wouldn’t understand, and, besides, everybody’s on one side or the other, with God and the angles or down with the devil, who, frankly, seemed to have the better argument. It’s the devil who argues against God, finds holes in God’s argument, holes that Aquinas tried to patch with a coat of Aristotle.
Gas-man sat in his bedroom by himself and played a Bob Newhart comedy album, and then he stole a long bit that Newhart did and presented it as a skit and recruited a cast and began rehearsing it to be performed on stage in the Pine Room for the annual Talent Show. Everything except the cynical tone of it was entirely out of character for Gas-man, who was going to be the star of the play, Uncle Freddie, in a satire of children’s television called “The Uncle Freddie Show”.
They met at Charlie McCallister’s house, where there was plenty of room to rehearse, and Mrs. McCallister was always so nice and made snacks for everyone, Gas-man, Charlie, Kenny Gretz, Paulie Wagner, and Dan. They rehearsed for a couple of weeks, more than they needed to, because the snacks were so good. And then, at the very last moment, just before they were to step on stage, Gas-man put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder and said, “Charlie, we’re not gonna use you.”
The look on Charlie McCallister’s face was one of disbelief, dumb shock, and on Dan’s one not quite of bewilderment, but of wonder, and he wondered whether maybe that moment was what Gas-man had been aiming for all along. Why was another question, but Dan had to admit it was just like Gas-man, he was back in character. And so, on with the show.
Charllie’s mom was so nice.
Gas-man must’ve had it in his mind from the beginning. That must’ve been why he cast Charlie – for his house, for his mom.
Gas-man would trick-fuck you.
John White’s father was a doctor and the Whites were rich and they lived in north Oak Park and they were members of the Riverside Country Club.
Greasers versus Preps.
The blue Adidas.
Dan was fat and out of shape now, and Cooney and John White were going to run the six miles to the country club in Riverside and jump in the pool, and it was the middle of summer and hot as hell, so Dan told them he would meet them at the club, he’d drive his Corvair there, he was over this running shit. So when the two runners arrived, long after Dan, and found him floating on his back in the pool, he looked up at them, and they were flush from six hard miles in the summer sun, and he said, “You guys must be nuts.” They jumped in, went under, came up, and they were floating on their backs too when Cooney said: “Maybe so, but this feels a hell of a lot better to us than it does to you.”
And Dan had made the run, the summer before, and jumped in the pool, so he knew it was true, and he suddenly wondered if it would ever feel that good again.
Dan lived with polarities, one brother older and heroic, one brother younger and feeble-minded. Was he his brother’s keeper? His younger brother did not follow the family footprints and matriculate with the nuns at Ascension and the priests at Fenwick. The nuns and priests could not care for him, so he went the secular route. The irony was not lost on Dan, who listened to Gas-man when he extolled the virtues of Oak Park High, where he might be taking courses in film studies in a classroom he would share with pretty girls, not that Dan had ever seen Gas-man so much as talk to a girl ever. Gas-man made it seem as though he’d be sitting in the darkened classroom studying the jump-cuts of Jean Luc-Godard with a bevy of Playboy bunnies.
No, Dan was not his younger brother’s keeper. He looked to the state for that. It was equipped with special ed teachers.
There was nothing whatsoever in the words and actions of Jesus that indicated the desire or need for priests and nuns to perpetuate his religion. The mass was a ritual that presented itself as a kind of magic, a miracle, Jesus entering your body, and it could only be performed by this one magical, miraculous man.
Only miraculous for the moment and for that purpose, however, because when the sermons took a liberal turn or ventured into current affairs, the offending cleric would be met with general opprobrium by the conservative parishioners like Dan’s dad.
The troops were being exposed to Agent Orange, which would not only give them cancer, but would also causes diseases and disorders in their spouses and children.
What’s her name?
You mean she’s cute.
Cute and nice.
She was a redhead. It was no bullshit. She had dark red hair, and she was short, just a couple inches over five feet, with a body like a gymnast, compact and round-muscled, and the dark redness of her hair distinguished her from the bright red-haired or orange-haired redheads with pale skin and freckles. Her skin was not pale, but that of a healthy and robust girl. Dan was smitten. Neither Betty nor Veronica. There was a third option. How many options could there be?
Types of girls.
Types? How about the brainy type.
Never occurred to him. A girl you could talk to? That was different. A girl who would laugh at his jokes. If a girl thought you were funny, you maybe had a chance.
Uncle Lou was fishing in his pocket for a big nickel, which was the agreed upon term for a quarter.
Every so often his younger brother would have a seizure. His eyes would glaze over and his limbs would stiffen and he’d rock against the first impediment he met, and there was nothing to be done about it, just wait it out.
Are the drugs doing him any good?
It was raining, but not that hard, so Dan was going out in the alley to shoot hoops, and as he shot, he had the Beatles’ song in his head: “When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads, they might as well be dead,” and the ball splashed into a puddle. Why was he playing basketball?
What? That had to be the dumbest question ever asked, premised on the assumption that he should be doing something that had some meaning.
But there was no meaning. He just liked to play. It was fun. You would go to a court or somebody’s hoop in the alley and shoot and listen for the sound of another ball bouncing, someone coming to play.
Dan put on the yellow shirt with blue lettering he’d been issued by Coach Crowley. It was not the sleeveless jersey that the Ascension team wore for regular season games. This was something of an exhibition game, something less apparently than a full-fledged game that bore the emblem of the blue and gold jerseys and gold-piped satin blue shorts. Dan even had on his regular old blue cotton gym shorts, and he was sitting on the bench, where he would spend the entire game.
Baseball – the Village championship. Pinners. Softball at Fox Park and Carroll Playground and Maple Park and South Park. Cubs. Go-go Sox.
Basketball – alley ball, playgrounds, Jack Leper’s court, Schweez, 1968 Friars, Mikan, NBA, Loyola national champs. Sitting the bench at Ascension.
You think maybe running in weather like this might be bad for your lungs?
I duno. Maybe. What is it, like four below?
Eight. And the wind chill.
N’gimme any wind chill shit. This Chicago, there’s wind.
Superman Zika ran in his white gym shorts and t-shirt and that was it. He didn’t even wear a jock. He said it made him feel freer. He was fucking Superman. He’d put on a wool cap if it was below zero. Superman had his wool cap on.
Superman just smiled. He didn’t talk much.
Dan was going to follow Gas-man to Northern Illinois.
Are you following me?
Then why are you going there?
It’s a good school.
It’s a shit school.
Then why are you going there?
Path of least resistance.
Vietnam was such a total disaster that it killed the draft. It was too embarrassing, dispiriting, to go to war and have the soldiers refuse to participate, burn their draft cards or run away.
Bill Ayers was going to fight it and run away.
His dad was way up there at Com Ed. Mr. Ayers.
The Lost Ring and Cantiflas.
Dan was a junior, but he hung out with the seniors, Billy, Tinkus, George Metzler.
Dan was a senior, but he hung out with the juniors, Davo, Cooney, and John White.
Dan remained steadfast in his belief that the war could not touch him, and, besides, he wouldn’t even have to worry about it for at least the next four years because he’d be a student, 2-S. He didn’t thank God for it, providential as it may seem, he might thank his lucky stars because there was evidence, true evidence, that September of 1951 was a lucky time to be born, it slid neatly between the Korean War and Vietnam to make its generation free from military service.
Deprived of the chance to be a soldier.
Dan could live with that. He had not distinguished himself in his lone position of leadership, and he was a coward. Other than that, he’d make a fine soldier, utterly expendable.
Fortunately he was lucky.
Luckily he was fortunate.
Football: The Center Sneak, the game at Ridgeland Commons, St. Edmund v St. Eulailia, freshman football. Watching Dougdale get tackled after missing his block. That was the last game he ever played.
The freshman wore green jerseys and tan pants. No explanation. The school colors were black and white.
It made you feel like you weren’t really on the team.
You had to survive freshman football, and most guys didn’t. Then you had to show up for weight training during the winter in the annex at the back of the gym. Then there was spring football, and Dan would never make it that far. After a few weight workouts, he quit. These guys were stronger than he was, and as a team they proven they weren’t even that good. What was the point?
Apparently Gas-man’s grades weren’t all that hot. He would never discuss grades, and he and Dan were only in a couple of classes together, French and English. Maybe he didn’t test well. Math was as much a problem for Gas-man as it was for Dan.
The two of them were heading for the cornfields of Dekalb because Dekalb would have them.
Northern was where you went if you couldn’t get in anywhere else. That’s what Gas-man said.
But Dan didn’t even try to get in anywhere else. He didn’t even think about college, even though his older brother and then his sister had both gone off to college. When his older brother went to a college that didn’t even have a football team, college lost its luster. And then Dan quit the football team himself, it just didn’t seem to matter.
Dan hated school, but he was condemned to it, like Sisyphus. He hated school, he was the whining schoolboy creeping like a snail unwillingly to school, because there was nowhere else to go. School was too much like work. But it wasn’t a job, because no one was paying you.
Don’t you want to get paid?
Don’t you want a bunch of money?
Dan Fitzpatrick, the sardonic wit, standing at Kennedy’s grave-site in Arlington National Cemetery along with the other patrol boys, quipped: “Let’s blow out the eternal flame.”
Tee-ball. Guy’s whack the hell out of the tee, miss the ball altogether, and the ball would dribble off the tee and the ump would yell “In play!” and Eddie Sullivan, the pitcher, would gobble it up and throw to first for the out. But not this time.